No half measures for new Blues coach

THE SCALE of Daniel Harford's task at Carlton had been laid bare for him.

Five straight losses to end last season resulted in an AFL Women's wooden spoon for the Blues, with the club's inaugural coach departing and whispers that a host of key players might follow.

When captain Brianna Davey was linked to Collingwood, the unrest as Carlton searched for its new coach reached boiling point.

Harford was appointed in April with the idea of turning the tide. And quickly.

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Widely praised for the energy and enthusiasm he brought as a senior assistant coach with the Magpies AFLW team in 2018, Harford – who spent the 2004 season with the Blues as a player – got to work.

First, he would change the attitude of the players off the field. Then, the gameplan on it.

His primary focus was reaching out to every player individually, starting with Davey, to ease their concerns and convince them Carlton was the best place for their footy.

"I certainly made a beeline for the ones that had been discussed," Harford told AFL.com.au.

"I knew Collingwood was going hard at Bri, so as soon as I got the job I made a very quick phone call to sit down and have a chat with her.

"To her credit, she didn't ever really want to go, so she didn't take too much convincing. She just wanted to know that someone was going to come in and have a plan in place that was going to drive the place forward.

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"I was savvy enough to convince her that day," he said with a laugh.

"She wants to be a Carlton person all the way through, so we didn't have to do too much convincing. It was just a matter of articulating a vision of what it should look like and what it will look like.

"Hopefully, I've sold that vision pretty well."

So, what is that vision?

Harford says it's attractive football that is fun and, ultimately, successful.

"A good season looks like a premiership," Harford said.

"In this competition, we've seen in the last couple of years that you can turn around a bad season really quickly.

"We will be a better team. Where (our plan) takes us, I don't know. But we will be a much better team.

"Hopefully that has great reward at the end of it. If it doesn't, but we're better, that's OK. I'm pretty confident we'll be right."

Things went south quickly for the Blues in 2018 after winning their first two matches.

Davey went down with a season-ending right knee injury late in round two against Greater Western Sydney. That happened the same week coach Damien Keeping had fell ill and would miss a fortnight. The result was a campaign that quickly spiralled out of control.

Harford can understand why, given the circumstances.

"I thought they would be genuine contenders at the start of last season," the former Hawthorn on-baller said.

"But when you've got situations like the ones that happened last year (Keeping not being able to coach), you lose continuity for a couple of weeks. That's difficult for anyone.

"Then your best player, your captain and your marquee player goes down. You don't just lose the on-field stuff, but the off-field as well, particularly in a competition where the good players are really good players and they make a big difference.

"The psychological blow, I have no doubt, was huge for them. Once you're in the downward spiral, it's hard to arrest that. Especially in a short (seven-game) season, where you go 2-2 and all of a sudden, you're looking down the barrel," Harford said.

"I was surprised initially but having learnt a bit more about how things happened and what happened as a result, I'm not surprised. It probably would've happened to most teams in that situation."

Despite last year's poor performances, Harford still believes the building blocks to make a successful AFLW side are in place.

The appointment in June of experienced player, coach and administrator Nicole Graves in a new role as general manager of women's football was widely lauded.

The team still has genuine top-level players at both ends of the field, with Davey and Nicola Stevens down back and Darcy Vescio and Tayla Harris up forward. The Blues also started to rebuild a young midfield around last year's No.3 pick Madison Prespakis.

The key now is to change the attitude – and the playing style – of the team.

"I'm really confident we've got a good side," Harford said.

"It's just a matter of putting all of the pieces together for the girls to shake off what's happened in the last couple of years and to believe and trust in what we're doing and put it all together without fear of failure.

"It's like when you play golf. If you think, don't hit it in the water, you always hit it in the water. If you think about the bad things, more often than not they'll happen.

"We've just got to keep being really positive with the girls, because there's a hell of a lot of talent in this squad. We've seen it already, even from the last month of training, they've developed so quickly. They're starting to believe what we're doing is right," he said.

"When you get that across the board, you get a really positive outcome."

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