Carlton was one win away from a second straight Grand Final appearance before the 2020 AFLW season was shut down, but they didn’t rest on their laurels over the off-season and made moves to improve their list.
The Blues traded a first-round draft pick for veteran Melbourne midfielder Elise O’Dea who, after a down 2020, is enjoying a revitalised pre-season at Ikon Park.
Maddy Prespakis led Carlton’s midfield in 2020 on her way to winning the league best and fairest, but the side was heavily reliant on her to dominate on-ball.
Co-captain Kerryn Harrington believes the addition of O’Dea has given the group a new element both in the midfield and around the club.
“It’s honestly like adding another captain into the team,” Harrington said at the AFLW Captain’s Day on Wednesday.
“Particularly our midfield is quite young and inexperienced when you look at it quite closely and what she’s been able to bring in is a whole heap of stability and organisation which is exactly what we needed her to do.
“The added bonus is she’s a big body so she’s a bit of a protector for Maddy Prespakis and Grace Egan and Mimi Hill who we hope will have a big season for us as well.”
Carlton takes on Collingwood on Thursday night to launch the 2021 season and one of the key players for the Blues for a fifth straight season will be Darcy Vescio.
The inaugural AFLW leading goal kicker was reinvented in 2020, playing further up the ground and roaming between the arcs.
Harrington believes Vescio has come back fitter than ever and ready for a role with greater midfield time.
“She’s kind of gone a bit unspoken this season. I think she’s primed for her best season yet,” she said.
“She’s as fit as she’s ever been and that ability for her to get up the ground and impact the contest is going to be huge for us.”
Similarly, crafty forward Georgia Gee, who booted three goals in the club’s finals win over Brisbane last year, will also spend more time in the midfield.
“Georgia Gee is probably one of the cleanest players in the competition, so the more that she’s around the ball the better for us,” he said.
One of Carlton’s most impressive players in their practice match win over St Kilda last week was young key forward Serena Gibbs.
Gibbs did not feature at AFLW level in 2020, but Harrington believes she’s ready to have an impact at some stage this year.
“The growth that she’s had in the last 12 months, I have no doubt she’ll get her opportunity at some stage this season and she’ll do a great job for us,” she said.
The Blues will be without reliable defender Gab Pound for Round 1 as she deals with a hand issue.
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