Blake Acres handballs during Carlton's clash against Gold Coast in round 11, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

THE EVOLUTION of Blake Acres into the AFL's best 'goalkeeping' wingman can be traced right back to his first season with St Kilda and the decision to pair the draftee with mentor Farren Ray. 

Ray, who played 209 games with the Western Bulldogs, Saints and North Melbourne, was known by the Saints as 'Rollback Ray' for his willingness to repeatedly run hard defensively and help his team's backmen. 

It's a trait that rubbed off on Acres during two seasons playing alongside Ray, but 11 seasons and two clubs later and it is a demanding skill that he has made his own and taken to a new level as a Carlton player.

It's a big reason why the 28-year-old is valued so highly by the Blues, who progressed past a thrilling elimination final against Sydney last year thanks to two goal-saving efforts from Acres on the last line of defence. 

"Getting back and supporting has been drilled into me from day one and I've always made sure I've doubled down on that for games," Acres told this week.

"When I first got drafted, I got mentored up with Farren Ray and he was someone who did it his whole career and taught me a lot about that, so that's where the defensive mindset came from.

Blake Acres reaches for the ball during the elimination final between Carlton and Sydney at the MCG on September 8, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"I've sort of built my game off that, and then when I got to Freo I learned a lot about the IQ around the game and the wing role from Justin Longmuir and Josh Carr, and the layers around running patterns and where you want to end up.

"Now since I've got to Carlton, I have a little bit more freedom with it and [the goal-line saves] is something I've sort of brought in myself and added to my game." 

After starting his career alongside Ray at St Kilda in 2014, Acres crossed to Fremantle at the end of 2019 and, after a career-best 2022 season on the wing, shifted to Carlton in a bargain trade for a future third-round pick. 

Through early injuries at St Kilda and then some setbacks with the Dockers, it's been a career that hasn't always looked destined to go the whole distance, but last week's contract extension with the Blues through to the end of 2027 has opened the possibility to play into his 30s and reach 200 games. 

Blake Acres marks the ball during Carlton's clash against Richmond in round one, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Having quickly established himself as reliable on the field and a great fit culturally, the Blues didn't hesitate to offer the extension, working quickly with the wingman and his manager Andrew McDougall to extend a deal that already included 2025 and had a trigger for 2026. 

"It came as a bit of a shock to be honest, because you don't think you're going to extend so soon when you've got a trigger in there as well. But the club was unreal coming to me and just trying to get it all done now and lock it in," Acres said. 

"I was super grateful for it and the negotiations really didn't take long at all. It was probably done within the week and there wasn't much back and forward at all, so now to be locked in for another three years is massive for me. 

"It lets me sort of set my life up now for the next three years and be where I want to be, and it's three years to really knuckle down and hopefully play in some grannies and win some flags, which would be nice."

While Acres has always had security through contracts, he started to hold doubts about his potential longevity in 2022 when he suffered a moderate-grade hamstring injury after making a flying start to the season with Fremantle.

Blake Acres looks on from the bench after suffering a hamstring injury during Fremantle's clash against Hawthorn in round 13, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

When he returned in round 18 but was waiting on a suitable contract offer from the Dockers, the wingman was led to the Blues and ultimately made the decision he felt was best for his career and became a three-club player. 

Midfield coach Tim Clarke, who works closely now with Acres and young wing sidekick Ollie Hollands, remembers watching Acres perform strongly through 2022, including an excellent round six performance against the Blues at Optus Stadium. 

When Acres arrived at Ikon Park, he was quickly impressed with the impact the wingman was able to have on those around him as a teammate and a teacher.

"He invests in the energy of the group and he does it in his own way, which we love about him," Clarke told

Blake Acres celebrates a goal during Carlton's clash against Adelaide in round five, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

"He's got a lot of ideas, he's curious about the game, and he's always coming up with things that we should look at trying as a midfield group and as wingers, which I didn't know that about his personality.

"On field he connects our team really well, but he is a great personality to be around the group, and he knows how to talk to the senior players and bring the younger guys into a conversation. 

"If there's a game going on during an interstate trip, he's in the middle of it. If there's cards going on, he's in the middle of it. He's that type of guy, and he's a real organiser."

Away from footy, Acres is working with former St Kilda contact Jamie Pi as a mortgage broker to set up a pathway once his career ends. A fan of Japanese food, he visited the country during the off-season, and has two sausage dogs, Lola and Harley, after falling in love with the breed while living with ex-Saints tagger Clint Jones. 

Being reliable and adaptable are two traits that have helped Acres get to the point where he should play into a 14th AFL season in 2027, with durability also something he has also built after early injuries. 

Known as 'Sheriff' around the League after dressing as one for a cowboys and Indians party hosted by teammate Rory Lobb, Acres picked up a key piece of advice on durability from Dockers champion David Mundy, who played 376 games for the club. Mundy used to skip pre-game warm-ups and passed the tip on to Acres.

Blake Acres and David Mundy react after Fremantle's draw with Richmond in round 19, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"I don't do the warm-up before a game, and that's something I've taken off him, which saves about two kilometres a week on the legs and two or three games off your legs over a whole season," he said. 

"When the boys go out for their warm-up, I stay in the rooms and do a little bit of mobility and just a small little run through, but nothing really too much. 

"Then I do an extra run through when I go out and I feel freed up and ready to go, so my whole week is about planning for that two hours on gameday."


Starting as an inside midfielder who joined the Saints and played half-back, half-forward and second ruck, then crossing the country twice with partner Steph to take opportunities as a wingman, has it been the career Acres envisaged?

"Not at all to be honest. I wanted to be a one-club player, but footy is a lot about opportunity and I wouldn't change it," he said. 

"I reckon it's built up the type of person I am today, and it's helped my footy career as well.

"It's all come together. I started from the bottom to be honest and we're sort of getting up there now, but it's been a long journey so far and hopefully I've still got a lot left in the tank."