By Peter Blucher.
Brisbane Lions captain Dayne Zorko is a hot favorite to head the local vote count in the 2021 AFL Brownlow Medal on Sunday night.
Having won his fifth club championship at the Lions last weekend, Zorko could poll double-figure votes for the third time in his 208-game career and head the Queensland count for the second time.
If so he will be just the seventh Queenslander to lead the Sunshine State tally more than once.
It is a statistic skewed by the fact that in the early years few Queenslanders played at the elite level.
Despite the votes he polls, Zorko will be ineligible to win the grand Brownlow prize after his one-match suspension in Round 13 when the Lions played Melbourne and Zorko was found guilty of striking forward Tom McDonald. Suspended players have tallied the highest number of votes for the award on three occasions.
Richard Murrie, a one-time under-age and reserves player with South Australian club Sturt who was recruited from Mayne, to play 111 AFL games with Footscray, Geelong and Richmond from 1975-83, is a perfect example. He polled only 11 votes but headed the count four times in 1977-79-80-82.
Similarly, Ray Smith, a Sherwood and Wests product who played 104 games with Essendon and Melbourne, polled 13 career votes but headed the count three times in 1973-74-76.
Still, Murrie and Smith are in elite company, with the five other players who have topped the Queensland medal count more than once – Jason Dunstall (10), Nick Riewoldt (8), 1996 medal winner Michael Voss (5), Dayne Beams (4) and 2001 winner Jason Akermanis (3).
Zorko, who now sits alongside Voss as a five-time Lions club champion, topped the Queensland vote with a career-best 19 votes in 2019. He also polled 14 votes in 2017 when beaten by Beams (17).
Overall Zorko has polled 66 career votes in the Brownlow to rank sixth on the Queensland vote list behind Riewoldt (153), Voss (150), Dunstall (129), Akermanis (107) and Beams (90).
If votes in the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year award are any sort of guide, Zorko will poll three medal votes in Round 21 against Fremantle, and possibly in Round 11 against the GWS Giants and Geelong in Round 15.
He received maximum coaches votes in Round 21 and nine of a possible 10 votes in Rounds 11-15, and polled well enough to suggest he could figure in the minor medal votes in Rounds 6-9-22-23.
The AFLCA votes suggest Port Adelaide pair Charlie Dixon and Aliir Aliir, Brisbane pair Charlie Cameron and Harris Andrews, Sydney’s Tom Hickey and Adelaide’s Ben Keays will also poll more than once.
Queensland’s Brownlow Medal history started 73 years ago when ex-Kedron centre half back Erwin Dorneu became the first Queenslander to play in the AFL, kick a goal in the AFL and poll a vote in the Brownlow.
It was Round 1 1948 when Dornau, who had been equal runner-up in the Tassie Medal representing Queensland at the 1947 Australian carnival in Hobart, made his debut for South Melbourne against Richmond at Lake Oval.
The South side, captained by 227-gamer and 1945 B&F winner Jack Graham, included 222-game 1942-44 B&F winner Jim Cleary, 1948 Brownlow Medallist and 1948-49-51 B&F winner Ron Clegg, and 1946-47-52 B&F winner and Swans Team of the Century interchange choice Billy Williams.
They played a Richmond side captained and coached by the legendary Jack Dyer in his 18th and second-last season. He kicked six goals in a losing side.
A 22-year-old Dornau kicked his first goal in his eighth game and after 17 games in his first season in a side that finished tenth with a 7-10 win/loss record he received eight Brownlow votes.
Richmond’s Bill Morris won the medal with 24 votes, with Clegg fourth on 16 votes. Only 20 players in total polled more votes than Dornau and teammate Reg Harley, who were bettered only by Clegg in the South team.
Dornau, a foundation member of the Queensland Football Hall of Fame in 2008, played five years at South – 17-4-6-16-11 games on a year-by-year basis – and retired at 26 after 54 games, 26 wins, one draw, eight goals and eight Brownlow votes. He died in Melbourne on 23 September 2008 aged 82.
It was 1973 before a Queenslander figured in the Brownlow again – Ray Smith at Essendon. Robert Shepherd at Fitzroy was the third Queenslander to poll in 1976.
Queensland’s Brownlow Medal history delivers a mountain of fodder for statistical and trivia buffs, and casual football chats ahead of the vote-count each year.
TOP 10 FINISHES
Six Queenslanders have had a combined 16 top 10 finishes in the Brownlow Medal, headed by Michael Voss’ joint win with Essendon’s James Hird in 1996, and Jason Akermanis’ triumph in 2001 when Voss was tied for third.
Voss, captain of the Queensland Team of the Century, and Jason Dunstall, the TOC vice-captain, have four top 10 finishes each, Nick Riewoldt and Dayne Beams three, and Akermanis and Dayne Zorko one. Voss, Beams and Akermanis also finished 11th. Details are:-
1st – Michael Voss (1996)
1st – Jason Akermanis (2001)
2nd – Jason Dunstall (1988)
2nd – Jason Dunstall (1992)
T3rd – Jason Dunstall (1989)
T3rd – Michael Voss (2001)
T4th – Jason Dunstall (1993)
T7th – Michael Voss (2000)
T7th – Michael Voss (2003)
T7th – Nick Riewoldt (2004)
T8th – Dayne Beams (2012)
T9th – Nick Riewoldt (2009)
10th – Nick Riewoldt (2016)
10th – Dayne Beams (2017)
T10th – Dayne Beams (2018)
10th – Dayne Zorko (2019)
THE QUEENSLAND COUNT
Jason Dunstall is one of the AFL’s best player never to win a Brownlow Medal. He had four top four finishes in six years. He was runner-up in 1988 and 1992, 3rd in 1989 and 4th in 1993. And with just 14 extra votes at the right time he could have won all four.
In 1988 Gerard Healy won with 20 votes. Dunstall had 16. In 1989 Paul Couch won with 22 votes. Dunstall had 16. In 1992 Scott Wynd won with 20 votes. Dunstall had 18. And in 1993 Gavan Wanganeen won with 18. Dunstall had 16.
There were games when the ex-Coorparoo star kicked a bag and didn’t get a vote. Or got one vote instead of two. Two votes instead of three. And playing in such a superstar era didn’t help, with teammates taking a lot of votes off him.
Still, Dunstall topped the Queensland vote 10 times, including nine times in 10 years from 1985-94. In 1991 it was Hawthorn teammate Stephen Lawrence. And, just for good measure, he was the Sunshine State’s leading vote-getter in his last season in 1998, when he played only 13 games, often on virtually one leg, but had nine votes.
The big three of Dunstall, Nick Riewoldt and Michael Voss together topped the Queensland vote-count in 23 of 49 years in which Queenslanders have figured, with Ray Smith and Richard Murrie each doing so four times against a limited field. The full list is
10 – Jason Dunstall
8 – Nick Riewoldt
5 – Michael Voss
4 – Dayne Beams, Richard Murrie
3 – Jason Akermanis, Ray Smith
1 – David Armitage, Danny Dickfos, Charlie Dixon, Erwin Dornau, Frank Dunell, Jarrod Harbrow, Warren Jones, Stephen Lawrence (Haw), Daniel Merrett, Gary Shaw, Robert Shepherd, Dayne Zorko.
TEN-PLUS VOTES IN A SEASON
Nine Queenslanders have polled 10 or more Brownlow Medal votes in an AFL season. But, headed by Jason Akermanis’ medal-winning total of 23 in 2001 and Michael Voss’ winning total of 21 1996, they’ve done it a combined 33 times.
Voss topped double-figures seven times, second only to Nick Riewoldt’s eight and ahead of the four double-figure seasons of Akermanis and Dayne Beams. Dayne Zorko has two, and Scott McIvor, David Armitage and Charlie Cameron one each. Details are:-
23 – Jason Akermanis (2001)
21 – Michael Voss (1996)
19 – Michael Voss (2001-03), Dayne Beams (2012), Nick Riewoldt (2016), Dayne Zorko (2019)
18 – Jason Dunstall (1992), Dayne Beams (2018)
17 – Michael Voss (2002) Nick Riewoldt (2004), Dayne Beams (2017)
16 – Jason Dunstall (1988-89-93), Michael Voss (2000), Dayne Beams (2016)
15 – Nick Riewoldt (2009)
14 – Nick Riewoldt (2007), Dayne Zorko (2017)
13 – Michael Voss (1995)
12 – Jason Dunstall (1994), Jason Akermanis (2004), Nick Riewoldt (2008), David Armitage (2012)
11 – Jason Dunstall (1996), Nick Riewoldt (2002-14), Jason Akermanis (2005), Charlie Cameron (2019)
10 – Scott McIvor (1989), Michael Voss (2014), Jason Akermanis (2009)
POLLED MOST OFTEN
Fifteen Queenslanders have polled 10 or more times in the Brownlow. Oddly, Michael Voss and Nick Riewoldt, two votes apart in total votes, each polled 72 times. Voss, who played 19 finals, did so in 270 eligible games in which votes were awarded, and Riewoldt, who played 17 finals, do so in 319 voting games. Details are:
72 – Michael Voss (270 eligible games), Nick Riewoldt (319)
55 – Jason Dunstall (248)
49 – Jason Akermanis (220)
44 – Dayne Beams (165)
35 – Dayne Zorko (181)*
20 – David Armitage (166)
16 – Kurt Tippett (162)
15 – Gavin Crosisca (238)
13 – Charlie Dixon (150)*
12 – Scott McIvor(196), Jarrod Harbrow (252)
10 – Stephen Lawrence (Haw – 139), Marcus Ashcroft (299), Mitch Hahn (173)
Note: Figures for Zorko and Dixon are to 2020, with games and votes for 2021 to be added.
Oddly, on a times polled per game basis, Voss and Beams both polled in precisely 26.67% of eligible games, ahead of Riewoldt (22.57%), Akermanis (22.27%) and Dunstall (22.18%). Zorko has polled in 19.34% of eligible games played to the end of 2020.
Only eight Queenslanders have polled three votes in the Brownlow Medal seven times or more. Nick Riewoldt (29) has most from Jason Dunstall (29), Michael Voss (26), Jason Akermanis (22), Dayne Beams (14), Dayne Zorko (9), Charlie Dixon (8) and David Armitage (7).
On a three-vote ratings per game basis Dunstall (10.89%) leads from Akermanis (10.00%), Voss (9.63%), Riewoldt (9.09%) and Beams (8.48%).
Fifteen and possibly 17 Queenslanders polled their first Brownlow vote inside 10 games, but to know who was quickest is like mission impossible.
Clues? His family has a medal history. He was only 175cm tall. He played only 18 games. He also won the VFA’s Liston Medal and the SANFL’s Magarey Medal. And the giveaway clue – he had his left ring finger amputated to continue playing football.
It was Brett Backwell, son of dual QAFL Grogan Medallist Owen Backwell. He was drafted from the Northern Eagles to Carlton via pick #67 in the 1998 AFL Draft and debuted in Round 1 1999.
The following week, when Carlton beat Collingwood by 29 points at the MCG, Backwell had 14 possessions and kicked a goal to poll one vote behind teammates Craig Bradley (31 possessions, 3 votes) and Matthew Allen (19 possessions, 40 hit-outs, 2 votes).
Backwell played in a qualifying final against Brisbane at the Gabba in his 11th game in his first season but two years and seven games later he was delisted. Having won the Liston Trophy playing with the Carlton Reserves, he went on to play with West Adelaide, Glenelg and North Adelaide in the SANFL, plus Waratahs in the NT League.
The Queenslanders to definitely poll in the medal inside 10 games are:-
2 – Brett Backwell (Carl)
3 – Mabior Chol (Rich)
4 – Darren Carlton (Bris)
5 – Stephen Lawrence (Haw), Dayne Zorko (Bris)
6 – Jason Dunstall (Haw), Steven Handley (Geel), Zac Smith (GC)
7 – Matthew Simpson (Bris), Josh Thomas (Coll), Adam Oxley (Coll)
8 – Daniel Merrett (Bris)
10 – Michael Voss (Bris)
Glen Scanlon, who played four games at North Melbourne in 1977 and five games with Footscray in 1978 without absolute confirmation of how his Christian name and surname are spelled, polled one vote in his first season when details of votes in each game were not made public.
So, his one and only vote came in his first four games. Most likely it was his second game when he had 26 possessions in a 65-point win over Geelong behind only Malcolm Blight (29) and Roy Ramsey (29) on the stats sheet.
Under the same circumstances, Frank Dunell may also be on this list. After five games in his first season without a vote he polled one vote in his nine-game second season. So it came somewhere between his sixth game to his 14thgame. Statistically it was most likely in his 6th game when he had 19 possessions and kicked a game-high 3-4 in an Essendon win.
Similarly, Robert Shepherd polled six votes in his 16-game first season at Fitzroy. No details on the split and the timing are available, but he had 25 possessions and kicked three goals in a win in his 10th game which would most likely see him join this group. That’s if 19 possessions and two goals in another win in his 2nd game didn’t get him into the votes.
Nick Riewoldt just missed the 10-game group – he polled his first vote in his 11th game.
MOST GAMES TO FIRST VOTES
Ben Hudson was a Gold Coaster who left home to follow his football dream. Originally a basketballer on the tourist strip, he played in the 2002 Mt.Gravatt QAFL premiership side before joining Werribee in the VFL to spark his AFL career.
He was drafted with pick #58 in the 2003 National Draft by Adelaide and played 66 games with the Crows from 2004-07. After another interstate move he added 88 games with the Western Bulldogs from 2008-11 before heading back to Queensland to join the Brisbane Lions.
Wouldn’t you know it? In his 12th game for the Lions and his 155th game overall he polled his first Brownlow Medal votes. And where was it? Against the Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium, just down the road from where he had originally lived.
He had 21 possessions, 21 hit-outs and six clearances to poll two votes in an 11-point Lions win in which Gold Coast’s Gary Ablett earned three votes for 37 possessions and a goal in the losing side, and Brisbane’s Simon Black earned one vote for 29 possessions.
Hudson’s 155-game wait to catch the umpires’ eye is the longest by a Queenslander. And despite moving again to join Collingwood in 2013 and stretch his career games tally to 168 he never polled again.
Only one other Queenslander has waited more than 100 games for his first vote, and his wasn’t quite so painful. By the time Robert Copeland got his one and only vote in his 124th game he had already played in three grand finals and been a part of the Lions’ premierships in 2001 and 2003.
Others who waited 50+ games to figure in the medal count have been Alex Sexton (96), Joel Macdonald (94), Charlie Cameron (93), Dale Hale (91), Michael Osborne (82), Dean McRae (77), Harris Andrews (70), Brett Voss (64), Jesse White (63), Tom Hickey (56), Jamie Charman (53), Brendan Whitecross (53) and Shaun Hampson (50).
AND MOST GAMES FOR NO VOTES
Courtenay Dempsey was born in Mt.Isa. Just like Simon Black, Greg Norman and Pat Rafter. But while this illustrious trio rocketed through the ranks to become the very best at their craft, Dempsey wasn’t quite so fortunate.
Drafted from Cairns by Essendon with pick #19 in the 2005 National Draft, he played 133 games with the Bombers from 2006-16 (two finals) but not once did he figure in the Brownlow Medal votes.
This is the highest game count by a Queenslander not to poll a vote.
Fremantle defender Lee Spurr (120), Richmond/Brisbane utility Luke McGuane (112) and Brisbane half back Cheynee Stiller (100) sit behind Dempsey along with 105-game Bulldogs/GWS veteran Sam Reid, who will go into Sunday’s Brownlow count hoping he can finally get himself off this list.
Similarly, Gold Coast’s Jack Bowes, now at 74 games, will be hoping to poll his first vote too.
Other Queenslanders who topped 50 AFL games without a vote have been Bulldogs Tom Williams (85), Brisbane, Richmond and St.Kilda ruckman Trent Knobel (75), Melbourne’s Rohan Bail (71) and Brisbane/Port Adelaide utility Scott Harding (50).
Note: Two Queensland players who have polled in the Brownlow Medal share the same name. Stephen Lawrence played 146 games at Hawthorn for 20 votes, and Steven Lawrence played 120 games for Brisbane and St.Kilda for 10 votes.
Peter Blucher is a Consultant with Vivid Sport.