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Look Back/Look Ahead: Carlton

Welcome to Look Back/Look Ahead, a series where every team is analysed in-depth, and their temperature taken. The plan here is to figure out where a team is at with their on-field style and overall list health before transitioning to their most pressing issue, and whether they can solve it over the off-season.

Can a season be good – but not a success, and bad – but not a failure – at the same time?

The tricky question colours Carlton’s 2022, making it tough to analyse.

At 8-2 they looked a lock for finals (and I may have tweeted as much), at 12-8 they were still all but there, with two minutes to go against Melbourne they appeared home, and at three quarter time against Collingwood they had surely booked a spot.

Of course, none of those situations led to a September appearance, and the drought stretches into a 10th year.


Look Back/Look Ahead will run during the weeks of September, taking us right up to Grand Final day and finishing with the top two shortly after.

$10 Patrons will have exclusive access to these posts for the first 24 hours after publishing and they’ll be free for all after that. The schedule for non-finalists (not including North Melbourne):

West CoastReadGWSReadEssendonRead
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Port AdelaideReadSt KildaReadCarltonToday

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What prompted Carlton’s strides forward

The one-line answer is ‘an AFL-standard system’.

But in the spirit of analysis and in-depth assessments, a longer explanation means the following four parts, all feeding off each other:

a) Contest structure. Not only was Carlton’s strength in winning those and streaming forward off the back of it, their clearance losses were also mitigated by strong pressure.

No side conceded fewer points from stoppages than the Blues, both in total and points per clearance. A combination of winning more contests than not – and then not conceding from losses – was a strong start.

b) Controlling possession. On raw uncontested differentials, Carlton transformed from a bottom six side in 2021 to a top-three side in 2022.

After winning contests, controlling possession in the next phase allowed Carlton to dictate tempo. When that tempo found the correct balance between safety and attack, it created some electrifying halves.

In the blink of an eye Carlton could pile on goal after goal; eight games featuring a seven goal or more term:

Carlton’s best offensive quarters
Round 10, Q2 v Sydney: 9.3.57
Round 23, Q3 v Collingwood: 8.3.51
Round 21, Q4 v Brisbane: 8.1.49
Round 1, Q4 v Richmond: 7.5.47
Round 17, Q4 v West Coast: 7.4.46 
Round 7, Q3 v North Melbourne: 7.3.45
Round 2, Q2 v Western Bulldogs: 7.2.44
Round 3, Q1 v Hawthorn: 7.1.43

There is a flip side to the focus on controlling possession though, which gets its own section in a moment.

c) A refreshed forward half game. Contest wins + controlling possession = territory advantage, and more often than not Carlton played the game closer to their goal than the opponent’s.

Up until the last month of the season they were a top-four team for inside 50 differential. It gave them more chances to score, and just as importantly…

d) Not allow transition as easily. It’s well-trodden ground to discuss how Carlton’s forward half defence in 2021 was diabolical, frequently letting teams out of tough spots too easily.

This year it improved to league average, a giant step forward. To improve that much in the space of one season is a testament to the coaching job done, with a list coming into its own.


Posts continue to come thick and fast. If you’ve missed anything recently, here are links to catch up:

Saturday 10th: Semi Final Analysis: Melbourne v Brisbane
Friday 9th: Look Back/Ahead: St Kilda (10th, 11-11, 99.8%)
Thursday 8th: Look Back/Ahead: Port Adelaide (11th, 10-12, 110.3%)
Wednesday 7th: Look Back/Ahead: Gold Coast (12th, 10-12, 102.8%)
Tuesday 6th: Look Back/Ahead: Hawthorn (13th, 8-14, 89.8%)


If this contract image doesn’t load, the List Management page has the most up to date version

Focus here is naturally on Harry McKay. The longer he goes without signing, the bigger the circus gets.

Aside from that though, it wouldn’t surprise me to see sides nibble away at those a little lower down the payment scale, banking on salary cap pressure to prise a player or two loose given long-term money tied into Charlie Curnow, Cripps, Walsh, Williams, Cerra, Saad and Weitering,

Clubs will make a play for De Koning and inquire about Young. Ideally Carlton keep them both as important pieces of their future.

It’s a well-placed list for the next three to four years, Carlton’s window set to be through the middle part of this decade.

The 23-25 range is where Carlton have invested most of their resources. Nearly half their minutes this year went to that age group, a mile ahead of the next best. Half the best 22 came from this spot in their demographic, with a couple extra on the fringes.

If this image doesn’t load, the List Management page has the most up to date version

The pieces are in place after a year of progress, and assuming they stay at the club they should be able to build together.

Because the key to Carlton’s next step isn’t an individual. It’s a team focus.


As we head towards free agency and trade period, a reminder that the plan is to have a post for every move that involves a player. With all these rumours going around it looks like there’ll be words on the hour, every hour:

For first access, head to Patreon to sign up.


Carlton’s next step forward

It was a recurring theme on The Shinboner during the year, but too often Carlton’s ball use regressed over the course of a game, inviting pressure from opponents.

Round 2 v the Bulldogs, Round 3 v Hawthorn, Round 5 v Port Adelaide, Round 10 v Sydney, Round 13 v Essendon, Round 23 v Collingwood. That’s half a dozen matches where ball use ground to a halt, unwilling to challenge opposition defenders to the same extent they did earlier in those same games.

Part of it works hand in hand with the emphasis on controlling the ball. There’s a thin line between uncontested possession to attack (which Carlton did so well at times), uncontested possession to defend, and then uncontested possession to do neither of those, which is a trap the Blues fell into too often after earning a lead.

Of those six games mentioned, Carlton got away with it five times. The sixth turned out to be the most important for their year and luck ran out.

It was a frustrating finish, but almost every piece is in place for the Blues to rise further next year if they have a regular size injury list; elite key forwards, budding small forwards, a dominant contested midfield, multiple rebounding half backs and now two key defenders with Lewis Young’s emergence alongside Jacob Weitering.

The coaching staff essentially started from scratch this year in building their game style and made enormous strides in establishing their defensive method. It went from … however you want to describe it in 2021 to slightly above league average in 2022 which is a significant leap. Another pre-season to fix the main ball movement issue and continue tweaking around the edges should be all they need for finals in 2023.

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