CLAYTON’ S CASE
Could Clayton Oliver win the Brownlow Medal in 2017? It is a question few expected to be asking about the palefaced, red-headed second-year midfielder. But week after week, ask they do. For Melbourne’s young gun (Oliver celebrated his 20th birthday last July) continues to win the ball at will, plucking it out of a congested mash of more seasoned opponents before dishing it out by hand to a team-mate who sends the football Melbourne’s way. Whether he can win the medal or not, what is certain is that he has been a revelation.
Before the season Oliver, recruited from the Murray River town of Echuca, was rated a 500-to-1 chance to win the game’s highest individual award. In May, after a blistering start to the year, Oliver was third favourite for the Brownlow, while to the end of round 18 he remains 11th on one betting agency line; Melbourne’s leading prospect among a pack chasing favourites Dustin Martin and reigning winner Patrick Dangerfield.
According to Melbourne co-captain Nathan Jones, Oliver’s rapid rise has not surprised him. “I don’t reckon I have ever seen a better young player, to be honest, in 11 or 12 years of playing,” Jones said earlier in the season. “If I was a betting man I’d get around him.”
Certainly, Oliver’s consistent form would have caught the eyes of the umpiring fraternity. At no stage in the first 18 rounds had he dipped below 24 disposals, on seven occasions accumulating at least 30 disposals. Like previous winners Sam Mitchell and Greg Williams before him, Oliver’s best work is done in tight and by hand, setting up team-mates to use the ball by foot. While Melbourne’s most recent winner, Shane Woewodin in 2000, was flashier by foot, Oliver’s sheer weight of numbers keeps him fresh in the vision of the umpires.
While Martin and Dangerfield appear runaway leaders, Melbourne’s ability to remain in matches longer than at any stage during the past decade means that more players in the red and royal blue will receive votes than have done in previous years. Consistency is king with the best players, and of Melbourne’s class of 2017, no player has been more consistent than Oliver.