Will This Be The First Of Many Sam Walsh Brownlow Medals?
Sam Walsh didn’t suffer from ‘second season syndrome’ last year so there was little doubt that the 2018 number 1 pick was going to ascend to another level altogether in his third season at Carlton.
And while an excellent year was expected, what he ultimately produced was simply outstanding.
Pick a statistical category and Walsh ranked in the absolute elite of midfielders. He led the Blues in disposals (29.8), effective disposals (22.1), score involvements (6.5) and tackles (4.5) all the while transitioning into Carlton’s very best best player.
It was a campaign which was rubber stamped with an All-Australian blazer and likely maiden club Best and Fairest and one that puts him well in the frame to perhaps be crowned the Brownlow’s youngest winner since Chris Judd in 2004, with Stats Insider currently assessing him as 7.6% chance of winning.
He’s obviously in with a major shot, a prospect that would have been enhanced had the Blues strung together a few more wins, and while even if Walsh doesn’t quite get the chocolates this Sunday night, he looks set to become a feature of Brownlow discussions for years to come.
There are various traits that Brownlow aspirants should be packing in their luggage, however one item that’s often overlooked is the notion of not having your teammates steal votes from you. For this year at least, this is something Walsh needn’t worry about.
The Stats Insider model is suggesting he’s a 100% chance of being Carlton’s lead vote getter on the night which speaks loudly to Walsh’s lack of internal competition.
With Patrick Cripps struggling with injury and form all season it’s been all about Walsh in the midfield, attracting not just the attention of taggers but surely the umpires as well.
Walsh’s game has rapidly evolved to the point he’s not only one of the game’s most efficient midfielders, but he’s one it’s most damaging, producing career highs for metres gained (337), goals (12) and clearances (4.8).
In fact, from rounds 15 though to 18 Walsh was in absolutely devastating form and at a time his club was crying out for someone to stand up.
In that stretch he averaged 33 touches and 5 tackles per match as well as two performances where he contributed 9 score involvements. This should result in 9 votes in the bag, and which is backed up by Stats Insider’s round by round data which has him sweeping up in this section of the season.
Simply put, this stretch was astonishing by a third year player and culminated with a 39 possession, 5 clearance jaw-dropper in Carlton's round 18 come-from-behind win against Collingwood and which at the time kept the club's season alive.
Really, if that's what Walsh is capable of doing with less than 60 games of AFL experience under his belt, it's mind blowing to contemplate what he might be capable of achieving with a few more campaigns under his belt.
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And even if Walsh doesn’t win the Brownlow this Sunday it's not as though the world will end.
Clearly what he’s already put together so early in his career is stunning, while he's already (and so frequently) been able to rise above any criticism thrown his way which has ranged from being 'the safe choice' to 'not being a game winner'. Instead, all Walsh has done is rise above such negativity while dancing to the beat of his own drum.
While the league isn't a stranger to precociously young winners, think James Hird in 1996 or Chris Judd in 2004, winning the AFL's highest individual honour only added volumes to their games and drove them to further tiers of excellence. A win at a such an age will only add to the incredible career the Camperdown-born, former Geelong Falcon has in front of him.
It’ll only be a matter of time before Walsh packs a Brownlow medal into his increasingly heavy bag of accolades. For now, let's admire a superstar of our game and who seems to be right on the cusp of something incredibly special.
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