Brett Ratten never seems to bristle at a press conference, but the fact he did so following Friday night's win over Collingwood may be evidence of the intense pressure he's been under this week.
From the very moment the final siren went after last Friday's big loss to Hawthorn, the blowtorch was applied to Ratten. Headlines in newspapers yelled out, 'Ratt-sack' and the idea Ratten may be dumped before season's end simply gathered momentum from there, especially after some somewhat non-committal comments from club president Stephen Kernahan in one radio interview.
It was hardly surprising then that something was going to snap.
Having worked primarily in Perth, I haven't had a huge amount of experience covering Carlton press conferences and seeing what Ratten is like on a week-to-week basis. But from the media ops I have done with him, Ratten comes across as being one of the AFL's real good guys. Win, lose or draw - and this includes last year's heartbreaking semi-final loss to West Coast - he respects people's questions and offers gracious, informative answers. In short, he comes across as a really genuine bloke.
But unfortunately for yours truly, I was on the receiving end of an annoyed Ratten on Friday night.
This is not to big-note myself in any way nor to congratulate myself for asking a question that peeved the coach. In all honesty, I could probably have asked this question with a little more tact and therefore got a better answer. But having heard Ratten speak about his side's unbelievable intensity and their four-quarter pressure against a somewhat shell-shocked Collingwood, I felt it was necessary to ask where that level of performance has been for the last seven weeks, a period where the Blues won just a single game against lowly Melbourne.
Speaking to a more experienced colleague after the press conference, he felt for that instant my question almost symbolised this media machine that's turned on Ratten so savagely. He felt that was why the coach bristled somewhat and said my insinuation his side hadn't played any good footy in this period was insulting.
If I was in his place, with such negative stories appearing each day, I'm certain I couldn't have kept my cool as well as Ratten has. But the fact someone so composed showed his annoyance in just a little way, I think speaks volumes for just how tough this period has been on him, giving us some idea of how much stress he, and by extension, all AFL coaches are expected to handle. Sure, some will say they're well paid, they're competitive and ambitious, coaching is the perfect job for them. But at the end of the day, you also have to feel some empathy towards them as well.
Ratten, in all fairness, may simply have felt I was wrongly ignoring some seriously good efforts in losses to Geelong and West Coast. I covered the clash with the Cats and watched the Eagles' one and in both those games, the Blues showed real intensity, but at the end of the day, they were still losses. On Friday night, Carlton took it to another level entirely and they did it for four quarters.
Mitch Robinson has been good all season, but in this match he was a human wrecking ball and his crash tackles on bigger opponents like Dane Swan and Chris Dawes were simply team-lifting. The Blues may have been down a man when Shaun Hampson was subbed off in the first quarter, but substitute Brock McLean showed grunt and character and turned in a 28-possession game that helped Chris Judd find another gear in a searing display.
Nick Duigan and Dennis Armfield were asked to curtail Collingwood's run from defence by tagging Nick Maxwell and Harry O'Brien, a task they did with aplomb, while Michael Jamison defied a suspect shoulder and Matthew Watson ignored his inexperience to produce definitive performances against Travis Cloke and Dawes. In short it was the type of ferocious attack on man and ball that takes a side deep into September and it was no wonder Carlton came away with a season-defining win.
In the same press conference, Judd alluded to the fact the side felt they owed Ratten for all the pressure he was under.
"At the end of the day, you can talk 'til you're blue in the face but it's the actions in footy that count," Judd said.
"And I thought the players, you know, showed Ratts the respect that he deserves and really played for him tonight and we're rapt to come away with the win."
Hopefully for Carlton supporters, Judd's comments suggest the penny has dropped for this side. Those supporters would naturally be delighted with such a backs-to-the-wall win, especially after all the negative headlines. But I suspect many would also feel this win now sets a benchmark for the intensity required if the Blues are to make a late charge into the finals.However, Carlton can't simply rely on, 'doing it for Ratts', as motivation every week. That intensity should really be something they aspire to in every match. And, while there have been injuries to contend with and everyone's human - we can't be at our best in every second of every day - Blues supporters will still wonder why it's taken so long for such a superb performance to come about.