After another disappointing season in 2021, the off-season was tinged with the familiar sense of upheaval at Princes Park. There’s a new President, A new CEO, A new coaching department, headed up by new senior coach Michael Voss; the club has again found itself needing to hit the reset button and plan a new direction forward.
After declaring that they were ready to take the next step and play finals football, the Blues tumbled back down the ladder. This came despite excellent personal seasons from the likes of John Nicholls Medallist Sam Walsh, Coleman Medallist Harry McKay, and Jacob Weitering establishing himself as one of the premier key defenders in the game.
There was little growth from a team perspective on-field for Carlton in 2021.
Continued lapses in games led to five-goal swings, and inability to halt momentum saw an external review called and ultimately, the removal of David Teague as senior coach.
The Blues eventually slumped to their eighth consecutive year without finals action.
Domanic Akuei (Category B Rookie – Northern Knights/Carlton NGA), Adam Cerra (Traded – Fremantle), George Hewett (Free Agent – Sydney), Jesse Motlop (National Draft – South Fremantle), Lewis Young (Traded – Western Bulldogs)
Eddie Betts (Retired), Levi Casboult (Delisted), Michael Gibbons (Delisted), Liam Jones (Retired), Marc Murphy (Retired), Sam Petrevski-Seton (Traded – West Coast), Sam Ramsay (Delisted)
A brand new coaching panel brings another year of new systems and new positions.
The group of Michael Voss, Ashley Hansen, Tim Clarke and Aaron Hamill has gone to work with a list entering its sweet spot and needing some tough love, physicality, and professionalism to go to the next level, and that is exactly what it appears to be getting.
With recent retirements, it is a much younger playing group at Princes Park in 2022, with Ed Curnow at 32 years old and 204 games to his name, the oldest and most experienced player on the list.
Carlton fans will be salivating at the prospect of getting his brother Charlie Curnow back up and running. After returning to the field late last year with his previous two-and-a-half years ruined by knee injuries, Curnow is close to completing a full pre-season and has performed strongly on the training track.
After struggling to make his mark in three seasons at Princes Park, a positional switch might just be the catalyst to unlocking Mitch McGovern‘s full potential and ability. After only managing 37 goals from 39 games in three disrupted seasons by injury, fitness, and form, McGovern has spent a large portion of the pre-season training with the defensive group.
With the retirement of Liam Jones, there is a hole in the Blues line-up that could be his to slot into and make his own. McGovern has been trialled as a “swing-man” and third-tall in recent match simulation sessions but with new recruit Lewis Young looking short of the mark early doors at his new club, McGovern might be given the first assignment as a defender.
The midfield continues to get deeper with the arrivals of Adam Cerra and George Hewett, both arriving at Princes Park ahead of this season as mature recruits. Both have impressed with their class and strength respectively.
Second-year player Jack Carroll has put on size and has impressed everyone, none more-so than new club director Greg Williams. The Western Australian is firming for an early-season debut.
The Blues have also been blessed with a cleaner run of health than the previous few seasons and in the face of Covid running rampant.
Caleb Marchbank and David Cuningham are in the final conditioning phases of their respective ACL rehabilitations from last year and are both close to joining the main group, while Sam Docherty is continuing to make big strides in his recovery from a recurrence of testicular cancer.
Liam Stocker may also miss the early rounds of the season after suffering a syndesmosis injury back in December, but he’s recovering well. Ruckman Tom De Koning is also being monitored closely after struggling with a shoulder complaint but has since resumed full training.
What to look forward to:
Beefed up midfield and more defensive pressure
One of the biggest criticisms and flaws in Carlton’s game style last season was their midfield was the group being one-paced and skinny. Too much was left to too few through the middle and there wasn’t enough hard running and pressure on the ball-carrier.
Skipper Patrick Cripps and Walsh – fresh off his All-Australian blazer – will remain the stalwarts in the engine room. It’ll be boosted by the recruitments of Cerra and Hewett to go with Matthew Kennedy showing his hard edge, so the next step in the Blues development is seeing how the midfield adapts when the heat is on.
How quickly can they get from attack to defence, running both ways and applying the heat at the coalface to win the ball back?
It will be an early-season indicator to measure how much work the Blues have done in the off-season in their new game plan under Voss.
For all the big-name recruits that Carlton brought in the door for 2022, from the CEO to the coach to the big player signings from other clubs, the biggest recruit could come in the form of a man who has hardly been seen in the past two seasons.
After a slew of knee injuries and complications, a fully fit Curnow has completed nearly all of pre-season and according to teammates and coaches has regained his power and athleticism and been one of the standouts on the training track.
Having only managed to play six of the last 50 games Carlton has featured in, both Curnow and fans will be excited to see him return fully fit to the AFL stage and light it up in front of the adoring faithful.
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It’s a big year for:
One of many Blues whose career hangs in the balance, Setterfield enters season 2022 outside Carlton’s best 23 but has all the tools to see himself become a regular in Voss’ side.
Entering his fourth season at Princes Park out of contract, Setterfield’s disappointing 2021 season left many wondering if he could make the jump to a consistent, starting, AFL quality midfielder after an impressive 2020 where he ranked second for tackles and third for clearances as he cemented his role as an inside player.
Shifted to an outside role in 2021, Setterfield only played the eight games and suffered drop-offs in all key indicators including disposals, tackles, and clearances. He only managed the eight senior games, jumping in and out of the side before a hand injury finished his season prematurely.
The former top-five draft pick was brought to Carlton for a future second-round pick at the start of 2019. Now with 44 senior games under his belt, he has the experience at senior level but has been overtaken in his preferred position on the inside.
With the new recruits this year, his place in the pecking order has continued to slide back. While it is a long season and opportunities will present themselves as it goes on, Setterfield has work to do to ensure he is a part of Voss’ long-term plans and rotations.
Biggest unanswered question:
Who fills the Jones-sized hole?
After Liam Jones retired from Football in November following his decision to remain unvaccinated to COVID-19, it left Carlton with a big hole to fill in its back half before the footballs had even come out at pre-season training.
Carlton recruited Lewis Young from the Western Bulldogs with the view that he would be the long-term replacement for an ageing Jones with the end of his career looming. But with it coming to a premature end, Carlton has been forced into finding an alternative option.
Mitch McGovern has been training in defence this off-season while Oscar McDonald is the other one battling with Young and McGovern to get the first crack come Round 1 against Richmond.
Carlton is also trialling a slew of key position players this pre-season who are all vying for the final list position made vacant by Jones’ departure.
Tyreece Leiu and Josh Cripps, the younger brother of skipper Patrick have been training with the club for the whole pre-season to compete for the spot while former Blue Jesse Glass-McCasker has joined the club’s VFL program but has been involved in most of the AFL training sessions since the start of the year.
Carlton has also invited 19-year old defender Michael Lewis to join the program to vy for the final list spot. Lewis has already signed to play with the Carlton Reserves for 2022 but has impressed in recent match simulation with the senior side and is firmly in range to win the final spot on Carlton’s list.
Coach pressure index:
It’s another new coach at the helm at Princes Park which means there’s another learning curve for the players and fans alike trying to become familiar with the new style of play.
But grace and honeymoon type periods at a club like Carlton are shorter than average. Particularly when the natives are more than restless and have waited more than enough time for the tide to turn.
While the list may be primed, Voss will still take his time to find his right combinations and style with everyone fit and available.
Predicted Round 1 lineup:
8th – 12th
How will you be able to measure improvement in this Carlton side?
A new coach brings a new game-plan and a new style of play which will take some weeks to click once the season gets underway.
But how long will the Carlton faithful be willing to wait?
Club legend Robert Walls has been on record saying that Carlton’s current list is “the best it has been in a decade” and he “wouldn’t be surprised if they made the finals”.
All sounds good in hindsight, but while Carlton has been chopping and changing and trying to find the right methods, how many other teams around the same range would have gone past Carlton continuing on their own trajectory?
While the Carlton list is certainly stacked full of talent, will the third ‘reset’ be the charm?
Will the Blues be able to grow and make enough strides to take the next step into finals football in 2022?
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