AFL fans and commentators have expressed their disdain over Patrick Cripps' Brownlow Medal triumph, with many of the belief that the Carlton captain should have been suspended earlier in the season and ineligible to win the prized gong.
Cripps 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.
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However Cripps was almost ineligible for the AFL's best and fairest award after receiving a two-match ban for an incident that left Lions utility Callum Ah Chee heavily concussed 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 eventually freed to play in the Blues' crunch clash with Melbourne - polling a crucial three votes that won him the Brownlow.
Had his suspension stood he wouldn't have been eligible to win the medal and it would have gone to Neale instead.
"I always prepared like I was going to play, no matter what situation unfolded," Cripps 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 respective suspensions.
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."
AFL fans and commentators flocked to social media in the wake of Cripps' triumph, with many suggesting the medal should have gone to the Carlton skipper's legal team.
That’ll be two dozen bottles of Dom Perignon sent to Cripps’ lawyer for getting him off that suspension.
— Rory Flanagan (@Rory_Flanagan) September 18, 2022
They should cross to the Carlton QC
— adrian barich (@adrianbarich) September 18, 2022
— Geoff Hutchison (@GeoffHutchison) September 18, 2022
Cripps should probably split this one with Christian, Gleeson and the rest of the clowns at the MRP and Tribunal.#Brownlow
— Sam Tomlin (@SamTomlin539) September 18, 2022
Cripps not being denied a Brownlow Medal because of a technicality at the tribunal when he knocked a Lions player unconscious and then beating a Lions player by 1 vote is going to go down as an all-time #AFL controversy. https://t.co/Umx7VqIbNG
— Mark Gottlieb (@MarkGottlieb) September 18, 2022
— Stelly (@Stel_03) September 18, 2022
Cripps should never have even been allowed to play in R23.. yet here we are..
Joke overturning of the tribunal decision to rub him out..
Joke he has that medal ahead of Lachie & Touk #BrownlowMedal
— Zane Bojack (@zanofc) September 18, 2022
That cripps non suspension looking like a bigger disgrace every day
— BG (@bg16__) September 18, 2022
— Bradley Green (@bradgreen234) September 18, 2022
Patrick Cripps celebrates Brownlow Medal triumph
The critical round 23 game against Collingwood that allowed Cripps to claim the Brownlow Medal will always be tinged with sadness.
Cripps was named best-on-ground by the umpires for his 35-disposal, 12 clearance performance, but the one-point loss to the Magpies meant Carlton dropped out of the top-eight to be denied their first finals appearance in nine years.
After being drafted in 2013, Cripps has played 159 games for the Blues but is yet to play in a final.
"I had a few beers with (previous Brownlow winners) Lachie Neale and Tom Mitchell before the count," Cripps said.
"They said they would give anything to win a premiership. They'd have zero touches to win a prelim final, a grand final and I'd do the same.
"In 20 years, as much as I'll cherish (the Brownlow), what you want to achieve in 20 years time is you're sitting around with 22 blokes and the coach that you won a grand final with.
"Every year you can sit around and say we won a flag."
Cripps hopes the pain of missing this year's finals will spur the Blues on to greatness under coach Michael Voss, also a Brownlow winner.
"The exciting part is only it's a year (under Voss' coaching) and we feel like we're really building, not only our relationship, but what our identity as a team is and what we can produce as a club," Cripps said.
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