The Alex Docherty Column – Why Are Carlton Playing The Blues?

So, we’re about halfway through the home and away season for a lot of the AFLW teams. Some clubs still have a game to catch up on, but despite the constant moving of games, the postponements, the season is on track for a premiership winner.

I was mulling over the things I wanted to write about for the column this week; A “things I’ve enjoyed” column, a mid-way mark of my Rolling All-Australian team (for those who listen to the A3 Footy Podcast), however, at the conclusion of the West Coast and St Kilda clash, I noticed something on the bottom corner of my computer screen – the Saints remain the only team yet to win a game and as such, are placed at the bottom of the ladder. This was not unexpected and I stated as much when compiling the season previews. It was always going to be the case for the Saints.

It’s the team one spot above them that has piqued my interest – in 13th spot is Carlton; one win from five starts, a meagre percentage of just under 52.

The win from the Eagles on Tuesday night catipulted them above the Blues into 12th spot, and Richmond, Geelong and the Bulldogs are also sitting on one win for the season – the Dogs having played one less game so far this year.

Now, it has to be said, the Blues have had a very tough start to the year – having played four of those first five games against teams that are situated inside the top six.

You wouldn’t have expected them to beat Adelaide on the weekend, but you could’ve been a bit more optimistic when the fixture came out; what sort of team would Adelaide be away from home? Well, it turns out they’re as bloody good of team playing away as they are playing at Norwood Oval.

I said in the season preview that we would find out more about Carlton after these games, and so far it’s been nothing but disappointing. So, it raises the question, where has this gone wrong for the Blues?

In 2019, the Blues made the Grand Final – because of the much-maligned conference systems at the time, were they the second-best team that year? Not even close.

However, 2020 proved that the Blues’ best footy could match the sides around them. They beat Melbourne, had smashed Brisbane in their only finals game and had played some very good footy against sides below them on the ladder.

Right now, they are the second-worst defensive team in the competition, conceding an average of 45 points per game – only the Saints average more against them.

Having watched a few of their games this year, I don’t think there is much of an issue with the defensive unit as such – Kerryn Harrington, I love what she does. At times, it looks like she’s trying her best to single-handedly try and drag the Blues forward most weeks.

I watched her against Adelaide play in the middle in the second half to run alongside Erin Phillips and try to take her out of the game or, at best, limit the impact she had on the game. Up to half time, Phillips had kicked four behinds – it’s a miracle that they didn’t lose by more, to be honest.

In three of their four losses this year, the Blues have conceded inside 50s at a startling rate. Against the Crows they conceded 38 inside 50s – 16 more than their own count on Sunday.

Against Brisbane in Round Three, they lost the inside 50 count by 20, giving up 50 inside 50s to the Lions who managed 18 scoring shots in a return for 9.9. And against North Melbourne, Carlton conceded 46 inside 50s as North blew them apart in the last quarter for a five-goal win.

In the Collingwood loss back in Round One, the inside 50 count was more balanced, but the Pies were able to run away with it on the back of poor discipline by the older heads of the side and the injury to Grace Egan in that game certainly didn’t help either.

This sort of leads to the next point.

Up to now – I think Carlton’s best players this year – top five – Have been Harrington, Maddy Prespakis, Breann Moody, Paige Trudgeon and Courtney Jones. If Mimi Hill had started out the year in Round One, based on her game on Sunday against the Crows, she’d easily mount a case too.

Gab Pound has played well in the games she has featured in but missed a couple of matches due to the league’s health and safety protocols, which means she gets an honourable mention as well.

I’ll say this with the greatest amount of respect to both Trudgeon and Jones, because both are greatly improved players in this side – but if you’ve got two players who have just made their debuts for the club this year break out in the top five in terms of impact, then there is a massive problem here.

I look to the veterans of this team – Elise O’Dea, Jess Dal Pos, Darcy Vescio and they are failing to stand up and take stock when the Blues are under pressure. I watch players that come into this team like Keeley Sherar and Brooke Vickers, and I think to myself that they are doing more than the veterans.

O’Dea has given up several clumsy free kicks so far this year, Dal Pos has been largely ineffective when the game hasn’t been on Carlton’s terms and Vescio has had to push up to the wing to get a touch of the football – such is the state of their play now.

Nicola Stevens is having good moments here and there, but without the presence of a second key forward down there, she is left staving off two defenders at a time and that has proven as a hindrance to the Blues.

Just as well, seeing the Blues forcefully offload both Katie Loynes and Alison Downie is something I didn’t necessarily agree with then, and it’s something that still sits uneasily with me now.

Structurally speaking, the Blues have a young team all around and I can understand that they are looking to play the kids more, but offloading seasoned veterans that can help them flourish as footballers and set the standards as athletes can be quite damaging.

On their forward line, Carlton currently average 23.4 points per game – way down on their average last year. In fact it’s almost half the average of last year.

The only forward at Carlton who is looking very likely of causing any significant threat this season to date is Jones, and whilst she has been on this Carlton list for a couple of years now, only made her debut in round one this year and has flourished since.

What has immensely impressed me with Jones this year, isn’t her skills by foot, which are very good. But it’s her ability to read the play that’s unfolding in front of her. Positioning as a forward and knowing where to lead to is about half the battle to playing as a forward and playing it well, but Jones looks an absolute natural when she leads to the ball.

Her kicking for goal has been pretty good so far too – 5.3 and averaging 2.6 score involvements on the back of averaging just over nine disposals a game – she’s been one of a handful of positive signs for the Blues this year.

You can argue that Georgia Gee has been lively this year too, and don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a big fan of what she brings to the table. But in past weeks, she has looked more like she is urgent to keep the ball moving forward and it ends up being a detriment to the Blues’ team because they’re still trying to work themselves back into the forward half.

There have been instances where her finishing skills up forward have often been left a lot to be desired, it’s as if she thinks she doesn’t have the time to steady, but on most occasions, she has got more time than she thinks – she has kicked 3.6 so far in five games. That tells me that she has the opportunities, but she’s failing to make the most of them.

It is interesting to point out that only eight players have kicked goals for the Blues after five rounds and three of them have recorded multiple goals, that trio being Jones, Gee and Stevens.

I look at Carlton’s midfield brigade and there is too much being left to too few. Against Brisbane a few weeks ago, Maddy Prespakis was winning her contested ball, but then pushing back in the last line of defence to help the Blues try and get the ball out of there – where is the assistance coming from?

Abbie McKay has been serviceable, but she’s not jumping out to be the next elite midfielder of the competition. In a way, she sort of reminds me of how North have Mia King and Ellie Gavalas or how Adelaide has anyone other than Erin Phillips, Anne Hatchard or Ebony Marinoff running through the midfield – good players? Yes absolutely. Do they help the team? Of course, but they’re not elite.

The Grace Egan injury in Round One has really hurt their on-ball brigade, because I can see Egan as that next best midfielder for them. She’s harder than that of a cat’s head and there’s something about her extractions from stoppage play that really fascinate me with how she plays the game – a perfect partner-in-crime for Prespakis, one might suggest.

I’m not exactly sure what kind of role Lucy McEvoy plays in this team. One minute she’s around the stoppages, the next minute she’s moving forward of the ball and playing as a lead-up option and in a few minutes time, she’s playing across half back.

We know she’s a versatile option and can cover most areas around the ground, but is she really making an impact in these positions? I’ve seen McEvoy in the midfield at state level last year and I know as a fact that she is a more than capable inside midfielder, and I understand that the Blues aren’t exactly short on those options.

But she is second to Prespakis in contested possessions, averaging seven per game, but only averages 1.6 clearances. McEvoy is the kind of person you need around the stoppages that can take some of the workload off.

With every week passing by that the Blues struggle, there will be mounting pressure on Daniel Harford as coach, if there isn’t already. I like to think he’s got a good understanding of how the game works, he’s a likeable media personality, and from what I’ve seen from his post-game pressers, he’s not afraid to call out things he doesn’t like.

But if the players continue to play such disjointed and fractured footy, there’s not going to be a lot of options left for the board to do other than to let him go. I’ve said it a few times before in the men’s competition and unfortunately, it’s a similar scenario in the women’s – football is a results-based business.

Football clubs expect results, whether it’s to avoid the wooden spoon or bottom four or to make finals, a Grand Final, possibly even win the premiership, and at the moment, it feels as if the Blues have been stuck in neutral since the start of last season and with Fremantle to come this weekend, it may get that little bit worse before things start to go right at Carlton.


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