Brisbane co-captain Lachie Neale awarded 2023 Brownlow Medal

Lachie Neale awaits the outcome of the umpires votes at the Gabba on Monday night.

Lachie Neale awaits the outcome of the umpires votes at the Gabba on Monday night. Photo: Getty

“Rattled” Brisbane star Lachie Neale will head into Saturday’s AFL grand final as a two-time Brownlow Medal winner after claiming the league’s greatest individual honour for a second time.

In a thrilling count in Melbourne on Monday night, Neale polled 31 votes to win from Western Bulldogs captain Marcus Bontempelli (29) and Collingwood’s Nick Daicos (28).

Neale, who won the 2020 award and was runner-up last year, is the first two-time winner since former Fremantle teammate Nat Fyfe in 2015 and 2019, and just the 16th player to win multiple Brownlow Medals.

He is also the first player to win the top award without being named in the All-Australian team since former West Coast midfielder Matt Priddis in 2014.

The Lions co-captain was not at the Brownlow ceremony in Melbourne’s Crown Palladium. Instead, he was at a function in Brisbane with his Lions teammates as he prepares for Saturday’s match.

“Yeah, it doesn’t sit very well at the moment,” a shocked Neale said after coach Chris Fagan presented him with the medal.

“I’m sure it will sink in at a later date. I’m pretty rattled to be honest. So apologies if this [interview] doesn’t go too well.

“I did not expect this, and to be among some of those names that have won two is unbelievable.

“To be in Brisbane, preparing for a grand final, is amazing.

“I haven’t been involved in this week for a decade, so I’m excited.”

In the AFL’s night of nights, wives, partners and girlfriends also had the chance to don their finery on the red carpet.

Contentious call

Neale stormed home with three-vote games in the final two rounds.

It didn’t come without a contentious call, though.

Neale claimed three votes against GWS in round six for 20 disposals and six clearances.

That day, teammate Charlie Cameron kicked seven goals, while Giants Josh Kelly and Steven Coniglio had 41 and 38 disposals respectively.

That was one of seven three-vote games that helped the Lion to victory.

Brisbane’s co-captain, who also won the 2020 Brownlow Medal, will play in Saturday afternoon’s AFL grand final against Collingwood at the MCG.

Neale took a philosophical approach to backing up winning the game’s top individual honour with attempting to claim its greatest prize.

“I haven’t been involved in this week for a decade,” he said ahead of preparing to face Collingwood at the MCG on Saturday.

“That’s the thing I have learnt the most [is how hard it is to get there].

Lachie Neale and wife Julie in Brisbane for the Brownlow Medal count. Photo: Getty

“It was my second season, and I probably thought those opportunities were going to roll around every year or two, and they haven’t, obviously.

“For me now, I just recognise and appreciate the opportunity that’s in front of me and the team.

“I’m going to savour every second of this week and every second that I’m on the hallowed turf of the MCG on Saturday afternoon, because who knows when we might get that opportunity again? It might not ever happen.

“I’m just going to try to soak up this week, enjoy every moment and see what happens on Saturday.”

A handful of players were still in contention heading into round 23, with Collingwood star Daicos leading the way on 28 votes, ahead of Melbourne’s Christian Petracca (26), Neale (25) and Bontempelli (24)

Then Neale joined Daicos on 28 votes after a best-afield performance against Collingwood, while Sydney’s Errol Gulden and Bontempelli jumped into equal third place in the penultimate round.

In a nervous finale, Port Adelaide’s Zak Butters and Gulden also jumped to a share of third on 27 votes.

But the awarding of three votes to Neale against St Kilda sealed the honour.

Other highlights

Other highlights included Brisbane Lions’ rookie midfielder Will Ashcroft winning the annual goal of the year for his spectacular round 7 mid-air snap against Fremantle.

Under pressure from Dockers opponent James Aish and running at full speed, Ashcroft leapt into the air, grabbing possession and slamming the ball immediately onto the outside of his right boot, steering the ball through from a tight angle.

Ashcroft’s superb debut season was ended by a serious knee injury in round 19, but the award will be deserved recognition as he watches his teammates in Saturday’s grand final against Collingwood.

Greater Western Sydney’s Harry Himmelberg rose to the occasion to win Mark of the Year for his spectacular round 1 pack mark against Adelaide.

Himmelberg leapt on the back of Adelaide’s 2.02-metre ruckman Reilly O’Brien on the wing at Giants Stadium to mark the clearing kick.

The GWS tall, who was also nominated for another remarkable mark against Hawthorn in round five, enjoyed an extended sit atop his opponent’s shoulders before returning to the ground.

The evening also featured a moving tribute to VFL/AFL legend Ronald Dale Barassi, who died earlier this month.

Carlton’s Sam Docherty took home the Jim Stynes Community Leadership Award for his fundraising work for cancer research.

Docherty, who has twice recovered from testicular cancer, has raised $220,000 for the Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation, raised awareness for cancer testing and detection.

He also supports the Paws4Kids program run through MacKillop Family Services. It supports vulnerable children getting back into the classroom through the help of therapy dogs.

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