GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 18: Tom Stewart of the Cats marks the ball during the round 22 AFL match between the Geelong Cats and the Fremantle Dockers at GMHBA Stadium on August 18, 2018 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

As footy continues to evolve there has been an increased shift towards prioritising the intercepting/run & carry aspect of the game as teams rely heavily on their ability to generate turnovers and initiate attacking play. 

The likes of players such as Jake Lever and Steven May have been critical to Melbourne’s rebirth and premiership push to this point. Lever acts as an on-field coach and May as a contest ruining machine as the invaluable tandem torture teams going inside 50, hindering the oppositions ability to hit the scoreboard.

Conversely, players like Tom Stewart and Jake Lloyd are tasked with generating offence from the back-half as their trusted foot skills and instincts constantly break open the play. 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 15: Jake Lever of the Demons handpasses the ball during the round four AFL match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Melbourne Demons at Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 15, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Countless other’s fall into these categories but unfortunately will receive little to no love come the awards-end of the season, as defenders aren't shown the same appreciation as their midfield counterparts. This begs the question of whether stats are valued over impact?

While it’s unlikely that the Brownlow voting will change and that other awards like the Leigh Matthews Trophy are still a midfielder’s to lose, is it time the AFL introduce a defensive MVP to reward those who’s contribution is seemingly undervalued when considering statistical assessment. 

Historical assessment

Of the 88 players who have won the Brownlow medal, only six have been non-centre players (ruckmen are not included in this group as they technically play in the middle). It’s actually been an astonishing 56 years since a key-position player was able to claim the honours of being the fairest and best player in the league. Here’s a glance at the six non-midfield/centre players to win 'Charlie':

  • Colin Watson (StKilda), half-back: 1925, 9 votes
  • Ivor Warne-Smith (Melbourne), centre half-forward: 1926 & 1928, 9 & 8 votes 
  • Albert Collier (Collingwood), centre half-back: 1929, 6 votes
  • Bernie Smith (Geelong), back pocket: 1951, 23 votes
  • John James (Carlton), half-back flank: 196, 21 votes
  • Gordon Collis (Carlton), centre half-back: 1964, 27 votes

Even the Leigh Matthews Trophy hasn't been won by a key-position player in 16 years since St Kilda champion Nick Riewoldt clinched the award in 2004.

In fact, the only outright defender to win the award was Paul Roos in 1986, as Terry Daniher, Russell Greene, Anthony Koutoufides and Andrew McLeod are historically associated with other positions in addition to the back six. 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 7: Anthony Koutoufides #43 for the Blues celebrates a goal during the round nineteen AFL match between The Essendon Bombers and the Carlton Blues at the M.C.G. on August 7, 2004 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

It appears that the time has come to adopt a US-like approach to sporting awards and appreciate the unsung heroes of the game on a regular basis. 

Pros for an AFL defensive player of the year/MVP 

A defensive award will set a new precedent for rewarding players who display extraordinary efforts that go unnoticed when checking the typical stat sheet.

While defence is prized and preached among the league, it’s lack of recognition may hinder a players motivation to commit to these tedious acts, whereas an award can act to incentivise players continued output on this side of ball.

While this may seem ridiculous given any player can be dropped for a lack of effort, this point is in relation to a continued output throughout the duration of a game from attacking type defenders. 

Furthermore, emphasising metrics such as:

  • Pressure acts 
  • Defensive half pressure acts 
  • Spoils 
  • One-percenters 
  • Intercepts 
  • Contested defensive loss percentage
  • Meters gained 

...will raise awareness to the value of a defensive player in the eyes of the causal viewer, who may otherwise equate a lack of touches to a poor performance when this clearly isn't the case. 

Additionally, tracking and emphasising the importance of these key defensive stats may help defenders secure more lucrative contracts, as their value is continually reinforced by the media. Seriously, who isn’t all-for getting paid what you’re worth?!

Cons for an AFL defensive player of the year/MVP 

On the flip side emphasising position-based awards has the potential to water-down the significance of the Brownlow Medal and down-play the influence of other awards like the Leigh Matthews Trophy, Best & Fairests and All-Australian selections. 

Given the media-induced spectacle that surrounds the Brownlow ceremony, it’s very unlikely that adding a defensive player of the year/MVP will hamper the prestige of the award, instead it may even add to the event.

The fact that the award has been traditionally won by centre players means that any defensive recognition is almost invalid when considering the medals history. 

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The same can be said about the Leigh Matthews Trophy since it's been a middle-field player award for nearly two decades. When considering the B&F, it’s almost irrelevant in this context as it’s assessment is only valid within a single club and not the wider league.

Conversely, while an All-Australian selection is a form of recognition for each position, it still doesn’t highlight the defender in the same light as the award-winning centre players. 

Verdict

Everyone should be all for a defensive player of the year/MVP and while we’re at it chuck in an offensive player of the year/MVP and spread the love. The Brownlow will remain the cream of the crop and nothing will change in terms of voting or the type of players winning the award, so the AFL might as well move forward and reward those under-appreciated players with their own award.