Jamie Cripps charges from the half-forward flank into the Eagles’ 50.
It’s seven minutes into the third term of the 2018 AFL Grand Final, and after starting at the centre bounce following Mason Cox’s steadier, Cripps was in pursuit of the ball as it soared towards the hot spot.
The effort was typical Jamie Cripps — head down, bum up, utilising one of the best tanks in the business to get to his intended target.
With his opponent already positioned deeper to affect the contest where the pack of players had formed, Cripps peeled off to the pocket and the ball spills out the back.
Creating a three-on-two situation, the West Coast half-forward ends the play after receiving the quickest of handballs from Willie Rioli — a small fumble ensued such was the unexpectedness of the pass.
Cripps snaps the goal, his 38th for the season. The Eagles, having kicked six of the last eight majors, were well and truly coming, eventually winning their fourth flag in 32 years in the AFL.
The last Saturday in September is a footballer’s biggest stage and Cripps made the most of it on this occasion. But Cripps’ manager, Jason Dover, who’s been with the Western Australian since before the draft, believes he was well prepared for the on-field challenge long before he graced the MCG turf.
“His biggest test came the week before the draft,” Dover told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“While catching up with mates, he got really sick and was diagnosed with diabetes. If I remember correctly, he ended up in hospital on a drip. They were trying to work out what was wrong with him and he probably lost five or six kilos over the course of two or three weeks.
“For a lot of young people, that would’ve derailed their draft hopes and career but he attacked that with such professionalism and focus.”
To top it off, roughly a week after beginning life as a diabetic, Cripps was drafted to St Kilda and made the move east. His life was changing dramatically outside as well as inside his body.
The Saints liked Cripps a lot. He was an “uncomplicated kid,” according to former St Kilda Recruiting Manager, John Peake, who had what attracts all recruiters — speed and run — and footy was a big part of his life.
But what sold the Saints, and Peake, was when recruiter Paul Collins saw a WAFL senior game late in the season where Cripps dominated in a position he seldom played.
“He kicked four or five goals for East Fremantle in a WAFL game in 2010,” Collins told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“He was very good that day and laid to rest any doubts I had. He played a midfield role as well, which was something I hadn’t seen him do a lot of.
“I thought we’d struggle to get him after that. We rated him as a first-round choice and to get him at 24, we were happy with that.”
Cripps’ running abilities were too good to ignore, a focus area driven directly by Ross Lyon after falling just short of a premiership in the two previous seasons.
Despite Peake having a “gut-feeling” Cripps would eventually go back to WA and a serious discussion about Cam Guthrie, who was taken the pick before Cripps by the Cats, the Saints selected the hard-worker with their first choice.
Then there was the awkward diabetes situation, which only came into the public domain once the draft had taken place.
Peake and Collins found out about Cripps’ illness the following week but weren’t overly concerned. Peake knew of footballers who had managed and played with diabetes effectively and the senior coach was fine with it as well.
But the doctors, who had been overseas on the tour of Ireland, were worried.
As it turned out, they didn’t have much to fear. Cripps was diligent with his diet from day one, which would be considered unusual for any young footballer, let alone a teenager.
Arriving at the club a year later, Seb Ross lived with Cripps in Aspendale and saw firsthand how meticulous he was.
And it wasn’t only in the kitchen where Cripps helped his younger teammate out.
“He really took me under his wing,” Ross said.
“I didn’t have a car sorted for the first few months so he’d drive me around. It was almost like he was the one taking care of me. He cooked for me, cleaned for me and was really easy to get along with.
“We ended up building quite a strong friendship, I only wish our time together lasted longer.”
Cripps is a genuine, down-to-earth guy, according to the St Kilda best and fairest winner, who enjoys keeping a low profile but Ross always knew Cripps would move home at some point.
“He’s a stubborn guy so when he makes a decision on something, it’s difficult to convince him the other way. But I understood why he wanted to go home.”
Speaking to Cripps’ management during 2012, West Coast were interested, which dated back to the 2010 draft but they missed out due to the range of their early picks — the Eagles had picks four (Andrew Gaff) and 26 (Jack Darling).
Out of contract, Cripps’ future wasn’t easily secured. The Saints were reluctant to let their former first-round choice go.
The trade period in 2012 was a long one — held between the 1st and 26th of October — but as each of the first 25 days came and went, there was still no result for Cripps or the Eagles.
As time drew closer to the midday deadline, the Eagles were worried.
“I didn’t think it would happen,” West Coast Football Operations Manager, Craig Vozzo, then the club’s List and Contracts Manager, told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“I think I expressed that to his management a couple of times but we kept hanging in there.”
With negotiations going down to the wire, the Saints, headed by football chief Chris Pelchen, were hesitant but did the right thing by the player in the end.
But that’s not to say it was a stressful situation for Dover, who was even criticised in private by sections of the AFL over Cripps’ decision to leave the Saints because he hadn’t established himself in a weaker side.
“I think I got the confirmation from Craig Vozzo that it was getting done at five minutes to 12. I didn’t get the actual sign off and paperwork until around five or 10 past.”
Since getting to the Eagles, Cripps is one of the club’s best runners — it’s his one-wood but don’t sell him short.
Playing in the same forward line since 2013, premiership teammate Mark LeCras immediately saw Cripps’ work-rate but it’s been the steady rise of another attribute that’s equally impressed.
“Something that’s probably gone under the radar in the last few years is his leadership among the group,” LeCras said.
“That’s really built as his career has gone on. He demands a lot from other people but he’s able to do that because of how much he puts into it.”
Despite ending the year with a premiership, Cripps’ career at the Eagles took time to develop.
Establishing himself in the side wasn’t overly difficult, playing 15 games in his first year, followed by 19 in his second and featuring in every game in 2015, but his output has continually improved in his six-year tenure.
He’s finished top 10 in the Eagles’ best and fairest award in four of the last five seasons, with a career-best placing of fourth in 2018. And it’s these type of accolades that have impressed Dover most.
“That’s the part I’m most proud of, he’s never taken his foot off the pedal along the way. He has that drive internally.
“Since coming home, he’s a great example of how you can build into a career. He continually got better every year and ticked off things he could improve each season.
“He’s become part of their main team, moved into the top 10 and now into the top five in a premiership year — it’s bloody awesome.”
Cripps has been underrated for a long time but not within the Eagles’ football department, they believe he’s one of the most undervalued throughout the competition and is one of coach Adam Simpson’s favourites, something the playing group is well aware of.
Underrated is the way Cripps likes it. He’s not a natural in front of a camera and prefers to play his role with little fanfare. It’s part of his charm.
“He’s a quiet achiever,” Vozzo added.
“He doesn’t seek the attention and is still very casual and laid-back. He’s a very nice person and great to have around a footy club. He’s balanced and realistic.”
Get Cripps in an environment he’s comfortable with, though, and that shy, meticulous nature goes out the window.
“He’s one of those blokes you could have a bit of fun with,” LeCras said.
“When we’re out surfing together, he drops in on me more than any other bloke I’ve met — we pretty much end up fighting each other out on the water.”
While avoiding the back pages of newspapers, Cripps has managed to make the training track and AFL grounds his home.
But the one spotlight he enjoyed was up on the dais in front of the 100,000-strong crowd on Grand Final day.