Another Brownlow Medal has been awarded, with Ollie Wines being a deserved winner. His standout season resulted in equalling the highest total votes received by one player (36), with Marcus Bontempelli, Clayton Oliver and Sam Walsh also obtaining 30 or more votes for the season.
The top ten consisted of all midfielders, which has started to become a trend for the Brownlow Medal. As you continue past those players the trend continues. \
Speaking on AFL Daily in the wake of the awards night, Nat Edwards and Damian Barrett discussed the disparity between the votes of each position. Barrett even expressed how he believes that the Brownlow “has changed forever.”
“Ruckmen, or a centre half-forward or a centre halfback... they’re never winning Brownlow’s ever again,” Barrett told Edwards.
“It’s just become too much, the concentration now on that key midfield person when it comes to the prizes at the end of each season.”
The recent data of Brownlow supports this theory. The last player to win the award while not being a midfielder was Adam Goodes in 2003 and 2006. In these two seasons, he spent time between the ruck, forward line and midfield. While not listed in one of the three middle positions, he still spent a large time playing all around the ground.
Before Goodes, you need to look back to 1993, when Gavin Wanganeen won the award to find another non-midfield player.
While the idea that the Brownlow has become the ‘midfielders medal’ has been around for a while, it has become more of an issue over the previous two decades. The AFL Coaches Association (AFLCA) Player of the Year was first introduced in 2003, with the award following the same trend as the Brownlow.
Barrett discussed how the midfield-centric discussion for these types of awards isn’t only apparent within the umpire circles, but is prevalent amongst coaches too.
“It’s not just the umpires who look at midfielders as being the people who get these awards. The coach’s do it themselves,” Barrett explained.
“I feel they’re [coaches] almost more to do with this saturation of thought in the whole industry about the midfielder over and to the expense of the key position player.”
Since 2003, the AFL Coaches Association have awarded their Champion Player of the Year. The award is tallied by each head coach giving 5,4,3,2,1 votes to the best players of every game their team plays. The player at the end of the season with the highest tally is the winner.
The results of the winner each year are below.
|2004||Warren Tredrea||Port Adelaide||Forward|
|2007||Gary Ablett, Jr.||Geelong||Midfield|
|2008||Gary Ablett, Jr.||Geelong||Midfield|
|2009||Gary Ablett, Jr.||Geelong||Midfield|
|2014||Robbie Gray||Port Adelaide||Forward|
|2019||Marcus Bontempelli||Western Bulldogs||Midfield|
Since the award's inception, only four players have won the gong while not playing in the midfield position. That amounts to 20% of the total winners. After 2005, there have only been two players - which tallies at under 12%.
Goodes is the only other player who could be placed in this category having spent time between ruck, forward and midfield throughout his career. Even factoring in Goodes as a non-midfielder, more than 75% of the winners have been a midfielder despite centre, ruck rover, and rover being less than 17% of the players on the field.
Barrett also highlighted how players, such as Max Gawn, are not getting the same recognition for dominant seasons that they might have received in the past.
“Historically speaking, Max Gawn had a season that could have been a Brownlow-winning year if it were in the early 90s,” Barrett said.
“Way back in the 70s when the big men were the players to pick.”
Ruck is one of the positions that had previously polled well in the Brownlow, taking the award away from midfielders in the mid-to-late 20th century.
In the 1990s, players Scott Wynd won the 1992 Brownlow medal, being the last genuine ruckman to win the award. Other ruckmen such as Jim Stynes (1991), Peter Moore (1979 and 1984), Barry Round (1981), Keith Greig (1973), Graham Moss (1976), and Graham Teasdale (1977) have all won the award since the 1970s.
Comparing these seasons to Gawn’s changes in how votes are cast have clearly occurred over time. In a season where Max Gawn averaged 18.4 disposals, 5.3 marks, 32.3 hitouts, and close to a goal a game, he ended up tied for 17th place on 16 votes. For one of the league’s most influential players and the clear number one ruckman, it seemed low.
Edwards also highlighted how only Gawn appeared to get any form of recognition from the umpires with all other non-midfielders finishing on below 10 votes.
“It’s a glaring stat isn’t it, that 36 players polled 10 plus votes last night, 35 of them were midfielders. Max Gawn was the only one who wasn’t a midfielder.”
Max Gawn was the only non-midfielder to finish in the top 30, with Taylor Walker polling the most votes among key forwards and backman, finishing T-35th. pic.twitter.com/oEkuuqjBqk
— Footy on Nine (@FootyonNine) September 20, 2021
Rucks aren’t the only players that their value on a game isn’t being represented in the Brownlow. Forwards and backs also struggle to poll highly and consistently in the Brownlow Medal. As mentioned above, there wasn’t a single forward or back that polled 10 or more votes in 2021.
Polling highly in the Brownlow has become difficult for forwards. Unless they are kicking large bags of goals their impact on the game isn’t generally awarded with votes. Even then they still might only receive votes in a handful of their more dominant games. For example, Matthew Lloyd and Lance Franklin have had 100 plus goal seasons since the 2000s and both failed to get into the top three of their respective Brownlow counts.
Below is the list of Coleman Medal winners since 2000 and how many Brownlow votes they received. Lance Franklin is the only winner who managed to obtain 20 or more votes, largely due to his versatility and ability to win the ball all around the ground.
It has been over 30 years since a predominant forward has managed to win the prestigious award. The previous instance of a Brownlow Medal-winning forward was Tony Lockett in 1987 and Gerald Healy in 1988 (though he spent time in the middle too).
Barrett found that big key position players are being undervalued and unrecognised when it comes to these types of awards.
“Key position forwards can have key matches that influence the game and they don’t get a look in at the end of it.”
Defenders find it equally challenging to feature in the Brownlow Medal, especially as many of their efforts and impact on the game cannot be found on the stat sheet. Defenders don’t have the luxury of kicking a bag of goals, that catches the umpire’s attention. Unless a defender is able to generate offence and garner public attention, they are unlikely to get the votes necessary to compete for the medal. This is evident with Gavin Wanganeen (1993) and Brad Hardie (1985) being the last defenders to be Brownlow Medallists.
Defenders especially are impacted by these trends as they don’t have another award that recognises their brilliance like forwards have with the Coleman.
“Taylor for instance on GWS, totally had a dominant match one day and didn’t even get one vote, let alone the three," Barrett added.
There were many other instances of players, especially those in key positions, being absent on the vote counts.
The Brownlow Medal has been adapting with the rest of the league over the past few decades. Over that time, the importance of having star power in the midfield has increased, while key position players and rucks are becoming less of a priority.
These changes are seen with the AFLCA player of the year, the Brownlow Medal and many of the other awards and accolades being presented to players. Even the All-Australian team epitomises this by adding in more midfielders by listing them as half-forward/half-back flanks.
If 2021 is anything to go by, the increased talent in the midfield across the league is only going further the divide between midfielders and other players in the Brownlow Medal.
With an ageing Gawn, and the upcoming forward crop looking unlikely to reach the heights of Franklin, the Brownlow Medal is moving closer and closer to the 'Midfielders Medal' that many already believe it is.
Damian Barrett could be right... "They’re never winning Brownlows ever again.”