Mick Malthouse nearly engineered one of the AFL’s most unlikely premierships when Collingwood pushed Brisbane all the way in the 2002 grand final.
It sits comfortably alongside his three premierships as a highlight of Malthouse’s vaunted coaching career.
Can Malthouse lead Carlton to something similar this season?
It’s a legitimate comparison – Collingwood had finished ninth in 2001, the same position as Carlton last season before Essendon’s punishment put the Blues into the top eight.
Malthouse was starting his third season at Collingwood in 2002 and is going into his second at Carlton.
Like the Magpies of 2002, Carlton have brought in some potentially-handy players from other clubs – led by Dale Thomas, Andrejs Everitt and Sam Docherty.
And you only need five minutes watching Malthouse to see the fire still burns fiercely in the 60-year-old.
Of course, Carlton are mid-table for many good reasons – one of the most glaring is that they did not beat any of last year’s preliminary finalists.
It is just as easy to mount an argument that they will drop out of the eight as it is to talk up their prospects.
The AFL Prospectus put it perfectly – “analysing Carlton does your head in”.
For the Blues to improve, a lot has to go right.
* Chris Judd showed in last year’s elimination final win over Richmond that he remains an AFL great. He is also exceptionally durable. But the star midfielder is 30 and is recovering from Achilles tendon surgery. Is he still a factor?
* The Blues insist they have done their due diligence on Thomas, whose wonky ankles restricted him to only five games last year at Collingwood. If the big-money free agent’s body is sound, reuniting with Malthouse could revitalise his stalled career.
* No.1 draft picks Marc Murphy and Matthew Kreuzer finished outside the top 10 in Carlton’s best and fairest count last season. Say no more.
* Jarrad Waite. A name guaranteed to furrow the brow of the most loyal Carlton fan. Waite remains a huge talent, but one hobbled by injuries and on-field brain fades. And at 30, the clock is ticking.
* Statistically, Lachie Henderson is Carlton’s best key defender. But he’s also their best key forward. What to do?
But one player Malthouse will not hear any debate about is Bryce Gibbs.
It’s a big year for the star utility, who becomes a free agent at the end of the season and is certain to receive tempting offers from the Adelaide clubs.
For all the talk about whether Gibbs is fulfilling his potential, he was fifth last year in the club best and fairest voting.
“I’m bemused people say about him `where’s his improvement?'” Malthouse told the club website.
“I don’t really get what Bryce has to do to convince people he’s a good footballer and verging on a very, very good footballer.”
Malthouse will coach his 700th AFL game this season and has reunited with fitness coach David Buttifant, his long-time ally at Collingwood.
Carlton coaching director Rob Wiley is another veteran Malthouse associate.
Wiley would not compare 2014’s Carlton team to 2002’s Collingwood, but says the coach remains a man who is determined to win.
“Mick is a proven coach who can win premierships, who can get the best out of an individual and a team,” Wiley said.
“It took the Carlton playing group a little while to get used to his game plan.
“But Mick’s ability as a motivator, as a teacher – that’s why he’s been able to do it.
“His hunger has not waned one little bit.”
Coach: Mick Malthouse
Captain: Marc Murphy
Last five years: 7-8-5-10-6
Premierships: 16 (1906-08, 1914-15, 1938, 1945, 1947, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1979, 1981-82, 1987, 1995)
Key five: Bryce Gibbs, Lachie Henderson, Matthew Kreuzer, Chris Judd, Marc Murphy
One to watch: Robbie Warnock. The ruckman was one of the reasons Carlton finished last season so strongly. If he can maintain that form, he will take over as the Blues’ No.1 tap ruckman and free Kreuzer up around the ground.
In: Patrick Cripps (East Fremantle, WAFL), Sam Docherty (Brisbane Lions), Andrejs Everitt (Sydney), Cameron Giles (Woodville-West Torrens SANFL), Nick Holman (Murray U18), Dale Thomas (Collingwood).
Outs: Eddie Betts (Adelaide), Marcus Davies (delisted), Nick Duigan (retired), Shaun Hampson (Richmond), Aaron Joseph (delisted), Jeremy Laidler (Sydney), Patrick McCarthy (delisted), Luke Mitchell (delisted).
Best 22: B: Andrew Walker, Michael Jamison, Zach Tuohy
HB: Kade Simpson, Lachie Henderson, Heath Scotland
C: Andrew Carrazzo, Bryce Gibbs, Dale Thomas
HF: Mitch Robinson, Matthew Kreuzer, Troy Menzel
F: Chris Yarran, Jarrad Waite, Jeff Garlett
R: Robert Warnock, Marc Murphy, Chris Judd
I: Brock McLean, Ed Curnow, Dennis Armfield, Andrejs Everitt
Predicted finish: 9th
To win the flag: $26
To make the top eight: $2.30