Emerging North Ballarat midfielder Nick Rippon last night claimed the J.J. Liston Trophy at the Crown Palladium.
Storming home to finish ahead of much-fancied opposition such as Hawthorn-listed Jonathan Simpkin, Sandringham’s Clint Jones and Richmond’s Matt Thomas, Rippon showed the emotion of the occasion in his acceptance speech.
Rippon’s win is remarkable considering he didn’t poll a single vote until round 15, after which he came home with a wet sail where three votes in the last round saw him pip four players tied at the top of the leaderboard. Jones, Thomas, Rippon’s teammate and past winner Myles Sewell and Williamstown’s Sam Dunell were all situated on 14 votes before narrowly missing out.
Rippon’s barnstorming end to the year – the epitome of which was his final round 28-possession, four-goal effort against Coburg – was enough to earn him the three votes in a come-from-behind victory, ultimately polling 15 votes.
It is a phenomenal achievement from the 21-year-old, who only made his senior VFL debut as the Roosters’ 23rd man when he was still a junior in 2012.
The feat seemingly becomes all the more remarkable when you consider the Roosters missed finals this year, making him one of only two players to win the award (the other being former teammate Steve Clifton) from outside the finals since VFL clubs became affiliated with the AFL in 2000.
Despite his young age, Rippon’s footballing journey has been a rollercoaster ride. He was a standout at junior level in the TAC cup in 2012, finishing second in the Morrish Medal, the TAC Cup best and fairest. Perhaps unluckily, Rippon was beaten in the last round by one vote by now-Carlton midfielder Nick Graham.
But the heartbreak wouldn’t end there: despite his strong year at TAC level, Rippon was overlooked at the 2012 AFL National Draft.
In his own words, the disappointment “snowballed” from there, given he kept coming back but was continually overlooked in the ensuing drafts of 2013 and 2014.
It is a testament to his character that he has been able to come back bigger and better from each disappointment, and become a more complete player and individual. The enormity of his achievement was not lost on a humble Rippon, who was clearly emotional after being presented with the award.
“It was so unexpected,” Rippon said.
“I have a lot of people around me who really care and have put so much into my football over the years. Some of the disappointment footy can bring, it is nice to be recognised after so many years of hard work.”
The J.J. Liston Trophy caps off a strong year in which he averaged 24 disposals and was named in the VFL Team of the Year, which would have certainly done his dream of one day making the AFL no harm.
The success of VFL recruits in previous years such as Michael Barlow, James Podsiadly, Sam Gibson and most-recently Kane Lambert bodes well for AFL-hopeful Rippon.
Outgoing North Ballarat coach Gerald Fitzgerald, speaking to The Age, said he had no doubts the Liston Trophy winner has what it takes.
“You’ve only got to look at the number of players who have come through the VFL system. We get real inspiration from [North Melbourne’s] Sam Gibson in our environment,” Fitzgerald said.
“We see a large number of boys, if they get the opportunity to go into the full-time environment, naturally make progress pretty quickly and begin to impact AFL football games.”