MARC Pittonet always believed that he could make an impact at AFL level.

However, he doesn’t deny that there weren’t doubts. He had to convince himself, and the only way to do that was playing games of senior football.

With seven games in five years, his chances had been few and far between. But then, a move to Ikon Park and a senior opportunity opened up.

He wasn’t going to let this slip.

“It’s always hard [to believe] when you’re not playing,” Pittonet told Carlton Media.

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“There were definitely huge gaps between my games but you’ve just got to maintain that confidence. You never know when your chance is going to come so you’re got to be ready to come in and play as well as you can, to keep working away at it.

“That was pretty much my approach: you can only control what you can control.”

In the end, it was an ‘uncontrollable’ which opened the door for Pittonet — unfortunately, it just happened to be the ultimately career-ending injury for Matthew Kreuzer.

While it came about in bittersweet fashion, Pittonet knew that there was no time to dwell on it… even thought there were 12 weeks to wait between Rounds 1 and 2.

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Describing himself throughout the year as “a big little kid” who just loves playing football, Pittonet didn’t give himself a pass mark for the season, but he couldn’t deny that he loved and embraced the opportunity to play at the elite level.

“I wouldn’t say I had a games mark, but I really wanted to come in and earn the respect of the players and coaches,” he said.

“I didn’t know how many games I was going to play. [Kreuzer’s injury] was really unfortunate when he went down early, but it gave me an opportunity to play more games than I probably otherwise would have.

“It’s a real shame that he’s gone as well, because of the influence he had on me this year.”

From his first Carlton game in Round 2, Pittonet would play 13 out of a possible 16 games to end the season.

That tally meant that Pittonet nearly tripled his career games tally from the seven he entered the season on, with only finger and ankle injuries thwarting him from playing even more.

“I was pretty adamant that I wasn’t going to miss any footy unless I was physically dragged out of that team.”

Carlton’s newest cult hero

He played 13 games in the Navy Blue this season, and he may have just as many nicknames amongst Carlton’s supporters and players.

There’s your obvious ‘Pitto’, and ‘Pinot’. Then there’s the Pitbull-inspired ‘Mr. Worldwide’, the Michael Gibbons-christened ‘Gonzo’ and his own personal favourite ‘Brad’ (Pitt-onet).

Whatever he’s called, the physical nature of Pittonet instantly saw him become a hit amongst his new fans — even before his first senior game.

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While he didn’t get to play in front of big Victorian crowds this year, the big man was definitely feeling the love wherever he was around Australia.

“It’s been amazing. It’s really unfortunate that we haven’t been able to get the exposure in-person to the fans since lockdown really happened,” he said.

“Ever before the season happened, I saw it — how much they got around me at open trainings and what not. During the season online, you can sense their presence and the added benefit of 67,000 members - a new club record - is just phenomenal.

“I couldn’t be more excited to play in front of some big crowds next year. We really feel that love.”

The positives of hub life

While players all across the competition faced the challenges of hub life this season, the big beneficiaries may very well have been those at new clubs.

That was the case for Pittonet, who saw the opportunity to be immersed in the hub environment with his new teammates as a key positive to take advantage of.

In a surreal year “like no other”, the ruckman said the opportunity to bond with his teammates and getting to know them on a personal level was something he lapped up.

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“It was a year like we’ve never had at AFL level and for it to be my first year at this club, it’s been surreal,” he said.

“Looking back, I don’t think I could have been any luckier. Coming to a new club, you want to build connections. Being away for three months, it couldn’t be more valuable — especially for going forward as a club.”

Pittonet believes that the biggest positive he can personally take out of the season was the fact that this was his year to acclimatise to AFL football.

Overall, he views it as a valuable year of growth and something which will hold him in good stead going forward.

“It’s been a learning experience, it’s been fantastic in that regard,” he said.

“The learning experience of playing with such great teammates and being in so many close games has been really exciting.”

The ruck conundrum

For so long, there has been a conversation at Ikon Park about who will take over from Matthew Kreuzer.

In 2020, both Pittonet and Tom De Koning put their hands up — and the former believes they’re only going to get better from here.

Importantly, the 24-year-old believes that they can both improve each other even further.

“With someone like Tommy De Koning, who’s such an exciting and raw players, I really want to be able to keep pushing him,” he said.

“He’s going to be a very good player and he’s going to help me become a very good player. We’ve got to work out what strengths that I have that he might have trouble with, and at the same time, when he comes up against someone that plays like I do, he knows how to combat those strengths.

“We’re only going to make each other better, which is really exciting.”

Pittonet forecasted that he was looking to spend more time over pre-season adding to his ability around the ground in order to open up the potential to play both ruckmen in the same side.

“It’s definitely an area I want to improve on: my ability to get around the ground and play forward as well. It’s not somewhere where I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time,” he said.

“If we can do that between the two of us and get in the same team, it can only be good for the Club and that’s the most important thing.”