Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Over & Out

And so it ends..

Despite the weekend's result, Carlton's 2011 season has been one of improvement, excitement and encouragement for the future. Having had the best return of wins in a decade, the way forward is looking brighter than it has for a long time.

A season which culminated in Saturday night's fingernail-gnawing last gasp final, had take Blues fans on a roller coaster ride of highs, lows and bewildering umpire decisions. The off-the-mat performance at Patersons Stadium was befitting of a Carlton team that has seen its past three finals, all played interstate, escape by a total of 15 points. Hardly a disappointing way to bow out of a race, however races are there to be won. And Carlton hasn't won a race for 16 seasons now. The team must now be an even-priced favourite for the next round of heats in 2012.

From the moment that the boys arrived arrived in Perth late last week, there was a sense of purpose and entitlement, that has been (justifiably) missing over the past few years. Carlton had arrived in September to play, and showed this by tossing aside worthy opponent Essendon in Finals Week 1. Essendon mercilessly had the door on it's season slammed shut by the rampant Blues, who had next victim's scalp in its sights by games end.

Watching the game from Visy Park, via an over-sized TV screen with 4,500 other die-hard supporters, there was a feeling that something special may be about to happen. The pre-game burst of Carlton's theme song in place of our country's anthem may have been a sign of what was to come. Saturday's game began as Brett Ratten had hoped; with a flurry of forward salvos, intended to stupefy the home crowd. The plan worked, albeit in as much as you can silence a 43,000 strong support group, and Carlton were off to the start it wanted.

Alas, before the first quarter siren had sounded, the game had taken a turn, and the Eagles were beginning to find ways to bother the scorekeepers. The margin remained relatively close for the remainder of the match, and despite the Carlton boys' spirited efforts until the end, the Eagles were able to finish with their beaks in front. As I tweeted after the final siren, the Visy-based fans rose as one to applaud their heroes once the immediate disappointment of the loss had begun to soften.

As the supporters peeled away from the training ground, there were a few comments made about how the season had been a good one. There was an air of optimism regarding where the coach was heading with the playing group, and mention of some of the 2011 highlights.

Coach Brett Ratten, who as I write, had still not put blue pen to paper for a contract extension, has performed an exceptional job this year in guiding Carlton to its first finals win in over a decade. This, despite seeing some of his most important warriors fall as the September action neared.

Of course, Ratten had complimented his entourage by including proven and experienced footballing personnel, but he is still the man with the plan, and should be acknowledged for the role he played in transforming the team.

After all, do you remember when they told us that Carlton's back line was brittle? That our best scoring options had disappeared along with Fev, and that our one elite player Judd was doing all of the midfield work and would wear himself ragged? I also recall the suggestion that the Blues' list was inferior to that of Melbourne, Richmond and Fremantle! Well that wasn't very long ago now, was it? Who said that anyway, and where are they hiding? I'll like to have a chat..

Ratten's hand in the recruiting of both Jeremy Laidler and Nick Duigan was the shot in the arm that Carlton has needed for years. Both players flourished at their new club, and instantly became fan favourites. Andrew Walker and Lachie Henderson passed each other as they switched ends this year, and the Blues were so much stronger down the spine because of it. Another role reversal that paid dividends was the permanent marching forward of much-maligned defender Bret Thornton, who must have wondered why he hadn't suggested this move himself, years ago.

The transformation of last year's small forward Chris Yarran to running defender, gave the fans another reason to stand to their feet throughout the season, as did the rapid improvement of Mitch Robinson from gutsy cameo roles to gutsy play-maker. Mitch just got better with each week.

So credit where credit is due, and I'm happy to make my bank cheque out to a Mr B Ratten.

We should look back on this season as a successful one for the club. There have been so many wonderful moments. The unofficial mark of the year, the trouncings of the old enemy Essendon, the satisfying wins on the road, including a long overdue defeat of Sydney, close defeats at the hands of Geelong and Collingwood, and individual recognition given to many of Carlton's star players at year's end. I believe that there are even better days ahead!

Who knows - it may be Blue in 2-0-1-2 !!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Eliminate the negative

Wow - what a win!! Yesterday's victory over the old enemy Essendon was really one for the ages. To watch these two footballing titans - the two most successful clubs in AFL/VFL history - battle it out for a chance to keep their finals hopes alive, was magical stuff!

Sitting behind the Carlton cheer-squad, we were all swept up in the emotion attached to such an important game, as we rode every tackle, flew for every mark, and celebrated every goal as though it was the best we'd seen.

After a bright, yet ineffective start to the game in which we found it difficult to register a goal, Carlton suddenly found itself 13 points in arrears. This seemed an unlikely scenario only moments before, as the Blues appeared to be totally in control, and had the ball down in its forward line for the bulk of the opening 10 minutes.

From midway through the first quarter, however, the Blues never looked back, and apart from some junk-time goals to the Bombers when the game had already been decided, Carlton dominated throughout.

The Carlton boys gave their all, and were totally spent once the final siren sounded. This didn't stop the playing group making their way over to thank the Blues supporters, most of who stayed long after the game had ended, happy to sing the club song again and again.

Speaking of giving their all, a special Carlton mention should go to the club's official match-day Tweeter, Luca Gonano, who tweeted gameplay throughout the entire match, providing up to the minute on-field action, for those unable to be at the MCG. Great effort, Luca!

So now unto the West we go. Saturday’s semi-final sees Carlton take on the much-improved West Coast Eagles. The last time these two teams met resulted in a convincing win to the Eagles at Etihad Stadium. However, as all Blues fans know, Etihad has not exactly been a happy hunting ground for Carlton of late. In contrast, the last time we played over in the West, Carlton came away with a win against the Fremantle Dockers. The Blues have also beaten the Eagles four out of their last five meetings, including two victories over in Perth. There is every reason to be confident in another Carlton finals victory this coming weekend!

The Carlton Football Club has announced today that Saturday night's game will be broadcast live via a big screen at Visy Park, allowing home fans who are not making the trip to Perth, to watch the game amongst fellow supporters, at the Blues home base.

Stay tuned for an update following Carlton's next training session.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pre-Elimination Final Training

Saturday was a very special day down at Carlton. Having been invited down to watch training as one of five 'official' bloggers during the finals series, the day began with a press conference given by coach Brett Ratten, followed by a tour of the facilities and inner workings of the club. Being a life-long Carlton fan, it was an exhilarating experience, as well as a wonderful trip down memory lane, as the five of us were guided through the dark and mysterious catacombs that once led to player meeting rooms, press boxes and recreational areas. Fantastic stuff!
But anyway, enough about me..

Sunday marks Carlton's attempt at a first finals win in 10 years, having endured a barren period since it's easy 68-point win over Adelaide back in the 2001 Elimination Final. Oh how we fans would love that kind of margin over the Bombers this time around!

Watching the boys in their final training session, there was a sense of steely calm and intensity amongst the playing group, which reflected the mood at the club. There were fewer jokes, and less casual conversations between players, compared to what I have witnessed previously. It appeared that the boys' minds were totally focussed on the importance of this massive game, and what it means to the club and fans. There was a real sharpness to the drills, and I left there feeling confident.

To end, I must say that the Carlton Football Club really is a family club. Putting on another sausage sizzle for any supporter who walked through the door at training, was a simple yet warmly welcoming gesture. This club has embraced it's supporters, and taken great strides in recent times to bridge the gap between the club and it's fans.

Win or lose Sunday's final - Carlton is once again a great place to be!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Well here we are - only 2 days away from our thrilling finals shoot-out with the old enemy, the Bombers. It will be an awesome day, both from a club rivalry and pure football point of view. Let's hope our boys can get the win, and keep the momentum going further into September!

This week has seen the retirement of one of Carlton's favourite sons, Ryan 'Hoops' Houlihan. 200+ games at AFL level is an amazing achievement, and I'm sure all Blues supporters will be sorry to see team sheets without the name 'R. Houlihan' appearing on them from now on. Well done to a wonderful, skilful and much loved Blue.

Two other items of note this past week, were the inclusions of Carlton players in both the AFL MVP nominations, as well as the initial All-Australian squad.

Follow these links for further details:



Finally, this weekend's game sees Mr Consistent, Kade Simpson, achieve a unbelievable milestone; 143 consecutive games for the club. This creates a new club record for consecutive games by any Carlton player. What a fantastic effort!

Carlton's team for Sunday's game:

Backs: Michael Jamison  Lachie Henderson  Jeremy Laidler
HBacks: Aaron Joseph    Nick Duigan   Chris Yarran
Centres:  Bryce Gibbs  Chris Judd   Dennis Armfield
HForwards: Jeff Garlett  Bret Thornton  Kade Simpson
Forwards: Eddie Betts  Setanta O’hAilpin  Andrew Walker
Followers:  Rob Warnock  Heath Scotland Marc Murphy

Interchange: Andrew Carrazzo Marcus Davies David Ellard Mitch Robinson

Emergencies: Paul Bower, Kane Lucas, Zach Tuohy

In: Carrazzo, Ellard, Jamison, Thornton
Out: Kreuzer (foot), Lucas, Russell, Tuohy (all omitted)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Guard of Honour

Saturday night's game against the Saints was bitter-sweet for me. The loss was unexpected and painful to watch, although it seemed that St Kilda had more to play for. What was a highlight, however, was the opportunity I had to stand in the Carlton guard of honour as the players ran out on to the ground at the start of the game. Why was I out there? I was wondering that myself at the time.

My niece Sophie has received a call from the club earlier in week, asking if she would like to stand out on the ground before the game. Of course Sophie said yes, and I was expecting to just drop her at the players' race and wait for her to finish her duties. We stood waiting while the banner was raised, and then the kids were given the go-ahead to make their way onto the ground. I said to one of the organisers that I would just wait near the race for Sophie, and he told me that I was welcome to join the others in the line-up. So 10 seconds later, there I was standing in the guard of honour with the select few!

The experience helped take the sting out of the loss somewhat. Thanks, Carlton!

And so once more we embark on a do-or-die finals campaign. It is both exciting, and nerve-wracking! Stayed tuned for updates from training!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Open Training morning at Visy

This morning marks the launch of Carlton's 'I Am Carlton' membership campaign. Blues members were invited down to Visy Park to watch the club train, and this was followed by a 'Meet the Players' autograph session.

Hundreds of eager fans lined up for photo opportunities and autographs, while players and coach Brett Ratten smiled and chatted throughout.

After this meet & greet, fans were treated to a sausage sizzle, and given full access to Carlton's Andrew Walker, who made himself available for more individual photographs, autographs and conversation.

The mood at the club was one of anticipation and excitement, as the team readies itself for the final round of the home & away season, with a place in the finals already assured.

You can follow the new campaign via Twitter, at #IAMCARLTON from this morning.

Ok, time for another sausage!