IN A year where change was at the forefront of the campaign, Carlton’s young leaders were the face of change and took on their roles with pride, with their teammates following closely behind.
Carlton co-vice Captain Mimi Hill was one of the young leaders who stood up for the Blues when injuries struck the leadership group throughout the season.
With captain Kerryn Peterson and co-vice captain Jess Dal Pos missing the final two rounds of the season, 21-year-old Hill stepped up as captain, with the full support of her peers, and - although she is still learning as she goes - showed maturity and poise during her stint at the helm.
"It was such a great experience I think I am learning on the go and it’s good to have in the coming years so if something like that happens again I can step up" Hill said.
"The other leaders stepped up too, so I didn’t really feel like the load was all on me. I loved it and thinking back on it you just go 'wow, I just captained Carlton' which is cool," Hill said.
Hill's offsider in the midfield Abbie McKay was indoctrinated into the Blues' leadership group and immediately started tapping into the knowledge of her experienced peers.
Much like Hill, McKay is still getting used to her new role after not expecting the step up just yet but can see improvement and enjoys the development of her skills.
The duo attribute their growth as leaders to their work with Belinda Clark, who has worked with the Blues' captains and leadership group in developing their own individual skills as leaders, as well as a collective.
“Belinda called me when it looked like I was going to be a solo captain, and we just had a good chat and she told me 'be the positive leader that you arena everything will be fine,'” Hill said.
"Similarly to 'Mim', I’m learning on the go. I wasn’t really expecting to be in the leadership group at the beginning, but I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been a different aspect of the club that I haven’t seen before, so it's been really good,” McKay said.
Hill and McKay's development off the field led to an impressive connection in the midfield, combining each week to show a strong presence throughout the season.
In their fourth season together, the duo consistently teamed up to work the ball out of the centre, with McKay showing grit in the contest and getting the ball to the outside, whereas Hill would attack the forward 50.
The two have cultivated an on-field partnership that has given the fans something to look forward to each week, whilst Hill and McKay themselves are at the point where they know what the other will do before it even happens.
"Abbie is so good. Especially this season, seeing her explode out of stoppages has been really good to watch. We read off each other and have each other’s back in there and we can rely on each other a bit to lift the team,” Hill said.
“I love playing with Mim. I think we have a bit of telepathy, we can look at each other and we know exactly what the other is thinking, so I think we’re really lucky in that regard," McKay said.
Although the two enjoy teaming up together, it is the individual player's development and the growth of the midfield cohort that excites Hill and McKay and has them already looking toward 2024.
With Keeley Sherar having a stand-out season by their side, Hill and McKay noticed the positive impact she can bring to the Blues' midfield.
The trio combined for 119 clearances in 2023, with the centreline being a highlight for Carlton, as they showed their ability to make use of the ground ball and work it forward, or force turnovers with their defensive pressure and 191 combined tackles.
But Hill and McKay know that the groundwork laid out this year will only elevate others to stand up, with Lily Goss catching the eye of McKay throughout the season, providing depth in the midfield on rotation.
"[Sherar] is just a tough little pocket rocket and she can also run for days, so we love having her in the midfield," Hill said.
"She’s also just a really good teammate and you know what you’re going to get from her, you’ll look to her and ask her to do something for us and she’ll be there."
"Lily Goss and Keeley Sherar are coming into the midfield and getting the connection we probably didn’t have in previous years when it was just Mim and I but now they’re all joining in and it's really exciting," McKay added.
In their reflection on 2023, Hill and McKay acknowledged the disappointing tail-end of the season, but know that it will drive the Blues to take further steps in the right direction.
With the group showing belief in one another, Hill looks forward to seeing her teammates work on the "little things" that will improve results overall.
“We have a really hard-working group so we’ve got players who are annoyed with how the season finished, myself included," Hill said.
"We will have a break but there’s gonna be some people who are working really hard no doubt in the off-season."
“I think we’re just going to continue to grow, and with the coaching staff available nearly all the time people will just flourish and work hard on those fundamentals and things in game that you don’t really think about but really are important,” McKay echoed.