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What moves can Carlton make to get better?

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9th June, 2023

Much to the delight of most AFL fans, Carlton has done the most on brand thing it could have done in 2023 – underdelivered.

The problem is obvious: despite winning a lot of the ball, Carlton has been unable to convert possession into quality shots on goal.

The solution is much more difficult. Developing cohesive movement which is predictable to team mates takes time. Recruiting players with high quality foot skills and decision making ability also takes time. Carlton fans do not have time though.

They can see some genuine star power on their list and they need success today. So what short term positional moves may help things?

1) Docherty shifts back to defense

Sam Docherty is having yet another strong year. Putting aside what he’s been through with health and injury, he is consistently among Carlton’s best every week. It is odd, however, how much time he is spending in midfield.

Carlton is struggling to move the ball effectively out of defense. Jacob Weitering and Mitch McGovern, normally great kicks, are under-performing in terms of ball use in 2023.

With Zac Williams injured for the year, Adam Saad is the main distributor. Having Docherty down back to ease the burden would free Saad up, who comes under attention every week.


It would also allow Carlton to keep Matthew Kennedy and Adam Cerra in midfield. Both have spent stretches of time in defense in 2023 and they are much more effective in midfield, particularly Kennedy. Sam Walsh could also move into the centre square off the half forward flank, which may help him re-find his best form, if Docherty was in the back line.

Carlton is over-stocked with midfielders and under-stocked with ball using defenders. Docherty to defense helps both issues.

2) Relief ruck plays in defense

Against West Coast Carlton used Lewis Young as the second ruck, safe in the knowledge that between Weitering, McGovern and Brodie Kemp, they had plenty of height down back. This freed up Jack Silvagni to be a full time forward. He thrived in that role.

Since then, we’ve seen Silvagni become second ruck. Carlton has often suffered when this has happened. Against Collingwood, they were torn apart around the clearances when Pittonet was resting.

Silvagni’s form nose dived as well. Asking him to be a second ruck seems to damage his performances as a forward.


Why couldn’t Carlton return to the strategy of Young being the relief ruck? Perhaps more controversially, could this be the way Carlton trials Tom De Koning as a defender?

If De Koning played as the second key defender alongside Weitering, he could be the relief ruck when Pittonet rests. If Carlton let’s De Koning leave their club without at least seeing what he can do in defense, it would upset a lot of fans.

3) McGovern plays forward

Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay are as good a key forwards as anyone could want. McKay has copped a lot of criticism but he’s been solid in 2023 as a centre half forward. He is second in the competition for contested marks, behind Curnow. He is going ok.

Mitch McGovern

Mitch McGovern. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The forward line is not functioning though. Carlton needs another marking option. De Koning has not been effective as a forward. Silvagni as a permanent forward has been solid but has struggled in recent weeks when asked to be second ruck. Could adding former forward McGovern to the mix be the answer?

Half back lines have feasted against Carlton this year with Darcy Moore and Josh Blakey entering the records books in terms of intercept marks. If McGovern was another option down there perhaps Carlton would be less predictable, and defenders would not know where the ball is going so easily.


McGovern has been solid down back but the emergence of Brodie Kemp as an intercept defender means his role there is less important than in 2022. Caleb Marchbank is playing VFL now and could come into the AFL if Carlton wanted to keep three tall defenders plus a rotating ruck, either De Koning or Young, in defense as well.

McGovern was recruited as a forward and could be a handful on the opposition’s third best defender.

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