SENIOR Coach of the Year Daniel Harford is gearing up for what he believes is going to be another breakout year for his young Blues.

Harford sat down with Carlton Media to talk all things pre-season, new recruits and what we can expect from Carlton in AFLW 4.0. 

We’ve been back at pre-season for about a month, tell us about what this first phase has been all about.

This first phase was about the reintegration for the players that have been here and then the integration for the new players. We had the pre-season camp early on in the summer to bring that all to a head pretty quickly so we could all get together and work out who is who in the zoo. That was about just re-learning the foundations that we taught the girls last year, which we’ve done really well and have been able to advance a bit quicker than I thought we would.

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We welcomed seven new recruits over the off-season: how have they integrated with the existing playing group? 

Really well — the new girls have been fantastic. The first week was a bit overwhelming for a few of them, which it is every year for the new players. The camp really opened up some opportunities to get to know the players on a personal level as opposed to just in the football club environment. They’ve integrated really well and now we’re starting to see some personalities coming out in the new players, which is lovely because they’ve all got their own little spunk and charisma.

You mentioned the pre-season camp: you went through the process of selecting the new captains based on presentations by the players while away. Tell us a bit about that process and also the new skippers in Katie Loynes and Kerryn Harrington. 

The process was pretty straightforward: all of the players and coaches had a chance to vote for who they thought were the best options to be leading us through 2020. Twelve of the players nominated for those positions in the leadership, which I was really proud of. We ended up with a leadership group of five, which is one down from last year.

Alison Downie is in for the first time, Nic Stevens in for the first time and Sarah Hosking keeps her spot in the leadership group. Then we have the co-captain situation: they were the two highest vote-getters in the count, and we think together they bring an enormous amount to our group on-field and off-field. We’re really positive about that.

Clearly ‘Loynesy’ has been an icon in women’s footy for over a decade so to have her in that role and have that matriarch feel I suppose is really good. Then there’s ’Kez’, who had an All-Australian year last year, has had elite program experience, brings great energy and desire and intensity to her work to drive standards as well. So that powerful combination together I think is going to be really good for us going forward.

Of the girls returning this season, who so far has impressed you on the track and who is gearing up for a breakout season?

I think we’ll see a fair bit from Lauren Brazzale in 2020. She had an interrupted VFLW season but has worked her backside off over the last four months and got herself in some really good nick.

Then you’ve got players like Charlotte Wilson who had a really good debut season for us in the backline and played in a Grand Final, which I don’t think she would have ever dreamed of in her first year of AFLW footy. Those are the ones who have been rolling through the VFLW in the off-season and are really starting to project.

What are your thoughts on the fixture? Six out of eight games in Melbourne, six games on free-to-air: it’s looking pretty good heading into season 2020?

Well Rounds 1 and 2 are pretty big: we’ve got Richmond first up and then Collingwood in Round 2. I don’t look too far ahead at this stage — we’re trying to make sure we get our squad in the best condition it can be in for those games.

We’ve got a practice game two weeks before Round 1, a scratch match against the Saints. We just want to be firing by Round 1, so I’m not looking too far ahead. It’s obviously nice to have a couple of key games at Ikon Park, and then the Marvel Stadium double-header with the boys is going to be fantastic for the whole footy club so we’re very excited about that.