The Best Team Money Can Buy?

 

How do you get the balance right between nurturing your talent and acquiring established players? And what mix is the right mix when we look at success?

In 2022, we are looking at teams at both ends of the spectrum. At Punt Road, the Tigers will be fielding a team that has just six players that got their start elsewhere. This number is bettered by the Adelaide Crows, whose acquisition of Jordan Dawson sees them sit one below Richmond with the most players on their list stemming from organic development at the one club.

And then we get teams that have six on through to 12 as their total. Not too bad. Recent premiers, Melbourne, have just nine, whilst 2018 winners, West Coast have eight. Most teams seem to be quite adept at drafting or recruiting young talent and bringing them through. St Kilda has 12 to be the second-highest user of recycled players.

And then there is Carlton.

As it stands right now, Carlton has 44 players on their books. A whopping 17 of them started their careers with another club – far and away the most of any team in the competition. What does it tell us about the Blues? And does it indicate a team that is attempting to bolster a young side with the best available players?

I must stress, this is not a hit-piece on Carlton by any stretch. They have managed to cultivate the most experienced 23-and-under cohort in the game heading into the 2022 season, and assuming they have put the time into the right kids, that has to reap benefits. No, this is more looking at what is an anomaly in the current AFL landscape. The Blues are doing it differently.

Please see the two articles below detailing the teams with the most experience in their 23-and-under cohort. These are members-only articles.

 

23-And-Under Players – The Team Rankings – Part One

 

23-And-Under Players – The Team Rankings – Part Two

 

Doing things exactly the same as every other team doesn’t really give you a shot at winning it all. It is only when a team is innovative that success follows, and perhaps that is what Carlton is attempting to do. Are they zigging while all others zag? Have the Blues got it right, or have they been sucked into trying to buy talent like it is the 1980s again, only without a bottomless bag of cash?

As with most successful runs in footy, whether Carlton are able to get things right will be dependant on a number of factors – player health, winning close games, and good coaching amongst them, but with the mix they have at the moment, the other factor will be whether they have recruited the correct players to supplement their young, talented list.

Or whether mistakes have been made.

Given that, I reckon the best thing to do is run down the list of 17 players the Blues have brought into the club over the years and explore whether they have been hits, misses, or whether the jury is still out on them. Are they getting bang for their buck, or pissing their money up against a wall?

 

 

ZACH WILLIAMS – JURY OUT

Played 113 games for GWS before switching to the Blues in 2021 and managed a rather forgettable season. Was exposed for a lack of fitness, and his two-way running was appalling at times.

That said, we give Z-Will a pass on his first year in navy blue. Players take time to adjust to a new environment. The hope would be that he learnt a particularly harsh lesson in his first year at Carlton and is ready to make amends.

He is one of the players I reckon could make good and put the disappointment of 2021 behind him, but so much depends on what sort of shape he is in. I’d be interested to hear from Carlton track watchers as to how he turns up after Christmas.

 

ADAM CERRA -JURY OUT

I’m not sure you can expect too much from Cerra in his first year at Carlton. He was nurtured at Freo, never once having his place in the team questioned. Not after one poor game, nor two, nor three. They invested heavily in his development – now, the Blues can reap the dividends.

Will be handy on the outside and improved every season he was at Freo, however, he was never really dominant.

I’d expect him to play a little on the wing and give the Blues plenty of run through the middle. Contested footy and clearances have not been his forte to this point in time – not sure you should be asking anything like that of him in 2022. Look, he appears to be a can’t-miss pickup, but I’m not going all-in just yet – in Carlton colours, he has not achieved anything.

 

LEWIS YOUNG – JURY OUT

After five years at the Dogs, it became apparent that in order to gain more opportunity, he would have to look elsewhere. Managed just 24 games in his time at The Kennel, with nine in 2021 being his highest number.

Good size, and may come in handy with the retirement of Liam Jones. Big ask to fill his boots right off the bat, though.

 

WILL SETTERFIELD – JURY OUT

After two games with the Giants, made the move to Carlton and put together two decent, if unspectacular seasons with the Blues. Used off half-back, the wing, and in the middle, he is yet to truly find a role where he excels, and at 24 by the time the season rolls around, needs to do just that in a hurry.

Reliable at around 15-16 touches per game, but needs to grab a spot of his own and be more aggressive. Injury in 2021 possible prevented that from coming to fruition last season.

 

LACHIE PLOWMAN – WIN

Has his detractors, but this is a definite win. 18 games over two seasons for the Giants before moving to the Blues, Plowman has had to play a little bigger at times to fill holes in the Carlton defence, and will most likely be asked to do it again at points this season as injuries and form impact the team.

A former number three pick, a heap was expected from him and he has turned out to be a solid player. Considering what the Blues gave up to acquire him.

 

MARC PITTONET – WIN

Struggled for game time at Hawthorn behind both Ben McEvoy and Jon Ceglar, but really found a place at Ikon Park with the injuries and subsequent retirement of Matthew Kreuzer.

Never billed as an A-Grade ruck, he is hard to move off the spot, and will serve as an excellent bridging player between the end of Kreuzer and – hopefully – the emergence of Tom De Koning as the number one man.

 

JACK NEWNES – MISS

36 games with the Blues after 155 with the Saints, Newnes has been handy, but hasn’t added a heap of value to the Blues on the outside. I feel as though he is more a placeholder until something better comes along. Is that something Cerra? Deployed on the wing, his memorable goal after the siren etched his name into Carlton folklore, but with an average of around 14.8 touches per game whilst at Carlton, I’m not too sure the Blues got what they were hoping from him when he moved across from the Saints.

For the record, at St Kilda, he had four consecutive seasons where he averaged between 19.9 and 23.3 possessions per game. That’s what the Blues were hoping for when they signed him. Instead, they’ve received about 60% of that player.

 

NIC NEWMAN – HUNG JURY

I really like Newman, but he has had bad luck with injury, and was a bit of a late bloomer.

He is a solid rebounding defender and did a good job in filling the shoes of Sam Docherty once the captain was moved up to the wing at points, but at 28, you have to wonder whether Newman is going to be an integral part of the next Carlton flag tilt?

The Blues have a plethora of half backs and eventually, something will have to give.

 

MITCH MCGOVERN – MISS

The biggest miss of all. Looked really dangerous at Adelaide, playing as the fourth forward behind Tex Walker, Tom Lynch, and Eddie Betts. Then he landed at Carlton, was asked to take on more responsibility…

… and he shit the bed.

An awkward fall in his first preseason set the tone for his Carlton tenure and despite very rare flashes, has been borderline stealing money from the Blues for three years. Maybe a permanent move back into defence will see him find something resembling form. Also, Carlton have contracted him until the end of the 2023 season, so… I hope they got a good deal.

 

OSCAR MCDONALD – JURY OUT

Could be a bit of a sleeper.

With Jones retiring, and Levi Casboult up in Queensland, a big opportunity has opened up in defence at Carlton, and if I were Oscar McDonald, I would be setting my sights on it and getting ready to give this season absolutely everything.

He’s 25, has good size, and was tried as a forward in his only run with the Blues. Watch him in the preseason and see what Michael Voss does with him. If he can hold down a defensive spot, the Blues will be a better team for it.

 

JACK MARTIN – JURY OUT

Four goals in a quarter on debut for the club, and bugger all since.

That is harsh, but considering the level of talent we’re talking about with Jack Martin, it is not entirely unfair. 97 games with the Suns after being viewed as one of the top 17-year-olds in the country, Martin showed plenty of promise and has never delivered.

His 12.7 touches per game in 2021 were the lowest since his rookie campaign and he is starting to get perilously close to being considered a bust. Has to get fit, has to work hard and has to be ready to be more than just the icing on someone else’s cake. It’s all there in front of Jack Martin, but in 2021, he played like a pissed-off bloke that saw the majority of his money go up in flames in a front-ended Covid-impacted 2020.

 

MATT KENNEDY – JURY OUT

Would have been labelled a “miss” this time last year, given his inability to stay on the park, and though he only managed 12 games in 2021, he managed to notch a respectable 19.9 touches per game.

Initially viewed as help for Patrick Cripps in the guts, Kennedy has disappointed and strikes me as the type of player that desperately needs a good preseason to excel. If he gets it in 2022, he could push his way right into that midfield rotation. If he doesn’t, well… he is out of contract after 2022.

 

CALEB MARCHBANK – JURY OUT

Gets a pass due to being hurt in 2020/21, and looks as though he will not be ready for Round One this season, either.

Handy defender, but with two years out of the game, and a bit of a penchant for getting in the way and causing collisions with his own teammates, Marchbank has a lot of work to do. He is only 25 and has time on his side, but may need a full season to find his feet again, so I am not sure too much should be expected in 2022.

 

GEORGE HEWETT – JURY OUT

Well, yeah… the jury is out, but I have to say – I LOVE this pickup. Love it!!!

Hewett is a team-first player and a two-way mid that will ease the burden on Ed Curnow as one of the very few two-way runners in the Carlton midfield. Let’s face it, Cripps does not chase, Williams refused to chase, and poor bloody Ed was trying to do every defensive thing he could… whilst coming off the wing in 2021.

It didn’t work.

Whilst there may be a period of adjustment, I’m confident this is an astute pickup from the Blues.

 

LACHIE FOGARTY – JURY OUT

After 23 games in three years at Geelong, opportunity knocked and Lachie Fogarty opened the door to the Carlton Football Club.

Unobtrusive, yet dangerous with his good vision, Fogarty was able to have an impact and play career-best footy in his first season as a Blue. If I were a Carlton fan, I would be rapt with what he was able to produce.

However, one swallow does not make a Spring, as they say, and I would like to see Fogarty back it up before we start calling his move to Ikon Park a success.

 

SAM DOCHERTY – WIN

An absolute win.

Despite the knee reconstructions.

Despite the cancers.

Sam Docherty rose from the status of import to the club captaincy, and for the first month of his 2020 comeback season, was just about the best rebounding defender in the caper. I just hope he makes it back, gets an injury/illness-free run at it, and is able to be part of the expected Carlton rise.

 

ADAM SAAD – JURY OUT

Not his best, but the signs were there.

Seemed genuinely upset with his own form and that of the team in 2021 – I like that; shows he cares. Still was ranked first in the league in running bounces, but can be so much better. Opposition coaches know how badly he wants to run and plan accordingly. Will be up to Michael Voss to devise ways of getting Saad loose and allowing him the space to break lines.

If he does that, chaos ensues, and forwards thrive when there is chaos.

 

So, what are we looking at?

Three clear wins in Docherty, Pittonet, and Plowman, and two clear bombs, in terms of Newnes and McGovern… though that is a bit harsh on Newnes to lump him in with McGivern-levels of bomb-i-ness. That leaves 12 players that can go either way.

But what sort of footy analyst would I be if I didn’t put my money where my mouth is and have a crack at whether I think those players will be hits or misses in 2021. Bookmark this – you can either pat me on the back, or kick me in the pants after the 2022 season.

 

ZACH WILLIAMS – HIT (I have faith)

ADAM CERRA – HIT (Plenty of time to work into the role)

LEWIS YOUNG – MISS (Can’t see him having a big impact)

WILL SETTERFIELD – JURY REMAINS OUT (Reminds me of Shaun Atley. He is just… there)

NIC NEWMAN – SHORT TERM HIT (Will be good for two more years. Then replaced)

OSCAR MCDONALD – HIT (and to me, that means around ten games played)

JACK MARTIN – JURY REMAINS OUT (He is so damn frustrating, but you cannot write him off)

MATT KENNEDY – MISS (Midfield spots are starting to get tight)

GEORGE HEWETT – HIT (Two way mid. Big fan)

LACHIE FOGARTY – HIT (Will get more opportunity in 2022)

ADAM SAAD – HIT (More comfortable in 2022)

CALEB MARCHBANK – MISS (Not sure he’ll be anywhere near a hit this year. Will be happy to be wrong)

 

Seven hits. Given that, there would be no reason – absolutely none – that the Blues should miss the eight in 2021. Everything is in place, and whilst Liam Jones in defence would have been nice, coverage there SHOULD see them finally climb the ladder.

One final note – no premier for the last ten years has had double-figures in recycled players as part of their team. The highest are the Dees in 2021, with nine. The lowest are the Dogs in 2016 and Tigers in 2020, with just five.

 

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