Carlton were one of the worst teams in the competition this year. They finished third-bottom, which was one place worse than last year. They have traded away Bryce Gibbs, one of their best players, and so will be more callow next year than this.
They have also played one of the least attractive brands of football, where scoring is secondary to not being scored against. There are justifications for that – whether you agree with them or not – about teaching a young team to defend and buttressing the back line against heavy losses, but regardless of that, Carlton’s education is far from complete.
And yet, against all of this, the AFL reckons them ready to be thrust into more prime-time slots next year. Does no one remember the conga line of Friday night car crashes in 2015 when Carlton had nowhere to hide?
There are more teams with a more deserving argument to occupy these slots. Melbourne, anyone? Anyone? The Demons get one Friday night game and yes, they get Queen’s Birthday, but so what? The fixture requires its architects speculate on a club like stockbrokers. Melbourne should be a buy, Carlton a hold. The AFL did the opposite.
There is no basis to argue it is a good idea to shove Carlton out on more Friday nights next year. It will be easier to sell sponsorships so that will help their bottom line and make things easier for their new CEO, but that is about it. Though that CEO is expected to be former AFL executive Simon Lethlean.
The desire for Carlton to follow Richmond as next year’s awakened giant is understandable, but wishing it to be so does not make it so. Carlton is not there yet and at least on the field they seem to know it. Does the AFL?
In most things, the AFL seeks to put the conservative brake on clubs to protect them from themselves, so it is remarkable the league was not more circumspect.
Impatience had been Carlton’s flaw for years and now the AFL has fallen victim to it. They have rushed to push Carlton to succeed and have left them nowhere to hide if they don’t. AFL CEO Gill McLachlan admitted the gamble.
“I think there’s a vulnerability there,” McLachlan said. “There’s clearly a bit of risk in them if you took the end of 2017 (as a guide on their form next season), but I think Carlton are building a strong team and they’re well coached.”
And yet the league has warned Carlton to succeed or else.
“It’s important that they honour that slot and play some competitive football and they’d be well aware of that,” said AFL executive Travis Auld, who oversaw the construction of the fixture.
The Good Friday fixture change has upset the Bulldogs. Premiers last year, they participated in the inaugural Good Friday game this year and reckoned they deserved to keep it. The AFL has dumped them for next year and kept it as a North home game.
The AFL said last year that they would rotate teams through this slot and that it would not entrench two teams on the day in the way they have done with other blockbuster slots like Anzac Day, Queen’s Birthday and Dreamtime. So it is the fact they chose North ahead of the Dogs slot that has upset them.
The Dogs were given a good smattering of prime night games for next year but that is no sop to not getting a permanent blockbuster fixture. All teams know the number of prime game slots changes year on year with cyclical shifts in ladder positions, which only means that establishing a permanent hold on a blockbuster slot is far more important. That is what the Dogs regret missing out on.
Peter Gordon wants to talk to the AFL about the rationale for the change. Pointedly he has asked for a meeting with the AFL commissioners, not the executive, about it. This is the Dogs saying “Who’s in charge? I want to talk to your boss.”
It has been argued that Collingwood were gifted an easy draw. They have actually been given the type of draw one of the worst teams in the league would expect to get. Collingwood were in the bottom six finishing sides and under the AFL formula teams in the bottom six should play more of the weaker teams from last year and fewer stronger teams.
The fixture release is an annual moment in presumption and outrage because it is the construction of something that is manifestly unfair. Some things are unavoidable, like locking in Anzac Day or not having Gold Coast’s ground for two months because of the Commonwealth Games. Like committing to games in Ballarat, Hobart, Shanghai and Cairns. Like 18 teams and a 22-round season.
But some things are avoidable. Like putting Carlton on too often on a Friday night. That was a Blue.