Vice-captain Sam Walsh looms as the No.1 in-form player in the Carlton side ahead of the Lions’ preliminary final at the Gabba on Saturday evening.

He’s been a standout in both of Carlton’s finals wins over Sydney and Melbourne to lead the voting in the Gary Ayres Award – the finals version of the Coaches Association Player of the Year Award.

He had 29 possessions and polled eight votes behind only teammate Blake Acres (9) in the six-point qualifying win over Sydney, and was a 10-vote best afield after 34 possessions and two goals in the two-point thriller against Melbourne.

He’s the only Carlton player to poll in both finals, and heads the overall vote from GWS’ Tom Green (12), Stephen Coniglio (10) and Josh Kelly (10), and Brisbane’s Hugh McCluggage (10).

After an injury-delayed start and a four-week absence from Round 20 the 23-year-old midfielder heads Carlton’s average possession list at 28.3 possessions per game from Sam Docherty (25.8), Adam Cerra (25.7), Patrick Cripps (25.4), Nic Newman (23.4) and Acres (23.3).

Walsh’s extended absence cost him a spot in the All-Australian squad, where the Blues were represented by Charlie Curnow, Cripps and Jacob Weitering before Curnow, the Coleman Medallist, was named at full forward.

  1. Goal-Kicking

Charlie Curnow this year became just the fifth player in Carlton history to kick 80 goals in a season despite being held to one goal in each of the two finals. The 2022-23 Coleman Medallist joined a list headed by Harry Vallence, who did so five times in the 1930s, Alex Jesaulenko, who was the club’s only century goal-kicker in 1970, premiership captain Stephen Kernahan, who topped 80 twice in the 1990s, and one-time Brisbane player Brendan Fevola, who had three years of 80-plus, including 99 in 2008.

Curnow, who leads the AFL in contested marks and marks inside 50 this season, was held to one goal by Jack Payne in the Round 8 match against Brisbane at Docklands and has 11 goals in five career games against Brisbane. He’s kicked seven goals in three games at the Gabba.

Harry McKay, the 2021 Coleman Medallist, and small forward Matt Owies, are Carlton’s equal No.2 goal-kicker this year with 27 ahead of Jesse Motlop (24), Jack Martin (15) and Jack Silvagni (14).

  1. Finals Experience

Before the two finals this year, only five members of the Carlton side likely to play at the Gabba on Saturday had tasted finals football – ex-Sydney pair George Hewett (8) and Nic Newman (3), ex-Fremantle wingman Blake Acres (2), ex-Adelaide utility Mitch McGovern (3) and ex-Essendon tearaway Adam Saad (1).

  1. Coaches Association Player of the Year

Charlie Curnow (62) and Patrick Cripps (60) led the Carlton vote in the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year, finishing 17th and 20th overall in an award limited to the home-and-away season. They polled 32% of the Carlton vote overall. Adam Cerra (49), Newman (40), Weitering (27), Docherty (19), McKay (19), Walsh (19), Hewett (18) and Acres (14) the others to top 10.

  1. The Brisbane Connection

While Carlton senior coach Michael Voss and VFL coach Luke Power head the Brisbane connection in the Blues camp, the longest link to the Lions is ex-Lion and cancer survivor Sam Docherty. Having grown up a Carlton supporter on Phillip Island, he played junior football with the Gippsland Power and was drafted by the Lions with pick #12 in the 2011. He played 13 AFL games in jumper #1 in 2013 before being traded to Carlton for pick #33 in 2013 a member of the dreaded ‘Go Home Five’. His 153-game career at the Blues after he was diagnosed with stage two testicular cancer in November 2020 and his subsequent stage three diagnosis in August 2022 has been one of football’s great feelgood stories.

  1. Foreign Legion

Twelve members of likely Carlton side this week started their AFL career at opposition clubs – Docherty, Blake Acres (StKilda/Fremantle), Adam Cerra (Fremantle), Lachie Fogarty (Geelong), George Hewett (Sydney), Matthew Kennedy (GWS), Caleb Marchbank (GWS), Jack Martin (Gold Coast), Mitch McGovern (Adelaide), Nic Newman (Sydney), Marc Pittonet (Hawthorn), Adam Saad (Gold Coast/Essendon).

  1. From Brickie to Brisbane

Alex Cincotta will play his first game in Brisbane on Saturday and the 19th game of a career that began in the most unlikely of circumstances this year. He was a “çhippie’’, covered in sweat, sawdust and sunscreen while building a deck in 35-degree heat when the phone call he'd dreamed of finally arrived. It came from Carlton development boss Luke Power as Carlton searched desperately for a replacement for Zac Williams, who blew out his knee in a pre-season camp. Cincotta had finished runner-up in the 2022 Carlton Reserves B&F and had trained at times with the Blues over the summer. The Blues looked first at Oleg Markov, but when he was signed by Collingwood they turned to Cincotta literally hours before the deadline for supplementary list selections in February. All that after the one-time Newton and Chilwell junior in the Geelong region ruptured his ACL at the start of the 2020 Covid season. He did his rehabilitation in a Geelong gym under Nick Power, who is Luke’s cousin. And the rest, as they say, is history.

  1. Blues at the Gabba

Since 2014 Carlton have had a 2-8 record at the Gabba. Their only win was against North Melbourne during the 2020 Covid season, when they also lost to Collingwood and Port Adelaide in Brisbane. They’ve lost seven in a row at the Gabba against the Lions, with their last win in Round 9 2013, when Sam Docherty and ex-Lion Lachie Henderson played for Brisbane against a Blues side which included Tom Bell and Mitch Robinson, who later played for Brisbane, and only the retiring Ed Curnow from the current Carlton list.

Of the like Carlton side, Alex Cincotta, Ollie Hollands, Brodie Kemp and, surprisingly, Nic Newman, have never played at the Gabba, and Adam Cerra, Charlie Curnow, Sam DeKoning, Caleb Marchbank, Harry McKay, Jesse Motlop, Matt Owies and Jack Silvagni have never won at the Gabba. Even Sam Docherty has never won at the Gabba in a Carlton jumper.

  1. Played Every Game

While Brisbane have nine players who have played every game this year, Carlton have only two – Charlie Curnow and Jacob Weitering. Curnow has the longest ‘live’ streak of consecutive games in the Blues camp at 51.

  1. The Secret Weapon

Carlton youngster Tom DeKoning will head to Brisbane as an overnight international TikTok sensation after Robbie Williams recorded a tribute to him after the Blues’ over of Melbourne last week. This was after he met Michael Voss and members of the Carlton side last year when in Melbourne for the AFL grand final, where his halftime entertainment was a massive success. It went:
DeKoning’s in the air, everywhere I look around
DeKoning’s everywhere, leaving bodies on the ground
Änd he’s better than his brother, even better than his dad
There’s only one Thomas De Koning, and he is the best one we have ever had