What Sam Walsh, Patrick Cripps, Harry McKay and Jacob Weitering must do to take their game to the next level

What Sam Walsh, Patrick Cripps, Harry McKay and Jacob Weitering must do to take their game to the next level

Of course, it’s not just about Patty.

The Blues have committed their future to a number of young stars in recent years, including Jacob Weitering, Walsh and Harry McKay – who comes out of contract again next year. This should be the core of the club’s next premiership. However, like Cripps, they are all facing an important moment in their young careers.

Walsh has had another outstanding season, and at just 22 is still developing. Though he already has a best and fairest and All-Australian to his name, and a good head on his shoulders, I don’t think he’s immune from feedback.

Sam Walsh needs to take the ball inside 50 more often.Credit:AFL Photos

Like Cripps, he amassed 40 disposals last week against the Crows. It doesn’t happen every week, but I think sometimes he’s more focused on accumulating than being harmful with every disposal. The same was said about Trent Cotchin before he transformed himself into an inside bull and reaped the rewards with those flags at Richmond.

Walsh clearly has great running capacity, but that doesn’t mean he needs to accumulate around the back or look for the extra handball in a one-two – often that can mean an option down the field has evaporated. What I want to see from Walsh is delivering that last kick inside 50 more often. Right now, he ranks second in the AFL for disposals (behind Clayton Oliver), but 17th for inside 50s (Christian Petracca has 131 inside-50s for the season, Walsh 87).

Harry McKay's body language needs work.

Harry McKay’s body language needs work.Credit:AFL Photos

Even better, he could kick more goals himself. Until this year, he’d been trending up in that department, going from six goals in 2019 to eight in 2020 and 12 last year. So far this season he has five. It’s not a criticism of his effort or desire, but a change he can make to make his team better.

Carlton’s bookends Weitering and McKay are also worth focusing on. Since returning from injury, Weitering has been solid, albeit I think has another level. Those AC joint/shoulder injuries can linger. But sometimes when you push through adversity you can surprise yourself in terms of what you are able to produce. That must also be the mantra for McKay.

From the outside you can never truly know what a player is dealing with from an injury perspective. Regardless, Harry’s body language needs work. He looks like he’s playing hurt every week. I think that can impact both your opponents and your teammates.

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Opponents think you’re gettable, while, on the flip side, if he can manage that better, teammates will only feed off his positivity – ‘oh, Harry’s on today’.

When you’re a big man like McKay, never underestimate the influence you can have on those around you. With just three goals in the past three weeks there’s no doubt he’s lacking a bit of form, so the focus for him must be on getting back to basics.

Whenever I struggled a bit my No.1 focus was workrate. If I got to, say, 20 contests one week, the next week I’d aim for 40. Next, it’s resetting your mindset when it comes to marking contests. Sometimes it’s as simple as telling yourself “I will NOT be outmarked”.

Then his focus must be on pressure. How can I impact once the ball hits the ground? They are simple one-percenters that often go unnoticed when a forward is playing well. While they might not immediately result in goals, if nothing else those steps will create more opportunities for those around you. If he can show a bit of fight, a bit of aggression, those goals will return.

Overall, it’s certainly been a positive season for Carlton, but right now, the game against the Lions is the biggest of their football lives. With a razor-sharp focus firstly on Brisbane, there’s no reason why the Blues can’t win their remaining three games of the home and away season.

And imagine the momentum they would have built by September if they can pull that off.

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