Rohan Connolly4 Minute Read
Everyone in AFL football loves a “feel good” story. The rapid rise of Carlton’s Alex Cincotta’s is one of the best. And it just keeps getting better.
Cincotta was the carpenter and VFL stalwart who got a late call-up to the Blues’ senior list. Then, late in April, at 26, he became an AFL debutant. Now he’s played a final in front of 92,000 people and been part of Carlton’s first finals win for 10 years.
And for Cincotta, it’s all still a bit of a shake-your-head-in-wonder fairytale.
“I’m a bit speechless at the moment. It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Cincotta told ESPN just minutes after the Blues had closed out their nail-biting six-point win over Sydney in last Friday night’s elimination final.
“Obviously, that’s the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of. And just to be able to get the win is a bit of a dream come true for me … I was on the tools this time last year. It’s all still just amazing.
“This time last year I was working on a house in Glen Iris. I was building an extension and just grinding away on that. Putting up frames and putting up floors. Just being a ‘chippy’. It’s just been an amazing turnaround. And my life’s changed so much. I’m really grateful to be able to have this opportunity. And to play for the Carlton Football Club. I owe them so much. I’m just so thankful.”
Cincotta looks around and takes in the euphoria engulfing the Carlton rooms and shakes his head again. So how did he keep himself on an even keel in the lead-up?
“I just tried to keep things as normal as I could, just like any other game,” Cincotta said. “I felt like I did that pretty well, and that my preparation was pretty similar. I had some nerves and it took me a while to get into it. But they were good nerves.
“The echo of the crowd was quite amazing, so loud you couldn’t hear the umpire’s whistle. It’s just so loud. And you’re trying to communicate with all your teammates, the other backs. But I just kept trying to play my role, and I felt like I was doing that.”
In terms of his own output, it was a quiet evening, Cincotta ending up with only nine disposals. But that’s not how his game will be measured by the Blues.
Because as big, if not bigger part of his responsibilities revolved around keeping Sydney’s small forwards quiet, and with dangerous Swans star Tom Papley held goalless and the Swans finishing the night with only nine in total, Cincotta did his job.
Indeed, it was that sort of night for Carlton, with the biggest names like Charlie Curnow and Patrick Cripps proving not as pivotal to the outcome as the Blues’ role players like Blake Acres, Matt Cottrell, George Hewett, Nic Newman, Brodie Kemp, and, yes, Cincotta.
“My role was just to be able to stay connected with ‘Saady’ (Adam Saad), ‘Newy’ (Newman), ‘Gov’ (Mitch McGovern) and ‘Weiters’ (Jacob Weitering) and provide support for them,” Cincotta says. “Just to make sure I link with them as much as I can while having a big emphasis on trying to shut down the smalls.”
It works. And it’s almost as if the fewer touches Cincotta has been having the more valuable his role. His first three games yielded three of his four highest possession tallies, 24, 17 and 20. They yielded two losses and a win. His disposal average for the last 11 games has been a tick over 10. But the win-loss tally reads 10-1.
Much has been made of Carlton’s turnaround from its precarious mid-season position. But the numbers showed that the Blues even then were doing a lot of things right. And having, like his teammates, ridden out the storm, Cincotta is ready for his team, and himself, to keep the improvement going way beyond just the remainder of this finals series.
“We really just focused on ourselves,” he says of the turnaround. “We didn’t really worry about the outside noise too much and what other people were saying. We just put an emphasis on the day-to-day things, the craft, the grinding, those little things. We just felt like if we really worked on that and put 110% into that, things would turn. And they did.”
Cincotta can see already the growth in his own game for having been involved full-time in an elite AFL program.
“I didn’t even do a pre-season. When I came in, there was only about three weeks to go, so I didn’t even have a full pre-season under my belt. I had a bit of catching up to do, and I think that’s why it took me a little bit of time to come into the side, it took six rounds. But there’s always still improvement possible. It’s my first year of AFL football, so I feel like there’s still a lot of potential growth there for me.”
Cincotta will attack that first proper pre-season with the Blues with the same enthusiasm he’s tackled becoming a last-minute addition to the Carlton fold in 2023. But what a handy addition he’s been already. And who knows just where this fairytale might end in a few weeks?
You can read more of Rohan Connolly’s work at FOOTYOLOGY.