IT WAS a season of 'what ifs?' for Carlton, who let a golden opportunity to return to the finals for the first time since 2013 slip through its grasp. The Blues finished 11th on the ladder with a 7-10 record, but dropped six games from winning positions. It will no doubt be a summer of reflection, and perhaps reinvention at the trade table.
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You can't fault Carlton's willingness to play until the final siren. Yes, the Blues left themselves with too much to do on too many occasions. But they still summoned a number of remarkable comebacks throughout the year. They completed victories from 19 points down in the wet against Fremantle and 39 points down against Sydney, while they also fell just short from 50 points down against Richmond and 42 points down against Melbourne. For all of the side's shortcomings, they can sure score in bunches.
Carlton's inability to stop opposition teams from gaining complete control over the contest in a short space of time ruined any chance of finals footy. The Blues have remarkably now conceded a 30-point run in 18 of David Teague's 28 games in charge, and it cost them dearly this season. Carlton threw away winning positions against Melbourne, Port Adelaide, Hawthorn, West Coast, Collingwood and Greater Western Sydney – not to mention costly periods in defeats to Richmond, St Kilda, Adelaide and Brisbane. How differently are we evaluating the club's campaign if they secure victory in even half of those very winnable games?
It was a stellar season for Jacob Weitering. The Carlton defender improved in every facet of his game, justifying his selection with the No.1 pick in the 2015 NAB AFL Draft with a reliable and consistent campaign. His intercepting improved, his ability to contain the opposition's best key forward was a feature of each week and his composure with the footy was important.
Carlton has found its ruckman of the future in Tom De Koning. The retirement of Matthew Kreuzer will mean the path for De Koning to become the club's No.1 big man is clear, and he showed he was capable of taking the mantle in his seven senior games this season. Athletic in his jumping ability from both feet and able to take a big contested mark, De Koning has a number of promising traits. He's set for a big 2021 season.
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Carlton had high hopes for Caleb Marchbank this year, but they never eventuated. Having missed a large chunk of pre-season due to a fractured neck, Marchbank then suffered bone bruising to his knee in March and missed the entire season as a result. The Blues had hoped to utilise his endurance on a wing, as well as across half-back, but were never able to get the chance.
No one thought Jack Newnes was any chance of clinching victory for Carlton when he was awarded the chance to kick for goal after the siren against Fremantle back in round 12. Down by two points and tucked deep inside the boundary, 40m from the target, Newnes executed the kick of his life to complete a remarkable Blues comeback and keep the side's finals hopes alive.
Carlton had long awaited the season's restart from the COVID-19 suspension period, only to find itself 42 points down to Melbourne inside 40 minutes of its first game back. It was a damning reality check on the team's ambitions for the year ahead. The Blues fought back, levelling the scores late, but the slow start and the inability to stunt the Dees' momentum proved costly and set the tone for the rest of the campaign.
How should they approach list management?
Aggressively. Carlton heads into the NAB AFL Draft with pick No.7, but clubs in that vicinity don't expect the Blues to keep that selection. They have a keen interest in Giants free agent Zac Williams and Bombers half-back Adam Saad, having placed an emphasis on attracting speed this off-season. But with gaping holes to fill in midfield, and with cash to burn in the salary cap, is there another big fish on the radar? Tigers premiership midfielder Jack Graham is an option, but don't be surprised to see the Blues dial up a play for a blue-chip onballer.
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Early call for 2021
There's a feeling that a lot of Carlton's success in 2021 could be defined by the success of its first-round draft picks since the start of its rebuild in 2015. Jacob Weitering and Sam Walsh are genuine stars, but can any of Harry McKay, Charlie Curnow, David Cuningham, Sam Petrevski-Seton, Paddy Dow, Lochie O'Brien, Liam Stocker, Brodie Kemp or Sam Philp join them in the A-Grade category? The club's fortunes next season could depend on it.
C-. It was a season that promised so much, but ultimately delivered very little. Seven wins was an OK outcome, but in reality the Blues were in a fantastic position to win a lot more.