Whether you love Carlton, or despise them, you have to feel a small pang of sorrow today. Hearing the news that Sam Docherty had once again ruptured his Anterior Cruciate Ligament, and will be out of action for another twelve months, would have all footy lovers feeling for him.
Docherty ascended to the lofty perch of captain of the Carlton Football Club just weeks ago - a position held by such footballing royalty as Alex Jesaulenko, Stephen Kernahan and Chris Judd. He joined fellow leader, Patrick Cripps as the faces of the new generation of Blues – a generation that looked to be in a position to be markedly more successful than the previous one.
It was an endorsement of Docherty’s character. Even after a year on the sidelines, he was viewed as a leader of men, and the kind of personality to compel his teammates to be better. He and Cripps were ones identified as the players to lead the Blues out of the funk they’ve been in for years.
To have the familiar, sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach when he knew – and players do know – that something had gone terribly wrong, must be one of the worst feelings you can experience in a sporting career. Worse than losing a Grand Final. Worse than missing a potential match-winning goal. This is the feeling that a year of your career has slipped through the cracks. It’s cost not only you, but your team as well.
As much as the disappointment would be of a personal nature for Docherty, the impact on the Carlton Football Club is a big one, too. At a time when the positivity around a Carlton revival is palpable, the news that Docherty will be out of action for the entirety of 2019 is a bitter pill to swallow. And Carlton fans have become somewhat accustomed to these bitter pills in recent years.
This off-season, it finally seemed as though they’d turned the corner.
For the first time in a long while, the expectations on a Carlton team heading into a season were not simply to blood kids and accumulate good draft picks. They’d done that for several years, and the seeds they’ve collected over the last few off-seasons should start to grow into quality players soon enough. But those seeds needed some nourishment as well, and that comes from the poise of mature players around them to aid in their growth. As much as players like Kade Simpson and Dale Thomas can offer as experienced campaigners, they are not the leaders that young players will follow. Simpson’s run and carry off half back in nice, but he is no leader of men. Thomas’ heart cannot be denied, but he is not at the point where he will lead a team into battle. Cripps is a leader like that. Docherty is as well. With both those players on the park, the Blues had started to look, on paper, a lot more like a team that could do some damage.
But in a cruel twist of fate, the damage was once again dealt to them.
There was a definite momentum about the Blues this off-season. They’d acquired Mitch McGovern, Will Setterfield and Nic Newman. They started to look like a team that had pieces in place to begin winning close games, and progress from the bottom three positions on the ladder. If Carlton were a car, they’d finally ceased spinning their wheels, and were starting to get the traction to power out of the mire. Their bold move to trade into 19th selection in the 2018 draft to select Liam Stocker, in a deal that sees the club swap first round picks next year with the Adelaide Crows, was the kind of move that spoken of confidence in the direction they were heading. The time for building was done. The time for executing was now.
But then one of the wheels blew out, and they were standing on the side of the road as those in charge frantically formulated a plan to throw a spare tyre on. As is often the case, the spare will not be of the same quality as the ones they had fitted from the outset.
The direction the Blues were headed was, I’m sure, dependant on a healthy list of players, particularly a healthy list of their best players, amongst which Docherty comfortably sits. As one of their best soldiers bit the dust, the trade started to look a little tilted in the favour of the Crows. Adelaide fans, who I am sure are not completely heartless, must be looking at the developments with Docherty and thinking it aids them in securing a higher pick next year.
Carlton’s win percentage with Docherty in the team is a humble 27.9%. Without him, it is a disastrous 12.9%.
Whilst one player surely cannot make such a significant difference, Carlton are in a place where every little bit helps. And Docherty was more than just a little bit.
When he suffered his first torn ACL, Docherty wrote a column for the Players Voice website, where he declared that 2018 would be the best season of his life. In the article, his positivity about what he could learn, the role he would play throughout the year around his teammates, and how he could develop away from playing football was admirable.
It’s hard to see another article like that coming this year. One setback is something that can happen to anyone. Remaining positive after one disaster is achievable. Doing it twice… it’s hard to find much positivity there.
This is not the end of the world for Carlton at all, but when looking at the 2019 season, I am sure Docherty’s presence was a factor the Blues were banking on. Resolute in defence, calm under pressure, and with sure hands, a player like Sam Docherty is as close to irreplaceable in the Carlton side as anyone. They simply could not replace him in 2018. They’ll struggle to do so again in 2019.
Already the name of Brendon Goddard has been thrown up as an interim replacement across half back. With 22 games to his name in 2018, Goddard’s reliability could be a boon for Carlton. After all these years, could Goddard finally land where he was once thought destined?
With others having recurring ACL issues over the years, I’m hopeful that this second knee reconstruction is not something that sets Docherty on the same road as Daniel Menzel or Alex Johnson. At some point, you’d think things have to start going right for Carlton?
Sadly, for their supporters, it does not seem to be at that point yet.
Get better soon, Doc.
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