Monday, September 28, 2015

Nat Fyfe: 2015 AFL Brownlow Medal Winner

FREMANTLE star Nat Fyfe has created history by becoming the Dockers' first Brownlow Medallist after holding off fast-finishing reigning winner Matt Priddis.

Fyfe defied injury, history and Match Review Panel concerns during the season to poll 31 votes to become the Dockers' maiden Brownlow Medal winner since they entered the competition in 1995.

The 24-year-old midfielder set up his Brownlow win on Monday night with a barnstorming start to the season, claiming an amazing 26 votes in the first 13 rounds of the season.

It was as many as West Coast star Priddis polled to claim the medal in 2015. In a turnaround from 2015, Priddis was this year's runner-up on 28 votes, falling three votes short of back-to-back medals. 

Fyfe also set a Brownlow record, polling 17 votes in the first eight rounds – surpassing Chris Judd's record from 2010 when he managed 16 votes in the first eight games.

But injury and a drop-off in form in the second half of the season saw Fyfe's fellow medal contenders close the gap.

The raging favourite's last set of votes came in round 17, when he polled two against Richmond, inviting an exciting finish as other Brownlow chances raced home.

But the match-winning midfielder, who was also voted the AFL Players' Association's MVP of 2015, held on and finished with 31 votes to edge out Priddis and third-placed Hawthorn champion Sam Mitchell (26 votes).

It was Mitchell's third top-three finish in the Brownlow.

Although many tipped Fyfe to be the runaway early leader, at the halfway mark of the count there were four clear contenders.

Fyfe led the way with 23 votes after round 12, but nipping at his heels was last year's winner Priddis with 19 votes, Sydney Swan Dan Hannebery had polled 16 and Mitchell had 15 next to his name.

But Fyfe kept at a quick pace, opening a 10-vote lead over Priddis in round 14 and maintaining it for three crucial weeks heading into the back end of the year.

Although Fyfe did not poll in the last six rounds, his Brownlow win was built in nine best-on-ground games, which equalled the record of 1994 winner Greg Williams for the most three-vote matches in a season.

Fyfe's Brownlow triumph also broke convention after the brilliant midfielder missed four games during the home and away season.

The only player to have missed more games in a single season and still taken home the medal is Richmond's Stan Judkins, who missed six games in 1930 but tied with two other players on four votes under a different voting system.

Judkins was awarded the Brownlow after VFL officials met the week after the count and ruled him the winner as he had played fewer games than the two players he tied with.

There wasn't quite the same drama on Monday night at Melbourne's Crown Palladium but it was a tight finish, with Fyfe in attendance at the count after Fremantle's preliminary final loss to Hawthorn last week.

He was hobbling as he walked up to receive his Brownlow, however, having fractured his left fibula in the early stages of the Dockers' defeat to the Hawks on Friday. He will have surgery on it later in the week.

Thankfully for the Dockers and for Fyfe's Brownlow hopes, his injury concerns didn't surface until he had done just enough to seal the competition's best and fairest medal.

In the Dockers' first 13 games of the season – of which they lost just one game – Fyfe averaged 31.5 disposals and kicked 15 goals. He was at his most dynamic, and was unstoppable at the clearances and in the air.

He could not continue at the same rate, and his absence in the final two rounds of the year through injury opened the door for him to be overrun.

But after polling 25 votes and finishing second by one vote (despite being ineligible for being suspended) in last year's Brownlow Medal to winner Matt Priddis, Fyfe turned the tables to clinch the Dockers' first Brownlow win in his sixth AFL season.

Adelaide small forward Eddie Betts won the Goal of the Year for his left-foot barrel from the boundary line in round nine, while West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui was awarded the Mark of the Year for his round nine screamer.

Carlton speedster Dennis Armfield was the recipient of the Jim Stynes Community Leadership Award for his social work.

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