“DEEP down, I always knew I was going to stay.”

While the commentary for weeks centred around a potential return ‘home’ for Patrick Cripps, the co-captain has made a new home at IKON Park.

After walking through the doors as an 18-year-old at the end of 2013, Cripps yesterday confirmed that he was a Blue for life when he inked a six-year contract extension to stay at his club.

It’s been a consistent message from Cripps since entering the final year of his contract leading into 2021. He's happy being in Navy Blue.

Since signing on the dotted line, discussion has raged about the length and the details of the contract. For the three-time John Nicholls Medallist, club came first.

“You want to do what’s best for the Club. At the end of your career, you want to be known as a successful team and a successful club. That’s what really drives me: nothing else motivates me more than team success,” Cripps told Carlton Media.

“I want to keep this group together and I want to keep adding bits. I want to show how committed I am and hopefully guys follow suit.

“There have been some tough times and currently we’re in a tough time. It will be something special when you build it from the ground up and get to where you want to go.

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“I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but all I know is there’s going to be a lot of hard work and I’m really optimistic about it going forward.”

When confirmation of the ‘worst kept secret’ in football became official on Friday lunchtime, the analysis was always going to come and the questions were always going to be asked.

While the football world knew Cripps wasn’t going anywhere, the long-term nature of the contract may have caught some off-guard.

So, why six years? Why not four, why not five?

“I’ve been here from the start,” he said.

“I think six years sets a really good tone for the football club. It’s a sign of unity, and a sign that I’m really confident in the direction of the Club: I’m really happy here.

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“I want a lot of the boys and also the staff to know how committed I am. I also want the other guys to commit as well, for them to see that we are going in the right direction. I honestly believe that.”

Then, there was the matter of the lure of Western Australia.

Ever since arriving at the Blues from Northampton in the 2013 NAB AFL Draft, Cripps has been touted as a potential returnee to his home state.

That talk hasn’t just been generated in Victoria, however: Cripps tells the story that whenever he returned home in recent years, he couldn’t do so much as enter the supermarket without being quizzed over his future.

However, he and his partner Mon are very much settled in Melbourne.

“I’ve been here for eight years now, so I’ve been away from family and friends for a long time,” he said.

“Both me and my partner are from WA. When you’re away from family and friends for a long time, you really want to think through the decision and make sure you know it’s right. I know it’s the right decision.

“My partner is an absolute gun. We both realised we want to be over here, and a lot of that has had to do with the football club.

“The Club has been amazing to me for eight years. I’ve been asked about it I reckon a good 1,000 times for the last year… I always knew I was going to stay.”

While the 2021 season has proven to be a frustrating one so far for all involved in Navy Blue, Cripps is optimistic of the wheel turning.

He pointed to the cohesion of the playing group, personnel returning and the need to earn success after “building from the ground up” as key areas the team needed to hit.

And while he didn’t have the answer of when precisely it would happen, the co-captain said he wouldn’t rest until the boxes had been ticked.

“In 2015 and 2018, we finished both years on the bottom. You’re genuinely building things from the ground,” he said.

“We’ve been playing together for a while now. We need that chemistry and cohesion to keep coming — we’ve got Charlie Curnow coming back later on in the year and guys like that.

“The fans are probably getting the frustration more than anyone. They’re watching us and they want success just as bad.

“The realisation is we have to earn it. We’ve got to keep earning it. Things haven’t quite gone to plan just yet, but they will.

“For the young supporters who haven’t seen much success, stay loyal and stick fat. Keep coming to games and keep cheering. We’ll keep doing everything we can to make you proud.”