Carlton will turn to youth to fill the huge hole left in their defence in 2018 after All-n defender Sam Docherty ruptured his ACL at training on Wednesday morning.
Young Irishman Ciaran Byrne, who played just three games last year after returning from a knee injury in 2016 and 19-year-old Tom Williamson, who played 15 games in his first season, shape as players who could emerge in the absence of Docherty.
Docherty’s leg is understood to have buckled under him as he went through a regulation, non-contact running drill on an oval surrounding Ikon Park and he is expected to miss the 2018 season.
The loss of the 24-year-old running half-back puts a big dent in the Blues’ aspirations for 2018 as they hoped to build on the promising signs their talented youngsters showed in 2017, despite winning just six games and finishing 16th on the ladder.
Docherty won the Blues’ 2016 best and fairest and was runner-up in 2017 as he emerged as one of the game’s best defenders since crossing from the Brisbane Lions to Carlton in 2014.
Docherty was named All-n in 2017, the first Carlton player to be awarded that honour since Chris Judd and Marc Murphy earned selection in 2011, and has played 92 games.
He will have traditional surgery in the coming days and the Blues have virtually ruled him out from returning until 2019.
Carlton football manager Andrew McKay said the club was disappointed for Docherty but he expected other players to take the opportunity presented in his absence.
“Sam is a total professional and a resilient young man and we know he will face his rehabilitation process with the utmost dedication,” McKay said.
“As a terrific young leader at our club, Sam will continue to work with the leadership group and assist in the development of our young players both on and off the field.”
The Blues traded out Bryce Gibbs to Adelaide in the recent trade period meaning they will be without two of their top four placegetters in the 2017 best and fairest during 2018 however they will have two top 10 picks in the upcoming national draft and they retained veteran defender Kade Simpson for this season.
Docherty’s injury also adds to the pressure on Carlton to perform well in prime time in the first half of 2018 after they were awarded the traditional season opener against Richmond on a Thursday night and three Friday night games in the first 11 rounds.
The Blues have won 13 games in their first two seasons under Brendon Bolton as they look to rebuild a talented young list that includes Patrick Cripps, Charlie Curnow, Caleb Marchbank and Sam Petrevski-Seton.