Jobe Watson has won the 2012 Brownlow Medal, and when looking at it, there wasn’t another player more befitting of the award.
The Essendon skipper was rewarded for his blistering start to the season, polling in his first four games before receiving votes in eight consecutive games to sit on 26 votes after Round 13, a lead which seemed near-unassailable.
Many of the favourites such as Trent Cotchin and Sam Mitchell chased the lead hard, but he managed to stretch himself to 30 votes after Round 20 to confirm himself victorious.
He becomes the first winner of the medal from Essendon since his current coach, James Hird, tied with Michael Voss in 1996.
On top of that, it’s hard to argue that, out of this year’s field, the 27-year-old was one of the most deserving.
The story of his transformation, from touted father-son draft pick, to struggling with injury, game time and performance, to his rise to the captaincy and now to club and league best and fairest awards is remarkable.
Drafted as a ‘short’ tall forward, he was hampered early in his career with repeated soft tissue injuries to the point where the club was weighing up his future with them, and, as Watson admitted on the night, so was his illustrious father, Tim, telling him that “you don’t have to do this”.
He then rejuvenated himself as a player, dropping unnecessary weight and becoming a tough and tall inside midfielder and, although Essendon finished second last on the ladder for the season, with only three wins, his personal season was fantastic.
His 23 disposals and 5 clearances per game were rewarded with second place in the Crichton Medal; Essendon’s best and fairest.
He maintained that in 2007, but regardless was dropped by then-coach Kevin Sheedy for a “lack of professionalism” in the last round of the season, and Sheedy has since admitted being open to trading Watson given the right offer if he were to continue with his coaching tenure.
His father Tim is also noted to have told him that throwing in the towel, at that point in his career, was “okay”.
However, he put it upon himself to work hard and to shrug the tag bestowed by Sheedy. It served as a long-lasting fuel that burned deep inside.
And, with that, he built an exponential trend of growing respect inside and outside the club for him, through consistent effort, application and always-improving form. It was eventually rewarded with the captaincy of one of the most historic clubs in the AFL at the end of the 2009 season, taking over from arguably its most historic forward, Matthew Lloyd.
However, while Essendon as a club did not entirely prosper in his first season – they finished 14th, winning 7 games – there’s no doubting that Watson did, lifting his statistical averages to 27 disposals, 6 clearances and 4 tackles per game, over 21 games.
He also polled 16 votes in the 2010 Brownlow Medal count as a result, a fantastic effort for a player in a team that finished as low as it did.
And yet, despite his high output, he continued to work hard and improve his game, as he had always done and still does.
He maintained his outstanding leadership and brilliant form on-field throughout 2011, even whilst meeting an old foe; soft tissue injuries. He missed five games with hamstring issues that plagued his early career, but overcame them to poll more Brownlow votes per game and take Essendon to a spot in the final eight.
He then, this year, took them to the position where as a team, they looked like early premiership contenders, and as a player to a point that seemed completely impossible back in 2005.
And while Essendon’s form petered out to eventually miss the finals, Watson didn’t, performing at the bar he’d raised higher and higher throughout his career.
Consistently hitting those standards has now won him a prestigious Brownlow Medal, and through a story that has featured so many hurdles and speed bumps overcome during his career, it’s hard to see someone who deserves it more.
Watson has now lived up to a famous Essendon name – in fact, he may have bettered the mark made by his father – and has defeated whatever the footballing world has thrown his way.
It’s a season, a career and a player that you can only admire.
And it makes his Brownlow medal win a very special one.