YESTERDAY, with the AFLW season well and truly upon us, we looked at some key Game Changers to keep an eye on for season 2022.

Now, it’s the AFL team’s turn.

With a month of pre-season already under the belts and now in readiness to return to action from next week, there’s plenty to look out for.

The two-gamers

In the final fortnight of 2021, youngsters Corey Durdin and Brodie Kemp were awarded debuts for the last two games of the season.

Now heading into their second and third seasons respectively, both players mentioned at the end of the last campaign how crucial they found the chance to mix it with the game’s elite in that final fortnight.

Both Durdin and Kemp provided flashes of excitement in their opening two games, although drifted in and out of the clashes over four quarters: to be expected in their initiation to senior level.

Having had that taste and with hopefully full pre-seasons under the belt come March, two players who Carlton fans have kept a close eye on ever since they stepped through the doors of IKON Park will be well worth watching.

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The mid-season recruits

After the highs of June last year when they had their names called out in the mid-season draft, it was a difficult few months for Jordan Boyd and Alex Mirkov to end 2021.

Stepping into new surrounds as their new teammates came back from an extended trip in New South Wales, knee injuries sustained in their opening Carlton Reserves games - followed by the cancellation of the VFL season - meant they couldn’t exactly show what they’re made of.

Head of List Management Nick Austin said that the duo are seen inside the four walls of IKON Park as essentially new recruits for 2022, with both now being put through their paces during pre-season.

Boyd’s efficiency by foot has been eye-catching as someone who can play at either end of the ground, while it’s very hard to miss all 210 centimetres of Mirkov on the track.

The key pillars

We all saw what level they played at last season, but where can Harry McKay and Jacob Weitering get to?

McKay ended the season with a Coleman Medal, while the last two campaigns have seen Weitering desperately unlucky to not be an All-Australian (or a dual All-Australian, some would argue).

It’s easy to forget that these two are just 24 years of age, having been taken as Carlton’s first two picks in the 2015 NAB AFL Draft.

After 58 goals in 2021, it would take 71 for McKay to reach 200 career goals. A big task, but let’s just say it’s not out of the question.

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The senior elevations

Particularly for their form in the back-end of the year, Josh Honey and Matthew Kennedy were elevated to Carlton’s primary list after featuring on the rookie list last season.

Can they go again after the signs shown last season?

For Kennedy, it was undisputedly a career-best season, playing the last 10 games consecutively and averaging over 22 disposals. A move as an inside midfielder clearly resonated well with the Collingullie product.

Then, there’s Josh Honey, who came into the side in the final month and didn’t look back.

With three lots of multiple goals in as many matches, there’ll be competition for a small forward role following the retirement of Eddie Betts, but it’ll be up to Honey himself to earn a spot alongside the likes of Durdin, Zac Fisher, Lachie Fogarty, Jack Martin and recruit Jesse Motlop on Carlton’s list.

The fan favourites

Jack Silvagni had a career-best season in 2021. So did Tom De Koning, who played his most games in a season. And Adam Saad was just pipped for a top-five finish in the John Nicholls Medal after playing every game for his new club in year one.

From a Navy Blue perspective, let’s hope they go again.

Adding a second ruck role to his repertoire out of necessity, Silvagni’s final six weeks showed his point of difference for his boyhood club after overcoming a frustrating run with injury. Could this be the year he gets a full complement of games under his belt?

It was a similar story for De Koning, after a troublesome back injury meant he was out of senior action until mid-season. His mix of competitiveness and natural talent has always been there, and he’ll certainly have his sights set on bringing that on a more permanent basis.

In the case of Saad, there’s no denying that the crowd gets a little bit louder whenever the ball is in his hands. With a 150th game potentially in the offing this season, we already can’t wait for his first marauding run that brings the Carlton crowd to their feet.