Hawthorn midfielder Tom Mitchell heads into Monday evening’s Brownlow Medal count as the short-priced favourite to win the prestigious award for the first time.
Mitchell, who crossed from Sydney to Hawthorn at the end of the 2016 campaign, polled the third most votes last season, behind only the ineligible Patrick Dangerfield and winner Dustin Martin.
And the tenacious Mitchell took his game to a new level in 2018, dragging the Hawks to a top-four finish on the back of a series of outstanding performances.
While Mitchell’s ability to win the ball is unquestioned – he won 786 disposals in the home-and-away season, one short of the VFL-AFL record he set in 2017 – he improved his ball use and clearance work this year.
The left-footer had 40 or more disposals on 11 occasions in 2018, performances likely to win him a string of three-vote hauls, and Geelong star Dangerfield recently hailed Mitchell’s season.
“Tom has been in rare touch this year, highlighted by his incredible ability to get from contest to contest and win a truckload of footy throughout the season,” Dangerfield said at last month’s AFLPA awards.
“He may seem like an unassuming figure off the field, but he is as competitive as anyone on the park.”
Mitchell is a $1.57 favourite with Sportsbet to win the Brownlow Medal, with Richmond star Martin ($8), Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn ($9), Carlton’s Patrick Cripps ($14) and Collingwood big man Brodie Grundy ($16) considered his biggest challengers.
A good guide to Brownlow Medal success can often be the Leigh Matthews Trophy – the award given to the player voted by his peers to have been the most dominant throughout a season.
The past three Brownlow winners (Nathan Fyfe in 2015, Dangerfield in 2016 and Martin in 2017) have won the award and Mitchell claimed the 2018 prize in a landslide. He won 773 votes, ahead of Cripps (529) and Gawn (412).
“Individually, I think I improved on last year,” Mitchell said after winning the award.
“Every player wants to go out and improve, so I guess I look back on a strong pre-season.
“I suppose it’s a very nice reward for effort and to be recognised by my peers … it’s a huge honour and [I am] privileged to be standing here.”
The two awards are voted differently, though, with players voting just once – for the entire season – for the Leigh Matthews Trophy.
How does the Brownlow Medal work?
The medal – also known as the ‘Charles Brownlow Trophy’ – is won by the league’s best-and-fairest player from every home-and-away season.
Any player suspended through the course of the season is ineligible to win the honour.
After each match of the home-and-away season, umpires confer before awarding votes on a 3-2-1 basis, with three votes given to the best player and so on.
These votes will be read out by AFL boss Gillon McLachlan throughout the night, following a brief recap of each round.
Unlike the NRL’s Dally M Medal, votes for the entire season are kept secret until the evening of the count.
Can anyone but Mitchell win?
That seems unlikely.
But we’ve seen some shocks before at the Brownlow Medal and Martin, who is second favourite, is a proven vote winner.
Richmond also won 18 matches in the home-and-away season, meaning Tigers players should poll well.
For that same reason, Cripps’ chances are low, given Carlton won just two matches. Even if the midfielder did carry the Blues on his shoulders and have a terrific year.
It will be particularly interesting to see if Gawn and Grundy poll well, given their roles as ruckmen, while Brisbane’s Dayne Beams, Jackson Macrae of the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne’s Clayton Oliver are considered outside chances.
Expect plenty of votes for West Coast’s Andrew Gaff, too, but he is ineligible to win the medal for his crude off-the-ball hit on Fremantle’s Andrew Bradshaw.
How can I watch – and when does it start?
It all begins at 7.30pm (AEST) on Monday on the Seven Network with the red carpet coverage. Expect plenty of ‘who are you wearing?’
The count itself starts at 8.15pm and it will go on … and on. A finish time of around 11.30pm seems likely.
It will be on the main Seven channel in Melbourne but viewers across the country can find the telecast on 7Mate.