Patrick Cripps has backed Jack Silvagni to play an important role in Carlton’s AFL flag bid next year while talking down the significance of external expectations on the team.
The Blues, who last won a flag in 1995, are well placed in the hunt for silverware next season after falling narrowly short of a grand final in a barnstorming finish to 2023.
They won 11 of 12 games during their hot streak, including two finals, before letting a five-goal first-quarter lead slip in their preliminary final against the Brisbane Lions.
Third-generation Blues utility Silvagni managed just four senior appearances during that period and battled injury late in the year, but did enough to earn himself a two-year contract extension.
It came amid external doubts over the 25-year-old’s position in the Blues’ best side as coach Michael Voss opted to use two genuine ruck options – Marc Pittonet and Tom De Koning – at the business end of the campaign.
“I think his role’s really important,” Carlton captain Cripps told reporters on Monday when quizzed on Silvagni.
“He plays that hybrid forward; he can play tall and play small with his pressure. His biggest one-wood is the competitive energy he has.
“(There’s) that second ruck role that he can play as well as an undersized player with a bit more mobility around the ground.
“It’s all up to the coaching staff in terms of if we play two rucks or go the hybrid role, but you know what you’re going to get when SOS (Silvagni) plays. The boys love playing with him.”
Carlton are set to enter a new season regarded as a genuine premiership threat for the first time in decades and can feel a wave of momentum building around them.
But Cripps isn’t interested in predictions for 2024. “I actually hate the word ‘expectation’ because you’re trying to pick something that hasn’t happened yet,” he said.
“We learnt a really hard lesson last year and I felt like the group lost their confidence through that middle part.
“Through that adversity we learnt that we know what we can focus on to make us a good side.
“The external (hype) doesn’t really matter. What matters is what we value internally.”
Carlton’s narrow finals wins over Sydney and Melbourne marked their first September successes in a decade.
On the back of that, Cripps said there had been a noticeable shift in the playing group’s mindset at the start of pre-season training when compared to a year ago. “The whole energy around the club is definitely going forward together,” he said, as the Blues unveiled a new three-year sponsorship deal with Ampol.
“When you do get a taste of it (finals), it really drives you to keep going
“Our group’s stayed together for a period of time now and we’re still trying to find ways where we can keep levelling up a bit. To get so close last year just drives that motivation but we still feel like we’ve got a lot of natural development left.”