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Carlton under the most pressure in 2023: Can they handle it?

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15th March, 2023

‘Football is a game of inches’ has to be one of the most accurate cliches in sports. Scenarios can flip on their head in a matter of seconds, ultimately leading to cruel consequences when it all goes pear-shaped.

From being 24 points up and two minutes away from qualifying for finals, to capitulating in the final moments to a Jamie Elliott goal against the Pies in the final round, Carlton went from a successful season to being branded as a failure in the blink of an eye.

The cruel consequence for the Blues? Having to face the reality that they are the team coming into the season with the most pressure on their shoulders to deliver.

After a blistering 8-2 start to 2022, many stood up and took notice of some of the mature performances that the 16-time premiers demonstrated under the guidance of Michael Voss. 

As disappointing as their season may seem to the eye, it’s incredibly difficult to imagine a club battling for finals right until the end with the number of injuries that Carlton sustained throughout the year. 

That’s a fact, not an excuse. As a result, they had to come to terms with that unfortunate reality and try to weave their way around it. 

Between 11 key players in the squad, 95 games were missed throughout the campaign, denying the Blues any sort of cohesion and consistency in their lineups and week-to-week patterns of play. 

Despite Zac Williams being confirmed out for the season along with David Cunningham and Sam Walsh who will miss the first few games due to recovering from back surgery, Carlton is heading into the opening game against Richmond with a relatively healthy roster and can’t fall back on injuries as a get out of jail card for the meantime. 

A worrying trend that grew especially during the latter stages of last year was the inability to close out games and stay consistent for the entire 80 minutes. The two losses against Melbourne and Collingwood emerge as a painful reminder of that for all Blues fans.

Patrick Cripps of the Blues leads the Blues off the field after winning the round 19 AFL match between the Carlton Blues and the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Marvel Stadium on July 24, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

With Voss at the helm for another term along with the experienced players that the club has decided to keep onboard, this will be an early focus for fans, pundits, and the neutrals to recognise if lessons from their past disappointments have been learned. 

Missing out on finals has added more heat to this group to perform and go one better. If not, then serious questions will be asked of the club, and deservedly so. Not so much around the talent on paper which most will admit is high-profile, but more so around the mentality side and if the right personnel is associated with Blues, both on and off the field. This aspect will be fascinating to learn as the year progresses.

Understandably, the scars are still present for the current playing group who were agonisingly close to partaking in September action. They should be turning that disappointment into positive fuel to propel them towards better performances of course, but the scars remain. 

Thats why the two young draftees set to appear Thursday night in Oliver Hollands and Lachlan Cowan may well help serve as an advantage in the sense that they can carry over a fresh start without the scars, without Carlton losing their identity on the field which still got them to 12 wins.

Higher expectations result in higher pressure, let alone when targets are not achieved previously.

In Carlton’s ranks, they possess current Brownlow medalist Patrick Cripps who seems to finally be consistently fit and healthy, as well as the last two Coleman medalists in Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow respectively.


With that amount of impressive depth and talent, it’s hard to ignore the fact that it would be inexcusable for them to miss out on finals two seasons running, barring another horrid run with injuries.

In my most recent article dissecting Carlton’s 2022 season, Carlton should remember the pain but be optimistic for what the future holds, I spoke about the importance of recruiting a top wingman who can improve the transitional flow of the Blues. 

Blake Acres is that man who is more than capable of slotting into that role and adding that extra versatility with his ferocious tackling, vision, and explosive running to offer Voss a new dimension across the ground. 

The more the team is analysed, the more you realise just how solid they are across the board. 

Docherty and Weitering add so much experience at the back and are accompanied fittingly by the blistering dynamism of Adam Saad.

Adam Cerra is another name that cannot be dismissed. The former Freo midfielder is a vital part of winning the contested battles and creating opportunities with his kicking efficiency.

Adam Cerra of the Blues runs with the ball.

Adam Cerra of the Blues runs with the ball. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Arguably the Carlton player who is under the most pressure to produce is 204cm giant Tom De Koning, who has been highly praised thanks to his rare athleticism due to his height. The 22-year-old has an incredible amount of potential, but last season he performed inconsistently despite missing a few games through injury himself.

All in all, Carlton is set up perfectly to make some noise and intimidate their rivals, a genuine fear factor that has been missing for quite some time now. 

Voss is a legend of the game and has experienced all of the pressures possible in the game, but this upcoming second-year stint as Blues coach will undoubtedly be his biggest test yet. 

The list is primed to compete and they are well in sync with a strong concept of togetherness and unity. 

No team in the AFL is under more pressure than the Baggers in 2023. The question is, can they handle the heat?

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