IN 2019, Will Setterfield had plenty to learn.

About his new club, about his new role, about playing consistent AFL football, about - most importantly - his body.

On more than one occasion, Setterfield has mentioned how much his first season in the Navy Blue felt like his first season in the AFL in general. His first two years were write-offs due to injury.

After getting through that season without an issue, 2020 was the year where he showed Carlton supporters the baseline of what he’s capable of.

It wasn’t just living in a hub and playing games every five days in Queensland that was a stark contrast for Setterfield over the last few months.

“I’ve had two really different years,” Setterfield told Carlton Media.

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“Last year, I was finding my feet again after the ACL injury and I played mainly on the wing all year. I was playing on the outside and learning what AFL football is about, and I loved it.

“It was a great way for me to learn the game, play my role and develop my outside game and running.

“This year has been the complete opposite in that I had a big pre-season and I’ve gone in to play that inside mid role.”

It was in the clinches where Setterfield thrived in 2020, ranking second at Carlton for tackles (No.11 in the competition overall) and third at the Club for clearances.

There were glimpses from Setterfield in his first year at Carlton: he kicked three in an inspired second half against Melbourne, while he would’ve been best-on-ground and a match-winner against Adelaide if not for a Patrick Cripps masterclass.

However, he knew coming into this year that consistency was key — while conceding it wasn’t “a spectacular year”, it was an undeniable year of growth for the No.43.

While 2019 may have been a year of finding his feet, 2020 was a season where he felt like he belonged.

“It was probably one of those games early on where I played inside [that everything clicked],” he said.

“I think I played against the Bombers and got a lot of centre clearances and had a lot of inside time that day. I got belief that I was capable.

“The boys all backed me in, and we’ve got a strong midfield group and bond developing. I got confidence from one of those early games and it just went from there.”

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Nominated by Carlton fans mid-season as one of if not the side’s biggest improver, Setterfield is under no illusions heading into next year.

“I want to round my game out and take it to the next level,” he said.

“In terms of playing inside and outside, bringing both of those to the table and hitting the scoreboard when I go forward.

“We’ve got a really good group coming along and we’ve played some footy together now, especially this year: there are a lot of boys that played most games.”

Setting himself for a big year

Back in pre-season, Setterfield mentioned on the eve of the Australian Open’s final weekend that the best backhanded compliment he received was from Andrew Russell.

They were words to the effect that Setterfield “was starting to look like an athlete”.

As fate would have it, it was a different Will Setterfield at the elite level — and he puts a fair portion of that down to a full pre-season.

Taken with pick No.5 in the 2016 NAB AFL Draft, it was Setterfield’s first complete pre-season.

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“My goal for the pre-season was to have a really good one: get through every session, don’t miss a beat and I thought I did that well,” he said.

“I did about 95 per cent of pre-season which really set my year up. That’s what I’m aiming to duo again, to get stronger and keep my running at a good level.

“A full pre-season to set my year up is the focus.”

Under the watchful eye of Russell, Setterfield - who played two senior games in his first two seasons - missed his first game through injury in the final game of the year.

Since arriving at Carlton, Setterfield has played 34 of 39 games: he missed two through suspension, had two games in the VFL in 2019 and was ruled out of Round 18 clash with Brisbane due to a minor calf injury.

Proving himself on the inside

An ever-present under David Teague after he took over midway through 2019, Setterfield didn’t feature all that much at the centre bounce.

He had 54 centre bounce attendances that season, with only two of those coming under Teague’s watch. Rather, he was stationed across a wing.

So, his big objective over the summer was to put his hand up for a starting inside midfield role. Once he got his chance, it was about proving he should stay there.

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He did exactly that. Come the end of 2020, only Ed Curnow, Patrick Cripps and Marc Pittonet had more centre bounce attendances than the 21-year-old.

“It was a massive focus. I was always pushing to the coaches that I could play inside and play that role for them,” he said.

“When I got my opportunity, I took it on and went from there. I’m glad the coaches put some belief in me to get the job done in there.

“I worked hard with John Barker and Brent Stanton on both sides of my game this year. I was just happy I got the opportunity.”

The Patrick Cripps influence

A big part of Setterfield’s motivation for an inside midfield role was lending his skipper a hand.

However, as he puts it, it’s the co-captain who has had the positive influence on him.

“‘Crippa’ has been huge for me, he has taught me a lot — especially around stoppages,” he said.

“He’s the best in the business. I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Alongside best mate Sam Walsh, Setterfield said it was a clear focus to give Cripps a hand at the coalface.

“We all aim to do it each week, lend ‘Crippa’ a hand,” he said.

“He gets tagged most weeks, so that’s what we’re all trying to do — whether it’s me, ‘Walshy’, Ed or any of the boys that go in there.

“We all work together and let ‘Crippa’ play his natural game. I’m looking forward to working hard over pre-season and doing it all again next year.”