Singing the Blues at long last

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IT’S BEEN a long time coming but the Old Dark Navy Blues’ breakthrough might be a sign of better things to come – well, long-suffering fan RON REED hopes so:

SOME days, even just sitting on the couch can remind you why footy is as captivating as it is in the lives of sports fans in general. Easter Sunday was one.

OK, I’m coming from a slightly – well, considerably – skewed perspective here because I am a long-suffering Carlton fan, but the Blues’ long-awaited drought-breaker against the Western Bulldogs was, surely, one of the best -feel-good moments of the season.

And so was Eddie Betts’ 300th game.

To take the second one first, that is also a point of pride for the Blues, the club that gave the brilliant goal-getter his first chance in the big-time and which not only provided a platform for his first 184 games and the development of his exquisite skills, but greatly assisted the process of him graduating from the brink of wasting his life to becoming a hugely significant influence in the world in which he lives. More than one world, in fact.

In one of the many interviews he did in the build-up to his milestone, he  confessed that despite a cheerful childhood he was so nearly illiterate when he arrived at Carlton that he could barely read, let alone understand the contract he was asked to sign, and couldn’t bring himself even to talk to schoolchildren, preferring to just have a kick with them.

And look where he is now, probably the most popular footballer in the league, one of the most accomplished on the field, and, off it, a figure of high significance in the on-going battle against racial intolerance.

He is an inspiring example of how to succeed in life even if you’re starting from behind scratch.

I wish he was still a Blue-bagger.

As it turned out, the AFL couldn’t have hoped for a more fitting segue than Eddie’s old team completing their first win for 268 days just minutes before he took the field for the Crows, inspiring an emphatic return to form for one of the outfits who were struggling almost as much as the Blues.

Quite how much can be read into Carlton’s breakthrough is a moot point, of course, but it was a quality performance – albeit assisted by the Bulldogs’ atrocious finishing in front of goal – topped off with the last kick of the game, a goal that carried them past 100 points for the first time in 60 matches – or as someone pointed out on social media, since Donald Trump was just a reality TV star.

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The Blues have been “in” all their previous matches and certainly should have won against the Gold Coast last week, which has resulted in a relatively healthy percentage that saw them jump four places on the ladder. So there is genuine hope, a message I received loud and clear during the week from an old Blue with solid credentials as an observer, premiership star and former St Kilda coach Ken Sheldon, who assured me over lunch that they weren’t far away.

This is good for footy.

While it is true that nobody except Carlton supporters likes Carlton – ditto for Collingwood and to a slightly lesser extent Richmond and Essendon – surely anyone with a love and respect for the game in general would agree that having one of the traditional powerhouses permanently stranded in the wilderness is no good for footy.

And you would be a stony-hearted cynic not to enjoy the emotions on display when the ecstatic players formed the circle of brotherhood to belt out one of the most famous of all the theme songs, the symbol of more premierships than every other club than Essendon – but unsung for so long you would excuse the players if they had forgotten the words. They hadn’t.

Against the Suns last week, the Blues were difficult to watch. Although they led for most of the game, the skill level was unacceptable, the error count culpable and the frustration factor indicative of a team that simply didn’t know what to do with a winning chance when presented with one.

There was so much more to like this time as the Blues charged further ahead at every change, never really looking like they might be overrun by a side that did exactly that to Hawthorn in the late stages in round two.

At this stage they have the best player in the competition in the captain, Patrick Cripps, who has been nothing less than superb in every game so far, another 30-plus possessions  and, surely, more Brownlow votes locked away.

That said, nothing was more captivating than emerging key forward Harry McKay’s best performance so far, pulling in contested mark after mark and kicking four goals, which would have been five if his colossal four-bounce run from the wing – an amazing effort for a big man — had not ended up skewing off his boot.

Back in the glory days, the Blues have had some awesome key forwards who could move well, take big marks, kick a lot of goals and win matches – “Sticks” Kernahan, Robert Walls, David McKay and Mark Maclure to name just a few.

“Swan” McKay played in five flags – yep, it’s a bit early to make that comparison with his new namesake, but after this performance you can’t blame the Blue army for dreaming big.

mm

Author: Ron Reed

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.

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