At the darkest point of his career where knee injuries plagued him for almost two entire seasons, there were some who were worried that Charlie Curnow may have never taken the field again.
However, with his determination and competitiveness shining through along the way. The reigning Coleman Medallist has fought through every obstacle that has been put in front of him, and will finally take the field on Sunday at Optus Stadium to play his 100th AFL game against the Fremantle Dockers.
Coming from an athletic family, Curnow was always destined to succeed in his field. With older brother Ed already playing for Carlton, it was fitting that Charlie would follow in his footsteps. His dream was fulfilled as he was taken by the Blues with Pick 12 in the 2015 AFL Draft.
While he was a little bit slower in his early development for the Falcons, many people who were involved in Curnow’s development initially saw him as a draft prospect that could have gone much higher in the draft than he did, due to his versatility and athleticism.
We all know the Blues came away with an absolute steal amongst what was already a very strong draft crop. But as 245-game Cats legend and former Geelong Falcons talent manager Michael Turner explained to The Inner Sanctum, Curnow was such an impressive prospect and there were clubs that simply let the superstar slide down the order.
“I remember saying to (Matthew) Rendell and every club, ‘I don’t know what’s out there in the draft pool because I concentrate on the Geelong Falcons. I don’t know what’s around Australia, but Charlie Curnow to me from what I’ve seen… is potentially a number one draft pick’,” he recalled.
“That year is the same year we had Darcy Parish, and I tried to convince a lot of clubs that if they were going to take Darcy Parish that they should look very closely at taking Charlie Curnow.”
Of course, Bombers superstar Parish was taken with the fifth selection, and despite Turner’s strong suggestions, another six players were taken before Curnow’s name was called.
Landing at the Blues, Curnow was also extremely lucky to be able to learn and grow alongside his older brother Ed, who was entering his sixth season at Ikon Park.
“I think [ending up at Carlton] in the end was good for Charlie because he was there with his brother Ed,” Turner said.
“Ed’s a very professional kid. He gets the most out of himself and would have been a really good model [for Charlie].”
Easily Curnow’s biggest strength in his junior career, was the extremely well-rounded game style and athletic physique that he possessed. While we know him now as a pure and dominant full-forward, Curnow was always known in his early days as the player that could have been anything.
His size and athleticism allowed him to play both tall and small in the forward line, while he also had the ability to push up into the middle of the ground and make an impact on the ball.
This kind of versatility can be quite hard to come by, but it’s something Curnow had in spades as Turner explained.
“He was a good decision maker, had really good skills as you can see from the way he plays now, and he was a really good athlete. An outstanding runner for his size,” he said.
“For someone who is 6’4″… he’s really close to a six minute two [kilometre] runner, which is pretty elite stuff.
“We knew he had all the attributes to play AFL football, and during the year with Geelong College and at Vic Country with us, particularly in the finals he showed all those attributes.”
These aspects of Curnow’s game were obvious from the beginning, but they were also extremely reminiscent of a previous Carlton legend who captured the imagination of fans throughout a brilliant 15-year career.
Blues supporters and the wider AFL community were all saying the same thing. Charlie Curnow is exactly like Anthony Koutoufides.
From the look, to the physique, and the skillset, the comparison was a fitting one. Although, rather than becoming ‘The Next Kouta’, Curnow has proven to be a player that is forging his own path.
Turner analysed some of the differences between the two players, but also highlighted one area which Koutoufides excelled in, that Curnow could definitely make an impact if afforded the opportunity.
“I would’ve said Anthony was probably a cross between Patrick Cripps and Charlie Curnow,” he said.
“He was a really good inside midfielder, whereas Charlie is a little bit taller… he’s got that little bit of extra height and spring about him to be able to play key-position.
“If Carlton wanted to [though], they could certainly throw him on the ball in certain instances depending on what sort of training he’s been doing.”
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A move up the ground is certainly something that Curnow would be able to succeed at, given what we saw from him as he matured. However as Turner explained, it’s important to play each person to their strengths and Curnow’s strongest area thus far has been his development into one of the league’s best full-forwards.
“You’ve got to play your players in the best spots to make your team stronger, so obviously (Harry) McKay and Charlie Curnow are going to play in the forward line,” Turner explained.
“Paddy (McCartin) was probably our number one forward, and Charlie was a bit younger and more undeveloped, so we used to play him up the field a bit more.
“Now with where he is at Carlton, it’s just playing players for the benefit of the team and what their strengths are.
“If they can get him one on one in the forward-50 or near the goalsquare, he’s nearly impossible to beat.”
Curnow was flying high to start the 2019 season, kicking 18 goals across the first half of the year- helped by a 14-goal stretch between round 10 and 13. It was shaping up to be a breakout year for his development and consistency.
Curnow was riding high after a seven goal haul against the Western Bulldogs, a career-high total at the time. However, it was the next week in Perth against the Fremantle Dockers where disaster would strike.
The key forward went down early with a knee injury, and while it was initially suspected to be a short-term setback, it would end up being the last game he played for over two years.
Several incidents across that period saw Curnow reinjure his right knee, which became a source of frustration for Blues fans who wanted to see him shine. Turner touched on the carefree nature that the Carlton star tended to possess off the field, and the injury troubles that dated back as far as his days at the Falcons.
“He dislocated his knee with us, and that caused a bit of grief. We had a really good physio at the time, Justin Edwards who looked after him… but we had to be careful with it,” he explained.
“He’s a playful kid Charlie. He surfs, he rides a skateboard, and he’s active. Do you wrap them up in cotton wool?
“As they get older, surely they can make those informed decisions themselves… [but] I think that playfulness about him probably didn’t help during those injury times.
[Although] he did get a couple of injuries from strange things like slipping down steps.”
As Curnow’s absence went on, the fear that he may never play again grew bigger amongst some fans. In hindsight this was an overreaction, but many had still accepted that he would never be the player he once looked to be.
Fortunately for Carlton fans and the rest of the footballing world, the best possible scenario was to follow.
Curnow returned in late 2021, making it to the end of the season and completing his first full pre-season for three years in comfortable fashion.
Heading into 2022, he was hotly tipped to make an impression, and it couldn’t have gone any better with Curnow playing all 22 games in the home & away season, and booting 64 goals en route to his first ever Coleman Medal.
Turner touched on the close attention he pays to Curnow and other Falcons products, as well as how Curnow has managed to remain true to himself amongst his rise to the top.
“I keep pretty strong stats on the Falcons… we’re the original footy factory,” he said.
“When he won the Coleman Medal it was great… it adds to the Falcons resume [as well]
“(Charlie) still hasn’t lost that boyish charm about him. My wife would tell you that when she was teaching him he was probably one of the kindest kids she has ever taught.
“He just has that really kind nature, which is a good thing.”
Leading into his 100th outing this weekend against the Dockers, Curnow is deeply entrenched in a fight to claim his second consecutive Coleman Medal. He is still the front-runner for the award in the eyes of many, sitting on 45 goals for the year, although he currently trails in-form Adelaide forward Taylor Walker by just one goal.
When asked about what Charlie needs to focus on in his game to ensure he continues competing with the very best, Turner’s answer was a very simple one.
“If he’s fit and everything he’s certainly capable of kicking 50, 60, or 70 goals every season,” Turner said.
“What helps is, it’s much easier to kick goals in a good team. It’s hard to kick them in a poor team.
“The quicker Carlton get the ball down to their forward line, which has been a criticism of them, the more goals he’s going to kick because he’ll have more opportunity to get them one-on-one.”
It’s fitting now that the game which was Curnow’s last for an extended period of time, Fremantle away at Optus Stadium, will end up being the fixture where he chalks up his 100th AFL game.
With a couple of years of consistent, dominant footy now in the books following his return, Curnow is now one of the competition’s premier key-forwards, and heading into his next milestone, he only seems to be moving on an upward trajectory.