What do Leigh Matthews, Wayne Carey and Gary Ablett Snr have in common?
Each of them features heavily in discussions about the greatest player of all time, but they share something more specific than that.
They each kicked more than 700 goals and played in multiple Grand Finals too, but that isn’t it either.
“This award will never be won by a loose, outside player who racks up possessions by winning the easy ball” – Drew Petrie
None are Brownlow Medallists, but each has won the AFL Players’ MVP award.
The Monday night before Grand Final week may be footy’s ‘night of nights’, but you’d be hard pressed to find a player that identifies with the ‘glitz and glamour’ that comes with the Brownlow Medal.
Think of it this way – if the Brownlow is the equivalent of the Hollywood box office, the Players’ MVP can be likened to Cannes film festival.
Those who’ve won a Brownlow talk about the way their lives change after becoming a Brownlow Medallist. But while winning a ‘Charlie’ can garner the respect of the footy public, anyone who wins an MVP Award has already won the respect of their peers – something Leigh Matthews says is paramount in the AFL.
“As a player, there are two things you are always striving for – a premiership, and the respect of your peers,” he says.
“While this is a difficult thing to measure or bottle, you know what it takes to earn it – tremendous skill, leadership, ferocious attack on the contest, an ability to inspire, and most of all courage.”
North Melbourne forward Drew Petrie agrees, describing the MVP Award as the footballer’s football medal.
“This award will never be won by a loose, outside player who racks up possessions by winning the easy ball,” Petrie says.
“It is for the brave. It is for the player who puts his head where others fear to look and for the team man who runs back with the flight when it is his turn.
“As a player, there are two things you are always striving for – a premiership, and the respect of your peers” – Leigh Matthews
“Most of all it is for the players who are leaders of men, who inspire their teammates and intimidate their opponents.”
Petrie believes it’s fitting the award is named the Leigh Matthews Trophy; as well as being one of the most talented players of his time, ‘Lethal’ was also one of the fiercest competitors the game has ever seen.
In an interview with Mike Sheahan on Open Mike, former North Melbourne ruckman Corey McKernan talked about what it meant to win the AFL Players’ MVP award in 1996. McKernan polled the equal-most Brownlow votes that season, but was ineligible to win the award due to suspension.
“I’d gladly accept (the Brownlow), but I think the other thing that I’m pretty proud of is I won the AFL [Players’] MVP that year as well,” McKernan said.
“The players that I idolised when I grew up – I barracked for Collingwood as a kid and loved Darren Millane, who won (the MVP award in 1990) and even Wayne Carey and all those guys. It’s something that I’m pretty proud of.”
Nick Riewoldt, Andrew McLeod, Tim Watson and Jason Dunstall are others who have won a Players’ MVP Award but no Brownlow. Tomorrow night, a name like Patrick Dangerfield, Todd Goldstein, Dan Hannebery or Sam Mitchell could be added to that list. Alternatively, Nat Fyfe could win his second Leigh Matthews Trophy, or Matt Priddis could join the likes of Gary Ablett, Dane Swan and Chris Judd as players to have won both an AFL Players’ MVP and a Brownlow Medal.
We won’t know who the winner is until Tuesday night, but this much is certain: whoever takes home the Leigh Matthews trophy will be worthy. It’s the players who vote to decide the outcome and there’s no better jury to deliver the verdict.
As Matthews points out, “The game is followed by millions of people, it’s analysed by hundreds of journalists, umpired and coached to within an inch of its life. But it is only the blokes that run out across that white line week, in week out who can truly understand what it means to play the game.”
You can watch the MVP Awards on Fox Footy from 8:30pm on Tuesday night.