It’s fitting Patrick Cripps was drafted at the close of 2013, because Carlton’s build to finals success has been a decade in the making.
The Blues enter Friday night’s contest looking to qualify for their first preliminary final in 23 years and are in the midst of their first finals campaign since 2013.
It has been a long, arduous path to get to this point, but Michael Voss and his charges will look to make the most of a journey that has seen many come and go, but Cripps remain as the beating heart.
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It was 68 days after the Blues’ last semi-final – a loss to Sydney – that the club selected Cripps with pick No.13.
Just 28 days prior, the Blues brought across Sam Docherty from the Brisbane Lions for pick No.33, as the Lions were left to count the cost of the ‘go-home five’.
The 2014 draft was relatively fruitless, but in 2015 the club’s recruiters struck pay dirt.
It came as Chris Judd retired, heralding the end of that particular unsuccessful premiership push and a new dawn was forecast for the group emerging, headed by Cripps and the names who became Blues in the 2015 draft.
With the number one pick the Blues selected Jacob Weitering, then followed it up with Harry McKay (pick No.10) and Charlie Curnow (pick No.12), injecting the side with what have become three key cogs.
David Cuningham (pick No.23) and father-son selection Jack Silvagni (pick No.53) were added to the list and remain contributors for the Blues, but it’s Weitering, McKay and Curnow who have made up the nucleus of the side that will take on the Demons.
Zac Fisher (pick No.27) was the pick of the bunch in 2016, while Tom De Koning proved a shrewd piece of drafting in 2017, being taken with pick No.30 and starting to come into his own as a ruck force.
Like many in the Blues’ current side, De Koning has built along with the team as a whole and has remained committed to the journey, signing a two-year contract extension this season despite strong rival interest.
Paddy Dow (pick No.3) and Lochie O’Brien (pick No.10) haven’t been as prevalent in the side, although in Dow’s case some sections of the Blues’ fanbase believe this to be a mistake.
Despite the Blues’ steady build, the on-field pay-off was far from forthcoming.
Cripps was drafted at the close of 2013, but the Blues have finished in the bottom four in four of his 10 seasons.
It led to considerable off-field turnover, headlined of course by the hiring and firing of coaches Mick Malthouse, Brendon Bolton and David Teague.
Throughout, the Blues continued to build, however.
The 2018 draft saw Sam Walsh added with the number one pick, courtesy of another embattled season on the field.
A focus on the trade period began to come to the fore in later seasons, although there are still some like Jesse Motlop and more recently Oliver Hollands who look shrewd selections that will pay off in time.
There have been misses over the journey, sure, but a build through the draft has been relatively successful, especially when combined with the moves in the trade space.
Docherty was recruited to grow along with the Blues’ list, but it was far from the only move the side made throughout its 10-year finals drought.
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Like the draft, there were times the club’s approach didn’t work out, but ultimately it has proved crucial in the 2023 version’s premiership push.
Caleb Marchbank was traded in at the close of 2016, but it was in 2018 the Blues added more pieces of the puzzle, signing up Mitch McGovern and Nic Newman.
McGovern will this season come to the close of a five-year lucrative deal, which saw him struggle to remain healthy and consistent but has taken a positive turn in 2023 as he cements himself as a reliable halfback.
While not overly heralded at the time, bringing in Marc Pittonet from Hawthorn for lowly picks was a brilliant move.
After periods of injury, Pittonet established himself as one of the best tap ruckmen in the competition and has been a crucial piece of the puzzle as De Koning learns to adapt to the rigours of the game and develop into his frame.
Jack Martin will miss the semi final as he serves a one-match ban for rough conduct, but he has been immense in the backhalf of 2023, finally beginning to maximise the talent that saw him taken with the number one pick in Gold Coast’s 2012 mini draft.
He’s listed as a pre-season draft pick because the Blues got him for effectively nothing after refusing to buckle during trade talks with the Suns.
Some at the Cats were keen to keep hold of Lachie Fogarty, but he made the move to the Blues at the close of 2020 and, like other recruits, is growing alongside others on the list.
Adam Saad cost the Blues pick No.8 but has been worth the cost, finishing in the All-Australian side last season and starring again in 2023.
Zac Williams has been injury-riddled for most of his time at the club but crucially didn’t cost the Blues from a draft perspective, coming across from Greater Western Sydney as a restricted free agent.
In 2021, Adam Cerra was the big fish of the trade period and it was Carlton that wooed the Fremantle jet and brought him cross for pick No.6 and a future first-round selection.
George Hewett joined as a restricted free agent and Lewis Young came across for pick No.52.
In the most recent off-season, it was Blake Acres who came in for the Blues, brought to the club in exchange for a future-third round pick and filling a need on the wing.
Again, while not all moves have had a significant pay-off, it has been enough of a success to help propel Carlton towards a deep September run, with Cerra likely the side’s best and fairest favourite by the time this season is out.
Ultimately, the club’s health is such that former Adelaide coach Brenton Sanderson noted on AFL Trade Radio last year: “I can’t find anywhere (where they need to improve).”
“I’m really bullish about the Blues and I loved watching them play this year. Yes they didn’t play off in the finals and weren’t able to clear those last hurdles, but their list profile is excellent.
“They’ve done a fantastic job, they’re young and are stacked with talent. I can’t find a weakness.”
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All of that has been capped off by rare stability behind closed doors.
The appointment of Brian Cook as CEO stands to be one of the most influential decisions Carlton has made in its recent history, with his steady hand crucial throughout the Blues’ struggles in the mid-part of the season.
Voss, too, has been steadfast and calm throughout the whole process, learning plenty from his time as senior coach of the Brisbane Lions and his extended tenure as an assistant coach at Port Adelaide.
In a time gone by, the vocal misgivings of board member Craig Mathieson may’ve been heeded.
Instead, it was Mathieson who blinked first and ultimately resigned from the board.
It has been a long and difficult wait for Blues fans, but the green shoots are finally being realised and the seeds planted 10 years ago are growing to their maximum.
Just what that maximum is will be in part learned on Friday night.