Garry Lyon Identifying Carlton’s No.1 problem

Chris Judd, Lachie Henderson and Marc Murphy.Carlton has eight players it selected in the first round of the national draft on its list. Marc Murphy, Bryce Gibbs and Matthew Kreuzer were all taken with selection No.1, Andrew Walker was pick 2, with Chris Yarran, 6, Troy Menzel, 11, Kane Lucas, 12, and Matthew Watson, 18. Shaun Hampson was taken with a priority pick straight after the first round (pick 17) so he can be included in this discussion.
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The Blues have recruited three other players who were also taken in the first round, Chris Judd (pick 3), Brock McLean (5) and Lachie Henderson (8).

They gave up pick 3, 20 and Josh Kennedy for Judd. No one can possibly complain about that deal, though Kennedy’s form as the key forward that the Blues desperately need right now does provide some degree of irony.

McLean cost the Blues pick 11. After a slow start, he has been a good, consistent performer, though it could be debated that pick 11 was ”overs”.

Henderson was part of the Brendan Fevola trade, which also netted the Blues pick 12. He improves weekly and may yet prove to be the elusive key forward that they require.

So, all up, the Blues have a list that includes 12 first-round picks. And the reality is, they are only getting a return, commensurate with their value, with three of them; Judd, Murphy and Henderson. Menzel, with just two games to his name, is not part of the discussion.

Sometimes in football we look too hard for answers as to why a team is not performing at the level we expect. Coaches and their assistants are the initial port of call when analysing a team, and then we roll on to injuries, the draw, the chief executive, the board, the development staff and, as has been the case for the Blues this week, their recruiting staff.

Maybe we should look more closely at the actual talent and analyse whether or not they are fulfilling their fundamental role as extremely well-compensated, professional footballers. And that is, are they playing to the absolute maximum of their ability, week in, week out, over an extremely long and challenging season? Or are they simply providing glimpses of their ability – both exciting and frustrating the supporters who held such high hopes when their names were called at the draft table?

Sadly, for the Blues, they are getting more of the latter and less of the former.

Kreuzer encapsulates the problems with the Blues’ highly prized first-round selections. Yes, he has had injury issues, but he has 99 games under his belt and I can count on one hand the times when the football world has sat up and gone, ”wow, what about that”.

We have all seen it in patches. The time where he follows up his work at ground level, lays a tackle, breaks away from a pack, and takes the occasional pack mark. But we don’t see it anywhere near enough. From all reports he is a terrific young man, but extremely quiet and reserved. And that is fine, but not out on the playing field, when you are 200 centimetres and 103 kilograms. At a time when Carlton desperately needs a presence from its big men, Kreuzer is playing nice, inoffensive football. In his sixth year he has managed a sixth in the best and fairest and a 10th. He averages 12 possessions a game and fewer than three marks. His best haul of goals is three and the most marks eight, against Greater Western Sydney last year.

Jack Fitzpatrick, playing just his eighth game for the struggling Demons, took eight marks and kicked four goals against the Swans last weekend. Kreuzer simply doesn’t impose himself on a game anywhere near enough.

Yarran has played 74 games since being drafted in 2008. His name rolls off the tongue when we discuss Carlton’s list as one of the most talented players at its disposal. Right now that is all he is. And while that may be harsh, if he is to live up to his reputation he needs to produce the sort of consistent football that would improve his real resume, as opposed to his potential resume, that has a solitary 10th position in the best and fairest to his name. It is very barren reading.

Hampson has played 63 games but can’t seem to cement his position in the side, regardless of who is in the coaching hot seat. Nor can Watson, a very talented under-18 All-Australian who kicks the ball a mile. Injury hasn’t helped him either, but he seems out of favour.

Walker has played 156 games, yet has not been able to manage a top-five finish in the best and fairest. That could change this year, as his move to half-back has coincided with his best season in the navy blue jumper since he made his debut with an incredible 26-possession, nine-mark game against West Coast in 2004.

Which brings us to Gibbs. He has 145 games, four top-five finishes in the best and fairest in six completed seasons – yet still the jury is out on whether he is delivering to his potential. He is a beautiful footballer to watch, particularly with the ball in his hands. He makes good decisions and kicks magnificently. I think the conjecture lies in the expectations of Gibbs as a player. Most thought by now he would have worked his way into the conversation about the best midfielders in the game. But, quite bluntly, he is not really close.

Part of that is due to the fact he has spent long periods across half-back. The other is that, unlike a Patrick Dangerfield, Dan Hannebery or Kieren Jack, he doesn’t seem to display the same frenzied, ruthlessly competitive approach to every contest.

Not everyone does, but if he’s not having in impact on the game in that manner, he needs to be putting up numbers like Ryan Griffen to elevate his standing.

He shaped, early in his career, as a nine out of 10 player. He seems to have settled as a 7.5-8.

Murphy has been the success story. He managed to rip a best and fairest away from Judd, has been All-Australian and assumes the captaincy. McLean has provided support and Henderson improves by the game. But they are not getting enough out of their contemporaries. There has certainly been an expectation at Carlton that they are capable of more. Brett Ratten paid the price for not extracting enough out of them.

Now the challenge has fallen to Mick Malthouse. He has been a successful coach wherever he has laid his clipboard. If the results continue to elude the Blues, it’s not this coach they’ll be looking at. It’s a list full of blue-chip talent who will feel the heat, where the reality of performance is a long way from the perception of draft day.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.