The twilight game on the Saturday when AFL footy returns is between two of the original VFL clubs, Carlton and Melbourne.
Brendon Bolton’s sacking was an event everyone knew was coming, even if Carlton themselves didn’t want to admit it.
The now former coach of Carlton’s tenure finished on Monday afternoon, after a three-and-a-half-year stint that yielded four wins in 43 games; the worst record since Fitzroy listed three in 43.
The Blues have now been stuck in what seems to be a never-ending rebuild, with the side not appearing in finals since 2013. The club was in the first of three years with Mick Malthouse, and since finishing sixth that season, Carlton hasn’t climbed above 13th.
By finishing in the bottom six for the last five years, and another wooden spoon seemingly heading their way, Carlton have had access to the upper echelon of talent coming into the AFL each season.
Since Patrick Cripps was selected as the 13th pick in 2013, Carlton have selected ten first round players, who are:
Sam Walsh (2018 #1)
Liam Stocker (2018 #19)
Paddy Dow (2017 #3)
Lochie O’Brien (2017 #10)
Sam Petrevski-Seton (2016 #6)
Jacob Weitering (2015 #1)
Harry McKay (2015 #10)
Charlie Curnow (2015 #12)
David Cunningham (2015 #23)
Blaine Boekhorst (2014 #19)
2019’s number one draft pick Sam Walsh has easily made the most immediate impact out of their recent first round picks, with the young midfielder quickly slotting into the Blues’ midfield and collecting plenty of the ball.
Apart from Blaine Boekhorst, all of these first round recruits remain on Carlton’s list. So why aren’t they improving?
Firstly, they actually are. The results aren’t improving, but the individual players’ consistency certainly is.
Sam Petrevski-Seton is averaging a tick under 20 touches a game as he continues to build his engine; Paddy Dow is starting to get more midfield through the centre, and Sam Walsh is already arguably Carlton’s second best midfielder this season.
Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow will be a dynamic forward line in the not-too-distant future, with both players learning how to play and develop alongside each other.
One issue Carlton had early in their rebuild is they drafted based on the mantra “pick the best player available”, rather than drafting for their needs.
Selecting two key forwards in Curnow and McKay with only a single selection between them meant that not only would they struggle to develop as a clearly defined 1-2 punch forward line in the AFL against fully grown defenders, they would also struggle to develop in the VFL together.
Jacob Weitering was selected first overall to fill the void in Carlton’s key defensive stocks, however throughout his first few seasons was experimented as a forward, and was never allowed to blossom in his specific role.
Only in the 2018 draft did Carlton select picks based on team balance. Both Walsh and Liam Stocker can play on the inside of the contest, and feed the ball out to their runners in Dow and Petrevski-Seton. It helped that Walsh was the stand out best player in the draft.
The need for experienced inside midfielders is obvious after Cripps was tagged out of the game against Essendon. Cripps only had 11 touches for the day, and with his low production Carlton were smashed on the inside.
Carlton have one of the youngest lists in the competition, and have a dire need to top up the number of players who are currently in their prime.
On their list they have ageing players like Marc Murphy (31), Kade Simpson (34), Matthew Kreuzer (29), Matthew Lobbe (30), Dale Thomas (31) and Ed Curnow (29) who almost all play each week.
Until the 2018 off-season, the list didn’t consist of too many 25-28-year-olds, who are arguably players in their prime.
In the off-season, Carlton recruited Nic Newman (26), Mitch McGovern (24), and Alex Fasolo (26) to help fill that void.
It’s an attempt at what Hawthorn did so well during their premiership window.
From 2009, Hawthorn has traded a plethora of draft picks for ready-to-go talent.
2009: Hawthorn traded for Josh Gibson (25 at the time) and Shaun Burgoyne (27)
2010: Hawthorn traded for David Hale (26)
2011: Hawthorn traded for Jack Gunston (20)
2012: Hawthorn traded for Brian Lake (31) and Matt Spangher (26)
2013: Hawthorn traded for Ben McEvoy (24)
2014: Hawthorn recruited James Frawley (26) as a free agent
2016: Hawthorn traded for Tom Mitchell (23)
2017: Hawthorn traded for Jaeger O’Meara (23) and Jarman Impey (22)
2018: Hawthorn traded for Tom Scully (27), Chad Wingard (25), and Jack Scrimshaw (20)
Hawthorn gave up plenty of first and second round selections, as well as promising players such as Ryan Burton. Every trade was done purely to continue contending for premierships.
Gibson, Burgoyne, Hale, Gunston, Lake, Spangher, McEvoy and Frawley have all played in premierships. Tom Mitchell won last year’s Brownlow Medal, while Jaeger O’Meara is flying in Mitchell’s absence this season.
Even halfway through this season, Hawthorn are heavily linked with GWS trio Stephen Coniglio, Jonathan Patton and Jeremy Cameron, who are all in that age bracket and performing at a very high level for the Giants.
This strategy is one that prioritises the present over the future, and one that Carlton has dabbled with in recent seasons.
The Blues seem hesitant to throw themselves headfirst into this strategy, as it can set the club back years if unsuccessful.
Carlton need to take a page out of Hawthorn’s book and start trading pieces of their future for ready-made players who can impact now.
Unfortunately, the three players Carlton recruited in the off-season haven’t lived up to the hype. Fasolo has spent the majority of the season in the VFL and McGovern came to the club overweight and is leaving the Carlton forward line too tall.
Nic Newman has been a great recruit so far this season, and is poised to take over from Kade Simpson as the rebounding defender when he hangs up the boots.
Newman isn’t going to cut it as their best recruit, however. The Blues need to target a star of the competition. Stephen Coniglio is the obvious answer, and the Blues could offer him a lot of money, but he’s a highly sought after man.
A left field option could be Tom Liberatore. Liberatore was one of the last players to earn a contract for this season, and despite a good year so far, Luke Beveridge seems concerned about his long-term health.
As well as being exactly the player they need, Liberatore is out of contract at the end of the season and wouldn’t be massively expensive.
If the Bulldogs don’t want to give the inside midfielder a long-term contract, the Blues should offer him five years to cross over.
It’d be a great place to start.