Watson a worthy winner, but Ablett still the best
Essendon's Michael Hurley and Jobe Watson (Slattery Images)
Another Brownlow medal count has been and gone, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone too upset with the way this one panned out. Essendon’s Jobe Watson is a deserving winner.
With 30 votes, the son of a gun last night became the first player from a team outside the top eight to claim the award since Shane Crawford did for Hawthorn back in 1999.
That little slice of history was up for grabs on Australian football’s night of nights, with Watson, Gold Coast skipper Gary Ablett and Richmond star Trent Cotchin sharing joint favouritism for the medal, and deservedly so.
Cotchin, who polled so well in just his fifth AFL season, will be there or thereabouts a few more times in his career, you would expect.
His time will come. But this night was Watson’s, and it capped off a remarkable rise for a player that could so easily have found himself in the AFL wasteland at the end of the 2007 season.
That was his fifth year in the system. Some players, like Cotchin and Ablett, just have it. Some, like Watson, even accounting for his reasonable lineage, have to work hard for it.
Fate also plays a part – if Kevin Sheedy had stayed on at Windy Hill and had his way, Watson would have been traded or cast aside, and who knows what would he would have made of himself in that instance.
Instead, he is a Brownlow medalist – and when pulled up on stage by the master of ceremonies, Bruce McAvaney, he carried himself like one too. It’s hard not to like him.
In this age of Dane Swan and ‘yeah nah, good fannks’ footballers, it’s refreshing to hear someone so down to earth and so well spoken.
Watson was helped to his first Brownlow by the nature of the voting system, and the fact that he is far and away Essendon’s best player.
Accounting for nearly half of your team’s votes is quite a feat, which is what he did with 30 of 63.
However, Ablett one-upped him there, with 24 of Gold Coast’s 43 votes reflecting just how often he played the lone fiddle for the Suns in 2012 – at least for the first half of the year.
Anyone who thought Ablett perhaps wasn’t deserving of so much love from the umpires clearly didn’t watch the Suns too often this season.
It takes a certain kind of player to stand up in a flogging, and five best-on-grounds in amongst a horror start to the year for Gold Coast speak for themselves.
Ablett remains the most damaging player in the game, and one of the all-time greats.
You could mount a reasonable case that he actually had a better season than Watson – his Leigh Matthews Trophy win will back you up.
Here, though, he was not awarded votes in crucial games. The predicted late-season surge never really eventuated, and through no fault of his own.
The umpires decided Aaron Hall and Brandon Matera were better in Gold Coast’s Round 20 win over GWS, despite three match-turning goals and seven inside 50s from the son of God.
A week later, his 43-disposal, eight-tackle, two-goal showing against Hawthorn wasn’t even seen as voteworthy. Instead, he was overtaken by Scott Thompson, Dane Swan, Cotchin and Sam Mitchell. Such is the Brownlow.
The difference for Ablett was purely that his team didn’t win enough games – and when they did, he wasn’t at his best.
One or two more wins for the Suns and the little master almost certainly would have gone home with Charlie around his neck. You could tell how much he wanted it, too.
That grin of disappointment on his face we saw late in the count hasn’t been seen since 2008. It’s not because he reads his own mail – you’d forgive him if he did though, because it would be riveting – it’s because he’s a competitive beast by nature.
There’s barely any room in his own personal trophy cabinet as it is – there’s already a Brownlow, four AFLPA MVP awards, four club champion trophies, six All-Australian nominations and two premiership medals. And yet he wants more.
It is that champion’s mentality that has helped him cement his position as by far the best player in the AFL.
It’s hard to imagine any other player in his shoes on the tourist strip standing out so brightly, so freakishly, and so consistently.
This was the sixth consecutive time Ablett has polled more than 20 votes in a season, and you suspect it won’t be the last.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.