The AFL Commission will regret and must revisit the sanctions imposed against Carlton that exclude it from the first and second rounds of this year’s draft. The penalty, coupled with last year’s first and second-round sanctions, is too harsh and will cause the Blues to become a replica of the Brisbane Bears within three years.

Did Wayne Jackson and company realise the ramifications of their ill-considered penalty? Did they really think this through? Did they look at the club’s list and see what those draft penalties would do? The commission fined the Blues $900,000, but why wasn’t it substantially more? Simple: they didn’t want to bankrupt the club. Yet that is precisely what they have risked doing on-field.

The Blues deserved to be hit hard – John Elliott’s regime treated the system with contempt, more than we probably know – but there were better ways to go about it.

You want to take draft picks away? Fine, but wouldn’t it have been better for everyone – club and competition – if the draft bans were, say, one pick over four years rather than four picks over two years? Or take the powers you now have and penalise them eight premiership points a year for the next three seasons.

Carlton just doesn’t have the list to regenerate without healthy draft assistance – another Elliott legacy, given the club “topped up” for too long at the expense of investing in youth. It is currently grossly unbalanced, with too many of the Blues’ quality players aged 28 and above, and, perhaps more importantly, there are very few quality players aged 22-27 to carry the club into the next era.

This age is when you play your best footy, and you need a dozen proven performers in this bracket to be competitive. Carlton has already missed out on Brendon Goddard and Daniel Wells. To lose players of similar ilk again robs the players and supporters of hope. No club deserves that, and certainly no individual. Particularly those who didn’t share in the spoils of the 1990s.

What do players such as Brendan Fevola, Lance Whitnall and Ryan Houlihan have to play for? Certainly not premierships. These are career penalties. Within two years, captain Brett Ratten (32 in July), Andrew McKay (32), Mick Martyn (34), Corey McKernan (29), Glenn Manton (30), Adrian Hickmott (31) and possibly Anthony Koutoufides (30) will have retired. In fact, there’s no guarantee McKay and Ratten will be there next year.

Even more frightening is that, with the exception of Manton and Martyn, all of above are in the club’s best 10 players – and there’s little pressure from below to challenge them.

Of the next group, aged 22-27, only Simon Beaumont, Scott Camporeale, Matthew Lappin, Whitnall and probably Fevola and Darren Hulme, given this year’s form, would consistently gain selection at most other clubs. Beaumont and Camporeale are not that far away from moving into the 30-plus bracket, putting further pressure on the middle of the list.

It’s difficult to assess just how good the youngest players (21 or under) are, but suffice to say, there’s no Jonathan Brown. They have all been promising in patches, but are still at least five years away from having a collective impact.

So what does Carlton do, given the AFL is more likely to appoint Elliott its new chief executive than revise its penalty?

In the short term, a rebuilding plan needs to be adopted that is accepted and owned at all levels of administration. This is going to be a long haul that will test the fabric of the club like no other time in its history, and solidarity in the boardroom is fundamental to its success.

Players, members and sponsors need to be included in all key decisions and given some ownership in the direction the club takes. The more they feel part of the future, the better they’ll be able to accept the present woes. And this is where the Bears step in. It is worth remembering the Brisbane Lions were fathered by the Brisbane Bears, whose disastrous formation in 1987 was overseen by a short-sighted AFL Commission.

They floundered at the bottom of the ladder for four years, implementing short-term solutions that continually frustrated the long-term goal.

Robert Walls arrived in 1991 with a commitment to the future and a simple plan to draft the best talent for as long as it took. In his first year, the club drafted poorly, with the exception of Michael McLean, and finished last. The following year it added Justin Leppitsch, Chris Scott, Craig McRae and Alastair Lynch, four players who are still having a major impact. Slowly the benefits of a long-term plan started to show on the field, with the team finishing eight in 1995, Walls’ fifth and final year.

It took Walls five tough years to build a team in Brisbane that would give it a solid enough foundation to be competitive. A further six years passed before that foundation blossomed fully when Leigh Matthews took the Lions to their first flag in 2001. It took Brisbane 11 years and four coaches to build a premiership from scratch.

Only Marcus Ashcroft, Darryl White, Shaun Hart and Michael Voss were at the club before Walls arrived, so you could argue Carlton is further advanced than the Bears. However, that’s debatable, given the Lions had already unearthed one of the AFL’s great leaders in Voss.

What is beyond debate is that Carlton is in a similar position to the Bears, circa 1990. It’s worth remembering the Bears had the benefit of draft and salary-cap concessions, plus a zone pick, each year to help them build the current team. That is not available to Carlton, further emphasising how ill-considered this decision will prove to be.

Within two years, Camporeale and perhaps Koutoufides will be the sole remnants of an era whose management style established Carlton as the most successful club of the past century.

But where drafting was once a weakness at Optus Oval, it must now become an art form. Last year, the Blues discovered that none of the players they offered up had any currency in the market, which has led to the view that perhaps two of last year’s “untouchables” – Whitnall and Camporeale – should be offered as trade bait. However, so draconian is the AFL’s penalty, it has prevented Carlton from not only being involved in the first two draft rounds, but also trading into them. That leaves it with only a player(s)-for-players(s) swap option.

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