Alongside Essendon, Carlton is the most successful AFL team of all time with a record 16 premierships. The Blues had a sense of invincibility about them between the 1960s and 1990s with names like Nicholls, Kernahan and Silvagni sending shivers down the spines of opposition players. They were a true powerhouse of the competition.
However, sailing hasn’t been so smooth for the Blues in the last decade. They spent a good seven years at the bottom end of the ladder as they went through a frustrating rebuilding stage. After urging fans to be patient for what seemed like an eternity, the Blues bounced back last year and surprised many with some impressive results. But the loss of Brendan Fevola to Brisbane during the pre-season could be the club’s biggest downfall and they must learn to function without him.
2009 review: Carlton’s goal before the 2009 season was to make the finals for the first time in eight years. They achieved that goal in fine style, finishing 7th at the end of the home-and-away season.
However, they would probably be disappointed with the way their finals campaign ended. After leading by 30 points in the last quarter of their final against Brisbane, Carlton allowed the Lions back into the game and lost an unlosable match. Coaches, players and supporters were devastated. However, it’s important to remember that they are still a young side and a side that will benefit enormously from the experience of having played in a final.
The Blues have gradually been building a formidable midfield over the last few seasons and in 2009 they certainly came to the party. Led by classy captain Chris Judd, the midfield took to new heights with Bryce Gibbs, Marc Murphy and Kade Simpson having career-best seasons. Former Essendon champion James Hird even went as far as to say that the Carlton midfield had the potential to be greater than the famous Brisbane midfield of the early 2000s.
However, the loss of promising key defenders Jarrad Waite and Michael Jamision to injury was a big blow for the Blues as they struggled to control opposition key forwards.
Player to watch in 2010: The forgotten figure amongst the Blues’ top-quality midfield is the number two draft pick from 2003, Andrew Walker.
The 23 year-old has endured a frustrating run with injuries throughout his seven years with the Blues and has only managed 87 games. A shoulder injury during last year’s pre-season meant he missed the first 19 weeks of the home-and-away season. Walker wasn’t able to hit his straps when he returned in Round 20 and would be disappointed that he failed to have a major impact, especially in the final against Brisbane.
When fit, Walker is a terrifically exciting player to watch. His versatility and excellent aerobic capacity makes him one of the most difficult players in the competition to match up on. Walker has a great vertical leap, making him capable of taking an exceptional mark. Ideally, Carlton would love to play him on a wing so that he can be that connection between the half-back and half-forward lines.
You may ask why I’ve decided not to highlight the likes of Judd, Murphy or Gibbs, who have taken enormous steps in the last few years. However, it is now Walker’s time and he is ready to explode. Everyone at Carlton is excited about what he has done over the pre-season and if he stays fit, expect Walker to take his game to new heights.
What to expect in 2010: For the Blues to get anywhere near the top eight this year, their defence must lift. With Jamision and Waite both having had solid pre-seasons, Carlton will be able to build their defence around those two. This will allow them to develop a backline that restricts opposition teams to low scores and provide lots of drive out of the defensive 50.
There is no doubting the class of the Blues’ midfield – it now becomes a case of experience. The more they play together the more they will grow in confidence as a unit. Brock McLean is a welcome addition to the midfield and will bring toughness and leadership to the group.
However, without Brendan Fevola in the forward line, Carlton will struggle to replicate their achievements of last year. In 2009 Fevola kicked 89 goals and when Carlton went inside their forward 50, he was the target over 50% of the time. Indeed Fevola has been Carlton’s focal point up forward for many seasons, kicking 575 goals in 187 games with the Blues.
In exchange for Fevola, the Blues picked up 20 year-old Lachie Henderson, a highly rated junior who has great athleticism for his size. However don’t expect too much out of him this year and in the long run it’s doubtful whether he’ll ever reach the heights of Fevola.
For a team to succeed, they must be able to kick goals when it matters and for Carlton this year, that could be a struggle. I’m not saying that they don’t have the talent to accomplish that but it might take the Blues a while to adapt to a Fevola-less forward structure.
Don’t expect too much from the Blues this year, but in two years time they could be a serious top four contender.
Final ladder position: 10th
Ben Waterworth is in his second year of a Bachelor of Journalism. The previous instalment in Ben’s look at the 2010 AFL season was a piece about the Brisbane Lions. You can read more of his work at A short sport thought.