The collective senior statesmen of the AFL suggest Lions ace Lachie Neale will have a slightly anxious time during the Brownlow Medal count Sunday night, but will be ultimately triumphant to become the club’s tenth winner of the game’s highest individual award.
The statesmen are the 18 AFL coaches, who each award votes on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis after each game for the AFL Coaches Association Champion Player of the Year award which Neale has already won this year.
He polled 93 votes to take the trophy from Melbourne’s Christian Petracca (78), Port Adelaide’s Travis Boak (77) and St.Kilda’s Jack Steele (72).
If you convert the coaches votes to notional 3-2-1 Brownlow votes, or what might be called ‘Coachlow’ votes, it reaffirms the Neale win but suggests different place-getters.
In the ‘Coachlow’, Neale polls in 11 of 17 games, including the first five, for a total of 27 votes. He will clinch it with a two-vote haul in the last round of the season against Carlton after Boak pulls to within three votes at Round 17.
Neale (27) and Boak (22) will head a top 11 that includes Melbourne’s Petracca (19.5), Jack Steele (17), Collingwood’s Taylor Adams (15), Western Bulldogs’ Marcus Bontempelli (14), Essendon’s Zach Merrett (13.5), Geelong’s Cam Guthrie (12.5), Sydney Luke Parker (12), West Coast’s Nic Naitanui (12) and St.Kilda’s Zak Jones (12).
Other Brisbane players tipped to poll are Jarryd Lyons (10), Dayne Zorko (7.33), Hugh McCluggage (7), Harris Andrews (4.5), Jarrod Berry (4.5), Charlie Cameron (3.5), Daniel Rich (3.5), Zac Bailey (1.5), Darcy Gardiner (1.5), Callum AhChee (1), Eric Hipwood (1) and Alex Witherden (1).
Neale will be looking to join Michael Voss (1996), Jason Akermanis (2001) and Simon Black (2002) as Brisbane winners of the Brownlow, and six Fitzroy players who won it eight times – Hayden Bunton (1931-32-35), Wilfred Smallhorn (1933), Denis Ryan (1936), Allan Ruthven (1950), Kevin Murray (1969) and Bernie Quinlan (1981).
Special interest among Lions insiders and the playing group, too, will focus in fun on Gardiner and Dan McStay, who go into the count first and second on the club list of most games without a vote.
At the end of last season Gardiner was at 106 games (including two finals in which votes are not awarded), and McStay was at 104 (including two finals). Gardiner has played every game this year to reach 124 ahead of Saturday night’s preliminary final, and McStay 16 to reach 119.
While the coaches votes suggest McStay will have to wait until next year, they give Gardiner fans hope in Round 7.
The unfashionable defender polled five coaches votes against GWS, equal with Andrews (5), behind only Zorko (7) and ahead of Bailey (4) and Cameron (3). If the coaches are right he’s on the board.
How does the ‘Coachlow’ system work? The 3-2-1 votes are allocated to the three players who top the coach’s votes. Or they are split and allocated to more players if the top three are not clear cut.
So, when in the Lions’ Round 18 game against Carlton the coaches votes Daniel Rich (9, Neale (8), Callum AhChee (7), Carlton’s Sam Walsh (4), Brandon Starcevich (1) and Carlton’s Harry McKay (1), the ‘Coachlow’ votes would go to Rich (3), Neale (2) and AhChee (1).
In the Lions’ Round 17 games against Sydney, when the coaches votes went to Jarryd Lyons (9), Sydney’s Luke Parker (9), Rich (5), Sydney’s Josh Kennedy (5), Dan McStay (1) and Sydney’s Ryan Clarke (1), the Coachlow votes would be Lyons (2.5), Parker (2.5), Rich (0.5) and Kennedy (0.5).
Neale, equal 3rd in the Brownlow last year with 26 votes and equal 8th in 2016 with 20 votes, is set to finish with a total equivalent to just less than the all-time single-season record.
His ‘Coachlow’ total of 27 votes in the shortened 17-game season of 2020 equates to a 22-game total of 34.94 votes. The record is Dustin Martin’s 36-vote blitz in 2017.
Under the ‘Coachlow’ system, Boak will poll maximum votes in the first three rounds to lead early, but will be overhauled by Neale in Round 4. The leaderboard at that point will be Neale (9.5), Boak (9) and Gold Coast’s Matt Rowell (9).
Neale and Boak will sit 1-2 from then on, with Neale’s lead stretching to 6.5 votes at Rounds 8-9-10, 7.5 votes at Round 11 and eight votes at Round 12. Thereafter, Boak pulls it back to five at Rounds 15-16 and three votes at Round 17.
But the ex-Port captain will go without votes in the Power’s last game against Collingwood as Neale clinches it with two votes against Carlton.
Lions fans looking to track Neale through the vote count might be ready to pencil in votes in 11 games. They are:
Round 1 v Hawthorn (MCG) – Lost by 28 points. Neale had a game-high 26 possessions (16 contested), a game-high 10 tackles and a team-high eight clearances in the pre-Covid season that has been long forgotten. Hawthorn’s Chad Wingard had 20 possessions and kicked three goals.
Coachlow votes: Chad Wingard (H) 3, Lachie Neale (B) 2, Shaun Burgoyne (H) 1.
Round 2 v Fremantle (Gabba) – Won by 12 points. As the game resumed after an 83-day break Neale had 29 possessions (17 contested), eight clearances and kicked two goals against his former side in an all-the-way win. Charlie Cameron kicked 4-2 and Michael Walters had 28 possessions and two goals for the Dockers.
Coachlow votes: Lachie Neale (B) 3, Charlie Cameron (B) 1.5, Michael Walters (F) 1.5.
Round 3 v West Coast (Gabba) – Won by 30 points. In the round in which the Essendon-Melbourne game was postponed after Connor McKenna tested positive to Covid-19, Neale had 32 possessions (15 contested), seven tackles, six clearances and two goals. Hugh McCluggage (26 possessions), Jarryd Lyons (25 possessions) and Jarrod Berry (13 possessions, 3 goals) were other big contributors as the Lions kicked 8-8 to 3-4 in the second half.
Coachlow votes: Lachie Neale (B) 3, Hugh McCluggage (B) 2, Jarrod Berry (B) 1.
Round 4 v Adelaide (Gabba) – Won by 37 points. Neale had 30 possessions (13 contested) and kicked six behinds, prompting him to apologise on social media to fans who had backed him to kick a goal. The Lions overcame a third-quarter snooze to win comfortably, with Hugh McCluggage the star.
Coachlow votes: Hugh McCluggage (B) 3, Lachie Neale (B) 1.5, Jarrod Berry (B) 1.5.
Round 5 v Port Adelaide (Gabba) – Won by 37 points. The Lions blitzed the later-to-be minor premiers after quarter-time, with Neale collecting 29 possessions, a goal and seven clearances in an even team effort.
Coachlow votes: Lachie Neale (B) 3, Jarryd Lyons (B) 2, Harris Andrews (B) 0.5, Hugh McCluggage (B) 0.5.
A 27-point loss to Geelong at the SCG in Round 6 is unlikely to deliver any Brisbane votes, with Cats Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood favored by the coaches. And the steadying Round 7 win over GWS at the Sydney Showgrounds is tipped to deliver Zorko his first three-vote haul.
Round 8 v Melbourne (Metricon Stadium) – won by 4 points. The Lions withstood a late Demons rally to take the points as Neale helped himself to 33 possessions and Zac Bailey set himself up for perhaps his first Brownlow votes.
Coachlow votes: Lachie Neale (B) 3, Zac Bailey (B) 1.5, Christian Petracca (M) 1.5.
Round 9 v Essendon (Metricon Stadium) – won by 63 points. The Lions produced a stellar defensive effort to set up their biggest win of the year but it was Neale’s 33 possessions and two goals and Charlie Cameron’s four goals that caught the coach’s eye.
Coachlow votes: Lachie Neale (B) 3, Charlie Cameron (B) 2, Alex Witherden (B) 1.
The Lions will expect to go voteless in the 41-point Round 10 loss to Richmond at Metricon Stadium, when Liam Baker, Dustin Martin and Shai Bolton led the way for the Tigers.
Round 11 v W/Bulldogs (Gabba) – won by 24 points. The Lions quickly bounced back to their best against the Dogs and Neale did likewise. He picked up a season-high 36 possessions (18 contested), made 12 clearances and kicked a goal as Eric Hipwood kicked five goals and Zorko had nine tackles and nine clearances to go with 24 possessions.
Coachlow votes: Lachie Neale (B) 3, Dayne Zorko (B) 2, Eric Hipwood (B) 1.
Round 12 v Nth Melb (Metricon Stadium) – won by 1 point. It wasn’t as close as the final margin suggests, with North’s Cam Zuhaar kicking a goal after the siren, but it was one in which the Lions were content just to take the points. Jarryd Lyons and North’s Jed Anderson shared the votes.
Coachlow votes: Jarryd Lyons (B) 2.5, Jed Anderson (NM) 2.5, Lachie Neale (B) 0.5, Dayne Zorko (0.5).
Round 13 against StKilda at the Gabba was much like Round 12 – just a win. This time it was wayward kicking that cost them – they kicked 6-14. Harris Andrews split the votes with emerging Saints star Jack Steele, who climbed to third in the ‘Coachlow’ count behind Neale and Boak.
After a Round 14 bye the Lions posted a hard-fought eight-point Gabba win over Collingwood. Look for Jarryd Lyons and Pies skipper Scott Pendlebury to top the votes.
Round 16 v Gold Coast (Gabba) – won by 45 points. The Lions comfortably made it four Q-Clash wins on the trot as Neale, looking to peak in the run to the finals, added a Marcus Ashcroft Medal to his trophy collection. He had 33 possessions including a season-high 19 possessions to lead a Brisbane midfield blitz.
Coachlow votes: Lachie Neale (B) 3, Dayne Zorko (B) 1.5, Hugh McCluggage (B) 1.5.
Almost as if wanting to make the Brownlow count close, Neale had a season-low 15 possessions in a comfortable Round 16 win over Sydney in Cairns. The votes were split between Lyons and Swans counterpart Luke Parker.
Round 18 v Carlton (Gabba) – won by 17 points. Needing a win to be assured of a top two spot, the Lions faced a danger game as visitors Carlton farewelled the retiring Kade Simpson and they were happy just to get away with a win. Daniel Rich closed out arguably his most consistent home-and-away season with 22 possessions and two goals to treble his season tally while Neale picked up 29 possessions to top the League possession count with 487 and get himself among the votes.
Coachlow votes: Daniel Rich (B) 3, Lachie Neale (2), Callum AhChee (B) 1.
If it is to be a four-way stoush between Neale, Boak, Petracca and Steele the three challengers might be expected to poll well in the following rounds, according to ‘Coachlow’ voting.
Boak: Tipped to received maximum votes in Rounds 1-2-3, he may to wait until Round 9 for his next votes, then Round 11 and Round 13. After two quiet weeks he’ll poll in Rounds 16-17 but isn’t expected to figure in the Power’s Round 18 win over Collingwood.
Petracca: Can only expect votes once in the first five rounds – in Round 2 – but is tipped to feature in Rounds 6-7-8 as media hype around the Melbourne midfielder started to build. He was extra consistent, but with only two anticipated votes from Rounds 12-16 he may leave himself too much to do despite a big finish in Rounds 17-18.
Steele: Polled in a League-high 14 of 17 games – more even than Neale (12), Boak (11) and Petracca (11) – but is tipped only to pick up maximum votes three times in Rounds 5-7-18.
Neale, with 89 career Brownlow Medal votes, with go into the count one of seven players looking to be the 100th player overall to poll 100 career votes. Also in contention are Sydney’s Luke Parker (94), Adelaide’s Rory Sloane (94), Fremantle’s David Mundy (93), West Coast’s Andrew Gaff (92), Port’s Robbie Gray (91) and the Bulldogs’ Marcus Bontempelli (87).
Top three vote-getters at each club in the ‘Coachlow’ are:-
Adelaide: Rory Laird 8.5, Matt Crouch 6.33, Lachlan Sholl 2.5.
Brisbane: Lachie Neale 27, Jarryd Lyons 10, Dayne Zorko 7.33.
Carlton: Sam Walsh 7.5, Jack Martin 6, Marc Murphy 5.5.
Collingwood: Taylor Adams 15, Scott Pendlebury 10.5, Adam Treloar 7.
Essendon: Zach Merrett 13.5, Andrew McGrath 7.5, Jordan Ridley & Dylan Shiel 6.
Fremantle: Andrew Brayshaw 9.5, Nat Fyfe, Luke Ryan & Michael Walters 8.
Geelong: Cam Guthrie 12.5, Patrick Dangerfield 11.33, Sam Menegola 10.33.
Gold Coast: Matt Rowell 9, Jarrod Witts 7, Hugh Greenwood 4.25.
GWS: Toby Greene 9, Lachie Whitfield 8, Nick Haynes 7.
Hawthorn: Chad Wingard 9, Jack Gunston 6, Jaeger O’Meara 4.
Melbourne: Christian Petracca 19.5, Clayton Oliver 8, Max Gawn 7.
North Melb: Todd Goldstein & Jed Anderson 6.5, Ben Cunnington, Luke McDonald & Jy Simpkin 3.
Port Adel: Travis Boak 22, Ollie Wines 10.33, Charlie Dixon 8.5.
Richmond: Dustin Martin 9, Shai Bolton 6.5, Noah Balta 5.5.
St.Kilda: Jack Steele 17, Zak Jones 11.5, Dan Butler 6.
Sydney: Luke Parker 12, Dane Rampe & Isaac Heeney 5.5.
W/Bulldogs: Marcus Bontempelli 13.5, Jack Macrae 10.5, Caleb Daniel 7.
W/Coast: Nic Naitanui 12, Liam Ryan 9.5, Tim Kelly 8.5.