The Blues are in the middle of a complete rebuild and despite logic suggesting they’d take a step back in 2017, their competitiveness coupled with some special recruiting and a fit list has given Carlton fans plenty to be happy about.
While it’s easy to say wins and losses don’t necessarily matter, Carlton would probably be a little disappointed to only have the three victories as they could quite easily have a few more. However, the fact this discussion is even being had about the Blues in 2017 shows they’re on the right track.
WHAT’S GONE RIGHT
Brendon Bolton has clearly put faith in the kids this year. They mightn’t be ready or able to run out games, but about five players under 21 are running out for the Blues each week.
While the burden still lies with the established players to carry the load, seeing glimpses of brilliance from the likes of Charlie Curnow, Zac Fisher, Sam Petrevski-Seton, Caleb Marchbank and others really highlights the talent coming through.
The reason this is such a big deal for Carlton is their drafting in recent years has been atrocious. Of the players Carlton drafted between 2010 and 2014, only Ed Curnow, Patrick Cripps, Sam Rowe and Ciaran Byrne probably factor into the future of the club and that is an unacceptable return on investment.
Stephen Silvagni has done a brilliant job finding talented players at all points of the last two drafts and has even plucked a few from obscurity with Matthew Wright and Alex Silvagni. The Blues can be pretty safe in knowing their list is building nicely.
WHAT’S GONE WRONG
The issue coming into the year for the Blues revolved around their inability to hit the scoreboard and it remains their biggest flaw. Carlton are distant last in the competition for points scored and while the names who’ll carry the Blues out of this scoring rut are probably already on the list, it’s cost them a few games this year. To highlight how far behind Carlton are, they’ve kicked 77 fewer goals than Adelaide this season, averaging 10.7 per game.
Levi Casboult (17 goals) and Wright (13) are the only two Carlton players in double figures, while concerns have to be raised about Jack Silvagni’s set shot kicking, as he’s struggled at times this year.
Harry McKay is yet to debut and is still finding his feet in the VFL, but the Blues are resting a lot of their hope on him to be the centrepiece of their forward line for a long time.
Don’t be surprised if Carlton go out and try and grab a good small forward from another side either as they have the money to do so and desperately need someone to compliment Casboult, Silvagni, Curnow, Wright (and eventually McKay), who are all lead-up marking style players.
This is a problem the Blues will probably resolve in the coming years as they’re clearly focused on building from the backline, but there are still plenty of holes they need to fill up forward before they can become a threat to most teams.
Marc Murphy’s first half of the year probably sees him well clear in the Carlton best and fairest counting. The captain has recaptured his best footy after some shocking injury luck, averaging 30 disposals so far this season. Sam Docherty would be right behind him in the polling as the young defender’s picked up right where he left off last season. Matthew Kreuzer has also had a career-best year and could be in the mix as well.
Charlie Curnow played six games last year and looked a mile away from reaching his full potential, before missing the back-half of the season with injury.
He came into 2017 with a bit of midfield time under his belt during the JLT Series, but still looked a little lost in the early rounds. Of course, young key forwards take a time to develop.
Then round five came along and Curnow picked up 19 disposals, took eight marks (two contested) and started to take flight around the ground. It was almost like a switch was flicked in his head and while he hasn’t had a true breakout game, the signs are all there that this kid is going to be something special.
His ability to cover the ground, mark above his head and kick goals will make him an incredibly versatile player for the Blues and oppositions are going to struggle to find good match-ups for him.
The Blues might only win a couple more games this year, but the club can be happy with the direction, the kids and the competitiveness the team has shown in the opening 10 rounds. The downside to playing so many young players is they fade out of games and have to spend more time on the bench, which has already been evident with the Blues this year. This’ll probably cost them some games short-term and lead to the low ladder finish.
Carlton can’t call 2017 a success just yet. The big test for the Blues now is sustaining the levels they’ve already set, while also working out who’s not going to be a part of their long term planning. The likes of Kristian Jaksch, Liam Jones, Dylan Buckley, Blaine Boekhorst and Ciaran Sheehan should all be given chances at AFL level before the season’s end.
Losing Sam Rowe for the year is a big blow, but the silver lining is it gives a chance for Jacob Weitering to settle into the full back role. It also means the Blues now have to find someone else to play centre half forward, which’ll be the main challenge of this second half of the season.