To make matters worse for Carlton, defender Liam Jones was hospitalised after a heavy collision with North’s Cameron Zurhaar late in the third quarter, although Jones was cleared of any head or neck injuries and discharged later on Sunday.
While Bolton said there were no clear signs that his players weren’t switched on pregame, their first quarter effort was proof that something was amiss, a point he addressed with his team in the rooms after the game.
“We asked some hard questions of each other,” Bolton said.
“We thought we’d been making a little bit of progress.
“We talked about the contested numbers, particularly the first quarter. Most of it was driven around ‘what’s your mindset in preparation for a game, when you know a team’s had some criticism?’ This game requires you to be mentally prepared. You only need to be one per cent off in that preparation at this level, and it can really hurt. Now what percentage we were off, it’s hard to put a figure on it, but we were off, and they got us early.”
However Bolton maintained that Carlton had taken steps forward in 2019, even though their inability to regularly win games has continued. The Blues have won just four of their last 39 games, dating back to mid-2017.
“Don’t blur one game with what a season is. Because there’s lots of signs of progress,” he said.
“It’s a question I’m a bit reluctant to answer – what all the progress is – after a loss. But if you dig deep, there’s been a lot of progress this year. Again we’re not blurring that [with being] satisfied that we’ve only got one win.
“You always like to think so when you’re making progress. I thought by and large this year, our way, the way in which we’re playing footy is stacking up.”
Bolton said early defensive turnovers had compounded his team’s issues.
“They won the contested possession early, and outnumbered around the contest. We didn’t adapt quickly enough in that space, and probably magnified, we had some defensive 50 turnovers, some skill errors coming out of the back half, and it magnified it. All of a sudden they’re five goals up in the first quarter. You’ve got to take your hat off to North. Our guys, it just shows, it’s a real learned behaviour to be able to turn up every week and be absolutely right on the money, and we had too many off early in the game, and it set the tone for the rest of it.”
Bolton was hopeful Matthew Kreuzer and Mitch McGovern would both be available to return from injury in next Saturday’s game against high-flying Collingwood. Tom Williamson copped a knock late in the game although Bolton didn’t seem to think the defender had suffered a serious injury. Dale Thomas spent time off the ground in the first half following a head knock but was cleared to return and played out the game.
After the meeting with the Pies, the Blues are away to Greater Western Sydney before matches against St Kilda and Essendon.
Daniel is an Age sports reporter.