After carrying his team since their inception, Gary Ablett’s shoulder finally popped. And with that, his seemingly insurmountable Brownlow lead is now catchable.
Forecast to be on 26 votes after Round 16 under our pre-scaled projections, Ablett would have the medal in the bag had it not been for his shoulder injury on Saturday.
But that is not to say, he won’t still win it. After all, Ablett with one arm is still pretty handy.
After 16 rounds, Ablett is still well ahead of past medal winners at the same time of the year.
Last year, Ablett had polled 21 votes en route to 28. In 2012, Watson had locked up the medal by this stage of the season with 26 (30) votes. In 2011, Dane Swan had 20 (34) and in 2010, Chris Judd amassed 22 (30) votes after 16 rounds. When Ablett won his first Brownlow in 2009, he had 23 votes after 16 rounds on his way to 30.
With the exception of Swan, the past five winners have polled more than two-thirds of their votes before entering the final third of the season. What this suggests is that elite players who go strong early in the season will taper off towards the end of the season as their teams prepare for finals and player output is reduced.
This was best evidenced last year when Tom Rockliff started his season slowly but flew home to poll 19 votes in the final eight rounds where Ablett polled eight in the same period.
26 votes will not be enough for Ablett to take the medal home this year so he will still need to play a few more games. Dr Peter Larkins rarely gets a football injury diagnosis wrong and he yesterday said on 3AW, Ablett will miss four games.
A return in Round 21 would give Ablett three games to secure a third Brownlow but it whether he can return at is best is doubtful. If Ablett is to miss four games, he will avoid surgery but risks the shoulder popping out again. He would however be in the mix to play finals if the Suns can get there in the four weeks without him.
The stark reality is looming for Nat Fyfe who could become the first player since Chris Grant in 1997 to poll the most votes but be ineligible due to a suspension during the season.
Fyfe is forecast to be on 19 votes despite missing two games.
North Melbourne veteran Brent Harvey is next on 16 votes and is having an evergreen season.
Despite being the second-oldest player in the league, Harvey has not lost his zest for football and should expect to poll heavily in the middle of the season with strong performances in Rounds 9, 11, 12 and 13.
Harvey has benefited greatly by Andrew Swallow’s slow start to his season since returning from injury. It has allowed Harvey to get under the umpire’s noses in the midfield while his 19 goals, many at critical moments, has seen him swing games.
After 16 rounds, Harvey is averaging 26.5 disposals per game which is a career high for the 36-year-old. In 2007 when he polled 22 votes, he did so averaging 23.8 disposals per game and 36 goals to his name.
As the season rolls on however, Harvey’s age will catch up to him as will Swallow’s form.
Regularly fancied in Brownlow markets, Scott Pendlebury may finally have his chance to win a deserved medal. However, his year to date has not been as prolific as they have been in the past.
Forecast to be on 15 votes after Round 16, his reduced influence can largely be attributed to the rise of Dayne Beams, forecast to be on 12 votes, and Steele Sidebottom.
Another in the same boat as Pendlebury is Geelong skipper Joel Selwood who has been relatively quit in the middle of the season after a blistering start. The emergence of Steven Motlop whose flair is certain to catch the attention of umpires has limited Selwood’s influence.
Between Rounds 7 and 16, Selwood is forecast to poll just three votes which will land him on 12 and probably leave too much ground for him to catch.
Two Sydney teammates pose the most intrigue to this year’s count. Josh Kennedy continues to accumulate disposals at will and muscle his way through contests. But his stat line shows little change on past years where he has polled poorly due to a lack of foot skills. Despite this, he is still forecast to be on 14 votes after Round 16.
More interestingly though, Lance Franklin finds himself on 14 votes. Best on ground performances in Rounds 13 and 15 put him in contention of breaking the run of midfielder winners.
His flashy style and influential demeanour has not slipped by the umpires in the past with Franklin polling 20 votes in both 2008 and 2011.
Although Franklin does not accumulate stats by any means, he has had a big influence on final quarters in the middle of the season which has enabled Sydney to get up on multiple occasions. Late game heroics tend to play on the minds of umpires which leads Franklin to be the dark horse in this year’s count.
Of the rest, Steve Johnson (14), Callan Ward (14), Tom Liberatore (14), Scott Thompson (13), Robbie Gray (13), Trent Cotchin (13) and Tom Rockliff (13) are still in the mix but they will need a spectacular string of performances to move into genuine contention.
If Ablett is indeed on 26 votes after 16 rounds, he has a very strong buffer of ten votes from his rivals once we exclude Nat Fyfe.
Polling ten votes in four games is no easy feat for Ablett’s rivals if that is all he will miss.
As we enter the pointy end of the season where half the league is desperately playing for a finals appearance, the season’s toll will start showing on some.
Increased physicality partnered with late-season fatigue makes it difficult to poll consistently at the back end of the season. This is why past winners have accumulated more than two third of their votes prior to this point in the season.
If Ablett returns in Round 21 to play the remaining three rounds of the season, he should still win the medal thanks to an enormous lead before that load bearing shoulder went pop.
This is part two of a three-part series with the final projected tally to be released on Brownlow medal morning. Since making his detailed projections available to the public, Alfred Chan has successfully predicted the past two medal winners and their number of votes polled. He can be found on Twitter @AlfredC91.