Charlie Curnow celebrates a goal in Carlton's match against Melbourne in round 22, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

CHARLIE Curnow has bags of 10, nine, six (twice) and five goals this season, yet his importance to Carlton in its extraordinary 2023 surge arguably hit its peak in one and two-goal returns in the past two matches.

Against Melbourne on Saturday night and St Kilda the previous Sunday, Curnow's stats were modest, but his effect on results were as telling as any of his performances in the past two years. Remember, he won a Coleman Medal in 2022 and leads this season's race by five goals with two games remaining.

Curnow couldn't care less about the Coleman, for his new responsibilities inside the New Carlton - the one which has now won eight consecutive matches after losing eight of nine games, and six in a row, before that - are allowing everyone attached to this club to ponder what just nine weeks ago was the most preposterous of thoughts - a 2023 Blues premiership.

Curnow was born for finals and after the win against Melbourne, he is as close as he's ever been to a September game. One more win from the two games remaining (Gold Coast away and GWS at home) would book an elimination final berth.

In one of the great one-on-one contests of the season, Curnow and Steven May went at it all Saturday night. May performed as well as possible, but Curnow shaped the result with the Blues' first and last goals, as well as delivering a laser pass to Matt Owies for another. It was a selfless, team-first performance, a near replica of his contest against Cal Wilkie in round 21. The Saints regularly had three players attempting to negate Curnow in the air, which left holes elsewhere for Carlton to exploit.

Charlie Curnow takes a mark ahead of Steven May in Carlton's match against Melbourne in R22, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Michael Voss' ability to transform Carlton in-season has created 2023's most intriguing storyline. That some of the biggest achievements – wins against top four teams Collingwood, Port Adelaide and Melbourne, as well as the courageous comeback against the Saints, who finished round 22 in sixth place – came without access to key players is near unbelievable.

Sam Walsh, Harry McKay, Jack Silvagni, Adam Cerra, Mitch McGovern, Zac Williams, Matt Kennedy. Serious star power, all missing chunks of footy. All bar Williams expected to become available soon. But whereas once those players would have all been rushed back without question, their replacements have performed so well in their absences that at the very least heavy debate will be engaged when those moments are reached.


It would be almost unfair to simply omit the likes of Paddy Dow, Jesse Motlop, Lachie Fogarty, David Cuningham, George Hewett, Brodie Kemp and others, simply because bigger names were available. Whatever happens, it will be one of those very rare, nice problems.

There has never been a formline like Carlton's in 2023. Unbeaten after four rounds, including a draw in round one. Eight losses from the next nine games, including six in succession, the only win being against the woeful West Coast. Just one goal in the first quarter of round 14 against Gold Coast. Nine goals in the second quarter of that game to finally produce a win. Then, the bye. Then, wins against Hawthorn, Fremantle, Port, West Coast, Collingwood, St Kilda and Melbourne.


In the 1980s when Carlton was the biggest team in town and won three flags, it created an aura of success largely based on what it did after half-time of matches, particularly in third quarters, which it dubbed "the premiership quarter". It became mesmerising.

Ruckman Tom De Koning has embraced that vibe. His performances in the past two matches have been match-winning, particularly in the 30 minutes after half-time. An against-the-flow goal in the third term against St Kilda in round 21 ignited the Blues' comeback. A powerful refusal to be intimidated by six-time All-Australian Max Gawn in the same quarter last Saturday was equally crucial to match outcome.

Tom De Koning celebrates a goal in Carlton's match against Melbourne in round 22, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Like Curnow, De Koning doesn't need to best-afield for an entire match to shape results for the Blues. But in the past eight weeks, he has come to understand how he best fits in this near-compelling finals charge.

And whether you support Carlton or not, there is no dispute that the entire competition is more vibrant and more edgy when the Blues are winning matches. While there is a long way to go in terms of proving anything, their turnaround in 2023 has been so fun to watch, and proof that seasons should never be written off, even when they seem doomed.