The AFL insists it won’t be embarrassed if Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe ends up with the most votes on Brownlow night, but Fyfe is unable to claim the medal due to his two-week suspension for an accidental head clash in the Round 2 game against the Gold Coast.
Well, the AFL should be embarrassed. The Match Review Panel system is a farce. If the MRP thinks Fyfe’s accidental contact is anywhere near the same level as Reece Conca’s cowardly, deliberate, from-behind hit on an innocent opponent on the weekend – which also resulted in a two-week suspension – they’re deluded.
The fact is, the MRP probably doesn’t consider the two acts equal. In reality, since the Fyfe incident in Round 2 – which was an indiscretion brought about by a brand new rule yet to be tested – they’ve clearly taken a more relaxed attitude not only to that rule, but to player indiscretions in general.
Think Buddy Franklin crashing his shoulder into an opponent’s jaw, Daniel Merrett breaking a nose with a careless swinging round-arm, and so on. The MRP’s response: play on, boys! It’s only you unknowledgeable football fans and commentators that think there’s something quite seriously wrong with these acts.
Even though Fyfe leads most of the publicised awards polls, and would be a clear Brownlow favourite with the bookies if he was eligible, it’s also possible that the umpires recording their votes haven’t been as generous towards him compared to if he was still eligible. It would be human nature to do this, and despite occasional evidence to the contrary, the umpires are actually human. Some of them, anyway.
So in Fyfe’s absence, who else can win it?
Besides being a prolific ball-winning midfielder, the modern day Brownlow Medal winner is a player that has to get noticed by the umpires. Whether it’s Ablett’s bald head, Swan’s tatts or Cooney’s ginger hair, there’s a standout physical quality common to many of them. As good a player as Scott West was, mousy-brown hair doesn’t win you Brownlows. Just ask Shane Woewoedin.
The other important criterion is the success of a player’s team, in that the winner’s club generally has to have had a winning season.
The top five in the betting currently are Joel Selwood, Josh Kennedy, Scott Pendlebury, Gary Ablett and Matt Priddis.
For all their talent, Selwood, Kennedy and Pendlebury are pretty normal looking guys. Priddis on the other hand has distinctive poodle-like hair. But unless they storm into the finals in the next month, West Coast haven’t won enough games for him to be considered.
Which leaves us with Ablett. Injured for the rest of the season, can he win having only played 16 games? Amazingly, I think the answer is yes. Of the 16, he’s probably had 3-vote games in up to seven of them. All he needs are a couple more 1- or 2-vote games, and he’d have early- to mid-20s, which in theory is enough to win it. And although the Suns have had a reasonable season, he proved last year that he’s one of the few that can win it no matter where his team finishes.
The other player I’ll throw into the mix is Franklin. A non-midfielder hasn’t won the medal since Scott Wynd way back in 1992, but Buddy gets noticed and had a prolonged purple patch in the middle of the season.
With a month of footy left before the finals, anything can happen in terms of results, form and MRP incompetence. But if one good thing comes out of the Fyfe episode, hopefully it will be that the AFL comes to its senses and overhauls the amateurish way the MRP process operates.
But for Nathan Fyfe, it may be case of what might have been.
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