Charlie Curnow’s 2022 Coleman and its confluence with McKay’s/McKay

13 months ago, I went out on a limb and wrote The 2021-Version Of Harry McKay Won’t Kick The Blues To The Finals.

Then Charlie Curnow followed his lead and also won the Coleman, but Carlton still didn’t make it to the finals- so I’m revisiting the numbers to see if there’s anything there that suggests why it might’ve happened- and, more pertinently, if it says anything about this year.

Obviously, I’d push for you to read the piece again in full. If you don’t want to do that, here’s a quick summary:

When you compare Harry McKay’s numbers to the 15 previous Coleman winners, he stands out and not in a good way. He plays like a bush league full forward, big mark, big kick, sweet bugger all else. Not hyperbole, either – he won the Coleman averaging less than 10 disposals a game. He also had the second lowest goal tally of any Coleman winner in that time period, ahead of only Tom Hawkins in the COVID season, and last in every other stat I measured except for scoring shots that didn’t result from marks.

The conclusion was that because all he did was kick for goal (81% of his kicks were shots on goal), he was predictable and the team around him weren’t good enough to allow for his predictability.

I’m using the same data set to measure Curnow, so in case you don’t familiarise yourself with the earlier piece I looked at totals for Goals, Behinds, Disposals; averages for Disposals, Kicks and Marks per game; scoring shots as a percentage of all kicks, and ‘live scoring shots’ (the aforementioned shots that didn’t result from marks).

Carlton finished 2022 as they’d finished 2021- outside the top 8 with the reigning Coleman Medallist spearheading their attack. The 2021 version of Harry McKay didn’t kick the Blues to the finals, nor did his Coleman winning successor, Charlie Curnow. Based off the first nine rounds of this season, these two might not get them there this season, either.

More tellingly, the story of their season mirrors how this previous piece ended. “What does this mean for Carlton’s season?

In Curnow they have a second option (or a new first option) – might be riding a purple patch, or this might be the player he is – who looks to be able to shoulder some of McKay’s load. If McKay shares it. Or decides he’ll kick to him at all, even a little bit. Maybe he tries a handpass.”

Harry McKay did try a handpass! He went from averaging 1.63 a game in his Coleman season to 2.53 last season, almost doubling his output. Curnow did turn out to be the player that he was, of course, otherwise this piece would serve no purpose. But Carlton still missed out on the Eight, although that’s probably due to deeper rooted issues than can be addressed here. Anyways, did any of the other criticisms of McKay’s Coleman season apply to Curnow?

The crux of those criticisms were that he played a selfish and predictable brand of football. Even a year on, it is insane that 81% of all kicks McKay took were shots on goal. Not related, I just like to bring it up.

Of all the metrics I measured McKay against, relative to the previous 15 Coleman winners, Curnow was below average on all bar two- marks (7.33 to 6.24) and scoring shots as a percentage of disposals (40% to 38%). Thr problem there is that I maintain that a higher percentage on that second one is worse. A higher percentage means you’re likely doing less around the ground, because if you’re kicking at goal you’re not kicking to a person. The data reflects that, with the average Coleman winner who also finished in a finals position having a lower percentage than the total average.

Generally, the average Coleman winner who played finals (need a catchy acronym, soz) has a data profile that suggests they do more. McKay and Curnow, generally, do less. Curnow was almost 90 disposals, 14 goals and 62 handballs behind the average finals-playing Coleman winner. The handballs aren’t correlative but they do suggest something about the style of play required to win individually and win as a team.

Teams with two Coleman winners and a Brownlow winner don’t come around very often. This current iteration of Geelong does, although Dangerfield’s Brownlow came a long while back, and Jezza’s Coleman was as a Giant. Hawthorn 2013 did, with the caveat that Sam Mitchell won his Brownlow from second. Geelong won last year’s Grand Final, Hawthorn were minor premiers and actual premiers in 2013. Carlton finished ninth.

To lean on cliché for a second, a rising tide lifts all boats and a champion team will beat a team of champions. These Geelong and Hawthorn had quality all across the park that created cover for their more one-speed players, while the bulk of Carlton’s statistical creation comes from a select few sources. In 2022, their three medallists scored 129 goals between them while every other player who pulled on a Carlton guernsey combined for 139. That’s 48% of their goals! When you’ve got a team that generates almost half of their goals through three players, you can sag off basically anyone else because (statistically) they won’t be able to beat you with their Other Guys.

Take Darcy Fogarty, for example – he’s big and predictable. There’s a lot of Harry McKay about him. Adelaide recognised that and surrounded him with mosquitoes that allow him to be predictable. Rankine and Rachele are live ball threats that mean you have to keep them accountable, in turn creating opportunities for Fogarty to mark the ball kick the ball. Wash, rinse, repeat.

For Carlton, they’ve got two big and not particularly mobile threats and their ‘mosquitoes’ don’t draw enough attention to give them the space they need. Fisher, Silvagni, Durdin, Owies, Motlop, Martin, Cottrell- Carlton’s ‘Other Guys’- scored 97 goals between them. 12 less than just McKay and Curnow.

I still think the most telling stat is the discrepancy between how much finals-finishing Coleman Winners handball compared to how much McKay and Curnow do. What that indicates is a willingness to get other players involved, which in turn begets you more space because opposition defenders need to keep an eye on them. It’s not a pure correlation, obviously, but the average finals-finishing Coleman Winner handpasses 12 times more than the average Coleman Winner. That has nothing to do with McKay and Curnow, either, just what the numbers say.

The solution isn’t blanket and it isn’t purely ‘handball more’, but the numbers suggest that it can’t hurt. Curnow averaged exactly the same amount of handballs in his Coleman season as McKay did, which is either a fun coincidence or a number that reflects that he was single-minded about putting the ball between the sticks in the same way McKay was the season before. Take the blinders off, get the other blokes involved, and that rising tide from before might kick in.

It might just get the team over the line.