aflplayers.com.au has discovered the players that played an underrated hand for their side in round 22. Whether it be a big moment in a close game, or an important role, these are the Unsung Heroes.
GWS Giants — Isaac Cumming
Cumming has quietly become one of the Giants’ most important players given his playmaking role across half-back, and was again damaging in a commanding win over Richmond on Friday night. The 23-year-old intercepted the ball seven times and rebounded defensive 50 on six occasions, but also hurt the Tigers through his run-and-carry flair with 508 metres gained and five inside 50s from 24 disposals.
Hawthorn — Tim O’Brien
O’Brien’s talent has always been obvious. A high-flyer, the 193-centimetre target has been stationed in the forward line for most of his career, but a shift down back is beginning to prove his aerial presence is best utilised in defence. In a career-best performance on Saturday, the 27-year-old took 10 marks (three contested), intercepted the ball 11 times and amassed 24 disposals in the Hawks’ boilover win against the Bulldogs. O’Brien is uncontracted for 2022 and beyond, but is sure to have impressed incoming coach Sam Mitchell with his ability to play in the back six.
Geelong — Sam Simpson
It has been a frustrating campaign for Simpson, whose season — marred by a series of injuries — had previously yielded just one game back in round eight, when he strained his hamstring against Richmond. Simpson was not named among Geelong’s emergencies on Thursday night, but by Friday afternoon he was into the 22 in place of the withdrawn Tom Stewart, who suffered what’s likely to be a season-ending foot fracture at training. But while Stewart is irreplaceable as one of the League’s best defenders, that it opened the door for Simpson’s return would have left the Cats buoyed, particularly after the 23-year-old gathered 18 possessions, took five marks and kicked a goal.
Port Adelaide — Peter Ladhams
It was an all-round performance from the Port big man, who blended 23 hit-outs with 12 contested possessions, three contested marks, a goal and eight score involvements. But don’t be fooled by his 202-centimetre height — Ladhams is more than just a tall target, and laid four tackles from 13 pressure acts. His partnership with Scott Lycett will be one to watch in September.
Brisbane Lions — Dan McStay
McStay has stepped up in the absence of Eric Hipwood, and although he doesn’t play with the same flair as Joe Daniher and Charlie Cameron, his role in the attacking six will be just as important come September. On Saturday night, McStay booted three goals, took seven marks and had eight score involvements.
Sydney Swans — Will Hayward
Hayward gave North Melbourne’s defenders more than a few headaches on Saturday night, and his pressure-applying ability will be one of the Swans’ key assets in their hunt for a flag. As Sydney held off the Kangaroos on Saturday night, Hayward had 20 pressure acts, laid three tackles inside 50, was involved in nine scoring chains and booted three goals of his own.
Melbourne — Jake Bowey
The feat of a first-year player breaking into a top-of-the-table team’s best 22 should not be underestimated, and Bowey is more than holding his own in the Demons’ star-studded line-up. The 18-year-old was prominent again on Sunday with 18 disposals at 83 per cent efficiency, he intercepted the ball five times, won seven contested possessions and despite standing at only 176 centimetres, even took a contested mark.
Essendon — Sam Durham
Durham continues to prove he belongs at AFL level after being taken with pick No.9 in the mid-season draft. In the Bombers’ comfortable win over Gold Coast in Geelong, Durham had 20 disposals at 85 per cent efficiency, took six marks, rebounded defensive 50 on five occasions and added 17 pressure acts.
Fremantle — Brandon Walker
The Dockers had a host of heroes in their first derby win since 2015, but the run-and-carry of 18-year-old Brandon Walker was particularly pleasing on the eye. Pick 50 in last year’s draft, Walker’s ninth game was one of his best yet, with 10 kicks, five marks (two contested) and 306m gained.