AFL fans have taken aim at the Brownlow Medal ceremony after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league’s night of nights into the virtual realm for the first time.
The Brisbane Lions’ Lachie Neale took out the 2020 Brownlow by 10 votes to Port Adelaide’s Travis Boak in a stunning result with the 27-year-old delivering a sweet moment where he paid tribute to the sacrifice of his wife Julie.
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But with six sites around the country hosting the awards as the count was beamed in from a socially distanced Gillon McLachlan at the Gold Coast function, it was a keen reminder of the bizarreness of the 2020 season.
Despite a historic season suspension, Footy Frenzy weeks to get the 18-rounds in, hub life and an ever growing list of things that have made 2020 the craziest footy season in memory, the Brownlow proved to be peak 2020.
Even after Neale’s win, the award was presented by 2019 winner and former Fremantle teammate Nat Fyfe.
Beaming in from Perth and despite Neale being in a room full of people, Fyfe finished his tribute to the star by saying “it’s my great pleasure to now ask you to present yourself with the 2020 Brownlow Medal.”
He wasn’t the only one with Mark of the Year winner Sam Walsh and Goal of the Year winner Josh Daicos also asked to present themselves their awards.
Only Bachar Houli, who won the Jim Stynes Community Leadership Award had his prize before the event.
3AW and 6PR sports broadcaster Sam McInnes tweeted: “Sam Walsh had to present himself the “Mark of the Year” award. Surely someone in the room could‘ve passed it to him!”
Similarly, SMH’s Andrew Wu was perplexed for the main award.
“Why couldn’t someone present the medal to Lachie Neale? Surely not because of social distancing, or even the optics of it. What else is the point of having an indoor gathering for a vote count?” he tweeted.
Having taken over the Sportsbet Twitter account for the awards, 2011 Brownlow winner Dane Swan posted: “A bloke presenting himself his own Brownlow is the most 2020 thing ever”.
Similarly, the Seven coverage wasn’t streamed online, with Swan also roasting that decision.
“So let get me this straight, first ever online Brownlow and you can‘t watch it online nor see a tracker online?” he wrote.
But there were plenty more issues fans had with the coverage, including ABC News presenter Mary Gearin arguing the Brownlow was another example of a Zoom meeting that could have been done much quicker and more efficiently as an email.
“I’ve always thought the #BrownlowMedal should be a media release – maybe a media conference – and nothing more. This was the year to make it happen. But clearly not even an interminable pandemic can stop the appetite for an interminable vote count”.
And she wasn’t the only one.
But while the night could have been shorter with a break after every two rounds, the final announcement that Neale took out the game’s top award also delivered one of the sweetest moments of the season, when he paid tribute to his wife’s sacrifice to help his football career when he traded to the Lions.
“Not many people probably know, but she owned a salon in Perth before we decided to move to Brisbane and she had to sell that to come over here and follow my dreams,” he said as she wiped away tears. “She was doing very well for herself over there, but she always puts me ahead of herself when she shouldn’t have to, and she is the most selfless person I know. Thank you very much Jules. I love you.”
And isn’t two and a half hours of counting worth the sweet moments?
Former 10 Sports presenter Tim Gossage took aim at the naysayers.
“Drives me bonkers people criticising @7AFL #BrownlowMedal coverage … I enjoy it and like the mix of season reviews and interviews. It’s for TV entertainment not just a footy club vote count.”