Spare a thought for the runners up

25 September 2012

Written by: Erdem Koc

I’ll put my cards on the table. I’m an Essendon supporter, so I’m stoked that Jobe Watson won the Brownlow medal. He had a brilliant year, and was a very deserving winner.

To be fair though, the same could be said about Trent Cotchin. Or Sam Mitchell. Or Gary Ablett.

Public discussions the day after the Brownlow are very similar to discussions the day after the All-Australian team is named. People generally agree that whoever came out on top was worthy, but that the player(s) who just missed out were unlucky. For a few days we remember the unlucky ones, but they’re forgotten before too long.

Let me cast your mind back a few years.

In the mid-2000s, Chris Judd and Ben Cousins were regarded as the two key figures in West Coast’s success. But I wonder whether this would be the case if Daniel Kerr had played just one more game in 2005?

Kerr missed three games, but finished one vote behind Cousins in the Brownlow. Kerr also finished third in the 2006, and runner up in 2007. If he had won a Brownlow, or two for that matter, would Daniel Kerr be thought of in the same league as Ben Cousins or Chris Judd?

A similar argument could be made about Adelaide’s Andrew McLeod. When discussing the best Adelaide player of the last 15 years, 2003 Brownlow medallist Mark Ricciuto generally gets the nod.

I’m not sure this would be so if McLeod had have won either the 2000 or 2001 Brownlow medal. He finished third in 2000 and second in 2001. McLeod surely would be considered one of the greats if he had a Brownlow to go with the two Norm Smith medals he won in Adelaide’s back-to-back grand final wins in 1997 and 1998.

And who can forget Scott West? Well, sadly, a lot of people. A friend of mine recently saw West at a pizza shop. West ordered a pizza, and ten minutes later my friend did the same. Somehow, my mate got his pizza before West got his.

This was a typical day in the life of Scott West.  On Brownlow nights West was always the bridesmaid, but never the bride. He was runner up on two occasions, in 2000 and in 2006. He also finished third in 1998, fourth in 2005, and fifth in 2004. These days, West rarely, if ever, features in discussions about great players of yesteryear.

These stories don’t sit right with me. After all, the tiniest things can cost a player a Brownlow. A week or two on the sidelines with an injury is often enough to ruin a player’s chances. It’s ridiculous that a player who gets suspended for a minor indiscretion is made ineligible to win the Brownlow. But it happens – just ask Chris Grant or Corey McKernan.

And what about the men who pick the votes? We criticise umpires’ decisions each week on the football field, so why do we hold their opinions in such high regard when it comes to Brownlow night? Across 198 games of football in the home and away season, they’re bound to get the votes wrong in a game or two.

And just one mistake is enough to cost a player a Brownlow medal.

So I’ve got to wonder, if the umpires had not recognised Watson’s stellar season, would he still be considered a very good, rather than a great, player? I think the answer is yes, but it shouldn’t be.

Footy lovers should make up their own minds. We shouldn’t need awards such as the Brownlow to validate our opinions on footballers. I would’ve known Watson was more consistently influential than any other player this year, even if the umpires didn’t. I also know that Gary Ablett was the most brilliant footballer of the year, even though the medal count suggests otherwise.

It’s fine to use Brownlow medals as a reference point when reflecting on a player’s career. If a player has a Brownlow, he is likely to be a great player. But we must not fall into the trap of discrediting everyone who falls a vote or two short, considering all the great players who never won Brownlow medals. Leigh Mathews, Wayne Carey, Gary Ablett Snr, Tim Watson, Ted Whitten and Ron Barassi head the list. While this is a great group of players, I’m certain that Jobe Watson awoke this morning extremely happy to be part of the other category.

I would however, like to apologise to Josh Francou, Nick Dal Santo, Mark Mercuri, and Brent Harvey and the many other players who have fallen just short of winning a Brownlow. These players all deserved to be in my piece, but there wasn’t room for them all. Oh well, they can deal with it I guess.

I imagine they’re used to being overlooked or forgotten by now.

Sam McInerney is currently completing a Graduate Diploma in Journalism at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @SamuelMcInerney.