Cristian Filippo caught up with Blues all-rounder Lachie Henderson who’s planning on a big 2012.

The taste of success has got Lachie Henderson’s stomach rumbling, and Carlton’s versatile youngster knows a return to finals football is the only way he will feel fulfilled.

“My biggest career highlight would have to be last year’s Elimination Final – my first winning-final for Carlton,” he said.

“Obviously top four is a goal, given that we finished fifth in 2011, but that’s not being arrogant. We just want to raise the bar.”

2011 was a year of genuine progress for the Blues. Their defence played much tighter, they secured 5th spot on the ladder and won their first final in ten years.

And Henderson revealed that he, and the rest of the squad, are fighting fit ahead of another long season after high-altitude training camps in Qatar and Abu Dhabi late last year.

“No doubt [the players] benefited hugely from their experiences. Personally, I feel pretty good, having got through the pre-season without a hitch, which gives me the best possible chance to hit the home and aways hard.”

Henderson, 22, looks set to notch up his 50th AFL game in the Round 1 clash against Richmond at the MCG on March 29, his 35th for Carlton.

The likes of Chris Yarran, Jeremy Laidler, Andrew Walker, Nick Duigan and even Marc Murphy all had significant improvements in 2011, and Henderson suggests there are a few Blues who might make the step up in 2012.

” ‘Sugar’ Kane Lucas has benefited enormously from an injury-free build-up, and Shaun Hampson
appears to have picked up from where he left off before he broke down last year.”

Henderson’s 2012 campaign began this on Sunday February 26 in the three-match series against Port Adelaide and Adelaide with the former Brisbane Lion featuring against the Crows in the Blues’ second game.

While the Blues ultimately lost the shortened match, Henderson was named as one of the best for Carlton, his defensive run and one-percenters a particular highlight.

Fitness Struggle

And Henderson will be particularly keen to maintain that form right through to the season proper, to avoid a repeat of his stop-start 2011.

Fitness or form didn’t come as easily as it had towards the end of 2010 when he made his major breakthrough, kicking 10 goals from centre half-forward in Carlton’s final four games.

He looked set for a big 2011 and was described by coach Brett Ratten last year as “the best trainer

However, hip surgery resulted in his pre-season being brought to a premature halt, and it took him a while to regain and consolidate his spot in the senior side.

“There’s no substitute for an injury-free campaign…last year’s pre-season with the hip impacted enormously on the season proper. Thankfully, [I] was able to get back and string some games together,” explained Henderson.

After playing in the Round 4 draw against Essendon, Henderson was sent back to the Northern Bullants to fully regain his confidence, form and fitness.

He returned in Round 12 and started in a blaze of glory against the Brisbane Lions, although he wasn’t overly punishing on the scoreboard.

The next one and a half games were somewhat indifferent for Henderson, with only one six-pointer to his name.

Jamison Shot

Then, in the first quarter against the West Coast Eagles, Blues’ star defender Michael Jamison went down with a knee injury and was subbed out of the game in the second quarter.

Henderson was asked to fill his boots at centre half-back, a position he had played at the Lions, albeit scarcely.

He faced a baptism of fire in the five weeks that followed, as he was asked to contain Jack Riewoldt, Barry Hall, Travis Cloke, Michael Hurley and Drew Petrie.

Unfazed, Henderson excelled and showed signs that he could anchor the defence for many years to come. His finals series in particular, gave Blues supporters something to look forward to in 2012.

With the likes of Kennedy, Jack Darling, Quinten Lynch, Dean Cox and Nick Naitanui roaming the forward-line in the semi-final, Henderson, Jeremy Laidler and the returned Jamison stood up to the challenge.

Carlton’s defence – so often their Achilles heel – has taken on a formidable shape.

There has been some debate over Henderson’s best long-term position but when asked on his personal preference, he pulled out his most diplomatic answer of the day.

“I’m happy to assist the club in any capacity, in any position, whether it be back, forward or wherever. I really enjoyed my time in the back-half and look forward to again being part of it.”

Back or forward, Henderson looks likely to be a central figure in Carlton’s quest to return to their glory days.