Geelong are on track for another Brownlow Medal triumph in AFL grand final week but the biggest battle for votes tomorrow night could be waged across the dinner table.
Reigning medallist Jimmy Bartel will be out to be the first player to win back-to-back medals since St Kilda’s Robert Harvey triumphed in 1997-98, while his teammate Gary Ablett will start tomorrow the favourite to win the game’s highest individual award.
But Ablett will have to defy history to win, as his absence in four games and early sidelining through injury in another means he must poll heavily in 17 games if he is to cap his outstanding season.
No player has won the Brownlow after missing four or more games since Fitzroy’s Haydn Bunton won the second of his three medals in 1932.
Ablett will start outright favourite with all of Australia’s leading betting agencies, ahead of Bartel and North Melbourne star Brent Harvey, the joint runner-up last year.
Highlighting Geelong’s wealth of star midfielders, Joel Corey is among the major fancies, along with the Western Bulldogs’ Adam Cooney, Carlton skipper Chris Judd and St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt, the only forward among the main contenders.
Young gun Joel Selwood could also poll heavily for the Cats in just his second season, as he will start among the top 10 heavily-backed players, alongside Richmond veteran Matthew Richardson.
Aside from his absence from games in round seven and rounds 16-18, the biggest obstacle preventing Ablett winning the award his famous father and namesake never could are Bartel and Joel Corey, his fellow onballers in the centre square.
But Geelong should poll well over 100 of a possible 132 votes given they lost only one game in the 22-round season and had an average winning margin of nine goals.
Sixteen Cats polled a combined 106 votes in 2007, a season that included three defeats.
Ablett and Bartel both tried to hose down hype about their Brownlow chances over the weekend, when they helped the Cats secure a berth in Saturday’s grand final against Hawthorn.
“I guess I won’t even think about it too much over the weekend, I will get there Monday and whatever happens, happens,” Ablett said after his side’s win over Western Bulldogs in Friday night’s preliminary final.
“I can’t change what’s going to happen and I will just try to enjoy the night.
“Hopefully one of us Geelong boys get up, it will be good.”
Bartel told Network Ten on Saturday night his day-to-day life had not changed since his runaway victory last year, but he had felt the expectation to perform this season.
“In football terms, they probably expect more out of you, which is quite rightly so,” he said.
If Bartel can win again, he will be only the sixth back-to-back winner, but the first player in history to have twice won a Brownlow Medal and then played in the grand final in the same week.
While Geelong are a hot chance to win the club’s sixth medal, their grand final opponent is unlikely to have any distraction.
Hawthorn’s best players are all ineligible, as captain Sam Mitchell and fellow stars Lance Franklin, Luke Hodge, Shane Crawford and Jordan Lewis were either suspended or incurred too many demerit points from the match review panel during the home and away season.