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Ask the football community who have been the best three midfielders in the competition over the last three seasons, and many would agree on three names: Patrick Dangerfield, Dustin Martin and Nat Fyfe.
All three are in the prime of their careers, aged 28, 27 and 26 respectively. The superstar trio has each won one of the past three Brownlow medals.
But there are three ready-made replacements for the podium once these three move into the back ends of their careers.
Josh Kelly, Patrick Cripps and Clayton Oliver.
Kelly, aged 23, may not be as much of a contested ball beast, but he is perhaps already the epitome of class and skill among the AFL’s best midfielders.
His performance against Carlton in Round 20 took the AFL world by storm, and it could well go down as the best individual performance in the 2018 season.
Kelly, however, won’t have the Brownlow medal hanging around his neck this September after missing large parts of the year through injury.
Patrick Cripps just might though.
Without Cripps, the AFL’s worst team would be even more of a disaster than what it already has been this year. The 23-year-old contested bull has almost single-handedly carried Carlton’s midfield this year.
His ability to win the ball and burst out of packs makes him nearly untouchable. Almost no one else in football matches his brute force at the contest.
Clayton Oliver, however, is arguably right on par with Cripps. And he’s more than two years younger than both Cripps and Josh Kelly.
Oliver’s last month of football has been a level above his already lofty standards, but his entire 2018 campaign has seen him establish himself as a Brownlow smokey as well.
Fyfe, Danger and Dusty have been the three best for the past few years. Most of us are happy to agree on that. And most of us will agree that Kelly, Cripps and Oliver are next in line. Some say they already are the best.
But who’s number one out of the three? That’s where it becomes such a fun debate.
Say you had the chance to pick one of the three to join your team. Who would you take?
You might say Kelly, but would Cripps be even more dominant in a better team, with more help around him?
And you could definitely argue that while Oliver is a superstar, Cripps and Kelly are slightly ahead of him. But would you take Oliver based on the fact that he’s a lot younger?
Does Oliver have it slightly easier than the others with the AFL’s best ruckman feeding it down his throat at every stoppage?
It’s almost an impossible decision to make. But if I had the chance to pick one to join my team, I’d take the GWS Giant.
Midfield beasts with the ball-winning ability of Cripps and Oliver are extremely hard to come by. But a player with the skilfulness and poise of Josh Kelly are once-in-a-generation type players.
All three players boast a stunning individual performance in 2018.
Josh Kelly’s utter demolition of the miserable Blues, where he collected 41 disposals, delivered the ball inside 50 16 times, and had ten clearances.
Patrick Cripps couldn’t have done anything more against Collingwood in Round 14, accumulating 29 disposals, laying nine tackles, and booting three majors.
Oliver’s 35 disposals, two goals, and seven tackles against Fremantle in Round 16 was spectacular.
Yet Kelly’s was the best, irrespective of their opponent.
Josh Kelly can play inside, outside, can kick goals and is the Rolls Royce of the AFL. And at this point, I would take him over Cripps and Oliver.
Could that decision change in two years? Absolutely.
Who knows what Clayton Oliver’s potential is if he’s already this good at 21.
Could Patrick Cripps reach even greater heights once Carlton’s young team begins to improve?
Exciting times lie ahead for the three best young midfielders in the AFL. I have no doubt the next eight years will be filled with Josh Kelly, Patrick Cripps and Clayton Oliver Brownlow medals.
Who would you take if you had to choose one?