The AFL’s perennial cellar-dwellers claimed their second wooden spoon last season with a miserable three-win campaign and could have scarcely begun 2020 any worse.
As the home and away season begins to wrap up, star players will be rewarded for their achievements during the year at events like the All-Australian selection night, NAB Rising Star and of course the Brownlow Medal.
Despite these events allowing players to gain the recognition from the league, they fail to address some of the key areas of the game.
Sometimes incredible seasons go under the radar and players efforts are not fully recognised. Therefore, I have come up with my own awards, similar to the NBA and NFL, designed to highlight the incredible achievements this year.
Rookie of the Year – Sam Walsh
Although the league already has the NAB Rising Star award, it doesn’t have the same ring as Rookie of the Year does. However, both the Rising Star and Rookie of the Year have a clear winner: Carlton’s Sam Walsh.
Heading into the 2019 season, there was much hype about Sam Walsh due to his obvious talent and potential, which was bound to bring pressure. But since his debut of 24 touches, Walsh has not missed a beat and is head and shoulders about every other rookie this year.
Although he may not have the flair and excitement of players like Sydney Stack and Connor Rozee, he makes up for this with his hard marathon-like running and possession-getting across the ground.
At 19 years of age he’s already gaining high praise and looks set for an amazing career at Carlton. He’s exactly the kind of player that Carlton need, and further development will just make him better and better.
Also nominated – Connor Rozee, Sydney Stack, Bailey Smith
Defensive Player of the Year – Dayne Zorko
Defenders traditionally lack any recognition when it comes to Brownlow night and not since Jim Stynes (a ruckman) in 1991 has a midfielder not won the medal.
Therefore, I decided to give recognition to the defensive side of the game. Although it’s well known that the work of defenders is not often shown on highlight reels and very rarely brings in memberships, it is an integral part of the sport of AFL and should be recognised.
Saying that, I am totally going to contradict myself and give this award to Brisbane captain Dayne Zorko. The pressure midfielder currently sits at No.1 in pressure acts and tackles inside 50. He also sits at No.3 in overall tackles and is viewed as one of few elite tackling players in the league.
Although this may not be viewed as a traditional defensive role, his role in containing the ball in their forward half has made them the best offensive team in the league.
Also nominated – Aliir Aliir, Mark Blicavs, Harris Andrews
Most Improved – Jordan Dawson
In 2018, Jordan Dawson struggled to get a game out of the Swans but his overall improvement this year has almost made him the first name on the team sheet each weekend.
At 22 years of age, Dawson is far from his maximum potential but his development in 2019 has been notable. It’s often stated that the Swans are a developing team and Dawson is a leading example of how much this team has improved in 2019.
Although players like James Worpel and Tim Taranto have improved immensely this year, Dawson has found a new utility role with the Swans and now has the capability to play in any area across the ground.
Dawson’s kicking efficiency is the most notable part of his game and is become more vital for the Swans coming out of the defensive 50. But on the other hand, his ability to go forward and find a goal is equally impressive. Continued improvement for Jordan Dawson and the rest of the young Swans will make them a formidable opponent in coming years.
Also nominated – Tim Taranto, James Worpel, Aaron Naughton
Sixth Man of the Year – Jeremy Finlayson
Traditionally this award is given to the best player that comes of the bench, but as the game of AFL involves all 22 players constantly throughout the game, I’ve had to adjust the criteria for this award. Thus, this award goes to the player at a club that maybe isn’t always the well-known superstar or the vote-getter on Brownlow night but the player that is still just a vital for their team’s success.
It easy to justify giving this to a midfielder as many clubs do not struggle with midfield depth, but I couldn’t look past Jeremy Finlayson for this award.
Throughout the year, the Greater Western Sydney Giants were described as the most potent attack in the league due to their vast range of scoring options. Although Jeremy Cameron is their main scoring option inside 50, the efforts of Jeremy Finlayson really caught my eye.
Moving from the defence to the forward line in 2019, Finlayson has provided the Giants a perfect second option when kicking for goal. Accumulating 36 goals so far this season and currently sitting 11th in the Coleman race, Finlayson has had a very underestimated year in his new role.
As a former defender, his overhead mark is where he excels and allows the Giants to worry opposition defenders as they have no idea if the ball is coming for Cameron or Finlayson. Since coming out of the side due to injury the last few weeks, it’s obvious that the Giants have become very one-dimensional and this just highlights the importance of Finlayson’s role.
Also nominated – Jack Macrae, Ed Curnow, Mitch Robinson
Coach of the Year – Chris Fagan
After years of pain and suffering at the bottom of the ladder, Brisbane Lions fans finally have something to be excited about come September. During the pre-season there was some talk that Brisbane were heading for a successful season, but I don’t think anyone could predict them securing a home final. And this is due to the work of Chris Fagan and his coaching staff.
Credit to Chris Fagan, who has stuck to his same game plan throughout all these years before results finally began to show in 2019. Many coaches of developing teams panic when it comes to adjusting their game plan, but Fagan’s temperament has now started to pay dividends.
The Lions are still such a young team and all clubs know that it’s a different game come September, but Fagan’s work is truly impressive and could make the Lions the most daunting team to play for the next decade.
Also nominated – Rhyce Shaw, Alastair Clarkson, Chris Scott
Comeback player of the Year – Travis Boak
Realistically the only player that is eligible for an award like this is Shane Mumford, but as his season is nothing spectacular, I couldn’t bring myself to grant him this award. Thus, I decided to make this award more directed at the older generation of players and those players who are still providing their teams great leadership and performances as they edge closer to retirement.
Port Adelaide is very much an in-between team, in the sense that they have the talent to compete with any other side but don’t always manage to produce it on the day. One exception to that this year is Travis Boak.
There is no doubt that historically Boak has been a highly consistent player for the Power but has seemed to take it a step above this season. Since stepping away from the captaincy this season, the pressure has been taken off and he has returned to career best form.
Averaging 31 disposals and five tackles this year, Boak can still be considered as an elite midfielder and even at 31 years of age, he still plays a vital role at the Power. Capable of a few more seasons, Port fans will be hoping that this form can continue as it will go a long way for their team’s development.
Also nominated – Luke Hodge, David Mundy, Gary Ablett
MVP – Patrick Cripps
Although the Brownlow Medal recognises the league’s best and fairest, it fails to address the small thing that makes a player truly valuable to their team’s success. If you look at the Brownlow Medal counts from previous years, there is an obvious correlation between team success and individual accolades, hence why I’m looking for players that give real value to their team and their overall success.
As the AFL is not lacking in talent with some of the game’s best ever talents playing today, it may be hard to give this award. However, when looking at season 2019, it is impossible to look past Patrick Cripps.
Throughout the year, Cripps battled form and the weight of captaincy. However, when Cripps was on top of his game, the Carlton side was notably better. Some of the highlights throughout the year from Cripps include 39 touches and seven tackles in Round 19 and 38 touches and four goals in Round 12. Notably, both these mammoth games came in Carlton wins against much higher ranked opponents in Adelaide and Brisbane, which proves how valuable Cripps can be in the success of the club.
Standing at 195 centimetres and weighing 90 kilograms, Cripps is built like a traditional half forward but due to his impressive athleticism and strength, he finds himself as one of the game’s best midfielders. Cripps is the one of the league’s most exciting players to watch, but his unique style and ability to dominate the game makes him the league’s most valuable player for season 2019.
Also nominated – Nat Fyfe, Ben Cunnington, Lachie Neale