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Rd 2 - Blues v Cats

Re: flux


On Thursday night gone, the Blues, for the first time in more than a decade, defeated a reigning premier. At the death, over a goal in front, Docherty and co. were chipping around across the half-back line as though preserving something more than four points in round two. To be fair, this squad (and club) has had to put up with accusations of being clumsy finishers, all due to three unfortunate collapses in succession – never mind there were six off-season months between examples ‘2’ and ‘3’. The Blues faithful, turning out in good numbers for the year’s first home game, were jubilant, felt a weight lifted. In fact, the result itself was the second victory of the night – the first being confirmation that Carlton goals kicked in home games will still, this year, be excitingly acknowledged by the thump of a smoked ham on the stadium screen.


But now a fan’s left to wonder: what are the real implications of knocking-off one of these lumbering ‘reigning premiers’, anyway? Should it entail the Blues can think their own premiership ambitions this season legitimate? Of course, that would mean admitting this is also true of Collingwood, who achieved the same kill a week earlier. Thursday was miles from the Geelong who belittled the Lions and plucked the Swans bald at the same venue last September. Vaunted off-season recruits Bowes, Bruhn and Henry are coups for what they’ll be in a couple of years, I surmise, rather than being quite so in the present – they’re formidable prospects, if not players. Tom Stewart was absent, too – though appeared on that stadium screen at quarter-time in a desperate Auskick ad atoning for his regrettable medal collection post grand final, which felt about as aggressive an attempt at PR damage control as the Maccas campaign after Super Size Me. Most of all, the hoops miss Selwood, who I would still not rule out had some quasi-magical import for his team, given his storied career began in ’07. He was spotted last week at Melbourne Storm training – a side that hardly needs a lucky charm on the logic of the last decade.


My point is, however, ‘reigning premiers’ do not really exist. Seinfeld said that in sport we’re essentially barracking for clothes and, in testament, all that concretely denotes ‘reigning premiers’ in the AFL is the understated tradition that one side shall have aged, brown logos at their chests in the new season, rather than the vital red of others. All teams, at the summit, lose veterans who figure they can’t be arsed restarting at base camp, but more significant must be the loss of ‘drive’ in those that remain behind. Much was made last year of Melbourne virtually keeping its flag-winning ’21 team together, however by the midway point of the season it was clear their interest in ‘raising hell’ had at least dropped a few degrees centigrade. And in ’23, to what extent can Isaac Smith really be lusting after a new fragrance – ‘Premiership no. 5’? The reign of premiers covers two weeks of merriment – including a Mad Monday infiltrated by Channel Ten cameras – and then, by the end of trade period, with altered moods and personnel, their club climbs again as something else. They do not survive to be humbled in the early rounds of a new season, but dwell on a separate plane, in the annals. The only contests they submit to, the only rivals that can ‘knock them off’, are those of pointless hypotheticals that compare eras. Who would win a contest between last years’ Cats and those of ’07, for example? Would the premiership Demons have also flogged the Bulldogs of ’16? If Dustin Martin of ’20 attempted fending Heath Shaw of ’11, how would the paradox resolve?


For certain, Carlton of Thursday night was more united with its 2022 iteration than Geelong. The differences, for the Blues, were a couple of competent first-years, a gun in Blake Acres, and the returning Ed Curnow (talisman and crucial first-hand witness to the Judd-Betts-Scotland era). These set aside, it is perceivable the Blues are carrying on with a summit attempt or ‘quest’ that club officials like to suggest begun last year, when Coach Voss provided ‘life’, or at least reset history’s clock. A more secular, sober view, however, will adjudge the Blues’ current quest began in the pre-season of 1996, copped severe hindrances in ’02 and ’15, flirted with glory in ’99 and arguably ’11, and that many good foot soldiers and false friends have come and gone along the way. For the sake of players’ motivation and fans not quite computing the full ‘drought’, however, they don’t explain it this way.

Little-known performer of the week: The brave galoot who, unseen like a cicada, taunted the partisan Carlton crowd on the southern wing with unhinged bellows and chants like ‘Who let the Cats out?’ as his team (read: Jeremy Cameron) began clawing their way back. I’ve no doubt his volume throughout the match led many nervous or offended spectators to consider the new ‘ASSIST’ antisocial behaviour text-line (‘HELP’ has fewer letters, but I suppose incites greater panic). To his credit, the galoot slunk away – a feat, because I imagine, to be so loud, he would’ve had a swollen belly – around the time Harry McKay cut his losses in the forward half and patrolled the wing, instead, to save the match.  

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