“IT’S such a big honour.
“It’s super exciting to be part of the Carlton Football Club and I’m looking forward to being a part of the journey.
“I can’t wait to get into training, earn the respect of the boys, just can’t wait to get started.”
These were Sam Walsh’s first words after being drafted to Carlton in the 2018 NAB AFL Draft, going at pick No.1.
Walsh clearly didn’t take these words lightly, as his investment, motivation and effort that he brought to the Club kick-started a memorable 12 months.
Having an almost unprecedented first year, Walsh already has a list of accomplishments that any player would envy.
Tomorrow night, Sam Walsh will line up for his 23rd consecutive AFL game against the Tigers.
This time last year, Walsh debuted in Round 1, shining under Thursday night lights against a formidable opposition.
Gathering 24 disposals at 82 per cent efficiency, Walsh quickly proved to the football world that he was here to make an impact.
He said it: “I didn’t know what to expect. I was so excited to play with the boys and the crowd was insane.”
Rising Star nomination:
Carlton took on Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium in Round 4, with Walsh’s individual showing a clear standout.
Touted as an outstanding athlete, it was Walsh’s toughness and tenacity which shone through on a hard day for the Blues.
Walsh kicked his second goal of his career to go with 28 disposals, earning himself a Rising Star nomination. Two days later, he committed to the Club until the end of 2022.
He said it: “It’s something I’ve been working pretty hard for… I’ve learnt so much from my first four games of AFL football.”
Carlton cracked its first win of the season in an Easter Sunday clash against the Western Bulldogs, with Walsh once again rising to the top.
There was a single moment which defined the match, and it could’ve only been him to seal it.
As well as collecting 26 disposals and laying four tackles, Walsh kicked a classy goal on the siren, in doing so seeing Carlton notch up 100 points for the first time in 59 games.
Highest-disposal game, first Brownlow votes:
David Teague’s first game as Senior Coach has become known for a Carlton comeback win and the best individual performance of the season from Patrick Cripps.
However, he had a more-than-handy sidekick.
Polling two Brownlow votes (the first in his career), Walsh surpassed the 30-disposal mark for the first time with 32 disposals and operated at 86 per cent disposal efficiency.
His partnership with Cripps saw commentators dub them ‘Batman and Robin’ on a memorable day for the Navy Blues.
He said it: “I just thought, ‘I’ll give this a red-hot crack, ask as many questions as I can and use the people around me to upskill me and give me a feel for what it’s be like at AFL level.’”
Goal of the year nomination:
Add another one to the list.
One of Walsh’s six goals of the season got nominated for the Coates Hire Goal of the Year award, and it’s pretty clear why.
This took place against reigning premiers West Coast in Round 20, where his gather, pirouette and right-footed finish got him the nod.
They said it: “I’ve never seen a first-year player train at that intensity. Whether that turns into form, generally the guys who train well are the ones that can follow it up. He has prepared himself really well.” - David Teague
Most disposals for a first-year player:
It came down to the wire for this one, with Walsh breaking Toby Greene’s record for the most disposals in a year by a first-year player.
In Carlton’s last game for the season against Geelong at GMHBA Stadium, Walsh surpassed the record of 539 total disposals in the third quarter.
This put the exclamation mark on Walsh’s Rising Star campaign, as well as setting a new benchmark for first-year players in years to come.
They said it: "He has got great habits and I think our playing group can learn from him. If you train hard and prepare well, I don’t think age is a factor. It is a mindset rather than an age system for some."- David Teague
Rising Star winner:
Sam Walsh became Carlton’s first AFL Rising Star winner in the men's competition since its inception in 1993. He completed the Rising Star double for the Blues, after Madison Prespakis’ triumph earlier in the year.
Averaging 25 disposals for the season, Walsh was one vote shy of scoring a perfect 55 votes from the committee.
He said it: “It’s something I’ve dreamt of but I probably never thought it would happen. The footy world doesn’t wait for anyone and if you don’t put in the work, you won’t be rewarded. I have always put pressure on myself to perform. I know if I put in the work, I’ll be in a good place.” - Sam Walsh
Best First-Year Player:
Walsh was honoured at the AFL Players' Association MVP Awards by taking home the Best First-Year Player award as voted by his peers across the league.
Walsh ended up tripling the votes of his second-place competition in Port Adelaide’s Connor Rozee.
Jacob Weitering, Harry McKay and Walsh also featured in the 22-under-22 team, confirming that Carlton’s young talent is gaining the respective of the competition.
He said it: "We're pretty young but there's no reason why we can't be really challenging teams now and winning games through driving the standards in the midfield. We've got great guidance with 'Crippa' and the line coaches and hopefully we can develop into a really strong unit to match and beat the best."
What’s next for Walsh?
With such an impressive first year, it’s going to be hard to top for the youngster.
For Walsh, he has reiterated that it serves as motivation in both a game sense and personally.
In 2020, Walsh was added to the leadership group at only 19, stating that he was keen to make an impact on the team in a bigger sense.
“Leadership has definitely been a passion of mine for a long time and I think we [as a club] have done a great job at promoting that,” he said.
“I think that’s the beauty of our club at the moment: no matter what your age or how many years you’ve played or how many games, your opinion is valued and that’s a really good culture we’ve got going at the moment.”
“It’s a great privilege when it’s voted by your peer group and when they hold you in that regard, you do take it with great pride.”
If his Marsh Community Series is anything to go by, there’s still plenty left to write in the story of Carlton’s No.18.