Lachie Neale has smacked down the naysayers who don't think he deserved to win the Brownlow Medal, while also paying a classy tribute to Collingwood rival Nick Daicos. Neale and Daicos will go head-to-head in Saturday's AFL grand final, and they were also combatants in Monday night's Brownlow Medal count.
Brisbane Lions star Neale walked away with the gong after polling 31 votes throughout the year, narrowly edging Western Bulldogs captain Marcus Bontempelli (29) and Daicos (28). But Neale's triumph has come under immense scrutiny, with many highlighting a number of questionable votes.
18-YEAR FIRST: Ben Cousins appearance lights up Brownlow Medal
Most notably, many were gobsmacked that Neale polled three votes from the umpires in round six against GWS when a number of other players shined. Neale had 20 disposals compared to Josh Kelly's 41 and Stephen Coniglio's 38, while Charlie Cameron kicked seven goals.
Yet the three votes went to Neale, who didn't even get a mention in the coach's votes for the game. Collingwood fans were also unhappy that Daicos didn't get any votes for games in which he had 38 disposals and two goals (in round four against Brisbane) and 42 disposals (in round nine against GWS).
Discussing the furore as he returned to Brisbane training on Tuesday, Neale shot down suggestions he wasn't the deserving winner. The Lions co-captain admitted he was "surprised" to poll three votes in the GWS game, but said: "That’s the beauty of the Brownlow."
Neale said there were games later in the season in which he thought he would have garnered more votes but didn't. “There were probably games where I thought I would poll a bit later through the middle part of the season where I didn’t pick up votes, or polled one where I thought I might get two or three that game, so I think it comes around in swings and roundabouts," he added.
“I was lucky in that game to poll but maybe unlucky in some others. You never know how the umpires are going to vote, and (I was) fortunate that it fell my way in the end.”
Lachie Neale's message to Nick Daicos
Neale offered a classy response to the situation surrounding Daicos, saying the 20-year-old definitely would have won if not for the injury that saw him miss the final three games of the regular season. Remarkably, Daicos was still leading the count after round 23, before Neale and Bontempelli leap-frogged him late.
“I want to give a shout out to Nick Daicos,” Neale said on Tuesday. “He‘s had such an amazing season so far and it hasn’t finished for him yet either.
“If it wasn’t for his injury, I think the medal would have been his and he would have been a thoroughly deserving winner. I feel for Nick. He’s had so much pressure and intensity and scrutiny on him this year. The way that he‘s performed this year has been amazing to watch.”
Lachie Neale desperate for AFL grand final glory
Neale also won the Brownlow in 2020, but the 30-year-old said he'd gladly trade both of them for a grand final triumph. The Lions star will be playing in his second grand final on Saturday against Collingwood, after playing in the 2013 decider as a 20-year-old for Fremantle.
"I was very young with that experience in 2013 and probably didn't soak it up enough and thought it would just happen again and again," he admitted. "And I haven't been back to a grand final, so for me it's just about embracing all of this … enjoying every moment with the teammates and the club and my family as well."
Neale will be looking to join Brisbane champions Jason Akermanis and Simon Black, who did the Brownlow-premiership double in 2001 and 2002 respectively. However he said he doesn't think he believes in 'omens'.
"It's not just going to happen, we've got to out and play well and execute and get the result," he said. "I've got to reset pretty quickly. It was pretty overwhelming but I'm mature enough now to switch that off and don't feel that necessity at all (to overplay his hand). The last two finals have probably showed that, been far from the best player on the ground and we've had two really good wins."
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.