Inside Sport - - ONE ON ONE WITH... -

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.

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