OPINION

Brownlow Medal cold shoulders AFL's best defenders

Brisbane Lion Lachie Neale polled 31 votes to claim the 2020 Brownlow. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Brisbane Lion Lachie Neale polled 31 votes to claim the 2020 Brownlow. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

While Lachie Neale is a deserving Brownlow medallist after another magnificent season with Brisbane, it is shameful the AFL's top defenders are ignored in the game's highest individual honour.

In his 17 games, Neale polled a remarkable 31 votes, nine more than the combined total of the back six in this year's All-Australian team.

Fremantle's Luke Ryan and Collingwood's Darcy Moore polled six apiece, Greater Western Sydney's Nick Haynes and Neale's Lions teammate Harris Andrews four each and Port Adelaide's Darcy Byrne-Jones received two.

The other All-Australian defender, West Coast's Brad Sheppard, failed to attract the umpires' attention.

It is 27 years since a defender, former Essendon and Port Adelaide star Gavin Wanganeen, won the Brownlow.

Wanganeen's former coach Kevin Sheedy made an excellent suggestion recently when he said the AFL should recognise the season's best defender with a new medal. The Bruce Doull Medal makes perfect sense to me.

The top 13 places in Sunday night's medal count were filled by midfielders, which included Melbourne captain Max Gawn (13 votes). Gawn's fellow All-Australian ruckman, West Coast's Nic Naitanui, polled five and Collingwood's Brodie Grundy, who finished equal sixth last year, received six.

Giants star Toby Greene was the best of the forwards with 12 votes, followed by Coleman medallist and All-Australian spearhead Tom Hawkins (11) and the Power's Charlie Dixon (9).

Former Bulldog Scott Wynd was the last genuine ruckman to win the Brownlow in 1992 and the league's goalkicking record-holder Tony Lockett the last full-forward in 1987.

I don't like the chances of a ruckman, forward or defender winning the Brownlow again.

Scrap the bye

The bye before the finals, introduced by the AFL with the best intentions, should not continue.

Despite assurances that the bye will be retained, league chief executive Gillon McLachlan needs to re-think his decision.

The statistics represent compelling evidence. Since the bye was brought in before the start of the 2016 finals to stop clubs resting many players in the final home and away match, only four of the 10 qualifying final winners have been successful in the preliminary finals two weeks later.

Contrast that with the previous 18 preliminary final winners before 2016, of which 17 had been victorious in the qualifying final.

In the past five years, the Western Bulldogs, who finished seventh and went on to win a drought-breaking premiership in 2016, are the only team from outside the top four. But there should be an incentive to finish for teams as high as they can and the bye undoubtedly enhances the chances of the lower-ranked sides.

This year has been exceptional, but generally each team plays 22 home and away games to earn the right of having the best chance to win the premiership.

In 2020, Port Adelaide and Brisbane filled the top two spots at the end of the rounds and won their qualifying finals before being eliminated by Richmond and Geelong last weekend.

Before their preliminary final defeats, the Power had played one game in 25 days and the Lions once in four weeks. Despite the advantage of playing on their home grounds in front of parochial crowds, they were hardly match-hardened.

The Tigers and Cats, who finished third and fourth on the ladder, lost their qualifying finals and won their next two finals to advance to this Saturday night's grand final.

Most fans don't like the bye. While the AFL has used the week as an opportunity to present key awards such as All-Australian honours and Rising Star and there is an argument that it builds momentum and interest in the upcoming finals series, it is considered by many to be an unnecessary break.

Year of the Cat

After more than 100 days on the road and living in hubs, Richmond and Geelong have done a remarkable job to make the grand final.

Geelong will be looking to give Gary Ablett a fairytale finish to his career with a grand final victory. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Image

Geelong will be looking to give Gary Ablett a fairytale finish to his career with a grand final victory. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Image

The Gabba holds no fears for either team. Richmond's loss to Brisbane in the second qualifying final was its first in 12 games at the venue, while Geelong is undefeated in five matches there this season.

It is hard to split them. Both have played three finals, but maybe the Tigers' tough assignment in the wet in Adelaide might have taken a bit more out of them.

So I'm tipping a 10th premiership for the Cats, a fourth for skipper Joel Selwood, a second as coach for Chris Scott, a first for Patrick Dangerfield and a fairytale finish for the great Gary Ablett and probably Harry Taylor.

It's Geelong by nine points and a Norm Smith Medal to add to Dangerfield's bulging bag of awards.

Question of the week

Thurston Cutler of Sebastopol, Victoria, asks: This Saturday's Cox Plate at Moonee Valley appears to be a two-horse race between Russian Camelot and Arcadia Queen. Do you agree?

Yes, but I'll try to find punters a couple of chances to throw in for your trifectas and first fours. Irish stallion Armory ($6) has been unplaced only twice in 11 starts and Humidor ($17) is proven over this track and distance after he gave Winx a scare by coming within half a length of her three years ago.

  • Supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.