In football, timing is everything. In the week Alastair Clarkson was effectively put on the market by Hawthorn’s hurriedly announced succession plan, David Teague could have done with a soft kill to keep the wolves at bay. In the event Carlton were pitted against the might of Geelong. The Blues coach needed everything to go right but as has been the case for much of his tenure, not a lot did.
Teague, nor Carlton for that matter, will not be judged solely on an honourable loss to a top-four side. But taking a scalp like the Cats’ will have done no harm to Teague’s hopes of keeping his job. It was not to be, again, and the prosecution’s case against Teague and the credibility of the side he leads is gathering steam.
Though beaten soundly enough at the MCG, the Blues were not terrible. They enjoyed periods of domination, particularly in the first half, but where Teague demanded relentlessness his men conjured clemency. Where Teague demanded the instincts of an assassin, his men were profligate – Carlton had 1.13 on the scoreboard at one point while managing to kick 11 consecutive behinds. If Geelong were on the hook at any stage, their temperate hosts ensured they would not stay there for long.
The Blues were pulling off a magic trick that is familiar and all too becoming of a team built on pretence: they were simultaneously playing very well and very poorly. And that is just so Carlton. They threaten to be a good team but are in fact a million miles away from becoming one. Supporting them must feel like a sentence at times.
The next four weeks shape as a make-or-break period for Teague
Teague himself must feel as if he is on death row. Now into his second full season in charge, his time is running out to illustrate some level of progress. His current deal expires at the end of 2022 but unless the Blues finish the season with a flourish he might not be afforded a stay of proceedings.
With Teague certain to be a central topic of discussion in the club’s review of its football department, the added element of Clarkson’s availability places greater heat on the Carlton incumbent. “As long as they’re transparent and clear with me, I’m comfortable. I understand it,” Teague told the ABC about a possible Carlton move for Clarkson.
Though Clarkson is due to finish up at the Hawks at the end of 2022, a time frame that would fit snugly with Teague’s deal should the Blues make a concerted bid for the four-time premiership coach, there are forces at play elsewhere that could bring things forward dramatically.
Clarkson might be on record as committed to seeing out his contract with Hawthorn – “I’m contracted until the end of next year and I am staying here,” he said last week – but with Collingwood on the hunt, and possibly Gold Coast before too long, advancements for Clarkson will come. With the Hawks coach gettable, Carlton must decide if they want to enter the race for the finest football mind of his generation.
The next four weeks shape as a make-or-break period for Teague. With games against Collingwood, North Melbourne, St Kilda and Gold Coast, the Blues have a chance to assuage the doubters and prove they are making strides forward under Teague’s tutelage. Should they continue on their up-and-down trajectory, however, it would be hard to describe Teague as anything other than a dead man walking.
But even a strong finish to 2021 might not be enough to spare him. One thing the Blues won’t be doing this season is playing finals football, making it eight years in succession the post-season has been held without Carlton’s involvement. For a so-called big Melbourne club, this is unacceptable; Teague will have a raft of KPIs attached to his role but the overriding one would be to take the club into the top eight.
Despite the promise and expectation, he will have failed to deliver. “If they made finals, they have got to continue with David Teague, no doubt,” Carlton great Robert Walls told Fairfax at the start of this season. “But if they didn’t, they will probably have to cast the net and look at what’s about.”
Which brings the discussion back to Clarkson. Until we know better, we might have to take it as read that he is intent on fulfilling his “moral obligation” to Hawthorn. “At the end of next year, I’m hoping to be able to take a breath and see what life looks like,” he said. “What I call the five Fs – family, football, friends, my farm and fitness.”
It is unlikely, however, he will be given such peace between now and then. There are clubs out there, Carlton being one of them, that know a man like Clarkson can deliver them an “F” they want more than anything else: finals.