AFL 2023: Carlton back injury, Sam Walsh; no return period

The Blues were dealt a major blow in the week before Christmas when Sam Walsh underwent back surgery, but the star midfielder is confident he will make a full return in 2023.

Carlton star Sam Walsh doesn’t set a timeframe for his return from back surgery but says he’s “on the move” again and will be working diligently on his rehabilitation.

Walsh underwent back surgery three days before Christmas, which hit his preparations for 2023 hard.

The 22-year-old missed the club’s Round 23 tie against Collingwood last year with a back problem that hasn’t resolved itself as hoped in the months that followed.

“I went through phases that were really good and then other phases where we had to try a few different things,” Walsh told Channel 7 on Wednesday.

“At my age we exhausted all other options and it was obvious that surgery was needed.”

Walsh underwent a microdiscectomy in his back to remove a bulging disc section and relieve pressure on a nerve.

Carlton said at the time that the operation would rule out Walsh “for the start of the 2023 home and away season” but gave no expected return date.

“When you say ‘back surgery,’ some people start to freak out. But I just have to treat it like any other surgery,” Walsh said.

“I’ve started to move and stuff, which is exciting. But from here we’ll come up with a little plan.

“I’ll have targets along the way that I need to hit and then I’ll know when I’m ready to play. Then we just have to weigh up whether this is the right time from a risk point of view.”

Walsh finished third in Carlton’s best and fairest season, behind only Patrick Cripps and Sam Docherty.

The 2018 No. 1 draft pick played 20 games last year, averaging 32.1 disposals, 4.4 clearances, and 6.3 scores.

In another injury concern for Carlton, television cameras filmed midfielder Matt Cottrell on crutches while nursing a stress injury in his right foot.

Cottrell had been one of the standouts on the practice track before Christmas.
The Blues officially return to pre-season training on January 16.


-Jay Clark

Nic Newman was a delivery man.

After brief stints in after-school landscaping and carpentry, the Carlton defender began supplying construction fasteners and tools to construction sites around Victoria.

Back in his tradie days, a big night at the MCG was a place where Newman would watch from the stands with his buddies, hoping that one day he might trade the cake in his hand for a yellow sherrin.

“Thank my lucky stars that someone gave a chubby kid from Frankston a chance,” Newman said.

“Because I honestly don’t know what else I would do.

“I did a few random jobs and it was interesting going to all the big construction sites in the area and delivering small parts, silicone and stuff like that.

“But I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t on my way to greatness in the construction industry.”

That’s why the former rookie, who was originally acquired by the Sydney Swans and then joined Carlton five years ago, rocks into work every day with a smile on his face and his sleeves rolled up.

Rather than supplying glue guns and nuts and bolts, the 29-year-old’s job these days is finding a safe passage from the Blues’ backline and finding pinpoint passes to Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow.

And after establishing himself as a regular with 19 games last season, the man who was voted best clubman in 2022 returned to practice a month early, as hungry as anyone to help Carlton celebrate his 10-year-old Overcoming drought at the finals.

The heartache of missing last September’s memorable defeat by a point to Collingwood was once again replaced by summertime excitement at Ikon Park.

The Blues know an incredible opportunity is at hand and while expectations and pressure will clearly mount, Newman says Carlton is ready to embrace the limelight that will clearly follow his football club next season.

The great and well-respected Port Adelaide analyst Kane Cornes has previously suggested the pressure could be “unbearable” for a club who may have “coughed up” an 8-3 start to the season.

Cracked by injuries, the Blues have had to win one of their last two games against either the Demons or Magpies, and missed by a hair’s breadth.

But as one of two players to turn 30 at the start of next season (Ed Curnow the other), Newman said the Blues are “prepared and ready to take the next step” under Michael Voss in 2023.

“Thursday night and Friday night games are exciting, you just love to be there,” said Newman.

“If you want to be a good team and play on the last day of the year and in big finals, then the big games throughout the season are as close as possible to those things and I think we’re going to be ready for whatever comes our way met.

“It’s all a great experience and we’re going to embrace it because as a player you see a game on Friday night and you look forward to it and that’s the approach we’re taking.”

Behind that, there were ongoing repairs in 2022 when a number of defenders were out including Zac Williams, Mitch McGovern and Jacob Weitering.

If it’s been difficult, Newman believes the reveal will benefit the Blues, who are hoping for more luck and continuity in their team next year.

But there is no magic wand and no major overhauls to the game plan.

Newman said the club “did a lot of things right” but was honest about their shortcomings in the post-season.

“We started really well and played great footy, but the game is brutal,” Newman said.

“And if you drop the ball or miss a little bit, you get stung.

“It’s happened in the last four games and we have no one else to blame and have nowhere else to look but ourselves.

“But there were some really positive aspects to some boots that we were able to produce, so for us it’s about building on this solid platform from last year.

“But nothing drastic changes. It’s just about getting better and paying attention to the details and the game plan in everything we do. Getting that a little bit more to the point and just getting some of those finer details right.

“We definitely need to earn the right to win a few more games next year. It’s up to us, and that’s exciting.”

Curnow and McKay have re-signed, Blake Acres adds another reliable running machine to the wing and the game has been rated as one of the softer runs in the league.

It starts with Richmond in the blockbuster season opener, and Newman has his sights set firmly on reuniting with Adam Saad and Williams in Round 1 after missing the final few games of last season with a broken leg.

Newman required plastic surgery and about 13 stitches after cutting his kneecap while attempting to attack a Crows opponent from behind.

His husband’s plastic cleats did the damage and ended Newman’s season as he was unable to bend his leg for about a month. Then it got infected.

“It was really just a little freak accident,” he said.

“It happens 100 times in a game because I tried to tackle him but my knee dragged over his studs and it just tore my knee.

“Then there was also an infection, so it was a little debacle.

“Everything is fine now but it was hard to watch from the sidelines because you feel so helpless and there’s nothing you can do about it.

“The players, fans, I think we all have the same feeling (missing finals).

“But there’s a great feeling about this place now and we’ve been stuck in it for about a month.

“The fire in my stomach is definitely there. I feel like I’ve learned some lessons along the way that have really helped me and I definitely want to make the most of this next little time.”

Newman’s journey was not easy, relying on a second chance in the rookie draft and then a fresh start at Carlton in a trade from Sydney Swans.

It was quick, he said, and Newman feels old seeing all the younger players in new apps and joking in ways he’s just beginning to understand.

But there’s no place he’d rather be.

“Some people might look at me like I made it the hard way, but I’m really grateful for all the lessons I’ve learned along the way,” he said.

“It’s an amazing lifestyle we live and I’m so grateful to have been doing this as a profession for as long as I have.

“I love coming to work every day and getting up and walking around and the younger guys are all blaming it on me.

“I see her on BeReal (photo sharing app) and I don’t get some of her jokes and I’m like how did that happen?

“But there is such a great vibe at the club and as much as success on the pitch drives me, when I look back at this place I want to look back and say I’ve helped create a positive culture.

“Hopefully that will lead to some success on the pitch because the Footy Club deserves it and the fans deserve it and the people who have been here a long time and have worked damn hard.

“So we’re doing everything we can.”

Originally released as AFL 2023: Carlton star Sam Walsh will go through rehab without a schedule when returning to the game AFL 2023: Carlton back injury, Sam Walsh; no return period

Ryan Sederquist

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