You can feel it in the air when two teams are so closely matched. Think Sydney v West Coast in the mid-2000s, Hawthorn v Geelong from 2008 onwards, or either of Adelaide v Port and West Coast v Freo at any point. It’s palpable.
The same applies for great players. Dusty v Danger was talked up for so long. People still speculate about Lockett v Dunstall, and the Carey v Jakovich debate ebbs and flows depending on who tells the story. There is an energy that consumes every supporter in the arena as the players involved in these rivalries hit the field. It draws you in and refuses to let you go.
Some rivalries are borne of respect or kinship. Others are developed over a long period, whilst others, still, are formed due to a similarity between players. Whilst the rivalries spoken about most often are usually ones with a deep history of hatred, there are some that are fought in silence. They are fought no less vigorously, but they are fought without malice and with a healthy dose of genuine respect.
And that is where we find this gem in the modern game.
In 2013, two future superstars of the competition were drafted by the Western Bulldogs, at pick four, and Carlton, at pick 13. Both would go on to quickly establish themselves as exciting young prospects, but injury and form slumps have had just as much say in the perception of these players, and their quiet rivalry, as any highlight they’ve been a part of.
If you rewind just 12 months, you could be forgiven for thinking the battle, and the comparisons, between Patrick Cripps and Marcus Bontempelli, were all but put to bed.
Coming off another excellent season, the Bulldogs’ skipper had secured his fourth All-Australian selection and topped it off with his fourth Charles Sutton Medal, as the best player at the Western Bulldogs. Well on his way to being considered an all-time great of the game, Bont was playing at his peak and was a joy to behold when in full flight.
Oh, and there was that little MVP award he pocketed in 2021, as well.
On the flip side, Patrick Cripps was coming off his second-straight season of disappointment. Following the complete wash that was the 2020 season, Cripps started to look like a man who was feeling the weight of carrying his team’s midfield on his shoulders for the previous few seasons. Memories of his own MVP season back in 2019 seemed like a distant memory, as the Carlton champion often looked to be in discomfort.
I remember thinking at the time that Cripps seemed to take longer than most others to pick himself up off the ground whenever he was involved in a contest that hit the turf. He looked banged up. He needed serious help.
And with the Dogs coming off a season in which they were 35 minutes away from a flag (seems strange considering the final margin, but it is actually true), it looked as though the two brilliant stars from the 2013 National Draft finally had some serious distance between them, with Bont making the big strides to establish himself as the better of the two.
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