Part 1 of the six-part series comprises the five players the Adelaide Crows, Brisbane Lions and Carlton Blues can least afford to lose in 2021, plus each side gets one honourable pre-draft mention.
At the conclusion of a strange 2020 season, Carlton has shown a bit of promise for the future, coming in 11th with seven wins out of 17 games.
What to like about the Blues
There was a fair bit to like about the Blues in 2020. David Teague has kept them more competitive as they won three out of their first six games. They came within 24 points of premiers Richmond in one. Much-talked-about recruit Jack Martin was a star with four goals, and he was a star throughout the season.
The Blues played out of their skin against Geelong, they led by as much as 42 points in the third quarter before the Cats stormed back to get the margin back to only two points. But Carlton were able to hold on for a famous two-point win in a stunning upset at GMHBA stadium.
It was the Blues’ first win at the stadium in Geelong since 1996. It was quite possibly one of the Blues’ highlights of 2020.
Another thrilling win for the Blues came against Essendon the next week. Carlton held on to defeat rivals Essendon by a solitary point in a game that came down to the last three seconds.
They survived a set shot from Jacob Townsend which was touched right on the goal-line, proving the final difference after being two goals down late in the last quarter. It was a huge relief and joy for everyone involved with the Carlton Football Club.
The fact that Carlton were able to hold out for more wins was a sign of improvement from them. It should be something Carlton fans should be optimistic about in the coming seasons.
Carlton’s biggest win of the season came against the Western Bulldogs after they outclassed the Dogs by 52 points in Round 6. After an 18-point lead at the final change, Carlton put the foot on the gas in the last quarter and kicked the only six goals to run out big winners and square the ledger at 3-3.
Eddie Betts, Harry McKay and Martin were all on fire, kicking 11 goals between them.
After the heartbreaking loss after the siren to Port, Carlton took care of the Kangaroos in the wet. They led by 25 points at quarter-time before North pegged their way back for the next three quarters. Carlton led by only five points at three-quarter time, but David Cunningham’s long bomb in the final quarter would prove the decisive blow.
Carlton held on for a seven-point victory, their first over the Roos since 2014.
With Round 12 came possibly Carlton’s most exciting moment of 2020. As the Blues faced Fremantle at Optus Stadium, they had not led all match. Yet when Sam Docherty received a free-kick from Matt Tavener’s deliberate tap out of bounds, his kick went on the full but he was dumped over.
So a downfield free kick was paid to Jack Newnes, 50 out on the boundary line and the final siren sounded with the ball in his hands, his team two points down.
His shot from the impossible angle sailed through the big sticks as Carlton stole a famous victory after the siren, causing jubilation from the Carlton players and fans. There were no goals in the last quarter until that moment as Newnes kicked the impossible after the final siren to steal it for the Blues.
Carlton backed up that performance against Freo with a comfortable win over the Suns by 33 points before Carlton’s last win of the season came against Sydney.
This was a game where they conceded the first seven goals and trailed by as much as 39 points before storming on the last four goals of the first half to give themselves a chance.
They kept Sydney to only one goal in the second half. By the final change, the margin was only a straight kick. Within the first minute, Harry McKay bought the Blues level. Within the last two minutes, fifth-gamer Matthew Cottrell plucked a huge pack mark, went back and put Carlton up by a straight kick and pumped his chest in celebration.
Carlton had to survive a high tackle paid against Cripps to Lewis Taylor inside 50. As he missed the chance to draw the Swans level, Carlton were good enough to hold on for their seventh win of the season. They kicked the eight of the last nine goals and Cottrell was the hero.
In their seven wins, Carlton generally were impressive and showed some growth with some emerging players.
What went wrong for the Blues in 2020: Genuine question – has Carlton really improved this year?
With a lot to like about Carlton in 2020, there were still a lot of holes for the Blues this year. Whilst there was some evidence of improvement, some following factors may pose a question about that.
Since 2013, Carlton has not won more than seven games in a season. This year for improvement to be considered, they needed to pass that mark.
Carlton’s biggest problem: Consistency
They only needed one more win to get past seven wins and look at it as a genuinely improved season. In many games, Carlton let teams get out to big leads and weren’t always able to catch them despite comeback efforts.
Richmond led Carlton by as much as 50 points before the Blues got it back to only a three-goal ballgame in the last quarter. If they had kept up for three quarters, the result could have been different.
The next week against Melbourne, the Blues were scoreless in the first quarter as the Demons kicked the first seven goals. Carlton kicked the last two goals before staging a dramatic comeback to draw level late in the last three minutes of the game.
A Bayley Fritsch behind from a set shot would deny the Blues a draw as they went down by a solitary point. All this could have been averted if they kept up with Melbourne for more of the game and not wasted opportunity after opportunity in the last quarter.
Despite kicking the only three goals of the last quarter, they kicked five behinds and wasted numerous chances to take the lead late.
When Carlton faced the top-of-the-table Power in Round 7, Carlton led for most of the day and played fantastic football. They led by seven points and while Port wasted many chances, Carlton had the chance put them away a few times.
Cunningham’s kick for goal fell short with less than two minutes left. With less than a minute remaining, Michael Gibbons marked from a short kick, but bombed away to a contest and turned it over as Tom Jonas marked it and played on quickly. As Port worked it to their 50, Robbie Grey marked tight up against the boundary with 20 seconds left.
As the siren sounded, Grey went back and kicked it perfectly through the big sticks, breaking Carlton’s heart. It was a gallant effort, yet another one of those close enough, but not good enough moments for Blues fans. If they slowed the game down, they could have won against the top side, but it was costly in the end.
Two weeks later, Carlton kicked the first five goals of the game against Hawthorn, leading by as much as 31 points before going onto lose by exactly that margin. The Hawks overwhelmed Carlton, kicking six goals to one in the second quarter while kicking six goals to only three in the second half. It looked like Carlton would run away with it early, but blew another huge opportunity for themselves.
Against West Coast in Perth the next week, Carlton were 21 points up at halftime before the Eagles stormed home in the second half. They piled on eight goals to two, completely outclassing the Blues by 22 points in the end. In another wasted opportunity, the Blues were all over the Eagles in the first half before getting outplayed.
Carlton also took it up to Collingwood and GWS following their victories over Fremantle and the Suns. However, they missed more opportunities for wins.
After an impressive first half against Collingwood where they were leading by eight at halftime, Carlton were kept goalless in the second half. Collingwood got back within four points by the final change and completely piled on the goals in the last quarter as they ran out 24-point winners.
Against GWS, Carlton led for the entire game until the last quarter. They kept GWS to only one goal until halftime, then only conceded one goal in the third quarter and kicked one themselves to hold a 15-point lead at the final change. Despite the margin and how low the Giants’ score was at three-quarter time, the Blues still got completely ran over in the last quarter, going down by nine points.
Carlton fans were just sitting there in shock, thinking how could we have blown this one? They let a side who kicked only two goals for the first three quarters still defeat them.
Finally, the most embarrassing result for the Blues came when they faced bottom-placed Adelaide in Round 17. Adelaide had lost their first 13 games of 2020, some by horrendous margins. They’d won their two previous clashes before they faced the Blues.
With Carlton looking to genuinely improve in 2020, still pushing for finals, this was simply the most dreadful letdown of the year and probably the reason why you cannot truly say the Blues improved. Adelaide completely outplayed the Blues in the first half, leading by a staggering 44 points and Carlton only kicking one goal for the half.
Despite a second-half comeback attempt, the Crows’ first half set up the win as they ran out 16-point winners. Carlton was completely outclassed by the team without a doubt the worst in the competition, causing major headaches for the Blues fans and players.
Finally, a loss by 17-points to the Brisbane Lions in Kade Simpson’s last game rounded out the Blues’ season. It was a season of growth for the Carlton Football Club. So in a tough season, the Blues had managed to win seven games. Some of the standout players this year for Carlton were:
A young recruit from the Gold Coast Suns. With 12 goals from his 15 games, along with 203 disposals and 64 marks, it was the perfect stepping stone for a long and what should be a fantastic career with Carlton.
The return of Sam Docherty
It was the return to AFL that Sam Docherty had been waiting for. Following two years on the sidelines with two consecutive ACL injuries, Docherty once again graced the Carlton backline in 2020 and made an instant impact.
He took 83 marks and had 83 contested possessions. He was welcomed back along with Lachie Plowman, Jacob Weitering and Liam Jones and he will no doubt be a pivotal figure to come in the next few seasons.
After spending many seasons on Hawthorn’s sidelines and often not making their best 22, Pittonet was crying out for an opportunity at the AFL level. He got that chance at the Blues after Matthew Kreuzer went down injured in Round 1. Pittonet slotted in seamlessly to the Carlton line-up.
He took ruck duties and ended the season with 292 hit-outs, 40 clearances and 25 tackles. Heading into the season with only seven games before his time at Carlton, Pittonet nearly tripled his career tally in one season, quickly adjusting to AFL life and competing well against some of the best ruckmen in the league.
With his standout performance in the Blues win over Geelong in Round 3, where he got the better of Rhys Stanley with 36 hitouts (a career-high total), as well as three tackles and six contested possessions.
Tom De Koning
After only playing two games before this season, De Koning has provided promise for his future at Carlton and provided them with a lot of ruck stability. He shared the load with Pittonet, and in the seven games he played this season he proved to be a valuable asset for the Blues, with his ruck craft, work rate and cleanliness around the ground.
De Koning ended the season with 87 hit-outs, 14 clearances and 38 contested possessions.
The number one draft pick of 2018 won the rising star award in 2019. 2020 was an unreal season for Walsh, he is well and truly providing excitement for Blues fans and is a pivotal part of their future. He won this year’s mark of the year award with his stunning mark against Port Adelaide in Round 7.
With the Power surging, Walsh ran for 50 metres with the flight of the ball into oncoming traffic, taking a courageous mark. He ended the season with 349 disposals, 73 marks and 143 contested possessions.
Without Charlie Curnow down forward, McKay was Carlton’s leading goal scorer. With 21 goals from 13 games, McKay was the only player in the competition to record 20 goals from less than 16 games in total.
McKay took more contested marks than anyone in the final four rounds of 2020 while kicking the second-most goals (ten) in that time period behind Hawthorn’s Jack Gunston (11). He is well-primed to be a future goal kicker for the Blues and he could be a big factor with improvement set to come for the club over the next few years.
The stats on paper look alright and you can say the Blues have taken a bit of a step forward in 2020, but can you say they have genuinely improved? The answer is that consistency really was an issue for the Blues this year.
They did not get past seven wins and while competitiveness is important, results matter more. Carlton needed to get past seven wins to genuinely improve and had numerous opportunities as talked about, but blew many big leads, started too far behind many other teams to win on a consistent basis and lost to teams they really should not have had any problems in beating – like the Crows.
For Carlton to take the next step they need to tighten up on these areas big time.
They have taken a step forward in 2020 and showed some promising signs, but have not improved enough to satisfy.