Blues seek ‘growth’ as pre-season begins; new Hawk aims to be AFL’s serial pest

Carlton coach Michael Voss says he and his players understand there are heightened expectations on them, but insists the Blues are ready to develop individually and in their game plan.

blues seek ‘growth’ as pre-season begins; new hawk aims to be afl’s serial pest

Carlton coach Michael Voss addressing the media on Monday as his club officially started pre-season training.

The Blues officially began their 2024 campaign on Monday, although superstars Patrick Cripps and Charlie Curnow have another week off.

Where a year ago Voss said the Blues hoped they’d have a strong season, he said there was now evidence they would perform well. The Blues enjoyed a stunning post-bye run last season, culminating in winning two finals and featuring in the club’s first preliminary final since 2000.

But with that comes greater internal and supporter agitation for the club’s first flag since 1995 – and a need to build the right base through intense summer training.

“We understand that, coming into this season, there will be some greater expectations placed on what we do, but what we have learnt through that period of time is to keep our eyes in front of us and make sure that we get the work done,” Voss said on Monday.

“We have our ambitions high. Every football club standing here has the ambition of figuring prominently through the next season, but we have got a really, really strong sense about what does work, and what doesn’t work. By drifting forward, it doesn’t help us, it doesn’t change what we want to achieve, but it doesn’t help us.

“We still feel we have a lot of work on our game, and we still feel there is plenty of growth in us, both from a system and also individually.”

With Cripps, Sam Walsh and Jacob Weitering embracing a more selfless approach, and with Curnow on his way to a second Coleman Medal, the Blues embraced a more direct and attacking game plan to win nine of their last 10 home-and-away games to make the finals last season.

blues seek ‘growth’ as pre-season begins; new hawk aims to be afl’s serial pest

Carlton recruit Elijah Hollands trains on Monday, but will have to wait a little longer than most to start his 2024 season.

“There is a real base to work off. There are a lot of things we can take away from last year but, probably the most important thing, was learning how to win, and win consistently, and that as a football club is something we still haven’t got exactly right,” Voss said.

The Blues added depth through the trade period and via drafting. Recruits Orazio Fantasia, now at his third club, and former Gold Coast Sun Elijah Hollands, 21, are keen to repay the faith Carlton showed in them.

blues seek ‘growth’ as pre-season begins; new hawk aims to be afl’s serial pest

Sharp-shooter Orazio Fantasia stepped out for pre-season training with Carlton – his third AFL club – on Monday.

The latter cannot play until round three because of his suspension by the AFL for conduct unbecoming in relation to a cocaine possession charge.

“(Hollands) has stated this himself, he just wants to go out there and prove himself through the work he brings, and that’s all we’ve asked him to do,” Voss said.

“He’ll mesh in really well with the group, and he’s got an advantage having a brother (Blues wingman Ollie) here, which certainly helps. But we’re just rapt to have him here.”

Fantasia, 28, is also keen for a fresh start, after 99 games with Essendon and Port Adelaide. He had only three with the Power last season, his time in South Australia impacted by soft-tissue issues.

“Clearly, we feel like we can have an impact in getting him out there. His talent sort of speaks for itself,” Voss said.

“He understands what’s ahead of him. He understands that the position that he’s going for is going to have some genuine competition. He’s completely fine to go, but we’re sort of taking a steady approach with him (at training).”

Voss said rebounding defender Zac Williams was progressing well after missing all of last season because of an ACL rupture. He is set to resume full training in February.

“He will slowly start to join into the skills program throughout this next month,” he said.

Pest in show: New Hawk ready to rattle his rivals

Hawthorn draftee Nick Watson has vowed to be a serial on-field pest, declaring he is ready to “get under the skin” of opponents when he makes his senior debut.

Watson, dubbed “The Wizard” for his crafty bag of tricks as a small forward, was the No.5 pick in last week’s national draft.

blues seek ‘growth’ as pre-season begins; new hawk aims to be afl’s serial pest

Hawthorn draftee Nick Watson has a clear picture of the role he can play for the club.

The East Ringwood product had a superb 2023, kicking more than 70 goals in a campaign where he was a stand-out for Vic Metro, the Eastern Ranges and Caulfield Grammar.

He was one of four Hawks’ draftees to get busy at their first official training session on Monday, where wet and dull conditions – the staple of Waverley in winter – greeted the boys.

Watson said he was intent on reprising his junior football traits at a senior level, having recently described himself as a human “Energiser bunny”.

“Just keeping active, always on my feet, I don’t mind getting under opponents’ skin. I am sure I will bring that to the next level,” Watson said.

blues seek ‘growth’ as pre-season begins; new hawk aims to be afl’s serial pest

Hawthorn’s draftees Nick Watson, Calsher Dear, Will McCabe and Bodie Ryan report for training on Monday.

Asked if that meant he could become a serial pest, Watson said: “Yeah, yeah, that has just sort of come into my game over the last couple of years. It’s the role I play.”

Watson said he was happy to mix it physically and verbally on the field.

“Bit of both. Sometimes a bit of confidence comes into it as well. After I kick a goal, I like to go back, if they are coming at me. It’s probably a bit of school footy because school footy is a bit like that,” he said.

It won’t only be Watson who could frustrate opponents; shock recruit Jack Ginnivan was a polarising figure in his short time with Collingwood. The premiership Magpie, also a goal-kicking small forward, and Watson will give the Hawks plenty of punch inside 50.

“I used to go for Collingwood, but, obviously, it’s good working alongside him. I will get a few tips off him as well,” Watson said.

Asked what he could learn from Ginnivan, Watson replied: “Just the way he gets under the skin [of opponents]. I have been watching the last couple of days – he is a good crumber as well. I will learn off him pretty well.”

Watson also looks forward to working with one of the league’s greatest small forwards, three-time premiership player Luke Breust.

“Obviously, watching Luke Breust over the last couple of years, he is a freak,” Watson said.

Standing just 170 centimetres tall, Watson is not the athletic, big-bodied midfielder so popular with AFL recruiters these days, but his combative on-field edge has helped him flourish.

He says having North Melbourne great Brent Harvey as a mentor has been important in his development, not the least because Harvey persuaded him to pursue a career in football rather than basketball.

The relationship with Harvey – who at 168 centimetres, played 432 games for the Kangaroos – came when Watson played alongside Harvey’s son Cooper in an under-15 carnival in Tasmania.

“I spoke to him just after the draft, and, obviously, thanked him for everything he has done because he was a big part of [my development] … I will keep in touch with him,” Watson said.

Fellow draftees Will McCabe, Bodie Ryan and Calsher Dear also took to the field at Waverley on Monday. McCabe, the son of current Hawks football director Luke, who played 137 games for the club, was taken at pick No.19. He is a 197-centimetre key defender from Central District.

McCabe said his dad’s advice had been “to soak it all up because you never know what is going to happen”.

Ryan, a versatile South Australian defender, was taken with pick 46. He said he looks forward to working with captain James Sicily, on whom he has modelled his game.

Dear (pick 56) is the son of the late Paul Dear, the 1991 Norm Smith medallist who passed away last year after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Calsher’s eldest brother, Harry, was drafted by Adelaide in 2014, but did not play a senior game in his four years at the club.

Calsher, an athletic key forward, said he would be more of a “development” player next season, his focus being to strengthen his body.

He will work closely with forward Mitch Lewis, the biggest challenge, he said, would be learning to adjust to the training demands of life as a professional player.

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