The most memorable year in football history has produced a Brownlow medal triumph for the ages with Lachie Neale’s comprehensive victory stamping his 2020 season among the greatest of the modern era.
It completes the clean sweep for the champion Lions’ midfielder who also collected the Leigh Matthews trophy as the AFL Players’ Association MVP and the AFL Coaches Association’s Champion Player of the Year.
Only three players have claimed all three major individual awards in the same season - Dustin Martin (2017), Patrick Dangerfield (2016) and Gary Ablett Jnr (2009).
He becomes the merged club’s 10th Brownlow medallist and the fourth alongside Michael Voss (1996), Jason Akermanis (2001) and Simon Black (2002) of the Brisbane era.
Haydn Bunton (1931,32,35), Wilfred Smallhorn (1933), Dinny Ryan (1936), Allan Ruthven (1950), Kevin Murray (1969) and Bernie Quinlan (1981) were Brownlow medallists for Fitzroy.
Neale was presented the award on Saturday night at The Gabba in what was another unprecedented moment for the League with the awards ceremony conducted virtually via live locations right around the country.
Neale was modest in victory, as is his way, acknowledging past Lions medallists and his current teammates.
“I’m so humbled to be even considered to be close to any of the past winners and to join the likes of Murray, Quinlan, Akermanis, Voss and Black as medallists from our Club is something very special,” he said.
“But I wouldn’t be here without my teammates and I owe them all so much.
“Coming to work each and every day with them is a pleasure and I love it.”
The Brownlow medallist was quick to talk up the future of the Club despite their loss in Friday’s Preliminary Final against Geelong.
“Obviously we are all disappointed about last night, Geelong were too good and deserved to win it but I think we are really getting there,” he said.
“The last couple of years we have really improved, this year we improved again and at the end of the day we have got to continue to improve next year and beyond if we want to get to the top.
“We have the staff, players and all our supporters to help us get there but ultimately I feel really positive about where we are heading.”
Lions coach Chris Fagan was in attendance at the Gabba to see the Lion King crowned with football’s highest individual honour.
“I’m thrilled for him,’’ he said.
“This is a just reward for all the work he puts into his game, his constant drive to improve and for the way he gets out there and fights to the finish every single week.
“I’m proud to coach him, he’s an incredible player and a terrific man and he deserves every platitude that comes his way.’’
The 27-yearold got off to a flying start in the count and by Round 12 had 25 votes to his name, a result only bettered by himself the year before, polling maximum votes in games against Fremantle, West Coast, Adelaide, Port Adelaide, Melbourne, Essendon, Western Bulldogs and North Melbourne.
It was all sewn up in Round 16 when Neale polled a further 3-points against the SUNS and couldn’t be reached.
Neale finished the Count with 31 votes and capped off what has been a stellar year with not only the Club’s first Brownlow in 16 years but the equal biggest lead in Brownlow history.
He secured the “Charlie” in a strong finish to the season lifting the Lions into second place on the AFL ladder in the home and away season and a qualifying final with reigning premiers Richmond.
The Lions would go on to shatter an 11 year hoodoo against the Tigers with an epic 15 point victory to advance to the Club’s first preliminary final since 2004.
Although they came up short against a rampant Geelong side in the preliminary final, Neale said he was proud of the way the side had continued to improve every year under Fagan and was convinced the best was yet to come.
“The boy from Kyby, never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be standing here today” he said on the night.
South Australian Neale grew up idolising Essendon and Port Adelaide premiership star Gavin Wanganeen and now joins him as a Brownlow medallist.
Wanganeen this week told The Courier-Mail it warmed his heart to hear he had inspired the AFL’s best player.
“He is a great little warrior, I’ve always thought he was a beautiful fast running attacking midfielder,’’ he said.
“I always sensed he’d get better, he’s a ball magnet.
“You could tell he had that work rate and hunger, you don’t get that amount of ball if you are not hungry.
“And his possessions really count, they are not cheap possessions.’’
Neale is now the red-hot favourite to claim his second Merrett-Murray medal at the Lions’ Club Champion awards on Wednesday night.