AFL

WAS THAT REALLY THE OLD DARK NAVY BLUES?

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SEVEN DAYS IN SPORT: Pride may yet goeth before a fall, but there was an awful lot to like about the Blues this time, writes RON REED.

IT HAD to happen eventually – and when it did, you had to be there to witness it. That’s if you are a long-suffering Carlton supporter who has faithfully rocked up to the MCG for round one against the Tigers every year for a decade and always walked away not merely disappointed by the result on the night but achingly aware that the constantly rebuilt team is still not good enough and yet another season of frustration and unfulfillment lay ahead.

Would this never end?

Well, now it has – or has it?

This time, you walked away elated by what you had just witnessed, to be sure, but also perversely wondering whether it had been all just a little too surreal, not quite believable, some sort of freakish outlier that might never be repeated.

After all, the quality of Carlton’s last-quarter onslaught that turned a 20 point deficit into a 25 point win was near enough to a match, I think, for Melbourne’s late-game annihilation of the Western Bulldogs in the Grand Final.

If this wasn’t football perfection – there may be no such thing – it will do until we get some.

Their domination of every statistical measurement was almost total.

After being outplayed for two thirds of the game until that point, Carlton embarrassed their traditional rivals – and there are still no better occasions in the national competition than the old Melbourne suburban showdowns – making them look slow, old and just not good enough, a force of other days, now gone.

The irony of that was lost on nobody from either club who had endured or enjoyed the previous nine editions of this season-opening blockbuster.

So is it for real?

Is this the year the Blues finally put an end to decades of under-achievement and, like the Western Bulldogs, Melbourne and, yes, Richmond in recent times position themselves for a return to the glory days of old?

At the risk of setting myself up for the crash-landing that is a common fate of all those unwise enough to go the early crow, there is no reason not to believe that the answer is yes.

I tipped them to win – not many did – and that wasn’t just faith and hope intruding on common  sense.

I hardly ever watch practice matches, believing them to have little relationship to reality. But I sat through every minute of their recent defeat of the Premiers and for the first three quarters, at least, I was certain I detected a new, more aggressive, more cohesive style that might have been difficult to define exactly but which did not look like it was a fluke.

It seemed obvious that the arrival of (yet another) new coach was already having an effect.

And when it really mattered on Thursday night, the improvement was undeniable. There was so much to like. 

Patrick Cripps, also best afield in the practice hit-out, played another blinder. Matthew Kennedy has re-invented himself from battler to star. Recruits George Hewett and Adam Cerra made an instant impact.

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Cancer survivor Sam Docherty’s brave comeback has provided not simply an emotional sugar hit but an injection of sheer talent, which he has always possessed.

They pulled this off without the injured Sam Walsh, Cripps’ only rival as their best player, and with Coleman Medallist Harry McKay and another gun forward Charlie Curnow exerting little influence.

Despite that, a team that often used to struggle to get past 50 points and would too often get run over in the late stages of games, kicked 101 points despite missing more goals than they kicked and twice bounced back from sizeable deficits.

Next week, it’s the other Grand finalists, the Bulldogs – and I have a feeling I won’t have so little company tipping the Blues this time.

THAT was a mighty impressive performance by Pakistan captain Babar Azam and his troops to bat for two days to salvage a draw from a seemingly impossible situation in the second Test at Karachi. However, I still think Pat Cummins had only himself to blame for failing to nail the win. He should have enforced the follow-on instead of batting again. He had the Pakistanis in disarray, his foot on their neck and should have gone for the jugular, instead of giving them time to regroup mentally while Australia added unnecessary, irrelevant runs.

If he had won, the result would have justified the means, as usual, but it still wouldn’t necessarily have been the best way to skin the cat. And of course, he didn’t win. Nor did he and the other bowlers get the rest they would have been hoping for before the imminent deciding match. The debate over the reluctance of Australian captains – and Cummins is by no means the first – to use the follow-on will get fresh legs now, and rightly do.

WESTERN Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge is starting to look more like Chopper Read every day as he cultivates that long, drooping moustache so maybe journalist Tom Morris got off as lightly as he did in that now infamous press conference eruption. Beveridge, of course, was well out of order in attacking the TV reporter as savagely as he did, especially in public, but at least his remorseful apology seems sincere enough. He is entitled to his opinion but should have got it off his chest in private.

Still, I don’t know that Morris or anybody else should get too agitated about it. Journos copping a serve from coaches, players and administrators has been going on since the year dot, not always behind closed doors either, and not necessarily all one way.

Indeed, every time I saw the Test cricket cameras focus on the pavilion where the press box used to be situated in Karachi – and probably still is – I was reminded of my own highly, er, unusual experience the last time Australia played a Test there 24 years ago.

Michael Slater played a superb innings of 90-odd before losing his cool and getting out, stumped, to a wild swing at an inopportune time for him and the team. I was highly critical of this in my match report that was published all round Australia, and which soon found its way back to the colourful batsman.

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Next morning, just before play resumed, dressed in his whites, he stormed into the Press Box and let me have it with both barrels at the top of his voice before turning on his heel before I could get a word in. The other journos present, especially the Pakistanis, couldn’t believe what they had just seen and heard – and nor could I. As far as anybody there was concerned, it was unprecedented – and might still be.

Naturally, it played on my mind all day until I decided that he was right, I had been far too harsh about his dismissal and not nearly appreciative enough of the bulk of what was a very good innings.

There were no bars in the Pakistan hotels so I couldn’t seek him out for a drink to square off, so I rang him in his room and offered an apology – which, after a short pause for thought, he accepted without reservation.

We never had another cross word again and remain on cordial terms whenever our paths cross, which they have often done during his time as a commentator.

Slats has had a tough few months lately so I sincerely hope he is getting his life back together.

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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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