The AFL’s best-and-fairest award aligned with the players’ MVP for the third time in four years. Is there a consensus view developing about the year’s outstanding player?
The venerable Brownlow Medal remains the most prestigious individual honour in the AFL, even with its pronounced biases (read: fair-headed midfielders) and award-night pretensions. Its flaws have given space to the top gong of players’ association, the most valuable player award named for Leigh Matthews. They neatly complement each other.
Matthews famously never won the Brownlow, but was the first recipient of the MVP back in 1982. Over the next 30 years, the players’ assessment of value squared with the umpires’ view of best only eight times, as only Tony Lockett (1987), Gerard Healy (’88), Jim Stynes (’91), Greg Williams (’94), Robert Harvey (’97), Shane Crawford (’99), Ben Cousins (2005) and Gary Ablett Jr (’09) claimed both Brownlow and Matthews in the same year.
But ever since Ablett claimed his second Brownlow in 2013, we’ve seen greater overlap between the two honours. Patrick Dangerfield’s record Brownlow win last night came on top of a similarly decisive victory in the Matthews Trophy, where he won by almost a thousand votes (each AFL player gets a three-two-one ballot based on the entire season, not game-by game).
It could merely be a function of having such standout favourites in the prize race – Dangerfield certainly has had a great season, made more impressive by having just changed clubs, and Ablett and Nat Fyfe in 2015 were likewise considered near-locks in their particular years. The amount of publicity that the Brownlow chase attracts these days surely has a focusing influence on the minds of umpires, no doubt.
Or maybe we have to wait for a better, truer test of convergence – a moment when an outstanding key-position player has the chance to win both the Brownlow and MVP.