aflplayers.com.au has discovered the players that played an underrated hand for their side in round nine. Whether it be a big moment in a close game, or an important role, these are the Unsung Heroes.
Geelong – Cam Guthrie
Fresh off winning the Cats’ best and fairest in 2020, Guthrie isn’t as underrated as he once was. But this season, the 28-year-old has elevated his game to new heights and now deserves to be recognised as a top-tier midfielder. On Friday night, Guthrie combined 36 disposals with seven tackles, six marks and a goal.
Sydney Swans – Hayden McLean
Largely used as a Lance Franklin back-up option in his first two seasons in the AFL, McLean has spent his third campaign cementing himself as a best-22 key forward. Playing alongside Franklin, McLean showed he was a strong foil for the four-time Coleman Medallist in the Swans’ win over Collingwood. The 197-centimetre forward-ruck had a career-high 18 disposals, took a personal best nine marks (five contested), laid six tackles and kicked a goal.
North Melbourne – Lachie Young
Leading by six points with a minute left, Hawthorn dangerously surged forward through a penetrating Tom Mitchell kick. To this point, Young had been mostly unsighted with only a handful of touches. But as Jacob Koschitzke looked well-positioned to take a pack mark inside 50, Young courageously flew back with the flight, impacting the contest with an all-important spoil. The ball landed safely in the hands of North’s defenders, who were able to rebound out of danger and secure the team’s first win of the year.
Brisbane Lions – Grant Birchall
It’s not often a four-time premiership player would fly under the radar. Yet, since making the move up north, Birchall’s composure off half-back has been rarely discussed. His time at the Lions has been interrupted by injury, but with 26 disposals at 85 per cent efficiency, 13 marks and 436 metres gained in Saturday night’s Q-clash, the veteran proved his piece in the Lions’ premiership puzzle is as integral as any.
Richmond – Liam Baker
The Tigers have unearthed another. Hailing from the small, unassuming town of Lake Grace in Western Australia, Baker’s year-on-year improvement since being taken with pick 18 in 2017’s rookie draft has been immense. Stepping up in the absence of Trent Cotchin, Dion Prestia, Kane Lambert and Shane Edwards, Baker racked up a career-best 33 disposals and laid six tackles in Richmond’s thrilling win over the Giants on Saturday night.
Western Bulldogs- Taylor Duryea
The numbers indicate that Duryea is piecing together his best season since 2015, when he played a crucial role for Hawthorn in its successful threepeat quest. The defender has played only 26 games since crossing to the Bulldogs in 2019, but having featured in all of this season’s opening nine rounds, Duryea has returned to his best form. In the Dogs’ strong win over the Power away from home, 18 of Duryea’s 20 disposals were effective. He also took nine marks and laid four tackles.
Essendon- Mason Redman
Essendon’s nail-biting win over Fremantle should be partly attributed to the damaging half-back duo of Redman and the speedy Nick Hind, who combined for nine rebound 50s and 853 metres gained. Hind’s praises have been sung since remarkably reviving his career at Essendon, but plaudits should not elude Redman, whose 24 disposals on Sunday came at a stunning 96 per cent efficiency.
Melbourne- James Jordon
Just 20 years old, Jordan seemed an unlikely addition to a star-studded midfield before the season started. But he is showing he belongs alongside the likes of Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver, and his performance on Sunday was undeniable evidence of this. Jordan laid a game-high 13 tackles, and complemented his 20 disposals with 37 pressure acts.
West Coast- Alex Witherden
Witherden wasted no time establishing himself when he started his career at half-back for the Lions in 2017, but less prolific years in 2019 and ’20 resulted in a trade across the country to West Coast at the end of last season. Since a spot in the Eagles’ defence was left vacant by the injured Shannon Hurn in round five, Witherden has returned to his best and likely secured his position in a profusely talented backline. On Sunday, the 22-year-old had 30 disposals at 83 per cent efficiency, 684 metres gained, 10 rebound 50s, nine intercept possessions and 12 marks.