No Harf measures: Carlton coach realistic about 2020 challenges

DANIEL Harford is under no illusions.

While his Carlton side might have been one of the stories of last year's AFLW season, he is not getting carried away. And he is reiterating that message to his playing group this summer.

The beneficiaries of a weak Conference B last year, the Blues defied the odds having lost their opening two games of last season to rise from a last-place finish in 2018 to the Grand Final in 2019.

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But as Harford prepares for his second season at the helm of Carlton's women's program, his evaluation of his maiden campaign in the hot seat is rather simple.

"If you combine the ladders, we were the fifth-best team," Harford told womens.afl.

"We did what we had to do to put ourselves in a position to contend. That's what you can do in a conference system, so we made the most of that opportunity. But the biggest thing we gained out of the last year was a belief that we can.

"That was something that the girls needed to live and see and they got that. Clearly, it didn't end the way we would have liked. But we put ourselves in that position and I don't think anyone at the football club imagined that was possible at the start of the season."

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Carlton's remarkable run to the Grand Final last season featured four wins in five games to close out the home and away campaign, before a resounding victory over Fremantle in the preliminary final to qualify for the competition's showpiece event.

Blues players celebrate their preliminary final win over Fremantle, but were no match for Adelaide a week later. Picture: Getty Images

However, the Blues were humbled by the Crows in the decider – managing just two goals for the match in a demoralising 45-point loss at the Adelaide Oval.

For Harford, the manner of that particular defeat was a sign of just how far the group will still have to improve for it to challenge once again this season.

"What we did last year won't stand up this year," Harford said.

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"We're pretty realistic about that, so we're trying to evolve the group in terms of their individual development and also our layers and modes of play.

"That's our challenge from a coaching perspective this season, to be able to teach that over the next three months and sort that out."

Daniel Harford hugs Blues star Darcy Vescio after the Grand Final loss. Picture: AFL Photos

Carlton's ability to profit from a weak Conference B was a significant talking point throughout the season, as the Blues qualified for the finals relatively routinely despite an indifferent 4-3 record.

Four of the five teams in Conference A won the same amount of games, with every side in that particular division also having a far greater percentage than Carlton in Conference B, though two of them didn't qualify for the finals due to the tiered system.

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This season, the club finds itself in a more even conference alongside Fremantle, Melbourne, the Western Bulldogs, Collingwood, St Kilda and West Coast. Not that Harford would know.

"From my end, not much analysis goes into it," he said.

"For us, this time of the year is important to teach. I'm not really worried about who is in the conference or how we match up against them, I'm not too stressed about that at the moment.

"We've got to build our game to go to another level and that's all we're focused on. Thirty percent of our list is brand new, there are layers to our game that even the established girls haven't seen … so who is in the conference, I actually don't care. I just don't care.

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"How many teams have we got in the conference? Seven? If you asked me for the other six teams, I reckon I could give you four or five of them.

"Once round one comes around and I know who we're playing and we've had our summer of training and education, then I might start to care and pay more attention. But I have no control over them, all I can help control is what we're doing."