This week the AFL and NRL both convened to award their respective Player of the Year awards in their codes ‘night of nights’. Both designed to transform simple vote counting into a glitzy and glamourous event. Despite having the same basic ingredients and intention, they produce results as dissimilar as the respective codes.
Firstly, and most importantly, both nights produced worthy winners.
Patrick Dangerfield’s spectacular season was fully reflected in Brownlow counting. The Cats’ star 2016 recruit ran off with the Medal, polling 35 votes, the most ever in 3-2-1 voting. Luke Parker finished 9 votes behind the Geelong mid-fielder, with Dustin Martin a further vote behind.
Having also won the AFLPA Most Valuable Player and AFLCA Player of the Year, Dangerfield was a hot favourite before voting began. While honoured with the personal awards, he expressed disappointment that he would not be playing for a Premiership Medal on Saturday.
The Dally M was a nail-biting count and in the end two players couldn’t be separated with Melbourne’s Cooper Cronk and North Queensland’s Jason Taumololo the second ever joint winners. For the Cowboy’s Lock it was his first medal and for Cronk his second, only the eighth man to win on multiple occasions.
Both players were self-effacing in victory, Taumololo crediting ‘running harder’ for his win while Cronk was humbled to join the calibre of player with more than one medal. Inseparable from each, they won by 4 votes from future immortals Jonathan Thurston and Cameron Smith.
Now let’s reflect a little on the nights themselves.
Prior to the count Titus O’Reilly asked and answered pertinent question on social media. ‘How much do we all love football? Well, we’re about to watch three hours of someone counting, so a fair bit. #Brownlow’. On the money as always, Titus might actually have underestimated how long we would watch ‘someone counting’.
Both counts were preceded by red carpet programmes showcasing the codes stars and their partners arriving in black tie elegance. Designed to fill the papers the following day, each player’s arrival greeted with questions of what their partner was wearing. Matt Moylan showing the dangers of asking players the same question, his hesitant answer “Just a suit”.
The epic nature of the Brownlow count is something the Dally M Medal actively tries to avoid, and host Tony Squires touched on this in his opening monologue. Squires explained the absence of Cronulla captain Paul Gallen, advising that he is currently unable to sit in a chair for 4 or 5 hours. He quickly attempted to allay fears of an extended presentation by exclaiming “4 or 5 hours?!? Trust me, that’s not how long this is going to go tonight. I’m going to be in the Sports Bar by 10.30.”
To this end the vote counting is much condensed, with it picking up from Round 16 and only announcing the votes for the players within the leading 10 players. That said 43 minutes into the count and they had only advanced three rounds. The event laden down with the sheer weight of awards to be presented. 18 other disciplines recognised throughout the night, apart from the Dally M, most with nominees also announced and a speech by the winner. For the most part, it makes for a night that feels rushed and seems more like a junior presentation night run by volunteers rather than a professionally packaged awards night of an elite competition.
Rushed is definitely not a word that could be used to describe the Brownlow Medal broadcast. As if desirous of extending the time the football world are gathered in celebration, there are no land speed records being broken as the AFL count the votes to determine its Fairest and Best. From the moment the votes are delivered theatrically by Armaguard time is used to assist the building of tension.
The gravitas of both nights is clear with their choice of host and vote ‘reader’. Tony Squires, with his perpetual cheeky grin, as host with a wise cracking Matthew Johns reading the votes means the Dally M has a light-hearted and convivial feel. With Bruce McAvaney in charge of proceedings of the Brownlow and the AFL CEO, Gill McLaughlin, reading the votes, the Brownlow is a much more serious affair.
That said, Bruce doesn’t always get it right. The interview with Dangerfield, when his lead became unassailable, just prior to him coming up to receive the medal was ridiculously lengthy. Doubly so when in just a few moments the pair were to have an extended chat when the Cat received his medal.
The interviews with players in general were cringe worthy and monotonous. Both coverages relied on these for ‘colour’ but asked useless and repetitive questions. Apart from the conversations with an obviously ‘refreshed’ Jonathan Thurston, which were entertaining, they revealed nothing of the spirit of the nights or anything more than the viewer already knew. In fact, the interviews performed by a group of children on the red carpet were much more insightful than those performed by their professional peers inside.
The Dally M, with the vast number of awards on offer, won the ‘contest’ of guest presenters – three Olympic Champions and a Victorian Cross Recipient was extremely impressive. The Brownlow used their round reviews to wheel out recorded videos of Olympians, cricketers, NBA stars and Lleyton Hewitt. But by nights end it felt more like a cross-promotion vehicle with a number of Channel 7 ‘stars’ being interspersed with the more famous.
Both had Australian rockers belt out a famous hit. The Dally M opening with Antipodean Rock Collective, a mesh of musicians from Powderfinger, Jet, You Am I and Spiderbait absolutely nailing High Voltage. At the midway point of the Brownlow, Alex Lloyd appeared to perform his smash hit Amazing in recognition of retiring AFL stars. If we are being kind, it is fair to say his performance wasn’t amazing.
Good, bad or indifferent, when they come around again next year we will watch them again because, like Titus O’Reilly says, we like football enough to spend 3 hours watching people count.