In the football world, everything moves very quickly.
A coach takes over a big club and patience is rightly preached. The expectation of instant miracles is set aside for deities and Craig McRae.
Last year was a pass for the Blues, who were agonizingly short of a finals but showed good signs throughout the season. They ended within a goal by Collingwood twice and once by Melbourne. They beat Fremantle, Sydney, Richmond and the Bulldogs.
A year is about all the patience you really get at a big club, if any, and manager Michael Voss has managed Carlton well enough to suggest they need to play the final in 2023.
Injuries have inevitably tarnished the Blues’ history in the last couple of seasons, as they do for many clubs, but Carlton’s history is more a string of absentees than anything else, certainly under Michael Voss.
Marc Pittonet was perhaps the biggest of 2022, proving real costly as Carlton’s most underrated, impactful player. Yet even in the three games he returned for at the end of the season, with finals on the line, he looked underwhelmed.
This is a player who operated at a 44.7 percent hitout-to-advantage rate in his first four games last season, easily the best in the league at the time, and won 10 center clearances alone. It resulted in four Carlton wins.
Tom De Koning is more of a theoretical player than a strong net positive at the moment, which was evident in his lack of consistency and assertiveness.
Mitch McGovern was the other long absence that hurt. He finally got his chance on the defensive under Voss and fitted into the defensive scheme the new coach wants to play with. No access to him or Caleb Marchbank as his deputy forced a shuffle.
That being said, there seemed to be a rotation of players missing at inopportune times that only became a detriment to the fans and stretched the leniency Voss was accorded further than we may have seen in years past.
Matt Kennedy and George Hewett ended up missing the last few games and it coincided with Patrick Cripps donning his Superman cape and playing through pain in an extraordinary way.
Adam Cerra, Jacob Weitering and Harry McKay all missed a couple of games in different bouts, as did Lewis Young and De Koning himself.
The Blues let 18 players play at least 17 games, which is great for the core of the team, but only Zac Fisher, Charlie Curnow and amazingly Sam Docherty played all 22.
Long-term absences can be better planned and trained. There’s only so many patches to fit in the little box before you realize that there’s an element of luck in all of this.
Sure, some of that has been carried over into 2022. Sam Walsh will not miss quite as much time as originally thought after back surgery, which is a great result. Zac Williams’ knee injury is the big one, although there’s plenty of coverage on the back flank.
There’s also the often injured but talented David Cuningham who will miss some time and would be a wonderful addition to the team with his blistering pace. Whatever “fight” was involved in this injury, it’s another one on the unfortunate list.
But that was it for Michael Voss. He knows Williams won’t be there, there are a few short-term issues, but it’s nothing new for the second-year Blues coach.
Again, this is a team just a point behind making the finals and competitive in every single game.
Voss arrived with the Blues, who were the lowest-possession team playing a one-on-one style of defense, turning them into a team that valued having the ball, 2022 second in disposals occupied and a much friendlier scheme was playing in the background.
That certainly relieved Jacob Weitering somewhat. It wasn’t his best season overall, but he defended less than half of the one-on-ones he’d previously needed and was able to spread to more line-breaking teammates who influenced Carlton’s transition game far better than the 25-year-old did himself himself. Lewis Young was a wonderful recruit to help.
The midfield is just so strong and regularly wins the clearances, while the hard running from Sam Walsh and Adam Cerra added variety and diversification just outside of the competition.
There are two Coleman medalists in attack, one of whom could be the most dynamic forward in the league, finally fulfilling his potential with injury luck.
If there was one specific problem that stood out for the Blues, it was the lack of true wingmen who could stretch the ground and have the work rate to penetrate both arcs and affect play.
Matt Cottrell’s speed and sheer hunger, while well intentioned, put a cap on his head. Lochie O’Brien establishing himself on the team was a positive development, but again his role is quite advanced.
Heading into 2023 and starring Blake Acres, a wingman who’s been playing the best footy of his career lately as a two-way runner who can take interceptions on defense, attack through midfield and send the ball in 50’s , instantly transforms whatever ball motion this Carlton team is playing like.
Drafting Oliver Hollands with the same ethos will see him many games this season, while half-back Lachie Cowan has the excellent kicks and attacks on the ball that will help cover the Blues.
To top it off, the Blues ended last year with the Brownlow Medal and Coleman Medal winners. With such a talent you don’t lose as a competent coach in the long run.
And that is ultimately the challenge for Michael Voss and the blues.
On an individual level, the pressure is on Voss to show he’s up to the task.
He was in charge of the Lions for nearly five seasons and his only Finals win was against the team he currently coaches.
As an assistant at Port Adelaide he had mixed success in a variety of roles but the Power was never a real contender.
As a legendary figure in the sport, he got a season when the pressure was off. Carlton also managed without a blowtorch.
They start the season with Richmond and Geelong. No one will criticize a 0-2 start when competitive footy is on display.
Then Walsh returns and the Blues take on GWS, North Melbourne, Adelaide, St Kilda and the West Coast. After seven rounds they must be in the top four.
Clearly, Carlton’s season-defining stretch is the next five rounds – they face Brisbane, the Bulldogs, Collingwood, Sydney and Melbourne. The Swans game is the only time they leave the state.
From this point on, the only finalists they play against are Fremantle, Collingwood and Melbourne.
Last year’s heartbreak gave the Blues a manageable game with a nice run home that can give this team a lot of confidence.
We’ll find out pretty quickly if Carlton is a team capable of winning its first final since 2013 or even fighting for a top four spot for the first time since the turn of the century.
More importantly, the expectation is that the Blues will be there in September and it’s time to meet them.
Unlike last season, if the Blues don’t play a final, it will be a failure that will only add to the problems the club has faced in recent decades.
The list is good, the depth is there and the tactics are right. They have recruited well and all parts fit.
Michael Voss and the Blues are under pressure in 2023, let’s see if they can handle it.
https://www.theroar.com.au/2023/03/10/why-the-pressure-is-on-for-michael-voss-and-his-blues/ Why Michael Voss and his blues are under pressure