BRYCE Gibbs has become the star Carlton fans have long thought he could be since moving into the midfield this season, a switch that came after Blues coach Mick Malthouse asked the South Australian where he wanted to play.
Gibbs had pinch hit in the midfield before this season, memorably helping to turn last year's first elimination final against Richmond with his clearance work.
But 2006's No.1 draft pick spent the majority of his first seven seasons at Visy Park at half-back, where his elite kicking and decision-making made him a valuable playmaker for Carlton.
Gibbs told AFL.com.au on Wednesday that his permanent move into the midfield this year had come after a pre-season discussion with Malthouse.
"(The midfield) was where I wanted to play my footy," Gibbs said.
"Mick's been really good, he asked me where I wanted to play and he's given me the opportunity to play in the position that I want.
"So I'm just trying to grab it with both hands."
Few would argue Gibbs has failed to do that.
Showing he has the hard-edged inside game to complement his outside skills, the 25-year-old has led Carlton in centre clearances this year (40 at an average of 2.2 a game, 15 more than the next best Blue, Marc Murphy, and 11th in the AFL), overall clearances (5.5 a game, 14th in the AFL) and tackles (5.3 a game, 21st in the AFL).
Gibbs is also second at Carlton for average possessions (24.5 a game) and contested possessions (10.8).
The former Glenelg player's growing importance to Carlton was underlined when the club re-signed him for five years in June, a commitment that took Gibbs out of this year's free agency market and almost certainly ensured he would remain a Blue for life.
Gibbs is "really confident" Carlton has the players and coaching staff to win a premiership before his new contract expires at the end of 2019.
He has also been buoyed by the way the Blues have rebounded from their 71-point loss to the Sydney Swans in round 17. Their win against North Melbourne in round 18 was followed by an unlucky five-point loss to Fremantle at Patersons Stadium last Thursday night.
The midfielder said Malthouse's message after the loss to the Dockers was that the Blues were "close" but had to eradicate the late skill errors that had cost them in their five losses by two goals or less this year.
The 13th-placed Blues play a finals contender every week until the end of the season, with Gold Coast, Geelong, Port Adelaide and Essendon awaiting them.
Gibbs says the Blues will try to use this tough stretch as a springboard into 2015.
"It's probably the perfect preparation for us leading into next year to play sides that are in contention for the top eight," he said."We want to be challenging for those spots next year, so it’s a great way to test ourselves over the next month."