WHILE some feared Carlton would be languishing at the bottom of the ladder for years after committing to a full rebuild, the reality is this club is on the verge of returning to the finals.
The club has been patient, and it will need to continue to be that, because its recruiting and list management model under Stephen Silvagni is working extremely well and it shouldn’t be deviating from that at this stage.
LIST GURU GARY BUCKENARA WILL BE ANALYSING THE LISTS OF ALL 18 AFL CLUBS OVER THE TRADE PERIOD. STAY TUNED FOR ANOTHER COLUMN TOMORROW
Silvagni has done a brilliant job in improving the list balance and clearing out a lot of those midfielders who couldn’t kick, while having a focus on drafting and trading for young key position players for both ends of the ground and players with speed and good kicking skills.
That recruiting has given the Blues a good young spine and, while it remains a work in progress, there are positive signs.
We have seen the development of the young players in front of our eyes over the last two seasons under the guidance of coach Brendon Bolton, which has been impressive.
This group has come on in leaps and bounds and the win over GWS earlier this year was reward for the hard work put in by the players, coaching staff and recruiting team.
I understand some were concerned about the defensive game style and the side’s inability to kick big scores, but having a focus on defence for a young team isn’t a bad thing. That’s what you have to do with young players — you can’t teach them everything in one year.
While you might have a certain style one year, it might not necessarily be the same the next year because you’re developing the group and making them aware of the defensive parts of the game — you can’t be successful without defending.
The attacking flair will come, I have no doubt about that.
I expect the Blues to take more steps forward in 2018 and continue their gradual rise up the ladder.
Having said that, it wouldn’t surprise me if this group really comes on in leaps and bounds and shocks a few people.
I’m not saying Carlton will play finals next year but the Blues have a really exciting group.
Patrick Cripps returns from injury alongside Marc Murphy, Matthew Kreuzer, Bryce Gibbs (if he’s there), Sam Docherty, Matthew Wright and Levi Casboult.
With another pre-season into Jacob Weitering, Charlie Curnow, Caleb Marchbank, Lachie Plowman, Sam Petrevski-Seton, Jack Silvagni, Zach Fisher and Harry McKay, things are looking up for the Blues.
With those young guys into their second, third and fourth seasons, that’s when they start to really believe they belong at AFL level and you see a spike in performances.
The beauty about Carlton is that they have had a reasonable run with injuries, so this group has already played quite a bit of footy together.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some stage next season, the Blues are right in the mix to play finals but might just miss out.
Dale Thomas has earned himself another contract and I have no issues with that. He was under immense pressure at the start of the season but managed to turn his form around and showed he can offer this team something with his leadership, experience and ability to kick a goal or two.
He’s a good guy, Dale, and I’m glad to hear he’s been a positive influence on this young group
You need players around like that when you’re developing a list and building a culture.
Unfortunately the Blues missed out on adding to their midfield and forward depth with experienced duo Tom Rockliff and Devon Smith choosing the Power and Bombers over the Blues, but they are set to secure young Giants midfielder Matthew Kennedy.
That is going to be a really good pick-up, and probably come reasonably cheaply.
Kennedy is a former No. 13 draft pick via the GWS academy two years ago and he will slot straight into that midfield group.
He is listed as 188cm and 89kgs so he’s got a strong body and he’s a really good size as a modern-day midfielder.
He will learn a lot off Murphy and Cripps and those types and should thrive with more senior opportunities.
There are still murmurings that Bryce Gibbs will move to Adelaide, despite the Crows declaring they have moved on from the midfielder and the Blues saying he won’t be traded.
I think Carlton’s season would have done a lot to show Gibbs that this club is back on the right track and will start to climb up the ladder — but he needs to decide whether that climb will reach the top four and flag contention while he’s still playing, because Adelaide will give him that immediate finals hit.
If Adelaide comes to the party and offers two first-round picks then I would do the deal, that would be too good to refuse for a guy who will be 29 next year.
Pick No. 10 and No. 16 would be an outstanding deal for the Blues. If it offered only pick No. 10, I’d still accept. That is a great deal — a top-10 pick in any draft is extremely valuable and to get that for a player who has 2-4 years left would be a good get.
WHAT THEY NEED
The Blues have a strong on-ball brigade and are developing a nice mix in defence and up forward with Curnow and Casboult as the marking power, but what is missing is a dynamic little small forward.
The Blues would love to have Eddie Betts back or a Charlie Cameron type but there could be scope for Jarrod Pickett to make this role his own with Petrevski-Seton playing there at times when he’s not in the midfield.
There is also still a need for more players with outside pace and skill, which will help Carlton, — players who can break the lines but who are also competitors. While you need classy ball users on the outside, no team can compete without in-and-under types who win the ball in their own right and are just fanatical in their pressure and hunger to win the footy.
UNDER THE PUMP
There are still a number of players on the list who are stopgap players — those experienced heads who are currently filling roles while the youngsters develop. It’s guys like Dale Thomas, Rhys Palmer, Ed Curnow, Jed Lamb, Billie Smedts, Sam Kerridge, Nick Graham, Andrew Phillips and Simon White — these are all players who will become vulnerable once the younger players gain confidence and understand they belong at AFL level.
The other one is Blaine Boekhorst. He was an early draft pick but is he in Carlton’s next premiership side? Probably not.
BUCKY’S LIST CHANGES
Kristian Jaksch, Liam Sumner and rookie Andrew Gallucci have been delisted already, while Dennis Armfield, Daniel Gorringe international rookie Matthew Korcheck have retired.
My gut feel is outside of players being involved in trade deals there won’t be many other changes and the club will instead hold off until next year’s draft, which is expected to be a superdraft, and move on a lot of those older players — Palmer, Boekhorst, Graham and Phillips in particular — so they can take a bunch of picks to the draft table in November 2018.
The Blues won six games in 2017 and the club will be aiming for their natural development to catapult them to at least two-three more wins next year, which would put them into the challenging for the top eight category but probably just missing out. In terms of ladder position, I’d have them in the 9-12 bracket.
2019 is more the year when I believe Carlton can expect to be knocking on the door of the top eight and playing finals. But before then, expect to see some big improvement from the Blues in the second half of next year.