So, over the journey we tend to get a bit caught up in accolades and achievements for the individual in footy. WE all know the flag is the ultimate goal, but along the way there are personal accolades to strive for.
Brownlows, Colemans, MVP awards, Most Courageous Player, Mongrel of the Year (ahem…) – they all carry with them a certain prestige that adds to the aura of a player and in a competition where the ultimate prize is team glory, they sure have a number of awards that emphasise the individual. Amid all that, there are some that just don’t get the recognition others do.
There can be arguments that some big names have received spots in the All-Australian team over the years despite having seasons that were not as good as their peers. Thrown into a forward pocket or onto a half-back flank, it is generally midfielders that get the rub of the green when it comes to AA selections, taking positions that should really be allocated to players who actually… you know, spend time in that position.
With that in mind, I started to look at the players most unlucky to this point of their careers and started to wonder how the hell they have managed to trek through their careers without the recognition as an All-Australian
NICK VLASTUIN – AGE 26
Vlastuin has gone about his business as one of the most integral defenders in a dominant team, yet has seen Bachar Houli get the AA-nod whilst his work has gone unrewarded (except for the three flags… that’s pretty rewarding.
Looking at the Tiger defence right now, Vlastuin appears to be best-positioned to be selected in 2021. He still has Houli, who may be playing his last season, whilst Dylan Grimes seemingly reverted to the role of being underrated again in 2020. Could 2021 see the Red Menace of Punt Road gain his first AA blazer? It could be on the cards
Main opposition for this would be Tom Stewart at Geelong, Nick Haynes at GWS and Darcy Byrne-Jones from Port Adelaide.
BEN CUNNINGTON – AGE 29
The old bull started feeling it a bit in 2020 and had to pull the pin on his season after a back injury, but on his day, Cunnington is one of the best inside mids in the game and capable of elevating those around him.
Came close in 2019, with selection to the squad of forty, but was up against it with Cripps, Bont and Lachie Neale all contending for the inside mid roles.
This is one of the most hotly-contested positions in the team, with tough competition from Neale, Cripps, Dangerfield, Martin and Fyfe.
Sadly, without an outstanding season, we may see one of the best in and under players of his generation finish his career without the recognition he deserves.
ROBBIE TARRANT – AGE 31
Has been consistently in the top ten defenders in the league but has never been able to crack the final 22 of the All-Australian team.
Despite a stellar run, Tarrant has not made the squad of forty since 2016, which would indicate his chances of adding an All-Australian blazer to his wardrobe are slim, indeed. With an injury-interrupted preseason, and the Kangaroos expected to be down toward the bottom of the ladder by many, his time may have passed.
JACOB WEITERING – AGE 23
It was either Darcy Moore of this man for the AA centre half back position in 2020. In the end, it was Moore, but there must not have been a lot between the two.
Working in tandem with Liam Jones to control the Carlton defensive fifty, you’d have to think that it is just a matter of time until the work of the reigning Blues Best and Fairest is recognised.
JAKE LLOYD – AGE 27
Now a two-time Bob Skilton Medallist, he is criminally underrated in the role of release player/rebounder from half back. You don’t just fall into B&F awards by accident – and after Dane Rampe went down hurt last season, Lloyd not only continued to produce huge numbers, he also started playing more of an intercept role as well.
Finding the ball at will and kicking it beautifully, it’s about time Lloyd was afforded the respect he deserves, whether he makes the team or not.
MITCH DUNCAN – AGE 29
At one stage last season, he would have been neck-and-neck with Cam Guthrie in regard to a possible AA selection from the Cats (and Sam Menegola who was absolutely ROBBED!), but as he enters season 12 on the Cats list, it is looking unlikely that Duncan makes the leap into the AA team unless Geelong has a monster year and has four or five make the team.
ADAM TRELOAR – AGE 27
After years as the most prolific ball-winner in the Collingwood midfield, with four seasons ranging from 29-32 touches per game, Treloar has been overlooked whilst teammates, Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom and Taylor Adams have all been awarded a blazer.
It’d be enough to make you think people don’t really rate what you bring, huh? I have often heard the knock that Treloar wastes the footy, but I reckon the people spouting that remember the bloke from 4-5 years ago – not the one we saw over the last couple of years at Collingwood. Sadly for Treloar, I reckon his opportunity has passed, playing now with Bont, Macrae, Dunkley and company. It’d take something mercurial for him to make it.
BEN BROWN – AGE 28
Incredibly unlucky not to be added to the team in the three year run where he kicked 60+ goals every year. He missed Colemans due to late season bags against the Suns by both Jeremy Cameron and Jack Riewoldt and it probably cost him AA honours on both occasions.
Now at Melbourne, starting the season with a knee issue does not exactly bode well for his chances of rectify this situation in 2021.
STEPHEN CONIGLIO – AGE 27
This one shocked me – I thought Cogs would have at least made one AA team over the journey, but he has failed to gain the respect of selectors despite being one of the best mids in the game in a very good team.
Coniglio will be a man on the path of redemption in 2021. The captain of a side that fell over after making a Grand Final, and the first club captain to be dropped from the senior side in years, he will be looking to use 2021 as the year that erases his first year at the helm. And maybe that includes that elusive AA selection. I honestly think it may be now or never for him.
LUKE SHUEY – AGE 30
Well, you know… Shuey tends to save himself for finals, right? Not quite at the Dustin Martin level, but he is still a big game player.
Maybe without the profile of some of the start mids in the game, I have watched him take the game over in a last quarter to drag his team over the line (Round 15, 2019 for those playing at home). I guess Shuey suffers from playing in such a balanced midfield unit, with Yeo, Gaff and now Tim Kelly more than capable of being the most effective midfielder on the ground. Sadly, I think his AA ship may have sailed.
BRAD HILL – AGE 27
Yeah, he probably should have made it in his last year at Fremantle, but given the selectors rrely appoint a genuine wingman to the team, he was bumped to fit more midfielders into a side when they weren’t good enough to be selected in the position they actually play in.
Hill’s 2020 was poor, but his performance in the preseason of 2021 has renewed belief that he could challenge for an AA spot again should the selectors have a change of heart on the wing role.
ADAM SAAD – AGE 26
The Blues gave up a top ten pick for this man… don’t get me wrong, I hope he has a blinding season, but I reckon Dodoro worked with smoke and mirrors to convince everyone he was worth that much.
Anyway, despite not being EVER selected in the AA squad of forty, Saad has managed to finish top four in the last three Bomber best and fairest awards, and his run from half-back is a weapon that, used correctly, can break lines and hearts simultaneously. Maybe 2021 is the year he gets the recognition that has eluded him thus far.
TOM JONAS – AGE 30
Jonas has probably suffered due to the no-nonsense style he employs in defence. He doesn’t rack up huge rebound numbers, or zone off often enough to take a heap of intercept grabs (he was 27th in the league on average in 2020) but what he does do is beat his man and give his team stability.
Sadly, those factors are not considered anywhere near enough when the selectors meet and discuss their preferences. Sadly again, I don’t see that changing in 2021.
DAN BUTLER – AGE 24 AND TOM PAPLEY – AGE 24
One of these blokes should have been in last year. Butler absolutely moved the pressure index in the St Kilda forward line after moving across from Richmond and perhaps getting a bit of a wake-up call. Papley, on the other hand, did his best work in the first half of the season, when he put the Swans forward line on his back and looked, not just like the best small forward in the game, but the best forward in the game for a while.
These two were displaced at their position by someone who did not play there (albeit a champion of the game), sometimes you wonder what they’re thinking. Whether the 2020 season was as good as either are going to get is a question I’ve been wondering about. The addition of Jack Higgins may add to St Kilda, yet detract from the impact Butler has, whilst Papley may get considerably more help in the form of returning Isaac Heeney.
2021 will be very interesting, and may well dictate whether we remember Butler and Papley as the players who made the AA team after being snubbed, or simply as the players who were snubbed.
THE NEXT GENERATION
HUGH MCCLUGGAGE – AGE 22
There was a push for him to be included in the 2020 team – that would have been a mistake. McCluggage is hugely talented, but he started the season poorly and was a significant distance behind Sam Menegola in terms of genuine wingmen.
That said, he has a huge ceiling and it would not surprise me if we see the Lions have another big season and McCluggage’s name is right in the mix this year.
BRAYDEN MAYNARD – AGE 24
I’ve got him in the next generation, yet I have Jacob Weitering in the category above. I do not pretend to have an excuse for this…
Anyway, Maynard takes on big jobs, wins the footy, and will run off and punish teams if he is matched up on an opponent who doesn’t feel much like being accountable (hello, Cam Zurhaar!). With Treloar gone, the possibility of Jack Crisp moving into a more prominent midfield role and thus, more responsibility for rebounding shifting to Maynard, we could very well see his excellent and building form rewarded.
JORDAN RIDLEY – AGE 22
The reigning Bombers best and fairest won’t go for too long without making the squad of forty at the very least. Composed, in control and with a wonderful ability to read the flight of the ball, Ridley is the heir apparent to the half-back cohort of Tom Stewart, Nick Haynes and Lachie Whitfield, all of whom have occupied a flank in the last few years.
Oh, and being the darling of a very vocal Essendon army does not hurt the profile one little bit.
CONNOR ROZEE – AGE 21 AND ZAK BUTTERS – AGE 20
Throw these two in together, with Butters already having a squad selection in just year two.
Rozee is in for foot surgery, which will delay his start to the 2021 season, but Butters is poised to make the next step this season. Legitimately playing a half-forward role (unlike someone who was named there last year and the year before), Butters not only kicks goals, but creates chaos inside 50 with his manic pressure and willingness to hit opponents hard and often. People have compared him to Robbie Gray – I reckon there is a bit of Toby Greene in him, as well.
As for Rozee, you’d think a career without an AA selection is almost unthinkable at this stage. Anything can happen, but with his combination of skill and speed, he could have multiple selections when all is said and done.
BAILEY SMITH – AGE 20
Thrust himself into the conversation about who the best player from his draft class was in 2020 with a consistent and at times, dominant performance in the middle.
Looking at this Dogs lineup right now, he may have a little bit of a wait before he assumes the position of All-Australian. Similar to Treloar above, he is part of the midfield squeeze at the Whitten Oval, and if the AAMI Series was our guide, he may have to settle for playing wing a bit in 2021
SAM WALSH – AGE 20
And one more – speaking of playing on the wing, Sam Walsh headed to the outside in 2020 and after a few hiccups early in the season, reminded everyone why he is one of the best young players to come into the game in a long, long time.
With longer quarters back in 2021 (much to Gerard Whateley’s displeasure… shut up Gerard!) Walsh will have the opportunity to use that huge tank of his to run opponents into the ground. He did play more of a mix between the centre and wing to excellent results, and looked to have more of a burst of speed from packs as well. A lock for an AA spot eventually.
So, I suppose I could go on forever – some of you may already feel that I have – but if you have your own players to throw out there either as those who have been unlucky to miss out over the years, or someone you think will be a lock to be All-Australian in the next few seasons, by all means, spit them out.
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