Patrick Cripps and Kade Simpson after a loss. Picture: Michael Klein
Patrick Cripps and Kade Simpson after a loss. Picture: Michael Klein

Captaincy adds to Cripps’ imposing aura

Patrick Cripps ambles across the lobby of the Mooloolaba's Mantra Hotel, oblivious to the heads that turn his way.

"He's got the aura of Jon Brown," gushes one Carlton official of the club's 23-year-old co-captain.

For a player quickly developing the kind of adulation that followed St Kilda fan favourite Lenny Hayes, there is reason for that assured disposition.

Last year Cripps was Carlton's one-man wrecking crew, a player who became an All-Australian as he broke Patrick Dangerfield's home-and-away record for contested possessions.

All while standing at a towering 195cm, exactly the same height as Brisbane centre half-forward Brown.

Yet as Cripps sits down to discuss his career, his new contract, and why this could the year for Carlton to get dangerous, one of the secrets to his success quickly emerges.

 

Jonathan Brown celebrates a goal.
Jonathan Brown celebrates a goal.

 

In many ways, Cripps says he still feels like the short, skinny kid from the small farming town of Northampton in Western Australia.

Cripps might be redefining the body shape of an AFL midfielder, but playing a junior career without those physical gifts was the catalyst for maximising them, a deftness of touch and movement that belies his bruising style.

"When I was 15 or 16 I was probably 170cm and 75kg," he said.

"So since then I have put on 20kg and 25cm. It's happened pretty quickly. I hit puberty late, and I was a late developer and I think in the long run it was beneficial.

"You don't rely on your size and strength you rely on your smarts. You have to be clean, you have to find ways to get the ball. The size and strength now is a bonus.

"Growing up I felt like I was a small player and I still feel like the way I move, I rely on being a small player with agility and those things.

 

Patrick Cripps has bulked up since being drafted by Carlton.
Patrick Cripps has bulked up since being drafted by Carlton.

 

"But the size is definitely an advantage and guys like Fyfe and Dangerfield and Bontempelli, they are big midfielders, too."

This year Cripps will try to replicate those feats and combine them with something utterly elusive … team success.

To put it simply, he is sick of losing after five years at Carlton.

The Blues have assembled a young and exciting midfield around him that will still take time to gel; Zac Fisher, Sam Walsh, Paddy Dow, Sam Petrevski-Seton, Lochie O'Brien, Will Setterfield and Matt Kennedy.

"Oh yeah, I want to start winning. I have played here for five years now and we haven't been very successful," he said.

"One year after the bye we were about even on the win-loss record, but other than that we have basically been playing dead rubbers from midway through the year.

"That is the one thing that really drives me. I always say once you go through the tough times, the good times will be so much better and I really believe that.

"If you don't see the direction it's hard to see how you can stay around. But I definitely see a clear direction in where we are going."

 

Carlton co-captains Sam Docherty and Patrick Cripps.
Carlton co-captains Sam Docherty and Patrick Cripps.

 

THE LURE OF HOME

Before he was handed the captaincy, he had to decide if he wanted to stay at the club.

If you wanted to make a case for him leaving you could try and connect the dots.

A kid from Perth, who has played in only 18 career wins being forced to accept a punishing weekly workload, might decide on the easy way out.

Not for Cripps, who last June signed a two-year extension through to the end of 2021.

"The media always thinks there is a go-home factor and I am really close to my family and friends back home, so there is always going to be that consideration and making a decision based on what is best for yourself," he said.

"But all along I was confident of staying at the club and believed where I was going.

"There are definitely times when your mind moves to it, maybe after a bad loss and you think it might be good to go home.

"But you reset the next day. I can't say there has been a point where I really considered going home."

Former captain Marc Murphy - a confidante, mentor and mate - signed not too long after despite interest from Geelong and coming off a Carlton season that didn't indicate a quick bounce.

"I used to talk to him about it a bit but it's a decision he had to make and it shows his character," says Cripps of Murphy's decision to rebuff rival free agency offers.

"It shows the belief he has in where the club is going.

"If we weren't going down the right track he would have gone. He went through the toughest time at the club and he is someone who didn't leave the club and stuck around when he could have jumped ship."

 

Patrick Cripps and Kade Simpson after a loss. Picture: Michael Klein
Patrick Cripps and Kade Simpson after a loss. Picture: Michael Klein

 

TWO SKIPPERS

With Murphy injured for nine games last year and Sam Docherty sidelined with an ACL tear, Cripps deputised and quickly grew into the leadership role.

The beauty of his style of play and leadership is that he has to change so little.

Coach Brendon Bolton said he broke bread with former Saints leader Nick Riewoldt about the co-captaincy arrangement at St Kilda early in his career.

"I spent a fair bit of time with Nick over coffee going through the pros and cons of it," Bolton said.

"He was adamant when it's the right personalities that it can be really strong because it influences more of the list.

"It is difficult for one person to have a connection with the lot. However the rider needs to be those two people need to want to do it that way, and they have to also be prepared to challenge each other and then unite on a decision."

Cripps sees co-captain Docherty as a big picture thinker and superb football strategist who was ready for the role at 25.

And if Cripps is only 23, he has been preparing for the position for some time.

"I was brought up to think that when there is a bit of hard work to be done, you put your head down and get into it," he said.

"Things didn't go our way last year but I tried to work as hard as I could and lead by example.

"For a few years leading up to it I developed my leadership, talked to different people, did leadership programs so I knew if the time did come I was ready to take it and wasn't thrown into the deep end."

Cripps has turned to Murphy and Carlton director and former captain Chris Judd as reference points.

"The main thing that comes out of talking to those guys is to be authentic and be yourself," he said.

"Juddy's main thing is when you are a leader you make sure your own backyard is clean first and lead by example."

 

 

Carlton co-captain Patrick Cripps during pre-season training on the Sunshine Coast. Picture: Ben Vos
Carlton co-captain Patrick Cripps during pre-season training on the Sunshine Coast. Picture: Ben Vos

 

SUPPORT CREW

Cripps was on the track in December when Docherty went down with the slightest bump from Charlie Curnow in a regulation drill he had performed hundreds of times in his months of rehab.

As Bolton said this week, Docherty's knee recovery had been so seamless and his body of training work so exhaustive that it was especially jarring when he went down again.

Bolton knows he will contribute off-field as a caring, nurturing leader as well as on the bench as a quasi-coach, subject to the AFL's permission in coming weeks.

Bolton is aware the Blues midfield structure isn't sustainable with Cripps the raging bull and the rest of the midfield dragging along in his wake.

For one thing, it is predictable and easy to plan against.

And as midfield coach Cameron Bruce says, it isn't going to help prolong Cripps' career.

"There is more depth to be able compliment Cripper," Bruce said.

"If we have the same expectation of him going forward, he will be burnt out ridiculously.

"That has been a big focus and we believe we are in a pretty good position to develop that depth."

Cripps is humble, but there are good reasons why the comparisons to luminaries such as Hayes keep coming.

Early in the 2017 season after managing a back stress fracture he broke several ribs and then cracked his jaw.

He still played the following week, and the one after that.

"Yeah, there were a couple of fractures," he said sheepishly.

"The ribs probably hurt the most. I had a bit of a stress fracture in my back, then the ribs and jaw and then broke my leg. I thought I was made of chalk there for a bit.

"With the ribs some weeks it was definitely a battle to get up.

"But it is one of those things, once you make a decision to play you can't feel sorry for yourself or you are beaten before you start playing."

 

Patrick Cripps celebrates a goal.
Patrick Cripps celebrates a goal.
Patrick Cripps in action for WA during the under-18 championships.
Patrick Cripps in action for WA during the under-18 championships.
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