05/03/2024

It was a tough end to the season for the Blues, after a very strong first half of the year. (Image: Carlton FC; Design: Will Cuckson)

The 2022 season did not end the way Carlton would have expected, but there is still a lot to build on for the Blues heading into 2023 and beyond.

While the initial stages of 2022 looked like it was time for the club to shine, the season will now be looked back on as one for the Blues to learn from in the group’s first season under new head coach Michael Voss.

Finishing Position: 9th (12 wins, 10 losses)

What worked?

In recent years, the Carlton midfield group hasn’t really been anything to marvel at. But it is now the strongest it has been in years and, particularly in the season’s early stages, the mix was looking very special.

Patrick Cripps and Sam Walsh have shouldered the load in recent years, but had plenty of weight lifted in 2022 with the arrivals of Sydney’s George Hewett, and Fremantle’s Adam Cerra, as well as the newfound form of existing midfielder Matthew Kennedy. These five were all brilliant in their own right for Carlton this year, despite the fact that they didn’t get to play with each other often as a group, due to injuries suffered throughout the season.

Their midfield work was also aided by young wingmen Lochie O’Brien and Matthew Cottrell who both had improved seasons under new coach Voss. The midfield group has quickly become Carlton’s strongest asset, and with some consistency, they will be even better in the years to come.

Carlton’s midfield improved greatly under new coach Michael Voss in 2022 (Image: carltonfc.com.au)

What didn’t?

Those efforts in the dying moments of games were Carlton’s undoing in the end, particularly in the five-point loss to Melbourne in Round 22 and a heartbreaking one-point defeat to Collingwood in the final game of the year. The Blues had their chances to lock down that last finals spot, and it unfortunately wasn’t to be.

Injuries at crucial times obviously didn’t help either, but ultimately, the performances of the players in those defining moments are the ones fans will look back on, and wonder what could have been.

Whether that be the two narrow defeats at the hands of Collingwood, the last minute dagger from Melbourne’s Kysaiah Pickett or, aside from fourth quarters in particular, the inability to hold on in winnable games against the Suns, Crows, and Saints, there are many directions that Carlton fans can look towards and point fingers. The Blues struggled to capitalise on opportunities time and again and seemed to be the moments which cost them in the end.

Breakout stars:

The 2022 season saw a number of Carlton players take the next step in their careers, and announce themselves on the big stage.

The Blues’ small forward group were a breath of fresh air at times this year, providing the pressure that the team has lacked for quite some time. In particular, youngsters Corey Durdin and Jesse Motlop were very impressive. Durdin showed great progression in his first full season for the Blues, with his forward half pressure on show. Meanwhile, the 27th pick from the 2021 Draft in Motlop showed what he was made of, debuting in Round 9 and averaging a goal a game while also showcasing the same forward pressure that made the group so cohesive in that area of the ground, alongside teammates Zac Fisher and Matthew Owies.

Elsewhere on the field, the aforementioned Matthew Kennedy took the next step in his career, finally hitting the heights that Blues fans would have hoped when he arrived at the club for the 2018 season. He is now a crucial part of the midfield makeup, which was even clearer when he missed those last three games of the season that saw Carlton fall out of finals.

Lewis Young was another player who has not exactly shone in the past, but played brilliantly at times in 2022. Arriving from the Western Bulldogs at the end of last year, the 23-year-old has been a great replacement for the departed Liam Jones, and will surely have that full-back spot locked down at Carlton for the foreseeable future.

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Highest point:

Carlton had an absolutely remarkable run at the start of the season which saw them begin 2022 with a record of eight wins and two losses. This run was kickstarted by a win that fans have been desperate to grab for the last nine years. The Blues knocked off the Tigers for the first time since the 2013 Elimination Final and they did it in absolute style, dominating the final quarter on their way to a famous win.

The MCG crowd came alive at many moments throughout the night. Whether it was Jack Martin‘s goal to put the Blues ahead, Fisher’s goal immediately after to increase the lead, Cerra and Hewett’s first goals in navy blue, or any of captain Cripps’ three goals, there was a lot for fans to enjoy on that Thursday night at the home of football. Not to mention perhaps the most special moment of all, when half-back veteran Sam Docherty booted a goal in his return game after recovering from a second bout with testicular cancer.

It was an amazing win, and one that no Carlton fan will be forgetting any time soon.

Lowest point:

Unfortunately, just as the first game was Carlton’s highest point of the year, the lowest point came against Collingwood in the very last round of the season. As the Western Bulldogs’ win saw them temporarily claim the last spot in finals, a win or draw was what the Blues needed to jump back in. The loss of Walsh before the first bounce of the day definitely hurt, but they were still determined to come out firing and cement a finals berth.

It looked like it was going well for the Blues, who lead the Magpies by 24 points at three quarter time after an enormous eight goal term. However, they only managed to convert six behinds in the final quarter, eventually losing the game by a solitary point. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Carlton and its fans, who will be hoping that things will finally swing in their favour in 2023.

Where to next?

The pressure is now on more than ever before. The Blues’ list is definitely capable, as we have seen at many points in 2022. Their spine is arguably one of the best in the competition, housing captain and reigning Brownlow Medallist Cripps, defensive star Jacob Weitering alongside Young, and the two most recent Coleman Medallists, Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay up forward. Cripps will walk into 2023 with his head held high, after claiming his maiden Brownlow Medal, and hopefully this success can motivate the rest of the team to take it to that next level on a more consistent basis.

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Carlton will believe they aren’t far away from having the right mix to contend. The next few months will be important for their side, not only when using the draft and trade periods to fill those last few holes, but particularly when it comes to bridging the gap between their top end talent and the rest of their list.

With Cripps, Curnow and Adam Saad also being selected as All-Australians for 2022, as well as Weitering and Walsh who were both picked for the squad of 44, there are some elite players in the Blues squad, and with enough depth behind them they will be ready to make their mark.

The most important thing for the Blues, however, is rectifying the mistakes from their heartbreaking finish to 2022. While the narrow losses suffered at the end of the year could always damage the confidence of the players heading into next season, it seems more likely that those moments will be used as motivation to improve and make sure it never happens again.

Coach Voss will have a good idea of what went wrong in those games, and what needs to be fixed for the future. For many of Carlton’s players, it was the first time they have ever had to play in these scenarios at AFL level, and the experience of coming out at the wrong end of the stick will definitely benefit them when the time comes to face these challenges again. This is especially true for finals, whenever the time arrives for Carlton to compete once again.

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