Carlton hired Mick Malthouse to deliver a premiership.
It told the world: ‘We’re Coming’.
The Blues lured Chris Judd, at the time arguably the greatest player in the game, and more recently Dale Thomas at high cost and matching risk, since he had suffered a debilitating foot injury.
But the Blues are miles from the summit. Far from coming, they never arrived as the force that they once were, the club with 16 premiership cups in the lobby at Princes Park.
Malthouse will know after the 81-point hammering from arch-rival Essendon at the MCG that he has to rebuild the list. There is no choice, and perhaps the only positive from an annihilation at the hands of an Essendon team possibly bound for the top four is that Carlton knows where it is at.
This is going to be a slow burn and it will be painful. Already 0-3, the Blues were swept aside by Essendon’s hard-runners. Not even a perceived ruck advantage helped; the Dons just sent Jake Carlisle to ruck against Robbie Warnock and told him to run.
If that’s the sort of stuff we’re going to dish up, there’s a miserable year in front of us.
Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson, architect of this little trick, was sipping a latte in the coaches’ box before the end of it. Malthouse can only dream of such luxury right now. The players were still locked away in discussion almost an hour after the game, and not with the coach, who had said his piece and was wandering around talking to staff. Head of football Andrew McKay said the players were there to “have a look at themselves”.
“They will come out of that meeting and say they need to assess where they’re at as footballers and do something about it,” Malthouse said. “They couldn’t walk out without having a heart-to-heart. I’d be bitterly disappointed if they hadn’t done that.”
He said Carlton was embarrassed by its performance. “I pray it’s a one-off – I just hope it’s a one-off,” he said. “If that’s the sort of stuff we’re going to dish up, there’s a miserable year in front of us. I’m loathe to think we can actually dish that up again.”
Carlton faces a week of scrutiny before what should be its first win, against Melbourne next weekend. But this will be unfair upon Essendon, a club hoping that it is through the tumult of the past 18 months. The Bombers are an excellent side with Paul Chapman (four goals) adding cream to the cake, and youthful players such as Carlisle and Jackson Merrett (34 disposals) and Dyson Heppell visibly improving with each game.
They are contenders, with one rider. They still have to dodge ASADA’s bullets, and they are less than two weeks away from finding out if that has happened.
Hawks: Good enough to make you sick
Everyone is chasing Hawthorn, the constant in all of this, the chorus that just keeps rolling along with Alastair Clarkson conducting.
The Hawks do everything so well; they unfurled their 11th flag since 1961 on Friday night, which is roughly one every five years, a remarkable efficiency in a competition where there are any number of teams that will tell you how tough it is to win.
Having had the legendary Peter Hudson and Dulcie Kennedy unfurl the pennant out in the middle of the MCG, the players promptly delivered a thunderclap to the rest of the competition with their performance. Everyone cowered in the face of it, not least Fremantle, which rarely loses in this way.
Ross Lyon’s team conceded the highest score against them in his time in Perth. Hawthorn picked the Dockers apart with the laser kicking of Sam Mitchell, Matt Suckling and others from the back half.
Two Cyril Rioli cameos – a sprint around the members’ wing bouncing the football, and a high mark, quick landing and goal – reminded us that while Hawthorn is relentless and methodical, it is also dynamic.
Good luck to the others trying to stop the Hawks going back-to-back. Luke Hodge and Ben McEvoy should be up to play this week, and Brad Sewell, Ben Stratton and Ryan Schoenmakers are not far away.
Hawthorn has $12 million in the bank and a team to die for. Unless you are a Hawks’ supporter, it’s enough to make you sick.
Geelong is a bit like that, too. Coach Chris Scott says he is intentionally playing kids for their education, yet the Cats had enough to beat Collingwood at the MCG. Geelong is always thereabouts; that’s a given.
Tom Hawkins stood up at the pivotal moment, kicking three last-quarter goals to beat the Magpies, who have had a devilishly difficult draw to the start the season.
The high point of the game was Jamie Elliott sneaking a glance sideways as he waited under a high ball, realising it was his turn to go and then leaping on to the shoulders of Jimmy Bartel the drag down the Sherrin for the mark of the season so far. Elliott was wonderful but Collingwood has a battle on its hands to play finals.
As for Geelong, it hosts the unbeaten West Coast, which staved off a feisty St Kilda at Subiaco on Saturday, in what shapes as round four’s most significant game. That might well tell us a little more about both teams.
A pulse has been detected at Sydney, one of the teams tipped to contend in 2014. The Swans hammered Adelaide with Lance Franklin having a big day, kicking four goals and assisting in several others, by far his best outing for the club.
It was premature to suggest the Bloods culture would unravel so quickly. More likely wishful thinking from southern climes.
As this column argued last week, the Swans were troubled but not in trouble. It was premature to suggest two defeats and the arrival of a big-name, big-money player would have unravelled the Bloods culture so quickly. More likely wishful thinking from southern climes.
Jarrad McVeigh’s report for high contact on Matthew Jaensch will cause another water cooler debate about bumping on Monday; Jaensch caused part of the problem by dropping the football immediately before the collision and bending down to pick it up.
Meanwhile Adelaide has not won a game and is missing key personnel such as Taylor Walker and Nathan Van Berlo. Only the very best teams can get away with that.
Gary Ablett is not only the best player in the AFL and has been for five years but he may turn out to be the best-ever once some more chapters of this particular tale are penned over the coming years. Tom Harley raised this tricky topic on Gameday and it is worth pondering.
The Little Master had a mere 38 disposals and three goals in Gold Coast’s win over Brisbane Lions. While he insists that father G. Ablett senior is the best-ever, I lean to Wayne Carey, with G. Ablett junior sprinting up toward him.
The Suns, meanwhile, remain a legitimate finals chance.
Melbourne is miles from finals and in such a sorry state that Paul Roos might be regretting his decision to come out of a brief retirement, albeit that he is earning more than $1 million a year for his troubles.
The Demons were blown away in the final quarter by Greater Western Sydney in driving rain at the Sydney Showgrounds venue that the Giants want to become a fortress. Leon Cameron’s team has won more games (two) than it did in all of 2013. Plainly, the trip out west of Sydney will be easy for no one; not if they are going to lay 115 tackles, one of the highest figures ever recorded.