How captain Cripps can get even better
CARLTON endured another season in the bottom four but 2019 wasn't an entire waste.
Six of the Blues' seven wins came in the back half of the season after David Teague replaced Brendon Bolton as coach, and they can carry that optimism into 2020.
Here's eight reasons to get excited about the Blues.
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1. 2019 FINISH
The Blues finished a lowly 16th on the ladder last year, but their end to the season gave plenty of cause for optimism among Carlton fans. If you were to re-do the ladder for only the last 11 games of the season, you would find the Blues went 6-5 to be the ninth-best team in that period. That surge came after David Teague was installed as coach in place of Brendon Bolton. In that span, the Blues also lifted their average score from 67 points per game to 79. If Teague can continue that rate of improvement, the Blues will be well placed to push for a finals berth in 2020.
2. DOCHERTY'S RETURN
Given he has not played an AFL game since 2017, it's easy to forget just what a star Sam Docherty is when he's up and going. Consecutive anterior cruciate ligament tears during pre-season have robbed the Blues of a seriously good defender and leader. The hope is he will be fit and firing for Round 1. In 2017, Docherty played every game and averaged 27.9 disposals, 5.7 rebound 50s, 504m gained, 6.3 intercept possessions and 3.3 tackles per match. He finished second in Carlton's best-and-fairest that year behind Marc Murphy. Docherty is still just 26 and his football smarts and leadership should make a huge difference when he returns to the Blues' defensive half.
3. BETTS' RETURN
Yes, Eddie Betts is 33 and his best years are seemingly behind him. But the livewire forward can still do plenty that other players can't. Betts started his career at Carlton in 2005 but has spent the past six seasons at Adelaide. He booted 37 goals for the Crows last season, down from a career-high 75 majors in 2016, and averaged 12 disposals, 1.2 score assists and 5.6 score involvements per match. The Blues have been crying out for a quality small forward and snapped up the three-time All-Australian dirt cheap for only a future fourth-round pick during the trade period. If Betts can bring some pressure and kick 30-plus goals next season, that will be seen as a big win.
4. FORWARD LINE
Even putting Betts to one side, the Blues' forward line is certainly an exciting one given the three key forwards in Charlie Curnow, Harry McKay and Mitch McGovern. The trio only played eight games together last season as they all missed matches through injury. All three stand 191cm or more, with McKay the tallest at 204cm. McKay kicked 26 goals from 20 games in 2019 and McGovern booted 22 majors from 16. Curnow, who kicked 18 goals from 11 matches, could face a slightly delayed start to the season after a November knee injury.
5. JACK MARTIN
Many astute football brains have described Martin as the best junior footballer they have ever seen, including his new captain Patrick Cripps who was selected in the same draft. Martin was snapped up by Gold Coast with pick No.1 in the 2012 mini-draft but found his way to the Blues for nothing in the recent pre-season draft. While yet to live up to his underage talent at AFL level, the 24-year-old averaged 18.1 disposals, 3.4 clearances and 3.8 score involvements per game for the Suns last season to rank as the 16th-best midfield-forward in the league. He kicked only eight goals from 16 matches, but produced a career-high 24 majors from 22 matches in 2017. It will be intriguing to see what he can do in the No.21 jumper in 2020.
6. PATRICK CRIPPS
The only elite-rated player at Carlton, captain Cripps is already a superstar. Can he get better? He thinks so. Cripps revealed in November he had dropped between two and three kilograms during his off-season break in a bid to raise his game. Cripps is coming off a campaign in which he averaged career-high numbers for metres gained (270m per game), goals (0.7), score assists (1.1) and ground ball gets (10.6). He averaged his most clearances (8.5) since 2016 and the second-most disposals (28) of his career. For a player who finished equal-third in the Brownlow Medal last season and has earned consecutive All-Australian honours, the prospect of further improvement from the 24-year-old is scary for opposition clubs.
7. THIRD-YOUNGEST LIST
There is no shortage of upside when you have the third-youngest list in the competition as the Blues do entering 2020. Carlton has an average age of 23.55 years. Only Gold Coast and the Brisbane Lions are younger. Runaway 2019 Rising Star Award winner Sam Walsh is still only 19, the highly-rated Liam Stocker will start next season aged 20, 2017 No.3 draft pick Paddy Dow is also 20 and Zac Fisher and Sam Petrevski-Seton are both 21. Then there is a pair of top-20 draft picks that also come into the mix in Brodie Kemp and Sam Philp. Talk about Young Talent Time.
8. JACK NEWNES ADDITION
Martin was not the only experienced player picked up by Carlton during the trade and free agency period, with St Kilda wingman Jack Newnes also finding a new home at Princes Park as a delisted free agent. The 26-year-old joins the club with 155 games of AFL experience behind him and he averaged 17.3 disposals across 20 matches for the Saints last season. The Blues see Newnes as a mature body and elite runner who can help through the middle of the ground.
CHAMPION DATA SAYS
The Blues showed a lot of positive signs under David Teague last season - their midfield improved significantly and ranked fourth for contested possession differential (+4.7) and clearance differential (+3.5) from Round 12 onwards. It will be interesting to see what they can produce under a full season with Teague along with recruits in Jack Martin, Eddie Betts and Jack Newnes.
HOW THE BLUES ARE TRACKING
2015: 18th - 4W, 18L
2016: 14th - 7W, 15L
2017: 16th - 6W, 16L
2018: 18th - 2W, 20L
2019: 16th - 7W, 15L