Not since Adam Cooney took home the Charlie in 2008 has a player won the Brownlow at 22 years of age or younger. Prior to that, Chris Judd did likewise back in 2004, as a 20 year old, winning the medal in remarkably only his third season in the system.
Could another 22-year-old in Trent Cotchin join the likes of the two aforementioned players by claiming the Brownlow in 2012?
Candidate #2: Trent Cotchin.
Since being selected as the number two draft pick in 2007, Cotchin’s rise to prominence has been nothing short of extraordinary. After battling a spate of different injuries in his first couple of seasons, he was finally able to string together a full season in 2011 and show the footballing world why he was taken so high in the draft.
That was further exemplified by his performance on Brownlow night, where he accumulated a total of 15 votes and took out the honour as the highest polling Richmond player for 2011 ahead of his much more fancied, and equally as exciting teammate, Dustin Martin.
In 2012, he’s averaged an impressive 27.5 possessions as game, and was most recently awarded the 2012 AFL Coaches’ Association Champion Player of the Year ahead of Dayne Beams, Gary Ablett and Patrick Dangerfield. He also added to his trophy collection by winning the 2012 Richmond best and fairest award.
The question is, can he go from polling 15 votes in one season to polling 30+ votes to command a winning position come Brownlow night in 2012?
The one thing working against him is related to one theory I am a firm believer of, which is that traditionally it takes a player at least one decent breakout season before they are a chance to win the medal. Take a look at Marc Murphy last season, for example; he played arguably his best season to date and had a breakout season to boot. What this did was thrust him into the spotlight and into the minds of umpires; an effect that is carried into future seasons, but one that is rarely seen to pay immediate dividends in the form of a high percentage of votes in the initial breakout season.
Whilst many punters and media outlets were touting him as an outside medal chance in 2011, and predicting he’d poll 25+ votes on the night, in reality he polled an underwhelming 19 votes. The reason behind that can be narrowed down to those games where many thought he’d poll 3 votes, but instead was given 1 or 2. Going by my own phantom Brownlow count from last year, this occurred on 3 occasions, and accounts for 6 lost votes alone. In 2 out of 3 of those matches, the top votes went to the more seasoned, experienced veteran in Chris Judd.
What this indicates is that the umpires will instead opt to give the top votes to the more experienced players with a track record for receiving Brownlow votes, and exemplifies why I abide by the aforementioned ‘breakout season’ theory.
What does work in Cotchin’s favour, however, is the fact that neither of his direct competition for votes at Richmond, and more experienced teammates – Shane Tuck and Brett Deledio – have a favourable polling history. Both players have failed to poll over 10 votes in any one season, and just to highlight how low their polling proficiency is, Deledio is averaging 4.57 votes a season across his past 7 seasons, whilst Tuck is even worse with an average of 3.12 votes a season in the past 8. It’d be a fair assumption, though, to assume Deledio will finally break that 10 vote barrier for the first time in his career, after being given a more commanding role in the midfield this year as opposed to languishing off half-back or in the forward line like seasons past.
If Cotchin can command the top votes where he’s expected to get them, and doesn’t have them stolen away by the likes of Deledio and Tuck, it’ll go some way towards deciding whether he too can match the feats of Cooney and Judd of recent years.
Predicted finish: 1st – 5th.
Expected total votes polled: 23 – 30 votes.
Number of games expected to poll votes: 13 – 16 games.
For the latest information on the Brownlow Medal, check out Brownlow Talk.