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The "Ifs", "Buts" and Other Stuff - Carlton

So, I am very mindful of not sinking the boots into Carlton. It’s happened enough, and this off-season, they’ve been on the end of enough kick-in-guts kind of moments already.

Sadly, the fact remains that this pre-season has already given them a couple of jolts that would test the resolve of any club. For the Blues, seeing things go awry in the pre-season is becoming a bit passe. Brendon Bolton’s “green shoots” have been turned a little brown under the hot sun of pre-Xmas training, leaving them without their co-captain (again) and a rising young star.

But it’s not all doom and gloom for the Blues. They’ve seemingly recruited well, and the years of pain as they waited for young players to get games under their belts seem to be coming to an end… hopefully.

The Blues may endure moments of pain in 2019. They may cop some heavy defeats along the way, but as long as those green shoots keep sprouting, eventually they’re going to have a lush garden of talent to choose from.

IF…

… the Blues get expected improvement from Zac Fisher, Paddy Dow and Matt Kennedy, things will look up.

There are those who relish the situation Carlton finds themselves in. Largely from Essendon and Collingwood supporter bases, there are many who are revelling in the fact that the Blues are now in the midst of their longest premiership drought… EVER!

Sorry, I don’t mean to rub it in, but facts are facts.

There was so much positivity around Carlton to commence this pre-season, and in three fell swoops, they were rocked by injury.

Again.

Sam Docherty felt the familiar feeling of his knee giving way underneath him, and though the worst fears for Jarrod Pickett were allayed, he is still out for a significant amount of time with a ruptured patella tendon. To top it all off, new recruit, Mitch McGovern was sidelined with fractures to his back. Though this kind of injury is not a long term one (hopefully), it was the last thing Carlton fans needed.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom, with plenty of promise shown by their young brigade in 2018 ready to manifest as solid in-game contributions in 2018.

Paddy Dow averaged 14 touches per game, with a good mix of contested and uncontested ball in his debut season. He doesn’t seem to mind mixing it up, and as his body matures, he will become a wonderful asset to the club. It’s very difficult for a young fella to come into a struggling club and make an immediate impact, but Dow was able to play 20 games in 2018, proving that he is up to the rigours of AFL footy.

Zac Fisher looked as though he was ready to make the leap in 2018. He was +7.59 possessions per game on his 2017 totals, and now with 34 games under his belt, should be ready to turn on the jets and easily head over the 20 touches per game mark, providing some valuable outside run. He will have to clean up his kicking, with just over half his attempts actually to advantage, but the leg speed he possesses is a valuable attribute in the modern game.

And then there’s Matt Kennedy. His season was almost derailed in Round One last year, when an ankle injury sent him to the bench. He soldiered on, but it clearly hampered him from then on. He strikes me as the kind of player that really needs a clean run at pre-season in order to be of value. There have been excellent players over the journey that have been similar – Luke Hodge leaps to mind. At one point in Hodge’s career, a pre-season setback would spell months of less than stellar games. Until he built that fitness base, Hodge was a plodder. I reckon there’s a bit of plodding about Kennedy if his fitness is at all derailed.

As the season wore on, Kennedy started to look a little more involved in the Blues’ midfield. His 29 disposals, with 15 contested touches against Hawthorn was exactly the kind of support Patrick Cripps needs in the middle of the ground. If he can start chopping the Blues superstar out with days like that, the entire team will be better off for it.

We’ll touch on Sam Walsh soon, but these three, along with a host of others who NEED to show improvement, will be the key factors on how Carlton performs in 2019. Forget recruits – it’s the organic growth of players that builds good teams.

 

… Mitch McGovern can improve on his 2016-18 numbers, the Blues have a winner.

So there’s a lot to like about McGovern, and I am pretty sure it’s his potential at the top of the list. He was a bit of a cameo-player at the Crows, flittering in and out of games a little too much for my liking, and overall, his numbers don’t really represent a player growing into a role.

That may be because he was thrown around between attack and defence a little too much, but what Carlton needs is consistent performers in 2019, and McGovern has to start providing that in his game.

Restricted to 12 games in 2018, McGovern’s stats do not tell the story of a player who is making great strides. Compared to his first year in the game, McGovern hasn’t set the world on fire. He is +2.92 in disposals, +2.33 in marks, -0.14 in goals and -0.78 in tackles.

This has to be the year he makes the leap, for mine. Enough with the potential.

New place, high expectations… 11 touches and five marks per game won’t cut it.

We’ve seen the late game marks, the goals under pressure… they’re wonderful, lasting images, but what needs to come now is a reliable presence, whether in defence, or attack. And once Carlton decide where he’s going to play, leave him there so he can develop his game in that role.

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Look! Mongrel Punt Stubby Holders. Buy one and be cooler than all your friends! It also helps the site out.

… Sam Walsh is as good as advertised, he’ll be worth the price of admission.

I’ve not heard a junior footballer talked up as much as I’ve heard people talk up the qualities of Sam Walsh.

Patrick Dangerfield was glowing about him after he spent time at Geelong during 2018, and compared him to Joel Selwood. Guys, I know a lot of you don’t care for Selwood, but I think he is an absolute champion of the game, and would love him on my team. If what you have in Walsh is the next Joel Selwood… I’d be absolutely ecstatic.

Michael Turner from the Geelong Falcons called Walsh the “best prepared player” he’s ever seen, and they’ve had some talent come through that team over the years. Hodge, Jonathon Brown, Gary Ablett, Patrick Dangerfield… but Walsh is above them. Wow…

So irrespective of how the Blues go this year, I think there’ll be some undeniable positives to take out of the year, and the development of Walsh should be right up there. Watch him closely, Blues fans – he will probably be your captain one day.

… Alex Fasolo can get on the park, the Blues could actually kick a score.

A big if, but a possibility. Fasolo’s nous around goals is undeniable. Sadly, so is the fact that he managed just one game in 2018.

Timing wasn’t on his side last season. In his season debut, Fasolo limped off the ground with an ankle injury. Given the strength of the Collingwood list, it spelt curtains for his season.

Prior to the disastrous 2018, Fasolo’s output on the offensive end was of pretty high quality. From 2015-17, Fasolo averaged 1.56 goals per game over his 82 games. He just knows how to find the goals – something Carlton have been unable to do for far too long.

Charlie Curnow led the Blues with 34 goals in 2018, followed by Matty Wright and Harry McKay with 21. If Fasolo gets anywhere near back to his 2015-17 form, and can play in the majority of games, you might be looking at the club’s leading goal kicker. Of course, Curnow would have to fall over dead for Fasolo to kick more than him, and I definitely don’t want that to happen.

Levi Casboult is the other forward target for the Blues (12 goals… eeek!) but having the opportunistic Fasolo around the feet of Levi could actually make his contests in the forward 50 worth something a little more. I have a feeling that if McKay starts getting his mitts on a few marks, Levi's position in the team might be pretty vulnerable.

 

BUT IF…

… Patrick Cripps gets hurt, the Blues’ future implodes.

The Blues have had enough heartache. Docherty going down again… it’s painful, and there is only one thing worse than losing one of your co-captains.

I don’t even have to say it, do I?

No one player is as important to his team as Cripps is to Carlton. On-field, he is their heart and soul. He throws himself into contest after contest and bounces off opposition players like my mate Joe Ganino off other dudes at a swingers party. If there is a ball in dispute, you back him to win it every time, and his ability to grab that footy, have a player hanging off him, and farm out the handball whilst falling to the deck is the kind of stuff that makes you shake your head.

Then he gets up and does it again.

Cripps was the league-leader in contested possessions in 2018 (17.5 per game) and went over 20 contested touches in a game on eight occasions (he also hit 19 twice as well). He deserves a good run at it. Without him, the Blues may as well shut up shop and the Crows may as well start deciding what they want to do with a top two pick.

 

… Carlton can’t talk in the defensive 50, one of their own is gonna get hurt.

Now, if by chance you happen to be reading this Liam Jones, can you please yell out when you’re attacking the footy in the air? I am sure blokes like Caleb Marchbank, Jacob Weitering and any other teammates unlucky enough to feel the effects of your maniacal attacks on the contest would really appreciate it.

I can’t fault Jones’ attack on the contest – he throws himself at it with reckless abandon, but there were several instances in 2018 where those attacks took out a teammate and allowed those left standing – sometimes his direct opponent – free passage to goal.

Whilst a goal is a big enough penalty, Jones leaves his man and makes a bee-line for a different contest. Given the ferocity he attacks those aerial contests, I actually feared for his teammates standing under the ball with their opponent as he hits. It was obvious to me when watching it on replay on more than one occasion, that Jones didn’t let them know he was coming, and it is only good fortune that they weren’t injured.

Whilst I am certain that Blues fans would love to see Jones return to his 2017 form when he emerged as a contest-killing defender, he needs to pick his spots (and his targets) a little better. It’s hard enough playing in a backline of a lower end of the ladder side, without copping friendly fire.

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Grab a Mongrel Bumper Sticker - click the image, grab a sticker and help spread the Mongrel word. We’d really appreciate it.

 

… the defence is totally reliant on Kade Simpson to get them out of trouble, they’re in more trouble than they know.

I’m not here to denigrate the skill or longevity of Kade Simpson – far from it. What I am here to do is to petition for some help.

Simpson has been a warrior for the Blues, and after 307 games, the fact that he is still the preferred option to clear the ball from defensive 50 is both testament to how good a player he is, and how much the Docherty injury hurts for the second consecutive year.

The Doc being out scarpered whatever plans there were to direct the ball through him, but the old fella needs some help now, and without it, we’re going to see him run into trouble quite a bit.

The signs were there last season, when other Blues defenders would hand off to Simpson and… stand there, doing nothing! Simpson would look up to see players failing to make position, failing to work… basically failing in general, and what it led to was Simpson being corralled as he searched both the thin and fat sides in vain for outlets. It also led to him kicking in the hope that someone would make a contest. I genuinely felt for the guy.

Nic Newman looks most likely to seize opportunity with his second club – an astute pick up by the Blues, but track watchers are hopeful that Tom Williamson is the kind of player that can develop into a replacement for Simpson in the long run. He missed 2018 with a back injury, but if his first year was anything to go by, he could be one that gives the Blues some much-needed relief across half back long term.

 

Other Stuff

We’ve been robbed of the opportunity to see Matthew Kreuzer over the years. It seems that just as he starts to string together games, and looks like he may be a force, something happens (like a heart ailment ffs) that derails things. Reports are suggesting he is has been given the all-clear in terms of his condition, and hopefully we can get 18-20 games from him in 2019.

If I’d told you in 2007 that this bloke would never be an All-Australian, you probably would’ve slapped me (you might even try it now, just for fun). However, Kreuzer was supposed to be a generational ruck man. He hasn’t nearly ascended to those heights at this stage - just staying on the park is an achievement. What staying healthy means to Carlton in 2019, though, is a consistent presence to battle the league’s dominant big men. He may not be able to match them in terms of awards, but Keruzer, on his day, can still hurt the opposition (check out R3, 2018 as he goes against Grundy – more than holds his own).

I expect a little more from Sam Petrevski-Seton this year. Wildly inaccurate when kicking for goal (31%), perhaps the Blues could look to use him off half back?

Jacob Weitering was absolutely hammered both by the formal media, and the social variety in 2018. it would have to chip away at the confidence of the young fella. A new year, and hopefully a better defensive structure may see Weitering jump out of the box this season. You don’t go #1 overall because you can just play a little…

What Blues fan wouldn’t give to see Marc Murphy return to 2017 form this season? Murphy managed just 13 games last season, after an excellent 2017 where he played every game and averaged 29.8 disposals. Murphy has been somewhat maligned by the football world whilst captain of the club, but with Cripps now ‘the man’ in that capacity, a return to form for Murph would be more than welcome.

Also, I am certain someone discussed this at the time, but this photo below…

39635554bc760277c51f3bbd86cbf291.jpg

… what the hell is going on here? I don’t know about you, but when I first looked at this, Brendon Bolton came across looking like a little kid. The way it is taken, it makes LoGiudice look like Bolton’s overprotective dad, with Bolton peeking out from behind him, hoping his dad will get him out of trouble. Whoever approved this pic for publication should be removed of their duties. Anyway, it's not a shot at Bolton-  more a shot at whoever allowed him to be portrayed that way.

That said, if the Blues don’t make a decent improvement in 2019 (let’s say five wins is the expectation?), can anyone see Bolton surviving? I don't think even his dad, LoGiudice could save him.

I reckon 5-6 wins is a step in the right direction for the Blues in 2019. Their kids should be good enough to pull off the occasional upset, and if their veterans can stay healthy, the results of the rebuild may just start to blossom. It’s been long enough.

 

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