The key to a successful AFL season can often be as simple as having some 'luck' with injuries and having a squad play some consistent footy with a stable gameday 22.
But as just about every team in the league knows, injuries are a part of footy, and aside from luck, persevering through adversity is what separates the good teams from the not-so-good ones come the pointy end of the season.
For Carlton, it's been a testing start, yet a fruitful one, as the club sits 7-2 for the first time since 1996. Behind only West Coast (43) -- who have suffered personnel issues beyond which the league has previously seen -- Carlton (along with the Western Bulldogs) have used the most players so far this season with 36.
Conversely, Melbourne have used the fewest players (30), and even that number is misleading given it includes Christian Salem who played just 15 minutes before going down with injury, Kade Chandler who has played 36 minutes in total in 2022, and Toby Bedford who has played twice and been the unused sub 6 times. Brisbane, too have been 'lucky'; They've used 33 players but 16 have played every game which is three more than any other side.
Back to the Blues, it's the side's defensive half of the ground which has struggled for continuity. Going back to the offseason, they were tested when key back Liam Jones retired as he didn't want to adhere to the league's COVID-19 vaccination policy.
But throughout the early parts of season 2022, key Blues have been in and out of the side through injury and other means - including coach Michael Voss who missed through health and safety protocols in Round 2.
The backline in particular, has been hit hard. Carlton brought in Oscar McDonald for Round 1, who has succumbed to back issues in Round 2. Next it was Mitch McGovern who looked comfortable in the back half before he too went down with hamstring troubles. Lewis Young, who the club brought in for pick 52 (gained from trading Sam Petrevski-Seton to West Coast) became solidified in the gameday 22 before he was forced to sit against the Giants through protocols. Luke Parks and Liam Stocker have played but got injured, while Lachie Plowman has been called in at times to fill the gaps left by a rising toll. Zac Williams, having a quietly good year off half back, is the latest casualty with what looked like a serious lower leg injury.
It's brought about a mantra at Carlton. One perhaps familiar with Hawthorn fans going back to the Alastair Clarkson days. It's all about the 'next man up', and after Carlton's stirring 30-point win over GWS on Sunday -- the first over the Giants at their western Sydney home -- it was an almost rehearsed line trotted out by president Luke Sayers on Twitter, but also Voss in his press conference, and ardent member of the 'back six', Nic Newman.
Congrats everyone at the Carlton footy club. That's a ripping win! #nextmanup— Luke Sayers AM (@LukeSayers) May 15, 2022
Voss in particular was glowing of his defence given the adversity the club has faced, praising Brodie Kemp who was brought up as key back help.
"I'm really proud of [the back six], the way they've gone about it," Voss said in his press conference. "They haven't complained, they haven't talked about what they don't have, they've just got on with the job.
"We've spoken about 'next man in', and we've needed a few of those conversations. The fact that these [players] have been able to come in and have been able to own the positions, they've had high accountability and what they've wanted to achieve as a back six or seven, they've had a standard they want to stick to. The next guy steps in."
Following the victory, Newman told ESPN the ability of the playing group to maintain standards regardless of the magnet on the whiteboard spoke to the "maturity" of the club as it hunts its first finals berth since 2013.
"I think in the past we would have dropped the games we've won this year," Newman said.
"We've had a mentality of 'next man up' and that was a good example of that. I think we've got a lot of confidence in our whole list. We saw with [Brodie Kemp] coming in - he's played a bit forward and a bit in the backline this year, and we had full confidence in Kempy - he's been in good form in the reserves.
"Even [Jack Newnes] came back for Zac Williams, it feels like we've got changes coming through the backline every week, but we're rolling with it, and the guys coming in are in form and confident, and we're playing as a good unit."
Voss said it was important to recognise achievements like a breakthrough win at Giants Stadiums as they galvanise the group and instill belief.
"I think as you're having a transformational year, and that's essentially what we are having, we're having great transformational moments. They're important to have, if along your journey you can have really defining wins," Voss said.
The coach, and Newman, both lauded former co-skipper Sam Docherty for his form in defence as well. Following two knee reconstructions and two fights with testicular cancer, Docherty is averaging career-high disposals, and played 95% game time against the Giants - and typifies the grit and resilience on show across the wider playing group.
Newman described Docherty as "one of the most resilient bastards" he's met, while Voss called him "remarkable" in the post-game presser.
"[Docherty] is a pretty significant person to this club. He's been remarkable; his story, to see what he's been able to do, and where he's come from. [He's] enormously resilient."