Carlton in AFLW 2021: An Analysis April 04, 2021, 11:23:15 AM We entered this season with a lot of hope, as our team on paper looked good. We lost 3 close games that we should have won and had one absolute howler. That was enough in a very close season.To be honest, in 2020 we looked to be playing at our best when the season finished: I think we could well have been premiers. Our game style was good, and our good players were playing well.So, what happened that we missed out this time? Player fitness and availability:This was a big issue. We didn’t have our players fit and available when we needed them. Chloe Dalton missed the entire season, trying to get to Olympics that may not occur yet (depending on how Japan handles Covid-19). I understand why she took the chance: playing for your country doesn’t occur that often and she could well win a Gold Medal yet. But we missed her run and carry, her pace, her tackling and her goal kicking.Brooke Walker was another significant miss with a foot injury. She played 2 games at the end of the season, but never hit her best. Very hard to do after her sort of injury. But that also hurt our attacking structure, as Walker and Dalton have express pace and use it with our Pagan’s Paddock style.Gabby Pound missed the opening rounds, and that cost us goals. We probably would have won with her presence in defence.Lucy McEvoy missed much of the season and didn’t hit her straps. Again, her injury did not allow her to get match fit.Considering how important these players are, this was a significant hole in our side. And then Mimi Hill did her knee. Personally, I think she was a monte for the Rising Star Award, but she didn’t even get a mention. Her run and skill were missed. And I didn’t even mention Katie Loynes. Form and Fitness of Tayla Harris:Tay had a big year in 2020. Her boxing career really took off, and her Young Australian of the Year was amazing. Her 2020 form was good enough to win games. So, what happened in 2021? Tay’s form was very much down, and she kicked few goals. She didn’t look 100% fit at any stage. She has had knee issues that that seemed to slow her down considerably in 2021. Certainly, she didn’t take the number of big pack marks that she did in 2019 and 2020. Her spectacular marking in those seasons really set off our forward line, which otherwise is quite short. She did lead quite a way up the ground and got a lot of kicks a long way from goal.As Tay is our primary marking option in the forward line, her form really left a huge hole in our forward structure. Darcy Vescio and Nik Stevens had to become marking targets, and while their form rose, we still missed that nig mark in the forward line.I don’t know Tay’s heart was in this season as it has been in previous ones. That may sound harsh, but she simply didn’t throw herself at the ball like she had earlier. Her speed wasn’t there, which suggests her knees may have been issues. But she did play.One of the things that really disappointed me was that Tayla couldn’t buy a free kick. The number of times she was interfered with, that her arms were chopped and that she was tackled and not rewards with free kicks was amazing. There was discussion that she might be playing for frees, but it didn’t look that way to me. She could well have got frees within goal kicking distance late in game in 2 of our losses, but they were not paid. Is she a victim of her own high profile?I am not sure, but unless we have more marking power in our forward half, we are going to struggle to kick winning scores. Our ruck Situation:We are blessed to have a great ruck in Bree Moody. The woman is athletic, strong and can do almost anything. When she wins in the ruck, we generally win.However, when she does not win in the ruck, as was especially the case against North Melbourne, we get caned.In previous seasons we had Alison Downie as our other ruck. In 2019 we almost won because of Downie’s great form. She managed to get her hand on the ball no matter how awkward it may have looked, and we usually got the clearance as a result. Her form around the ground was also good, if not as spectacular as Moody’s. Again, in 2020 Downie did well, meaning that we never lost the ruck.This season Downie struggled in the ruck and couldn’t make much of an impact. When moved into defence late, Downie played much better, but Father Time caught up with one of our most important players.But it was in the ruck that she was missed. Moody played a lot more on the ball and often ran out of gas late in games. Moody ran herself into the ground, but she was considerably less effective in last quarters than she was in 1st quarters.As a result, our last quarters were simply not as effective as they could be, and we were often run over at the end.Serena Gibbs came in and looked promising, but her ruck work was not up to scratch. She looked more comfortable as a forward, and that is where I would play her. Gibbs needs to hold more of her marks, but she showed that she has a future.If we are going to succeed in 2022, we need another decent ruck to complement Moody, as she simply cannot do it all on her own.Parts 4 to 7 coming soon.