A bit like Forest Gump’s chocolate box (not a euphemism), you never knew what you were going to get from this game leading into it. Since John Barker took over at Carlton, the blues have shown quite a bit of fight in some games, but also capitulated quicker than Iraqi soldiers in others. But reading the blues is easy compared to knowing what to expect from North Melbourne who are as hard to understand as the Mercury website’s decision to publish ‘news stories’ about what is happening on The Bachelor. So with the stage set for anything, I sat down with interest to see what would happen.
There was a conference of players around the toss of the coin, as Carlton had two indigenous players joining Murphy, as a gesture of respect to Adam Goodes. I have written my opinion on the Goodes controversy here, so won’t comment further other than to say the support for Goodes has been encouraging by the playing group, even if some of the gestures seemed a little tokenistic. Andrew Swallow had come out on the ground with his head already bandaged, due to a pre-existing cut, denying himself the chance to walk up to a camera and say, “Do you wanna know how I got these scars?” Come on Andrew, football is part of the entertainment industry, after all.
To be fair, I wasn’t expecting a particularly high standard and for large parts of the game that is what I got. North showed some flashes of quality football but were also sloppy at times, while the blues worked at hard at times, but as soon as a few dropped their heads, they lost cohesion as a team.
After a shocking opening bounce, Carlton won first possession for a free kick to Murphy. He kicked a long ball straight into forward 50, which couldn’t be marked, but did result in his team opening the scoring when the ball was roved and snapped from the pocket.
The Kangaroos looked more polished in possession from the outset, bringing the ball fairly easily out of defence and to their half forward line where Goldstein was caught holding the ball with a good tackle by Kreuzer. Both teams were playing fairly direct, looking to play on quicker than James Hird looks to litigate, but the superior kicking of the kangaroos’ defence and the marking power of players like Ziebel and Waite was an early indicator that North were going to find it a lot easier to get the ball out of defence and into attack.
After a few minutes where neither side could quite get going, North scored the first goal with a quality piece of play. Atley hit a low hard pass from defensive 50 straight into Higgins’ chest as he led into the middle of the ground. Higgins gave off an instant handpass to Thompson who ran towards 50 and kicked long towards the goal square. Although it bounced short of Brown, the frizzy-haired giant tapped it quickly as he was tackled, with the ball finishing up in Harvey’s hands and he goaled under pressure.
The roos almost had a second soon after, when Waite marked and then hit Turner on the lead, just inside 50. Seemingly in range, the young roo calmly lined up to shoot, but suddenly changed his action to a well-disguised chip pass (and when I say well-disguised, it may as well of been wearing one of those Mission Impossible masks- because not even his teammates had any idea it was coming). Luckily for the blues, the ball ended up hitting a defender on the chest so they dodged a bullet there. The roos players must have been a little bemused, but to be fair to the kid, he is as skinny as Captain America before the drugs, so maybe he was out of his range.
After another five minutes without a goal, Bastinac marked a kick from Goldstein that went about three metres (it may have been intended for someone behind Bastinac) and went back as if he expected the mark to be paid. He reacted quickly when he realised it wasn’t though, turning and hitting Dal Santo on the lead. For a player who has been lauded for his kicking over his career, the kick from 40m, straight in front, looked easy, but sure enough, he missed. The roos weren’t to let to Carlton off the hook though. The blues counterattack was stopped abruptly by a powerful mark to Tarrant, who kicked long for Goldstein to take a strong mark in the pocket and kick the goal.
It was after this goal that North began to dominate the remainder of the quarter. Swallow kicked another long ball to Petrie who was in the better position to mark. The big Petri dish didn’t let him down, marking under front-on pressure and goaling from the set shot.
Petrie was a little lucky to score another shortly after, when he marked on the behind line, looked as if he went to play on, but slipped over before he had got very far. The umpire allowed him to go back and take his kick which he drilled with a banana (which sounds difficult when you think about it) from a tight angle.
In the latter part of the quarter, kangaroos players were finding way too much space. A stream of handballs (which looked a little like a training run) ended with the ball kicked to Ziebel who marked inside 50 on the lead. Ziebel was even able to turn and kick to Harvey who was even closer to goal and the veteran roo kicked his second for the quarter.
At this point Carlton’s prospects for this game were on par with Cecil the lion and it looked as if they would remain goalless for the quarter, having barely even looked like kicking one. Just before quarter time, Boekhorst was taken high, although I thought he might have been a little lucky, as he was clearly dropping to the ground at the time. The young player went back from outside 50 and kicked a very long goal on the siren.
Carlton started the second quarter revitalised. Unlike the first quarter, when the surge of energy only lasted for the first five minutes, they seemed more able to sustain it and kept working hard and fighting to score goals. It was often hard work, but they kept at it for prolonged periods and finally began to see some success. The kangaroos on the other hand, looked a different team. I don’t know whether the resurgent pressure was harder to play against or they just got a bit lazy, but their ball movement became a bit sloppy, while they seemed to be working less defensively or getting too many players caught ahead of the ball. Carlton players seemed to have more time on the ball and the forwards began to look dangerous.
This was best demonstrated early in the quarter, when Cartlon worked hard to keep the ball alive on their forward line for several minutes. It was scrappy, but they didn’t let the roos defence get an easy possession and run away with it like they had in the first quarter. Drew Petrie got drawn down from the forward line and picked up a loose ball, trying to break a tackle from Henderson. He couldn’t get away and the blues forward earned a free kick for holding the ball. He missed his set shot but the blues quickly won it back again, allowing Henderson to mark in the pocket and this time chip to Everitt, close to the goal square. Unfortunately the set shot was again missed, but once again the blues won it back from the resultant kick in. This time the ball was kicked into Casboult, who took a strong mark at the top of the square and goaled.
After an impressive surge to get their goal, it would have been a little deflating for the Carlton players to see Cunnington win the next centre clearance and kick it long, for Higgins to gather and goal on the run. They responded just as quickly though, winning the ball from the centre where Boekhorst did well to retain it when a turnover looked likely. He got the ball to Simpson who hit Everett on the chest in range of goal and the blues forward made amends for his earlier miss with an accurate set shot.
There was a slight lull in the scoring (which at least gave me time to stop typing and have a scratch) for a few minutes where both teams were fighting over the ball in congestion. It finally took a bit of poise and vision from Dal Santo to get it out to Thompson. Thompson kicked it in towards Waite, who ran under the ball with his opponent and turned quicker, doubling back and picking up the ball to goal with a banana kick from 30 metres out. The goal also marked the stupidest call of the night from the TV commentary team and it was no surprise that it once again came from the man who makes more bad calls than Tony Abbott, Brian Taylor. With the athletic Jarrod Waite sprinting away from an obviously lagging Simon White, Taylor said, “Look at that chase- I hope he is injured!” I knew what the buffoon meant, but since when do we wish injury on others?
Carlton finished the half the stronger, with North’s tackling pressure seeming to drop off, whether a result of poor positioning or lack of effort was hard to see. Casboult took another mark close in front and kicked the goal before Carlton won the next centre clearance and a fumble by defender let Everitt run onto a handball and kick it through on an angle.
It was within a goal soon after, when Tuoy ran away from a clearance on the wing and noticed the goal square was as vacant as the Parliamentary Speaker’s Chair. He kicked long and the ball sailed through the unprotected goal. At this point the deficit was a single goal and kangaroos’ penchant for giving up leads must have been weighing on Brad Scott’s mind.
North’s response to Cartlon’s surge was nearly as belated as Brownyn Bishop’s apology, but just before half time, Higgins, who had been having a pretty good game already, ran onto a ball in the forward pocket. Close to the boundary line, he was given space to run towards goal before being closed down. A tight handball to Petrie gave the big dish a second to convert from the top of the square but that was all he needed, allowing the roos to go into half time two goals ahead (and sadly having already nearly outscored the Australian Cricket team’s first innings total at Trent Bridge).
It was a scrappy start to the second half, but played mainly in the roos’ forward half. There were lots of bodies around the ball and players hanging onto each other everywhere. North were kicking inside 50 regularly, but not really giving their leading players much of a chance. On the flip side Carlton counterattacks were breaking down at the wing with Goldstein and the defenders taking a lot of almost uncontested marks to restart their attacks. Eventually Dal Santo marked a chipped ball from Petrie and goaled from the set shot, prompting Luke Darcy to make the ridiculous comment that his is in career best form. I reckon Ross Lyon would have raised an eyebrow at that statement.
After another scrambled few minutes, in which Lindsay Thomas hit the post with a straight forward shot, Kreuzer leapt to outmark Goldstein and get a goal back for Carlton. From here though, the rest of the quarter belonged to the roos, with Carlton crashing like Restaurant Revolution (if anyone even remembers that show by the time I post this). A great tackle by Swallow on Yarran saved a scoring opportunity at one end and ended with Waite having a shot at the other. While the resultant shot went out of bounds on the full, the next play became something of a maul in the blues’ half back line, before Dal Santo ripped the ball out, found a moment of space and spotted Goldstein in front of goal. The Roos ruckman marked and goaled, with the ball quickly back in their forward line, where Harvey won a holding the ball decision against Boekhorst and found Goldstein, who was able to chip to Brown on the lead. Kicking from a tight angle in the pocket, the big Sideshow Bob-lookalike converted.
A fair few Carlton players seemed to go missing at times like this, but Casboult continued to work hard around the ground and take strong marks. Unfortunately for the blues, he had little opportunity to go for marks in forward 50 as the North midfield was winning too much of the ball.
Dal Santo hit Waite on the lead and he in turn chipped to Swallow, whose set shot was good. At the next bounce, Ziebel ran straight out of the centre and kicked a long goal, allowing the roos to go the three quarter time with what looked a pretty good lead.
North took control of the fourth quarter reasonable early and killed off the game. They looked a bit more composed with their ball use, allowing them to hit targets and keep their Carlton opponents chasing tiredly. The blues, for their part looked to give up pretty early and if they play too many more games like that, they will have less supporters than Reclaim Australia. Within minutes of each other, Ziebel and Thomas marked wide in each pockets and both goaled on very difficult angles. Thomas’ goal celebration involved pointing to a tattoo of the aboriginal flag on his chest, as another mark of solidarity with Adam Goodes, which I’m sure the swans player appreciated, although I was starting to wonder whether the poor guy would just like to be left out of the football discussions for a while.
Further goals to Cunnington, Waite and Higgins took the margin out towards ten goals so the result was never in question. Everitt got a consolation goal before Thomas goaled after the siren.
BOG in a scrappy display was a tough call. Higgins and Dal Santo were both effective with the ball and had involvement in a number of goals. The Roos backline was also very effective in providing considerable rebound for the team. Probably best player was Ziebel though. His strength in coming out of contests with the ball was noteworthy, as was his strong marking around the ground and in front of goal. Like many of his teammates he was a bit less effective late in the second quarter, but neither side had a player who was dominant for all four quarters.
The Snickers Award went to the Channel Seven commentary team, who even by their low standards, were shocking. Aside from his, “I hope that is an injury,” comment, Brian Taylor was talking rubbish all night, including Higgins’ hat size and Dal Santo’s choice of deodorant. Luke Darcy just egged him on and wasn’t much better himself. Matthew Richardson tried to make a few points about actual football once in a while but also struggled the rest of the time. Out of concern for Taylor’s cholesterol level, the three of them can share a Snickers and hope they do better next time.