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 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.
Geelong star Patrick Dangerfield has made a record-equalling eighth appearance in the All-Australian team and been selected as captain for the first time.
Patrick Dangerfield is the sixth player to be named in the All-Australian team on eight occasions
Lachie Neale won both the AFLPA Most Valuable Player and the AFLCA Champion Player of the Year awards
Young Docker Caleb Serong won the Rising Star award and Tom Hawkins was announced as the Coleman Medal winner
He was joined in the All-Australian line-up by Brisbane’s Lachie Neale, who claimed the AFL Players’ Association’s (AFLPA) Most Valuable Player and AFL Coaches Association’s (AFLCA) Champion Player of the Year awards.
In the other awards announced on Thursday night, Fremantle midfielder Caleb Serong won the Rising Star and Geelong’s Tom Hawkins collected the Coleman Medal following his 42-goal season.
Dangerfield continued his perfect streak of being named in the AFL’s best 22 every year since his high-profile move to the Cats from Adelaide in 2016.
He joins elite company with Robert Harvey (St Kilda), Mark Ricciuto (Adelaide), Gary Ablett Snr, Gary Ablett Jnr (Geelong) and Lance Franklin (Sydney) as the only other players to have earned eight All-Australian blazers.
Port Adelaide midfielder Travis Boak was handed the vice-captaincy, with the 32-year-old named in the team for the third time in his career.
Boak is joined in the midfield by Neale, Melbourne ace Christian Petracca and West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui, whose second All-Australian appearance comes eight years after his first.
Explosive Demon Petracca is one of 12 debutants in the team, with the entire half-back line all first-timers.
Collingwood’s Darcy Moore was slotted into centre half-back, while GWS’ Nick Haynes and the Power’s Darcy Byrne-Jones are on either side of the Magpies tall.
Eleven clubs are represented with Geelong, Port Adelaide, West Coast and the Western Bulldogs leading the selections with three players each.
Despite Richmond having three players included in the 40-man squad on Tuesday, selectors decided to only pick superstar Dustin Martin from the reigning premiers after the dual Norm Smith medallist’s shock omission last year.
If it was not for the 2019 snub, this would have been Martin’s fifth-straight selection after being one of the first players picked from 2016 to 2018.
Neale firms as Brownlow Medal favourite
Neale, who is the red-hot favourite to take home the Brownlow Medal, was a clear MVP winner with 1,120 votes from his peers.
Boak (419) and Petracca (398) filled out the podium.
“It’s an award that I’m super proud to have won, to be voted by those who I play with and against makes it a really special award,” Neale said.
“I really respect the opinion of the other players and to be voted by them this year is something that I will look back on and be really proud of.
Neale, who earned his second All-Australian selection, led the AFL for disposals in 2020 and ranked in the top five for clearances and contested possessions.
He will be crucial to Brisbane’s premiership chances, starting with next week’s qualifying final against Richmond.
“There’s no guarantees that we get to that last game but we’ve set up the season really well and hopefully we can get there,” Neale said.
“There’s a lot of hard work to do before then and some great teams in our way.
“But I’m really confident in our playing group and our coaching group that we can get there.”
Neale won the AFLCA award with 93 votes, ahead of Petracca (78) and Boak (77).
Serong named Rising Star
Serong became the Dockers’ third Rising Star winner after edging out Gold Coast’s Noah Anderson.
The number eight pick in last year’s draft polled 48 votes to finish nine clear of Anderson, who was selected second by the Suns.
The 19-year-old is the Dockers’ first Rising Star winner since Rhys Palmer in 2008, with Paul Hasleby taking it out in 2000.
He received the maximum five votes from eight of the 10 judges, with Kevin Bartlett and Chris Johnson giving their top honours to Anderson.
Serong shot to prominence in round eight after capturing 22 possessions and kicking a goal in a head-to-head duel with Geelong superstar Patrick Dangerfield.
Most of the Rising Star hype until that point had been around Gold Coast midfielder Matthew Rowell, but last year’s number one draft pick played just five matches after requiring shoulder surgery.
Serong averaged 16.8 disposals and 3.4 clearances across his 14 matches, combining with fellow young on-ballers Adam Cerra and Andrew Brayshaw to give support to dual Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe.
Police suspended Hunter’s licence for 12 months and he was also fined $1652 for a breach of the coronavirus directions issued by the Chief Health Officer.
Western Bulldogs president Peter Gordon told the ABC he was concerned about the allegations and regarded them as very serious.
“This is, to say the very least, a regrettable incident and we need to get some answers,” he said.
“We obviously don’t want to encourage anyone to breach social distancing laws at a time when what we’re doing as a community is so important and the need for people not to drink drive is something that everyone, certainly everyone connected to the AFL, has had reinforced to them on multiple occasions.”
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan told 3AW the league’s integrity unit was investigating the matter.
“There is always individual circumstances in mitigation but clearly drink driving is just clearly unacceptable under any circumstances and the rules around the quarantine in which all our community live, is very clear as well,” he said.