OPINION

Take Brownlow Medal voting away from the umpires

FAIR GO: Geelong's triple All-Australian and best and fairest Tom Stewart only polled eight votes in the Brownlow. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

FAIR GO: Geelong's triple All-Australian and best and fairest Tom Stewart only polled eight votes in the Brownlow. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

While the Brownlow Medal is the ultimate individual award in the AFL, it has been dominated by midfielders for too long.

Seventeen clubs have decided their best and fairest winners for 2021, with only premier Melbourne delaying its count until later in the year, and these awards are far more accurate indications of how players fared.

Clubs employ different systems to decide their winners and none is perfect, but the coaches who cast their votes are more aware of the roles assigned to various players in games.

That is why far more importance is attached to the voting in the AFL Coaches Association award these days than the Brownlow.

If you're a ruckman or forward, there is little chance of gaining any recognition from the field umpires and for defenders, it is next to none.

Going through the best and fairest results, it is clear defenders' performances are rated much higher by coaches than umpires.

Many finished in their clubs' top 10, with Geelong's triple All-Australian Tom Stewart and Richmond's Dylan Grimes winning their awards.

Yet Stewart polled only eight Brownlow votes and Grimes had to be content with a solitary vote against Greater Western Sydney in round nine.

Ruckmen fared little better. Melbourne premiership captain Max Gawn polled the most Brownlow votes (16), but fellow All-Australian Nic Naitanui gained only five in a year in which he won his second successive best and fairest award at West Coast.

Fremantle ruckman Sean Darcy won his first club best and fairest award, but managed to poll only seven Brownlow votes, well behind teammates David Mundy (20) and Andrew Brayshaw (10).

Ollie Wines was a deserving Brownlow medallist this year and the multitude of midfielders behind him warranted well-earned recognition, but there were so many examples of stellar performances by players other than midfielders who were ignored by umpires.

Carlton would not have won its round 20 game against St Kilda without a career-best display from Jack Silvagni, who was forced to play most of the game as an undersized ruckman and starred after Tom De Koning was injured.

In the next round, GWS defender Sam Taylor's intercept marking was superb as he restricted four-time All-Australian key forward Tom Hawkins to 1.1 in the Giants' gritty win over Geelong. The following week Tim O'Brien put in a career-best performance as a key defender to play a major role in Hawthorn's upset win over the Western Bulldogs in Launceston, impressing the Dogs so much that they secured him as an unrestricted free agent in the recently-completed trade period.

O'Brien's teammate Daniel Howe also failed to attract the umpires' attention as a winger, despite winning plenty of plaudits.

The Brownlow was first awarded almost a century ago and there is so much history attached to it with such an impressive roll call of winners.

Essendon's Gavin Wanganeen was the last defender to win the medal in 1993, having played predominantly in a back pocket that year.

Three years later, his Bombers teammate James Hird, playing mainly as a centre half-forward, shared the Brownlow with Brisbane's Michael Voss.

It is understandable why midfielders figure so prominently in voting.

They are under the field umpires' eyes most of the time, begging the question frequently asked after recent Brownlow counts - are they the best people to cast the votes?

As much as I respect and love the game's traditions, maybe it is time to take it away from the field umpires.

One suggestion is for a panel of experts to watch every game and cast their votes, but this would create an added cost, which would be difficult to justify in these tough economic times.

Maybe an assigned group of media representatives could vote, but strict rules would need to be put in place to prevent a leak.

Surely there is a way to recognise players all over the ground and not confine the glory to midfielders.

Mare 'Verry' hard to beat

This Saturday's $5 million Cox Plate lacks the star quality of previous years, with the Melbourne Cup the main target for Caulfield Cup winner Incentivise.

The Chris Waller-trained Verry Elleegant is the class horse in the Cox Plate, but was a disappointing fourth at her last start in the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington, finishing three and a half lengths behind Incentivise.

FAVOURITE: Verry Elleegant will be hard to beat in this Saturday's Cox Plate. Photo: Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

FAVOURITE: Verry Elleegant will be hard to beat in this Saturday's Cox Plate. Photo: Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

However, it is easy to forget that before that run, the mare was in superb form in Sydney.

Probabeel edged out Caulfield Cup runner-up Nonconformist in the Group 1 Might and Power at her last start and the five-year-old looms as the biggest danger to Verry Elleegant.

Three-year-old Anamoe was impressive in winning the Caulfield Guineas last start and the weight-for-age conditions should suit the James Cummings-trained colt.

Zaaki would be an odds-on favourite for the Cox Plate if not for a disappointing third in the Might and Power.

Incentivise will be hard to beat on the first Tuesday in November, but Montefilia was most impressive from a Melbourne Cup perspective in last Saturday's race, running home strongly over the final 800m to finish the race fourth.

Chapada (sixth after being 14th at the 400m) and She's Ideel (seventh after being 10th at the 400m) also caught the eye.

Cox Plate tips

1. Verry Elleegant, 2. Probabeel, 3. Anamoe.

Has Howard got it right? Email: howardkotton11@gmail.com; Twitter: @hpkotton59