Defenders’ backs against it

Why don’t back men win a Brownlow?      25 September 2019

Fremantle champion Nat Fyfe’s* 2019 Brownlow Medal win was astonishing.

To finish two best-on-grounds clear of Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong) and even more votes clear from a leader board of star players was possibly a better performance than his 2015 win.

Once again debate rages as to the dominance of midfielders in the Brownlow. Battling defenders don’t get a look in.

Ten of the first 11 in the Brownlow were old-fashioned rucks, rovers and centre men. Only ruckman Brodie Grundy (Collingwood, 23 votes) – more appropriately a follower in the old lingo – broke the mould. The next highest vote winning ruckman was just outside this group: Max Gawn (Melbourne, 17).

All are classed in general as playing in the midfield.

The highest point-scoring non-midfielder was key forward Jeremy Cameron (Greater Western Sydney, 13).

Forwards compete for the Coleman Medal, midfielders try and win the Brownlow but for what do defenders vie?

According to umpires’ votes, the highest-ranked back man in the AFL was Lachie Whitfield (GWS, 12) ahead of Bashar Houli (Richmond, 11)

So let’s find a measuring stick for comparing defenders and the year they had?

The All-Australian squad of 40 players included 12 back men (and Whitfield didn’t get a mention). Here they are in Brownlow count order:

11 –     Bashar Houli (Rich)                       

  8-      James Sicily (Haw)

  3 –     Dylan Grimes (Rich)          

Shannon Hurn (WCE)      

Tom Stewart (Geel)          

  1 –     Brad Sheppard (WCE)

  0 –     Harris Andrews (BL)         

Mark Blicavs (Geel)           

Nick Haynes (GWS)          

Jeremy McGovern (WCE)

Dane Rampe (Syd)

Daniel Talia (Adel)

Let’s be a little controversial and say Houli has a very distinctive look with his thick black beard and Sicily has blond hair. They had brilliant performances but may have caught the eye a little more readily than the other 10? The next best vote catchers scored three.

So the chances of a defender winning a Brownlow has been and will continue to be out of their touch.


In my opinion the best player on any list is Richmond’s Alex Rance; the second best: McGovern. Obviously, I enjoy a defender who can read the play. Both are All-Australian regulars.

Rance was injured this year but McGovern scored 0 votes despite being terrific in many matches.

Rance’s Brownlow record of recent years is 2018, 0 votes; 2017, 8 votes; 2016, 7 votes; and 2015, 8 votes. He was All-Australian every year and named captain in 2017.

His career Brownlow votes total 31, less than Nat Fyfe this year.

But how to remedy this slight of all key defenders?

You cannot add anything else to Brownlow night and the Most Valuable Player award should also be given to the best player (which will be a midfielder). Players who vote in this award can use their own judgement to make decisions about all players on the ground.

So perhaps it’s up to the coaches when voting in their award?

When they assess their votes post-match, coaches should be encouraged to more strongly reward players who may be doing a job that leads to victory; to recognise what others may not see.

As an example, if Matt de Boer keeps Scott Pendlebury to 10 touches, his coach should award him top marks. This may be harder for the opposition coach but he too should be looking for the usually unsung in his own team or, good-sportingly, recognise the job done on his accepted match-winner.

In this vein, this ‘Coaches’ Best and Fairest’ becomes just that: recognition of any of the 44 players afield not just those stars obvious to the rest of us whether you are umpire, media representative or fan.

*Chose not to use a photograph of Nat Fyfe because there is one almost every day in The West Australian.

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