Lachie Neale: Battler to Brownlow Medal
On Sunday night, Brisbane’s Lachie Neale will very likely become the 88th individual to ever win the AFL's prestigious Brownlow Medal.
By Brownlow standards, Neale’s path to glory appears clear, with Stats Insider's Brownlow Medal model giving him a 63.8% chance of winning, and with bookmakers offering around the $1.25 mark.
And, when Neale is crowned, the football world will sit back and take in one of the most remarkable, momentous and inspiring victories in many years, the type of which only confirms the incredible power of sport.
Not only has Neale’s climb to the top of the AFL pyramid been phenomenal, but its’s been stamped by playing a pivotal role in the Brisbane Lions' own remarkable rags to riches tale.
This is a club who endured nine-straight seasons without an AFL Finals appearance, seven of which were spent in the league’s bottom-four. A club where all of its best players wanted to leave, and where GABBA attendances fell to an all-time low.
Within 12 months of arriving, Neale had won the club’s best and fairest, earned a podium finish at the Brownlow and helped turn around a five-win basket-case into a near Minor Premier.
And while the Lions did exit their incredible 2019 in straight-sets, Neale’s even more outrageous 2020 season has ensured the Lions returned breathing fire, and now enjoy premiership favouritismin a season where their own fortress will host the 2020 AFL Grand Final.
Put simply, Brownlow medallists simply aren’t supposed to look like Lachie Neale.
In fact, you’d probably have to go all the way back to Tony Liberatore’s 1990 triumph to unearth a more improbable winner.
Like ‘Libba’, Neale sits drastically apart from the usual Brownlow prototype. Both undersized, draft-day afterthoughts, miscast and under-appreciated in their formative years, their explosions sit in sharp contrast to the widely recognised, six-foot draft darlings who’ve monopolised the award.
At 177cm and taken with the 58th pick in the 2011 AFL Draft, Neale sits in his own little universe when it comes to the regular - and increasing - profile of Brownlow winners.
His story from AFL hopeful - clinging to a spot on a 9-win team and averaging just 11.3 disposals as a rookie - all the way to Brownlow medallist on a premiership favourite is frankly the story of sporting fantasy.
Here’s a player who has scoffed at the notion of size being a limitation, first by forcing himself onto an AFL list and then being brave enough to re-imagine his footballing existence away from merely being a foot-soldier under Ross Lyon.
While Neale did win a couple of best and fairest awards at Fremantle, it’s in Brisbane where he has truly blossomed, morphing into one of the league’s most industrious and creative midfielders.
When ‘Libba’ won the Brownlow Medal in 1990, he did so with one of the lowest vote returns in history and left the league scratching its head as to how a 5 foot 4 battler from Brunswick could rise to the very top of the sport.
Due to the league’s shortened season, a low vote return may also underpin Neale’s victory, however - like Liberatore - his ascension should be celebrated for its sheer audacity, as well as the hope it will provide many boys and girls across Australia.
Lachie Neale’s win will be one of the most important celebrations in Brownlow history. In a year full of sheer lunacy, footy has at least reminded us of the power of dreaming. The diminutive Caleb Daniel just won the Bulldogs best and fairest and earned a spot in the 2020 All-Australian team. Neale’s former teammate, Luke Ryan, has gone from playing for Coburg in the VFL to also earning an All-Australian guernsey in this shortened season.
This particular Brownlow Medal is for anybody, in any field, who has been denied access at the door due to outdated and lazy preconceptions regarding their looks or ability.
This Brownlow is about hope and perseverance, imagination and collaboration.
This is a Brownlow Medal for the ages.
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