AFL: Carlton, a shocking season but a bright future

Carlton put an end to a tumultuous season last night with the awarding of the John Nicholls Medal for the fairest and best player. The finishing vote count was a perfect summation of how badly season 2012 went for the Carlton Football Club. Last season, Marc Murphy won the John Nicholls with 678 votes. This season, Heath Scotland won with only 362 votes. That would’ve only placed him 6th in last year’s medal tally. Such figures only highlight how far the Blues fell after 2011.

Heath Scotland with the 2012 John Nicholls Medal

In what was meant to be the year Carlton became a genuine threat for the flag, the Blues fell down the ladder, finishing in 10th place with an 11-11 record. The Blues had many chances to finish inside the eight, but continuously dropped games they were expected to win. Their effort in these games was all but non-existent as shock losses to Port Adelaide and the Gold Coast ultimately doomed their season and coach Brett Ratten.

However, all can’t be blamed on effort, as Carlton was hit by an injury curse that derailed their fantastic start to the season, which had Carlton as premiership favourites after the round 3 demolition of arch-rivals Collingwood. Key players like Jarrad Waite, Michael Jamison, Andrew Walker, Kade Simpson, Murphy, Andrew Carrazzo and Rob Warnock all missed significant chunks of the year and they are only the tip of the iceberg. Just 3 players (Eddie Betts, Jeff Garlett and Bryce Gibbs) played in every match and lack of stability prevented the Blues from getting any momentum, especially towards the end of the year when finals where on the line.

In cases like this though, injuries can allow for rookies or second string players to make their mark and impress selectors. 6 players made their debuts this season and among them, Tom Bell, Andy McInnes and Levi Casboult have shown that the future of the club is in good hands.

Bell, whilst lacking skill with his disposal, has a matured aged body and attacks the contests fearlessly. Many have likened him to club great Anthony Koutoufides and he was awarded the clubs Best First Year player award last night. Carlton have offered him a one year rookie deal, however the Bulldogs have offered him a 3 year senior deal so stay posted to our day by day coverage of Free Agency for updates.

McInnes stepped up admirably in the absence of Laidler and Henderson as the 2nd tall defender in the latter half of the year, regularly holding opposition forwards to 1-2 goals. Unfortunately, a severe knee surgery ended his season prematurely in the Gold Coast game and he will only return around May next year.

Casboult was an instant fan favourite after his breakout game against the Bombers in round 21, where he had 3 goals and partnered Jarrad Waite perfectly in the forward line. His ability to be a pinch-hitting ruckman will make him a better option in the future than going with another ruckman to partner Matthew Kreuzer. His strong pair of hands makes him one for the future, and will no doubt be a mainstay in the forward line if he improves his kicking for goal.

However, one of the biggest stories to come out of Princes Park was undoubtedly the re-emergence of former Demon Brock McLean. Called too slow for the AFL game, McLean continued his domination in the VFL for the Northern Blues and finally got his chance mid-season and he took it with both hands. McLean became one of Carlton’s most consistent performers in the 2nd half of the year, revelling in winning the inside ball and clearances to finish 4th in the John Nicholls Medal and 3rd in the Brownlow for Carlton.

His year was capped off when he was offered a contract, one many thought wouldn’t come after he failed to break into the team in his first two years at the club.

Among the low points Carlton supporters will want to erase from their memories, three stand out above the rest: the losses to Gold Coast and Port Adelaide and the now infamous chicken wing tackle.

Both losses couldn’t have been worse for the Blues, losing by 54 to the struggling Port then being knocked out of the finals race by a resilient Gold Coast side. The effort from the players in both matches was lacklustre to say the least, especially in the Gold Coast game when so much was on the line.

Chris Judd’s tackle on North’s Leigh Adams continued his tendency for brain fades, following in light of the pressure points incident and numerous misconduct charges. It also made way for Murphy to step into the captaincy and shine for the 4 games he was in charge. Handing over the captaincy to Murphy now might help Judd to prolong his affectability before ‘Father Time’ – that inevitable drop off which looms ever closer with Judd now 29.

Goal kicking was a huge issue all season long for the Blues, 10 times kicking more points than goals in a game. Kicking a mere 51% in front of goal won’t win Carlton the crucial games that would have them sitting inside the eight, so any big improvement on goal kicking may get them back amongst the premiership contenders.

Amidst the doom and gloom of the season, there were upsides to be found. The Blues proved that they can still be a force as they showed when beating Collingwood twice and absolutely hammering Essendon, but consistency is needed if the Blues are to contest for the premiership next season. Players like Dennis Armfield and Andrew Carrazzo really stepped up this year to become integral parts of the side. Scotland and Kade Simpson continued to be the most consistent performers week after week but it’s the others who need to stand up. Bryce Gibbs, Chris Yarran and Jeff Garlett are three players who definitely underperformed this season and Carlton will need the drive of both Gibbs and Yarran off the half back if they are to return to the finals in 2013.

Carlton fans can look forward to a bright future after they signed former premiership coach Mick Malthouse immediately after the season. While expecting premiership success straight away is a bit ambitious, supporters can take comfort in the fact that Malthouse won’t take lightly to players putting in as little effort as they did in games last season.

Much can be made of this season for the Blues; it could be labelled as a wasted year due to injuries or a growing year, depending on the way you look at it. Either way, expect this club to bounce back stronger than ever under Malthouse, just don’t expect them to be challenging for the premiership in 2013. Time will be needed to adjust to Malthouse’s gameplan but finals are a must for this side, which is stocked with talent.

UPDATE: The hierarchy at the club have identified a need for another key forward and defender in the summer, and the club have already contacted Travis Cloke, Quentin Lynch, Kurt Tippett and Scott Gumbleton.

Ben Sathananthan is a first year Sports Journalism student at Latrobe University. You can follow his twitter at: @bensathsports

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