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A Cat’s Brownlow? Or a Lion’s?

Whatever happens in this weekend's AFL preliminary finals, it looks like one Cat will be having another life on the Brownlow stage on Monday night. But according to John Pyrros, don't expect it to be Gary Ablett Jr. And if there's going to be a real surprise, the night could belong to a Brisbane Lion.

Brownlow night is where the individual shines over the team, where partners get to parade their best frocks, and for the rest of us to reflect on the year that was away from the blare of sirens or skirmishes.

Geelong’s Gary Ablett Jr and Collingwood’s Dane Swan are favourites for Monday night’s  award, with TAB Sportsbet setting them at $3 and $5 odds respectively. Both averaged over 30 possessions a game in 2009, yet while Ablett has been among the favourites for the past two seasons, he haswalked away emptyhanded both times.

And he might this year too. Increased competition will come from St Kilda’s Nick Riewoldt who stood tall (quite literally) up forward contributing 68 goals for the season and averaging 17 disposals a game. With St Kilda’s blistering 20-game winning streak through the core of the season the only factors weighing against Riewoldt’s chances are the Saints’ brilliant midfielders Nick Dal Santo, Leigh Montagna and Lenny Hayes, each of  who might take vital votes away from him.

The top 10 will be difficult to pick this year, because of the tightness of the competition, but anyone hoping for a fairytale – another Matthew Richardson story from 2008, who finished equal third on 22 votes – should keep in mind that not since Shane Crawford in 1999 has a player whose team has finished outside the top eight won the Brownlow Medal. Eight out of the past 11 winners have come from teams that have made the top four (that includes 2003, where the Medal was awarded to Nathan Buckley, Adam Goodes and Mark Ricciuto, each having polled 22 votes). If that’s any indication, Adam Goodes may miss out on a third Brownlow. Despite averaging 21 disposals a game, his team Sydney managed only eight victories for the season and that might be a factor that weighs against Goodes getting votes.

It looks like the night will belong to a Cat, but not for the favourite Ablett Jr. Joel Selwood (a great pick at $8.50 – my money would be on him) in just his third year has become a first-class contributor to Geelong’s dangerous midfield, having averaged just under 28 disposals a game in 2009 – including 11 over-30 possession games– and having received his first All-Australian selection honours last Monday night. Selwood should add the Brownlow Medal to his NAB Rising Star Award, his All-Australian honours and a premiership medallion, all by the age of 21. In the first 11 rounds of the season his lowest possession tally was 22, for the remaining 10 of 11 he managed over 25 touches, and Geelong won all of those games. He also featured in 42 possession game against Hawthorn in round 18, where Geelong managed a come from behind to win. I cannot see past Selwood, the Medal is traditionally a midfielder’s award and his stats show that he is a continuous contributor.

However, anyone looking for the ‘smoky’ shouldn’t go past Brisbane’s Simon Black (quoted a $12 chance on Friday evening). Having played yet another solid year, and quite controversially missing out on All-Australian selection earlier this week, he has guided the Lions midfield all year. He has managed 25 disposals a game, 65 marks, 112 tackles and 10 goals. Black could reap the rewards of the Lions’ good year, the team having finished in sixth spot. His past form’s not bad either: he won in 2002 and was runner-up in 2007 and last year.

The Brownlow Medal is broadcast live from 7:30 Monday night on Channel 7 from Melbourne’s Crown Casino complex.

John Pyrros is a second-year Law/Media student at La Trobe University.

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