With the preliminary finals behind us, it means the Brownlow Medal night is also now not far away. Indeed tonight, one player will receive the most prestigious individual award in the AFL; a prize that separates the best from the rest.
Everyone involved with the football community always seems to have their own thoughts and predictions of who might win. But, in the end, all that matters are the thoughts of the men who decide: the umpires.
Here are some of the contenders for this year’s award:
Dane Swan (Collingwood)
Swan has taken his game to yet another level this year, averaging a career-high 32 possessions a game, including a run of 10 straight where he gathered 30 possessions or more. What will have been very appealing to the umpires is that he has been doing some serious damage with those disposals. Swan has also been able to push forward and managed to kick 21 goals. The Magpies’ star midfielder has been in Collingwood’s best players for the majority of his side’s victories and will go in to the count as the well-deserved firm favourite to win. However, he was also the favourite going into last year’s count and the umpires awarded him only half of the votes of what most expected. He improved his numbers significantly this year, so it will be interesting to see whether the umpires have taken notice this time round.
Luke Hodge (Hawthorn)
The Hawks’ spiritual leader has endured his career-best season to date, spending a lot more time in the midfield. Hodge averaged 25 disposals for the year, but it was his efficiency and tenacity for the contested ball that have made many in the football community take notice. In fact his year was so outstanding that he was recently named captain of the 2010 All-Australian team. Expect him to poll well early in the count and he could still be leading after round 17. However – like his team – he faded away over the last five games of the season, and didn’t even play in the final match. Hodge is a very good chance to finish in the top three and is almost a certainty to be Hawthorn’s top vote-getter.
Chris Judd (Carlton)
He’s not been as prolific as his Brownlow year in 2004, but the Blues’ skipper has certainly carried his team through some tough times this season with some brilliant individual performances. Judd has won slightly more possessions this season compared to last, averaging 28 touches a game with 12 of them being contested. He gathered 25 touches or more on 14 different occasions and with a few of his fellow midfielders having below par seasons, he is certain to have gained the umpires’ attention. However Carlton only won 10 games for the year which will definitely hinder his chances, but he is a proven vote-getter so he should be right up there.
Gary Ablett (Geelong)
Last year’s Brownlow medallist certainly didn’t suffer any form blues this year, maintaining his high work ethic and class when in possession of the ball. Ablett started the season in terrific fashion, gathering 30 possessions or more in 13 of the first 14 matches. He ended up averaging 31 touches for the year and pushed forward with great success to kick a career-high 44 goals. Ablett fell away slightly in the second half of the year, so he needs to be a fair way out in front after round 15 if he is to have any chance. He did finish on a high, with two best-on-ground performances in rounds 20 and 21, but his teammates could be his worst enemies with players such as Joel Selwood, Paul Chapman and Jimmy Bartel likely to take votes away from him.
The tallest player in the AFL was a big reason behind the Dockers’ outstanding 2010 season. Sandilands averaged 110 minutes of game time this year, a stat that is almost unheard of for the modern day ruckman. He averaged 17 disposals, four clearances and a mammoth 36 hit-outs a game. But maybe the stat that has caught the umpires’ attention the most this year is that he averaged 26 hit-outs to the advantage of his teammates. However Sandilands will have a lot of votes taken off him by first-year recruit Michael Barlow in the opening 12 rounds and he also missed three games late in the season due to a knee injury. It will be fascinating to see how the umpires have viewed the big man’s season and whether they reward his dominance in the ruck.
This season, I awarded votes to the three best players on the ground after each game. The basic theory was to analyse all the votes given by the various media outlets and come to a general consensus about which three players most deserved the votes. I also factored in things such as weighting the votes heavily towards midfielders – which always seems to happen in the Brownlow every year – and focus on players who were a part of the team that actually won the game, especially if they won by a significant margin.
Sometimes it was clear-cut who the best three were, other times it wasn’t. Of course, the umpires will always have a very different perspective of a match compared to what the media believe, but I believe this may be a fairly accurate representation of how the votes will unfold.
So at the end of my personal count, here is how the top eight finished up:
- Dane Swan (COLL)- 30 votes
- Luke Hodge (HAW)- 27 votes
- Chris Judd (CAR)- 26 votes
- Gary Ablett (GEE)- 25 votes
- Aaron Sandilands (FRE) 20 votes
- Brendon Goddard (ST K)- 19 votes
- Brent Harvey (NM) and Joel Selwood (GEE)- 18 votes
Ablett and Fremantle’s Michael Barlow started the season superbly and will surely poll well early. However, Ablett slowed down a little midway through the year and Barlow broke his leg in round 14. This is when Hodge, Judd and particularly Swan should make their move up the leader board. However, Swan is the only one of these three players who continues their form for the remainder of the season. A solid game from Swan against Hawthorn in the final round of the season should secure him win his first Brownlow.
The Collingwood midfielder thoroughly deserves the award. He has been the most prolific ball-winner in the competition this season and would’ve surely been noticed by the umpires.
If you’re also, or only, interested in how players will go amongst their own teammates, here is my list of players who are likely to poll the most votes for their own club:
Adelaide- Scott Thompson (17 votes)
Brisbane- Jonathon Brown (12 votes)
Carlton- Chris Judd (26 votes)
Collingwood- Dane Swan (30 votes)
Essendon- Jobe Watson (13 votes)
Fremantle- Aaron Sandilands (20 votes)
Geelong- Gary Ablett (25 votes)
Hawthorn- Luke Hodge (27 votes)
Melbourne- Brad Green (9 votes)
North Melbourne- Brent Harvey (18 votes)
Port Adelaide- Travis Boak (13 votes)
Richmond- Jack Riewoldt and Brett Deledio (9 votes)
St Kilda- Brendon Goddard (19 votes)
Sydney- Adam Goodes (13 votes)
West Coast- Matthew Priddis (9 votes)
Western Bulldogs- Adam Cooney (14 votes)