Vendetta Sports Media continues its AFL season previews. We’ve already examined the Bombers, Magpies, and Crows. We now cast our eye on the Blues of Carlton.
They know we’re coming….
That now infamous slogan launched the Blues season all the way back in 2009, when the club was coming off seven straight seasons outside the finals. Armed with a slew of pedigreed young players drafted high in their classes and expensively recruited champions like Chris Judd and Daisy Thomas, the Blues did make a few finals appearances in the years that followed without ever seriously threatening the favourites. That group eventually faded and Carlton haven’t made it back to the finals since 2013.
Now, coming off seven straight seasons outside the finals, armed with a slew of pedigreed young players drafted high in their classes and some expensively recruited veterans….sound familiar?
Under new coach David Teague, the Blues were far more competitive in 2020 than they had been for many years. With their prized high draft picks starting to mature, and boom recruit Jack Martin slotting into the team seamlessly, Carlton looked odds on to break their barren run. However their Achilles heel was allowing the opposition to overwhelm them at inopportune moments: in nine of their 17 contests, the Blues allowed their opposition runs of five or more straight goals. Given that seven of those runs cost the Blues a hard earned lead, those lapses – especially in the back half of the season – were the difference between an uplifting win or a crushing defeat. Ultimately, they cost the club a finals berth.
Key ins: Adam Saad (Bombers), Lachie Fogarty (Cats), Zac Williams (Giants), Corey DDurdin Jack Carroll, Luke Parks (all draft)
Key outs: Matthew Kreuzer (retired), Kade Simpson (retired), Darcy Lang (released), Ben Silvagni (released)
After years of stockpiling young talent through the draft, the Blues chose to focus on trades and free agency this off-season and it’s fair to say their efforts were a success. The club identified the need for speed from the half back line, so they targeted and got Saad. They looked for a goal scoring threat from midfield, so picked up Williams, who inherits Simpson’s #6 guernsey.
In addition, Carlton look to have drafted well, yet again. Luke Parks is an outside chance to make his debut in round one, whilst Corey Durdin looks the natural replacement for 34 year old star forward Eddie Betts.
Carlton’s midfield is suddenly very deep, but much of that talent is still relatively unproven – they’ve impressed in fits and starts rather than shown any real consistency. Paddy Dow, Sam Petrevski-Seton and Matt Kennedy all need to mature into ‘every week’ performers in 2021. The 20 year old Sam Walsh is already that player, though too much falls on his young shoulders. He’ll benefit from the arrival of Williams more than many of his teammates. Carlton’s star man remains hulking midfielder Patrick Cripps. He endured a down year by his own lofty standards in 2021, so expect a big campaign from the 25 year old captain.
Up forward, Charlie Curnow’s troublesome knees have again ruled him out, this time for around 4-6 weeks. The prodigiously talented forward is the key that unlocks Carlton’s scoring potential. Without him, Harry McKay and the inconsistent Levi Casboult will again do yeoman’s work for Carlton’s phalanx of small forwards, led by Martin, Betts and Jack Silvagni.
Defensively the Blues are rock solid, despite those repeated opposition avalanches (blame a defensively inattentive midfield more than any of the defensive corps). Jacob Weitering is a star and was desperately unlucky to miss out on All Australian honours. Liam Jones has been reborn as a full back, while Sam Docherty will relish having Saad alongside him to help launch attacks from halfback.
The Blues face a harrowing first six rounds: Richmond, Collingwood, Fremantle, Gold Coast, Port Adelaide and Brisbane. If they can at least halve those contests, it sets them up for a finals push with a relatively easy run of fixtures through the middle of the season. If they can only pick up one or two victories, then this young side might not have the stamina – physically or emotionally – to spend the rest of the season playing catch up.
That said, the Blues should have enough in them to ride that rough start and consolidate through the middle of the campaign. They’re not yet ready to mix it with the big boys come finals time, but expect Carlton to at last play a final for the first time since 2013.