Back-line players need greater recognition
Ted Richards and Heath Grundy of the Swans compete for the ball against Hamish McIntosh of the Kangaroos. Photo: Getty Images
FOUR back-line players won their club best and fairest awards in 2011 - West Coast's Darren Glass, St Kilda's Sam Fisher, Geelong's Corey Enright and Port Adelaide's Jack Trengove, who tied for his.
Others went close. Bob Murphy (Western Bulldogs), Jared Rivers (Melbourne), Josh Gibson (Hawthorn) and Nathan Bock (Gold Coast) were runners-up, all playing predominantly in the back half of the ground.
Which goes to show that while the clubs are not perfect in rewarding their defenders, they are at least on to it. They know that it's hard to find a premiership team that did not have a strong back six. They know that when they play against, say, Hawthorn, they need someone to take the job on Lance Franklin. And that if he does it well, like Ted Richards did for Sydney on Sunday, they are a long way towards winning the game.
Even so, Matthew Scarlett and Dustin Fletcher, two of the pre-eminent full-backs of the modern era, have only won one best and fairest each, Scarlett at Geelong in 2003 and Fletcher at Essendon in 2000. As my colleague Greg Baum observed here recently, Fletcher long ago learnt to set aside any desire for personal glory. Yet Fletcher is widely regarded as Essendon's best ever full-back; Scarlett has a claim to be called the best full-back of all time.
Australian football almost certainly does not properly reward all the players on the field, and in particular men who play in the back half of the ground. Even in an era when many attacking players quarterback from that part of the ground, they find it near impossible to win recognition that matches the midfielders with their copious Dream Team points.
The Age is as guilty as anyone. The first 12 in our player of the year award at the moment are midfielders. Across at the Herald Sun, the first eight listed are midfielders. The Brownlow Medal has been known colloquially in recent years as ''The Midfielders' Medal'', for no player from outside the centre square has won since James Hird in 1996.
Perhaps we are entranced by the statistics that are so freely available. Maybe it's just that the best players are midfielders (who else could you vote for in the Anzac Day game but Dane Swan, with his 42 disposals and three goals?)
But a little perspective would be nice. On Fox Footy's After the Bounce program, former full-back Danny Frawley instituted a ''Golden Fist'' award, complete with the bronzed fist of a niggardly full-back about to make a spoil. There is a lot of mickey-taking in that award, but Frawley is probably making a serious point as well.
Last Sunday in Launceston, Richards kept Franklin goalless. In the previous game between the teams, last year, Franklin kicked six and monstered Sydney, which used Heath Grundy to mark him.
In trying Richards, the Swans were testing another method that worked to a tee, and had a huge influence on the game.
Richards did not win the medal that was given away that day. Josh Kennedy got that for his bulldozing in midfield, and Kennedy deserved it, too. But let's not forget the Ted Richardses of the world. Football is too inclined to do that.
NB: Richards was judged equal best-on-ground by The Age on Sunday. Melbourne's Tom McDonald also won votes for his game on Nick Riewoldt.