CARLTON has suffered another COVID-19 blow on the eve of its Thursday night blockbuster against the Western Bulldogs, with gun recruit Adam Cerra sent into the AFL's health and safety protocols on Wednesday.
Cerra joins teammate Jack Martin, coach Michael Voss, assistant coach Tim Clarke and football boss Brad Lloyd in being sent into seven-day isolation, with the Blues' preparations ahead of their primetime fixture heavily impacted once more.
However, in better news from the club, reigning best and fairest Sam Walsh has made an extraordinary comeback from a syndesmosis injury sustained last month and will play against the Dogs at Marvel Stadium.
Walsh was initially tipped to miss the first month of the season, at the very least, but trained fully on Tuesday and has subsequently earned his spot in the side as Carlton looks to improve its record to 2-0 on the season.
"Walshy is going to play this week," Blues stand-in coach Ash Hansen said.
"It's really exciting. He's an important member of our team and he did everything right in his preparations. We're excited to welcome him back.
"Everyone has got their individual timeline and Sam has ticked all of the boxes that we've required him to do, both medically and physically. We'd never put him in harm's way, especially a man of his calibre and talent.
"We're really confident that he's ticked all of the boxes that he needed to."
Carlton great Kade Simpson – a member of the club's AFLW coaching staff – has been a surprise face at Blues training this week, helping a severely depleted coaching group in the wake of the team's COVID-19 crisis.
Hansen will lead the team in Voss' absence, with development coaches Dan O'Keefe (midfield) and Torin Baker (forwards) to help both the stand-in coach and Aaron Hamill (backline coach) with additional matchday roles.
Carlton is still working through how Voss will communicate with the players and coaching staff from isolation during Thursday night's fixture, with the club given AFL-approved technology and processes in order for him to do so.
The Blues have also been taking a more cautious approach to weekly duties, with their captains' run shortened on Wednesday and with several meetings this week taking place outdoors as part of tightened COVID-19 protocols.
However, despite the absence of several football department staff – in addition to both Cerra and Martin – the club has been pleased with how the playing group has responded to the setbacks.
"They've been really focused," Hansen said.
"The guys understand the opportunity and the momentum they've built off last week. The way they've applied themselves to prepare for another big match against a quality opponent has been first class."
Despite the prospect of Voss being able to communicate with coaching staff on Thursday night, the club's new senior coach has been prepared to empower Hansen and his assistants with the majority of team duties throughout the week.
"Vossy has been amazingly empowering and supportive to the coaching group," Hansen said.
"There's some amazing football staff who have really had to work one-and-a-half jobs this week, with certain people being off. We've had people step up, so it's been a collective effort to support the players and prepare them the best we can.
"The AFL have been fantastic in their ability to allow us to explore different ways that Vossy can be connected, but I think he understands that the game will be going so fast. He'll contribute and have eyes on it where he can, but he's empowered us to make the decisions."