IT’S no easy task but ROD NICHOLSON steps up to name his best Brownlow winners from the past 50 years:
TO TACKLE Mission Impossible, the trick was not to determine the best players who have won the Brownlow Medal in order of ability during the past 50 years, but to assess the impact they had on the season which provided them with the coveted award.
My list doubtless with raise eyebrows in some quarters, particularly four of the top seven. However, as I will attempt to explain, there are specific reasons for the rankings.
First on the list is Ian Stewart, who was a brilliant centreman who saluted in the Brownlow in 1965 and again in 1966 in St Kilda’s last premiership side _ a team that boasted the ilk of Darrel Baldock, Verdun Howell, Barry Breen and “Cowboy” Neale. He was good enough to transfer to Richmond and win again in 1971, before helping the Tigers to a premiership in 1973. An outstanding mark for his height, he could kick equally effectively with either foot and regularly dictated the outcome of games with his shrewd craftsmanship.
Next is Collingwood’s Len Thompson who changed the art of ruckwork in his Brownlow season of 1972 by introducing unmatched mobility around the ground that added to his tap ruckwork and strong marking. He competed against the likes of Carlton’s John Nicholls, Essendon’s Don McKenzie and St Kilda’s Alan Morrow, took the hard knocks and then ran them off their feet. A game changer of great importance to the history of the game in his Brownlow year.
Coming in at No 3 is Fitzroy’s Bernie Quinlan, a player of astonishing ability who saluted in 1981. He split the season (virtually every game) between centre half-forward and as a ruck-rover _ and occasionally at centre-half-back when the situation arose! He possessed exceptional athletic ability, was a strong mark and an extraordinary kick, hence the nickname Superboot. He accounted for tough centre-half-backs and many elite mid-fielders to claim the award in one of the most stunning seasons of individual dominance.
Another who may surprise near the top of the order is Brisbane Lion Simon Black. His 2002 season was a masterpiece. He was centreman in a Lions premiership line-up that included Michael Voss, Jason Akermanis, Jonathan Brown, Chris Johnson, Nigel Lappin and Alistair Lynch to name a few who contested for votes from the umpires. His silky skills allowed him to deliver with either foot and hand.
Greg Williams was a ball magnet and while he was outstanding during his 1986 Brownlow win with the Sydney Swans, he earned a high ranking for his 1994 award at Carlton. He was untouchable that season, a prolific ball winner, and easily the most influential player in the competition. He went on to win the Norm Smith Medal when Carlton won the following season’s premiership.
Gary Ablett junior justifiably earned the reputation as the best player in the competition with a Brownlow with Geelong in 2009 and then with new boys on the bloke at the Gold Coast in 2013. He had uncanny elusive qualities, an elite capacity to amass possessions, great skills and leadership ability.
The position of Jimmy Bartel at No 7 also is likely to surprise many. However, his 2007 season was inspirational. The centreman, who like Ian Stewart of years earlier was an exceptional mark for his height, had to beat teammates like Ablett, Joel Selwood, Matthew Scarlett, Brad Ottens, Cameron Ling and Cam Mooney for umpires’ votes, as well as the rest of the competition. He won his award in a stunning premiership year to boot!
Tony Lockett in 1987 booted 117 goals and became a rarity in Brownlow history as a full-forward to salute in the award. “Plugger” simply dominated the season, putting fear into opposing teams, despite the Saints finishing five spots from the finals. He averaged 5.32 goals a game with his deadly accurate kicking, physical presence and fearsome desire.
To round out the Top 10 are Chris Judd and Graham Teasdale. Judd could hardly have been more productive and emphatic with his two wins at the West Coast and Carlton, while Teasdale simply dominated for South Melbourne in 1977.
Some rankings deserve explanation. Melbourne’s Jim Stynes won in 1991 when he was still an Irishman learning the game, a remarkable feat that earned him spot No 11. Next is South Melbourne’s Peter Bedford, who won the Brownlow in only his fourth season at the top level in 1970. His rivals that year included some legends of the game including Richmond’s Kevin Bartlett and Keith Greig _ and he achieved this highest individual football honour while spending six months of the year representing Victoria at cricket!
Some may question Fitzroy legend Kevin Murray at No 18. The old Lion won in 1969 when the club was struggling to be competitive, yet alone win a game. Week after week he took on the best from centre-half-back, be they the veterans such as Ted Whitten or the new guns like Sam Kekovich. And he won the award at the age of 31! Not many centre-half-back specialists (giving away considerable height and years to opponents) have won the Brownlow during the past 50 years so that adds to his notable achievement.
In the modern era, the on-ballers dominate the Brownlow, so it is a matter of personal recall or club preference where one ranks so many fine players.
The fact that so many champions did not win the Brownlow Medal _ think Ted Whitten, Ron Barassi and Leigh Matthews to name just a few _ means there should be no slur associated with my nominations near the tail of the rankings.
Here they are, my top 50 in order:
|1||Ian Stewart (St Kilda/Richmond) 1965, 1966, 1971 (Richmond)|
|2||Len Thompson (Collingwood/South Melbourne/Fitzroy) 1972|
|3||Bernie Quinlan (Footscray/Fitzroy) 1981|
|4||Simon Black (Brisbane) 2002|
|5||Greg Williams (Geelong/Sydney/Carlton) 1986, 1994|
|6||Gary Ablett junior (Geelong/Gold Coast) 2009, 2013|
|7||Jimmy Bartel (Geelong) 2007|
|8||Tony Lockett (St Kilda/Sydney) 1987|
|9||Chris Judd (West Coast/Carlton) 2004, 2010|
|10||Graham Teasdale (Richmond/South Melbourne/Collingwood) 1977|
|11||Jim Stynes (Melbourne) 1991|
|12||Patrick Dangerfield (Adelaide/Geelong) 2016|
|13||Peter Bedford (South Melbourne/Carlton) 1970|
|14||Gary Dempsey (Footscray/North Melbourne) 1975|
|15||Michael Voss (Brisbane) 1996|
|16||Malcolm Blight (North Melbourne) 1978|
|17||Bob Skilton (South Melbourne) 1959, 1963, 1968|
|18||Kevin Murray (Fitzroy) 1969|
|19||Keith Greig (North Melbourne) 1973, 1974|
|20||Kelvin Templeton (Footscray/Melbourne) 1980|
|21||James Hird (Essendon) 1996|
|22||Ross Glendinning (North Melbourne/West Coast) 1983|
|23||Peter Moore (Collingwood/Melbourne) 1979, 1984|
|24||Nathan Buckley (Brisbane Bears/Collingwood) 2003|
|25||Gavin Wanganeen (Essendon/Port Adelaide) 1993|
|26||Scott Wynd (Footscray) 1992|
|27||Mark Riciutto (Adelaide) 2003|
|28||Jason Akermanis (Brisbane/Western Bulldogs) 2001|
|29||Dane Swan (Collingwood) 2011|
|30||Barry Round (Footscray/South Melbourne) 1981|
|31||Adam Goodes (Sydney) 2003, 2006|
|32||Robert Harvey (St Kilda) 1997, 1998|
|33||Graham Moss (Essendon) 1976|
|34||Ben Cousins (West Coast/Richmond) 2005|
|35||Nat Fyfe (Fremantle) 2015|
|36||Shane Crawford (Hawthorn) 1999|
|37||Gerard Healy (Melbourne/Sydney) 1988|
|38||Paul Couch (Geelong) 1989|
|39||Mat Priddis (West Coast) 2014|
|40||John Platten (Hawthorn) 1987|
|41||Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn/West Coast) 2012|
|42||Trent Cotchin (Richmond) 2012|
|43||Adam Cooney (Western Bulldogs/Essendon) 2008|
|44||Shane Woewodin (Melbourne/Collingwood) 2000|
|45||Paul Kelly (Sydney) 1995|
|46||Robert DiPierdomenico (Hawthorn) 1986|
|47||Ross Smith (St Kilda) 1967|
|48||Brian Wilson (Footscray/North Melbourne/Melbourne/St Kilda) 1982|
|49||Tony Liberatore (Footscray) 1990|
|50||Brad Hardie (Footscray/Brisbane Bears/Collingwood) 1985|
*Where players have played at more than one club the black type indicates where they won their medals.
CATCHUP: Greg Hobbs Top 50
CATCHUP: Ken Piesse Top 50
TOMORROW Chief Writer RON REED delivers his vote on the Top 50.
Author: Rod Nicholson
ROD NICHOLSON is one of Australia’s best-known sports journalists. He reported cricket, football, racing and other sports for 47 years for The Herald and The Herald Sun.