Carlton midfielder Sam Walsh’s record breaking debut AFL season

During an outstanding debut AFL season midfielder Sam Walsh played all 22 games for Carlton in 2019 and impressed with his ball-winning ability, consistency, professionalism and hard-running. Walsh won the AFL’s 2019 Rising Star Award in convincing fashion, polling 54 of a possible 55 votes to finish ahead of fellow first-year players, Port Adelaide half-forward Connor Rozee and Richmond utility Sydney Stack on 42 and 28 votes respectively. Walsh’s performances in 2019 were also recognised by the Carlton coaches and his team-mates with the 19 year old finishing fourth in the best and fairest and being one of the club’s three nominees for the AFL Players Association Most Valuable Player Award.

Throughout 2019 Walsh was a fixture in the Carlton team, playing on the wing and also spending some time as an inside midfielder On winning the AFL’s Rising Star Award 19 year-old Walsh commented “It’s a bit surreal. There are so many moments from this year that I’ll look back on and just think ‘did that really happen?’ This is one of those moments. It’s something that I have dreamt of, but I never thought it would happen. It’s a bit of a crazy time, really.”

Sam’s dad Wayne has been heavily involved in football, including being the senior coach of Cobden from 2007 to 2009, despite having a significant influence on Sam’s development as a footballer Wayne was unable to get his oldest son Sam to support the same AFL team as him – the Carlton Blues. In early July 2018 Sam commented to foxsports.com.au “My Dad’s two twin brothers are Fitzroy supporters, so when I was young they sort of brainwashed me. We were winning at the time. I used to live in Cobden (south west Victoria), so had Jonathan Brown and the like to look up to. So they’ve been awesome to follow.”1

At TAC Cup level in the under 18’s Walsh broke records with his ball-winning ability whilst playing as a midfielder, having at least 23 disposals in every game he played during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Walsh was outstanding in the 2018 Under 18 National Championships for Vic Metro, averaging 29.5 disposals and 13.5 contested possessions per game. On Monday 2nd July, 2018 Walsh turned 18 years older, two days later he won the Larke medal for the best player in Division 1 at the Championships. Sam was named in the midfield of the under 18 All-Australian team and was also named the team’s captain. Sam admitted that he kept a close eye on the AFL ladder during the 2018 season and embraced the prospect of being the number 1 overall draft pick. At the conclusion of the under 18 National Championships Carlton were last on the ladder with one win after 15 Rounds, one win and percentage behind the Brisbane Lions. The following weekend Brisbane in a home game at the Gabba defeated Carlton by 65 points which made it very likely that Carlton would finish last and have the number one pick at the 2018 National Draft.

In the “Tomorrows Heroes: Sam Walsh” video published on afl.com.au in the lead-up to the 2018 AFL National Draft Walsh commented “My strengths are decision making, composure, my endurance to get over and out-number a contest and ability to play inside and outside.” In the video Sam commented on the prospect of being selected with pick one, saying “It’s something that I have dreamed of as a kid, to be talked about as the number one pick, when you look at past players that I’ve looked up to that have gone pick 1 or in that top range it’s pretty surreal really. To go pick 1 would be an awesome honour, you look at the likes of Jack Lukosious, Izak Rankine and a lot of great players in this draft so I would be stocked and I would be willing to get into it really.”

Walsh was widely viewed as a 250 game player and future captain at AFL level however some experts said that Walsh was a safe selection and didn’t have as much upside as some of his peers from the 2018 Draft Class such as Izak Rankine and Jack Lukosious. As expected Carlton selected Sam with the first selection at the 2018 National Draft, so whilst his dad Wayne may have been unsuccessful in getting Sam to support Carlton, he eventually got something considerably better with Sam becoming a Carlton player.

At AFL level Walsh also broke records with his unprecedented ball-winning ability for a first-year player, setting a new record by having at least 24 disposals in his first six games, he had more than 26 disposals in 10 games and at least 18 disposals in every game. Over the course of the 2019 home and away season Walsh amassed a total of 554 disposals to set a new record for a first year player this century – surpassing Toby Greene’s tally of 539 disposals with the GWS Giants in 2012.

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During 2019 Walsh won the AFL Rising Star Award and the AFL Players Association best first year player award at 19 years of age and highlighting how much of an impact he had at Carlton he was one of the club’s three nominees for the AFL Players Association Most Valuable Player award along with 21 year-old defender Jacob Weitering and 24 year-old Carlton co-captain Patrick Cripps who won the award – becoming the third Carlton player to win the Leigh Matthews trophy award this century, joining Anthony Koutoufides (2000) and Chris Judd (2011). Walsh led Carlton for total uncontested possessions, ranked second at Carlton for total disposals and handballs, behind Cripps in both categories, ranked second for kicks behind Nic Newman, third for contested possessions and bounces, equal third for inside 50’s and goal assists, fourth for clearances and tackles, fifth for marks and sixth for rebound 50’s.

Sam Walsh was born on 2nd July, 2000, his parents are Wayne and Jacque and he has two younger brothers, Henry and Tommy. In his early childhood Sam’s family lived in Cobden, a Victorian dairy farming town located approximately 210 kilometres southwest of Melbourne and 30 minutes north of the Great Ocean Road.

Sam’s dad Wayne and uncles Chris and Leigh each played more than 100 games of Australian Rules Football for Cobden in the Hampden league. Sam played Auskick at Cobden and his dad Wayne coached the Cobden seniors team in the Hampden league from 2007 to 2009. Two players from Cobden’s senior team were selected in the top 10 at the 2009 National Draft, Ben Cunnington at pick five by North Melbourne and Gary Rohan at pick six by Sydney. A decade into their respective AFL careers Cunnington has won North Melbourne’s best and fairest twice (2014 and 2019)), been a runner-up three times (2015, 2017 and 2018) and has played over 200 AFL games whilst Rohan has played over 100 AFL games. In a foxsports.com.au article on 18th November 2018 titled ‘AFL Draft 2018: Sam Walsh talks Carlton. Cobden and family as he enters the draft as pick 1 favourite’ Ben Waterworth asked Sam “Tell me where your passion for the game started? When did you realise you wanted to do footy full-time?” Sam responded “It was always a goal growing up in Cobden. Gary Rohan and Ben Cunnington were coming through at the time when I was six, seven, eight years old. You watched AFL but you thought ‘that’s the distant goal’. But when you see people that you’ve been associated with achieve it, it gives you hope. I remember coming to watch them both at Etihad Stadium at the Under 18 champs and they’re the things you strive to get. From an early age, it was always back of mind that’s what I wanted to do and as I progressed and started to take my footy pretty seriously, that sort of thing early on got me into the position I’m in now.”2

In 2010 Wayne got a job with AFLNT, which resulted in the Walsh family spending three years living in the Northern Territory. Wayne commented on Sam being able to experience playing football in the Northern Territory, saying “They had wet season footy and dry season footy, so it was footy all year round. Sam was 10 playing in the under-14s team. One day it was about 37 degrees and 90 per cent humidity at 9am and the kids were coming in at quarter time and putting ice in their socks to cool their feet down. Going up there was one of the best things we did as a family.”3

When Sam appeared on 15th May, 2019 episode of the Fox Footy program ‘On the Mark’ Kelli Underwood asked “You gave us a little insight earlier that you grew up in country Victoria but when you were 10 the family moved to Darwin and you spent three years there, I know you are so professional and you told me earlier that you have read Nathan Buckley’s book, I am presuming you are not just following his path because he spent quite a bit of time in Darwin as well, as a youngster, how did it help your footy and I guess as a person growing up as well?” Sam responded “Yeah moving to Darwin was a great experience for me and my family, culturally and having footy all year round really helped me and its open footy and very flairy so that helped a bit of my game and we became tighter as a family from it as we didn’t have family up there, so we were always on the go doing something, so it was like a big holiday really.”

Kelli said “Can I ask you about your relationship with your dad Wayne, he has obviously had a huge influence on your career, he said when you were little you were a bit of a boot banger, what did he mean by that?” Sam replied “Dad’s been great for me, he has coached a lot of teams, for me on-field and mum more so off-field for that support, I have learnt heaps off them and they have sort of helped me get to the point where I am now. I used to slam it on my boot with both my hands and it got to a point there where he said if you keep doing it I wont go out for kicks outside with you until you learn how to drop it so it made me change pretty quick.”

Sam represented the Northern Territory at an under 12’s national carnival and whilst in the Northern Territory spent some time playing in the same team as two players that have gone on to play in the AFL, Brandon Parfitt with Geelong and Zac Bailey with Brisbane.

When the Walsh family returned to Victoria from the Northern Territory they lived in Ocean Grove and Sam attended St Joseph’s College in Geelong. Ocean Grove is located on the Bellarine Peninsula approximately 100 kilometres south-west of Melbourne and is 23 kilometres from Geelong. At the Under 16 National Championships in 2016 Walsh played all three games for Victoria Country and was named in his team’s best players for all three games including one game as the best player.

During 2017 Sam Walsh played TAC Cup football with the Geelong Falcons who had 15 wins and three losses during the 2017 TAC Cup home and away season to finish second on the ladder, percentage behind the Oakleigh Chargers. Walsh is named in the best players for Geelong’s thrilling two point Grand Final win against the Eastern Ranges at Marvel Stadium. In 2017 Walsh played 13 games for the Geelong Falcons, averaging 14.0 kicks, 15.2 handballs, 4.5 marks, 3.7 clearances and 4.5 tackles per game.

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Despite being a bottom-age player Walsh played all four games for Victoria Country at the 2017 Under 18 National Championships, performing well to average 12.8 kicks, 8.5 handballs, 4.3 marks, 1.5 clearances and 3.3 tackles per game. In the program for the Championships Walsh was listed as being 182 centimetres tall and weighing 68 kilograms.

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Late in 2017 Walsh spent some time training with AFL club Geelong as part of the NAB AFL Academy’s program which gave him a greater insight to what being on an AFL list would be like. On training alongside the likes of Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood and Gary Ablett Sam commented “They never fumble, they’re always hitting their kicks and their intensity is game-like all the time. I was pinching myself.”4

Throughout his junior career Walsh has impressed with his leadership and professionalism and he was named as one of the two Geelong Falcons co-captains for the 2018 season along with Oscar Brownless. After Walsh was named the AFL Players Associations best First Year Player for 2018 Oscar reflected on Walsh’s drive and determination during their time as Geelong Falcons team-mates commenting “Knowing Walshy through our junior playing days, I’ve come to learn and understand his willingness to go above and beyond in training or whatever it may be to better himself. Those attributes come through on game day and he’s been able to perform at such a high level and so consistently because of it. In our time at the Geelong Falcons there would have been players who were better runners athletically, but Walshy was never going to get beaten – that’s what makes him such a star.”5

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Walsh was named captain of Vic Country’s under 18 team for 2018. On his leadership Walsh commented to afl.com.au “I don’t try overly hard to be a leader, I just want to be the best person I can be. If you’re a good character around people you earn their respect, and I think after that you can lead by example.”6

In Round 3 of the 2018 Under 18 National Championships Vic Country played Vic Metro at the MCG in a curtain raiser to the AFL game between arch rivals Collingwood and Carlton. Walsh starred for Vic Country on the MCG, having a game-high 29 disposals, six inside 50’s, five clearances and a goal.

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Walsh played all four games for Vic Country at the 2018 National Championships and was named in his side’s best three players in all four games including two games where he was Vic Country’s best player. At the 2018 Under 18 National Championships Walsh played four games for Victoria Country averaging 15.5 kicks, 14.0 handballs, 3.0 marks, 4.5 clearances and 7.0 tackles per game. At the Under 18 National Championships Walsh won the Larke Medal which is awarded to the best player in Division 1. Walsh won the Vic Country Most Valuable Player award, was named in the under 18 All-Australian team as a midfielder and was also selected as the team’s captain. Sam was one of two Vic Country players selected in the team along with Kyle Reid who was selected as a defender. Walsh was a member of the AFL Academy and was highly regarded by his peers, winning the Ben Mitchell medal as the player best displaying the qualities of the AFL Academy.

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During the 2018 TAC Cup Sam Walsh played 12 games for the Geelong Falcons averaging 19.1 kicks, 12.9 handballs, 3.8 clearances and 4.8 tackles per game. Walsh polled 14 votes in the 2018 Morrish Medal to finish equal third, future Carlton team-mate Liam Stocker won the award with 18 votes.  Walsh was named rover in the TAC Cup 2018 team of the year, being one of two Geelong Falcons players in the team along with Connor Idun who was named at full-back.

At the draft combine at Marvel Stadium in early October 2018 Walsh performed well across the board and stood out in the endurance running tests, finishing equal second in the yo-yo test with a score of 22.1 and placed third in the two km time trial with a time of six minutes and seven seconds – three seconds behind the winner.

In the Walsh Tomorrows Heroes video AFL Draft expert Callum Twomey commented “You couldn’t have asked for a better season from Sam Walsh, he captained every team he was in, he won nearly every accolade that he was eligible for, he averaged 32 touches at TAC Cup level, he is the midfielder your team wants, only a couple are going to have a look at him because he is right at the pointy end of the draft pool, there is a reason why many clubs see him as the number one pick of this year’s draft.”

As expected Carlton selected Sam Walsh with the first pick at the 2018 National Draft, later in the draft Carlton selected Liam Stocker with pick 19 and Finbar O’Dwyer with pick 66. Stocker and O’Dwyer were both selected by Carlton after a live trade with Adelaide at the draft. Carlton also selected Ben Silvagni as a father-son selection with pick 70. To acquire Stocker Carlton traded their 2019 first round selection to Adelaide in exchange for pick 19 at the 2018 National Draft and Adelaide’s 2019 first round selection. Carlton had Stocker in the top 10 on their draft board for the 2018 National Draft which led to them instigating a discussion with Adelaide about a potential trade. In completing the Stocker trade Carlton had backed themselves in to climb up the ladder in 2019 and the trade created considerable discussion in the AFL community.

Carlton had finished last on the ladder in 2018 with two wins and 20 losses. Walsh became the fourth National Draft number one pick on Carlton’s list for the 2019 season, joining Marc Murphy (2005), Matthew Kruezer (2007) and Jacob Weitering (2015) whist another previous number one draft pick in Bryce Gibbs (2006) had been traded by Carlton to Adelaide in 2017. Carlton have won 16 VFL/AFL premierships with the most recent flag being in 1995 when a dominant Carlton team coached by David Parkin had a record of 23 wins and two losses across the home and away season and the finals. In 17 seasons from 2002 to 2018 Carlton only made the finals four times with three of these appearances being from 2009 to 2011 with Brett Ratten as coach and the most recent finals appearance with Mick Malthouse as coach in 2013 when they finished sixth. In Brendon Bolton’s first three seasons as coach from 2016 to 2018 the Blues had finished in chronological order 14th, 16th and 18th in an 18 team league, winning a total of 15 games in this three season period.

Walsh’s profile in AFL Record Season 2019 said “Averaging 32 touches in the TAC Cup last season and 29 for Vic Country during the NAB AFL Under 18 Championships, Walsh is just as proficient winning the ball outside the contest as he is on the inside. Excellent decision-maker, shows great composure under pressure and is an exceptional endurance athlete.”7 In AFL Record Season 2019 Walsh was listed as being 184 centimetres tall and weighing 80 kilograms.

At the first available opportunity Sam Walsh made his AFL debut at 18 years of age, being selected at half-forward by Carlton for the 2019 Round 1 season opener against Richmond at the MCG on Thursday night 21st March. Walsh was one of two Carlton players making their AFL debut along with Michael Gibbons whilst four of their team-mates were making their club debut after being recruited by the Blues from rival AFL clubs, Nic Newman – Sydney, Will Setterfield – GWS Giants, Mitch McGovern – Adelaide and Alex Fasolo – Collingwood. On AFL debut in front of 85,016 people Walsh had 16 kicks, eight handballs, six marks, an equal team-high five inside 50’s, four clearances and a goal assist.

Walsh received a Rising Star nomination in Round 4 for his game against Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium, having 14 kicks, 14 handballs – ranked second for Carlton behind Cripps with 15, six marks, six tackles, five inside 50’s, seven clearances – ranked second for the game behind Carlton captain Patrick Cripps with eight, 13 contested possessions, kicked a goal and had a goal assist in the two point loss. Carlton led by 10 points at three quarter time and retained the lead until late in the last quarter when Jack Bowes kicked a goal with 12 seconds left to give Gold Coast a two point lead. It was Carlton’s fourth consecutive loss of the season, however they had been competitive with only one loss in this period being by more than 20 points.

In the dying moments of the Round 5 game against the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium Carlton led 95 to 57 when Walsh kicked one of the most memorable goals of the season from a Carlton fan’s perspective. With seconds remaining in the game there was a boundary throw-in five metres in from the behind post in Carlton’s forward pocket. Matthew Kreuzer grabbed the ball out of the ruck and handballed to Paddy Dow who in turn handballed to Walsh, with some space but deep in the forward pocket on the non-preferred side for a right footer Walsh remained composed and kicked a right foot banana goal to enable Carlton’s score to reach triple figures for the first time in 1,051 days. Just after the ball went through the goals the final siren sounded and Walsh was mobbed by his jubilant Carlton team-mates. Appearing on Fox Footy program “On the Mark” Wash spoke about this goal saying “Yeah, being as I love my AFL footy so I sort of did know that it had been a while for the Blues to crack the hundred. At that point in time I was just thinking about singing the song with the boys and the ball’s thrown up and it lands in my lap and I just have a shot and hear the siren go, so gave it a little bit in the celebration because I was pretty pumped to get my first win, that was amazing with all the boys.”

The top three ranked players in the victory against the Western Bulldogs for SuperCoach ranking points were three Carlton players under 22 years of age, two 21 year olds in Harry McKay (153 points) and Samo Petrevski-Seton (136) followed by Walsh with 112 points, 24 year-old Carlton captain Cripps was ranked equal fourth with 110 points. When Carlton started singing their theme song in the rooms after the game Walsh was one of four Carlton players in the inner-circle celebrating their first win at the club along with Gibbons, McGovern and Newman. Another eight Carlton players from the winning team against the Western Bulldogs had played in less than 10  wins, being Caleb Marchbank (9th win), Samo Petrevski-Seton (8), Jack Silvagni (7), Zac Fisher (6), Harry McKay (3), Paddy Dow (3), Lochie O’Brien (3) and Cameron Polson (2), all-up 10 players from Carlton’s side had each played in less than 10 wins.

In a five point loss to Hawthorn at York Park Tasmania in Round 5 Walsh had 27 disposals comprised of 12 kicks and 15 handballs, in the process becoming the first player from VFL/AFL debut to have at least 24 disposals in their first six games, breaking the record of four games that had been set by Geelong mature age recruit Mark Bairstow in 1987. Walsh’s sequence of games with at least 24 disposals ended in Round 7 with 22 disposals against North Melbourne.

On the May 15th, 2019 episode of the Fox Footy Program ‘On the Mark’ Sarah Jones asked “You are playing alongside arguably the hottest player in the game at the moment in Patrick Cripps, what’s it like to have front row seats to his show every week?” Walsh responded “Yeah, Crippa is amazing, I got to live with him for three weeks at the start of my time at the club and he was great for me, I was trying to pick his brains as much as I could, because not only is he a very smart footballer and wants to help everyone else which is something that everyone loves about him and he is having a great year so far and he really leads from the front.”

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At the half-way point of the season Carlton were in last position on the ladder with one win from their 11 games following their 41 point Round 11 loss to Essendon at the MCG on Sunday 2nd June.  The following day Brendon Bolton was sacked as Carlton’s head coach, the club had only recorded four wins in their previous 43 games. One of Carlton’s assistant coaches in David Teague was appointed as Carlton’s caretaker head coach. Teague played 83 AFL games comprised of 33 for North Melbourne from 2001 to 2003 and 50 games for Carlton from 2004 to 2006. In his first season at Carlton in 2004 Teague playing as a defender won the John Nicholl’s Medal as Carlton’s best and fairest.

In1 Teague’s first game as caretaker head coach Carlton got out of the blocks slowly, conceding the first six goals of their Round 12 game against Brisbane at Marvel Stadium to trail by 37 points at the seven minute mark of the second quarter. Carlton fought back brilliantly to dominate from that point on, kicking 11 of the last 14 goals of the game to record an upset 15 point victory against Brisbane who had been fifth on the ladder after Round 11 with a record of seven wins and four losses. Against Brisbane Walsh played the best games of his AFL career to that stage to earn Brownlow Medal votes for the first time. Polling two votes for a brilliant performance in which he set game-highs for kicks and marks with 23 and 12 respectively, had nine handballs, five inside 50’s, six clearances,19 uncontested possessions and 14 contested possessions – ranked second for the game behind Cripps with 16 and laid four tackles. Cripps received the three Brownlow Medal votes after having 38 disposals comprised of 18 kicks and 20 handballs, and kicked a game-high four goals. Such was the influence that Cripps and Walsh had on Carlton recovering from a precarious position to record an unexpected memorable victory against the Lions that they were referred to as ‘Batman and Robin’ for their feats that day.

Reflecting on the season after winning the AFL’s Rising Star Award Walsh commented to carltonfc.com.au that after the Round 12 win against Brisbane he felt like “we’re going places” and went on to say “the Brisbane game was one of those turning points [for me]: I realised I can really make an impact and help the Club win games. There were a few moments which stood out. My first win is always going to be a very memorable one, [and] playing my first game. Individually, it’s nice to get these accolades but it’s a great club to be a part of.”8

In six games from Round 15 to Round 20 Walsh had at least 25 disposals and became just the second player in their debut season along with Toby Greene to earn votes in the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year Award in six consecutive games. Twice during this sequence Walsh polled in the Brownlow Medal, receiving one vote his performance in a seven point win against Sydney at the SCG in Round 17, having 19 kicks, nine handballs, three marks, an equal team-high six inside 50’s, a game-high eight bounces and kicked a goal. The win against Sydney was the first of three consecutive victories for Carlton with the club defeating Gold Coast by 24 points and Adelaide by 27 points in the following two games.

Against the West Coast Eagles at Marvel Stadium in Round 20 on Sunday 4th August, Sam had 31 disposals comprised of 13 kicks and a game-high 18 handballs to register his sixth consecutive game with at least 25 disposals. Walsh also kicked a goal of the week nomination at the 29 minute mark of the first quarter to extend Carlton’s lead to eight points. Walsh just inside 50 and running away from goal received a handball from Ed Curnow, whilst running away from goal he quickly turned towards goal when he was 55 metres out to evade Jarrod Cameron and after four steps towards goal kicked a skilful goal from 48 metres out. Against West Coast Sam had a team-high 21 uncontested possessions, 10 contested possessions, four clearances and polled two Brownlow Medal votes to be the only Carlton player in the votes.

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On the Fox Footy AFL 360 Coaches Night episode on 5th August 2019 Mark Robinson asked Carlton caretaker coach David Teague “Talking about personality, we’ve all seen Sam Walsh play and everyone absolutely admires him, tell us briefly, what sort of personality is Sam?” Teague responded “Professional, he is just super professional, I don’t think he even answers a question wrong, the way he goes about his business, he is our hardest trainer. His personality is actually just starting to come out, he has probably been doing what he thinks everyone else thought he should do for a bit, and he is just starting to show a little bit of bubble and who he is coming out which I think is a great thing because he just does everything right.” Robinson followed up with “Does he talk up in footy meetings, is he so assured of what’s going on and stoppage work and all of that he is really putting his hand up and saying right we’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do that, is he that kind of personality?” Teague replied “He is but he is actually so understanding that he probably sits back and goes it is not my place yet, even though he knows the answers and when he has to he’ll answer the questions and he gets them right but he has got a great respect for the guys around him that have been there for a while as well so it’s a good balance.”

On Thursday, August 15th Teague was appointed as Carton’s head coach, an appointment that had been considered very unlikely when Teague commenced in the caretaker role two months earlier. During Teague’s nine games as a caretaker coach Carlton recorded five wins and had four losses with two of these losses being by less than a goal. Under Teague Carlton had also been playing a more attacking brand of football. In Teague’s first game as permanent head coach in Round 22 against St Kilda at the MCG Carlton won by 10 points.

In Round 23 against Geelong at GMHBA Stadium Walsh had 12 kicks, 12 handballs, seven marks, four rebound 50’s four inside 50’s, a game-high 18 uncontested possessions, kicked a goal and polled one Brownlow Medal vote with Geelong players Dangerfield and Ablett polling the three and two votes respectively.

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From Round 12 to Round 23 Carlton won six of their 11 games to finish the season in 16th position with seven wins, two wins ahead of Melbourne in 17th  place and four wins ahead of the Gold Coast Suns in last place. During 2019 Carlton lost four games by less than a goal and their season with a young list was compared to the 2018 season of the Brisbane Lions who won five games, had several close losses and finished in 15th position, the Lions then rose sharply up the ladder in 2019 to make the finals for the first time in a decade, finishing second at the end of the home and away season but lost their two home finals.

On Sunday 8th September 2019 Carlton list manager Michael Agresta commented to afl.com.au on Carlton having the number one pick at the 2019 National Draft “We were probably always set on Sam. We had a lot of work to do through the trade period. There was a lot of talk about whether that pick was going to be traded. We didn’t actively seek a trade but if someone comes to you with something you can’t say no to, we could never really commit to Sam. But we probably knew Sam was our one a long way out.”9

In 2019 Walsh was one of three players to play all 22 games for Carlton along with Ed Curnow and Samo Petrevski-Seton, he averaged 13.5 kicks, 11.7 handballs, 5.1 marks, 3.1 tackles, 9.6 contested possessions, 3.0 inside 50’s, 2.0 rebound 50’s, 65.0% disposal efficiency and 84.0% game-time per match. Carlton list manager Michael Agresta commented on Sam’s debut season in the AFL “No way you could expect to get the output we got from Sam. I was really fortunate at the Swans when we had Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills who were both unbelievably prepared first-year players, but I’ve never seen anything like Sam. From the day he started training everything was 100 miles an hour. He kept getting himself up and never missed. I kept waiting for him to fatigue and that never happened. He just kept adapting.”10

Walsh was selected on the wing in the 22 under 22 team at the AFL Players Association Awards night on Thursday 29th August, being joined in the team by two Carlton team-mates – Jacob Weitering at centre half-back and Harry McKay in a forward pocket. Walsh won the Players Association’s best First Year  Player Award comprehensively, polling 400 votes to finish ahead of Connor Rozee (112 votes) and Sydney Stack (62). After presenting Sam Walsh with the award Nick Dal Santo commented “There are very few players that win this particular award and are also nominated as one of the three candidates for the MVP, how have you found the year?” Sam replied “Yeah, it is obviously a huge honour to win this award, the year itself it has been massive, I’ve loved every minute, it has been my dream to play AFL football so for that to become a reality this year and I have just been trying to give it my all week in and week out and a lot of my teammates here tonight so they always give me great support and I have loved the year.” Dal Santo commented “You had an incredible year, you had the most disposals of a first year player, was there something about going into the AFL that did surprise you or shock you?” Walsh responded “Yeah, it was definitely that just how full-on the weeks can be, obviously it is talked about a lot but you can’t really prepare yourself for it until you go through it and I’ve loved the journey, you grow each week and learn a lot from every game so I was very fortunate to be in that position this year.”

The following afternoon on Friday August 30th, Walsh was the overwhelming favourite for the AFL’s Rising Star, he fell just short of gaining a unanimous victory, receiving the maximum five votes from 10 of the 11 judges with Luke Darcy being the exception, awarding the maximum five votes to Port Adelaide’s Connor Rozee and giving four votes to Walsh. Walsh won the Rising Star Award with 54 votes ahead of Rozee in second place on 42 votes, Richmond utility Sydney stack was third on 28 votes. Amongst Rising Star eligible players in the 2019 home and away season Walsh ranked first for total disposals, kicks, handball,  uncontested possessions, contested possessions, clearances, effective disposals, metres gained and inside 50’s, third for marks and tackles.

The Rising Star award commenced in 1993 and Walsh became the first Carlton player to win the AFL award, becoming the fourth Carlton player to record a top four finish in the past five years, following current Carlton captain Patrick Cripps – second in 2015 with 41 votes, Jacob Weitering – third in 2016 with 26 votes and Charlie Curnow – fourth in 2017 with 27 votes. With Walsh’s victory Carlton completed the Rising Star double in 2019, following midfielder Madison Prespakis’ victory in the AFLW Rising Star Award, Prespakis like Walsh fell one vote shy of polling the maximum tally, receiving 49 of a possible 50 votes.

On his past 12 months Walsh commented “It definitely has been massive, the draft itself was amazing and to land at a club like Carlton I was extremely fortunate to represent the Blues, the history of the club is quite amazing so from day one I felt welcomed at the club, my teammates and everyone else have been a great support, there definitely the reason why I am standing up here today.” When asked what does this (winning the Rising Star Award) mean to you?” Walsh replied “As I said before it is definitely a huge honour, there’s so many great players in the AFL and obviously I look up to these guys, coming into the AFL season my goal was to do the … earn the respect of my teammates and that has landed me here thanks to the support of a lot of people.”

The Rising Star Award’s MC Neroli Meadows asked “It was an interesting start to the season at Carlton, how did you find it as a first year player.” Sam replied “Yeah it definitely was more of a tougher start but I still felt like we had a really tight group and the staff itself and the place still felt like it was in a good place but we just weren’t getting the wins on the board, I can assure you that we were working hard but just weren’t getting the results and for that to change in the middle of the year was great, and to have that energy around the club when you are winning is always helpful.”

At the 2019 Brownlow Medal Sam Walsh polled six votes, ranked equal second at Carlton along with Marc Murphy, behind Patrick Cripps who polled 26 votes and finished third overall seven votes behind the 2019 winner, Fremantle captain Nat Fyfe. Cripps was the only Carlton player that made the All-Australian team, being selected as the centreman.

At Carlton’s best and fairest on Friday, October 4th Wash won the Virgin Australia Best First Year Player Award. In the best and fairest Walsh was in second place on 67 votes after Round 12, 28 votes behind Patrick Cripps and just ahead of Ed Curnow on 65 votes, Jacob Weitering (61) and Lachie Plowman (60). In the second half of the season Curnow predominantly played in the midfield after spending a considerable amount of time in the forward line during the first half of the season. Cripps won the John Nicholls Medal as Carlton’s best and fairest on 143 votes, five votes ahead of the fast finishing Ed Curnow with defender Lachie Plowman third on 134 votes. Walsh finished fourth with 125 votes followed by Levi Casboult in fifth place on 116 votes and Jacob Weitering in sixth position on 110 votes.

Expectations were very high for Sam Walsh’s debut AFL season with Carlton in 2019, however with his skill-set of ball-winning ability, hard running, professionalism, durability and determination he was able to deliver a record breaking debut season and was a worthy winner of several awards including the league’s Rising Star Award.

By Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

1 https://www.foxsports.com.au/afl/afl-draft-2018-vic-country-midfielder-sam-walsh-says-he-would-love-to-be-the-no-1-pick/news-story/fb5f601d705ccabd9fc5a0852e7563c8

2 https://www.foxsports.com.au/afl/afl-draft-2018-sam-walsh-talks-carlton-cobden-and-family-as-he-enters-draft-as-pick-1-favourite/news-story/bc88331a8f0eb816ef406bf1636074f4

3 https://www.afl.com.au/news/2018-04-05/boot-banger-becomes-a-no1-draft-prospect

4 https://www.afl.com.au/news/2018-04-05/boot-banger-becomes-a-no1-draft-prospect

5 http://www.aflplayers.com.au/article/the-sky-is-the-limit-for-walsh/

6 https://www.afl.com.au/news/2018-04-05/boot-banger-becomes-a-no1-draft-prospect

7 AFL, AFL Record Season 2019, page 76

8 https://www.carltonfc.com.au/news/2019-09-01/walsh-officially-a-rising-star

9 https://www.afl.com.au/news/2019-09-08/the-day-cool-calm-walsh-suffered-a-sweaty-palms-moment

10 https://www.afl.com.au/news/2019-09-08/the-day-cool-calm-walsh-suffered-a-sweaty-palms-moment

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