Harry McKay Is Keeping Carlton's Season Alive
Carlton’s shaky start to the season could have been so much worse if not for Harry McKay.
Clearly, the team’s marquee player is Sam Walsh, and while his monstrous midfield efforts have stood out, it's been McKay’s work inside forward-50 that's almost single-handedly morphed the Blues into a better offensive unit.
Carlton is averaging 82.83 points per game so far this season, by far their most prolific attacking start since 2014.
For all the defensive woes that the club is experiencing, Carlton’s posting enough on the other end to keep their heads above water, and while their 2-4 start paints a picture of a team in trouble, their 93.25 percentage might be a better indication of their standing.
And they have McKay to thank for keeping them relevant.
So far, McKay’s 22 goals and 14 behinds accounts for a whopping 29.38% of the team’s scoring and is a big reason why the Stats Insider futures model is keeping the faith, still affording the Blues a 30.9% chance of playing Finals in 2021.
In fact, not since Jack Riewoldt (29.58%) won the Coleman Medal in 2010, kicking 78 goals for his 15th placed Tigers, have we seen a percentage that high for a single player representing their entire team, with Taylor Walker’s aberrational start to 2021 rating a fraction lower.
For reference, Tom Hawkins in 2020 kicked 22.47% of Geelong’s total score over the home-and-away season, while in 2019, Jeremy Cameron kicked 23.47% of GWS’ total score.
When reflecting on Carlton’s opposition so far, Richmond, Collingwood, Fremantle, Gold Coast, Port Adelaide and Brisbane, we can see that McKay has done all his work against some of the best key defenders in the competition.
Carlton has had to play against three Premiership contenders to date, and without much of a reprieve, maintaining a level of competitiveness off the back of McKay being able to perform to a high level, regardless of the opposition.
McKay’s output in the forward line and contested marking ability has masked Carlton’s shaky ball use inside-50.
Previously, McKay had to push higher up the ground to generate his scoring opportunities, which resulted in his accuracy being far more wayward.
Yet the 23-year-old has been able to get the ball deeper and closer to goal, which has immediately influenced the way in which Carlton have gone forward, and resulted in a far greater scoring output.
In 2019, McKay averaged 3.25 shots on goal per game, finishing with 26.30, with nine shots that didn’t register a score, and an overall accuracy of 40%.
This resulted in his output being 11% below Stats Insider’s expected scores based on the quality of shots he had. McKay’s accuracy from set-shots was at 35%, while an astonishing 40% of his shots on goal came from outside 50.
Last season, McKay’s finished with 21.15 in his 13 games, averaging 3.62 shots per game, with a shot accuracy of 45%. He was able to decrease his shots from outside 50 to 29.8% producing a result 2% greater than Stats Insider’s excepted total.
Once again, his woes continued with a set shot accuracy of 39%.
Yet 2021 has seen McKay take his game to a much higher level, so much so that a Coleman Medal could find a place upon his neck should the 2015 #10 pick remain healthy.
This season, McKay's up to an impressive 6.67 shots per game over the opening six rounds, sporting an overall accuracy of 55% according to Stats Insider's shot charting, and completely bucking the trend of recent seasons.
McKay’s set-shot kicking has been a lot more productive in 2021, kicking at 60%, thanks largely to a concerted effort to stay closer to goal – only 6 of his 40 shots on goal this season have been taken from beyond 50m, which also represents a massive swing.
Overall, a team seemingly devoid of confidence, and still on the outside looking in where Finals are concerned is at least benefitting from seeing a good deal of its young, upper-echelon talent thrive, with McKay's scoreboard impact having the most obvious imprint.
So far, McKay's 27 marks inside-50 lead the league, while while the 2.5 contested marks he's hauling in per game place him 7th in the competition. He's controlling the forward 50 in a manner that's causing nightmares for opposition defences, promoting a greater level of reluctance among opposition defenders to peel off him and generate defensive transition opportunities.
While Carlton's tackles inside 50 have dropped from a rank of 3rd last season down to 15th in 2021, the plunge hasn't led to an uptick in opposition transitional scoring chains. Last year the Blues ranked 9th in opposition inside-50s and have actually improved to 8th this season, with a major factor being the close eye teams are having to keep on McKay.
The forward is operating at an extremely high level inside the forward 50 and has taken strides forward in his overall development that's allowed Carlton to hang onto their 2021 seasons hopes.
Whether or not McKay’s output is sustainable is almost beside the point.
The Blues have been on the receiving end of media criticism in recent times, however with two wins and with winnable games against Essendon, Hawthorn and Sydney over the next five weeks, the club can head into the second half of the season with September hopes still alive.
Perhaps more was expected from Carlton this season, with internal expectations certainly high.
But McKay’s influence on this team has saved them from being far worse off, and at least set the team up with a chance of improvement.
The development wasn’t unexpected, but we should still be in awe of the extreme output and impact McKay is having.
At the very least, McKay looks to have higher individual honours ahead of him with the current trends.
Carlton has time to turn things around, which they will need to do to support their 23-year-old star.
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