Earlier this month, Carlton spearhead Harry McKay put pen to paper on a new seven-year deal, tying him to Ikon Park until the end of 2030.

Although he still had a left year on his contract, the decision of the club to secure the signature is significant in the club's direction, while Essendon were reportedly showing interest ahead of this off-season.

The deal solidifies his pairing alongside Charlie Curnow, forming one of the best key forward duos. Not since the days of Stephen Kernahan, Brendan Fevola, and Harry Vallence has this famous club had the luxury of tall forwards to lace the football out to.

Retaining McKay to a seven-year deal is a solid move from the Blues, despite the number of injuries he has had to endure early on in his career. For the first time in a long time, Carlton has a core spine of players to build around.

For example, the long-term signings of Patrick Cripps, Sam Walsh, Charlie Curnow, Zac Williams, Adam Saad, Jacob Weitering, and Adam Cerra have the top echelon of Blues players committed.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 12: (L-R) Charlie Curnow, Patrick Cripps and Harry McKay of the Blues thank fans during the 2018 AFL round eight match between the Carlton Blues and the Essendon Bombers at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on May 12, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

You have to go back to the 1990s to find a level of stability among the playing list wanting to don the Navy Blue jumper.

McKay's journey so far at Carlton has had its fair share of ups and downs. After the Blues selected him with Pick 10 in the 2015 draft, he would have to wait until 2017 after a back stress fracture derailed his entire 2016 campaign.

But it wouldn't be long until the key forward made an impression. Debuting in Round 18, 2017 against the Brisbane Lions up at The Gabba, the then 19-year-old had a solid outing - kicking a goal from seven marks, including 3 contested grabs.

Over the next three seasons, McKay displayed glimpses of his true potential, although the side was struggling. A Round 5 outing against a rock-solid West Coast defence in 2018, where McKay booted four goals, would be the confidence-lifting performance he had been longing for.

McKay would finish the season with 21 majors. In 2019 he'd bested his goal tally to reach 26, and in 2020 kicked 21 majors.

It would be a solid foundation of what was to come.

Having overcome nunerous amounts of adversity, season 2021 would be the breakout campaign for the Warragul product. In a comprehensive Round 3 victory over Fremantle, McKay had an instrumental impact, tearing apart an undermanned Dockers defence, finishing with a career-high seven majors.

From that game onwards, he became Carlton's number one forward target, steadily developing as one of the best young forwards in the competition.

Despite another Carlton season of disappointment and the sacking of coach David Teague, McKay would become the Blues' first Coleman medallist since Fevola in 2009.

But why is McKay's signature to remain the Navy Blue such an important piece in the Carlton wheel?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 26: Harry McKay of the Blues poses for a photograph after winning the 2021 Coleman Medal during a portrait session at Marvel Stadium on August 26, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos)

Since the beginning of 2021, whenever he has booted two or more goals in a match, the side has won by an average of 13.3 points per match. It's not much, but his impact on games when Carlton need him most is more important than ever.

His ability to create a contest even if he doesn't take a mark sets up opportunities at ground level for the Blues' fleet of small forwards in Jesse Motlop, Corey Durdin, Zac Fisher, and Matt Owies to pounce. Only adding to the potency, Blues fans have been waiting years for the breakout season of Charlie Curnow.

After undergoing three knee surgeries, Curnow made his return in Round 20 against St Kilda last year and would go on to play the remaining three home and away games.

It would be the staple in Curnow's rise, which soon would come in leaps and bounds. His Coleman Medal season would allow for McKay to spend more time outside the goalsquare, with Curnow seizing the centre-half forward position. Its rewards would deliver the club back-to-back Coleman medallists.

In hindsight, when was the last time Carlton had the luxury of kicking the ball into the path of a hungry key forward, let alone two?

The era of Chris Judd bursting clear of packs and hitting Brendan Fevola lace out was short-lived. Going back further they had the star-studded Carlton midfield of Ratten, Williams and Bradley supplying Kernahan silver service.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 08: Brendan Fevola of the Blues gathers the ball during a Carlton Blues AFL training session at Visy Park on June 8, 2009 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

Among the AFL landscape, questions still linger as to whether long-term deals of this magnitude are actually worth the rewards. Brodie Grundy's seven-year deal, which he inked in 2020, has faced a fair wave of debate given his status as a ruckman and now departure to Melbourne.

But remembering Lance Franklin's mega nin-year, $10 million deal to move from Hawthorn to Sydney falls at the opposite end of the spectrum. Franklin would play out the entirety of the contract, despite ultimately not delivering a premiership to the Harbour City.

Even this season, Melbourne premiership player and best and fairest winner Clayton Oliver inked a seven-year deal to be a Demon for life. Likewise superstar teammate Christian Petracca in May last year.

Yes, key forwards and ruckmen take time to develop. But with a Coleman Medal in his bag, another solid campaign booting 45 goals in 2022, and only turning 25 in December, McKay is entering the prime years of his career already in fine form.

With Curnow past his knee troubles which threatened to stall his promising career, and being the same age as McKay, Carlton has the engine room to supply quality service to two A-grade forwards.

On many occasions this year Carlton's twin towers took the contest by the scruff of the neck. Important encounters against the Western Bulldogs in Round 2 where they combined for nine majors, along with eight against Port Adelaide in Round 5, nine against Adelaide in Round 8, six against Fremantle in Round 15, and 10 against West Coast in Round 17 saw the prolific pair at their best.

As McKay put when interviewed by the club's website about remaining a Blue for the next seven years, "It was always Carlton."

Now, the ultimate test for McKay and his teammates is to give its passionate supporters a finals appearance for the first time in a decade in 2023.