28/02/2024

Liam Jones in action for Carlton in 2021. Image: carltonfc.com.au

Liam Jones has decided to retire from AFL Football citing "personal reasons" pertaining to vaccine hesitancy. Discussion now turns to how the Blues will fill the hole he leaves behind in defence

Liam Jones has announced his retirement, bringing an end to one of the more remarkable career renaissances in recent times.

Which is why it’s so sad it has come to an end in the circumstances it has.

The full-back who has turned himself into one of the stars and key pillars in Carlton’s leaky backline won’t be there at new coach Michael Voss’ disposal on the first day of pre-season after his decision to remain unvaccinated from COVID-19 and step away from Football.

It leaves a sizeable hole in defence for the Blues who only trailed North Melbourne last season for points against, with the partnership of Jones and Jacob Weitering lauded for their exceptional 1v1 work and standing tall as the rest of the defensive system fell by the wayside.

In 2021, Jones was involved in 110 contested defensive one-on-one contests, losing just 13 of them. A loss rate of 11.8 percent. By comparison, All- Australian key defenders Steven May’s loss rate sat at 23.2 percent,  Aliir Aliir 16.8 percent and even Weitering was 20.8 percent.

So how can Carlton move on from this shock retirement? And how can they fill the void of the 30-year-old in the short term and into the future?

There are options there already:

Although Carlton’s key defensive stocks were already thin beforehand, All of a sudden the recruitment of Lewis Young is a far more shrewd acquisition than originally thought of back in the Trade Period.

New coach Michael Voss has a whole summer now to sift through the options at his disposal.

On the list already are Oscar McDonald who has been re-contracted for 2022 and Caleb Marchbank. Marchbank was again restricted to no football in 2021 as he suffered an ACL injury in his comeback in the VFL, his latest in a long stretch in an injury-plagued 6 years at Princes Park.

McDonald featured in only one of the three games he was credited for in 2021, making his debut as the medical sub in round 1 and not making it onto the field in the following rounds before a back injury derailed his season.

With Marchbank still yet to return to a modified training program and looking unlikely to be ready for Round 1, who will partner Weitering standing next to Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt on opening night?

While it was probably initially thought of that Young would act as an intercepting defender, as he has shown he could do with aplomb at the Western Bulldogs. Could he take on that extra responsibility?

Or could they re-deploy Mitch McGovern as a key defender?

Could they continue to develop tall utility, Brodie Kemp, to be that key defender? Yes, he would still need time to develop given his injury history and minimal games and experience but it could shore up a position for Kemp to eye as he and his fellow teammates return to pre-season training in a matter of weeks.

Looking outside:

The retirement of Jones is a curveball that Nick Austin and his recruiting team must thrash out ahead of the upcoming AFL Draft with further intrigue around what Carlton does with their first pick.

The Blues enter the draft at Pick 25 where likely top-rated key defensive prospect Josh Gibcus, Jacob van Rooyen and Mac Andrew would likely be off the board.

Key defensive prospects such as Leek Alleer and Rhett Bazzo could be there as options for Carlton to take at their first pick.

The Blues do have the option of the rookie draft or the Pre-Season supplemental selection where they can look at recently delisted players such as Michael Hartley, Ryan Garthwaite, and Oscar Clavarino.

They could also give a call to Daniel Talia and see how the foot is going or even maybe knock on new Essendon development coach Alex Rance’s door? Who knows.

Jones’ sudden retirement adds a layer of intrigue surrounding the Blues as to what their plans and primary focus becomes as we tick down and closer to draft night.

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Making the best of what’s left over:

Jones’ retirement is a big hole to fill on the field but off the field, the move could be a blessing for those at Ikon Park as they continue to build, evolve and re-shape the list as Carlton hunt a return to finals action.

It is reported that Jones will forego up to $500,000 for his decision to step away from football, $500,000 that could help tie down the future of the club.

Carlton has 19 players currently off-contract at the end of season 2022, including superstar best and fairest winner and- Australian Sam Walsh.

The extra money that Jones’ departure creates could help the club secure their future and continue investing in their own talent on their list.

The option to put funds into extra salary cap room and target a free- agent in the following off-season is also a live option with Carlton continuing to be players at the trade and free-agency table as years go on.

 

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