We saw glimpses of a good future for Carlton in 2017 but, as far as the raw numbers go, the Blues actually went backwards after an encouraging 2016.
Does Brendon Bolton have some concerns? Or are Carlton ready to slingshot back up the ladder in the near future?
What I predicted
“While the club appears to be more prepared for the future, in the short term it’s very hard to argue their list has got any better compared to the end of last year.
“Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards.”
What actually happened
Carlton’s first seven games looked to have them in decent stead, with encouraging upsets over Sydney, Essendon and Collingwood punctuating some competitive losses.
A one-point win over Greater Western Sydney at the halfway point looked to have the Blues set for a strong second half of the season but, like 2016, that didn’t eventuate.
Just the two wins followed, and in the end the club actually finished with a record of 6-16 – one win fewer than their previous campaign.
Carlton were a competitive side for almost the entire season however, with only five losses coming by over five goals – three of those coming against top-four sides.
Patrick Cripps missing a chunk of the season did himself and the club a great deal of harm, although they still got encouraging campaigns from youngsters Charlie Curnow, Sam Petrevski-Seton, Jack Silvagni and Sam Docherty.
Liam Jones’ conversion from dud key forward to borderline-elite full back was astonishing to behold, the older brigade in Marc Murphy, Kade Simpson and Matthew Kreuzer led with their actions, while Bryce Gibbs rebounded from a tumultuous offseason to put his best foot forward once more.
While the experimental approach to this season and last may have not netted a whole lot of wins, Carlton can say, perhaps more than any other bottom side right now, they’ve established exactly who’s going to take them up the ladder.
Round 22: Carlton 12.5 (77) def. Hawthorn 10.10 (70)
As stunning as their one-point win against the Giants was in Round 12, it was the stunning seven-point win over a Hawks team trying to fly back in the finals that will be remembered more fondly.
Coming into the match on an eight-game losing streak, the Blues had a point to prove against a team who’d toyed with them for the better part of a decade.
They started strong, resisted several pushes from their highly-fancied opponents, and hung on for a spirited late-season triumph.
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Round 18: Brisbane Lions 17.10 (112) def. Carlton 11.16 (82)
Carlton lost plenty of games in 2017, but this was one of the few performances where they just seemed off from the opening bounce.
Having pushed Adelaide, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs right to the end in their previous three games, this was certainly a game the Blues were capable of winning, but just never gave themselves a chance.
Games like this are the reason Bolton isn’t satisfied with honourable losses.
What needs to happen next year?
After inheriting a list in shambles, Bolton had every right to coach his first two years without wins and losses being the key performance indicator.
Next year, however, you’d think the Blues need to start making some tangible progress on the field to keep the optimism around the club at the level it is.
Drastic improvement around the coalface is essential. Their last-placed ranking in points per game can be traced back to their second-last ranking in inside 50s.
That, in turn, can be traced back to their last-placed ranking in disposals per game, while that can be partly attributed to their second-last ranking in clearances and bottom four ranking in contested possessions.
While those stats suggest the Blues could get it together quickly with a turnaround at the stoppages, that is a task certainly easier said than done.
Their win tally may have dipped in 2017, but the Blues were competitive in just about every match.
Few teams genuinely looked forward to playing Carlton, and next season that trend should continue.