Amongst the celebrations for Nick Stevens in the week of his 200th game of AFL football, we should be mindful of the severe neck injury he incurred over 2006 / 2007 and the chance that he may have never made it back to represent the Blues. Whilst Stevens has thankfully returned, the risk of “Career Limiting Injuries” remains in football - many Blues in our history have suffered from devastating injuries, with careers ended or curtailed in a single fleeting moment whilst out there in the sporting arena. The Blueseum would like to recognize and acknowledge such Blues, for those fleeting moments undoubtedly limited the careers and our adulation for the Carlton players listed below.

1. Noel O'Brien sustained an ankle injury - 31 games / 118 goals in 1954 / 1955

Noel O'Brien was a Full Forward who looked set for an outstanding career for Carlton – and in an era where Carlton was starved of success he ‘could have been anything’ for the Blues.

Carlton had recruited O’Brien from Echuca, and after a relatively quiet 1954 O’Brien boomed into a gun forward with 73 goals for the year. O’Brien’s 73 goals had him the second highest for the year and a comfortable winner of Carlton’s goal-kicking for the second successive year.

From that high came an astounding low - O’Brien would never recover from an injury sustained in a pre-season practice match in 1956, ending his career. Such was his impact that Carlton’s top goalkicker for 1956, Kevan Hamilton, would only manage 22 goals – less than 1/3 of O’Brien’s tally for the previous year.

2. Chris Pavlou who suffered a career ending knee injury. 31 games; 9 goals; 1958 - 1961

A young Chris Pavlou may have had a relatively slow start to his career, but would be 2/3 of the way through a break-out season when his career would tragically end. Over 1961, Pavlou would come 4th in the Best & Fairest. “I kicked 3 against North Melbourne once as a rover, and one game on the wing against Melbourne I kicked 1 goal 4 against Brian Dixon. I was pretty happy with that but in the press Lou Richards remarked that I’d “Lost the game for Carlton” with those misses, but I had hit the post 3 times!”

Through the year, Pavlou would play 14 games off the wing and earn 8 Brownlow Votes – second only for Carlton behind Brownlow Medallist John James. “One day I played against Bob Skilton in 1961 – I got the Best on ground, 3 Votes for the Brownlow, and the day after I was asked to Channel 7 for an interview with Mike Williamson where I got a pair of shoes and a tin of paint as my prize.”

Later in the year, Pavlou’s promising career would come to its crushing end. “We were playing Footscray at the old Western Oval in Round 14, 1961. It was raining and windy. I just happened to go to the Half Forward Flank out on the wing, trying to keep the ball in. In my endeavour to keep the ball in, on the line, a Footscray player slipped and my leg locked underneath. I went back, but I had heard the snap…I couldn’t come off as we had both reserves on. With 10-15 minutes to go, the Coach put me in the forward pocket. I was in agony, but the ball approached, and I went to go in…but nothing happened. I collapsed and was taken off shortly after.” Pavlou had severely damaged his ACL and not only was his season over, but his playing career at this level too.

3. Brian Kekovich sustained a back injury – 34 games / 97 goals in 1967 / 1968

The older brother of North Melbourne champion Sam Kekovich, Brian was a star full-forward from Myrtleford who arrived at Princes Park in 1967 with huge expectations on his shoulders. In his 34 games for Carlton in two seasons, Kekovich showed the same mercurial ability as his brother later would, before his promising career was cruelly cut short by a chronic back injury in the midst of Premiership celebrations.

At 187 cm and 86 kg, with strong hands and a powerful left foot kick, Kekovich settled into a Carlton team on the rise and booted 36 goals in his first season to be our leading goal-kicker. A year later, Carlton would march into the 1968 Grand Final with a 36 point upset win over the Bombers in the second semi-final. In mid-season of that year, Brian had hurt his back when he was crunched in a marking duel, but ignored the pain and played on. He had made a big impression in only his second year of VFL football, booting 59 goals by the time the Blues met Essendon yet again on Grand Final day.

A strong, swirling cross-field wind turned the '68 Grand Final into a close, mistake-ridden encounter. The match was highlighted by Kekovich's four goals in Carlton's winning tally of seven; and wingman Garry Crane's superb game on the wing to be voted Best on Ground. Carlton won by 3 points to claim our first flag since 1947. Only a short while after the Grand Final - when Kekovich sought treatment for his back - the diagnosis came as a total shock. He was advised to retire from football immediately - or risk spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Unfortunately for him and for Carlton, Brian's short but successful career in the number 16 Navy Blue guernsey was over.

4. Adrian Whitehead sustained a foot injury – 63 games / 22 goals in 1994 – 1999

Adrian Whitehead was the youngest member of Carlton’s all-conquering 1995 Premiership team. He was an exciting and talented player before his career was cut short by a serious foot injury only two years later.

In that year, history tells us that Carlton lost only two games early before commencing a fabulous 16-match winning streak highlighted by our crushing 10-goal Grand Final victory over Geelong. Whitehead was one of nine Blues who didn’t miss a match all year. With his confidence growing, he had evolved into a hard-running, creative defender who regularly backed his judgement to launch attacks from deep in defence. He was outstanding in Carlton’s victory over the Adelaide Crows in round 15, earning an AFL Rising Star nomination.

By 1997, the potholes in Carlton’s team were beginning to show, and Blues’ supporters were looking for some positive news in the wake of the retirement of champions Stephen Kernahan, Diesel Williams and Justin Madden – all of whom proved irreplaceable. Carlton struggled throughout the year and were on the way to another heavy defeat against Geelong in round 20 when Whitehead hobbled off the ground injured. After treatment he returned to the field, but a subsequent examination revealed serious damage to the nerves and tendons in his troublesome foot.

He was unable to play at all in 1998 as he underwent a series of delicate operations. Late in the year he was back on his feet, but another season had begun by the time the club welcomed him back into training. Eventually, he was named on the bench for the round 13 game of 1999, against the North Melbourne Kangaroos at the MCG. Sadly, Carlton were beaten decisively, and Adrian realised that it was futile to continue, and retired immediately.

As a contact sport, we could indeed continue to tell the stories of careers ended or curtailed, such as Greg Kennedy, Tom Simmons and Matthew Allan. Beyond those that we know of, there would surely also be those injuries hidden or managed as careers advanced. We all know that injuries are common in our great game, yet perhaps amongst all of the stories of woe we do not celebrate the returns from devastating injury as best we could.

For more stories of players past who've suffered career ending or threatening injuries, please click here for more details.