After successive years of finals action, but early dismissals, and without the constant disruption of off-field distractions like the 2010 Pre-Season, Carlton set out to make some real inroads in 2011. With the sales pitch of 'No Passengers' ringing in our ears, Carlton would take on the year with much the same list but with some late mature picks in Duigan and Twomey to see if we could finally achieve a Top 4 finish......something we hadn't done in our Decade of Shame.
As with prior years, the season began with a win over Richmond, before a stunning 119 point win over the Gold Coast away provided some real excitement - albeit with limited competition in what would become an AFL theme in 2011. A tight loss to the reigning Premiers, Collingwood, ensued, before a draw and 3 strong wins saw Carlton rise to the Top 4 and our hopes for respect if not glory rise with it.
A close loss to the super-impressive Geelong stopped the run of wins, before 4 wins on the trot cemented the Top 4 spot. The 4 wins was the first time we'd had such a run since 2009, and only the second time since 2001, in a sign that perhaps the memories of the previous decade could finally be binned. We were back!
Or so it seemed. A mid-season trough of 3 losses in 4 games - and one surprising loss to the declining Bulldogs - saw us risk the Top 4 spot to the resurgent West Coast Eagles. Another 4 wins on the trot stabilised the season, but as the season approached the Finals, Carlton remained on the precipe of finishing 5th. As the weeks counted down, the pressure mounted, and late losses to Hawthorn and St Kilda ensured we would finish 5th. With 15 1/2 wins it was still a great improvement year on year...
And so Carlton faced a third consecutive Elimination Final, but one at home - our first final in Melbourne since 2001!. Despite dire weather conditions and an Essendon-loving media (Oh the Messiah!), a beautiful Melbourne day greeted a stunning 62 point victory over our old / recent enemy, and Carlton was set for a Semi Final - again for the first time since 2001.
The Semi would be away to the Eagles. A strong year was at risk in front of a massive crowd and the Top-4 Eagles. Gibbs, Kreuzer, Waite were all missing, but the ragtag Blues would venture to Patersons to take on last year's cellar dwellars. In a heartbreaking but breathtaking game - and let's be honest, our forward line injuries meant we had minimal structure but we just kept on scoring - Carlton would lose by 3 points in the West, with our Season 2011 finishing on both an emotional low but a pure effort high.
Midfielder Marc Murphy finished the year with the AFLCA Player of the Year Award after breaking the club record for most disposals in a season finishing with 699.
Despite the finish, throughout the year, we had stayed at 5th or above - for the first time since 1995 - and had our highest number of wins since 2001. The team was emerging but just couldn't knock off any of the top teams.
Season 2012 could not come soon enough. The Blues set to work on a breakthrough year...
Coach: Brett Ratten
Leading Goal-Kicker: Andrew Walker - 56 goals
Best and Fairest Winner: Marc Murphy
Ed Curnow, Nick Duigan, Matthew Watson, Zach Tuohy, Rhys O'Keeffe, Wayde Twomey
Debuts (Carlton): Jeremy Laidler, Andrew Collins
200 Games (Carlton / AFL): Ryan Houlihan
200 Games (AFL): Heath Scotland, Chris Judd
150 Games (Carlton): Heath Scotland
100 Games (Carlton / AFL): Jordan Russell, Bryce Gibbs
50 Games (Carlton / AFL): Aaron Joseph, Jeffery Garlett
50 Games (AFL): Robert Warnock
Retirements: Ryan Houlihan
Interesting Fact: Carlton behinds before 1934 (between 1897 and 1933, when the behind scorers were not listed) and rushed behinds from 1934 to 2011 equalled 9,999 points of Carlton's total of 30,162 points.