Brownlow medallist Patrick Cripps was never fazed by the circus surrounding his late-season AFL suspension and the dramatic overturning of the ban.
The Carlton captain took out the AFL’s highest individual honour in a thrilling count on Sunday night, claiming the lead from Brisbane Lions superstar Lachie Neale by polling three votes in the Blues’ heartbreaking final round defeat.
But Cripps was almost not eligible for the AFL’s best and fairest award, after receiving a two-match ban for an incident that concussed Lions utility Callum Ah Chee at the Gabba in round 21.
The star midfielder was unsuccessful at overturning the rough conduct suspension at the AFL tribunal, but had better luck when he fronted the appeals board two days later.
During a marathon hearing that almost ran into Friday morning, the 27-year-old was freed to play in the Blues’ crunch clash with Melbourne.
“I always prepared like I was going to play, no matter what situation unfolded,” he said on Sunday night after becoming Carlton’s first Brownlow medallist since Chris Judd in 2010.
“Just prepare yourself like you’re going to play and if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen, but if it does, you go out and perform.
“I’m a big one that once you cross that white line you put yourself out there and you’re prepared to play your best.”
Cripps would not have polled the most votes if the suspension had stood, but the incident did evoke memories of Brownlow Medal counts in the 1990s.
North Melbourne premiership hero Corey McKernan (1996) and Western Bulldogs legend Chris Grant (1997) were famously denied Brownlow Medal wins when they polled the most votes but were ruled out due to suspension.
But Cripps’ suspension being overturned allowed him to join an exclusive list of Carlton greats — Bert Deacon (1947), John James (1961), Gordon Collis (1964), Greg Williams (1994) and Judd to have won the medal.
“As a kid, I watched the Brownlow and I loved it,” Cripps said.
“This won’t sink in for a long time. It’s a pretty special moment.”
However, the critical round 23 game against Collingwood that allowed him to win the Brownlow Medal will always be tinged with sadness.
Cripps was named best-on-ground by the umpires for his 35-disposal, 12 clearance performance, but the one-point loss to the Magpies meant Carlton dropped out of the top-eight to be denied their first finals berth in nine years.
After being drafted in 2013, Cripps has played 159 games for the Blues but is yet to play in a final.
“I had a few beers with [previous Brownlow winners] Lachie Neale and Tom Mitchell before the count,” Cripps said.
“They said they would give anything to win a premiership.
“They’d have zero touches to win a prelim final, a grand final and I’d do the same.
“In 20 years, as much as I’ll cherish [the Brownlow], what you want to achieve in 20 years time is you’re sitting around with 22 blokes and the coach that you won a grand final with.
“Every year you can sit around and say we won a flag.”
Cripps hopes the pain of missing this year’s finals will spur the Blues on to greatness under coach Michael Voss, also a Brownlow winner.
“The exciting part is only it’s a year [under Voss’s coaching] and we feel like we’re really building, not only our relationship, but what our identity as a team is and what we can produce as a club,” Cripps said.