Before we start, let’s get the massive, even by elephant standards, elephant out of the room.
The fact that any of the markets or experts say Gary Ablett Jr will win his third Brownlow Medal tonight is astonishing. He missed the last seven games of the season through injury.
Noone has missed more than three and won a Brownlow and the last person to do that was Ablett himself in 2010, along with Carlton’s Chris Judd, who coincidentally, also missed three games that season.
Jon Anderson at FoxSports has put together a compelling case for why Ablett has had a better year than 2013, when he won the medal by a point over his former teammate Joel Selwood.
You can check it out here, but basically, Ablett’s 15 games in 2014 included more big games than his entire 2013 season, he was even harder at the ball (if that’s possible) and he kicked more goals per match than the next 124 blokes who had more than 20 touches per game.
It will be a Brownlow win for the ages, but not at all unsurprising.
The real interest tonight lays in who might take it off him and where you might be best off laying a good bet. An estimated $4 million has so far been laid out on this year’s medal, including one $60,000 punt on Ablett back in May before he was injured.
1. The Next Best Thing – Joel Selwood, Geelong
The most obvious place to start is where the punters are looking, and Selwood is now a fair bit shorter than Ablett, around the $2.50 mark to Ablett’s $3.50.
Selwood lost by a single vote to Ablett last year, and the analysts at Sportingbet – and the AFL’s own Brownlow Medal predictor – are tipping the opposite result tonight.
The Cats skipper averaged 25.6 disposals, was named captain of the All Australian team, won the Herald Sun’s Player of the Year, and polled best on ground in 9 games, according the AFL predictor.
So, to be fair, he probably deserves it more than anyone else.
2. The Bolter – Robbie Gray, Port Adelaide
One punter could collect a sweet $25,050 windfall after lumping a modest $50 on Gray at the start of the season at odds of 50-1.
He’s third-favourite at $6.50 and pulls together arguably the most eye-catching quarters, if not games, of anyone.
“Robbie Gray would be our worst result by a fair way,” Sportsbet spokesman Shaun Anderson said. “He’s probably the one we’re hoping doesn’t come up.”
And here’s a good indicator of a genuine best and fairest – Gray was named the AFL Coaches Association Player of Year.
3. The Workhorse – Josh Kennedy, Sydney Swans
When half your wins for the year involve Buddy Franklin kicking a bag, you’re really counting on the umpires doing their job and watching the contests closely to get noticed. Fortunately for Josh Kennedy, he’s hard to ignore, being several pickaxe handles broad across the shoulders and pulling some of the most monstrous numbers out of the on-ball pack ever seen.
Against Carlton back in July, he notched up 29 contested possessions. Contested possessions. 41 for the game all up, in a performance that saw his Brownlow odds knocked from $6.50 at the start of the game to $5 by three-quarter time.
He was overshadowed late in the season by Luke Parker suddenly becoming the superstar he always promised to be, and a couple of weeks out with injury didn’t help either, but Kennedy still topped the contested possession table for the year by a solid margin – 356 to Adelaide Crow Patrick Dangerfield’s 341.
4. The Other Grand Finalist – Jordan Lewis, Hawthorn
Here’s why Hawthorn will be sweating on Jordan Lewis’s fitness this week – he’s not the favourite amongst the experts to win this year’s Brownlow, but he is amongst the favourites for nearly all of them.
There’s always talk about players on the best team having votes “stolen” simply because they’re surrounded by other great players. That’s not statistically true – roughly half the Brownlows won since 1990 have gone to players from top two teams.
When Ablett was injured, Lewis was still a $100 chance for the Brownlow, but he’s finished the season well enough to shorten in to around the $10 mark.
However, Sportingbet’s Adam Peterson says he’s got a ceiling of about 19 votes and no one’s won with less than 20 votes since Gavin Wanganeen in 1993.
5. The Smokie – Dayne Beams, Collingwood
Here’s a interesting bet for the pure mathematicians – how’s Dayne Beams at $67 sound?
Crazy, right? For starters, just a couple of rounds ago, all the talk was about Beams’s captain Scott Pendlebury, who’s now blown out to an enticing $17.
But 23-year-old honours student Robert Nguyen has predicted four of the past five Brownlow winners using a statistical model that he’s using to sbmit a thesis on titled Taking Home Charlie.
OK, he’s got Ablett as the winner. But Selwood’s not even in his top five and Freo star Nat Fyfe is the next best bet. Fyfe, however, is ineligible.
It’s complicated, but in a nutshell, Nguyen’s system lines up Brownlow votes per game from the past five years with the stats each player posts to get them. He’s identified what kinds of performances catch the judges’ eyes.
And if you take out Ablett, the Nguyen Predictor says Beams is the next best thing.
The Other Smokey – Tom Rockliff, Brisbane Lions
SportsBet are offering odds on ineligible players. If you don’t like the tight money for Selwood, Abblett and co, you could do worse than take the $5.50 on offer for Tom Rockliff.
The Brisbane Lions midfielder was wiped out by a one-match ban in March, but kept his chin up and finished a stellar season for the Lions.
Sure, Nat Fyfe is the favourite here, but if you’re a Fantasy Football fan, you couldn’t help but notice Rockliff is streets ahead of the rest in 2014 points – and that includes Gary Ablett.
Catch the Brownlow Medal Countdown live at 7.30pm tonight, on 7mate.