Here’s the thing – when you are a good side, sometimes you only need to really play in bursts to win games. It can come in a flurry and gather momentum like a wave rolling up to the shore, and it can wash over those trying to stand against it.

And when you are a team on the improve, you cannot lapse for a moment, especially against a good team, as you just don’t have the structure, experience and finishing quality to get back once that wave engulfs you. You scramble to keep your head above water, and as soon as you get a breath, you look around and find yourself all at sea.

Such was the position the Blues found themselves in against the West Coast Eagles on Sunday afternoon.

Carlton had a wonderful first half, stifling the powerful Eagles team and holding them to just three goals at half time. After a few of the lacklustre West Coast efforts earlier in the season, and with the promise of rain coming from the broadcasters, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Eagles had dug themselves a hole…

… and the Blues were shovelling in soil over the top of them.

But good teams find a way.

In an inspired burst of power football, the Eagles slammed on four goals in eight minutes, and five in total in the third quarter to claim a lead they would not relinquish.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

CLEARANCE WORK

There was a bit of a debate on our facebook page this afternoon around who the best tap ruckman in the game is.

Well, I am not sure if all those people saying it’s Max Gawn took a gander at this game, but if they did, they may well change their minds.

West Coast won the overall clearance battle 43-32, with the centre clearances 12-8 in their favour, but I reckon it is the quality of the clearances that are often lost when looking at the stats.

Nic Naitanui should not buy a single coffee all week. Not one. Luke Shuey, Elliot Yeo, Tim Kelly and Dom Sheed should be lining up to shout him as many as he likes after the big guy gave them silver service time and time again. And to add to the Blues’ woes at stoppages, Naitanui managed to snag the lazy seven clearances himself.

Eight disposals… seven clearances. That’s efficiency.

I take note during the game to jog the memory and reflect on what were nice little moments in the greater game. In the first half alone, I had Naitanui’s name linked to clearances on eight occasions with the word ‘perfect’ following shortly after. His tap work was first class and his midfield must relish the opportunity to rove to him.

As much as I like the work of Max Gawn and Todd Goldstein, there is simply no better tap man in the game than Nic Naitanui. None.

 

SHEED

The iceman, huh?

When you want the game sealed, put the ball in Sheed’s hands. The Eagles know that. Their fans know that. Everyone who’s watched footy in the last couple of seasons know that, and Collingwood supporters know that the best of anyone.

When you need a goal and the ball is in his hands, you start to feel comfortable – as though you know everything is going to be juuuust fine.

When Jack Redden farmed the ball out to Sheed on the second handball from the forward50 stoppage, time seemed to stand still a little. Sheed turned onto that left of his and went bang. It wasn’t a great kick – if you look at the way the ball was rotating, it looked like Mrs Mongrel sunk the slipper into it, but it travelled long, it travelled straight and it travelled true.

Sheed’s last quarter was huge. In a stanza where just four goals were kicked, two of them rested beside his name. he had a game-high 26 touches, had nine clearances and looked for all intents and purposes as the best player on the park to me.

 

THE DOCHERTY SHUTDOWN

Earlier in the season, I was bemused by the reluctance of teams to put a defensive half forward on Sam Docherty and make him earn his possessions. Floating around half back without an opponent, he was accumulating the kind of numbers that would have surely had him sitting on the half back flank in the All-Australian team.

But since then, there has been a significant shift from the AFL coaches, and Docherty is now finding that he has a helluva lot less time and space to work his magic.

Today it was Jamie Cripps’ job to keep Docherty honest and that is exactly what he did.

In the first four weeks of the season, Docherty averaged over 26 touches per game. Over the last four, he is averaging 15.5, and the Blues are worse off for it.

He is a quality ball user and taking him out of the game allows teams to pin the ball in their defensive 50 and remove the pinpoint delivery up to the wing or into the middle. Cripps knuckled down in this game and restricted Doc to just 12 touches. Importantly, just two of those disposals came in the last quarter.

Going the other way, Cripps managed 13 touches and added a goal to his name as well. He is the exact sort of player that should have played on Docherty and Adam Simpson should be applauded for giving him this job. Cripps is too dangerous to zone off – he can easily bob up for four goals in an afternoon and be the difference between teams and Sam Docherty knew it.

This was not just a win for Cripps, but for Simpson as the coaches battled for supremacy in this one. Well played.

 

FISHER KING

With just one game this season prior to this week, Zac Fisher definitely bought himself a few weeks in the team with four goals in his return game.

Ever the opportunist, Fisher was intelligently allowing his opponent, Liam Duggan, to lead him to the ball and whenever there was a contest, he would immediately head back toward goal, often catching his over-eager opponent searching for the footy.

Duggan rallied to finish with 16 disposals and some impressive intercepts amongst his 11 marks, but when your primary job is to prevent your opponent kicking goals, the points definitely go to Fisher here.

One thing the Blues have lacked this season is that burst from the pack on a handball receive. They have a few players that COULD fill that role successfully as they become more confident (Setterfield the main one) but the addition of Fisher to the side could give them that lift around stoppages, particularly up the ground.

With Eddie Betts and Michael Gibbons almost silent, the ability of Fisher to hit the scoreboard helped the Blues apply the early scoreboard pressure and forced the Eagles defence to be less expansive in order to contain him.

 

THE PRESENT V THE FUTURE

I watched with interest as Andrew Gaff and Sam Walsh duelled on the wing at times in this game.

Last season, many compared Walsh to Gaff inasmuch as he does not stop running all game, and they speculated that he would become a very Gaff-like player. So watching the two battle it out at times, though playing quite wide of each other, was something that interested me greatly.

Gaff found himself sucked to the contest in this one, collecting 15 of his 20 touches in the contest, whilst Walsh had a better balanced game on the wing, picking up ten uncontested touches and another ten in the contest.

Some would argue that Walsh has gone backwards this season. He was brilliant in his rookie campaign and his numbers are down almost across the board. I believe he and Gaff are both suffering from the same problem – shorter games. And no, it’s not as simple as less game time = less touches.

When it comes to athletes like Gaff and Walsh, it is that last four or five minutes of each quarter that they really come to the fore – the gut-running to provide an option in stagnant play, and making contest after contest are what makes these players valuable at the end of quarters and the end of the game. They’ve had that taken from them this season.

Instead, they are required to go as hard as they can in the time allotted, and matched up against each other for long periods this afternoon, I really couldn’t split them. The kin fog the wing versus the heir apparent ended in a draw.

 

BACKING HIMSELF

Quick shout out to Liam Jones, here.

There are a few defenders that get a heap of credit, and Jones always seems to miss out. He makes the occasional mistake, but his attack on the footy and ability to kill a contest is in the top handful in the competition.

He had 17 one-percenters in this game and also managed three big contested grabs playing largely as a zone-off defender. Some may argue playing that role is easy when you are playing on someone not really being targeted, but there is a big part of me that really digs a defender willing to back himself in the contest and make the footy his.

Jacob Weitering gets all the plaudits at Carlton, but I love what Jones brings as well.

 

THE SNAKE JR

Is it just me, or is Jake Waterman starting to look like a legitimate forward?

You wouldn’t really know it listening to the commentary, but I thought he was one of the most influential players in the game this afternoon. He finished with just one goal, but it came in the crucial last quarter and he looks to be playing with confidence.

The Eagles would be feeling extremely positive about the health of their forward line going forward. Oscar Allen put a few to ground this week but he is a star in the making. Liam Ryan is a baby by AFL standards, and with Waterman starting to emerge to look like a thinner, smaller version of the G-Train, they are starting to not only look at having a potent forward half for right now, but are putting in place the building blocks for the next generation of star Eagles.

And if Fraser Gehrig was the carpet snake, what do we call Waterman? The trouser snake?

 

GREAT SIGNS

I’ve been a bit of a critic of Matthew Kennedy for a while – I just haven’t known what kind of player he is, or what kind of player he could be.

Initially, I’d heard he was the midfielder Carlton needed to ease the pressure on Patrick Cripps, but a string of injuries and poor form saw him on the outer at Princes Park. Then he was thrown a bone as a high half forward to mixed results under David Teague last year.

He was not quite a midfielder and not quite a forward and when you’re excelling at neither, that puts you in a really dangerous position.

What we saw this afternoon was a young man starting to find his feet. With three contested grabs, Kennedy displayed a side to his game that I had not yet seen. He was strong both in the air and at ground level, and his disposals actually seemed to matter. He only had it 13 times and I am sure David Teague would like to see him have a bit more of it, but there were enough signs to make me think the Blues haven’t been wasting their time waiting for him to come good.

The other good sign was the willingness to compete of Tom De Koning as he took on Nic Naitanui in the ruck.

Let’s face it, Nic Nat is a beast, but there were points today, as fleeting as they were, where De Koning actually claimed a win or two (or 11) in the ruck. Five touches are nothing to write home about, and we can excuse his stumbling, bumbling attempt to mark uncontested late in the game (put that down to fatigue), as the positives far outweigh the negatives. He has great timing, a very good leap, and could develop into a solid ruck/forward option for the Blues over the next few years.

 

A VISIT FROM THE TAILOR?

Don’t use the ‘U’ word to describe Brad Sheppard anymore. Never utter it again.

The days of Sheppard not receiving the credit he deserves are long gone and the time to start recognising what he means to this Eagles defence is now.

I don’t think it’s fair to point out when someone has a good game spending a fair bit of time on Michael Gibbons and Eddie Betts. The older legs of Betts are good for maybe a goal per game average this year, and to wrap someone up for having his measure is like Joe Ganino gloating over his latest conquest at an over 45s night in Coffs Harbour… he’s not picking up a supermodel.

But what Sheppard does do is guarantee you that there is one player on the park you won’t really have to concern yourself with. If he’s given the job to keep them under control, they’ll be under control. When he is beaten, his opponent deserves the utmost praise, as they are beating someone whose attention to detail and ability to do the little things to curtail is in the top handful in the league.

Toward the end of the season, it would not surprise me at all if Brad Sheppard has a visitor to take his measurements. There may be a special blazer for him this season.

 

THE BAD

 

LIAM DROPPED IT

If you know ay Carlton people, or even a Carlton sympathiser right now, I am sure you will have heard about the “woeful” umpiring in this game.

I’m not buying it. Not completely.

Were there free kicks missed? Yep, just as there are in every game. Were there some iffy free kicks paid? It goes without saying.

Were the umpires the reason the Blues lost? Nope… not by a long stretch. I’ll get onto that in a minute.

I would like to highlight one decision where I completely agree Carlton were hard done by. It involved Liam Ryan as he scooted across half forward, took possession and appeared to drop the footy in a tackle. In an age when there is complete confusion about this rule, this was one I thought was painfully apparent.

Yet there was no whistle.

Instead, in the mad scramble that ensued, Jake Waterman managed to squeeze the footy out to Josh Kennedy who kicked truly and got the Eagles off and running.

Was it a momentum changer? To a point, yes. The Blues were in front at this point and the goal to the Coleman leader seemed to make the Eagles walk a little taller. Did it have an impact on the game as a whole? It’s difficult to say – the Eagles had come out with a different mindset in the third quarter and if the Blues went into their shell, maybe it was this non-decision and the resultant goal that pushed them in there.

It was compounded minutes later when Jamie Cripps caught Sam Petrevski-Seton holding the ball right in front of goal for another major – a decision which had Blues fans almost projectile vomiting profanities at their TVs. For mine, that was the right call. He was back-pedalling and got caught. Pretty harsh, but a fair call.

And the other holding the ball decision against Sam Petrevski-Seton – that one was really tough. You know the one – out on the boundary where he was rolled by Jack Darling and both guys just kind of lay there waiting for the whistle. He was pinged for not making an attempt but common sense says that should have been a stoppage.

All fans want is consistency, but with three umpires and a tonne going on, I’m afraid we will never get it.

Yes, Carlton fans, there were some decisions that went against you. And there’ll be more. The good teams win these games.

Others complain about umpires.

 

THE UGLY

 

STOPPING TO A WALK

I touched on it in the intro, but it is worth exploring further. You simply cannot play three quarters, or even three and a half quarters against a team like West Coast. To do so is to cut your own throat.

We’ve seen plenty of great signs from the Blues this season. They played three great quarters against the Cats and got away with it. they played one brilliant quarter against the Hawks for quite the opposite result, and today they put in three quarters of great pressure against a team that many believe has the potential to go all the way in 2020.

But three quarters is just not enough.

I want to take you back to around 2010-11. As many of you know, I am a Hawthorn supporter, and though I have some great memories of that time (and some pretty good ones on either side of that period) one thing that always bugged me was Hawthorn would always lapse for a period in the game. Whether it was 15 minutes or an entire quarter, Hawthorn would give you the chance to beat them every week.

And quite a few teams did.

Is this kind of thing a rite of passage as a team improves? And how long is it until the Blues kick this habit and start playing four quarters?

Look, I’d love to have an answer for you, but some teams never really get there. It is the next step required from Carlton, and whilst I am in no way saying that they’ll be playing for flags in a couple of seasons, learning how to knuckle down and control the tempo, take the sting out of the game, and play defensive footy for five minutes to regain your composure are things you learn along the way.

I understand that there are some Blues fans in meltdown tonight as they lament umpiring decisions that they believe were unfair – I highlighted the one decision I thought was really iffy, but in a game such as this, there are dozens of decisions that could’ve, or should’ve gone your way.

The difference between a good team and a very good team is that that the very good team doesn’t hang onto that as the reason they lost. It happened to Port Adelaide against Richmond – obvious free kicks missed but Port were good enough to win, even when those decisions cost them three goals.

The Blues aren’t far away, but it is not umpires they need to complain about – it is kicking two goals in a half of football after looking as though they were the actual Grand Final fancies in the first half.

Fix that. Fix Carlton.

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

IS THE FORM OF PADDY CRIPPS A WORRY?

Look, he still grabbed his regular eight clearances and whilst his disposal count was down, he could have been huge in this game if he’d just held onto a couple more marks up forward.

Not much has been mentioned about it, but he either misread the flight of the footy inside forward 50 in the third quarter… or he didn’t go hard enough.

Crippa looks like he is labouring a little, but he is a warrior and there is no way he is going to be sitting out when his team needs him. With the Blues now in 13th and a date with the Dockers and Nat Fyfe upcoming next weekend… they need him as much, or more than ever.

 

IS JACK NEWNES DOING ENOUGH?

He bobs up for the occasional goal, and I reckon that has saved his bacon to this point of the season. But when he is not hitting the scoreboard, he doesn’t do a hell of a lot else, does he?

He had 12 touches in this game, which is largely around his season average. I think it’s fair to say more was expected of him to date.

 

DID NIC NAITANUI HAVE THE BEST EIGHT-POSSESSION GAME EVER?

I don’t know, but I enjoyed the hell out of it

The big knock on Nic Nat is that he doesn’t get a heap of the footy, right? Zero marks this week and I believe it was zero last week as well, but he just makes those around him so much better with every deft tap and every thump forward.

Oh, and he is one of the few I’ve seen take Patrick Cripps right off his feet in a tackle. Carlton fans were screaming for that to be a free kick to Cripps – I thought the tackle knocked the ball loose. Play on.

 

DID JACOB WEITERING LOSE A CONTEST?

I was very interested to hear the commentators mention that Jacob Weitering had been in 42 one-on-one contests this season and lost none. That’s usually the way to have them get absolutely slaughtered, as it brings unwanted attention to every one-out contest they have.

However, from what I saw, Josh Kennedy got his marks on the lead in this game – do they count as a contest? There was one he pushed off Weitering and had the ball drilled onto his chest, but I am not sure it counts as a loss in whichever way Champion Data assess the game. I mean, to me, Kennedy beat him twice. That’s how he got two goals, but for the most part, I thought Weitering did an excellent job in limiting Kennedy’s ability to run and jump at the footy.

 

DOES LUKE SHUEY HAVE ANYTHING TO WORRY ABOUT?

Blues fans were screaming about the trip to Ed Curnow that went uncalled. Dave Hughes called it a “potential leg-breaking trip” on Twitter.

Look, the trip was there and should have resulted in a free kick. In terms of a report, I don’t think there is enough in it. Free kick  – yes. Report – a bit too far.

 

OTHER BITS

 

The loss of Jack Martin so early in the game was huge. Not only did it rob the Blues of one of their most dangerous forwards, it set them back a rotation and that cost them late in the game.

Martin’s influence on the Carlton forward line has been incredible. His tackling and contested marking way more than anyone expected. Looking at their small/mid sized forwards, he was the one bloke you would not want to remove from the equation.

Marc Murphy topped the disposal count for the Blues. I have to say… I hated his game. Made some silly decisions and is so quick to get rid of the footy when trouble is brewing. He’s signed for next year… I don’t know why.

The Eagles got bugger all from their small forwards, with Liam Ryan and Jarrod Cameron combining for just six touches.

Interesting to hear the commentators talking about how little influence Luke Shuey had in the first quarter. That’s because he had Ed Curnow on him. If you’re unfamiliar with Curnow’s defensive prowess, the first half would make an interesting rewatch.

He held Shuey to just two touches in the first before switching to Tim Kelly in the second. After Kelly had three clearances in the first, have a guess how many he had in the second? Yep… none. The Ed Curnow effect. I’m not sure what happened after half time, but it looked as though the tag was released? I have no idea why, if that was the case…

The Tom Barrass v Levi Casboult contest was entertaining. Barrass was back to his spoiling best, but geez I love seeing big Levi run and launch at the footy.

 

And that’ll do me for this one. A fantastic third quarter by the Eagles cemented their place in the eight, whilst the Blues look destined to make up the numbers now in the 10-13 area. Of course, they could get a run on, and they have been much better this season… I just think they’re a couple of years away yet.

 

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