The anticipation felt by all supporters who attended their first Victorian game for over 15 months was palpable. I know it was for me. Getting ready to head to the G was surreal. As I packed my bag, got out my top, it all seemed like it was an out-of-body experience.
Entering the ground, finding my seat, catching up with people not seen for quite some time, I waited for the first siren to go to start the 2021 season. This had been a long time coming.
We are all aware that Carlton, finishing in the bottom 8, would have a tough time against a multi-Premiership side, with one of the best players in the competition that we have seen for a long time. The clash between Richmond was always going to be a tough one, and I hoped, really hoped, that if we were serious about top eight contention, we had to come out fighting for every ball from the first bounce. We had to fight for every mark, every tackle – everything. Did we do this? Yes, we did. Unfortunately, we just could not maintain that intensity to the end.
But what was really significant for me, for the team, was that despite some costly errors, for those in the media and social media who saw these errors as symptomatic of the playing group, they did not really see the game and the progress that has been made.
The discussion about Harry McKay’s fluff at the goal square was one that an experienced player could have possibly rendered a different outcome, could have, not definite, but some still have a go at him for that fluff. They also seem to think, after only one round, that he needs to go given that he was outmanoeuvred for most of the game by a very seasoned and finely honed in defence team from, let’s say it again, a Premiership side. What he will learn from this game that it is not doom and gloom, for it is only round 1; he will learn how to overcome a defence such as he had to endure and win in the end. He is an intelligent and serious footballer who has no trouble taking the game on. He needs to learn how to take that next step and become a super forward that I know and many others can see he will become.
I try not to discuss individual players as many others do that, but I try and see the game in its entirety. Yet, I cannot go on without mentioning the fantastic get of Oscar McDonald, who was subbed in for an injured Jack Silvagni, who, might I say, so far, is playing better this year than I have seen in a while. He is playing freer and more aggressively. The club’s decision to sign-on McDonald was a revelation, for it gave us another player who can literally move around the ground and plug in the holes where needed, especially seeing as he can kick goals.
What I saw from the game was a team that is taking the slow and steady steps to become a top side. No team can become a top team unless their players develop, grow, learn and experience what it means to be a top team. This takes the form of learning what to do and what not to do during the game and to come out and play every damn quarter and leave nothing in the tank. The team did this, and you could see that for the first round of the season, we worried Richmond. This is what every fan, every sports supporter of any game, should be looking at. We need to look not at the disappointment of losing to a multi-Premiership team, but how the players played the game for the most part – on their terms.
The team that will eventually be successful is not the team that blasts every other team in every game. It will be the team that may start off slow, but towards the end, when it really counts, that they can step over that line that separates the bottom from the top. Because with every quarter, with every match, they gain more experience and understanding of what it is going to take to become a top team. Carlton did that against Richmond.
I have no voice from cheering and yelling at the umpires because, to be honest, it was atrocious, but that is what going to the footy is all about and what I and others have sorely missed.
The season’s opening game could not have been more exciting and showed what the team is building, which was on display on Thursday night. With every game, we will become a better team. We saw it on Thursday night. Can’t ask for more than that.
P.S. There are those on social media who believe that Carlton is back to its old ways of the past and that it is time to get rid of some players and even the coach. These people do not see the growth that the club has gone through and will continue to. It took years, not a few, for Clarkson to make Hawthorn the team they were. It took years for Hardwick to make Richmond the team they are now. We have to allow that same process with Teague, and I believe, genuinely believe, that he is the coach to make this team a top team.