Carlton Blues: Crunch time looms

14 March 2011

Written by: Khairun Hamid

A QUICK GLANCE AT 2010:

The Blues finished with 11 wins in season 2010, sitting eighth on the ladder after 22 rounds. Captain Chris Judd capped off a great year which saw him win his second Brownlow Medal and his third consecutive Carlton best-and-fairest award.

In 2010, the Blues showed patches of brilliance with quick ball movement and penetrating runs through the centre corridor, which saw them prevail over their more highly fancied opponents Geelong and St Kilda. Aside from these moments of brilliance, the Blues’ inconsistent form throughout the season continued, dropping games to Hawthorn, Fremantle and North Melbourne, despite holding onto favouritism.

As was the case in 2009, the Blues were knocked out in last year’s elimination final, this time succumbing to Sydney. This year, however, the Blues face enormous pressure in meeting the growing expectations of their stakeholders and supporters. Club president Stephen Kernahan recently declared his team must reach at least ‘the second week of the finals’, adding to the mounting pressure.

KEY PLAYER: 

Expect to see Chris Yarran as a running half-back this season. In 2010, Yarran occupied a forward-pocket goal-sneak role to complement small forwards Eddie Betts and Jeff Garlett. If Yarran’s pre-season form is anything to go by, there’s promising signs for the 20-year-old in a playmaker role off half-back. Yarran’s endurance has increased during the off-season, and his natural attacking flair will generate forward thrusts from the backline. This, too, will permanently release Bryce Gibbs back into the midfield, who spent the majority of last season across half-back. If Yarran can maintain his work rate and aggression, he’ll provide plenty of drive in Carlton’s attacking half, potentially emulating the likes of former Adelaide Crows star Andrew McLeod.

THREE MOST IMPORTANT GAMES IN 2011:

Round 1 – v Richmond, Thursday 24 March at MCG

It doesn’t get any bigger than the season opener against traditional rivals Carlton and Richmond. With commanding victories at the past two season openers against the Tigers, the Blues will be looking to continue their dominance. The Tigers, however, will go into this match full of optimism, and there’s strong belief from within the club that it can make a significant improvement this year.

Round 2 – v Gold Coast, Saturday 2 April at GABBA

The newly formed Gold Coast Suns make their much-anticipated AFL debut in round two against Carlton at the Gabba. All eyes will be watching the Suns’ inaugural AFL team take centre stage, especially on captain Gary Ablett, last year’s number one draft pick David Swallow, and rugby league defector Karmichael Hunt. The Blues, who will be favourites to prevail, must secure an early away win against the Suns if they want to be considered genuine top-four contenders.

Round 3 – v Collingwood, Friday 8 April at MCG

Carlton’s tough draw to start season 2011 continues in the round three blockbuster against reigning premiers Collingwood. This match will provide the ultimate test to determine where the Blues are at in their development. The Magpies will mark the occasion with the unveiling of their 2010 premiership flag, which is sure to add further spice to the match.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2011:

Crunch time awaits the Carlton Football Club in season 2011.

Expect spiteful encounters in the first month of the season as the Blues face arch-rivals Richmond, Collingwood and Essendon, not to mention the much-hyped clash with the Gold Coast.

Too often last year, the Blues’ ineffective ball movement exposed a flaw in their defensive structure – and this needs to be addressed quickly. New draftees Matthew Watson, Patrick McCarthy and Andrew McInnes have been selected to bolster the side’s defensive structure. Mature-aged recruit Nick Duigan has shown a lot of poise in the backline during the pre-season hit-outs, and will add genuine depth to the backline. New Carlton recruits Jeremy Laidler (ex-Geelong) and small forward Andrew Collins (Richmond) look to be promising acquisitions, and will both feature in the navy blue this year.

The pressure on Carlton coach Brett Ratten has intensified, too. Ratten is one of eight AFL coaches out of contract at season’s end. There is ongoing speculation the club will pursue Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse to take over the reigns at Carlton. However, Blues chief executive Greg Swann has played down the likelihood of such a move, instead pledging to honour the terms of Ratten’s contract until the end of the 2011 season.

If Carlton can kick off their 2011 campaign on a winning note, a top-four finish is a realistic chance. However, should the Blues fail to make an improvement by season’s end, expect to see significant change down at Visy Park.

The growing expectations placed upon the club will be great, and Ratten’s future is riding on it.

LADDER PREDICTION:

4th-7th

Giulio Di Giorgio is a third year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.