Story of the Summer
It was a disappointing 2014 season for the Blues as they followed up a dramatic finals win against arch rivals Richmond in 2013 with a lacklustre 13th-placed finish. There were a few highlights with upset victories over North Melbourne and Gold Coast but a lack of depth and cohesion led to a number of close losses. The post-season saw a mass list overhaul with coach Mick Malthouse cleaning out the squad and making a few tough decisions when it came to club stalwarts. Mitch Robinson left for Brisbane and key forward Jarrad Waite exercised his free agency rights, heading to the Kangaroos after Carlton failed to provide a solid contract. The trade period was quite active for Carlton as they acquired Liam Jones and Jason Tutt from the Western Bulldogs and snared young key position player Kristian Jaksch from the Giants.
The draft brought about a few surprises for Carlton, with the first round selection of mature midfielder Blaine Boekhorst. The speedy mid from WA was a left-field pick so early in the draft and was followed by the recruitment of Dillon Viojo-Rainbow. Carlton wrapped up their regular draft picks with small defender/midfielder Clem Smith and key forward Jayden Foster, who was overlooked for father-son selection by the Western Bulldogs.
Off the field, recruiting boss Shane Rogers quit after only two years at the helm, and the prodigal son returned, as premiership player Stephen Silvagni accepted a position at Princes Park.
Where They Excel
Carlton’s midfield experience has been a major key to their success in recent years, with a plethora of talent including high draft picks Bryce Gibbs, Chris Judd, Dale Thomas and captain Marc Murphy. Their ability to extract the ball and win important clearances can catch the opposition out and lead to repeated scoring chances. The Blues also have the luxury of multiple rebounding defenders that can punish their opponent by foot but can also carry the ball and show off their speed. Chris Yarran is the x-factor of the team and he is supported by the current ‘quarterback’ in Kade Simpson and the potential future one in Sam Docherty. The acquisition of Matthew Dick and the maturing Dylan Buckley provide further defensive options of which can also take on stints in the midfield.
Where They Struggle
Two way running is a serious deficiency in the Carlton nucleus and it costs them games on a regular basis. They look like superstars at times when running forward and attacking the goal face, but when the hard yards need to be put in there’s a lack of defensive hunger.
Another obvious problem with the squad is the continual absence of a genuine key forward option. Since the departure of Brendan Fevola, the club has struggled to fill the gap and this has been reflected in a number of results. Lachie Henderson looks the most likely candidate for this position in 2015 with Jarrad Waite gone, but if Carlton wants to be a legitimate finals contender they need a damaging tall option that can turn a game on its head.
Carlton can be one of the weakest teams when it comes to the mental side of the game, with a myriad of lapses in very winnable games. 2014 saw defeats to Melbourne, GWS and Brisbane, all of whom should have been easybeats on exposed form. It is hard to pick whether the defeatist attitude of many Blues players comes from an ingrained culture at the club or perhaps a lack of development or understanding from Mick Malthouse. Either way this mental battle is one of the most significant deficiencies that plagues the team from Princes Park.
The Year Ahead
Despite being on the precipice of top four contention in 2011 and 2012, Carlton see themselves in the early stages of a genuine rebuild. This doesn’t mean they can’t challenge for one of the last few spots in the top eight, as they still have enough talent to take the fight to their opposition. There’s a significant logjam between five or six clubs and it will be interesting to see whether Carlton chase finals glory or take a more conservative approach and focus on the development of their future stars.
Expect youngsters like Clem Smith, Patrick Cripps and Matthew Dick to receive chances to break into the best 22 and showcase their talents. Mr Cripps in particular should be a favourite for the Rising Star award and could be a shining light in an otherwise mediocre season for the Blues.
Supporters shouldn’t expect miracles from this squad, as they are facing a period of transition. Only time will show whether this transition will feature an extended spell at the bottom of the ladder or whether the club can maintain a mid table position while they develop key talent.
Ladder range: 9-14
B: Kade Simpson, Michael Jamison, Kristian Jaksch
HB: Chris Yarran, Sam Rowe, Sam Docherty
C: Andrew Carrazzo, Chris Judd, Ed Curnow
HF: Dale Thomas, Lachie Henderson, Andrejs Everitt
F: Troy Menzel, Levi Casboult, Andrew Walker
Foll: Robert Warnock, Bryce Gibbs, Marc Murphy
Int: Patrick Cripps, Tom Bell, Ciaran Sheehan
Sub: Dylan Buckley