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Brownlow wide open after Ablett injury

Robbie Gray is Martin Blake's tip to win the medal. Photo: Getty

Robbie Gray is Martin Blake's tip to win the medal. Photo: Getty

Before Brent Macaffer’s crunching tackle in round 16, the AFL Brownlow Medal was Gary Ablett’s to lose.

And so it might prove.

The Gold Coast captain was enjoying another stellar season and was well on his way to joining one of the game’s most illustrious clubs.

Only four players – Haydn Bunton (Fitzroy), Dick Reynolds (Essendon), Bob Skilton (South Melbourne) and Ian Stewart (St Kilda and Richmond) – are triple Brownlow Medallists.

The injury to Gary Ablett that recast Brownlow betting. Photo: Getty

The injury to Gary Ablett that recast Brownlow betting. Photo: Getty

But the season-ending shoulder injury that Ablett suffered against Collingwood on that fateful early-July night at Carrara changed everything.

The field is now so open that the AFL will have eight medals ready at Monday night’s count.

Geelong captain Joel Selwood leads the betting, with Ablett running second. 

The last multiple winners were Collingwood’s Nathan Buckley, Sydney’s Adam Goodes and Adelaide’s Mark Ricciuto in 2003.

Ablett would not have polled any votes in round 16, but he surely will have the lead after his 15 games.

Stewart, with 14 matches in 1965 and 16 in `66, is the last medallist to have played so few games in a winning season.

In Ablett’s favour is that he made the All-Australian team despite missing such a big chunk of the season.

He is also the only previous medallist with a realistic chance of winning this year.

While much of the speculation has centred on former Cats teammates Selwood and Ablett, Port Adelaide star Robbie Gray is another massive chance.

The livewire utility won the AFL coaches award this season and is third in the betting.

Robbie Gray is Martin Blake's tip to win the medal. Photo: Getty

Robbie Gray is Martin Blake’s tip to win the medal. Photo: Getty

Port’s season ended with Saturday night’s nailbiting preliminary final loss to Hawthorn, but coach Ken Hinkley thinks they could be celebrating two days later.

“Robbie has had an unbelievable year and if people who are controlling the game have got good vision, we’ll actually see probably an interesting result on Monday night – because he was clearly the best player in the competition this year,” Hinkley said.

Hawthorn defender Josh Gibson echoed Hinkley’s endorsement.

“He’s come on so much, Robbie,” Gibson told Channel Seven’s Game Day.

“He’s got a fantastic sidestep … he’s had a fantastic year and he was great again last night.”

Also on Sunday, Sydney midfielder Josh Kennedy – himself one of the contenders – tipped Selwood.

Retired St Kilda and Collingwood star Luke Ball feels the same, while AFL legend Leigh Matthews thinks Ablett can win again.

Ablett would love a tie with his old teammate.

There is speculation that Fremantle’s midfield act Nat Fyfe, who is ineligible through suspension, could poll the most votes.

But the last time that happened was the Western Bulldogs’ Chris Grant in 1997.

Given Fyfe became ineligible after his controversial rough conduct suspension in round two, it will be interesting to see how well he polls.

If Fyfe topped the voting, it would reignite the long-standing debate about whether suspension should rule out a player for the game’s highest individual honour.

MARTIN BLAKE’S SELECTIONS

1st Robbie Gray (Port Adelaide)
2nd Gary Ablett (Gold Coast)
3rd Joel Selwood (Geelong)

 

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