Denis Pagan had been appointed by outgoing President John Elliott, but incoming President Ian Collins publicly stated his support for the appointment - although the rumoured cost of the appointment would be an ongoing issue for the Club. But perhaps the bigger issue was the draft penalties of 2002, which would deprive the Blues of Goddard and Wells - plus other selections in the 2003 Draft - and severely dent our list of young players just as we tried to get it started again after years of trading away draft picks. No doubt about it, the Blues were in trouble, and the question was, how long would we be in trouble for?
However, despite the changes off the field, there was a relatively small number of playing changes to start the season. It appeared that despite the mess, or perhaps because of it, Pagan had trusted the views of the Carlton Match Committee and a minimal turnover eventuated. Erratic players such as Brendan Fevola, who Wayne Brittain had reportedly intended axing were given a second chance.
Some promising performances earlier in the season, with 3 wins in the first 8 rounds and a few relatively close losses, suggested perhaps that the Blues were not as bad as 2002, and perhaps the injuries that we had in 2002 were a main driver to our last spot. But from this point on, despite a close nailbiting win over the Tigers, the season appeared to unfold. First it was a pummelling at home to Brisbane, and then, a few weeks later, a horrific smash against the Eagles at Subiaco where the Blues were torn apart, despite the promising debut of a young tearaway named Laurence Angwin. In amongst the wreckage was a close away loss to the Dockers, in which Captain Brett Ratten would again fall victim to injury, promptly retiring the week after as it was clear to him that his career was over.
By the end of the season, the loss of confidence in the playing group would see a spate of smashings, including the worst of all to the Kangaroos in the last round of the season. The Blues would come 15th for 2003, and only be saved from last by 2 points over the Bulldogs, as our percentage had fallen to 66.7 with all of the trashings we had to endure as 2003 ended.
By this stage, the press had picked up rumours of dissent, and commented that a number of senior players would be moving on. In fact, one of the largest 'cleanouts' in AFL history would take place at the end of the season, with the Carlton careers of Beaumont, Murphy, Allan and McKernan coming to an end. In addition, the careers of Carlton champs Andrew McKay and Adrian Hickmott would come to an end, through age and injury respectively, robbing the team dramatically of experience going into 2004.
If you would like to read a little more about the list turnover at the end of Season 2003, please read here.
Despite a series of trades and late draft picks, consecutive years at the bottom really required early draft picks but the Blues were still to be prevented from Rounds 1 and 2 of the National Draft. Given our 4 wins of the season - Kangaroos, Richmond, Essendon and the Bulldogs, we received a priority pick which would deliver us Andrew Walker. Given the lack of other early draft picks, the expectations on young Walker would be immense.... but more on that in 2004....
Brett Ratten / Andrew McKay (post Round 10)
Coach: Denis Pagan in his first year at the helm
Leading Goal-kicker: Brendan Fevola - 63 goals
Best & Fairest: Andrew McKay
250: Brett Ratten
200: Anthony Koutoufides
150: Simon Beaumont
100: Anthony Franchina, Darren Hulme, Matthew Lappin (Carlton), Justin Murphy (Carlton)
Debuts: Jarrad Waite, Jonathon McCormick, Brad Fisher, Karl Norman, Kade Simpson, Laurence Angwin
Debuts (Carlton): Barnaby French, Mick Martyn