Pre-season prediction

After an indifferent 2012, in which they won 11 games and finished 10th, there was some ambiguity around what to expect from the Blues in 2013. With a new coach in Mick Malthouse and captain in Marc Murphy, the squad, despite minimal change in the off-season, gave a different vibe to the years previous under Brett Ratten. How rapidly and efficiently they were to respond and gel to a revamped game plan and environment was to determine how 2013 panned out, whether that mean they miss finals or, as predicted on Bound For Glory News in January, push deep into them.

2013 season overview

It was certainly a year of change for Malthouse’s Blues. Players experienced new roles, tactics and plans and it took time for them to adjust, losing their first three games of the home and away season, albeit all to eventual finalists. They kicked into gear soon after, winning six of their next seven and hitting form, but it wasn’t to last as four consecutive losses immediately after saw them lose their spot in the top eight. They rallied enough, winning the games they needed to and, thanks to Essendon’s well-documented saga excluding them from September action, managed to steal the last spot in the final eight despite only winning 11 games, the same as last season. They took full advantage, ending Richmond’s season in the first week, before a four-goal semi final loss to Sydney ended their season.

Moving from 10th to sixth yet winning the same amount of games is one way to surmise their season – full of both positives and negatives. Moves were made to drop Nick Duigan and Jeremy Laidler and put Kade Simpson, Andrew Walker and Bryce Gibbs behind the ball. Along with the contributions of Heath Scotland and Zach Tuohy, Carlton looked assured for the most part because of this down back, with Simpson in particular finding such terrific form to warrant his first John Nicholls Medal.

Malthouse aimed to build a side on defensive and contested effort, and on the former, his methodology was obvious, and arguably successful. But removing such firepower from the midfield certainly weakened it and exposed their depth in the clinches. With neither Chris Judd nor Marc Murphy starring, as well as Andrew Carrazzo only managing 10 games, extra effort was required from the likes of Tom Bell, Ed Curnow and Jaryd Cachia going forward. Though Curnow was impressive when tagging, having these less influential players as the fifth and sixth-string midfielders allowed Carlton to be exposed in contested ball from time to time. It acted as a barometer for their season, in a way – they were 12-3 when they won contested ball, and 0-9 when they lost it – and in losses to teams such as Sydney and the Western Bulldogs, it was certainly a point of concern.

Going forward, the Blues lacked a bit of consistent structure with the likes of Jarrad Waite, Lachie Henderson, Levi Casboult and Sam Rowe all playing tall. Despite both this and the wavering form of Eddie Betts and Chris Yarran, there were enough options available for them to hit the scoreboard and kick winning totals consistently enough, clearing the 100-point barrier on 13 occasions.

They were inconsistent, able to match quality teams for extended periods, but rarely four quarters. Malthouse will know there are things to work on as he shapes his list, though he did manage to instil his former sides’ ability to travel immediately, only losing to fourth-placed Sydney twice in their six games outside Victoria, both by under 25 points.

Positives:

Carlton do not have the most talented list, given their experience, but to extract another couple of finals out of it is a job worth commending. Granted it did come through the controversies Essendon succumbed to, but making it to a semi final is nothing to sneeze at.

The progress a few players showed as the year went on should also leave hopes up. Bryce Gibbs had the influence as a midfielder that had been missing in recent times, Lachie Henderson announced himself as truly capable at both ends of the ground and Zach Tuohy imposed himself as a tough defender capable of hitting the scoreboard. Carlton will want to see more of it as the years go on.

Negatives:

Of the younger brigade, Lachie Henderson and Zach Tuohy were the only genuinely impressive players this season. and both turn 24 this month. Nick Graham and Troy Menzel look like 10-year players, Andrew McInnes established himself well down back and Sam Docherty is a talented addition, but it is few and far between and the 2013 season did not change much.

Along with this, a variety of senior players struggled. Jarrad Waite and Andrew Carrazzo were hampered by injury, which hurt the Blues’ continuity. Marc Murphy similarly appeared to struggle at times, with his blistering 2011 form looking a mile off, Michael Jamison looked ineffective at times and Eddie Betts wasn’t able to hit the scoreboard with the same regularity as seasons previous. This increased the load on a younger group which is not capable of carrying it just yet, but it gives them the knowledge they can yet improve from sixth on the ladder.

Key signings and departures

The biggest scalp, of course, has to be former Collingwood All-Australian Dale Thomas. He is on big money having made his way there through free agency and the Blues will be hoping his ankle problems can be sorted out soon so he can maximise his output. The Blues also picked up Sam Docherty and Andrejs Everitt from Brisbane and Sydney respectively. Docherty is a natural half-back while Everitt played there a fair bit this season, and it should allow players such as Walker and Simpson to return to their natural positions up the ground.

Many players were delisted, including Andrew Collins, Aaron Joseph and Luke Mitchell. The Blues earned a second round pick for offloading Shaun Hampson which can be considered a win, while Nick Duigan recently retired due to ongoing injury. Eddie Betts was also lost via free agency to Adelaide, for which they received no compensation due to Thomas’ arrival.

The draft

Carlton held pick 13 in the national draft and, despite the likes of midfielders Lewis Taylor, Zak Jones and Matt Crouch, as well as key forward Cam McCarthy, hovering around, they elected to pick a bit of a bolter in East Fremantle’s Patrick Cripps. The third cousin of West Coast’s Jamie, Cripps is a strong contested midfielder and adds immediate size in the centre to a side that needs to set themselves up for the post-Judd era sooner rather than later, as well as bolstering their immediate prospects. The Blues also picked up Cameron Giles as a key defensive prospect and Nick Holman as another competitive, young midfielder.

Overall grade: B

You can follow Ethan on Twitter at @ethan_meldrum.