In South Australia, Josh Carr is the West Aussie drafted to Port Adelaide to become a master of the big stage, particularly in Showdowns.
He was hero or villain, depending where you stood on the Port Adelaide-Crows divide.
Carr was uncompromising and fearless. He took on — and even beat — the game’s best such as Brownlow medallist and Brisbane triple-premiership captain Michael Voss.
His imprint is on the Fremantle midfield he coaches today. The Dockers engine room lives to the same characteristics of their boss. And this is driving Fremantle’s success in September.
The left-footer never looked to statistics to measure his worth to his team. He had no interest in personal accolades. He only cared about winning and would sacrifice his well-being to ensure his team won.
Carr has a perfect record in Showdowns, the greatest rivalry in Australian football. He has the perfect 10. This never will be matched.
This didn’t come without sacrifice.
Carr cut a dejected figure early in 2004 when sitting slumped in the corner against a changeroom wall. His jaw was shattered after a sickening incident with Collingwood midfielder Scott Burns. His bloodied hands, acting as a splint, were pressed against his chin to hold the mangled jaw in place.
He could not eat for a week after surgery. Liquids replaced solid foods. He returned to the field five weeks later and, by season’s end, was a star in Port Adelaide’s breakthrough AFL premiership.
His match-ups with Voss and Adelaide skipper Mark Ricciuto were ferocious. Carr was more than a tagger; he made his opponents accountable and made them pay on the scoreboard if they did not show him any respect.
Carr kicked four goals on Voss in a best-on-ground performance at the Gabba in 2003. His role as an accountable midfielder has been lost in today’s AFL — and the game is poorer for this.
The former Docker joined Fremantle’s coaching department at the end of 2019 after leading North Adelaide to the 2018 SANFL premiership. He was at North Adelaide for four years after previously being an AFL assistant coach at Port Adelaide from 2011-2015.
Carr’s good friend, former teammate and now Fremantle chief executive Peter Bell, praised Carr after announcing the appointment.
“Josh is an exceptional person who has developed an impressive resume in his eight years of coaching,” Bell said. “He has an excellent knowledge of the game, and we know he will fit in well with our current coaching team under Justin Longmuir.”
Perhaps even Bell did not realise how influential the appointment would become.
A glimpse into Carr’s coaching genius came after Fremantle rebounded from a 30-point deficit to beat premiers Melbourne in round 11. Melbourne’s winning streak stopped at 17.
Melbourne gun Clayton Oliver had 24 touches at half-time. At the long break, Carr, pictured, tasked wingman James Aish to curtail the Demon’s influence.
Oliver touched the ball only 12 more times in the second half. Fremantle won the clearances by four, after trailing by 10 at half-time. Midfielder Andrew Brayshaw praised Carr’s vision with this match-up, saying the brave call helped Fremantle get the game on its terms.
Despite Aish’s slender frame, he regularly attends the centre bounce stoppages and has flourished in his new role … and from the added confidence of his midfield coach.
Carr has thrived under the Longmuir system. He has drilled the young midfield group with repetitive running drills designed to bed down their defensive and offensive running patterns.
Fremantle ranks third of 18 for holding a defensive edge on the scoreboard this season.
Future captain Brayshaw is the AFL’s best two-way running midfielder. He has earned the Leigh Matthews Trophy as the players’ player of the year.
Caleb Serong was judged best afield by Longmuir and Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge in Fremantle’s stunning 41-point comeback in last Saturday’s elimination final.
Carr’s influence over Serong is evident. It is uncanny how similar Serong’s playing style is to that of Carr. Both are short in stature for midfielders (Carr, 178cm; Serong 179cm). But what is lacking in height is replaced by determination and skill.
In a league where defensive accountability is sadly lacking, Carr has taught Serong and Brayshaw the right way from a young age.
His former club Port Adelaide has already noted Carr has the attributes and resume to be a successful senior coach.
Reports emerged this week that the Power have headhunted him to join the club as a senior assistant coach under Ken Hinkley and is likely to take over from Hinkley as coach when his contract expires at the end of 2023.
Carr’s departure would be a severe blow for the Dockers.
Fremantle’s midfield is playing with the same ruthless attitude and accountability as their master commanded more than a decade ago.
Carr was never frightened of the big jobs or the big stage.
It does not get much bigger than Saturday night’s semifinal at the MCG against Collingwood with 90,000 Collingwood fans.
Carr would have welcomed the occasion as a player.
He might be Fremantle’s unheralded hero again, this time while sitting in the coach’s box.