CARLTON proved its rise from wooden spooner to grand finalist was no flash in the pan, establishing itself as one of the competition’s powerhouses with another strong campaign in 2020. This year, the Blues are primed for another premiership tilt under much-loved coach Daniel Harford, starting with a season-opening blockbuster against traditional rival, Collingwood at Princes Park.
2020 ended as a ‘what if’ season for each preliminary finalist, but the Blues looked like a side daring to dream after their surprise grand final appearance the year before. Having finished second in Conference B at 5-1, Carlton fended off a pesky Brisbane outfit in the first week of finals to cap a five-game win streak at the ideal time.
A first-ever loss to fierce rival, Collingwood in Round 2 came as a shock but only seemed to click the Blues into gear thereafter as they answered every challenge with aplomb. Harford’s Blues became known for their fighting spirit, stringent yet dynamic structures, and the ability to take over games when it mattered.
Madison Prespakis was among those to enjoy stellar individual seasons, taking out the AFLW best and fairest award in just her second campaign. Spearhead Tayla Harris and co-captain Kerryn Harrington earned All Australian honours alongside the star midfielder, showcasing Carlton’s strength through the spine and just why the Blues remain bonafide premiership contenders.
The acquisition of Elise O’Dea, one of the competition’s premier midfielders, headlined a bumper trade and draft period for the Blues. Their squad depth, particularly through midfield is among the best in the league and O’Dea will work to take a load off Prepakis in the engine room.
Another former Demon in Maddy Guerin looks to be past her injury troubles having come through a preseason hitout unscathed, with her pace something the Blues valued before she landed at Princes Park. Charlotte Hammans, formerly of the Gold Coast was the third in-league signing, again bringing some dash and dare on the outer and up forward. Those kind of traits were clearly ones the Blues targeted heavily at the trade and draft tables.
Carlton welcomed a trio of Victorian guns through the draft too, adding to the already fearsome dynamism and versatility of its midfield group. Mimi Hill is already one of the coach’s favourites credit to her work ethic and adaptability, making her a chance to feature in the senior side early on. Daisy Walker has also taken well to senior level and fellow Sandringham Dragons graduate Winnie Laing is an exciting runner who, like Hill, captained her NAB League team.
ONE TO WATCH IN 2021
Carlton players and staff alike have lauded the condition Abbie McKay has returned in for season 2021, with the league’s maiden father-daughter selection set to take on some added responsibility in her third senior campaign. Expect to see even more of her through the Blues’ star-studded midfield; with her work-rate, conditioning, and hardness at the ball all traits which bode well for dominance at the contest.
Darcy Vescio is an established name but could take the competition by storm as she spends more time in the engine room, and livewire Georgia Gee is another who is looking to do the same. Inaugural Blue Jess Hosking will take on a new role as well having trained with the forwards during preseason.
WHY THEY CAN WIN IT
The Blues have become renowned for their ability to adjust to different gameplans under Harford, who has such a dynamic squad at his disposal. The versatility of Carlton’s crop makes it a scary proposition for all opposition coaches and players, able to flick a switch on gameday and play to a range of styles. In the midfield mix alone, the ball winning prowess of Prespakis, O’Dea, and Grace Egan will be complimented with the x-factor of Vescio and Gee, with a heap of moving parts able to impact at the coalface. While other teams excel in one style, the Blues can triumph in a range of ways and that is exactly why they can win it.
Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? The Blues are so strong through midfield and have a raft of options who can move through there when needed, but it raises the potential problem of overchoice. While versatility and adaptability are key strengths of this Carlton side, it could be a factor which works in the opposite way at the selection table or in crunch moments. Premiership teams are typically steady and know the exact structure which yields a winning formula, so does that leave Carlton with too many makeups? We may find out in 2021, especially with some of the added depth.
Carlton is arguably one of the top three premiership contenders in 2021 and will fancy itself to book in another finals appearance, with a postseason win the marker of a successful campaign. Given the lofty standards set, the Blues will hope to go even better than that mark and gun for the ultimate prize, something well within their reach.
Featured Image: Madison Prespakis breaks with ball in hand | Credit: Michael Klein