These days midfielders hog all the spotlight.
When I think of what makes Australian Rules Football great, I think of the hangers, the run-and-bounce and goals from impossible angles.
I don’t really get excited about midfielders hacking the ball out of the centre.
I know what people will say – getting your hands on the ball first and moving it forward is so critical. Additionally, I do acknowledge that some midfielders hit targets and kick goals, but the disposal and clearance count gets too much emphasis. Whereas the pivotal role of the defender and forward is often overlooked.
There is nothing more exciting than watching the big centre half-forward or full forward take control of a match; launching into the pack, opponents peeling away in a stumbling mess, the forward clunking the ball and holding it aloft.
When you hear clubs talk about building a premiership team around a player, they are almost always talking about a tall forward, not a midfielder.
The small forward, with his or her ability to evade, spin and weave through hoarding predators. Under enormous pressure, they somehow pave a path through the busy traffic. With their back to the goals, they snap the ball and clear lunging fingers to squeeze amazing goals for their team.
The modern defender. These days, not only a dour negater of their opponent, they carry an assortment of weapons. The skill to come off their player for an intercept mark, to play on, dodge through traffic, and thread the needle with a handball to escape trouble. Their run, carry and kick with penetration and accuracy makes the defender the quarterback of the AFL.
And yet, award panels hardly ever see anyone outside the centre square. Voting seems lazy – almost exclusively directed to the player with the most possessions and clearances in the winning team.
When was the last time a defender or forward won a Brownlow? Gavin Wanganween in 1993?
Prior to that, non-midfielders could win a Brownlow: Tony Lockett, Ross Glendinning, Brad Hardie, Barry Round.
Why did that all change? We’ve become completely obsessed with midfielders, clearances and disposal counts, regardless of how easy, inaccurate or uncreative their disposals are.
Lance Franklin, arguably the best player we’ve seen over the last 20 years, has dominated matches time and again. But he’s never won a Brownlow. Except for his highest voting years in 2014 (within four votes of the winner) and 2017 (within 14 votes of the winner), he’s never polled that well.
The latest Showdown medal was awarded to a Port midfielder – Travis Boak – when I don’t think he was best on ground.
In fact, I’m not sure he was the best midfielder. Charlie Dixon’s presence up forward and Port’s rebound from defence won them the game. The clearance count was not the big factor in Port’s victory. But the medal votes went to the guy on the winning team with the most disposals.
The Norm Smith medal has the same deal, with 13 out of the last 20 medalists being midfielders.
About the only advantage of being a forward or defender on Brownlow Medal night is that you can relax and enjoy the night, knowing you’re not going to have to deliver a speech.