SMALL MERCY for the Blues as one of their old boys fails, for once, to put them to the sword, writes RON REED:
LONG-SUFFERING CARLTON fans, this one no exception, arrived at the MCG late on Saturday afternoon – well, some did, a lot didn’t – fearing two nightmares might be awaiting. One, that the in-form West Coast would beat the pants off the winless baby Blues. Two, that their full-forward Josh Kennedy – who, all too briefly, used to be ours what seems a lifetime ago – would have a big day out.
Neither transpired. Yep, the West Australians won comfortably but the final margin was a very respectable 10 points, even if it wasn’t an accurate reflection of the difference in experience, professionalism, aplomb under pressure and the number of scoring opportunities (10.19.79 d. 10.9.69). And Kennedy managed just one goal and one behind from only four kicks and one handball, surely one of his worst games ever. Take a bow, Blues full-back Sam Rowe who played on him all afternoon – No 17 v No 17.
That meant, to the surprise of one and all, that Kennedy failed to get the two goals he needed to go past Peter Sumich’s club record of 514. He had to settle for equalling it. There was an element of bad luck to that given that he had his first goal, a snap from behind the pack, midway through the first quarter with plenty of time left to get another one, then shanked a set shot out of bounds on the full from 47m out soon afterwards and, finally, snapped one over his shoulder in the third that looked to have gone through only to be overturned by a TV review.
The Blue-baggers must have been scarcely able to believe their luck since the big bloke with the beard enjoys nothing more than showing his old club what it has missed since it sent him back to his native WA as part of the deal that saw Chris Judd make the opposite journey, Kennedy having played just 22 games for 11 goals in the navy blue in 2006-07. He has since become a superstar, playing well over 200 games and winning the Coleman Medal for two of the last three years – it would almost certainly have been three in a row last year if he had not missed five matches with a calf injury, allowing Buddy Franklin to prevail – as well as making the last three all-Australian teams, twice as vice-captain. When he returned from injury last year he bagged 30 goals in the last six games to keep the eagles in contention, never had a goalless game all season and earned 13 Brownlow votes, a handy stat for a fixture in the last line of attack.
In his past three games against the Blues, he had kicked 18.4. When the clubs met in round 21 last season he had 12 disposals, took five marks inside 50, had 10 scoring involvements and booted six goals. In 2015 he kicked 10.1 against Carlton, whose fans watch the team struggle to gather double-figure goal tallies every week while their alumni Kennedy, Eddie Betts and Jarrad Waite enrich the forward lines of other clubs.
Kennedy is one of the treasures of the contemporary game because while he has never kicked 100 goals he is one of the very few remaining old-style full-forwards, a cohort that is sadly missed by anyone old enough to remember the not-so-distant days of Lockett, Ablett sr, Hudson, Longmire, Modra and even Fevola. And, yes, Sumich, who kicked 111 in 1991, which wasn’t quite enough to beat Lockett to the Coleman. In an interview in the West Australian newspaper on Saturday, former Bulldogs and Hawthorn full-back Brian Lake likened Kennedy to the stars of the golden era of goalkickers. “He would have really done well in the old-school days,” said Lake, who played on Lockett and the others. Lake wondered how many goals Kennedy would have kicked if he had been born 20 years earlier.
Kennedy himself told the newspaper he grew up idolising Collingwood’s now coach Nathan Buckley but wanted to emulate the great key forwards Jonathan Brown and Nick Riewoldt. “As a junior coming into the AFL, those guys were someone I watched every week,” he said. “Nick Riewoldt’s tape I watched every Monday for a couple of years. I couldn’t steal his speed but just his leading patterns and the way he was able to cut angles and split on his opponent was something I thought I really wanted to bring to my game.”
Kennedy told the footy Record he hadn’t given any thought to the benchmark until Sumich rang him a couple of weeks ago to remind him. “He was my forward line coach early in my career and he really shaped me into the player I am today, and I couldn’t thank him enough,” he said. ”One of the biggest things he taught me was the art of keeping it simple and not overcomplicating things, which most of us do. Especially as a young kid you can really over-complicate football. It’s a pretty simple game and he’s someone who really got the balance for me in that sense. Probably just my work rate and second, third efforts is something he pushed when I was younger.”
As for Carlton, who are now 0-5, it wasn’t all bad. They were on level terms midway through the third quarter and finished with several positives in stats such as possessions, contested possessions, clearances, tackles, marks, free kicks and disposal efficiency, all while coping with a crippling injury list. Filling in for captain Marc Murphy for the first time, the brilliant Patrick Cripps was best afield with 34 possessions despite being put under constant pressure. But they made a truckload of mistakes including a couple of terrible turnovers that gifted West Coast two free goals, more than the final margin. They started strongly in each of the first three quarters, prompting former St Kilda star Nathan Burke, commentating on radio, to suggest that if it had been an AFLW game where quarters only last 15 minutes the Blues would have been in the rooms singing the song long before the finish. Hopefully, he wasn’t suggesting they were playing like girls! Not the least disappointing aspect of the afternoon was that the Blues, on a fine Saturday afternoon at the MCG – prime time for footy — could only pull a crowd of fewer than 28,000. Sure, the Eagles – like all interstate teams – do not contribute big numbers to the gate in Melbourne, but this paltry roll-up suggests that the Blues’ woeful performances over the first month of the season might have damaged their brand. The pleas for patience are clearly wearing thin.
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.