Ablett stands at the top of the Brownlow bunch

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CHIEF WRITER RON REED takes his turn at selecting, in order, the top Brownlow Medallists of the past 50 years. It’s no easy task but the name Ablett eventually emerged from the pack:

BY DEFINITION, Brownlow medallists are champions of the game, one and all – or very nearly all. There aren’t many exceptions among the 50 individuals who have taken home “Charlie” in the half-century since 1967, some of whom have done so more than once, some others who have shared the big moment with one or more other stars.

So, to rank 50 of them in order is, frankly, beyond challenging, if for no other reason than that the game has changed so much since St Kilda’s Ross Smith in 1967 – heck, the count wasn’t even on TV then – and Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield prevailing five decades later. So how are we going to have a crack at this?

Well, there are a few factors that probably underscore the eminence of certain medallists.

One is winning more than once. In our time-frame, there are seven of those – Keith Greig, Peter Moore, Greg Williams, Robert Harvey, Adam Goodes, Chris Judd and Gary Ablett junior – while both Ian Stewart and Bob Skilton won for the third time during the first five years of this criteria.

Another is winning it in a premiership year when, obviously, the competition from team-mates is intense, and because the player’s performances have contributed heavily to the ultimate success. We have six of those: Robert DiPierdomenico in 1986, Gavin Wanganeen in 1993, Jason Akermanis in 2001, Simon Black in 2002, Jimmy Bartel in 2007 and Ablett in 2009. Another 11 winners played in losing Grand Finals.

And then there is longevity and consistency in Brownlow counts. The most prolific vote-getters across their careers are Ablett and Sam Mitchell, with 220, from Gary Dempsey, who actually polled 246 but because many of those were during the period when two umpires each cast separate votes his tally needs to be adjusted to 218.5. Next come Harvey 215, Judd 210, Dane Swan 186, Black 184, Skilton 180, Nathan Buckley and Kevin Murray, both 178.

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Only one name fits all three of these criteria – so GARY ABLETT junior takes the No 1 ranking, in my view. He is obviously well past his peak now but in his prime years at Geelong and the early days at the Gold Coast Suns he regularly topped observers’ lists of the most valuable players in the competition – and was still good enough to win his club best and fairest this year despite playing little more than half the season.

Number two is GREG WILLIAMS who won medals with two clubs, Sydney and Carlton, nearly a decade apart and was probably robbed of a third one when he was beaten by one vote in 1995, a Carlton premiership year, when the umpires failed to give him a vote for a game in which he got about 40 possessions. He also won the Norm Smith medal for best afield in the “granny.”

Number three is IAN STEWART, whose three Brownlows should not be ignored simply because two of them fall outside the time-frame, especially given that his second one, just one year earlier, was part of St Kilda’s only premiership.

Number four is BOB SKILTON, for the same reason – “triple Brownlow medallist” has become almost an official appendage to his name whenever he is introduced publicly, and that puts him in rarefied air in any company.

Number five is JIM STYNES, for degree of difficulty – the big Irishman had to learn the game from scratch when he came to Australia, and became a superstar. No other winner has come from such a disadvantageous start.

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Number six is TONY LOCKETT, also for degree of difficulty in that he is the only full-forward to prevail. That feat is put into perspective when you note that he thrived in a golden era for goalkickers, but Peter Hudson, Jason Dunstall, Gary Ablett sen, Peter McKenna and others were unable to get there. Fitzroy’s Bernie Quinlan spent plenty of time in the goalsquare but the AFL guide lists him as a ruck-rover when he won in 1981.

Number seven is PATRICK DANGERFIELD, simply because he was so absolutely dominant last year, polling a record 35 votes and winning by nine.

Number eight is SAM MITCHELL, whose inheritance of Jobe Watson’s 2012 medal was a long time coming – but, in a grand final year, no less deserved for that. His total of 220 votes and two other top-three finishes suggest he was probably unlucky not to be a multiple winner, as he is a multiple premiership player.

Number nine is KEITH GREIG, whose successive wins in 73-74 were a major factor in propelling a surging North Melbourne team towards the club’s first ever era of glory, starting with a grand final appearance in the dashing wingman’s second Brownlow year.

Number 10 is CHRIS JUDD, whose two wins at different clubs, West Coast and Carlton, have been equalled by other players. So why him? Let’s just call this a “captain’s pick,” because I immensely enjoyed watching him play, especially for the Blues, and the memory is still fresh.

1Gary Ablett junior (Geelong/Gold Coast) 2009, 2013.
2Greg Williams (Geelong/Sydney/Carlton) 1986, 1994.
3Ian Stewart (St Kilda/Richmond) 1965, 1966, 1971 (Richmond).
4Bob Skilton (South Melbourne) 1959, 1963, 1968.
5Jim Stynes (Melbourne) 1991.
6Tony Lockett (St Kilda, Sydney) 1987.
7Patrick Dangerfield (Adelaide/Geelong) 2016.
8Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn/West Coast) 2012.
9Keith Greig (North Melbourne) 1973, 1974.
10Chris Judd (West Coast, Carlton) 2004, 2010.
11Robert Harvey (St Kilda) 1997, 1998.
12Dane Swan (Collingwood) 2011.
13Adam Goodes (Sydney) 2003, 2006.
14Gary Dempsey (Footscray/North Melbourne) 1975.
15Malcolm Blight (North Melbourne) 1978.
16Michael Voss (Brisbane) 1996.
17James Hird (Essendon) 1996.
18Len Thompson (Collingwood/South Melbourne/Fitzroy) 1972.
19Peter Moore (Collingwood/Melbourne) 1979, 1984.
20Bernie Quinlan (Footscray/Fitzroy) 1981.
21Kevin Murray (Fitzroy) 1969.
22Nathan Buckley (Brisbane Bears/Collingwood) 2003. 
23Gavin Wanganeen (Essendon/Port Adelaide) 1993.
24Robert DiPierdomenico (Hawthorn) 1986.
25Jimmy Bartel (Geelong) 2007.
26Jason Akermanis (Brisbane, Western Bulldogs) 2001.
27Simon Black (Brisbane) 2002.
28John Platten (Hawthorn) 1987.
29Mark Riciutto (Adelaide) 2003.
30Ben Cousins (West Coast/Richmond) 2005.
31Ross Glendinning (North Melbourne/West Coast) 1983. 
32Kelvin Templeton (Footscray/Melbourne) 1980.
33Paul Kelly (Sydney) 1995.
34Gerard Healy (Melbourne/Sydney) 1988.
35Nat Fyfe (Fremantle) 2015.
36Mat Priddis (West Coast) 2014).
37Peter Bedford (South Melbourne/Carlton) 1970.
38Barry Round (Footscray/South Melbourne) 1981.
39Shane Crawford (Hawthorn) 1999.
40Paul Couch (Geelong) 1989.
41Trent Cotchin (Richmond) 2012.
42 Ross Smith (St Kilda) 1967.
43Graham Moss (Essendon) 1976.
44Scott Wynd (Footscray) 1992.
45Graham Teasdale (Richmond/South Melbourne/Collingwood) 1977.
46Tony Liberatore (Footscray) 1990.
47Adam Cooney (Western Bulldogs/Essendon) 2008.
48Brian Wilson (Footscray/North Melbourne/Melbourne/St Kilda) 1982.
49Brad Hardie (Footscray/Brisbane Bears/Collingwood) 1985.
50Shane Woewodin (Melbourne/Collingwood) 2000.

*Bold denotes the club played when the Brownlow was won

TOMORROW:  Find out how SCOT PALMER rates the 50 medallists.

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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