Behind the Bounce: Carlton
It was almost a perfect season for Carlton, going five and one during the minor round, giving them equal second-best record in the 2020 AFL Women’s season. The Blues enjoyed a standout season during an otherwise difficult year for football—and with some of the competition’s best players in the navy blue, it is easy to see why.
Carlton’s 6.12 (48) to 2.2 (14) season-opening win over Richmond set the tone for what would prove to be an extremely solid season by the Blues. However, their undefeated record would be short-lived as they fell to Collingwood by 15 points the following round—yet this would be their last loss of 2020.
Going from an inaccurate 3.6 during Round Two to 8.3 in Round Three, the Blues bounced back with a 21-point win over the Bulldogs. Then they hit the round to face their cross-conference rival, Adelaide—where a desperate finish by Darcy Vescio helped the Blues hold off the Crows to win 5.6 (36) to 4.4 (28). This Round Four win would also be the Blues smallest winning margin of 2020 as Carlton would then defeat the Saints by 21 points, helped by Sarah Hosking’s two majors.
It looked as if the Blues’ winning streak might come to an end following a slow start against Melbourne, which saw the Demons lead by nine points during the early stages of the third term. However, some inaccurate kicking left the door open for the Blues, and two goals in two minutes by Tayla Harris and Grace Egan saw the Blues take the lead before the final break. Carlton would go onto hold Melbourne to just a point during the final term to come out on top with a 6.4 (40) to 3.6 (24) win.
With the final series fast-tracked, the Blues Round Six win over the Demons would be their last of the minor season—and they then turned their attention towards a Semi-Final clash with Brisbane. Only six points separated the two sides at halftime, but once again the Blues showed their tendency to be fast-finishers, booting four final-half goals while holding the Lions to just a sole behind, claiming an impressive 6.8 (44) to 2.3 (15) finals win.
Despite not getting to go any deeper into the final series due to external factors—the big talking point of Carlton’s 2020 season was the performance of their very own Madison Prespakis. The two-time All Australian and two-time Carlton Best and Fairest enjoyed a stellar 2020 season, averaging 21 disposals a match which unsurprising saw her earn the AFLW Best and Fairest. But to think she has achieved all of this, and she is only 19, it easily makes Prespakis one of the best young players that the game has ever seen.
The Season Defining Moments
As earlier mentioned, Carlton’s unbeaten stretch of three games nearly came to end in their final minor round match for 2020. But with the game on the line, which key forward would you expect to step up and take the lead other than Tayla Harris?
As a player that not only plays well herself but can also inspire those around her to play well—her goal to take the lead was closely followed by a goal from the first-year player, Grace Egan. The Blues would then continue on with this newfound momentum to claim the win and stretch their unbeaten record to four matches which would later become five.
It was just one inaccurate half of football that prevented the Blues from finishing with a perfect season. Their Round Two match against Collingwood didn’t look good early, as the Blues trailed the Magpies 2.1 (13) to 4.2 (26) at halftime. Yet the Blues would actually have double the amount of scoring shots than the Magpies during the second half but would only register 1.5 (11) to Collingwood’s 2.1 (13) to suffer their sole defeat of 2020.
Carlton certainly knows how to pick them, and this was on full display during 2020. Lucy McEvoy had some big expectations placed on her as their first pick and the second overall in the 2019 AFL Women’s Draft, yet she managed to not only live up to the, but she out-played them. Swapping the blue and white of the Geelong Falcons to the famous navy blue and white, McEvoy averaged thirteen disposals, four tackles and two marks a match during the seven games that she played during her debut season.
Following a strong VFLW season with Richmond, Grace Egan donned the navy blue following her selection with pick thirteen—and she has already become an important player for Carlton. Averaging fourteen disposals and five tackles a match during her debut season, Egan still has plenty more to give, which is rather scary to think.
Vaomua Laloifi was picked up with the fifty-second pick during the 2019 Draft, but don’t let her late selection fool you as she went onto become a consistent performer for the Blues. This reliable defender averaged eleven disposals, four marks and two rebound 50s a match, and we look forward to seeing her replicate that during 2021.
The Blues third pick in the 2019 Draft, Brooke Vernon gave us a promising glimpse during her sole appearance during the 2020 season, collecting eight disposals and three rebound 50s during their win over the Western Bulldogs.
As well as some great debutants from their 2019 picks, there are still several promising players that we look forward to seeing make their debut. Going at pick forty-four during the 2019 AFL Women’s Draft, Serena Gibbs is a young key forward who is yet to break into the senior side at the Blues, but her season with the Eastern Ranges tells us that she has plenty of potential. Likewise, the fast-paced Courtney Jones is also looking to break into the side after getting picked up in the 2019 AFLW Draft with pick fifty-nine.
Considering their track record when it comes to draftees, most footy fans like to keep an eye on the Blues—and they have certainly got some great young players for us to keep an eye on during the 2021 season. Getting picked up with the Blues first pick and the twelfth overall during in the 2020 AFL Women’s Draft is Oakleigh product, Mimi Hill. Mimi was Oakleigh’s Captain for the 2019 and 2020 NAB League Girls’ seasons and finished runner-up to the Chargers’ Best and Fairest in 2019.
Hill is joined by two more graduates from the NAB League Girls competition, with a duo of Sandringham Dragons making their way to the Blues in Daisy Walker and Winnie Laing, who went at picks twenty-eight and thirty-six, respectively.
The Blues also gained two talented Demons, with young speedster Maddy Guerin coming across with former Dees Co-Captain and two-time All Australian Elise O'Dea. Young Queensland talent and former U18 NAB AFL Women's Academy member, Charlotte Hammans has also found her way down from the Suns to the Blues.
"The Blues have a perfect mixture of getting down to business and enjoying the ride. You can tell that everyone at the club loves what they do and they are happy to play their smaller role in the larger process, to create an elite environment. Everyone is buzzing for Round One at Ikon." Mimi Hill
What are we looking forward to the most?
The Performance of Prespakis
Her resume speaks her itself, but honestly who wouldn’t look forward to seeing the best young player in the competition. We thought her 2019 performance was outstanding, only for her to go one better this year, and since things seem to come in pairs for Prespakis—who knows for certain, but she is our pick for the AFLW Best and Fairest next season.
The Debutants of the 2020 Draft Class
Looking through the players that the Blues have drafted throughout the years, lets see if they can keep their impressive track record up in 2021. Laing, Walker and Hill all look very promising, and their age means that they have a chance to be consistent performers in the navy blue for many more years to come.
Carlton is one of the first teams that we get to see in action next season, with the Blues clashing with the Magpies in a Round One, Thursday night opener. As the Magpies were their sole defeat during the 2020 season, this is a great way to see if the Blues have improved since their last encounter.
On paper, the Blues look extremely strong, and if their new draftees can have a similar impact to that of McEvoy and Egan during this season—than a perfect season is not out of the question. But as this season showed, it just takes one half of bad footy that can cost the chance of achieving an unbeaten season.
Following their season opener against the Magpies, they will travel away to play the Bulldogs and the Suns, before returning home again for three home matches against North Melbourne, Melbourne, and West Coast.
However, it ill be the final three games that will really test the Blues, and especially their chances at completing the perfect season. This is because the first of these three matches will see them travel to Adelaide to face the Crows, before crossing back over the border to face Geelong at GMHBA Stadium.
Finally, if they managed to win eight straight matches, it is almost poetic that if they want to complete the perfect season, they will have to beat this year’s only undefeated side, as their final minor round game will see them play Fremantle at home. On paper, Carlton certainly look like a genuine threat--but games aren't won on paper.
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