Carlton have hit back at claims from AFL pundit Kane Cornes that the Blues are a better side without Harry McKay and should leave the forward out of Saturday night's preliminary final against Brisbane at the Gabba. The Blues take on the Lions in their first grand final qualifier for 23 years, with McKay almost a certain to return to the side after missing last week's thrilling victory over Melbourne through concussion.
Cornes argued this week that Carlton's forward line operated more effectively without McKay in the side and that his well publicised struggles in front of goals in 2023 "adds pressure to the rest of the playing group. “I can’t trust him in a final,” Cornes said about the 2021 Coleman Medal winner on Nine’s Footy Classified.
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“Michael Voss has said he would play if he’s fit, but I wouldn’t play him. I think they’re a better team without him just to be brutally honest. I think his issues can infiltrate the psyche of the group.
“If he’s missing goals in the first quarter from 10m out directly in front I think it’s an issue for them, and I think they’re playing pretty well without him. I think he adds pressure.”
Carlton adamant they are better with Harry McKay in the side
Carlton forwards coach Ash Hansen says such commentary around McKay left him "flabbergasted", and insisted McKay's presence was crucial to his side's attack. Hansen says the two-point win over Melbourne in last week's semi-final - in which Blues spearhead Charlie Curnow was well-held by Demons defender Steven May - offered proof as to how McKay's presence can help his teammate's thrive.
“I understand it creates great debate... but this is a really easy question – we’re a better team with him in it,” he said. “Sometimes it’s intangible what players can do for your group... I think guys walk taller when Harry’s out there, it reduces Charlie’s (Curnow) workload which allows him to be more energetic and dynamic in other contests because he’s not having to get to everything.
“Harry is super important for us – I think in the last game he played he was the leading score involvement player on the ground before he went off.” Blues coach Michael Voss praised McKay's "vulnerability" earlier in the season when discussing his struggles with the boot this season.
The 2021 Coleman Medallist has kicked an underwhelming 27 goals to go with 27 behinds in 2023 - which is a far cry from his competition-leading 58 goals in 2021. Set shots have been a particular problem for McKay, whose preferred method is to snap on his left foot. That has simply not been working for him this season like it has in the past and Hansen admits plans are underway to address his goal-kicking in the off-season.
“Just having more time to make those adjustments, which is really hard in-season to be able to do – we’ll do an assessment of where those shots are, be really deliberate with the practice and get to work on it,” he said. “There’s a level of urgency that he wants to get it right, and he’ll put the time into it.
“Sometimes the humility piece is understanding where you’re at, but certainly we don’t want him thinking there’s a microscope on him because that just inflames the problem even more. He’ll have his moment, and I’m confident as his coach that he’ll take it.”
If McKay completes his concussion protocol as expected, he will return to the Blues' starting side alongside Jack Martin, who has served his one-match suspension for striking. Hansen faces a tough call on who makes way for McKay and Martin, with Matt Kennedy, Jesse Motlop, Matt Owies and David Cuningham are among the players most likely to be on the chopping block.
"That's what I get paid to do. It's a great problem to have," Hansen added. "We're certainly going to lose some sleep over it - not through confusion but just by making the right selection call to give the team the best chance to compete and win a prelim."
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