THE­GRAND PRIZE

Inside Sport - - A FEW DRINKS WITH -

When you think about it, win­ning the medal for best-on-ground in the grand fi­nal is a be er deal than the best-and­fairest for the sea­son. Not only have you ex­celled when the scru­tiny was great­est, you’ve al­most cer­tainly won the game, and the pre­mier­ship with it.

That’s why, quite rightly, the Clive Churchill and Norm Smith medals are seen as ca­reer-defin­ing achieve­ments. But in the grand scheme of things, it re­ally just is about play­ing a good game at the right time. Scan the rolls of Churchill or Smithmedal­lists and there surely are great play­ers listed. But there are more than a few who are re­mem­bered pre y much only for be­ing great that day.

But while the big, sea­son-long awards are guilty of bi­ases that are deep and sys­temic, the GF medals suf­fer from the op­po­site af­flic­tion – a small com­mit­tee that has to come to a quick de­ci­sion. In a tight game with no clear stand­out per­former, the choice can be thorny, such as last year’s NRL de­cider. Daly Cherry-Evans had to bear the dual ig­no­minies of win­ning a Churchill in a los­ing side, then be­ing crit­i­cised might­ily for it, mainly be­cause Sonny Bill Wil­liams mud­dled his own case for the medal aŠer a largely aw­ful first half.

One of these days, we’ll prob­a­bly have a Clive or Norm win­ner who’ll have played bril­liantly, but done some­thing to lose the game in the last sec­onds. But that’s the philo­soph­i­cal ques­tion when it comes to the grand BOG: does it mean the best through­out the game? Or more im­pact­ful at the de­ci­sive mo­ment? Should a player in a los­ing side ever win it? And, per­ti­nently: is this best de­cided by a small group of peo­ple?

In the 2009 AFL grand fi­nal, St Kilda’s Ja­son Gram tied for the most votes with Gee­long’s Paul Chap­man, but lost on count­back. More than a few noted that Gram had been hard done by – count­back is largely ob­so­lete, and joint medal win­ners are now widely ac­cepted. Gram had ac­tu­ally earned votes from all five judges, while Chap­man earned the max­i­mum from three. Gee­long won, which didn’t help Gram’s case, but the en­tire sit­u­a­tion would be moot if more vot­ers were in­volved.

By def­i­ni­tion, grand fi­nals are the year’s most-watched games of foot­ball. If one puts faith in the wis­dom of crowds, then there’s a rea­son­able case to be made that the grand fi­nals’ best is one prize that could stand to in­clude a fan com­po­nent in the vote. The Su­per Bowl MVP (admi edly, a tacky and com­mer­cial award) is based on one-fiŠh fan votes. Some may shud­der at the prospect of the Churchill or Smith de­volv­ing into a pop­u­lar­ity con­test, but in­stead of just crown­ing a cham­pion, you’ll also have a peo­ple’s cham­pion.

WIN­NER: 2013 Smith-medal­list Brian Lake.  LOSER: (but still the 2013 Churchill Medal win­ner) Daly Cherry-Evans.

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