1987 and a Grand Final appearance in 1986, expectations were high for the 1988 season. Carlton got out of the blocks well, winning a Round 1 rematch of the past two Grand Finals against Hawthorn. The following three rounds would see the Blues in awesome form, defeating each of Brisbane, Essendon and Sydney by over 10 goals.
Losses in Rounds 5 and 7 dropped the club from ladder leader to third, one game behind Melbourne on top of the ladder. Carlton would win its next four games, leaving it second on the ladder, only 0.1% behind the Hawks. Unfortunately a loss of focus saw the club lose its next 3 games, although the Blues were competitive in all of them, finishing within 4 goals in all three matches.
Heading into the last third of the season in fourth place, the team regained its form to win six of its last eight games to finish in third spot on the ladder, a 5 goal loss to Melbourne in the last round costing the team second place. Importantly, the club had gained a double chance in the finals with its third place finish, and entering the finals with solid form behind them gave Carlton a real chance at win back-to-back flags.
The Blues entered the Qualifying Final against Collingwood having lost to the Pies in both home and away matches during the season. Apart from the second quarter, Carlton dominated the match, kicking 22.13 (145) to 16.11 (107) to advance to a Semi Final against Hawthorn. The Hawks had the benefit of a weeks rest coming into to the match, and this may have been telling. After a tight, low scoring game, the final was setup with scores level at the last break. Hawthorn finished all over the Blues in the last quarter, kicking 3.4 to 0.1 to run out 21 point winners. The Hawks advanced to the Grand Final and Carlton would meet Melbourne for the right to play them.
In a seesawing Preliminary Final, Melbourne established a 5 goal lead by quarter time, but the Blues kicked 8 goals to 3 in the second term to lead by 2 points at half-time. The Demons then kicked 7 goals to 1 towards the scoring end in the third quarter to establish a 33 point lead at the final break. Carlton kicked 4.6 in the last term, but could only hold Melbourne to 3.1 be unable to close the gap. The Demons ran away 22 point winners, but would be hammered by 96 points in the Grand Final.
In two tight games against the Hawks during the season, the Blues had won one and lost one. The conventional wisdom is that coach Robert Walls is said to have savaged the team after the Preliminary Final loss to Melbourne, and that the players stopped playing for him. This in turn caused a poor start to 1989 and Walls removal after 10 rounds.
Coach: Robert Walls
Leading Goal-kicker: Stephen Kernahan - 54 goals
Best & Fairest: Craig Bradley
Luke O'Sullivan, Phil Poursanidis, Michael Garvey, Gerard Butts, Steve Da Rui, David Kernahan