Carlton fans have endured much in recent memory. From wooden spoons – a foreign concept until the turn of the century, to 100 point demolitions and becoming the butt of every joke amongst AFL supporters.
Time and time again the Blues head coach, Brendon Bolton has reassured his supporter base of the growth potential in the playing group. Time and time again the Blues have under-delivered on the back of Bolton’s reassurances, leading many to question the effectiveness of his coaching model.
However, the days of Carlton playing the role of witches hats for opposition teams may well be over as the club seeks to restore pride and a renew passion in the blue baggers. It’s been a long time coming.
Carlton’s 2018 season may have been lean from a win/loss perspective, with the blues only banking two victories across 22 matches, however there is more to their season than simple wins and losses. Such a result can often make it hard to find positives in a team that was humbled by nearly every opposition outfit and conceded the most points of any AFL club, a mammoth 2282 or 103 per game. Despite suffering losses on the scoreboard, the seeds sown by Bolton and co. have begun to show signs of coming to fruition.
In 2019, the Navy Blues can finally begin their surge back up the ladder.
1. The Cripps Factor
Midfielder Patrick Cripps’s has evolved from a small boned midfielder to a towering bull who now makes his mark in the thick of the action. Cripps ability to attack a contest is coupled with his huge running tank as well as having a great goal sense up forward.
If these traits aren’t enough to excite Carlton fans, then Cripps’s leadership and influence on his teammates should. When the going gets tough, Patrick Cripps’s gets going. Whether he is willing younger players to give one more effort or encouraging senior figures to play with more dash, the number nine clearly exerts a presence on the field.
The reaction from Cripps’s teammates when he announced he was re-signing on a long-term deal this year speaks volumes of his character and how he is perceived at the club. Players young and old roared in delight, applauding the good news. There was no doubt in their minds as to where the current and future engine room of the Blues midfield was getting its grunt.
If Cripps can continue to improve his game, even slightly, in 2019 while also setting the example as newly appointed co-captain, then Ikon Park looks in good stead for years to come.
2. The Curnow clan
Brothers Ed and Charlie Curnow ooze class and energy, particularly the latter who has demonstrated his aerial and goal kicking prowess in spades during the 2018 season. Ed is a critical component of the Carlton midfield brigade with his knack of tagging premium opposition ball winners a huge piece in the puzzle to forming the Blues success criteria. Simply put, every good midfield needs an accountable workhorse, and Ed fits that bill perfectly.
The younger Curnow has a set of skills which can tear teams apart. With a good preseason under his belt and a better fitness base (gotta catch the brother), the spectacular marks and audacious goals from the number 30 should become a more regular occurrence in the years to come. Consistency is the key to Charlie becoming an incredible forward half weapon. Once that comes, opposition coaches will be frowning more than smiling when it comes time to play the Blues.
An isolated Charlie Curnow in the goal square and a dogged Ed Curnow smothering the best of opposition clubs are sights which Carlton fans should expect to see more often.
With the brothers inking new contract extensions, their commitment and will to win can’t be questioned and this is enough to make the coaching staff, players and fans of the Navy Blues extremely excited.
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3. Captaincy changes
Just last week, the Blues announced Sam Docherty and Patrick Cripps as new co-captains to replace long-serving leader Marc Murphy. It’s a change fans had been calling out for and certainly one which is for the better.
Marc Murphy has been a loyal servant of the Carlton Football Club however there is no doubt his captaincy responsibilities have had a bearing on his playing outputs in recent times, with his leadership role becoming more strenuous as the dwindling team searched for answers. Many had questioned his captaincy and whether he was the right man to lead Carlton into the future. It matters not – he was the right man at the right time, and the changes are the right move for the current group, and the future.
The replacement of Murphy as captain with two young soldiers in Cripps and Docherty is symbolic of a changing of the guard. The new skippers will be able to lead forward the new generation of Carlton players and set a new foundation for their development. At 31 years of age, Murphy still has plenty to offer as a midfielder and educator to younger on-ballers such as Paddy Dow and Zac Fisher.
The return of Docherty cannot be understated. He is a back half maestro (sounds like an adult film), and will add some sorely needed stability to the Carlton defence in 2019. Whilst one must remain wary of expecting too much from a player returning from a knee reconstruction, it’s hard not to get excited about a player of his calibre setting up out of defence.
The new era of the Carton Football Club has been chiselled in stone by the captaincy changes and it is likely the combination of Docherty and Cripps will be a catalyst to aid a growth in the blues younger players.
4. Trade period acquisitions.
As the spot light has shone on the controversial trade situations concerning the likes of Tim Kelly and Chad Wingard, the Carlton trade team has quietly worked some magic of their own by recruiting two big fish.
Mitch McGovern and Alex Fasolo were acquired by the Blues, both of whom will add much needed depth and experience to the forward half, should McGovern find himself in attack.
McGovern is certainly the bigger fish of the two. The former Crow flyer has proven himself as a powerful forward with good hands and a penetrating kick. If the Blues can generate enough supply to their forward line, then McGovern looms as a serious threat to opposition sides as his presence will certainly draw a crowd. And that allows Charlie Curnow room to move.
Alex Fasolo on the other hand has become a polarising figure within the AFL. After battling through a bout of mental health issues at Collingwood, the goal sneak only managed to crack into the pies side for a single game in the 2018 season – that game ended when he went down with injury.
It was a bitter pill of a season to swallow for Fasolo. Despite a disappointing back half of his career at Collingwood, Fasolo’s best is very good. On his day he can punish sides with his aerial craft and precise foot skills.
Above all else, Alex’s biggest asset will be his experience. He’s played in front of huge crowds and felt the pressure of a heated AFL contest. If he can remain fit, and pass on his wisdom from such experiences to the younger crop of Blues players, then the tight contests and big moments will start to be snaffled by hungry Carlton players.
Then there's the addition of Will Setterfield for a bargain price - with days remaining, the 2018 trade period is already a huge win for the Blues.
Carlton have a team which can become successful. There are more green shoots than we’ve covered. Harry McKay, Zac Fisher, Tom De Koning, Sam Petrevski-Seton, the two Jarrods – Garlett and Pickett, should all show some improvement in 2019. If they can uncap the talent of younger players, utilise the maturity and guidance of senior players and supply their forward line with plenty of the Sherrin, the dark days they have endured may well be worth it.
After all, good things come to those who wait, and the Blues have waited long enough.
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