It wasn't Dani Laidley's first Brownlow Medal night, but it was perhaps the first time the North Melbourne great truly felt at home among her AFL peers on the red carpet.
Accompanied by her partner Donna Leckie, Laidley spoke of how she was 'grateful' to attend the prestigious AFL event in a manner she simply hadn't been able to in years past.
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“Perhaps eight or nine Brownlows (I’ve attended before),” Laidley said.
“Now to be here celebrating as myself, I’m so very grateful.”
Wearing matching white gowns styled by fashion designer Lana Wilkinson, Laidley and Leckie told Channel 7 it had been a 'wonderful' experience preparing for the league's night of nights together.
“It’s just been phenomenal and I just said when we came down the stairs that, you know, we are so grateful and overwhelmed for what you’ve done for us," Laidley said of everyone who helped them prepare.
“To get here tonight and go and enjoy the night of nights we haven’t had for quite a few years.”
Leckie said it had been a little overwhelming when asked what coming to the Brownlow with Laidley meant to her.
“I don’t know how to answer that because every time I try to I cry,” she said.
Unfortunately for Laidley, her pre-count pick of Fremantle's Angus Brayshaw was narrowly off the mark, with the Dockers star finishing tied for fourth as Carlton's Patrick Cripps came out on top.
Particularly the first two-thirds of his season was outstanding,” she said.
“And I have to say I’m very attached to the Brayshaws, and so I would love for him to get over the line. Hopefully he can hang on in the last few games to win tonight. I think that’ll be just a wonderful finish to the night.”
Cripps pulled ahead in the count ahead of Brisbane's Lachie Neale thanks to his brillant round 23 performance against Collingwood - which came in the heartbreaking one-point loss which doomed their finals chances.
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The Carlton captain took out the AFL's highest individual honour in a thrilling count on Sunday night, claiming the lead from Brisbane Lions superstar Lachie Neale by polling three votes in the Blues' heartbreaking final round defeat.
But Cripps was almost not eligible for the AFL's best and fairest award, after receiving a two-match ban for an incident that concussed Lions utility Callum Ah Chee at the Gabba in round 21.
The star midfielder was unsuccessful at overturning the rough conduct suspension at the AFL tribunal, but had better luck when he fronted the appeals board two days later.
During a marathon hearing that almost ran into Friday morning, the 27-year-old was freed to play in the Blues' crunch clash with Melbourne.
"I always prepared like I was going to play, no matter what situation unfolded," he said on Sunday night after becoming Carlton's first Brownlow medallist since Chris Judd in 2010.
"Just prepare yourself like you're going to play and if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen, but if it does, you go out and perform.
I'm a big one that once you cross that white line you put yourself out there and you're prepared to play your best."
Cripps would not have polled the most votes if the suspension had stood, but the incident did evoke memories of Brownlow Medal counts in the 1990s.
North Melbourne premiership hero Corey McKernan (1996) and Western Bulldogs legend Chris Grant (1997) were famously denied Brownlow Medal wins when they polled the most votes but were ruled out due to suspension.
But Cripps' suspension being overturned allowed him to join an exclusive list of Carlton greats - Bert Deacon (1947), John James (1961), Gordon Collis (1964), Greg Williams (1994) and Judd to have won the medal.
"As a kid, I watched the Brownlow and I loved it," Cripps said.
"This won't sink in for a long time. It's a pretty special moment."
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