As the great Greek Philosopher Plato once said – “the beginning is the most important part of the work”.
A small gathering of the Carlton faithful this morning descended upon Visy Park to witness a significant event for the Carlton Football Club. No points were up for grabs, no personal accolades to be won, but rather Carlton had its first competitive hit-out for 2013. Today was, if you will, a new beginning – one of the most important stages of Mick Malthouse’s short yet much talked about tenure as senior coach of the Carlton Football Club. The faithful in attendance were afforded a first glimpse of a Carlton team watched over by one of the premier coaches of the modern era, and the much talked about changes he plans to bring to this famous club – both in their infancy.
If you caught a glimpse of the team sheets prior to the match’s commencement, you would have been excused for forecasting a rather one-sided affair on the field. Split into the traditional ‘Navy Blue’ and the alternate ‘White’ playing strips, the Navy Blue team seemed not only to have a numerical advantage, but one also by virtue of greater senior playing experience. What eventuated across the four 15 minute quarters seemed to mirror exactly that – the Navy Blues jumping to an early lead and controlling the game from siren to siren.
Prior to delving a little deeper into the individual players and their performances, I will take this opportunity to make a note on the condition of the squad as a whole. As a life-long supporter of the Carlton Football Club, it truly warms the heart to see so many of the boys out there at this stage of the year. Season 2012 gave us all a cruel reminder of just how tough it is to go far with a large injury list, and little continuity amongst the playing group. Indeed, if we are to cast our minds back to this time one year ago, the injury list which crippled our season was already well populated, and seemingly gaining a new member by the session. Perhaps it is luck, perhaps it is the different approach to preseason training, but today certainly told a different story. Today we had 33 of the 44 senior and rookie listed players take the field, each presented with an opportunity to impress the fans, and more importantly the coaches, as they push for a senior spot. Though there were a number of notable absentees from the group that took the field, expect to see most of them in the coming weeks as the club continues to manage their work-load before the Home and Away season begins in earnest. To have such a large portion of the squad fit, healthy and competing for a senior game is without doubt an enormous positive and holds the club in fantastic stead heading forward.
Whilst all the players showed some positive signs as the season draws closer, as with every game there were a number of standout performers on both sides. For the ‘Navy Blue’ team, Brock McLean continued on from his excellent 2012 season, showing he’s over the injuries which threatened to end his career and that he’s eager to build on his 4th place finish in the 2012 John Nicholls Medal. He paired with Ed Curnow who, industrious as ever, controlled the midfield play and was a key reason why the Navy Blue team was able to exert its dominance and control the game from the opening bounce. The defensive trio of Matthew Watson, Nick Duigan and Jeremy Laidler, the latter returning from a knee injury which saw him miss the majority of 2012, completely controlled the game and repelled any advances from the ‘White’ team, ensuring that no score was conceded in the opening quarter. Much has been talked about Bryce Gibbs in 2013, and whether we will see him spend more time in the midfield. If this morning is any indication the answer is yes, as Gibbs, along with Mitch Robinson who was busy all morning, spent the game around the ball, his excellent disposal skills on display. Gibbs and Robinson were joined by Chris Yarran who, seemingly, was given free-license to roam around the ground, spending more time through the midfield than we have previously seen at senior level. Up forward, Levi Casboult was a menacing presence, taking his fair share of marks and finishing with a few goals to his name. Levi showed some fantastic signs towards the latter half of season 2012 and has continued in that fashion, no doubt putting a compelling case forward for inclusion in the side to play Richmond in round 1. Robbie Warnock, oft criticised for his lack of presence around the ground, dispelled such statements with an encouraging display, no doubt in part due to the injury-free preseason he has been enjoying. However, perhaps the most pleasing sign of all from the ‘Navy Blue’ team was the performance of Sam Rowe who you can’t help but admire. We know what happened with him last year, and it truly puts a smile on my face to see him over that and pushing for a senior game. Succeed at AFL level or not, Sam is to be commended for his attitude and the way he has gone about getting himself back in a position to compete at the top level. He competed well both up forward and in the ruck and will no doubt be in the plans of the coaching staff as the season progresses.
The ‘White’ team took a while to get going, but when they did there was plenty to like. Aaron Joseph endured a difficult 2012 but showed signs that he’s put that behind him and is not going to be an easy player to keep out of the senior lineup. Rhys O’Keeffe, who’s short career has thus far been plagued by injuries, was busy all game long, as was Dennis Armfield who continues to surprise with both his pace and his improved skills. Falling behind early in the piece, a beefed up Dylan Buckley sparked his team mates into a mini-revival, not on the scoreboard but in general play where the contested nature of the game increased dramatically. Kane Lucas showed that he’s ready to break into the senior side with some fantastic play on the flanks as well as on the wing, generally using the ball well and making some nice decisions. Luke Mitchell is one who many have an eye on, and he caused plenty of problems with his big frame, contesting well and deservingly getting on the scoreboard as well. The only senior captaincy option to feature today, Andrew Carrazzo, eased into the game, preferring to take a back seat to some of his more inexperienced team mates rather than being the industrious player we are all now so accustomed to seeing on a weekly basis.
No review would be complete without mention of the new additions to the squad. Tom Temay, Jaryd Cachia and the re-listed Andrew Collins all showed moments of class which they will be hoping to build on as the season progresses. Most impressive, however, was the game of Nick Graham who looks at home on a half forward flank, his exuberance a real highlight. Nick looked completely comfortable out there, as though he’s been with the squad for years rather than just months, and could well feature in the senior side at some stage throughout the 2013 season.
Whilst there were plenty of promising signs this morning, it is difficult to gauge just how well the group played, and how closely they adhered to the instructions of Mick and the coaching staff. Only the coaches and the players themselves will be able to tell you that. In his press conference after the match, Andrew Carrazzo noted that it was “good to get a run and good touch”. I suspect this is exactly what the focus of the match was, to blow a few cobwebs away, and to see how the drills they have worked on over the summer can be implemented in a game simulation. How the hard work they put in translates to what they produce on the field remains to be seen. However, what is plain for all to see is that Plato’s wise words are applicable to Carlton today. This is a new beginning, and this is the most important period for the club as we draw closer to the season. This is the time to put in the hard work, and from there the results will follow. This morning gave us a glimpse into life under Mick Malthouse, the beginning, and no doubt there is plenty to get excited about.