Footy has never been more week by week than it is now.
With just about every spot on the ladder up for grabs, one of the only things we can count on this year is the same two teams currently in 17th and 18th to rounding out the competition all year, in the Blues and Lions.
Both are 0-6, still without a win despite at least two matches where they would have considered themselves a high chance to win. Both are coming out of long term rebuilds, with ‘apparent’ success ‘imminent’. Both feature some of the best young talent in the country at each end of the ground, with hard-nosed, contested players in the middle. Both feature two likeable and extremely smart coaches, who have imposed distinct, yet important changes to the sides of which they have been tasked with turning around the fortunes of. Both have even experienced two failed attacks at progressing up the ladder under different coaches, in Leppitsch and Malthouse, less than five years ago. So with all these similarities, who’s closer to a premiership?
At the conclusion of round 6, the stats suggest that a match between these two would be very, very dull yet close, with both teams only averaging mid 60’s for points scored. The Blues and Lions are also just about dead even for average clearances, with the Blues just one centre clearance ahead of the Lions on average. They also turn the ball over slightly less that the Lions, however average less intercepts per game, with 68-64 in favour of the men up North. Both teams are also similar in points conceded averaging between 95-100.
Brisbane have a stronger outside game, averaging 20 more uncontested possessions on the back of runners like Lewis Taylor and Hugh Mcclugage, but can’t win the ball on the inside as well as Carlton, with beasts Patrick Cripps and Ed Curnow busting open stoppages all game long. All the stats indicate that these teams are as close to each other as can be, so what is there separating the two teams?
Both sides also have a similar list profile, with a wave of young guns rising through the ranks to become the driving force behind the success today. Brisbane have five players who are yet to be blooded in the AFL, while Carlton have three, and of those who have debuted 21 players out of a possible 43 have played less than 50 games in the navy blue, although the Lions have 16 in this same category out of a possible 40, five less than Carlton. However, these figures strongly suggest that there is likely to be plenty of talent constantly coming through the systems in both franchises for years to come, and we can expect that Carlton especially will have multiple All-Australians with less than 100 games experience running around in the seasons to come in the near future.
Conversely, both lists are well lead by a few experienced heads. For Carlton, players such as captain Marc Murphy and Kade Simpson immediately spring to mind, with well over 500 games of experience between the two, who are well supported by other veterans in Kreuzer, Thomas and Curnow. In regards to Brisbane’s older players, the Lions have more players around the prime experience bracket of AFL in around 100 games, with nine players having played between 100-200 games, compared to Carltons five. This indicates that the Lions have more players on their list that are ready to win them games of AFL footy now, but have less real on field leaders, with recent trade acquisition Luke Hodge the only player on Brisbane’s list with more than 200 games experience.
This highlights that while both teams have a generally low experience level, Brisbane have fast tracked many players to 100 games quicker than Carlton, which should mean they would be out performing the blues. But Carlton’s higher level of experience on field from more than half a dozen players who have been in the system for over a decade makes up for the weakness with the younger list, placing both teams on relatively even terms.
However, from a list sense, the demographics of the next wave of Brisbane guns who have more games under their belt than the next wave of Carlton players would suggest that Brisbane are closer to a premiership, although it would still be more than half a decade off at the very least.
If we take this further though, and think of what could have been, a vastly different picture is painted. Both teams have been some of the hardest hit during the trade period, with rival teams constantly raiding The Gabba and Ikon Park for some of the best young talent.
Eddie Betts was a good player, without being outstanding at Carlton just over half a decade ago. Like a fine wine though, Fast forward to 2018, and even with a queit start to the year and facing some injury troubles, he is still mentioned constantly mentioned in the debate of the best small forward ever, as he gets better with age. Despite not achieving the honours in nine seasons at Carlton, Betts has featured in the past three All Australian teams since he moved to Adelaide, leaving Blues fans to wither away into their own shadows, thinking what could have been.
Betts is not the only example in the case of multiple stars leaving Carlton or Brisbane. Elliot Yeo’s move to the eagles has payed huge dividends, with Yeo considered the Eagles ‘Mr. Fix it’ from the way that he can play anywhere on the ground better than most players suited to that position. Jared Polec followed former coach Michael Voss to Port Adelaide after having minimal impact in his first seasons at the Lions and is currently having a career best year that has seen him being ranked as one of the best wingman in the game. Bryce Gibbs is another who walked out on Carlton after being in their best three players for the best part of a decade. If both teams have retained some of these players, not only would their list look very different, but both would likely be among the 16 other teams all fighting for the heavily contested top 8.
Sam Docherty is another interesting piece to this puzzle. After spending 2012 and 2013 on Brisbane’s list, Docherty requested a trade back to Victoria, where he eventually joined Carlton for a pretty low price of pick 33, emphasising just how little Brisbane rated him. Currently battling an ACL injury that will see ‘The Doch’ sidelined until at least early next year, prior to this he had built his reputation as one of the most damaging half backs in the game, with his ability to read the game and go at an extremely high efficiency rate by foot well documented by the footy community.
If he had chosen to continue his career at Brisbane and not return home to Carlton, it would place Brisbane’s list fair and square above the Carlton list, but unfortunately the ‘go home’ factor is one that influences Brisbane’s list very heavily and has cost them several AFL guns that would see them currently contending for the eight.
Another invaluable quality Docherty brings to the table is his leadership. He is joint vice-captain of the Carlton footy club, and one of either himself or Patrick Cripps are likely to take the mantle of current captain Murphy, who will be 32 half way through next season. With Cripps only 23 years old, and Docherty just one year older at 24, the Blues are well led, and will be well led for the best part of the next decade, under the stable leadership of these two.
Up north, the Lions are in a slightly different position in regards to their leadership. Dayne Beams has only recently turned 28, and is likely to be captain of the lions for the next four or five years. After that however, Brisbane seem to be lacking in natural leaders with five members of their six man leadership group over the age of 25, and unlikely to take over when Beams either retires or hands over the captaincy. Harris Andrews is the only member under 25, and being just 21 he looks set to be Brisbane’s captain in four to five years.
But he needs more support. Jarrod Berry and Eric Hipwood are among the few that have obvious leadership capabilities, but beyond these names not many pop up to form the leadership core that should drive Brisbane into the eight in the foreseeable future. Natural leaders will be heavily on the agenda for list manager for newly appointed list manager Dom Abrogio, especially considering the departure of Tom Rockliff, during the recent trade period.
In regards to the future, Brisbane have a state of the art new football complex coming to Springfield, near the Brisbane CBD, but which will not be ready until the mid 2020’s at the earliest. This is likely to be funded by the AFL, while Carlton have also recently lucked out, with the state governments proposed plan to commit to a $20 Million rebuild.
However, one of the most significant factors between these two are their location.
The location of both teams directly influences the members, and media, that these two teams receive after a weekend game, and this directly influences how well they play next week.
Melbourne is one of the only cities in Australia where AFL is much more loved than any other sport in the Winter. All Melbournians have at least some degree of connection to the footy, and while some AFL players will say its undesirable, this creates a certain degree of pressure on team performance. If Gold Coast were to lose heavily at home, the backlash to the loss would be much less than the outrage that Collingwood would face if they lost by a huge margin, due to the footy bubble that exists inside Melbourne, and no where else in Australia.
If Carlton lose heavily, they are immediately challenged to bounce back and bounce back hard the next week, through members microwaving memberships, and being crucified by multiple media outlets. In a Melbourne team’s camp after a heavy loss in not a nice place to be. Brisbane on the other hand have much less members and therefore much less attention on their performance, also due to their location outside of the footy bubble. If Brisbane lose they receive minimal media attention, and no external challenge is thrown down to the players to respond, a problem former coach Rodney Eade said significantly influenced his players on the Gold Coast.
Overall, as hard as it is for the average footy fan to believe, the future is bright for both these two clubs. The hope that these clubs sell is not false, and will lead the clubs into better times. While both teams will be in a pretty similar spot in 10 years, Brisbane should be able to challenge for a premiership before Dayne Beams’ time is up, and Carlton is still a year or two younger than the lions and therefore, a year or two behind. As long as they can retain key talent and Chris Fagan turns out to be as good a coach as we think he is, expect Brisbane to heavily contest the eight within the next two years, and be pushing top 4 by the 2023 season.