Just over four years ago Charlie Curnow had the footballing world at his feet.
The young Belbrae product had just kicked a then-career-record seven goals against the Bulldogs in front of a pulsating Docklands crowd.
It was the last full game he played for more than two years.
Five knee injuries in two years take their toll. It’s hard to know how injuries affect someone until they try to come back. In 2021 he kicked just two goals across four games as the Blues faded to a 13th-place finish.
Many whispered about his future, and whether he’d be the same player he was. Even Curnow had doubts, especially around the physical parts of the game.
Since those first tentative steps back on the field there has been no better goalkicker in the game than Curnow. When he’s on song few can match the sheer excitement he can produce.
He can kick them almost any way they come. Whether snapping either way or from a set shot, Charlie not only knows where the goals are but also how to get the leather through them.
After a rough patch in the middle of the season and an injury to his running mate Harry McKay, Curnow has led the Blues to the cusp of finals in a historically tight season.
This is how Charlie Curnow has gotten himself on the edge of joining the rare club of two-time Coleman Medalists.
Feeding the beast
Last Sunday afternoon, something unusual was happening. Something that hadn’t happened in over 40 games for Charlie.
He was being held goalless.
In a low-scoring tussle Curnow was able to set up two goals, but with just eight minutes to go he was set to finish without a goal since the first round of the 2022 season.
Far more importantly the game was in the balance. It was an eight-pointer, the type of game that can swing the make-up of September with just a kick or two.
The Curnow brothers are loving life together at Carlton.(Getty Images: Dylan Burns)
And then Curnow’s idol came onto the ground. Few players get to play with their childhood inspirations, but Charlie Curnow is lucky.
Before the season started Curnow elaborated on who inspired him as a footballer.
“When Ed got drafted to Adelaide it was really big. I loved watching it. Loved watching him play footy when I was younger. I used to watch him play school footy at Geelong College in the ones. So I loved watching him doing that and seeing him progressing to getting drafted.”
Ed Curnow is the senior statesman of the Blues. He’s the only player in the team over 30 — and at 33 he clears the barrier easily. The Blues gave him a second chance after he got delisted at Adelaide.
Luckily for both brothers, Charlie slid down the draft order in 2015, able to join his brother at their family club. It was seeing Ed get drafted that spurred Charlie to where he is today.
Ed Curnow stepped onto the Docklands deck and immediately made a difference. Stepping into empty space, he received a clean ball from Jesse Motlop and immediately spotted Charlie one-out deep with Callum Wilkie. The Saints rushed over to support Wilkie immediately. Curnow ensured the ball hit the deck, and the now-free Blake Acres mopped up the loose ball.
In the background Charlie worked back into space, waiting to do what he does best. Acres handballed to Curnow, who snapped the sealer off two steps.
That kick to Charlie in the forward line wasn’t just from brotherly knowledge — it’s also part of a clear Carlton game plan across the last three years. This year Curnow has had the second most targets inside 50 across the league, trailing only Nick Larkey.
In 2021, Harry McKay was second for targets inside 50. Last year, both McKay and Curnow were in the top five. McKay won the Coleman in 2021 to boot — the first leg of a historic club double. No team has had different players win the Coleman Medal in consecutive years before the Carlton pair did so.
A big part of kicking bags is getting the opportunity to do so.
Carlton’s two big marking targets monopolise their approach entering 50. No side has kicked it to their two targets more than Carlton.
Every forward also has their favourite ball users to get them the ball. Curnow was asked before the season by Carlton media who his favourite kicker was. After only a beat he replied with Adam Cerra.
This season Carlton has used a variety of distributors to get the ball inside 50. But it hasn’t been Cerra who has targeted Curnow the most.
Sam Walsh has delivered the ball to Curnow on a platter when he has played this year. Walsh’s silky ball use going inside 50 helps Curnow get on the lead and into space. He’s not the only one, with Docherty and Cripps also helping Curnow do damage on the scoreboard. Oddly enough Cerra’s entries haven’t led to many scores this year.
But who gets Curnow the ball is only half the story.
The scoring makeup of each forward is a bit different. Some like to work a bit deeper, and more physically, one-out without much running. Others work the pocket game and lead to the less preferable spaces. Some like to work on the lead, others duck into open space.
Curnow is no different, with his own way of turning inside 50 entries into points.
Curnow has a pretty good balance in how he gets shots. This speaks to his ability to time his efforts in the air to win the ball in front of defenders and his ability to recover when the ball is on the ground.
Breaking it down a little further reveals an interesting trend. This year he’s tapping into a less common (and less reliable) source to generate his scoring shots and goals.
Curnow generates more shots from free kicks than any other player in the league. Some might believe that this is due to favourable umpiring, but instead it speaks to the physical attention he draws from opposition sides trying to stop him. If you give him too much space, he can burn opponents on the lead. If a kick goes to his advantage in a one-on-one, he’s very good at protecting space and forcing opponents to make mistakes.
It’s not just free kicks that are spurring Curnow on the path to his second Coleman Medal. He’s also kicked more goals from marks than any other player in the league this year — raking in the ball from both contested and uncontested situations.
When he gets the ball on a set shot he’s also very accurate in finding the middle of the big sticks. He’s practically automatic from inside 30, and accurate going all the way to beyond 50.
Curnow is also deadly from general play, with his ability to slot them on both sides of the body key to his goalkicking success. Charlie’s ability at ground level is great for a big man, a lot of whom don’t convert well off the deck.
The final march
Carlton sits in fifth place with just three games to play. All three games come against tough opponents, with Melbourne, the Suns and the Giants all still in the finals mix heading into round 22.
Curnow also sits just five goals ahead of Taylor Walker in the race to the Coleman. Like all players, team success comes first for Curnow, but kicking bags might directly influence if Carlton makes September.
In the past two seasons, Carlton has won 17 of 23 games in which Curnow has kicked at least three goals (with one draw). Where he’s kicked less than three goals, Carlton has won just six of 20 games.
Sides may try to curb his impact like the Saints did on the weekend by sitting players in front and liberally throwing extras at contests. It will be down to the other Blues forwards to make opposition defences pay.
For Curnow and the Blues, the time to deliver is now.
Source: AFL NEWS ABC