It seemed every award apart from the Brownlow medal was on offer during the AFL’s TV-only ceremony on Thursday night. We take a look at the hits and misses of an event highlighted by the naming of the 2020 All Australian side.
Neale heads a motley midfield
Nic Naitanui, Christian Petracca and Lachie Neale: this midfield is a changing of the guard of sorts, considering these three had boasted an aggregate of just two All Australian honours prior to 2020. But they are an experienced trio and now coming of age in their own different ways. Naitanui has seemingly been around since dot – this is his second All Australian honour, eight years after the first – and it is taken a clear run on the injury front to remind us all of his incorrigible class. Big-bodied Petracca has threatened, but mostly deceived, to take the AFL by the balls since being taken at No 2 in the 2014 national draft. Now, at the age of 24, the mind looks finally to be catching up with the chassis. Petracca might not have been able to lead Melbourne to the finals in 2020, but a belated breakthrough season gives Demons supporters hope that even better awaits next year. Neale was an emerging star at Fremantle. Now, since his move to Brisbane two season ago, he is a two-time All Australian and a fully paid-up member of the bona-fide elite. Neale also claimed the AFLPA’s most valuable player award. He also surely wins the Brownlow medal this year. He might even lead the Lions to a long-awaited premiership.
Patrick Dangerfield – an enduring superstar
A Brownlow medal, the respect and admiration of an industry and now a sixth consecutive All Australian honour. And, for the first time, the make-believe team’s captain. “Not in my wildest dreams, when I was first drafted, could I have imagined something quite like this,” Dangerfield said. All that is left is a premiership medal, for which the Geelong star might trade them all but might yet come this year. Dangerfield won a spot on the half-forward flank – alongside Port Adelaide’s Charlie Dixon and Bulldog Marcus Bontempelli – and with the midfield loaded, that was a logical place for him. Starting with his first All Australian accolade with Adelaide in 2012, Dangerfield has missed out just once since then – making him just the sixth player to make the team on eight occasions. An absolute rock star of the competition. Just needs that elusive flag.
A new hope…
There were 12 new faces in the All Australian 22 – including five first timers, and two Darcys, in the backline. Among that dozen, a special mention must go to Western Bulldogs’ Caleb Daniel for finally gaining the recognition he deserves. Few at the start of the season would have anticipated the representative defensive six to comprise Darcy Moore, Brad Sheppard, Luke Ryan, Nick Haynes and Darcy Byrne-Jones. But none looks out of place after standout and breakthrough seasons. However, there were…
…some glaring omissions
The All Australian team is often as notable for its exclusions as its composition. Such is the nature of relative subjectivity. But how does Nat Fyfe miss out. How does Dylan Grimes miss out? And how does Tom Papley miss out? The toss can be argued on the first two but not the latter. West Coast’s Liam Ryan is a super player but his figures in 2020 do not stack up to Papley’s – so how does he get a starting spot in the forward pocket while the Sydney Swans star not even warrant a place on the bench?
The young Suns are shining
“We can write our own story,” said Matt Rowell of Gold Coast coach Stuart Dew’s season-long message to his cluster of high draft picks. The Suns had four Rising Star nominations inside the first seven rounds – Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson, Izak Rankine and Connor Budarick – and each of them can play. Each of them also went home empty handed after Fremantle’s Caleb Sarong was anointed the AFL’s brightest young talent. But the future is paved with gold at the Suns, if they play their cards right. It is folly to think boys can do the job of men, so it might be unwise to offer a smug shrug after yet another season in the shade for Gold Coast. It must also be remembered the Suns were in second place after round four, one week before Rowell suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. The young talent is there. Time and excuses, however, are running out for Gold Coast.
On the lighter side …
The on-air Fox Footy exchange between Jack Riewoldt and Tom Hawkins as the Geelong forward was officially recognised as a first-time Coleman medal winner was on the wrong side of bizarre. It started weird – after being namechecked on the voiceover as a three-time winner of the accolade, Riewoldt casually asked Hawkins what is was like “to be up there with the great goalkickers” – and went downhill from there. It was as if Hawkins was accepting a Nobel Prize instead of one to be crowned the leading scorer in an AFL season. “There’s a lot of people back home, family and friends included, that will take a lot more pride in it than probably I will at this stage,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who have helped me in my career path to get me to where I am who will really enjoy this moment. Without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” Well done, Tom. Forty-two goals in an abbreviated season is a great effort. But we still do not have a vaccine for Covid-19.
2020 All Australian team
B: Brad Sheppard (West Coast), Harris Andrews (Brisbane), Luke Ryan (Fremantle)
HB: Nick Haynes (GWS), Darcy Moore (Collingwood), Darcy Byrne-Jones (Port Adelaide)
C: Jack Macrae (Western Bulldogs), Travis Boak (Port Adelaide, VC), Cam Guthrie (Geelong)
HF: Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong, C), Charlie Dixon (Port Adelaide), Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs)
F: Liam Ryan (West Coast), Tom Hawkins (Geelong), Dustin Martin (Richmond)
Followers: Nic Naitanui (West Coast), Christian Petracca (Melbourne), Lachie Neale (Brisbane)
Interchange: Max Gawn (Melbourne), Caleb Daniel (Western Bulldogs), Jack Steele (St Kilda), Taylor Adams (Collingwood)