Patrick Cripps celebrates his 2022 Brownlow Medal. Picture: AFL Photos

IN MANY ways, the extraordinary round 23 performance that won Patrick Cripps the Brownlow Medal was the performance that best embodied the Carlton captain's mighty career to date.

He had put a battered and bruised Blues team on his shoulders and taken them to the cusp of finals, an achievement that still eludes Cripps despite a heroic 159-game span at Ikon Park. It was done through sheer, determined willpower.

Ultimately, it wasn't enough for Carlton to break its long-standing September drought. But it was enough for Cripps to crown another terrific season with footy's highest individual honour, recognised with three more votes that took him beyond Brisbane's Lachie Neale and Gold Coast's Touk Miller.

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He had won 35 disposals against Collingwood, 27 of them contested, to go with 12 clearances, five tackles and eight inside-50s. He had hustled towards every contest, excelled out of every stoppage, and thrust his body into every physical duel. It was the type of performance Cripps had mustered countless times over his nine years at Carlton.

You could argue 2022 wasn't necessarily Cripps' best individual campaign. Indeed, he averaged more disposals in 2018, more clearances in 2019 and more tackles in 2016. But this was a Brownlow Medal victory that was due reward for a career of dedicated and driven football.


Cripps won his first Carlton best and fairest at just 20 years of age and did so in a team that claimed only four wins. He was an All Australian for the first time at 23, achieving the landmark despite playing in a Blues side that won just twice all year.

Every time he has reached such heights, the Blues have fallen short of the type of collective performance that Cripps craves. Such is his team-orientated nature, he would likely swap his Brownlow Medal for a maiden finals appearance in a heartbeat. But being crowned the game's best player on Sunday night might at least be a decent filler for now.

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When the Carlton skipper shunned the lure of a return home to Western Australia via free agency last season to sign a six-year extension, many pondered whether the length of the tenure would bite Blues officials. By that stage, his body appeared ravaged from dragging a developing team through years of heartache.

Indeed, his output over 24 months through 2020 and 2021 had begun to stall. Injuries, almost all of which he bravely played through, were taking a physical toll and a lack of help in midfield meant his burden wasn't being eased elsewhere.

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This season, the continued rise of Sam Walsh, the re-emergence of Matt Kennedy, the additions of Adam Cerra and George Hewett, and the spurts of electricity provided by Zac Fisher have all helped lift Cripps back to levels some thought may never return. He has, in every sense, been back to his best.

The additional two-way running provided by the arrival of Cerra and Hewett has enabled Cripps to be more explosive forward of centre. He had equalled his career-high for goals by round eight and finished with 20 for the campaign. He also registered the most score involvements, and the most metres gained, for his entire career.


It saw him become a more damaging midfielder. While his bullocking contested and clearance work never left, his improved forward-half threat was always bound to result in more Brownlow votes. It proved that way on Sunday night.

There were also finally wins, albeit not enough of them in the end, to match Cripps' brilliance. His 30 disposals and three goals against Richmond was enough to influence a resounding victory in round one, as was his 35 touches and two goals against the Western Bulldogs the following week.

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But it was still striking just how often on Sunday night that Cripps polled in games where the Blues left it all for him to do. He polled three votes in a round six loss to Fremantle, three votes in a round 20 loss to Adelaide, and three votes in the defining round 23 loss to Collingwood - for which he was only cleared to play after a marathon Tribunal appeal hearing following his suspension for a high hit on Brisbane's Callum Ah Chee in round 21. He also polled more votes in defeats to Richmond and Collingwood again.

Carlton has done its best recently to ease an overwhelming reliance on Cripps that has long burdened him. In that final-round loss to the Pies, it was again telling that the club still has some way to go in that regard.

But with the Brownlow medallist, the last two Coleman medallists and three All Australians from this season now on its list, perhaps 2023 will be the campaign in which Cripps finally gets what he really craves: a taste of September and the opportunity to push for an elusive premiership.