STAR Brisbane midfielder Lachie Neale has won the 2023 Brownlow Medal, becoming just the 16th player in VFL/AFL history to win the prestigious award multiple times after prevailing in a thrilling count on Monday night.
Neale, who won the 2020 Brownlow Medal in a dominant season and will be playing to win his first premiership in Saturday's Grand Final, polled 31 votes to win from Western Bulldogs captain Marcus Bontempelli on 29.
The brilliant onballer was confirmed as the winner only after collecting three votes in the final round of the season, with five players entering round 24 as winning chances.
Collingwood star Nick Daicos (28 votes) finished third after entering the final round level with Neale, with Sydney wingman Errol Gulden (27), Port Adelaide star Zak Butters (27), and Melbourne Norm Smith medallist Christian Petracca narrowly behind on 26.
It was Neale who surpassed them all, however, after saving his seventh best on ground performance until the final round of the year, receiving his Medal in Brisbane as he prepares for Saturday's Grand Final.
Neale joined club great's Jason Akermanis (2001) and Simon Black (2002) in winning the Brownlow Medal during the week of a Grand Final appearance, with Michael Voss (1996) making it five Medals in total for Brisbane.
The former Docker, who joins ex-teammate Nat Fyfe as a dual winner, was rewarded for a season in which he averaged 27.4 disposals across 23 home-and-away games, averaging 8.1 clearances as one of the game's stoppage specialists.
It was a different season for Neale compared to his 2020 win, which also saw him poll 31 votes but instead win by a massive 10 votes from runner-up Travis Boak, also collecting the AFL Players Association MVP and AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year.
The ball-winner, who was runner-up to Patrick Cripps last year, was caught by surprise as he emerged as a winning threat through the evening.
He was the first player to win the most prestigious individual award without being named in the All-Australian team since West Coast midfielder Matt Priddis in 2014.
"It doesn't sit very well at the moment. I'm sure it will sink in at a later date. I'm pretty rattled to be honest," Neale said after being presented with his Medal by coach Chris Fagan at a function with teammates in Brisbane.
"I did not expect this, and to be amongst some of those names that have won two is unbelievable. To be in Brisbane, preparing for a Grand Final, is amazing. I haven't been involved in this week for a decade, so I'm excited."
It was heartbreak for Bontempelli, who was also runner-up in 2021. Daicos, meanwhile, led the count for seven weeks after round 17 but couldn't hold on.
The young Magpies star, in just his second season, was the pre-count favourite and made a fast start as expected, polling 13 votes to lead after six rounds with three early best-on-ground performances.
His votes dried up over the next four rounds, however, with the midfielder overlooked for votes in some of the bigger performances of his season, including a 41-disposal game against Greater Western Sydney in round nine.
Petracca and Neale instead made a run and jockeyed at the top of the leaderboard through the middle stages, with Neale taking the lead back for a three-week run after round 14.
Gold Coast midfielder Noah Anderson was the surprise vote-getter, sitting as high as equal second after 15 rounds following his fifth best-on-ground performance and remaining in striking distance thereafter.
The leading contenders all pressed with big games in round 16, with Daicos collecting his second consecutive set of three votes to move into second place on the leaderboard, just one vote behind Neale.
The 20-year-old continued to surge in a stunning run of post-bye form and took the outright lead in round 17 during a run of four consecutive best-on-ground performances.
Daicos had a battle on his hands knowing injury would strike early in the round 21 clash against Hawthorn, but he held the lead all the way to the final round of the season.
BROWNLOW MEDAL 2023 LEADERBOARD
1. Lachie Neale (Brisbane Lions) – 31
2. Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs) – 29
3. Nick Daicos (Collingwood) – 28
=4. Zak Butters (Port Adelaide), Errol Gulden (Sydney Swans) – 27
6. Christian Petracca (Melbourne) – 26
=7. Caleb Serong (Fremantle), Jack Viney (Melbourne) – 24
=9. Noah Anderson (Gold Coast Suns), Patrick Cripps (Carlton) – 22