Flags and medals, Ian Stewart delivered them all

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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!

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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:

1Ian Stewart (St Kilda/Richmond) 1965, 1966, 1971 (Richmond)
2Len Thompson (Collingwood/South Melbourne/Fitzroy) 1972
3Bernie Quinlan (Footscray/Fitzroy) 1981
4Simon Black (Brisbane) 2002
5Greg Williams (Geelong/Sydney/Carlton) 1986, 1994
6Gary Ablett junior (Geelong/Gold Coast) 2009, 2013
7Jimmy Bartel (Geelong) 2007
8Tony Lockett (St Kilda/Sydney) 1987
9Chris Judd (West Coast/Carlton) 2004, 2010
10Graham Teasdale (Richmond/South Melbourne/Collingwood) 1977
11Jim Stynes (Melbourne) 1991
12Patrick Dangerfield (Adelaide/Geelong) 2016
13Peter Bedford (South Melbourne/Carlton) 1970
14Gary Dempsey (Footscray/North Melbourne) 1975
15Michael Voss (Brisbane) 1996
16Malcolm Blight (North Melbourne) 1978
17Bob Skilton (South Melbourne) 1959, 1963, 1968
18Kevin Murray (Fitzroy) 1969
19Keith Greig (North Melbourne) 1973, 1974
20Kelvin Templeton (Footscray/Melbourne) 1980
21James Hird (Essendon) 1996
22Ross Glendinning (North Melbourne/West Coast) 1983 
23Peter Moore (Collingwood/Melbourne) 1979, 1984
24Nathan Buckley (Brisbane Bears/Collingwood) 2003 
25Gavin Wanganeen (Essendon/Port Adelaide) 1993
26Scott Wynd (Footscray) 1992
27Mark Riciutto (Adelaide) 2003
28Jason Akermanis (Brisbane/Western Bulldogs) 2001
29Dane Swan (Collingwood) 2011
30Barry Round (Footscray/South Melbourne) 1981
31Adam Goodes (Sydney) 2003, 2006
32Robert Harvey (St Kilda) 1997, 1998
33Graham Moss (Essendon) 1976
34Ben Cousins (West Coast/Richmond) 2005
35Nat Fyfe (Fremantle) 2015
36Shane Crawford (Hawthorn) 1999
37Gerard Healy (Melbourne/Sydney) 1988
38Paul Couch (Geelong) 1989
39Mat Priddis (West Coast) 2014
40John Platten (Hawthorn) 1987
41Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn/West Coast) 2012
42Trent Cotchin (Richmond) 2012
43Adam Cooney (Western Bulldogs/Essendon) 2008
44Shane Woewodin (Melbourne/Collingwood) 2000
45Paul Kelly (Sydney) 1995
46Robert DiPierdomenico (Hawthorn) 1986
47Ross Smith (St Kilda) 1967
48Brian Wilson (Footscray/North Melbourne/Melbourne/St Kilda) 1982
49Tony Liberatore (Footscray) 1990
50Brad 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.

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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.

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