Walsh named Blues’ best — is a contract next?


Sam Walsh has even more currency when he sits down with Carlton to look at a new deal after claiming his first John Nicholls medal. See the leaderboard.

Walsh, 21, went one better than his runner-up performance in last year’s Blues best and fairest with victory in this year’s count, beating the 2020 winner Jacob Weitering by 11 votes.

It capped off a stunning season for the star midfielder that included a fourth place in the Brownlow Medal with 30 votes, his first All-Australian selection and captaincy of the AFL Players’ Association’s 22under22 side.

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Walsh has one year to run on his current contract with Carlton, but after some preliminary discussions on a new deal a few months ago, the Blues will meet again with his manager Scott Lucas prior to Christmas.

Given his extraordinary three seasons in the AFL system so far, Carlton will aim to lock Walsh away before the start of next season.

In a members’ only virtual event, Walsh polled 183 votes to win from Weitering (172), with Coleman Medallist Harry McKay (118) in third place.

The 2018 No.1 draft pick also won the Bill Lanyon Inner Blue Ruthless Award, recognising his bravery, resilience and commitment each week, as well as the Carltonians’ William A. Cook Trophy after the coterie’s best player for the second year in a row.

Walsh played every game for the club this season – and has only missed five games since his 2019 debut. He averaged almost 30 disposals and led the club in tackles, uncontested possessions and score involvements.

Carlton head of football Brad Lloyd said Walsh always seemed destined to join the list of greats to win the John Nicholls Medal.

“When Sam was drafted to our football club in 2018 he was determined to succeed and make an impact in the navy Blue and (this) serves as recognition for doing just that,” Lloyd said.

“What he has achieved in his career to date is extraordinary and becoming a John Nicholls Medallist marks another very special moment for him, which we and the whole Carlton family should be extremely proud of.

“While he is an undeniable talent, it has been extremely rewarding for our entire football club to see him continue to progress over the course of the last three years and enjoy another prolific season.

“He has worked unbelievably hard to become the player that he is, and after getting extremely close last year, we are thrilled that Sam has been duly recognised.”

Weitering, 23, maintained his impressive form this season, also winning the Coaches Award as well as the Most Valuable Bluebagger Award.

“Once again Jacob was outstanding for us this season, putting his body on the line each week and commissioning our back half while curtailing the competition’s best forwards,” Lloyd said.

“Consistently demonstrating our team values to the highest standard, he continues to thrive from a leadership perspective and his hunger to grow and progress in his role is inspiring for all of our players.”

Lloyd said McKay, who kicked 58 goals from 19 games, took “a big leap forward in his game this year and as an emerging leader of our group.”

“To win the Coleman Medal at just 23 years of age is a significant achievement for him as is finishing third (in the John Nicholls Medal).”

Patrick Cripps finished fourth (112), ahead of Ed Curnow (100), Adam Saad (97), Lachie Plowman (86), Liam Jones (80), Eddie Betts (75) and Jack Silvagni (71).

Silvagni won the Spirit of Carlton Award, for his relentless effort in demonstrating the true spirit of the Carlton Football Club on and off the field. Liam Stocker won the Best Young Player award, while Marc Pittonet was named Best Clubman.

2021 John Nicholls Medal leaderboard

Sam Walsh 183 votes
Jacob Weitering
172 votes
Harry McKay
118 votes
Patrick Cripps
112 votes
Ed Curnow
100 votes
Adam Saad
97 votes
Lachie Plowman
86 votes
Liam Jones
80 votes
Eddie Betts
75 votes
Jack Silvagni
71 votes

Champion’s tears at Roos B&F

A tearful Ben Cunnington has credited the wide-ranging support he received for getting him through his serious health battle this year.

The champion North Melbourne on-baller missed the final month of the season after being diagnosed with a testicular tumour that required surgery to remove.

The 30-year-old, who finished runner-up to Jy Simpkin in Friday night’s Syd Barker Medal, is expected to make a full recovery and be ready to play in Round 1 next season.

Cunnington said in mid-August he would have to “remain vigilant over the next few years and have regular check-ups to ensure the cancer doesn’t return”.

Asked to reflect on his year during the Syd Barker Medal function, the famously media-shy Kangaroos hard man choked back tears.

“For some reason, I’m getting a bit emotional, even though I didn’t win it,” Cunnington said.

“I’m not good at this stuff. Just to have the support from the club, the players and my beautiful family; I couldn’t have done it without them.”

North Melbourne co-vice-captain Luke McDonald stepped in to enable Cunnington to compose himself and spoke in glowing terms about him.

“I think he’s got us all there. I don’t think I’m wrong in saying he’s one of the all-time greats of North Melbourne’s history,” McDonald said.

“He’s come second in the best and fairest four times and won two, but Ben Cunnington the player and Ben Cunnington the person, I honestly couldn’t speak any higher of him.

“Obviously, he’s a bit quiet in the media, but his influence on the club – we talk about how much all the young guys have improved; that’s a lot of the stuff because of ‘Cunners’ behind the scenes.

“He puts in hours with them. He’s just a role model for all the boys, with how close he is with his family – he’s just the epitome of a Shinboner … he’s an absolute superstar player, person and dad.”

Kangaroos fans and the wider AFL public rallied around Cunnington when his cancer battle broke in July and he said it was overwhelming but appreciated.

“It’s more than I ever expected,” he said.

“You think you’re a bit more alone, but the support, everyone from the top of the club to the fans stuck at home – it’s been huge.

“It actually helps me smile and makes me want to continue playing for this great club. It means more than I ever thought.

“I love working with the young guys and it drives me every day. I try and help them in any way I can.

“It means a lot to hopefully contribute to them in any way to get us back to where we belong.”

North Melbourne premiership player David King, who co-hosted the function, said Cunnington deserved a spot in the club’s team of the century and didn’t realise his importance.

Crisp claims Copeland Trophy

Collingwood’s most durable player is now a best and fairest winner after Jack Crisp collected his first Copeland Trophy on Friday night.

After four previous placings in the award, Crisp was a commanding winner of the Magpies’ highest individual honour as he polled 90 votes to finish ahead of defender Brayden Maynard (70 votes).

Captain Scott Pendlebury continued his extraordinary run with his third-place (67 votes) meaning he has now finished in the top three in 13 of the last 16 seasons.

Crisp, 27, has played in 163 consecutive games, the most of any active player in the AFL, and his consistency was on show throughout the count where he polled in 17 matches.

The former Brisbane Lions defender has become one of the Magpies midfield threats, averaging 27 possessions and nine contested possessions throughout 2021.

Maynard’s second place was a career best while Pendlebury’s effort to run third was impressive given he missed the last four rounds because of a broken leg.

Gun forward Jordan De Goey was just one vote behind his skipper in fourth position while veteran Steele Sidebottom came fifth (59 votes).

Centre half-back Darcy Moore was the early bolter in the count polling in nine out of the first 13 games before suffering his season-ending injury in the final seconds of the Round 13 match against Melbourne.

He finished seventh on 54 votes with ruckman Brodie Grundy just ahead of him on 57.

Centre half-forward Brody Mihocek won the Gordon Coventry award as leading goal kicker for the third year in a row, booting 34 goals.

Defender Jordan Roughead received the Darren Millane Perpetual Memorial Trophy for best clubman while midfielder Steele Sidebottom claimed the Gavin Brown award for elite ball pressure.

Oliver Henry took out the Harry Collier Trophy as the club’s best first-year player with Lachie Tardrew was named the club’s best performer in the VFL.

The Magpies also announced a scholarship named after club legend Nathan Buckley.

Buckley appeared on the Copeland Trophy broadcast, thanking the club for giving the opportunity for a driven young person to do a 12-month cadetship at the Holden Centre.

The former coach said 2021 was a “bitter pill” to swallow for the club but he hoped they moved forward quickly under the new leadership of Craig McCrae.

“I will be watching and hoping the club does really well and bounces back quickly,” Buckley said.

Future captain claims Syd Barker Medal

The present and future at North Melbourne are intertwining, with tough midfielder Jy Simpkin claiming his maiden Syd Barker Medal as the club’s best and fairest winner.

Viewed as a likely future captain, Simpkin averaged career-best numbers almost across the board this season, including 27 disposals, five clearances and five inside 50s.

The 23-year-old rattled home to poll 143 votes and beat dual medallist Ben Cunnington (117), with captain Jack Ziebell finishing third on countback from fellow defender Aaron Hall (both 114).

Cunnington missed four of the last five games after being diagnosed with a testicular tumour that he underwent surgery to remove.

Simpkin finished runner-up last year to Luke McDonald, who he shares the Kangaroos’ vice-captaincy with.

He had a number of standout performances but none better than in Round 9 against Hawthorn, where he amassed 38 disposals, 23 contested possessions, 14 clearances and nine tackles.

Simpkin’s latest two-year deal expires at the end of next season and he will be North’s top re-signing priority, along with emerging star Tarryn Thomas.

The Roos’ rebuild has focused on the midfield first, with that duo, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Will Phillips, Tom Powell and this year’s potential No.1 draft pick, Jason Horne-Francis, set to form a fearsome on-ball brigade.

All six players are, or will be, first-round draft picks.

Davies-Uniacke’s own rise was highlighted with a fifth-placed finish in the club champion count, while Thomas finished eighth as he increasingly moved into the midfield.

Cunnington won the fan-voted Excellence Award after another strong campaign that saw him poll a club-high 15 Brownlow Medal votes.

The 30-year-old ranked second in the AFL for contested possessions (15.6) and clearances (7.5) per game.

Syd Barker Medal top 10

1. Jy Simpkin (143 votes)

2. Ben Cunnington (117)

3. Jack Ziebell (114)*

4. Aaron Hall (114)

5. Luke Davies-Uniacke (109)

6. Ben McKay (106)

7. Cam Zurhaar (95)*

8. Tarryn Thomas (95)

9. Kayne Turner (92)

10. Nick Larkey (90)

* Finished ahead on countback

Other awards

Excellence Award: Ben Cunnington

Best Clubman Award: Kayne Turner

Community Award: Chris Simmonds

Shinboner of the Year: Jy Simpkin

Best Young Player: Tom Powell

Incredible rise of Tom Stewart continues at Cats’ B&F

The stunning rise of Tom Stewart from obscurity to AFL superstar continued on Thursday night, with the defender crowned Geelong’s best-and-fairest player for 2021.

Stewart, who was plucked from the VFL by the Cats with pick 40 in the 2016 National Draft as a 23-year-old, claimed his first Carji Greeves Medal by just two votes, holding out fellow backman Jack Henry, with veteran Tom Hawkins rounding out the place getters.

His win capped another stellar season that saw him rewarded with a third All-Australian blazer and came despite the fact that he missed Geelong’s last five games of the year through injury.

Incredibly, Stewart has played just five years and 106 games for the Cats, but has now finished inside the top six in the best-and-fairest on four occasions.

He said he could never have imagined being placed among the greats of Geelong when he was drafted five years ago.

“I am obviously extremely humbled and absolutely honoured to be recognised this year as the Carji Greeves medallist,” Stewart said.

“I never thought I’d see myself in this light and it is extremely overwhelming at the moment to be told this but I am obviously extremely proud and very honoured to be among some of the greats of the Geelong Footy Club.

“I (want to thank) my teammates and all the boys who allow me not to play on anyone basically and roll off and play my game, the defenders in particular, Jacky boy (Henry), Blitz (Mark Blicavs), Hendo (Lachie Henderson), I could reel off ten names.

“I know I am a better person for having been at the Geelong Football Club … every day really puts a smile on my face and makes work amazing to come to because really, five years ago I never thought this was going to be my job so I am just so grateful and so thankful that this is what I am able to do.”

Off-season recruit Isaac Smith justified Geelong’s decision to bring him to the club, finishing fourth, while last year’s winner, Cam Guthrie, came fifth.

The top ten was rounded out by Mark Blicavs (sixth), Brad Close (seventh), Joel Selwood (eighth), Jed Bews (ninth) and Brandan Parfitt (tenth).

Outside of Stewart’s win, it was the second-placing of Henry that stood out most among the Geelong top ten list, with that result backing up his eighth-place finish from 2020.

The 23-year-old grew in prominence throughout the year after missing out on selection for the first game of the season against Adelaide and ended as one of the Cats most important players.

He stood up in the absence of Stewart during the finals but clearly impressed the Geelong coaching staff and match committee throughout the year.

Henry, who has now played 90 matches and barley missed a game since making his debut in 2018, signed a three-year extension in April tying him to the Cats until the end of 2024.

Josh Kelly stands tall for GWS

A strong finals campaign has sealed star Giant Josh Kelly his second Kevin Sheedy Medal as the club’s best and fairest winner.

Kelly broke a tie with Toby Greene at the end of the home and away season with a combined 53 disposals and 15 clearances across Greater Western Sydney’s two finals against the Swans and Geelong.

The 26-year-old finished on 159 votes to edge out All-Australian squad members Greene (149) and Jacob Hopper (142), who also enjoyed excellent individual campaigns.

Tim Taranto (129) and Sam Taylor (122), who also received the coaches’ award, rounded out the top five.

Greene played five fewer games than Kelly due to a shoulder injury and suspension, including missing the semi-final loss because of a three-match ban for making contact with umpire Matt Stevic.

It was a major bounce back for Kelly, who struggled with injuries in the three years after his breakout 2017 All-Australian season, which also saw him win the club champion award.

Kelly averaged 26 disposals, five inside 50s, six tackles and 460m gained, playing 23 of a possible 24 matches, while also triggering a new eight-year contract that makes him the latest Giants ‘lifer’.

He didn’t make a call on his future until August, but it was a major relief for the club after Jeremy Cameron, Zac Williams, Aidan Corr, Jye Caldwell, Jackson Hately and Zac Langdon left last year.

Coach Leon Cameron hailed Kelly’s effort to clinch another Kevin Sheedy Medal, saying he should be “very proud” of his season.

“By his own admission, Josh came into this season wanting to take his game to another level,” Cameron said.

“I think we saw the results of a big summer of hard work as he stepped up with consistent quality performances across a variety of positions.

“His willingness to play whatever role was required of him, along with his leadership in the absence of Stephen Coniglio and, at times, Toby Greene, was on full display across 2021.”

Meanwhile, the AFL’s appeal of Greene’s three-week suspension for intentional umpire contact is expected to be heard in October.

League headquarters is set to argue the sanction was manifestly inadequate after chief executive Gillon McLachlan said he found it “hard to reconcile”.

GWS requested the appeal hearing be held sometime after the grand final and Giants football boss Jason McCartney said he did not expect Greene or umpire Stevic would have to give evidence again.

“It’s really more a legal setting with our counsel and the AFL counsel, and they go through the legalities of the appeal,” McCartney said.

2021 Kevin Sheedy Medal Top 10

1. Josh Kelly (159 votes)

2. Toby Greene (149)

3. Jacob Hopper (142)

4. Tim Taranto (129)

5. Sam Taylor (122)

6. Callan Ward (111)

6. Harry Himmelberg (111)

6. Isaac Cumming (111)

9. Nick Haynes (100)

10. Lachie Whitfield (97)

Other award-winners

Rising Star: Tom Green

Development Award: James Peatling

Members’ Choice: Toby Greene

Mark of the Year: Toby Greene (Round 1)

Goal of the Year: Toby Greene (Round 14)

Leading goalkicker: Toby Greene (45 goals)

Coaches Award: Sam Taylor

Bont joins Bulldogs’ greats in remarkable BnF feat

Western Bulldogs’ captain Marcus Bontempelli has equalled some of the greatest figures in the club’s history winning his fourth club best-and-fairest award.

The brilliant midfielder took out the Charles Sutton Medal with 353 votes ahead of gun midfielders Jackson Macrae (296) and Tom Liberatore (291) at a virtual event on Wednesday night.

It continues an extraordinary run for Bontempelli who has finished in the top-three in seven of the past eight seasons (only missed in 2014) since he was taken pick No.4 in 2013.

There are only five other players who have won four Bulldogs best and fairests – Scott West (seven), Gary Dempsey (six), John Schultz, Norm Ware and Ted Whitten (five).

At 25, Bontempelli is certain to add to his trophy cabinet in coming years and become one of the club’s greatest ever players by the time his magnificent career winds up.

Bontempelli’s outstanding season was also acknowledged in the Brownlow Medal where he polled a career-best 33 votes to finish second to Port Adelaide wrecking ball Ollie Wines.

The sublime left-footer averaged 27 possessions a game and slotted 31 majors for the season, and was the one who led the fightback in the Grand Final, gathering 25 touches and three goals against Melbourne.

It was another ultra-consistent season for ball magnet Macrae who set a new AFL record for most possessions won this year, while Liberatore finished third for the second year in a row.

It was a tremendous effort from Liberatore who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in 2018 but led the league for clearances and was third in ground balls this year according to Champion Data.

All-Australian Bailey Dale, who was one of the most improved players in the league this year, finished fourth on 251 votes ahead of Daniel (250) in fifth.

September star Bailey Smith (216) finished in seventh, ahead of talented key forward Aaron Naughton (211) and work horses Taylor Duryea (198) and Bailey Williams (171).

Ruckman-forward Tim English finished outside the top-10 after dealing with a concussion this year, while midfielders Josh Dunkley and Adam Treloar also missed a big chunk of the season with injuries.

Macrae was judged the club’s best player in finals with 36, 39, 36 and 26 disposals ahead of Smith who had 20, 27, 23 and 26 and eight goals combined across the four games.

Speedster Anthony Scott won the best first-year player award, Keath was deemed the best team player and Naughton took home the most courageous

Top 10

1st (Charles Sutton Medal) MARCUS BONTEMPELLI 353

2nd (Doug Hawkins Medal) JACKSON MACRAE 296

3rd (Gary Dempsey Medal) TOM LIBERATORE 291

4th BAILEY DALE 251

5th CALEB DANIEL 250

6th ALEX KEATH 241

7th BAILEY SMITH 216

8th AARON NAUGHTON 211

9th TAYLOR DURYEA 198

10th BAILEY WILLIAMS 171

OTHER AWARDS:

Chris Grant Best First Year Player: Anthony Scott

Locker Group Coaches’ Award: Taylor Duryea

Tony Liberatore Most Improved Player Award: Bailey Dale

Brad Johnson Best Team Player Award: Alex Keath

Scott West Most Courageous Award: Aaron Naughton

Bomber enters rare air at best and fairest

Midfielder Zach Merrett has entered rare air at Essendon, becoming just the third Bomber in the AFL era and 12th player overall to claim three Crichton Medals as club champion.

Merrett franked his second All-Australian campaign with Essendon’s top individual award for the third time in six seasons, three months after signing a monster six-year contract.

The 25-year-old amassed 420 votes to triumph comfortably from breakout star Darcy Parish (339) and Will Snelling (315), whose AFL career was resuscitated in the mid-season draft two years ago.

Last year’s victor, Jordan Ridley (309), and Jake Stringer (286) rounded out the top five.

Merrett, who also won in 2016 and 2019, is the fourth-youngest triple Crichton medallist, behind Bombers legends James Hird, Dick Reynolds and Simon Madden.

Essendon’s other three-time recipients are Tim and Jobe Watson, Graham Moss, Tom Fitzmaurice, Barry Davis, Wally Buttsworth, John Birt and Bill Hutchison.

Merrett entered this season as one of the game’s most coveted – but restricted – free agents and told the Herald Sun in May he was still making up his mind on his future.

A number of rival clubs tried to persuade him to leave as far back as last year, when murmurs of him being disgruntled began to spread.

But the joint vice-captain’s decision to stay at Tullamarine was massive for the Bombers, evidenced by him averaging 32 disposals, six inside 50s and seven score involvements this year.

First-year coach Ben Rutten, who Merrett credited as a major reason for him recommitting at Essendon, said the star on-baller “took his game to another level” in 2021.

“We commend him on his attitude, commitment, leadership and drive to put together another outstanding year individually,” Rutten said.

“Zach is a strong competitor who demands the best out of himself and his teammates in his determination to take this club forward.

“We know he will continue to lead this young group over the years to come, and it’s terrific to see him being rewarded for his campaign this season.”

The runner-up finish was just reward for Parish, who earned his first All-Australian blazer, to go with placing equal-fifth in the Brownlow Medal.

He also accepted the Anzac Medal, Yiooken Award and Tom Wills Medal after being adjudged as the best player afield in marquee Bombers matches.

Snelling managed only one game for Port Adelaide in his previous AFL life, but a barnstorming start to the 2019 SANFL season convinced Essendon to give him a second shot.

The 24-year-old has since become an important contributor up forward, while reborn defender Jayden Laverde – who placed sixth in the Crichton Medal – was the club’s most improved player.

Laverde also received the player-voted McCracken Medal as the Bomber who most lives up to the club’s values.

2021 CRICHTON MEDAL TOP 10

1. Zach Merrett (420 votes)

2. Darcy Parish (339)

3. Will Snelling (315)

4. Jordan Ridley (309)

5. Jake Stringer (286)

6. Jayden Laverde (278)

7. Kyle Langford (253)

8. Nick Hind (223)

9. Dyson Heppell (218)

10. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (214)

OTHER AWARD-WINNERS

Best clubman: Kyle Langford

Most courageous: Dyson Heppell

Leading goalkicker: Jake Stringer

Rising star: Archie Perkins

Most improved: Jayden Laverde

Staff and trainers’ award: Mason Redman

McCracken Medal: Jayden Laverde

St Kilda’s top Saint named at best and fairest

St Kilda has flagged its strong desire to “regenerate” at this year’s draft after topping up with senior players in recent years.

The Saints have focused heavily on mature-age talent over the past three trade periods picking up experienced players including Daniel Hannebery (2018), Brad Hill, Dougal Howard, Dan Butler and Zak Jones (2019) and last year Brad Crouch (2020).

Co-captain Jack Steele (234 votes) was a runaway winner of the best and fairest award on Friday night, taking out back-to-back Trevor Barker awards by 79 votes ahead of Jack Sinclair (155) and Tim Membrey (133).

Defender Callum Wilkie (124) finished fourth after another solid campaign for the mature-age pick-up, while midfield recruits Brad Hill, 28, and Brad Crouch, 27, tied for fifth on 120 votes.

But, after making finals in 2020, the Saints went backwards this season, losing four of their first 11 games by more than 50 points.

It prompted some soul-searching and honest conversation among the players mid-season and, after missing finals, chief executive Matt Finnis on Friday night said the time had come to hit the draft again and focus on young talent.

After taking Max King with pick four in 2019, the Saints haven’t had a selection inside No. 25 over the past two drafts. But the Saints aren’t keen to trade away pick No. 9 this year.

“Obviously we go into the player movement period but in particular I’m looking forward to the draft this year,” Finnis said.

“There is an opportunity for the club to really regenerate and some bring in some talented youth and hopefully even take advantage of the next generation academy really for the first time.

“There might be a couple of players there which will be terrific.”

The Saints’ poor start to the season prompted a critical assessment from president Andrew Bassat who in a letter to members mid-season said the manner of some of the defeats was “unacceptable.

On Friday night Bassat said the club failed to meet on-field expectations this year, finishing 10th with a 10-12 record.

“There is no doubt our efforts this year left us with an element of disappointment,” Bassat said.

“We knew this season would test us. Expectations increased in and outside of the club and with that came the need to improve.   

“The first half of the year was poor. The confidence of all of us in our on-field future was shaken, not by the regularity of our losses, but by their nature.

“I am today, however, in a much more optimistic frame of mind than I was after the Adelaide loss.”

Consistent midfielder Seb Ross, who has been touted as a potential trade target, backman Dougal Howard, Jimmy Webster and colt spearhead Max King, 21, rounded out the top-10 of the best and fairest count.

Re-signed goalkicker Jack Billings (18 games) missed out on the top-10 along with star ruckman Rowan Marshall who played only 13 games amid some foot issues.

It was an impressive result for Sinclair, 26, who shone in his move to the half back line to make the top-10 of the best and fairest count for the first time in his career.

The reborn playmaker also won the best clubman award, while dual All-Australian Steele claimed the Lenny Hayes club values award and the fans player of the year.

It was the sixth time in Ross’s career that he finished inside the top-10. 

VOTES

1. Jack Steele (234 votes)

2. Jack Sinclair (155)

3. Tim Membrey (136)

4. Callum Wilkie (124)

5. Brad Crouch (120)

6. Bradley Hill (120)

7. Seb Ross (117)

8. Dougal Howard (112)

9. Jimmy Webster (105)

10. Max King (101)

Can Hawks trade triple B&F winner?

Tom Mitchell has won his third Peter Crimmins Medal since joining Hawthorn in 2017.

The 2018 Brownlow Medal winner was crowned the Hawks best-and-fairest for 2021 on Thursday night.

Mitchell’s 2021 honour follows his wins in 2017, his first year at Hawthorn after crossing from Sydney, and then again in 2018.

The ball magnet topped the count on 161 votes, a clear margin ahead of defender Blake Hardwick on 126 votes and vice-captain Jaeger O’Meara third on 121.

Mitchell missed the entire 2019 season after breaking his leg during a training session.

The 28-year-old played all 22 games for the Hawks in 2021 and accumulated the highest number of disposals across the competition in the home-and-away season with an average of 34.3 touches per game.

This was alongside 4.8 tackles per game and 4.1 inside-50s as Mitchell won a spot in the All-Australian squad.

Mitchell has been floated as a possible trade option for the Hawks if they decide to attack this year’s draft.

Votes for the Peter Crimmins Medal were awarded by four coaches — Alastair Clarkson, assistant coach Chris Newman, and former assistants Brendon Bolton and Craig McRae — after each home-and-away match.

The next best placegetters were small forward Dylan Moore and ex-Port Adelaide star Chad Wingard, who finished fourth and fifth on 101 and 100 votes respectively.

Emerging forward Jacob Koschitzke was named as the best first-year player, while defender Sam Frost was judged to be the most consistent player.

Changkuoth Jiath was named the club’s most promising player while captain Ben McEvoy received the best clubman award in his debut season as skipper.

Hawks chief executive Justin Reeves paid tribute to the ability of the playing group to handle a significant amount of change through another Covid-impacted season.

“This season saw our players endure a lot of change as they were faced with rolling fixtures and varied schedules week-to-week,” Reeves said.

“While working through these challenges, our players continued to perform and still achieve their own individual honours whether that be a game-high statistic, an AFL Mark of the Year or Rising Star nomination, or simply putting in a hundred per cent of their effort and more each round.

“To accomplish and celebrate these successes across the 2021 season is testament to the work ethic of our playing group and their ability to adjust.

“Well done to Tom on taking home his third Peter Crimmins Medal and congratulations to all of the award winners on their incredible seasons.”

Peter Crimmins Medal Top 10

1. Tom Mitchell – 161

2. Blake Hardwick – 126

3. Jaeger O’Meara – 121

4. Dylan Moore – 101

5. Chad Wingard – 100

6. Sam Frost – 95

7. Daniel Howe – 83

8. Changkuoth Jiath – 79

9. Liam Shiels & James Worpel – 74

10. Luke Breust – 73

Ruck star claims Eagles B&F

West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui has soared to a second consecutive best-and-fairest win after another standout season for the Eagles.

Naitanui became just the eighth player to win multiple John Worsfold Medals as he backed up his 2020 award with another triumph at the Club Champion Awards in Perth on Wednesday night.

The 31-year-old polled 200 votes to finish well clear of runner-up Dom Sheed (160 votes), with Andrew Gaff (149 votes) rounding out the top-three.

Naitanui earnt his third All-Australian honours this year, selected on the bench as a secondary ruckman to Melbourne captain Max Gawn in that team.

Naitanui averaged 15.2 disposals, 31.2 hit-outs (12.3 to advantage), 7.2 clearances, 5.4 score involvements and 116 KFC SuperCoach ranking points this season.

Sheed’s second-placed finish was his highest placing across his 131 game career that has spanned eight seasons.

His previous best finish in the count was eighth in 2019.

Gaff, who was runner-up to Naitanui in 2020, earned his eighth top-five finish in the award.

Daniher misses B&F top 10 as skipper equals history

Marco Monteverde

Brisbane captain Dayne Zorko has emulated the feat of former Lions skipper Michael Voss by becoming a five-time club champion.

Zorko polled 340 votes in winning the Merrett-Murray Medal by four votes from runner-up Hugh McCluggage.

In one of the closest counts in club history, there were only eight votes between the top three, with Jarryd Lyons finishing third on 332.

Zorko – whose season included career high numbers for kicks per game and top five AFL rankings for inside fifties, goal assists, score involvements and pressure acts – received his latest Merrett-Murray Medal from Brisbane Bears legend Roger Merrett, Lions chairman Andrew Wellington and coach Chris Fagan at the club’s awards ceremony on Sunday might at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Fagan and his five assistant senior coaches allocated votes based on the player’s overall performance, deliverance on all team criteria and execution of the team trademark.

There was no restriction on the number of players who could receive votes, with each coach having graded and allocated a maximum of four votes to a player.

The maximum votes a player could receive in each match was 24.

Midfielder Zorko’s silverware haul also included the players’ player of year award, which was presented to him by last year’s winner of the same gong, Harris Andrews.

The award for the Lions’ best player of their finals campaign, which ended with a heartbreaking one-point loss to the Western Bulldogs on September 4, went to forward Charlie Cameron.

Other winners were Linc McCarthy (trademark player), Oscar McInerney (most professional player), Keidean Coleman (rookie of the year) and Connor Ballenden (reserves best and fairest).

Top off-season recruit Joe Daniher missed a place in the top 10. Daniher played 24 games and kicked 46 goals.

Merrett-Murray Medal top 10:

Dayne Zorko 340

Hugh McCluggage 336

Jarryd Lyons 332

Brandon Starcevich 290

Daniel Rich 285

Harris Andrews 281

Oscar McInerney 274

Zac Bailey 273

Charlie Cameron 266

Linc McCarthy 254

Suns BnF: Third time lucky for Gold Coast midfield star

—Tom Boswell

Touk Miller has put the rubber stamp on a career best AFL season by being crowned the Gold Coast Suns club champion.

The man who has twice finished as the runner-up in the Suns biggest award (2018, 2020) could no longer be denied after producing one of the greatest seasons by any player in the club’s history.

Miller was announced as the winner of the title at the club’s annual awards event at The Star Casino on Sunday night.

In a reflection of his dominance throughout the year, Miller polled a record 562 votes after playing 21 of 22 games in 2021.

Miller took the lead in the voting from Round 4 and never gave it up, finishing ahead of rising youngster Wil Powell (396) and captain David Swallow (352).

Swallow just edged out vice-captain Sam Collins (350) to claim third place while Charlie Ballard (299) rounded out the top five.

Miller was in rarefied air throughout the season, recording over 30 disposals for 16 consecutive games from Round 6.

The 25-year-old midfielder finished fifth in the AFL Coaches Association Champion Player award and earnt a place in the All-Australian team.

He drew praise from major figures in the game who labelled him one of the best two-way runners in the league.

Miller’s feats this year caught many by surprise but to those inside the club it was the natural step forward for the hardest worker in the squad.

Miller revealed to News Corp earlier this season his work on his acceleration, which began in the US in a recent off-season and his ability to improve his kicking accuracy were key drivers of his improvement.

He became more damaging in offence after years spent tagging while he ranked second in the league for total tackles and fifth for average disposals with 31.8 per game.

“I’m not just flash in the pan. I have tried to build over the course over a number of years to be the best player I can be and that will help me in the long run,” Miller told News Corp earlier this year.

It was Powell’s first time on the club champion podium after a breakout season in his fourth year which saw him named in the AFLPA 22Under22 team.

AFL Rising Star nominee Jeremy Sharp took out the Emerging Player award after playing nine games in his second season at the club and averaging 20 disposals and seven marks per game.

Brayden Fiorini was named the most professional, Will Brodie took out the VFL Player of the Year and Teagan Levi and Bodhi Uwland claimed the female and male Academy Player of the Year awards respectively.

Alex Sexton also became the fourth player to be inducted as a life member of the Gold Coast Football Club after playing his 150th game for the club in Round 19 this year.

Swans B&F: Star Swan becomes Sydney royalty

Sydney co-captain Luke Parker has joined some of the Swans’ greatest footballers in winning a third Bob Skilton Medal as club champion.

Parker’s latest best and fairest win follows his triumphs in 2014 and 2017, which also came in seasons where Sydney made the finals.

Ten Swans greats have won the medal at least three times, with Parker matching fellow skipper Josh Kennedy, Bill Williams and Brownlow medallists Adam Goodes, Gerard Healy and Ron Clegg.

The star midfielder averaged 28 disposals, 13 contested possessions, six clearances and five tackles this year, while appearing in all 23 games for Sydney.

Parker, who turns 29 in October, remains an unrestricted free agent as he seeks a lucrative new four-year deal to stay in the Harbour City.

He (543 votes) enjoyed a comfortable victory over last year’s medallist, Jake Lloyd (504), and Jordan Dawson (502), with All-Australian Tom Papley (481) and Callum Mills (475) rounding out the top five.

Parker also accepted the Paul Kelly players’ player award, not even a week after the Swans’ season ended in a heartbreaking one-point elimination final defeat to the Giants.

“It’s bittersweet, but I look back at the memories and highlights from this year and I couldn’t be more grateful for those (and) the moments the people at this club bring,” Parker said.

“It just makes football and life enjoyable. Some of the wins we’ve had have been incredible.

“Whether coming from behind or when, unfortunately, some of the boys got put into quarantine and the way the group handled that situation, it just puts a smile on your face.

“We have made some special relationships this year and we will continue to build on that and there’s no doubt we will continue to grow.”

Parker has spent the past three seasons as co-captain and relished watching the likes of James Rowbottom, Chad Warner, Errol Gulden and Braeden Campbell progress this season.

“I love seeing blokes grow. I look at ‘Rowy’, Chad, Errol and Braeden, knowing I was in that position,” he said.

“The growth and expertise that Adam Goodes, Jude Bolton and Jarrad McVeigh gave me when I was first at the club (was invaluable).”

Colin O’Riordan (best clubman), Justin McInerney (most improved), Errol Gulden (rising star), Lewis Taylor (VFL player of year) and Adam Gulden (VFL squad player of year) were also recognised.

BOB SKILTON MEDAL TOP 10

Luke Parker (543 points)

Jake Lloyd (504)

Jordan Dawson (502)

Tom Papley (481)

Callum Mills (475)

Tom Hickey (444)

Isaac Heeney (437)

Justin McInerney (383)

Oliver Florent (358)

Lance Franklin (351 points)

Grimes king of the ambush

Dylan Grimes showed there is plenty of life left in the Tigers of old on Thursday night as the reliable defender was crowned Richmond’s best-and-fairest.

The 30-year-old was the only constant in Richmond’s back half this season and often carried an immature defence on his shoulders as the Tigers’ golden years came to an abrupt end.

The three-time premiership hero missed just one match this season and was the unofficial leader of a backline that was sabotaged by lengthy injuries to Nick Vlastuin, Nathan Broad, Bachar Houli and Noah Balta.

Grimes will be relied upon heavily again in 2022 when the Tigers look to bounce back up the ladder after the retirement of good mate and fellow key defender David Astbury.

Grimes led Richmond for intercepts and one-percenters and was ranked second for marks, third for contested marks and fifth for rebound 50s.

The 2019 All-Australian became the first key defender to win the Jack Dyer Medal since Alex Rance in 2015.

It was a popular result for a player who has bravely reported death threats he received to police in a widely-applauded stand against social media trolls.

Grimes is already contracted for another two seasons and is valued highly at Punt Rd for his leadership.

Coach Damien Hardwick gave dual premiership defender Liam Baker the freedom to play bursts in the midfield and attack this season and Baker’s push up the ground also pushed him up the Tigers’ leaderboard.

The boy from Pingaring in Western Australia played 41 per cent of game time this season as a defender, 17 per cent on the wing, 15 per cent as a midfielder and 27 per cent forward.

The remarkable split has Baker one of the AFL’s most versatile players and a wildcard that Hardwick can flip around during games.

Baker finished equal second with Jack Graham, who evolved into a damaging midfielder on the back of more minutes in the guts.

The 23-year-olds were followed by 22-year-old matchwinner Shai Bolton (fourth) in a clear sign the Tiger kids are ready to take their club forward.

Dustin Martin placed equal-fifth with Jack Riewoldt despite missing six games with a kidney injury.

The three-time Norm Smith Medallist returned to Punt Rd week looking rather skinny as he recovers from the serious internal injury.

JACK DYER MEDAL

1st – Dylan Grimes, 51 votes

Eq. 2nd – Jack Graham, 46

Eq. 2nd – Liam Baker, 46

4th – Shai Bolton, 45

Eq. 5th – Jack Riewoldt, 40

Eq. 5th – Dustin Martin, 40

7th – Jayden Short, 39

8th – Tom Lynch, 38

9th – Kane Lambert, 35

Eq. 10th – Trent Cotchin, 33

Eq. 10th – Nathan Broad, 33

Originally published as AFL best-and-fairest awards: Don’t miss all the results from your club’s night of nights



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