AFL

AFL 2016: Thirty years on, Carlton ready for a different rebuild

The contrast could not be greater – but it's one the Blues hope all of their supporters embrace. Thirty years ago this summer, Carlton unveiled star South Australian recruits Stephen Kernahan, Craig Bradley and Peter Motley, while West Australian key defender Jon Dorotich also made the trip to Melbourne.

It was one of the greatest recruiting raids in AFL-VFL history, and came as the restrictive national draft was about to be introduced. Expectations, naturally, were high at a club notorious for its thirst for success, with a grand final considered a pass mark.

New Carlton leadership group (L-R): Sam Docherty, Bryce Gibbs,  Ed Curnow, Marc Murphy (captain), Kade Simpson, Andrew ...
New Carlton leadership group (L-R): Sam Docherty, Bryce Gibbs, Ed Curnow, Marc Murphy (captain), Kade Simpson, Andrew Walker and Patrick Cripps at Ikon Park on Monday. Photo: Pat Scala

"It's a long time ago – metaphorically and literally. The difference is, you could go out and purchase these things [players] once – purchase what you needed but, these days, you have to wait in line, for the Blues, anyway," said champion ruckman Justin Madden, a key cog of that 1986 side.

"The draft and the salary cap have probably had the biggest impact on Carlton more than any other club in the competition for a variety of reasons."

The challenge ahead: New Blues coach Brendon Bolton is leading the 'reset' at Carlton.
The challenge ahead: New Blues coach Brendon Bolton is leading the 'reset' at Carlton.  Photo: Getty Images

Those reasons have contributed to where the Blues sit today and, 30 years on from that grand summer, the "reset" begins in earnest on Thursday in the opening NAB Challenge against Hawthorn. So major is the rebuild that Champion Data has said in its 2016 prospectus the rebuild "is now starting from beyond deep".

Befitting the new Blues model, there are no slogans overly hyping a playing list yet to prove itself, or a coach suggesting finals are within grasp. Rather, there has been a realisation that the saviour mantra of yesteryear no longer works, and it will through savvy draft selections, the teaching of coach Brendon Bolton, a former school teacher, and grunt on the training track which, ultimately, the Blues hope makes the difference.

As vice-captain Kade Simpson recently said, it's simply about not wasting a minute in searching for improvement, as the Blues have the second-worst winning record of any side in the past 20 years.

For supporters, the message is clear – patience is needed.

"I think most fans have relatively modest expectations and I think that's not a bad thing," Madden said.

"Basically, years ago Carlton had probably a high degree of self confidence about its ability, a bit like centre half-forwards ... which is important but humility is also a great teacher as well. I have a suspicion we will learn a lot this year."

Under chief executive Steven Trigg, the Blues have made major changes to their executive ranks, and Kate Jenkins, the equal opportunity commissioner, has been brought on as a director. There is much this club, once the domain of influential Melbourne businessmen, has learnt.  

That summer of '86 in footy's "cheque-book" era was the start of something special. There would be an immediate grand final, a premiership the following year, and a preliminary final in '88.

Kernahan, the club's greatest captain, and midfielder Bradley would be superstars and, in '95, underpin a record number of wins (20) and another flag – the Blues' last. Motley, considered by then coach Robert Walls as arguably the pick of the bunch, almost certainly would have been a dual premiership player, if not for a tragic car crash during the '87 season.

Thirty years on, the Blues now turn to young bucks like Patrick Cripps, Jacob Weitering and Charlie Curnow, all secured through the draft and without financial spoils, to help them provide a fresh chapter to their history. And to hopefully deliver the "checkmate" play.