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Inside the Blues' camp

Phase two | Pre-season camp Watch as the Blues get put through their paces on the Sunshine Coast for the 2019 pre-season camp.

CARLTON returned from its pre-season training camp in Mooloolaba on Friday following a week of intensive training, beach sessions and team bonding activities.

AFL.com.au's Riley Beveridge joined the team on the Sunshine Coast, tracking coach Brendon Bolton and a series of staff members throughout Wednesday's training session.

The moment a No.1 gun went down

Andrew Russell has just finished giving No.1 draft pick Sam Walsh an almighty pump-up when his eyes shift left in an instant to a motionless player around 40m away.

It's Walsh, on the ground, holding his knee. For a moment, there is silence in Maroochydore.

But within the blink of an eye, everyone exhales. Walsh rises, rubs the inside of his knee and sprints – slightly hobbled, still – to the next contest, attacking it as hard as ever.

"He just got a kick from Charlie Curnow," coach Brendon Bolton says walking back from the drill.

There's another moment of silence, before Bolton breaks it again: "He's a tough bugger."

According to Russell, Carlton's new high performance boss, Walsh is as prepared for AFL football as any first-year player he's seen.

It's a big rap, considering Russell has enjoyed a long and distinguished career at Essendon, Port Adelaide and Hawthorn, watching players like Cyril Rioli come through the ranks.

And he's not the only one to think that. Ask virtually any staff member at Carlton about the Geelong Falcons product and their excitement is clear to see.

Where clubs can usually dampen expectations around top draft picks, the Blues are finding that difficult to do.

Club recruiters thought they knew what they were getting when they used the first pick in last year's NAB AFL Draft on Walsh. But what they didn't know was that he would be this impressive.

Walsh's arrival in Carlton's midfield will give the Blues' onball brigade a different dynamic.

There's the brute strength of co-captain Patrick Cripps, the explosiveness of Paddy Dow, the zip of Zac Fisher and the inside-out combination of Walsh.

Then there's new recruit Will Setterfield, who Russell states has lost around six kilograms since joining the Blues from the Giants during last year's NAB AFL Trade Period.

It might be a young group – Cripps is the oldest (turning 24 in March) – but Bolton says they know their responsibilities.

"They know that Patrick Cripps isn't the answer doing it all on his own," he says.

The midfielders are watched like hawks by assistants Cameron Bruce and John Barker as they refine their clearance routine, and Bolton acknowledges they are a work in progress, but developing nicely.

"I can remember Jordan Lewis being able to turn and hit Lance Franklin," he says, reminiscing on his seven years spent at Box Hill and Hawthorn.

"You learn all of those little idiosyncrasies with each other, so that's what is growing. That's why you need a team playing together for a period of time."

Building from the back

Bolton crouches down and watches the play unfold.

"We want this to be messy," he says.

Around him, spread across a field in Maroochydore, a select group of his Carlton players screams instructions at their younger teammates as a pre-season training drill begins.

The aim of the drill is simple: Stop the opposing side from kicking a goal.

Nic Newman marshals proceedings, having just drawn praise from Russell for his professionalism since arriving from Sydney.

The former Swan had been training with ex-teammate and Brownlow Medal winner Tom Mitchell before Christmas, sharpening his running base.

Kade Simpson, Dale Thomas and Ed Curnow join Newman in ensuring the youngsters know exactly what they're doing and where they should be at all times.

Moments earlier, after setting the cones carefully along the ground for this particular aspect of the session, Bolton outlines exactly what he wants to see throughout the drill.

The majority of Carlton's Wednesday session on the Sunshine Coast has been dedicated to defence.

Messiness, Bolton believes, is a sign that ball movement is being disrupted. Given the strong defensive focus, seeing no clean disposals will be reflective of the system working well.

The main lesson the Carlton coach wants his young team to take from the defensive drills is that every action or decision made on the footy field will have a ripple effect elsewhere.

"If you press really well, you buy more time for the defenders to position themselves in a smart space," Bolton would later say from the team's hotel in Mooloolaba.

"If you man the mark and give us two more seconds of delay, that means something. If you buy time for more numbers to get up the ground, you get more turnovers in your front half."

Bolton's second coach

"Ball work, conditioning, match simulation, conditioning …"

Russell reels off every session Carlton has conducted as though it's written in front of him.

Those at the club believe the high-performance guru has been like a second coach since arriving at Ikon Park from Hawthorn late last year, not just a highly skilled fitness boss.

While Bolton prowls the field, distant at times and involved at others, the arrival of people such as Russell and new football boss Brad Lloyd – who joined from Fremantle – have allowed the fourth-year coach to be a little more hands-off this summer.

Russell's sessions are highly planned, though simply explained.

On Monday, as Russell says, "we smashed them". Four hours of intensive work on the track in the morning was followed by a brutal gym session in the afternoon.

Tuesday was a beach day, where the team conducted its weights session in the sand.

Wednesday was described as "a small session". It still lasted close to three hours, including some tough running drills to conclude the day in front of the club's Queensland fans.

Thursday was a day off, where the players were able to explore the Sunshine Coast.

Friday, Russell says, was "big … very big".

Russell monitors everything. He's training their minds, as much as their bodies, studying how each player reacts to getting rid of the footy in the midst of a gruelling running drill.

He says a number of players have challenged Carlton's running king Ed Curnow throughout the summer. Young duo Cottrell and Walsh have both given it shots in recent days.

On Wednesday, it was Ed's younger brother Charlie.

As a bunch of Carlton's squad members ran around the edge of one of two grounds in Maroochydore, two hours north of Brisbane and 10 minutes from the club's base in Mooloolaba, two players were well out in front: the Curnow brothers.

Ed looks every bit a long-distance runner. The fact Charlie, at 194cm and over 90kgs, shaded him slightly on Wednesday morning says a lot about the youngster's incredible athleticism.

Russell runs alongside the chasing group, though he's not the only one. Bruce, Barker, Dale Amos, David Teague and Brent Stanton, among other assistant coaches, trail behind.

Alex Fasolo, his arm in a cast, also joins in alongside former club captain and current board member Chris Judd. He later describes it as some of the toughest running he's ever done.

It's another telling comment, given it's the former Magpie's ninth pre-season.

He might be racing the clock to be fit for round one, but Fasolo is putting in the hard yards.

The case for a VFL jet gets served for dinner

It's Friday afternoon and the players are about to board a flight back to Melbourne.

Michael Gibbons doesn't know what's coming.

Bolton gathers his squad, his coaches and his staff members to deliver the long-time VFL star some news: He will be a Carlton player in 2019. Immediately, he's mobbed.

Moments later, Cottrell – another Blues trainee hoping to earn one of three vacancies on the club's rookie list – is granted his wish. Another mobbing.

It's clearly an emotional moment for the pair. Gibbons, after six years of starring for Williamstown and six years of draft snubs, calls his parents straightaway.

But when things settle down and normality is restored in his life, the 23-year-old might want to buy his new teenage teammate Lochie O'Brien a beer.

Bolton had taken O'Brien for a roast dinner at the Mooloolaba Surf Club on Tuesday night, where the former top-10 draft pick made the case for the rookie hopeful.

"I asked Lochie if he'd put Michael on," Bolton says.

"He said yes, so I asked why.

"He said it was his work ethic. But then, without me asking, he said, 'When a bloke comes to a club, usually they gravitate to the stars like Sam Docherty, Patrick Cripps and Kade Simpson. But he's invested in all of us.'

"I liked hearing that."

Indeed, it has been clear to see Gibbons' desire to finally earn a spot on an AFL list throughout the training camp – let alone the body of work he amassed beforehand.

The dual JJ Liston Trophy winner hasn't been afraid to make his presence felt at Carlton. He wraps himself around the younger players, uses his voice constantly and runs all day.

"He's impressive … actually impressive," Russell remarks.

As a midfielder, Gibbons is a naturally talented ball winner who averaged 26.4 disposals in the VFL last year. As a forward, he can provide the pressure Carlton desperately needs.

Across pre-season, the Blues have put an added focus on their ability – or lack thereof – to effectively lock the ball inside their forward 50 going into the upcoming campaign.

They're excited about pressure forward Cam Polson's improvement over the summer, while Ed Curnow – described by one coach as a "bulldog" – is also set to also pinch-hit as a small forward in 2019. Gibbons, who has the talent, will undoubtedly add to that mix.

Jacob Weitering, now in his fourth year, is one of them. He's also someone the club hopes will improve significantly in 2019.

Weitering looks noticeably bigger. Bolton comments that he's trimmed down.

Regardless, it's clear to see the 21-year-old has gone back to basics. He's intercepting, spoiling and doing everything that made him look so accomplished as a junior prospect.

"He's very hard to play on, I'll tell you that," Charlie Curnow says of his teammate.

"He's changed his mindset a little bit. He was all about helping the team and he loves doing that, so he's been focusing a lot on his game which is good to see."

The pressure has been ramped up on the fourth-year players ahead of the 2019 season. As a talented bunch that includes four first-round draft picks, it's clear to see why.

Weitering, Harry McKay, Curnow and David Cuningham collectively have 134 games of experience between them. Now, it's time for them to take the next step.

All, Weitering especially, have dealt with setbacks. Over the last couple of years, the former No.1 draft pick has endured injury troubles and struggled with form as he adapts to playing at AFL level.

But Bolton remains confident in his ability to inspire Carlton's rise up the ladder.

"Often trying to do the right thing, but that not working effectively, can be a blessing in disguise," Bolton says of Weitering's hiccups over the last couple of years.

"You build the resilience and understanding of how to cope with that in the future.

"I don't have to go into all of the stories where failure was right on the edge for people, but I wouldn't be surprised if Jacob's lessons learnt in the last few years help him get going."

Weitering, in some ways, is reflective of Carlton as a whole.

Although he's struggled recently, the talent is there. Now, it's time to see it flourish.