CARLTON is confident the lingering speculation surrounding the future of co-captain Patrick Cripps will not provide an unwelcome distraction this season, as the Blues focus their attentions on snapping a seven-year finals drought.
Cripps, one of the game's best contested midfielders and a three-time Carlton best and fairest winner, enters the 2021 season among the most high-profile free agents in the competition.
Yet to extend beyond the deal he signed midway through the 2018 campaign, the future of the superstar West Australian looms as one of the biggest talking points for the club ahead of a pivotal season.
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However, the Blues remain calm and confident about Cripps' situation and do not believe the attention around his contract will become an issue for the playing group as it begins its quest for its first finals appearance since Cripps was drafted to the club in 2013.
"It's an interesting one, I haven't spent too much time thinking about it," Carlton coach David Teague told AFL.com.au.
"I'm probably a bit lax in my thoughts, but I just feel it will probably get done at some stage.
"I think our group is quite good at focusing on what the job at hand is. I think we showed that last year by turning up every week, so I don't think it'll be a distraction.
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"It'll probably be for Patrick, not so much the team. He's one of 22 that runs out there. The rest of the guys will be pretty good, they'll have their roles to play and they'll be looking to go out there and make the fans proud of their efforts and the way they compete.
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"It'll probably be more for Patrick, but right now I feel very comfortable that he'll handle it."
Cripps, a dual All-Australian, has become one of the game's elite contested ball-winners throughout his 118 matches for the Blues. However, the gun midfielder is yet to make a single finals appearance during his time at Ikon Park.
But, despite the club's urgency to tie Cripps down to a new long-term contract as early as possible in the upcoming season, Teague is yet to speak to his co-captain about where his future lies.
"I put my arm around him all the time. I want to learn from him, because he's so knowledgable," Teague said.
"I haven't gone there, I haven't had that conversation with him. But in terms of his commitment to this footy club and the way he's going about it, what you want is for people to turn up and care about each other and make the place and the people around them as best as they can be. I feel Patrick is doing that as well as anyone at our footy club at the moment.
"While he's doing that, I'm going to continue putting my arm around him because I think he makes me better. I love working with him and I hope that's for a long time yet.
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"We've still got some work to do, not only him and I, but this whole group together. I think we're going to stay pretty strong and, along with our fans, I think there's something special building. I know I want to be part of it, and I'm hoping he wants to be part of it too."
Meanwhile, Carlton continues to take a patient approach to the recovery of Charlie Curnow as the star young forward progresses from a crippling knee injury that has kept him sidelined since June 2019.
Curnow has endured a number of setbacks to his right knee that resulted in him missing the entirety of last season, with the latest occurring last November when he sustained a stress injury to his patella during the latter stages of his rehabilitation.
The Blues have since ruled the 24-year-old out of the first part of the upcoming campaign, but remain hopeful the excitement machine will be able to return to his best when he does make it back on the park.
"We don't have a timeframe, but I don't think it will be early in the season," Teague said.
"It's tracking well. Our fans should be really excited by that. But we have to be patient, and we're going to be patient. We're not going to force it or rush it, regardless of the results. We're going to make sure that we're doing what's in the best interests for Charlie first.
"We still see him playing a lot of footy for our football club. If that takes a while to get that stage, then we'll take a while. If he's going well, we won't hold him back for the sake of holding him back. I'm really comfortable that our high-performance and medical staff have got a clear plan for him at the moment.
"We'll see how he goes. He'll have markers along the way and if he's hitting those, he'll progress. If not, then we'll just have to be patient.
"What I can say is the way he's going about it, through his attitude – even looking at his knee, it's the best it's looked for a while – so he's giving us a lot of confidence that he's giving himself every chance to be the player that we know he can be."