AFL – Are Carlton finals-bound in 2022?

A drought-breaking Round 1 win has both Blues fans and neutrals asking the question: Could Carlton make their first AFL Finals series since 2013?

Ever year for the past nine seasons, Carlton fans turn up to the MCG on the opening round of the AFL season with hopes intact. Hopes of fulfilled potential and maybe, just maybe, the ultimate success. But for each of those years, dreams have quickly been snuffed out by a usually dominant Richmond outfit.

But not this year.

The Blues’ drought-snapping win (despite starting $2.75 outsiders) has them finally in the top half of the AFL ladder after Round 1. And it has everyone asking the question — is this the year they return to the promised land?

Nine year wait

It was also nine years ago, back in 2013, that the Blues last made the Top 8. And in a good omen, they knocked off Richmond that year too, in an elimination final classic at the MCG. Since then, however, it’s been almost a decade of suffering. With a highest finish of 11th (plus two wooden spoons), in truth the club has rarely even been close to the mark during this period.

But this AFL season is seemingly different.

Savvy off-season recruitment in the last two years has filled gaps that needed filling, and previously inexperienced players now have enough games under their belt. The appointment of Michael Voss as senior coach also already looks a shrewd move. There really is no excuses in 2022. While the Round 1 win was only one game, Michael Voss’s men already considerably shortened in Palmerbet’s AFL Top 8 market, from $2.88 pre-game now into $2.00.

A real test

Thursday night’s clash against the Bulldogs looms as a real test of where the Blues are at. While the history and pressure of the season opener made that win perhaps more special than ‘just four points’, the reality is that Richmond finished well outside the Top 8 last season while the Dogs, as we know, made the Grand Final. And there’s good news and bad for the Blues. Gun recruit Adam Cerra, who starred in the win against Richmond, has entered the AFL’s Health and Safety Protocols and has been ruled out of the Round 2 match. The good news, however, is reigning best-and-fairest winner Sam Walsh is back. Walsh will return sooner than expected from the syndesmosis injury he suffered in pre-season to replace Cerra.

Walsh remains the 11th-best hope in Palmerbet’s Brownlow market, currently at $18.

Time to temper?

Despite the near universal praise in recent days, one prominent AFL pundit believe it’s time to cool the jets. Kane Cornes said while Carlton’s structure and attack on the footy was impressive, question remains about their efficiency moving the ball inside-50. “There are still some cracks in their list,” Cornes said on Footy Classified. “They were challenged and they fought back and they’re tough and they’re competitive, (but) the one question is this: do they have elite ball users in the midfield?” Cornes then singled out players who mightn’t be in the top-end of that bracket.

“Is Patrick Cripps an elite ball user? Is George Hewett an elite ball user, is Adam Cerra an elite ball user? That’ll be the question. Is Matt Kennedy an elite ball user? That is the one question I’d have on Carlton. Do they have the quality of ball user through their midfield?”