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 aer 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-fih 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.