Stepping up

Leadership material: Nick Duigan (left) doesn’t expect to inherit the captaincy from Chris Judd.
Leadership material: Nick Duigan (left) doesn’t expect to inherit the captaincy from Chris Judd.
Leadership material: Nick Duigan (left) doesn’t expect to inherit the captaincy from Chris Judd.

Leadership material: Nick Duigan (left) doesn’t expect to inherit the captaincy from Chris Judd.

YOU could forgive Nick Duigan for taking just a moment or two to pause to reflect on what has been a remarkable couple of years.

A little more than 24 months ago, the 28-year-old Norwood player had earned a high distinction in a masters of psychology and was headed for Uganda with his girlfriend to work in a refugee camp. Then came a surprise phone call from Carlton which changed his life path.

Duigan slotted comfortably into the Blues' defence, adding steel to a notoriously fragile unit.

One of the oldest recruits Carlton had ever acquired also quickly established his credentials as a role model for younger players. So much so that the South Australian was this week added to a leadership group which had almost halved in number.

Not that he has time to bask in the glow. ''I'm just the same as everyone else in the club, really, just working as hard as I can to try to get to a premiership,'' he shrugged.

To stand alongside Marc Murphy, Andrew Carrazzo, Kade Simpson and Jarrad Waite as an officially sanctioned leader of the club after just 38 games gives some idea of the esteem in which he's held by his teammates, who voted on the five men to lead them. And of Duigan's quiet confidence in nominating for the post.

''You had to throw your own hat in the ring, then get up in front of the group and discuss why you think you would be a good leader and why they should vote for you,'' he said.

What was his spiel? ''I just said that if they voted me in, they could expect from me next year the same as what they've seen from me in the last couple of years. There was no rabbit out of the hat. I've just tried to earn respect from the playing group by working really hard and being professional and having a crack on game day.''

Duigan doesn't believe Chris Judd's relinquishing of the captaincy is going to make too much of a difference to the pecking order at Carlton in practical terms.

''I don't think his role's really going to change all that much,'' he said. ''I suppose just in an official capacity in terms of meetings and press conferences, but the way he goes about it around the club will be the same.

''He's still got plenty of fire in the belly, and he wants another flag.

''It does give plenty of other guys an opportunity. I think, like he said the other day, a few guys are more than capable of stepping into the frame and fulfilling that role, so we just look forward to seeing how that unfolds.''

Duigan doesn't expect to carry the (c) against his name, though. That, he says, will be out of Murphy, Carrazzo and Simpson, any of whom, he says, would ''do a great job''.

Murphy impressed Duigan, among others, filling the role in Judd's absence last season.

''It doesn't hurt that he's one of the best players in the country,'' he said. ''The last two years I've been here, I've seen him really grow into leadership material. He's really demanding of himself and that just rubs off on all the players he's around.''

But Carrazzo and Simpson get the Duigan tick of approval as well. ''They're quite different leaders. Carrazzo is really demanding and vocal and a more extroverted leader within the group, certainly off-field in terms of setting standards and training standards and professionalism with bike sessions and rehab and hydro and all that kind of stuff.

''Simpson does all of those things as well, but is maybe not as outspoken and as loud as Carrazzo and prefers to have his on-field leadership do most of the talking.''

The decision won't be made until coach Mick Malthouse gets a look at the group in action during the pre-season games.

''He wants to get a better read of the players, wants to see how captaincy might impact on them, see how we handle it maybe on game day, so that'll be through the NAB Cup period,'' Duigan said.

And whoever gets the nod will know at the very least they have a handy ally in the former SANFL backman, half a world away from where he thought he'd be this time two summers ago, but very glad he stayed put.

This story Stepping up first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.