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Bolton’s Blues are building something of real substance


Shout it out loud: Charlie Curnow screams excitement, just one of a large group of talented Carlton youngsters whose time is coming. Photo: AFL MEDIA

Bolton’s Blues are building something of real substance

Rohan Connolly    

It’s been a pretty miserable couple of decades for the Carlton Football Club since the Blues won a record 16th premiership back in 1995.

In 22 seasons since then the Blues haven’t added to that tally, reached only one grand final, and finished on the bottom of the ladder the only four times in the club’s history.

They’ve dealt with a salary cap scandal the ramifications of which crippled their on-field fortunes for years, a few administrative upheavals, and a couple of big-name coaching appointments which backfired spectacularly.

Most of all, Carlton has had to swallow the fact it is no longer king-pin in a suburban competition, but a much smaller fish in a bigger national pond, a psychological shift it took the Blues way too long to recognise.

But after much swallowing of pride, the Blues are getting there. And after a couple of false dawns along the way, Carlton has worked itself into a position where it can again aspire to bigger and better things sooner than later. And importantly, built on foundations which can provide more than a fleeting thrill.

Last Friday’s national draft was another big tick for the Blues, and another significant moment.

The club had bitten the bullet and let go a mainstay of the last decade in on-baller Bryce Gibbs during the trade period. In the same period, it picked up two young and improving midfielders in Matt Kennedy and Darcy Lang from GWS and Geelong, and a handy back-up ruckman in Matthew Lobbe.

Discarded Kangaroo Aaron Mullett, former Port Adelaide and Gold Coast defenders Cam O’Shea and Matt Shaw could also offer something.

And on Friday, Carlton reaped the fruits of the Gibbs bartering with two top 10 selections in quality young midfielders Paddy Dow and Lochie O’Brien. It added another three players subsequently to the mix, including one in Jarrod Garlett who has already played senior football at Gold Coast.

No AFL club in history has had as massive a list turnover as have the Blues over the past three pre-seasons since Brendon Bolton’s arrival as coach.

No fewer than 42 players have left the club since Bolton walked in with a plan to not only change personnel and gameplan, but re-educate even old hands in the sort of culture required for an entire playing list to pull together and achieve something of substance.

The results haven’t been obvious yet, but the mere fact Carlton, a club once renowned for its arrogance and demand for instant success, has been able to display some patience has been a win in itself. And steadily and methodically, Bolton has it all coming together.

For the first time in memory, even when Carlton won that last flag, the club has a roll call of emerging young talent on which it can build a whole era.

Last season, the Blues earned no fewer than five Rising Star nominations – Caleb Marchbank, Sam Petrevski-Seton, David Cunningham, Jack Silvagni and Charlie Curnow. Jacob Weitering finished third in that award in 2016 and Patrick Cripps, already a best and fairest winner, second in 2015.

A former No.1 draft selection Matthew Kreuzer finished third in the best and fairest this year after his best season in AFL football, is one of the game’s leading ruckmen, and at 28 still has plenty of time to deliver in a pivotal position.

Even Liam Jones, a player much-pilloried for the bulk of his career, in 2017 re-invented himself as a key defender and has become a big plank in the Blues’ future planning.

The football Carlton has served up under Bolton hasn’t often been pretty as the coach has drilled the fundamentals of team defence. But the offensive side will come. And there’s more players being added to the mix who can help deliver it.

As a mobile, athletic key forward, Charlie Curnow screams excitement. Petrevski-Seton offers that at ground level. Jarrod Pickett showed some very promising signs towards the end of the season, as did tall forward Harry McKay in his two games.

Carlton has taken a punt of sorts on Garlett at the draft table. But his 17 games for Gold Coast were brought to an end only by family issues. He has genuine skill and pace and adds another string to the Blues’ bow.

A total of 13 wins over two seasons doesn’t suggest a surge up the ladder is imminent. The loss of pivotal defender Sam Docherty before 2018 even starts is obviously a savage blow. But the Blues have been steadily learning. A raft of young faces now have some serious AFL game time under their belts. The fruits of that experience could well be reaped next season.

And, as the past two seasons have more than adequately demonstrated, real AFL success these days isn’t beyond most teams. There’s no super powers embedded at the top of the ladder. Just a clutch of hungry aspirants, of whom Carlton could soon enough be one.

It’s certainly been a long wait for a club which once took success as a given. And there may be a bit more waiting yet. But the Blues under Bolton are clearly building something of substance. And the payoff for just a bit more patience could be very satisfying indeed for long-suffering Carlton fans.

*This article first appeared at SPORTING NEWS AUSTRALIA.

4 Comments
  1. Excellent assessment and would echo the thoughts of a lot of Blues’ fans at the minute.

  2. The positives of a total list rebuild are starting to show.
    Expecting 2018 to be a real improvement year even withstanding loss of Gibbs & now Docherty.

  3. I’ve been a mad blues fan since Watching
    Since watching Alex Jesalenkoin the 1970’s
    A what legend h the was. This new area under
    Bolts is exciting stuff. The baby blues are
    Awesome to watch. Young Jack, Cripps
    March bank, Weitering, Charlie cut now and his brother, let’s, throw in Liam Jones , etc ,Marc Murphy
    Still playing really well. Our list continues
    To get stronger each year. Now the new recruits
    Wow. There’s a lot to look forward to next year.
    Can’t wait till forty season restarts

  4. Gibbs will be a huge lost for the midfield as well as Docherty. To be honest, I reckon they struggle even more until their next tier of mids step up.

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