The Brisbane Lions midfielder played junior football for the Kybybolite Tigers, winning a premiership in 2004, and about 100 locals watched last night’s count together at the clubrooms.
“I did say, at the end of the count, once Lachie was crowned the Brownlow Medallist, that everyone in the room would remember where they were on October 18 to celebrate that little bit of history,” club president Jamie Tidy said.
“Our club has had some rough times but that’s up there with some of the more special things that can happen at a little country footy club.
‘They’d all love to have him home’
Ms Taylor said her son was lucky to be in a job he loved, but had worked hard to get there.
“It’s his passion and he’s always wanted to play football in the AFL,” she said.
She said she was closely watching the Brownlow count, but became less stressed towards the end.
“I was doing the maths around [round] 10 onwards trying to work out, so about round 14–15 I was quietly confident, as long as he polled in one more game.”
Ms Taylor has received messages of support from Kybybolite locals wishing Neale well over the past couple of weeks.
Mr Tidy said the club had been lucky with its juniors, with five junior colt premierships in a row when Neale was in the team, alongside former AFL footballers Jack Trengove and Alex Forster.
“We’ve got a very long and proud history of good coaches and good juniors,” he said.
He said he hoped Neale’s win would inspire the club to make a little bit more history.
“Unfortunately, it’s been 46 years since our last A-grade [premiership], which I believe is the longest premiership drought in South Australian country football,” he said.
Australians love to travel, to explore this wide brown land of ours. It’s fair to say that the 2020 lockdown has changed our travelling habits.
Instead of soaking in the rays on the beach and the plains inland, most Australians have had to explore the outside world in their screens and in books.
Instead of visiting Lake Grace (population 507), you can look at the small streets and three footy ovals, or read up on its history. Instead of rolling through Moggs Creek (population 89) on the way to the Twelve Apostles, you can look at the satellite view of the town.
Almost everywhere in the world, from Aachen to Zuwarah is at your fingertips, but not under your feet. For now, the closest that most people can get to visiting a place is through an illuminated screen.
To that extent, welcome to Kybybolite, South Australia (just).
Just a two-by-two block, footy oval and some netball courts. If you don’t zoom in on it enough, it sort of disappears. If it took three hours to do all 97 kilometres of streets in Brighton, Karen, it’ll take you about 10 minutes to finish Kyby.
Just 102 people lived in Kybybolite in 2016, with an average age of 42. Mostly farming and agricultural, and best known for a research farm in town.
And the products of the mid-2000s crop of the Kyby Tigers under-14s side.
The productive crop
Most small towns, even footy-mad small towns, rarely boast elite footy players. It’s a product of Australia’s disparate landscape. Lake Grace may lay claim to Nat Fyfe, and Lance Franklin is a proud product of Dowerin, but they usually are one-offs.
That junior side, from little Kyby in the borderlands, can lay claim to three AFL players. It places the town as one of the most productive per capita places for elite footballers in recent history.
Only Osborne in NSW (the “club without a town”) and Kalkee in the Wimmera can claim per capita bragging rights over Kybybolite, but Kyby is unique in producing three AFL players from the same generation, even the same junior sides.
The first was a sure pick to be a star — Jack Trengove. Trengove got nabbed by Melbourne at pick number two in the 2009 draft, and became the youngest captain in VFL/AFL history by age 20.
When he played, he was good. But it took time to get back out there. Trengove finished up his career at Port, with 89 games under his belt. A good career for any player, despite the hype.
After Trengove came Alex Forster, a mid-sized defender who had gained attention through his draft year. Forster made the Under-18 All Australian Team, and played league football for Glenelg as well. Forster profiled as a good ball user out of defence who could also stick with opponents, but like Trengove, injuries changed his trajectory.
The former number 29 draft pick managed only one game in his two years on an AFL list, but he has gone on to be a solid player at SANFL and country levels since.
And then at pick 58 there was Lachie.
Why did Neale fall?
Despite playing local senior footy from the age of 16, being selected in the midfield of the SA under-18 side and getting senior SANFL games while still being under-18 eligible, Neale was a fringe prospect as a junior.
He literally slipped under the radar.
As the AFL evolved into a more professional sport, emphasis was increasingly placed on finding the right body types to fill roles, and moulding players to fill them.
As legendary NBA coach Red Auerbach (allegedly) said, “you can’t teach height”. You can teach tall players to do different things, but you can’t grow shorter players to be taller.
Coming into his draft year, Neale was small. At 174 centimetres, only a handful of players had been taken fresh in the national draft at that height or below between 1999 and 2010, and just four in the top 50.
In more recent years, the trend away from shorter players has changed. Perhaps the realisation hit that for as much of the game known in the northern states as aerial ping-pong is played above the head, a lot of the important bits are played at ground level.
Neale himself put it best, when interviewed before the draft:
As Neale entered his draft year, two things broke his way. First, he grew about an inch, which may have been enough in the eyes of some recruiters. It is hard to believe that such a minor factor can change opinions, but footy is often a game of small margins.
Second, and far more importantly, Neale played so well that he couldn’t be refused. He racked up touches at the Under-18 Championships, in schoolboy footy and at local level.
He also proved that he could compete against bigger bodies in senior footy. Neale enhanced his reputation the same way former Kyby teammate Trengove did — he stood out in a senior SANFL final.
While none of the ardent draft watchers placed Neale in their Phantom Drafts and there was no sizzle reel online for him, Neale was picked up by Fremantle in the third round of the draft at pick 58 — one round later than his other former Kyby teammate, Forster.
It was late, but Neale had the same opportunity as the number one pick.
The evolution of Neale
Neale started at Freo as a small forward, like many draftees. Playing senior footy almost immediately post draft, it didn’t take long for him to find a place in a strong Dockers outfit. His first year was almost unrecognisable from the player we know today.
For a player who averaged more than seven clearances per game last year, he only earnt seven in his entire first season.
Over time, Neale was added to an already potent Dockers midfield mix, floating between Fyfe, Mundy, Barlow and Co. Once he proved height didn’t matter when the ball was on the deck, he was able to truly show what he could do.
It took until 2016 until Neale locked his spot up in the Fremantle inner core — after the peak years of the Dockers had ebbed away.
How Neale stood out this year
Before 2020, everyone knew Neale could win the hard ball and ensure his team would keep it. This year, he introduced the most dangerous element of all for a modern player — risk.
With a better set defensive structure behind him, Neale was willing to try to do more with the ball and live with the consequences that it occasionally wouldn’t come off.
A turnover in the forward line for the Lions is usually just another chance for its stellar intercept markers to create another attacking opportunity, and lock the ball in their forward half.
Neale’s disposal efficiency sank this year, and his turnovers rose, but so did his score involvements and metres gained (when adjusted for shorter games). Instead of being a ball accumulator, he became a super aggressive weapon.
Neale also has the most shots on goal per game of any season in his career to date — better than even when he was playing as a forward. While Brisbane seems to encourage more risky shots on goal, Neale is also finding space to get those shots off.
In modern footy, that extra split second is what separates a good player from a great one.
The arrival of Jarryd Lyons and development of young players like Jarrod Berry and Hugh McCluggage, has allowed Neale to further evolve his role. Even in the accumulation of individual awards, the team is paramount in footy.
Playing in a good team helps of course (just four of 23 Brownlow winners since 2000 played for sides that missed finals) but one player can only do so much.
On Saturday night, Neale dominated in the clinches and was arguably the best on ground for the Lions. Sometimes the other team is just better on the day.
The Brownlow Medal 2020 ceremony usually takes place in Melbourne, but this year’s event was spread out across Australia.
The bulk of the players in the Queensland bubble were at an event at Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast.
And there were events in Perth and Adelaide, as well as in Sydney and Melbourne.
Things may be all over the place due to coronavirus, but the footy stars and their partners still delivered looks — even though attendees were reportedly told they didn’t need to follow a strict black tie dress code this year.
Here’s who dressed up and who didn’t (spoiler alert: everyone did).
The Brisbane Lions’ Lachie Neale and partner Julie didn’t hold back, with the new first lady of footy donning a sheer floor-length gown and tousled waves.
And Hawthorn’s Jack Gunston rocked a suit and a face mask, captioning his Instagram outfit post: “Brownlow Medal Victorian Style.”
Meanwhile, Melbourne’s Christian Petracca and his partner Bella were #Brownlow ready in Brisbane.
The Brisbane Lions’ Charlie Cameron went for a suave dark velvet ensemble, with his partner Caitlin Seeto in an equally elegant black number.
West Coast Eagles player Luke Shuey and his partner Dani were dressed to the nines.
Shuey said he was disappointed not to be playing this weekend.
Melbourne’s Jack Viney and his wife Charlotte posed for pictures with their baby daughter Mila Grace.
And the Sydney Swans’ Luke Parker cut a dapper figure next to partner Kate Lawrence, who stood out in a red number.
Equally sharp were the Melbourne Demons’ Steven May and partner Briana.
The Western Bulldogs’ Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Libatore brought their fashion A game, both rocking up to the Gold Coast event in style.
Libatore’s suit even covered up his, “My god you’re greasy” tattoo.
The 2020 Brownlow Medal is here — but not as you know it.
Follow all the glamour and drama of the night, with Brisbane’s Lachie Neale the favourite to take home the medal.
By Dean Bilton
What do we know about tonight?
While much of how tonight will work is a mystery, there are a few things we know for sure. We know that players will be gathering in little mini-Brownlow events all over the country, so as to stay in line with coronavirus restrictions. We know that Lachie Neale is the favourite. That’s about it.
By Dean Bilton
A Brownlow Medal night with a difference
Hello one and all and welcome, on this fine Sunday night in mid-October, to the 2020 Brownlow Medal. A strange season in a strange year has tossed up a strange Brownlow night, with so many of the event’s traditions made impossible by the rona and whatnot.
And so we are left with… whatever this is. A rearranged and rescheduled digital ceremony that, if nothing else, should at least allow us to crown and celebrate the best player of this AFL season.
How will it work? Not really sure! Will everyone still be wearing the fancy clothes? Don’t know! Can anyone stop Lachie Neale from winning? Probably not! But we’re going to have some fun finding out. Stick around for the night as we navigate this peculiar COVID Brownlow together.
The AFL has announced the 2020 Brownlow Medal count will be conducted as a “virtual event” with no standalone ceremony because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The Brownlow Medal count will be broadcast as a “made-for-TV event” on October 18
The award is traditionally celebrated as part of a gala ceremony in Melbourne with more than 1,000 guests in attendance
Brisbane Lions midfielder Lachie Neale is the favourite to win the 2020 Brownlow Medal
The AFL’s best and fairest award ceremony is traditionally held as a gala event in Melbourne featuring more than 1,000 guests on the Monday evening prior to the grand final.
The league released a statement on Wednesday evening confirming it had opted for a “made-for-TV event” to take place on October 18, which is the Sunday before the grand final.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan will be in Queensland to read the votes on the evening, with the Seven Network to broadcast the event.
“The Charles Brownlow Medal is our game’s highest individual honour and continues to be the most prestigious night of the AFL calendar,” AFL commercial manager Kylie Rogers said in a statement.
“It’s incredibly difficult to get people together in indoor event spaces in a responsible manner given the current environment, and the community’s safety has been at the forefront of every decision we’ve made.
“While the glamour of the red carpet will be missed this year, we are looking forward to delivering a special format made specifically for the broadcast audience at home, so our fans can continue to celebrate their heroes and their achievements this year.”
The decision to alter the Brownlow Medal count is the latest change to tradition the AFL has been forced to make in light of coronavirus.
To the casual observer, Fremantle captain Nat Fyfe looks like the perfect footballer.
He’s a consummate professional and a competitive beast who regularly hoists his team onto his shoulders and tries to carry them to victory, and at his best seems nigh on unstoppable on a football ground.
He also divides opinion.
Fyfe is currently nursing a hamstring injury as his team languishes in 17th on the AFL ladder with an 0-4 record, but he has arguably been copping more of a battering off-field than on in recent weeks.
Australian Football Hall of Famer and three-time premiership coach Mick Malthouse renewed his regular criticism of Fyfe in the lead up to the Dockers clash with Gold Coast on Saturday night, going so far as to say the dual Brownlow medallist was not a champion in his eyes.
“To be a champion, you must finish off your work for a start. He is not a good finisher in front of goal. When the chips are down, I wouldn’t rely on him.
“He’s got an attitude that ‘I don’t have to defend’. If he has to run with his opponent when the ball goes into the opposition forward line, he is 15, 20 metres away, hoping that the backs get it and get it back to him.
“There’s a lot of great players that don’t defend, so I’m not saying for one moment that he is Robinson Crusoe.
“But in my mind to be the best player you’ve got to be, you’ve got to be able to do all the things that your coach wants you to do for your team so your teammates look at you and go, ‘Gee he defends so well.’
“Because the other stuff’s natural. He takes a big mark. Reasonable kick. Reasonable handpass. [But] you’ve got to defend.”
More criticism, and a former ally responds
Malthouse’s strong and polarising opinion followed a week in which both Fyfe’s former and current coach were compelled to defend him after he was slammed by outspoken Port Adelaide premiership player Kane Cornes over an effort at a stoppage that led to a Power goal.
Another Footy Classified panel member and former Dockers coach Ross Lyon said Cornes was out of line.
“It’s easy to critique Nathan and I find it ironic because we’re all talking about attacking football,” Lyon said.
“There is no better offensive player and ball hunter in the competition, yet we want to destroy him when three other players don’t do their job.”
As Malthouse owned, Fyfe is not alone when it comes to the defensive running he is talking about.
Most of the great midfielders like Patrick Dangerfield and Dustin Martin are also offensively minded. Fyfe averages more tackles than both of those Victorian superstars but seems to cop more flak.
Two Brownlows and still at his peak
Jimmy Bartel casually remarked a few weeks ago that Fyfe would win a third Brownlow Medal.
Nobody shouted down the retired Geelong champion, who himself claimed the game’s highest individual honour in 2007.
Why would they, you may ask? Fyfe is a special player, one of the most watchable the game has seen. He already has two Brownlows in the bank and at 28 is still at the peak of his considerable powers.
But to put Bartel’s comment in context, only four players in the league’s history have achieved that feat, and not in almost 50 years since Ian Stewart won his third in 1971.
Gary Ablett Jr and the retired Chris Judd are rated alongside Fyfe as modern-day greats. Both have two Brownlows. Ablett is in his final year at Geelong and looks like he will almost certainly remain a dual Charlie winner.
Fyfe has not only been a remarkable player since he burst onto the scene as a skinny forward who had a knack of clunking a big mark in 2010, he has also been a remarkable poller on Brownlow night.
The truth is that, if not for suspension and injury, the now-midfield beast, who was named All-Australian captain in 2019, would already be a triple Brownlow medallist.
It is curious then that Fyfe continually cops criticism from within the industry. Why is he as much lambasted as he is celebrated?
Marching to a different beat
AFLW player and Grandstand AFL expert Lauren Arnell got to see Fyfe in the flesh in round two and was blown away by just how impressive the contested bull was in a losing cause.
It led Arnell and retired Richmond and Greater Western Sydney gun Brett Deledio to ponder why Fyfe cops so much negativity.
Though Fyfe has deep roots in country WA and endearingly regularly returns to drive trucks for the family business, he has always marched to the beat of his own drum.
He speaks and looks different to most AFL players and has even hit the catwalk on occasion as he builds his on and off-field brand.
“It is an interesting one. I think a lot of us do judge players on the way that that carry themselves, [when] what we have to do at times is just look at their performance,” Arnell said.
“If anything, you’d say perhaps he’s very much a forward half player. You look at his running patterns, that’s what he can add to the team.
“He can go forward, he’s a huge guy, he’s 190 centimetres plus. He takes a contested mark as well as anyone in the competition.
“It’s easy to take a pot shot at a guy who has just won a Brownlow and chooses to wear a beanie and no shirt. All credit to him, he’s a superstar and I really enjoy watching him play footy.”
Injured Fyfe bides his time
Deledio suggested the criticism was nothing to do with Fyfe’s on-field performances.
“Is it because he turns up with a cane to the Brownlow, he’s a rockstar, he’s got his photos always with the rig out or he got caught surfing when we were supposed to be in lockdown?” he said.
After watching the closing stages of his side’s loss to the rising Suns from the bench with ice on his right hamstring, Fyfe will have to bide his time before he writes the next pages in his storied career.
It is doubtful he will ever change Malthouse’s mind or others who have decided they don’t rate him, even if he does become just the fifth man to claim a third Brownlow.
But Fremantle fans will be desperately hoping that the number 7 is there on July 19 when they take on fierce rivals West Coast at Perth Stadium.
Those same people who criticise Fyfe will give the Dockers scant chance of winning without him.