THERE was a bittersweet feeling to Harry McKay's seven-goal haul last Sunday.
The last Carlton player to kick seven goals in a match? The man who was supposed to be McKay's partner in crime in the Blues forward line for the next decade … Charlie Curnow.
The pair were drafted together back in 2015, recruited to Ikon Park just two selections apart. McKay went at pick No.10, Curnow was welcomed with pick No.12.
It was easy to see what Carlton list boss Stephen Silvagni saw in the dynamic duo. This was the club's Lance Franklin/Jarryd Roughead moment, the chance to snare two hulking yet athletic key forwards who could terrorise opposition defenders for years to come.
In doing so, the Blues had also kickstarted their rebuild by recruiting their key-position pillars at either end of the field. McKay and Curnow joined No.1 selection and defensive jet Jacob Weitering that same year.
But what's followed since has seen McKay and Curnow work in tandem just 23 times out of a possible 108 games in Carlton colours. McKay took some time to break onto the scene under Brendon Bolton; Curnow has been hampered by persistent knee injuries for almost two years.
Carlton is confident Curnow can return to his best form, hopefully later this season, having remarkably not played a full game since that seven-goal haul against the Western Bulldogs in June 2019.
By the time the ball is bounced at Metricon Stadium on Saturday night, 665 days will have elapsed since.
That's why, even as McKay lined up for his seventh at Marvel Stadium to seal victory against Fremantle, completing an exciting breakout display, Carlton officials were still left pondering: 'What if?'
Not only have McKay and Curnow played fewer than a quarter of all possible games together since they were drafted, but the pair have only featured in three wins together as a combination. What is more regrettable is that their flourishing partnership was only just beginning.
Both were held goalless only once in the 23 times they played together, but both hit the scoreboard 13 times in that period. It was a glimpse – one that has only grown more tantalising over time – of just how good they could be together.
Curnow's seven-goal haul came in game No.57. McKay's, produced last Sunday, came in game No.51. It matches up favourably to some of the competition's star key forwards over the last decade.
Last year's Coleman Medal winner, Tom Hawkins, didn't kick his first six-goal haul – let alone seven – until game No.84. Dual Coleman Medal winner Josh Kennedy took until game No.52. Roughead, one half of that scintillating duo with Franklin, took until game No.65.
That alone could lead you to believe that the Blues had, and maybe still have, something special on their hands with two precocious young talents in their forward 50. The club will be desperate to reunite them once again soon enough.
Then, there's the oft-forgotten third man in this partnership – Mitch McGovern.
Since he arrived from Adelaide at the conclusion of the 2018 season, joining the newly dubbed 'three-headed beast' in the forward line at Ikon Park, the trio have played just seven of a possible 42 games together.
McGovern's own injury concerns have stalled his career and have added an extra layer of frustration to the possibility of 'what might have been' for both coach David Teague and Blues supporters.
But there is still hope for the future. McGovern returned through the VFL last weekend from troublesome back and hamstring injuries that have plagued his summer, while the club is confident Curnow remains on track to return from his latest knee setback in the second half of this season.
McKay, all the while, continues to be one of the competition's brightest young key forward talents.
Until they all team up again, Carlton can continue to dream about what all three working in tandem looks like – and whether success will follow soon after.