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.
It is to be expected that at a club like Carlton – which has been a member of the AFL/VFL for 124 years and has played 139 finals, more than any other club except Collingwood – would have few current players who have maintained form and fitness and remained loyal to the club for long enough to reach the elite status of being one of 100 greatest game players the club has ever had.
It is surprising then to discover that the Blues not only started the 2020 season with five players who had reached the required games criteria to be members of this august group, but that the two senior members of this group were already top ten game players at Carlton at the start of the 2020 season.
While the argument that greater opportunities exist today to play more games due to longer seasons, better player management and advanced fitness techniques has some validity, for most players the opportunity of additional games due to regular finals appearances is an important factor in their quest to play as many games as possible for their club.
Therefore the efforts of all players at Carlton who have reached elite status in recent years should not be underestimated as in the last quarter of a century the Blues have no achieved no premierships, one grand final and two periods of seven consecutive years without a finals appearance.
Add to this the fact that the number one current player at Carlton at the start of the 2020 season, Kade Simpson, played only three games in each of his first two seasons and failed to record a procession in his first three games, and you begin to understand the significance of his achievement in finishing his career as the third greatest game player of all time at the Blues.
Simpson started the year on 325 games and played 17 serviceable games for the Blues during the season. In Round 4 in the game against Essendon, he passed the games total of John Nicholls, who played his 328th and last game in 1974.
Nicholls won five best and fairests, coached the Blues to the 1972 flag in his first year as playing coach and was named first ruck in Carlton’s team of the century. Simpson retired at the end of 2020 behind only Craig Bradley and Bruce Doull in games played for the club.
The mantle of number one current player at the club now belongs to the son of former Fitzroy champion John Murphy, who unlike Simpson starred on his debut as an 18-year-old in 2006.
Marc Murphy, winner of two best and fairests and runner up in four, started the year on 268 games, level with former full back Geoff Southby, winner of the Blues’ best and fairest in his first two years and dual premiership player, in ninth place on Carlton’s all-time top 100 game players list.
By season’s end he had moved past Anthony Koutoufides – also a dual best and fairest winner – and now sits in seventh place on 285 games, just two games behind 1980s champion ruckman Justin Madden. The milestone of 300 AFL games and membership of the AFL top 100 elite game players should be within reach in 2021.
Eddie Betts finished one game short of the 200-game milestone for the Blues and should be the 37th Blue to reach that mark.
During the year, he passed (among others) the now retired Matthew Kreuzer, who managed only one game in his final year. Ed Curnow, with good form and fitness, could also reach the 200-game total while Levi Casboult – who made top 100 during the year – will hopefully pass 150 games.
The only possible addition to the top 100 game players list during 2021 is a man who richly deserves to be part of the club’s game-playing elite: triple best and fairest winner, Patrick Cripps.