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With 24 wins from their last 88 matches, the general feeling amongst the supporters of the famous Carlton Football Club was one of impatience.
Knowing the club is currently embarking on a full-blown rebuild since Mick Malthouse’s failed attempt to take the Blues to their first premiership since 1995, supporters still entered the 2018 campaign, the third under Alastair Clarkson understudy Brendon Bolton, with a sense of optimism and hope that the wins column would grow instead of shrink, as it has done progressively under Bolton.
Instead, Carlton suffered the worst season in their long, rich history, winning just two matches from 22 games and claiming another unwanted wooden spoon, their fifth since 2002.
Midfielder star Patrick Cripps enjoyed a busy night at Carlton’s best and fairest, claiming his second John Nicholls Medal after an outstanding campaign, while he was also unveiled as one of Carlton’s new captains, with Cripps and Sam Docherty announced as co-skippers, replacing Marc Murphy after six years in the role.
The accelerated turnover of the Carlton list continued in earnest once the Blues’ campaign ended, with a raft of players delisted.
These included Aaron Mullett, Matt Shaw, Cam O’Shea, Nick Graham, Sam Kerridge, Sam Rowe, Jed Lamb and Jesse Glass-McCasker. Leadership group member Alex Silvagni announced his retirement at the conclusion of the season, as did crafty forward Matthew Wright after being offered a coaching position at his former club the Adelaide Crows.
Irish duo Ciaran Byrne and Cillian McDaid also decided to give the game away and return home.
With Carlton and Gold Coast’s struggles down at the bottom of the ladder over the past few seasons, the AFL stepped in and allowed both clubs the ability to pre-select a predetermined number of mature-age stars from the state leagues around Australia, with these players also able to be used during the trade period.
Carlton were granted two selections, taking Nathan Kreuger and Shane McAdam, both from the SANFL. Kreuger was sent to Geelong in exchange for pick 43, while McAdam was used in a complex trade with the Crows that saw Mitch McGovern head to Princes Park.
The Blues added yet another ex-GWS Giant to their list, acquiring highly talented youngster Will Setterfield along with pick 71, sending pick 43 and a future second round selection back.
In one of the last swaps of the trade period, Carlton secured out-of-favour Sydney defender Nic Newman in exchange for a future fourth round pick. Collingwood small forward Alex Fasolo also joined the club as a free agent.
With another last-place finish comes another crack at landing the best young talent in the land, something the Blues had three attempts at in the mid 2000s, and again a few years ago. After taking talls Jacob Weitering and Matthew Kreuzer with their last two number one draft selections, Carlton addressed their desperate need of bolstering the midfield, calling out Geelong Falcons gun Sam Walsh at the national draft.
In a historic draft night, where live trading was allowed for the first time, the Blues made a shock swap with the Crows, swapping their future first round pick with Adelaide’s in exchange for the Crows’ selection 19, which they used to draft Liam Stocker.
With two more picks late in the draft, Carlton selected young forward Finbar O’Dwyer from the Murray Bushrangers, before grabbing Ben Silvagni as a father-son recruit.
With their two selections in the rookie draft, the Blues handed out lifelines to delisted St Kilda tall Hugh Goddard and axed Demon Tom Bugg. Matthew Owies also joined the club as a category B rookie, having code-hopped from college basketball in the States.
New players in bold
1. Jack Silvagni
2. Paddy Dow
3. Marc Murphy
4. Lochie O’Brien
5. Sam Petrevski-Seton
6. Kade Simpson
7. Matthew Kennedy
8. Matthew Kreuzer
9. Patrick Cripps (C)
10. Harry McKay
11. Mitch McGovern
12. Tom De Koning
13. Liam Stocker
14. Liam Jones
15. Sam Docherty (C)
16. Darcy Lang
18. Sam Walsh
19. Angus Schumacher
20. Lachie Plowman
21. Jarrod Garlett
22. Caleb Marchbank
23. Jacob Weitering
24. Nic Newman
25. Zac Fisher
26. Harrison Macreadie
27. Matthew Lobbe
28. David Cuningham
29. Cameron Polson
30. Charlie Curnow
31. Tom Williamson
32. Alex Fasolo
33. Jarrod Pickett
34. Andrew Phillips
35. Ed Curnow
36. Pat Kerr
37. Ben Silvagni
38. Finbar O’Dwyer
39. Dale Thomas
40. Tom Bugg
41. Levi Casboult
42. Kym LeBois (R)
43. Will Setterfield
44. Matthew Owies (R)
45. Hugh Goddard (R)
FB: Nic Newman, Jacob Weitering, Lachie Plowman
HB: Sam Docherty, Caleb Marchbank, Kade Simpson
C: Marc Murphy, Patrick Cripps, Sam Walsh
HF: Sam Petrevski-Seton, Charlie Curnow, Zac Fisher
FF: Alex Fasolo, Harry McKay, Mitch McGovern
R: Matthew Kreuzer, Paddy Dow, Matthew Kennedy
I/C: Ed Curnow, Lochie O’Brien, Will Setterfield, Tom Bugg
EMG: Liam Stocker, Matthew Lobbe, Tom Williamson, David Cuningham
Midfield bull Patrick Cripps did not let Carlton’s horrific on-field form affect his own, with the star Blue taking his game to another level after a broken leg saw his 2017 campaign end at Round 16.
Stamping himself as one of the game’s premier midfielders, Cripps averaged a career-high 29.6 possessions, with 17.6 of them contested, which ranked him first in the AFL.
He also won the second-most clearances of anyone in the league with 170 and managed to average 6.3 tackles per match.
Importantly, Cripps played every match in a season for the first time in his young career, although questions marks will continue to be raised on whether his body will be able to cope with the constant stress and strain it is put under week in, week out.
Standing at 195cm, Brendon Bolton would do well to send Cripps into the forward line on occasions during games in 2019, allowing his body to rest and giving the Blues another avenue to goal.
There’s no denying the talent and ability of number one draft pick Jacob Weitering, who enjoyed an excellent two seasons to start his career.
His third campaign at AFL level would be his most challenging, suffering a form dip that saw him on the edge of being sent back to the VFL before a thigh injury sidelined him.
The 21-year-old made his return after a stint in the reserves, and managed to get close to his best form late in the season.
Heading into his fourth season and with 56 games under his belt, Weitering heads a young backline alongside Caleb Marchbank and Lachie Plowman and how he bounces back from a challenging year will say a lot about Carlton in 2019.
A rare highlight in the annus horribilis that was the Carlton 2018 season was the impact young midfielder Paddy Dow had in his debut year.
Arriving at the Blues via pick 3 in last year’s national draft, Dow quickly went to work at wowing all onlookers with an impressive JLT Series that saw him named in the Round 1 senior side.
While he did not dominate games, averaging 14.2 disposals and 2.6 clearances from 20 matches, he did show the qualities that will hold him in great stead to develop into one of the competition’s brightest young prospects.
It hasn’t been the smoothest of careers thus far for small forward Jarrod Pickett. After being drafted with pick 4 by the GWS Giants in the 2014 national draft, Pickett has managed a measly 17 matches from a possible 90.
Injuries and fitness have cruelled the prodigious talent, with Carlton fans guaranteed to be frustrated by the news that Pickett returned from his off-season break overweight.
Granted, the 178cm goalsneak appears committed to attacking 2019 with plenty of vigour, putting his hand up to do additional training sessions with Carlton’s VFL squad to get his fitness back to an acceptable level.
Out of contract at the end of next year, it really is a do-or-die season for Pickett.
The Blues were quite busy once their 2018 campaign finished, having their fingers in multiple pies as the trade period kicked off.
The acquisition of Mitch McGovern will give the Blues much-needed star power in attack, with the former Crow capable of taking big marks.
Free agent Alex Fasolo will also relish the opportunity for a fresh start after just one game for Collingwood this year.
Both McGovern and Fasolo, combined with young guns Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay, should see Carlton reach a score of triple figures in 2019, something they haven’t achieved since Round 11, 2016.
Will Setterfield was also a major coup for Carlton list manager Stephen Silvagni, with the former Giant a number 5 draft pick a couple of seasons ago.
The tall midfielder is coming off a knee reconstruction, so he won’t be rushed early in the season, while Nic Newman should see regular footy in the Blues’ backline after playing 31 games in two seasons with the Sydney Swans.
Despite murmurs the Blues could have traded their prized number one draft selection, there was never really any doubt Sam Walsh, the most outstanding teenage prospect in the country, would join the Carlton Football Club.
The dazzling midfielder displays excellent leadership qualities, as exemplified by being named captain of not only the Geelong Falcons in the TAC Cup but also for Vic Country in the Under-18 national championships, the NAB AFL Academy squad and the Under-18 All-Australian team.
Walsh averaged a tick under 30 disposals during the national championships which saw him claim the Larke Medal, joining the likes of Lachie Whitfield, Dom Sheed, Stephen Coniglio and Christian Petracca.
He will slot straight into Carlton’s best midfield and looms as a captain in waiting.
Despite not playing a game in 2018, Sam Docherty will be one of fantasy football’s must haves next year. The newly-appointed co-captain of the Blues missed the entire season due to a torn ACL in the pre-season, but looms to be Carlton’s most valuable ‘recruit’ going into next season.
The star defender averaged 27.9 possessions, 9.1 marks and 114.7 Supercoach points in 2017, and there is no reason why he cannot reach those lofty heights again.
Round 1: Richmond (MCG)
Round 2: Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval)
Round 3: Sydney (Marvel Stadium)
Round 4: Gold Coast (Metricon Stadium)
Round 5: Western Bulldogs (Marvel Stadium)
Round 6: Hawthorn (UTAS Stadium)
Round 7: North Melbourne (Marvel Stadium)
Round 8: Collingwood (MCG)
Round 9: GWS Giants (Sydney Showgrounds)
Round 10: St Kilda (Marvel Stadium)
Round 11: Essendon (MCG)
Round 12: Brisbane Lions (Marvel Stadium)
Round 13: Western Bulldogs (Marvel Stadium)
Round 14: Bye
Round 15: Fremantle (Optus Stadium)
Round 16: Melbourne (MCG)
Round 17: Sydney (SCG)
Round 18: Gold Coast (Marvel Stadium)
Round 19: Adelaide (MCG)
Round 20: West Coast (Marvel Stadium)
Round 21: Richmond (MCG)
Round 22: St Kilda (MCG)
Round 23: Geelong (GMHBA Stadium)
Carlton have been punished heavily for their poor on-field form in the past few seasons, with the AFL stripping them of prime-time matches in season 2019.
However, the Blues will still play in the highly-anticipated season opener against Richmond on a Thursday night in Round 1, which they will host this time around.
Brendon Bolton’s men will play in Victoria 16 times, with eight matches to be played under the roof at Marvel Stadium, seven at the MCG and one down the highway at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong.
The Blues will head to Sydney twice, while they go to the Gold Coast, Adelaide and Perth just once, with a trip to Launceston to take on Hawthorn also thrown in.
Carlton will have two cracks at the lowly Gold Coast Suns and St Kilda each, while they also face the Bulldogs twice which, depending on how the 2016 premiers continue to trend, could provide Carlton with a golden opportunity to boost their wins tally. Double-ups against Richmond and Sydney hurt.
In Round 20 of the 2019 season, Carlton will host the reigning premiers West Coast under the roof at Marvel Stadium. It will be the first match-up between the two sides at the Docklands venue since 2014, and will be just the fifth time both teams have met there.
The Blues will also head to University of Tasmania Stadium for just the second time in their history, while they go to GMHBA Stadium in Geelong in the final round of the season for just the second time since 1997.
Despite constant criticism over this particular fixture, Carlton have again regained the joint rights to open the season with a Thursday night match-up with Richmond at the MCG.
While many footy pundits don’t rate that game on paper right now, come March they will be itching for that first bounce as Matthew Kreuzer eyes off Toby Nankervis.
For Blues’ fans, they will likely see number one draft pick Sam Walsh unveiled, along with high-profile recruits Mitch McGovern and Will Setterfield, as well as the return of newly-crowned co-captain Sam Docherty from a knee injury.
There is perhaps no more of a daunting venue for a young side to play at than the Adelaide Oval. In Round 2, the Blues will head across to take on a new-look Port Adelaide outfit. It will be the Blues’ third match against the Power over there, and they currently have an average losing margin of 96.5 points.
This one, if history is anything to go by, could get ugly quickly.
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Another off-season, another clearing of the decks for Carlton. The types of players recruited during the Mick Malthouse era that seemed to clog the list are mostly gone, replaced with good, quality young kids who Blues’ fans can get genuinely excited about.
The spine of the best 22 is solid and, most importantly, very young. If the Blues can keep those core group of players together over the next ten years, they will be well-placed to not only return to the finals in the not-too-distant future, but challenge for their 17th premiership.
For now, however, the Blues should simply set focus on playing an attacking, exciting brand of football that will make supporters fall in love with the club again.
Charlie Curnow, Harry McKay and Mitch McGovern will provide plenty of highlights up forward, while Sam Walsh and Patrick Cripps have the chance to build a truly scary midfield partnership.
The return of Sam Docherty to the backline will not only stabilise and provide leadership, but will provide a genuine attacking option from half back. 2019 looms as the new phase of the Brendon Bolton era, and supporters should stick fat for the time being.
Predicted finish: 16th – 18th