Rarely has an AFL season promised such a varied and enticing list of potential Brownlow Medal storylines. For starters, it’s not often that you get three first-time winners crowned within the previous six months. Two of those just before Christmas. Throw in potential full footy seasons from past winners Nat Fyfe and Gary Ablett, along with the intrigue about Patrick Dangerfield and whether he can go even close to backing up from last year’s 35-vote domination, and it creates a pretty compelling mix.
Two of those first-time winners, of course, refer to Sam Mitchell and Trent Cotchin, retrospectively awarded the 2012 Brownlow Medal last December after Jobe Watson was stripped of his medallion for his participation in the Essendon drug scandal that season.
Reigning Brownlow medallist and first-time winner Dangerfield is understandably at the top of the markets to take Charlie home again. His remarkable tally of 35 votes last year narrowly eclipsed Dane Swan’s mark of 34 votes in 2011. Dangerfield and Fyfe in 2015 (31 votes) were the first winners (disregarding the ineligible Watson 30-vote return in 2012) to edge past the 30-vote mark since the tattooed former Magpie.
This year Dangerfield holds down favouritism ahead of Western Bulldogs young gun Marcus Bontempelli. Good finals form – and a premiership medallion – clearly counts for plenty. Many footy pundits are tipping the 21-year-old Dog to win at least one Brownlow during his career. Multiple winners aren’t commonplace with just four three-time winners and 10 two-time winners in VFL/AFL history. You need to look back 20 years to the last player to win back-to-back medals – that vote-winning machine from St Kilda, Robert Harvey, in the late 1990s.
Interestingly, only two former winners feature at the top of the 2017 Brownlow markets – Dangerfield and Fyfe. Sydney’s star trifecta of Luke Parker, Dan Hannebery and Josh Kennedy are understandably all highly rated. The next bracket boasts some proven vote winners and serious star quality, the bookies all taking the chances of Ablett, Mitchell and Matt Priddis pretty seriously.
How veteran Mitchell, a vote-winning magnet for umpires, fares this season with his new club West Coast is one of the more intriguing questions of the new AFL season. When was the last time such a credentialled player joined a new club at the age of 34 with little doubt about his capacity to have a big impact straight away? Mitchell, after all, has returned 0.777 votes per game over nearly 300 games. Footy nerds will note Mitchell and Ablett are in equal second place behind Gary Dempsey and ahead of Harvey with 220 Brownlow votes each over their careers. What will be most interesting about Mitchell, however, is how he gels on field with Priddis and Andrew Gaff, another Eagle worth keeping an eye on. And will Perth’s Domain Stadium be good for the four-time premiership Hawk?
If you fancy a speculative Brownlow tip and like a good fairytale story, you can’t go past former Essendon captain Watson. He’ll be raring to go after his season-long ban but no one realistically expects him to be anywhere near his best form of five years ago.
Deserves top billing. Combined beautifully with new teammate and Geelong captain Joel Selwood last year. Interestingly, Swan backed up wonderfully in 2012 after his Brownlow domination, finishing in fourth place, picking up at least 40 possessions in six games and polling more votes per game than anyone else in the top 10. A similar return from the Top Cat would not surprise.
Overall second favouritism might be expecting a little too much from a fourth-year player. Then again, he is The Bont. Remarkably, Bontempelli featured in 26 games for the premiers last year. One thing in his favour is the lack of an obvious contender to take votes off him. The Bulldogs have a wonderful spread of contributors.
Risky, risky, risky. The Dockers star played just five games last year after breaking his leg a second time. Fyfe admits he watched on “with a bit of jealousy” during Dangerfield’s season of dominance. A second Brownlow from Fyfe in 2017 would be nothing short of remarkable.
Rated alongside Ablett, Priddis and Mitchell in the bracket of players behind the top chances, Neale is one to watch. But the young Docker is hardly an unknown and polled 20 votes last year.
The gun youngster was Carlton’s top vote winner with 18 votes in 2016. Expect him to lead the way again at the Blues. Take it to the bank.
Definitely one to watch. The new Brisbane captain has the capacity to vote well and he’s well down the list with bookies. Has only played 18 games for the Lions in two seasons, including just two matches last year.
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