It is safe to now declare, without qualification or need for obvious disclaimers, that we have seen the belated arrival of Good Carlton.
The trepidation among Blues fans and outsiders alike is completely understandable. Too many times in the past decade have moments like these proven to be false dawns, just plain-old regular Carlton wearing a new hat and glasses in an attempt to fool us.
But this time it’s different, and it’s not scary to say it. It’s Good Carlton, just as the diehards always imagined it would be.
Now, Good Carlton isn’t always going to be perfect. Nobody should delude themselves into thinking Good Carlton can just waltz on in here like they own the place and win everything without a backward step. It doesn’t work that way.
But that’s a good thing, because it’s that struggle that should make us so confident in our declaration. This is what Good Carlton looks like, warts and all.
This game against the Western Bulldogs was billed as an early litmus test for the Blues. They were mighty impressive in their round one win over Richmond, but a week of incremental setbacks shaped this one up as an even more daunting prospect.
The Bulldogs had been slowly ground into dust by Melbourne in round one, but they remain the same team that blitzed their way to the 2021 grand final.
If ever there was a team that would put the Blues’ suddenly thriving midfield to the test, it would be the Western Bulldogs. It was the right challenge at the right time for Michael Voss’s — sorry, Ashley Hansen’s — team.
And wouldn’t you know it? Up steps Good Carlton.
The first half was something else entirely. Patrick Cripps, head bloodied and then bandaged, played football that literally nobody else in the game is capable of.
He’s different to a Dustin Martin or Christian Petracca or Marcus Bontempelli. There’s very little grace involved or required in Cripps’s game, but his unique mode of relentless destruction is just as thrilling to watch as anything those other showmen are capable of.
On this night, officially leading Good Carlton for the first time, he was a force of nature.
He was joined by Sam Walsh, whose absence in round one wasn’t as strongly felt as his return in round two was. George Hewett was prolific again, as was the massively improved Matthew Kennedy.
Add Adam Cerra back into the mix, and we’re talking about an engine room comparable with the very best.
The first-half dominance started in the midfield, but gun mids alone aren’t enough to create this version of Good Carlton.
What takes this team up that next level is the defensive structure behind the ball and two giant weapons ahead of it.
Harry McKay kicked four goals tonight and took 12 marks, five of them contested, and still had to play second fiddle to a Charlie Curnow masterclass two years in the making.
While the Bulldogs look for an able partner for Aaron Naughton — and saw encouraging signs from Jamarra Ugle-Hagan — Good Carlton already has two power forwards as dangerous as any in the comp.
Then came the second half, and the expected response of a Bulldogs team that is still good enough to go on a run of six straight goals against the Demons as recently as last week.
Good Carlton was tested severely, the defence stretched to breaking point with midfielders visibly out on their feet and a rookie interim coach trying to provide guidance in a foreign situation.
But they held on. Curnow kicked massive goals in the third and fourth quarters when the pressure was at its greatest, standing up like only the best can do.
And sure, Good Carlton was a bit lucky in the end. The Dogs had more than enough chances to win the game late but wasted them. But the funny thing about luck is that good teams get more of it than the poor ones.
Good Carlton deserved to win this game. They outplayed the Bulldogs just as they outplayed Richmond last week. They play sustainable, entertaining football with All Australian-calibre players all over the ground.
They can take charge of games when they have the momentum and can fight like hell when it’s going against them.
We’ve had our hearts broken before, but that was the old Carlton. This is Good Carlton. Things are different now.
Source: AFL NEWS ABC