Story of 2015

Last place. The wooden spoon. The very mention of the term to hardcore footy fans sends a shudder and a groan.

For years, the mighty Carlton Football Club mocked clubs that finished at the cellar, while it was playing in grand finals and winning premierships. However, the 2000s have not been kind to the Blues.

Since the club’s last grand final appearance in 1999, Carlton has finished in last place on four occasions, with the 2015 season completing a quartet of horror for the club.

The year started brightly enough, with Chris Judd playing on for one more season, and with the 2014 season producing seven wins and a draw, there was even some hope that the Blues could return to finals action. However, the Blues lost their opening three matches, finally breaking the duck in Wellington with a win over the Saints.

Coach Mick Malthouse broke the VFL/AFL record for games coached in round five against the old enemy in Collingwood, but the Blues were pounded by 12 goals, and further heavy defeats at the hand of the Giants and Geelong meant he was sacked just three weeks after the milestone.

John Barker was appointed as stand-in coach and for a while results improved, culminating in the season highlight of a four-point win over 2014 preliminary finalist in Port Adelaide at the MCG, which was immediately followed by a win over the struggling Gold Coast.

The second low point of the season occurred during Barker’s second game in charge against the Crows in round nine. Judd, after taking a strong mark landed awkwardly, in the process suffering a serious knee injury which brought a premature end to a stellar 278-game career.

Sadly, as the year wore on, Barker’s touch lessened and Carlton suffered several heavy defeats, none worse than the club record 138-point loss to eventual premiers Hawthorn in round 17. The Blues managed just four goals all night in a dreadful night for Blues fans.

A 10-goal defeat to lowly Brisbane in round 20 all but sealed the Blues fate and after a meagre four wins in 22 matches, and with the upset Lions win over the Bulldogs in the final round, Carlton had earned itself yet another wooden spoon.

What went wrong

The Blues were at times, able to start games well, but were unable to sustain it. On six occasions, the Blues kicked at least four goals in the opening term, but managed to lose four of these games.

Three times they booted six goals in the opening term, however, despite opening with 6.1 to 4.1 against the Tigers in round two and 6.3 to 3.2 against the Lions in round 20, Carlton would lose both of these matches heavily. In fact, the only time the Blues kicked six goals in the first term and managed to win was against Melbourne in round 21.

Carlton struggled to have any impact at either end of the ground last season, ranking last in points for with 69.3 per game, marks inside its forward 50 (9.3), overall points conceded (107), and points conceded from clearances (41.4). The Blues conceded the most marks inside their defensive 50 of any side in the AFL, and their opponents had the best scoring accuracy in the competition.

The Blues were belted by 10 goals or more on nine occasions, including the 138-point belting by the Hawks in round 17, and the struggling defence conceded more than 100 points 14 times, including six of the last seven games at an average of 118.1 points per game.

What went right

Despite finishing last on the ladder, and the loss of Chris Judd mid-season, Carlton’s midfield held up surprisingly well, ranking third in centre bounce clearances and fourth in all clearances. However, the lacklustre forward line was unable to capitalize on the Blues midfield strengths.

In his second year at the Blues, Patrick Cripps also became a beacon of hope for Blues fans, winning the club best and fairest whilst placing second in the NAB Rising Star award. For the year, Cripps ranked fifth in the AFL for handballs per game, eighth for contested possessions per game, and 11th for clearances per game.

Andrejs Everitt also blossomed, winning the clubs goal kicking with 31 goals and was able to play in all 22 games, the first time he had managed this in his nine-year AFL career.

And yes, by nature of the Blues’ winning the wooden spoon, they were able to claim highly rated defender, Jacob Weitering via the number one pick in the National Draft.

2016 preview

The off season saw a raft of changes, headed by the appointment of new senior coach Brendon Bolton via Hawthorn, who arrives with a little senior coaching experience, leading the Hawks to five wins in as many games while Alastair Clarkson was unwell during 2014.

On the playing list side, veterans Chris Judd and Andrew Carrazzo are no longer at the club, while one of the Blues’ most improved players in 2015, Tom Bell headed up to Brisbane to be closer to his family.

Additionally, senior players in Lachie Henderson and Chris Yarran packed their bags and sought greener pastures at Geelong and Richmond respectively, while fan-favourite Troy Menzel also found a new home at the Crows.

In order to refresh the list and build for the future, Carlton has looked to the draft and a host of players from other clubs, mainly Greater Western Sydney to replenish its stocks.

Liam Sumner, Lachie Plowman, Andrew Phillips and Jed Lamb all arrived at Ikon Park from the Giants, while ex-Crows Matthew Wright and Sam Kerridge also joined the Blues.

By way of the clubs trade week wheeling and dealing, the Blues enjoyed three early picks in the draft, selecting Jacob Weitering, Charlie Curnow, and Harry McKay, who unfortunately will now miss the most of the season with a back injury, also followed as first round picks. The sentiment factor was also present with the Blues selecting Jack Silvagni, son of Carlton legend Stephen and grandson of Sergio Silvagni.

As a result of finishing last in 2015, Carlton has been presented with an easier fixture this season, playing the weakened Bombers twice, as well as the Lions and Saints. All up the Blues travel five times, with two trips to Sydney and just one match against long time nemesis Hawthorn, though this year it is at Aurora Stadium.

The Blues’ best 22 isn’t all that bad on paper, and they could well win a few games and be highly competitive in others, if some of the younger players like Nick Graham, Blaine Boekhorst and Dylan Buckley are able to take the next step, but depth and the ability to kick a winning score is a major issue.

Should the club have a poor run of luck with perennial injury candidates Dale Thomas, Matthew Kreuzer and Andrew Walker, the losses will become heavier.

If everything went perfectly, there are about eight winnable games for the Blues this year, but a more realistic result will be in the region of four to five wins.

Best 22

B: Sam Docherty, Michael Jamieson, Jacob Weitering

HB: Zach Tuohy, Sam Rowe, Kade Simpson

C: Ed Curnow, Bryce Gibbs, Nick Graham

HF: Sam Kerridge, Andrejs Everitt, Dale Thomas

F: Matthew Wright, Levi Casboult, Andrew Walker

Foll: Matthew Kreuzer, Marc Murphy, Patrick Cripps

Int: Dennis Armfield, Blaine Boekhorst, Dylan Buckley, Mark Whiley

Ladder prediction