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Andrew Walker

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Career : 2004 - 2016
Debut : Round 5, 2004 vs West Coast, aged 17 years, 341 days
Carlton Player No. 1079
Games : 202
Goals : 139
Last Game : Round 20, 2016 vs St. Kilda, aged 30 years, 81 days
Guernsey No. 1
Height : 186 cm ( 6 ft. 1 in.)
Weight : 83 kg (13 stone, 1 lb.)
DOB : 18 May, 1986
AFL Rising Star Nominee: Round 5, 2004


By 2004, the Carlton Football Club was at its lowest ebb in living memory. Last in 2002, and second-last in 2003, the Old Dark Navy Blues were down and being pummelled from all sides – which explains why the debut game of 17 year-old Andrew Walker in round 5, 2004 against West Coast created such a sensation.

On that sunny afternoon at Princes Park, Walker took the game on from his wing with an infectious exuberance that soon had the meagre crowd of 18,000 roaring. The well-built youngster - who had been honoured with the club’s number 1 guernsey - picked up 26 quality possessions, nine marks, and launched a couple of other spectacular attempts that, had they stuck, would surely have been contenders for Mark of the Year. Walker’s all-round impact in a big win by Carlton that day gained him a worthy nomination for the AFL Rising Star award, and filled the Blues’ supporter base with hope that the club had unearthed a future gun. One of those most impressed was top-rating 3AW football broadcaster Rex Hunt, who immediately dubbed the athletic teenager, ‘1AW.’ His team-mates however, would soon be calling him “Tex” after the action hero of the American television series; Walker, Texas Ranger.

Walker landed at Carlton in the wake of the 2002 AFL investigation that found Carlton guilty of rorting the league’s salary cap. Hit with heavy fines and severe draft penalties, the Blues were plunged into crisis for the rest of the decade, and forced into a strategy of recruiting seasoned discards from other teams in an effort to shore-up the club’s list. In 2003, the Blues were entitled to a priority draft pick (selection number 2 overall), and after much deliberation decided on Walker, the young midfielder from the Bendigo Pioneers who had spent his early years playing at Echuca. Andrew was the son of prominent indigenous country footballer Rob Walker, and considered one of the country’s most promising prospects at Under 18 level.

Under those circumstances, a hotch-potch Carlton side showed some commendable grit in 2004 under second-year coach Denis Pagan, and wound up eleventh in the 16-team competition. Walker enjoyed an impressive first year to notch up 15 games, kicking his first career goal in round 14 against Sydney. By season’s end however, he was a regular on the interchange bench, and the question that would hang over his head for the next five years or so was being asked – what was his best position? Although not quite big enough to be a regular in a key post, Andrew proved to be an outstandingly versatile athlete, and his 18 games in 2005, when he filled roles at both ends of the ground and as a mid-field tagger, continued his development. But expectations kept building on Carlton’s first early draft pick since Luke Livingston, Trent Sporn and Simon Wiggins in 2000, and at times it seemed that responsibility was weighing heavily upon him.

Happily, Andrew had a breakthrough 2006, playing all 22 games and lifting his average stats to more than 17 per match. Importantly for the team, he became the Blues’ Mr.Fixit, and filled big assignments on key opposition players. After a consistent season, his 6th placing in Carlton's 2006 Best and Fairest count was a fine achievement by a youngster who had only turned 20 in May of that year. Season 2007 brought further progress as Tex was given a regular midfield role, and his ability to find the football improved to such an extent that by round 12 he was averaging almost 19 disposals a game. He also began kicking goals that made the highlight reels - including a brilliant left-foot snap from the boundary line in round 12 against Hawthorn that earned him that week's Goal of the Round. Finishing the year strongly, he racked up a new career-high 31 disposals against Essendon in round 20.

Thereafter however, Walker’s honeymoon period of relative freedom from injury came to an abrupt halt. During the 2008 pre-season, a heavy collision in a practice match dislocated the same shoulder that had begun to trouble him the previous year. The only real option at that point was surgery to repair and tighten the damaged joint, and a spell of 15 weeks on Carlton’s long-term injury list ensued. Eventually, Tex worked his way back into the senior team for Carlton’s round 16 clash against Sydney, and he had an immediate impact with his hard running and strength in the clinches. He was one of the Blues’ best in the first half, and helped drive his side to an early lead against the 4th-placed Swans – only to heartbreakingly pop his good shoulder and spend the rest of the game on the bench. Later diagnosis showed that this injury wasn’t as severe as first thought however, and he was back playing across half-forward in Carlton’s round 19 victory over Port Adelaide, gathering 20 disposals and kicking three good goals.

Heading into 2009, Carlton supporters looked forward with confidence – especially when second-year captain Chris Judd completed a full pre-season program, and Carlton’s young list began the year fit and full of promise. Then came the shattering news that Walker had dislocated his problem shoulder again, and for a while it seemed that his season – and possibly his career – could have been prematurely ended. Andrew wasn’t ready for the scrap-heap however, so he endured more surgery and another tough bout of rehab to fight his way back into the Blues’ line-up for the last six games of the year. In September, the Blues lost to the Lions by 7 points in a pulsating Elimination Final at the Gabba, with Walker playing a defensive role at half-forward.

With his fitness at a new peak and his shoulders seemingly trouble-free at last, Andrew began Carlton’s 2010 campaign with the verve and passion of his debut year. Playing as a rebounding defender, he was outstanding in Carlton’s loss to Essendon in round 3 and the following week’s big win over Adelaide in round 4. He was even better throughout the first half of the game against Geelong in round 5, until he got up from a tackle clutching a shoulder, and in obvious pain. There wasn’t a Bluebagger watching who didn’t fear the worst, until to everyone’s relief, it turned out to be ‘only’ a broken collarbone. Tex was sidelined for a remarkably-short four games by that injury, and in his first game back (against West Coast in round 10), his dash and endurance was as good as ever.

In Carlton’s second clash against the Eagles that season, at Subiaco in round 17, Andrew played his 100th AFL game at last. It had taken him seven seasons to reach the ‘ton’, mainly because he had been restricted to only 13 appearances over 2008-09. Then, after just one more game, he paid the price for Carlton's insipid performance against Collingwood in round 18 and was dropped to the VFL for the first time since 2005. Recalled for the Elimination Final against Sydney at the Olympic Stadium,and playing out of a forward pocket, Tex worked tirelessly to provide a marking target, and kicked three goals as the valiant Blues lost to the Swans by 5 points.

Following those events, Walker’s management asked for, and was granted permission to discuss a trade with other clubs during the off-season. Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs showed a lot of interest at first, but after some weeks of negotiation a deal couldn’t be reached, so Tex stayed on at Princes Park – to the universal relief of the Blues faithful. In 2011, Carlton’s coaching panel decided that Walker’s role would be as a permanent forward, and with his shoulders free of strapping at last, Tex began his eighth season with his trademark effusiveness. Five goals against the debutant Gold Coast Suns in round 2, and four against Adelaide in round 5, were followed up by a superb pack mark and pressure goal in the last minutes of the round 7 match against St Kilda – giving the emerging Blues a great win over one of the previous year’s Grand Final teams.

But the highlight of Andrew’s home and away season – indeed, one of the year’s great moments – came late in the last quarter of Carlton’s big win over Essendon in round 18, when he soared into the night sky at the MCG to take one of the greatest high marks of all time. With his knees planted on the shoulders of Essendon ruckman Jake Carlisle, “Sky’ Walker climbed so high that he was able to take the ball on his chest - and after bouncing back to his feet, he calmly slotted his fourth goal of the match. show_image.php?id=28865

In September, Andrew completed another consistent year with three goals in Carlton’s demolition of Essendon in an Elimination Final, followed by another three in the Blues’ valiant Semi Final loss to West Coast at Subiaco. Those hauls brought Walker’s tally of goals for the year to 56, and clinched his award as the club's leading scorer for the season, ahead of Eddie Betts (50) and Jeffery Garlett (48). It had been a defining year for Carlton’s favourite sons – a season in which his talent had been able to flourish at last unhindered by injury, and capped off by the honour of Life Membership, awarded at the 2011 Annual General Meeting for completing eight years of service to the Navy Blues.

Then, right on the cusp of cementing his place among the elite forwards of the competition, Andrew tore a quadricep muscle during 2012 pre-season training, forcing him to miss all but one of Carlton’s NAB Cup and Challenge matches. At first, reports from the medical room were not encouraging, but Tex kept his composure, and worked his butt off to maintain his aerobic fitness as the Blues blasted off the season with three wins in the first four matches. When coach Brett Ratten announced that Walker would return to the side for Carlton’s vital round 5 match against Fremantle at Subiaco in late May – without a VFL match or two beforehand – it underlined just how highly Tex was regarded. Unfortunately, it also preceded a devastating run of injuries to team-mates, and the steady dissolution of Carlton’s finals hopes. In the midst of losing two of their next four games, player after player broke down and Andrew was once again asked to plug gaps in the midfield or defence.

Starting on a wing against Hawthorn in round 14 (a match that typified Carlton’s season when full-back Michael Jamison damaged a shoulder in the first quarter) Walker collected 24 possessions and five marks against the odds in a heavy defeat. A few weeks later, back in highly effective role as a lead-up forward, he kicked three good goals when the Blues crushed Essendon by 96 points at the MCG. Those two matches typified Carlton’s season, and helped to explain why the team crashed to tenth and missed the finals.Walker finished the year in forgettable circumstances, playing in a back pocket against St Kilda in round 23, and waging a game-long war with the Saints’ serial pest Stephen Milne. The ragged Blues suffered their tenth loss of the season on that Sunday afternoon at Docklands, in a postscript to the sacking of Brett Ratten with one year of his contract remaining.

To no-one’s surprise, Ratten’s place was taken by former Collingwood and West Coast Premiership mentor Mick Malthouse, who was expected to provide in 2013 what 2012 failed to deliver – a top four ladder position. That he wasn’t able to do, although Carlton played finals football by default in the wake of Essendon’s sensational late-season disqualification amid allegations of systematic doping. Walker was one of a number of Blues who seemed to respond positively to Malthouse, and 2013 was one of his better seasons. Starting the year up forward, he kicked three goals in round 2 against Collingwood, then settled into half-back and became one the Blues’ most effective defenders. Not missing a match all year, he averaged 23 possessions and almost five marks per game.

In Carlton’s round 8 win over Port Adelaide, Tex played his 150th career match, and finished off with strong performances in both of his team’s finals appearances. On Brownlow Medal night, he was awarded 11 votes by the umpires – more than any other Carlton player. After finishing a close second to Kade Simpson in voting for the John Nicholls Medal, Andrew packed his kit and joined the Indigenous All Star team for their International Rules tour to Ireland.

Carlton’s 2014 - the club’s 150th year – began full of optimism, only to crash into despair after the Blues were beaten in the first four games and staggered through the season. Early on, Andrew suffered a left knee injury that didn’t prevent him from playing, but did hamper his agility. Stationed almost permanently in defence, he had missed only one of Carlton’s 15 matches by mid-July, although the pain and the uncertainty was wearing him down. A few days after the Blues lost to Sydney on a Saturday night the SCG in round 16, Carlton football manager Andrew McKay announced that Walker’s season was over, and that he would undergo immediate surgery. “Andrew's knee has been troubling him for a significant amount of the season, but to his credit he has managed to play through the pain, and make a solid contribution for our team,” McKay said.

Unfortunately, that troublesome knee let Tex down again in 2015, restricting him to just 12 games as the Blues endured a truly awful season. After a string of heavy defeats and just one win, Malthouse was sacked half-way through the year and Carlton ended up with the wooden spoon. Walker played the last five matches of the year in attack, and showed that he was still dangerous on his day with 4-goal hauls in rounds 20 and 21 against Brisbane and Melbourne respectively. A week later, he won yet another Mark of the Year nomination when he flew high against GWS, but overall the year couldn’t end soon enough.

Andrew saddled up for his 13th season in 2016, needing just nine more games to become the first indigenous player at Carlton to reach 200 games. After a turbulent decade, the Navy Blues had begun rebuilding once more under their new coach Brendon Bolton and there was a refreshing air of optimism around the club. Only one game into the season however, Walker’s knee let him down again, and he didn’t reach the 200-game milestone until round 15, when the Blues lost a close contest to Collingwood on a Saturday night at the MCG.

A month or so later, Andrew bowed to the inevitable and announced that his AFL career would end on the final siren of Carlton’s Sunday afternoon clash with St Kilda at the MCG in round 20. Coming off three strong performances against top-5 teams, the Blues were expected to give the Saints a real contest, but were never in the match before being blown away by 71 points. It was an unfair end to a fine career, made even more poignant by Andrew’s tears as he was chaired off the field through a guard of honour by both teams. At that moment, only 16 individuals had worn Carlton’s number 1 guernsey into a senior match, and “Sky” Walker had earned his place among the best of them.

Happily, Andrew’s legacy at Princes Park did not end there. On Melbourne Cup Day 2016 (November 1) the club announced that Walker would continue his involvement with the team as a Development and Integration coach. Carlton’s Football Operations Manager Andrew McKay said; “Andrew's core responsibilities will involve assisting the first-year players' transition into the AFL system, which is a really important process, as well as working alongside fellow development coaches Mathew Capuano and Josh Fraser. He was a key part of the leadership group this season, so his ability and drive to set high standards at the club will be really beneficial.”

Footnotes

At the end of the 2013 season, the Bendigo Pioneers Football Club named its best team of the previous 21 years. The team selected included three players; (Andrew Walker, Luke Livingston and Damien Lock who had played senior football with Carlton, and another three; Steven Reaper, Simon Rosa and Michael Braun) who had had a run with the Carlton Reserves team (Braun in fact, had gone to become a Premiership player with the West Coast Eagles). The team was compiled by a panel of present and former and Bendigo Pioneer coaches, including former Carlton players Brian Walsh and Tony Southcombe.

Milestones

50 Games - Round 17, 2006 vs Fremantle
100 Games - Round 17, 2010 vs West Coast
50 Goals - Round 6, 2011 vs Sydney
100 Goals - Round 9, 2012 vs Melbourne
150 Games - Round 8, 2013 vs Port Adelaide
200 Games - Round 15, 2016 vs Collingwood

Career Highlights

2004 - AFL Rising Star Nominee
2005 - Pre-Season Premiership Player
2006 - 6th Best & Fairest
2007 - Pre-Season Premiership Player
2007 - 10th Best and Fairest
2011 - Club Top Goalkicker
2011 - Life Membership
2013 - 2nd Best & Fairest

Articles: Carlton's Top Tenners | That First Pick...Players taken with Carlton's first pick in the draft | Triumphs & Tribulations of a Blue Debut

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Blueseum: Summary of playing statistics for Andrew Walker | Career Breakdown | Walker's Blueseum Image Gallery

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