Jump Ball Sports
Carlton’s progress under Brendon Bolton this season should be judged more on losses than wins.
The fallout from the Blues’ last gasp defeat to the Gold Coast Suns obscures the Blues’ still harsh reality.
After all, this is a club that last season suffered nine 50+ point defeats, including three brutal losses which broke the century mark.
While victories would obviously be welcome, when viewed through this lens Carlton managing to be more consistently competitive in defeat in 2019 will represent a significant uptick for the club.
That Sunday’s result came down to a virtual coin toss shows that if the Blues can regularly stay alive late in games, wins will inevitably follow.
And yet it’s not like we couldn’t see the uber-dramatic reaction to the Blues’ Metricon misery coming.
The faux ‘must win’ media driven narrative in the lead-up to the Gold Coast game ensured the vultures would be circling Princes Park - and Bolton in particular - in the event the Suns prevailed, even if by less than a straight kick as it turned out.
Never mind that a resurgent Gold Coast was a whisker away from a perfect start to the season and playing at home. Nor that victories for the Blues this season are just as likely to result from catching a more experienced team off guard than beating a relative equal in the Suns.
The irony is that the reaction to the Gold Coast defeat represents a Groundhog Day scenario to the ice-cold response to the club’s round 4 loss to North Melbourne exactly one year earlier.
While both games were preceded by a series of relatively competitive displays by the Blues, the key difference is that Carlton’s 2018 take on defeat was an 86 point drubbing.
It’s a result like that - far more than the weekend’s two point loss at the death - which should trigger serious debate about the Blues’ health and Bolton’s short term future at the helm.
This is not to suggest Bolton is destined to be the navy blue messiah.
If nothing else, Bolton’s at times excitable junior sports coach shtick - think back to his cringeworthy post-round 1 “I’m falling in love with our players” quote - makes one wonder.
But to apportion too much blame to the coach for Carlton’s bleak recent record is to ignore where the club is at.
Still in the grips of a biblical rebuild, the Blues are only now starting to pull away from rock bottom. And need the recently extended Sam Walsh remind you of what honourable losses can do to fast track a construction job.
There is also the fact that Bolton’s retention in the face of widespread calls for his head is helping reshape Carlton’s culture. The seemingly genuine show of faith in a struggling coach by players and executive this week was a wonderful look for a club long renowned for a populist, short-term approach to success.
That leaves the question of development and the relentless rise of superstar Patrick Cripps, re-establishment of Jacob Weitering, and promising signs from next-gen types like Zac Fisher and Paddy Dow strongly suggest Bolton’s stewardship is not stunting the young Blues’ growth. Meaning that even if the club ultimately decides Bolton is not the person to take it to the promised land, he would have served as a solid developmental placeholder before handing on the coaching baton.
But all this will suddenly count for very little if the Blues slip back into the intermittent bloodbath cycle that dogged the club’s 2018 campaign.
For nothing breeds disenchantment quite like non-competitiveness.
Carlton’s ability to avoid blowout losses this season is likely to define the club’s progress and determine Bolton’s viability.