After months of planning, hours of talking, and untold posturing at the draft table, Lachie Neale is finally a Brisbane Lion.
It is a genuine coup, as Lions fans will see for themselves next season.
But to demonstrate just why the Lions were so keen to secure the Fremantle midfielder, and identify precisely what all the fuss was about, let’s play a fictitious game of ‘last man standing’ among the most prolific ball-winners in the AFL.
We’ll put CEO boss Gill McLachlan in charge and pretend we’ve got all the guns in the room.
To kick things off, Gill says “stand up if you’ve had 2500 possessions in the last five years”.
We’re off with a starting field of 33 players.
There are three players each from Adelaide, Collingwood, Geelong, Port Adelaide and Sydney, two each from Essendon, Fremantle, GWS, Hawthorn, Melbourne, Richmond and West Coast, and one from Carlton, North Melbourne, St Kilda and Western Bulldogs.
No Lions players. Dayne Zorko missed by 75 possessions overall and Dayne Beams played only two games in 2016 and was never in the race.
Seven players who have topped 3000 possessions in the last five years led the field: Sydney’s Josh Kennedy (3351), West Coast’s Andrew Gaff (3225), Fremantle’s Lachie Neale (3174), Richmond’s Dustin Martin (3161), Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield (3064), Sydney’s Luke Parker (3027) and Melbourne’s Jordan Lewis (3006).
In alphabetical order by club, the starting field is Adelaide’s Matt Crouch (2503), Bryce Gibbs (2503) and Rory Laird (2718), Carlton’s Kade Simpson (2655) Collingwood’s Scott Pendlebury (2981), Steele Sidebottom (2823) and Adam Treloar (2932), Essendon’s Brendon Goddard (2665) and Zach Merrett (2591), Fremantle’s Neale and David Mundy (2574), Geelong’s Dangerfield, Mitch Duncan (2582) and Joel Selwood (2931), GWS’ Dylan Shiel (2649) and Callan Ward (2932), Hawthorn’s Tom Mitchell (2999) and Isaac Smith (2686), Melbourne’s Lewis and Nathan Jones (2803), North Melbourne’s Ben Cunnington (2644), Port Adelaide’s Travis Boak (2708), Robbie Gray (2548) and Ollie Wines (2705) Richmond’s Martin and Trent Cotchin (2751), Sydney’s Kennedy, Parker and Jake Lloyd (2635), St Kilda’s Jack Steven (2718), West Coast’s Gaff and Luke Shuey (2754), and the Western Bulldogs’ Jack Macrae (2951).
Next, Gill says “sit down if you have not had 50 Brownlow Medal votes in the last five years”.
Sixteen players sit down...Crouch (26), Gibbs (43), Laird (41), Simpson (20), Merrett (45), Goddard (11), Mundy (47), Duncan (35), Shiel (35), Smith (19), Jones (48), Lewis (36), Cunnington (40), Lloyd (8), Shuey (42) and Macrae (44).
That leaves Sidebottom (63), Pendlebury (78), Treloar (52), Neale (62), Selwood (79), Dangerfield (128), Ward (70), Mitchell (77), Boak (56), Gray (66), Wines (54), Martin (114), Cotchin (62), Kennedy (89), Parker (73), Steven (58) and Gaff (69).
Remembering that Gill is looking for consistency, he then says “sit down if you’ve not had 500 possessions in each of the last five years”.
Out go Sidebottom (4), Pendlebury (4), Selwood (4), Dangerfield (4), Ward (4), Mitchell (4), Boak (3), Gray (2), Wines (4), Cotchin (4), Parker (4) and Steven (4).
Ward is especially unlucky. He had 498 possessions in 2014. Likewise Selwood, who had 491 in 2015, Parker, who had 486 in 2015 and Cotchin, with 485 in 2018.
There are protests from the Hawthorn, Melbourne and Bulldogs camps, reminding Gill that Smith, Lewis and Macrae each had five 500-possessions in a row, but Gill stands firm. They were out at 50 Brownlow votes.
So, we’re down to just five players…Gaff, Kennedy, Martin, Neale and Treloar.
“Sit down if you’ve not had 30 possessions or more at least 50 times in the last five years,” Gill says.
Martin and Treloar take a seat. Martin has only 42 30-possession games and Treloar 44. We’re down to three players. Gaff has had 55 30-possessions games, Kennedy 54 and Neale 52.
More protests from Hawthorn on the basis that Mitchell has had 53 30-possession games, but again Gill stands firm, reminding the Hawks that Mitchell was out at 5 x 500. He had only 125 possessions in 2014 when still
Looking for some real class, Gill goes to the top shelf. “Sit down if you have not had five 40-possession games,” he says.
Suddenly the premiership smile is wiped off the West Coast faces. Gaff is out. Only three 40-possession games.
We’re down to two players. Neale has had seven 50-possession games in the last five years and Kennedy with five.
Where does Gill go next? Always keen to recognise youth and cast his eye to the future, he takes a deep break and says: “Ok gentlemen, this is it .. sit down if you are over the age of 30”.
A disconsolate Kennedy throws his head back and sits. Lachie Neale is the last man standing.
And the prize? A one-way ticket from Fremantle to Brisbane and a five-year contract with the Lions.
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Neale is the only player in the AFL under the age of 30 who has had 3000 possessions in the last five years, including a minimum 500 possessions each year, plus 50 Brownlow Medal votes, 50 games of 30 possessions or more, and five games of 40 possessions or more.
Also, he is one of 21 players in this group of 33 who has kicked 50 goals in the last five years, one of 12 with 60 Brownlow votes and one of 10 with two club best & fairest awards.
And, significantly, he is one of 11 who is under 25.
Statistically, Neale has been extraordinary. He’s also averaged 4.02 tackles and 6.25 clearances a game over the past five years.
It’s even more special considering he was claimed by Fremantle with selection number 58 in the 2011 Draft
The Neale story is another one of country boy makes good.
Born in Naracoorte, a small town 335km south-east of Adelaide, he spent his early years across the border in the western Victorian town of Apsley. At an early age, he moved back across the border with his family to a farm near Kybybolite.
He played basketball, soccer, cricket and football, and was a Kybybolite teammate of Jack Trengove, later Melbourne captain and now at Port Adelaide, and Alex Forster, who was drafted with Pick No. 29 by Fremantle in the same draft as Neale but played only one game.
He attended St Peter’s College in Adelaide and joined SANFL club Glenelg, playing seven senior games before dropping back to the U18s for the finals, where he was best afield in a losing grand final side with 40 possessions. He represented South Australia at the national U18 championships.
In seven years at Fremantle he won their best and fairest in 2016 and 2018, was runner-up in 2017, and sixth in 2015, and is a three-time winner in 2014,15 and 18 of what is now the Glendinning-Allan Medal as best afield in the WA derby against West Coast.
A member of the Fremantle leadership group for the past two years, he was an All Australian squad member in 2015, 16 and 18.