Brownlow Medal night always intrigues me. Like so many of you, I actually enjoy the count (no, not the dude from Sesame Street, though he does have that cool talent of summoning thunder every time he laughs). I enjoy seeing the reactions of the players as the unexpected player polls a vote, and I enjoy the buzz in the room as the totals get a little tight toward the end.
I know there are plenty of players who have said that it’s one of the most boring night on the calendar, but I don’t subscribe to that. My guess is that they’re the same blokes who don’t watch other games throughout the season, yet still retain the right to vote on who wins the Leigh Matthews Trophy (G’day Nat Fyfe).
Brownlow Medal night is a celebration of the best in the game, with a few notable exceptions, and a chance for them to be honoured by the entire football community. Players, coaches, umpires, officials, partners, family… they’re all there, packed in and awaiting the next champion of the game to be crowned.
The AFLPA Most Valuable Player awards are prestigious, as are the Coaches awards, but for mine, you can’t go past the Brownlow. You can keep the wanky red carpet where no-name player partners lap up their fifteen seconds of fame to tell you “who” they’re wearing – seriously, footy fans don’t give a crap about that garbage.
Then again, what they’re wearing is probably slightly more interesting than anything the players say on their way in. No one’s had a beer yet.
So yeah, skip the red carpet. My guess is that in most cases, it doesn’t match the drapes anyway.
I didn’t start this column with the thought it’d be a predictive one, but already I find myself drawn to talking about just who will win, and that’s because I am more than a little convinced that we are about to see Dustin Martin crowned back-to-back medallist… not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Dusty’s finish to the year was exquisite. His last third of the season started to resemble the sort of year he had in 2017, which was astronomically good. Revisiting notes, I can see him polling well in Rounds 16-18 and then again from Rounds 20-23. In those seven rounds, Martin averaged 28.86 touches per game to go with almost a goal and a half a game.
Even in Round 19, which I omitted from those averages, he kicked three goals and had 19 touches. It was a definite “team effort” win if there ever was one, with the best the Tigers on the day having just 22 disposals (Shane Edwards and Brandon Ellis), so he is right around the mark, particularly with Jack Riewoldt the only other player to match him in the goal column.
It’s pretty fair to say, that if the early season cards fall right for Martin, we may see a late charge that sees him poll votes in each of the last eight games to take a come-from-behind win. The one game that may prevent this from occurring is the Round 17 loss to GWS, where the Giants had plenty of quality performers as well.
So let’s have a look at the games where Dusty may have polled some votes early on.
From Rounds 1-15, Martin topped 30 touches just once, and that was in Round 1 (win), but he had 25 touches and five goals in Round 2 (loss), and 17 touches and six goals in Round 4 (win). So, we could easily be looking at Martin on 7-9 votes after Round 4. If this is the case, we may as well award him the medal then and there, because he doesn’t get worse as we turn for home.
His 26 touches and two goals against the Saints in Round 10 will probably be overshadowed by Caddy’s six goal hall in the absence of Jack Riewoldt (remember Jake Carlisle’s “spoil” to the head early in the game?) and his 28 touches and a goal against the hapless Bombers in Round 11 could see him add to his total as well. I don’t think he’ll get anywhere near the record 36 votes he received last season, but then again, I don’t think anyone will get close to that figure.
Richmond were ridiculously well-balanced this season, but Martin does things that stand out amidst the chaos. Is his fend and ability to run away from a contest more noticeable than a Tom Mitchell handball out of a stoppage, or a Max Gawn tap to a running Angus Brayshaw? It’s certainly more spectacular.
We could be seeing him poll votes in games where they simply had no stand out player on the ground. Case in point – their Round 6 win over Collingwood.
The Pies had the big numbers in that game. Treloar had 42 touches, Tom Phillips had 38, and Jeremy Howe notched 30 – within one of his career best, yet the Tigers galloped away (see them in your mind’s eye? Those majestic galloping Tigers? Yeah… maybe not) to win by 43 points. Do you reward the best players on the losing team with the big votes? If you don’t, who gets them? Dusty had 28 touches and a goal and was only bettered in the possession count by Cotchin (30) and Nankervis (29… yes, you read that correctly. Nankervis had 29 against Grundy). Martin is definitely around the mark there, as well. Even if Treloar is judged best afield, you’d think the next best would be awarded to a Tiger. If it’s Martin, watch out.
Whilst Tom Mitchell would make a worthy Brownlow Medallist, I just don’t think he will be far enough in front to withstand the late Martin charge.
Mitchell went over 40 touches in a game on 11 occasions this season. Let that sink in for a second; its quite smazing. He went over 30 touches 14 times. If the umps reward Mitchell’s consistency and hard work, he will take Charlie home, but for mine, the spectre of Martin looms large.
Mitchell’s last seven weeks are ridiculously good as well. He averaged an amazing 37.6 touches per game over that period, dragged down a little by “only” getting 24 touches in Round 23. Importantly, the Hawks won six of those last seven games, so you’d figure he would be in the mix of at least five of them.
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The argument for Max Gawn is an interesting one. It will surely test just how perceptive the umpires are, and whether or not they value top notch ruck work in this era.
Gawn went over 20 touches in a game five times, so he doesn’t get a heap of it (in contrast, Brodie Grundy had 20+ on 14 occasions) but his tap work has been phenomenal, and was a huge part in the Melbourne push into the finals. He broke the record for hit outs, averaging almost 45 per contest and didn’t get much respite on the bench, meaning he was right there in the umps' line of sight at almost every stoppage.
Midfielders have owned this award since 1993 when Gavin Wanganeen won playing back pocket. The year before the saw the second of two consecutive ruckmen win, with Scott Wynd following in the footsteps of Jim Stynes to stand on the podium as all in attendance charged their glasses.
25 years of midfield dominance is hard to combat.
Shaun Higgins will poll well with the Kangaroos winning way more games than most thought they would, as will Patrick Cripps but on a perpetually losing side, it’ll be hard to accumulate those valuable three-vote games. Brodie Grundy was, in the estimation of many, just as good as Gawn this season, and he’ll be in the mix (I hope he wins, actually), and Steele Sidebottom may turn a few heads with some umpire recognition for his work as well.
For mine, we have a race in two. Tom Mitchell, with his mountain of disposals, and Dustin Martin, with his strong run to the finish line.
Who have you got? Oh… and who are you wearing?
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