17/04/2024

Carlton players link arms before their Round 4 draw with the Fremantle Dockers. (Image: Carlton FCW/Twitter; Design: Will Cuckson)

While they didn’t expect to set the world on fire, it was still a frustrating season for Blues fans. Only managing two wins and adding two frustrating draws in consecutive weeks, season seven is surely one for them to forget as they move forward in their attempt to climb back up the AFLW ladder.

Finishing position: 14th (two wins, two draws, six losses)

What worked?

There wasn’t a lot for Blues fans to be ecstatic about in season seven, however they presented themselves as a fairly strong defensive unit throughout the year.

Carlton conceded the least points out of any side sitting outside the top eight. While this didn’t matter as much due to its mostly lacklustre attacking game plan, it was clear that the backline was a fairly strong area.

Vaomua Laloifi was the standout for the Blues throughout the season, playing some of the best footy of her career. She earned herself a place in the AFLW All-Australian squad of 40 in the process, as one of only two Blues to do so.

Lucy McEvoy took her game to the next level in season seven. She was a huge presence in the Blues defence, and played some brilliant footy particularly in the second half of the season.

Gab Pound and Darcy Vescio both spent time at either end of the ground, but were extremely influential when down in defence, with the latter playing as a defender for the first time in their career.

Meanwhile, club captain Kerryn Peterson was also brilliant down back whenever she played there, although she did spend more time in the midfield throughout the year as well.

Regardless, whatever mix the Blues seemed to run with in defence ended up doing a decent enough job. If their defensive game plan had have been complimented better in other areas of the ground, we could have definitely seen some improved results from the Blues throughout the season.

What didn’t?

The Blues’ defensive capabilities were clearly decent enough, but they struggled to mount any sort of challenge going forward, ranking 15th in the competition for points scored.

They were playing football that many considered uninspiring and predictable, which lead to some disappointing results throughout the season. The two draws against Port Adelaide and Fremantle could have easily been avoided with a more aggressive approach, but nothing came of either game.

This was obviously rectified to an extent in Round 7, with coach Daniel Harford devising tactics that were drastically different to what was dished up in the first six rounds.

It was difficult for the club to recover any lost points in the last few rounds though given the difficult set of opponents they came up against, with the Tigers, Suns, and Bulldogs all having played some brilliant footy throughout the year.

Ultimately, the Blues’ attacking game plan just wasn’t up to scratch in season seven, and not enough was done about it until it was just too late.

Breakout stars:

Abbie McKay truly took her game to the next level in season seven. She has formed a brilliant partnership alongside Mimi Hill, and has stepped up from being a role player to being a key cog in the Carton midfield.

McKay’s development was evident from the very first round, where she had one of her best career games to date against Collingwood, and from there she never looked back.

An important reason for some of the Blues’ best performances this season, McKay will continue to be one of their most crucial players, and a centrepiece of the team as they climb back up the AFLW ladder.

Elsewhere, Keeley Skepper was impressive in her first season of AFLW. Debuting in their Round 2 win over the Bombers, Skepper remained in the Blues side for the rest of the season, developing well throughout and showing that she has what it takes to cut it at the highest level.

Her hard work culminated in a nomination for the AFLW 22 under 22 team, alongside teammates McKay, Hill, and McEvoy as well. It was a well deserved nomination for a player who is going to continue to develop in 2023 and beyond.

More AFLW Season Reviews:

AFLW Season Seven Review: Hawthorn Hawks

AFLW Season Seven Review: West Coast Eagles

AFLW Season Seven Review: Port Adelaide

Highest point:

The Blues were hardly the favourites going into their Round 7 match against St Kilda down at RSEA Park, but they went on to carve out what was easily their most impressive win of the season.

Blues coach Daniel Harford made a big tactical switch, sending star forward Darcy Vescio onto the half-back flank, and keeping Gab Pound in the attacking role that she had filled in previous weeks.

This worked wonders as Vescio played brilliantly in their new position, defending strongly and moving the ball superbly up the ground.

In terms of game style as well, the Blues were much more aggressive as a whole with their ball movement, seeking out better opportunities rather than just bombing the ball in hopes that it would find a target. This was ultimately a successful change.

The new game style, along with the dominance of ruck Breann Moody and classy play from midfield stars McKay and Hill, allowed Carlton to cruise to a much needed 27-point victory over the Saints.

It was easily the Blues’ most impressive game of the year, and a performance that they will hope to replicate more often in the future.

Lowest point:

Carlton had some frustrating moments this season. A few different results will be looked back on with disappointment in the end, however the Blues’ 10-point loss to Richmond in Round 8 was certainly one of the toughest pills to swallow. Especially so since it came just one week after their brilliant win against the Saints.

The Blues’ season was still in the balance as they took on the Tigers, but they couldn’t afford to slip up if they wanted a chance at sneaking into the top eight.

They took a handy advantage into the first break, with the margin getting out to as much as 25 points. The Blues piled on four goals to the Tigers’ one in that quarter, and lead by 19 points at the first change.

Despite not adding to their goal tally in the second, they still somewhat kept the Tigers at bay to maintain the lead at half-time.

It was at this point that a victory started to become more and more achievable for Richmond, chipping away at the deficit in the second half and claiming the lead, before running away with the win.

This result was obviously poor because it meant the season was over for Carlton, but the position that the team put themselves in at the start of the game and the opportunity it had to make the most of it was ultimately wasted. That was what made it hardest to digest for the Blues in the end.

Where to next?

While it was generally quite a disheartening season for Carlton and its fans, there were still some good signs throughout.

A nail-biting win against traditional rivals Essendon, a dominant victory over the Saints, and the emergence of some young stars and key players will all be positives for the Blues to take into 2023.

In recent years, the Blues have lost plenty of talent to other clubs and this has translated on the field. Making good use of the draft and trade periods will be of the utmost importance to the club in the next year or two as they attempt to climb back up the ladder.

They have already developed a solid core that they can build around in the near future. Moody is still one of the league’s premier rucks, young stars Hill, McKay, McEvoy, and Skepper amongst others have all stepped up this season, and they also have a strong group of veterans that are still fit and firing.

Names like Vescio, Peterson, Pound, Laloifi, Elise O’Dea, and Jess Dal Pos will be crucial in the development of this Carlton side as young players come in.

With the list the Blues have currently, if they can keep the squad together and maintain some consistency whilst plugging the gaps that need to be filled, the resurgence shouldn’t be too far away.

The Carlton AFLW team has been impressive over the years, and it’s looking to return to that level as quick as possible.

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