JOBE Watson did not bother with the customary rush of false modesty. Did he have his speech written, he was asked as he crossed the blue carpet with partner Ella Keddie at the start of the evening. "I'm probably one of 10 or or 15 guys who have a chance to win it," he said.
Jobe Watson wins Brownlow Medal
Essendon captain Jobe Watson held an unassailable lead by round 21 of the count and dedicated much of his acceptance speech to his family.
But Watson had this coming. Not for trifling reasons was he the favourite for the Brownlow Medal. It has been his third consecutive outstanding year and, unlike last year, when he led early only to be cut down by a cluster of hamstring injuries, he had stayed sound. Fifteen votes in 2011 and 16 in 2010. We knew that the umpires liked him. They have got it right, again, as they usually do.
At 27, Watson has achieved something not even his illustrious father, Tim, could manage, winning the game's most prestigious and famous individual honour.
Tim Watson, a three-time premiership player, captain and four-time club champion at Essendon, was one of the favourites in 1989, and recalled this week how nerve-racking it had been to go to the count and how deflating it was to come away empty handed. But he never won the Brownlow and never polled more than 17 votes in a season, notwithstanding legend status. Now his profoundly impressive son is powering into the same heady territory with his unathletic gait and his sure hands and his creative vision with the football in his hands.
An emotional Tim Watson sat with his wife, Susie, at the count as his son told of the advice he had imparted after his difficult third season. "He said 'you don't have to do this if you don't want to. At the moment, you're not doing much'."
Jobe Watson was a magnificent leader for the Bombers this year, particularly in the early season thrust in which they won eight of the first nine games. Watson is not quick, but he is big and clever with his hands, incredibly so. People forget how big he is (190cm, 94kg), and how powerful he is over the football, immovable. Professional to a tee, he corrected his most obvious fault, a shoddy kick, and augmented a penchant for goalkicking to his arsenal.
It seems so far into the distant past that he was out of favour in Kevin Sheedy's time at Windy Hill.
Watson played just 13 senior games in his first three seasons in 2003-2005 after Essendon took him under the father-son rule. In Sheedy’s final game with the club at the end of 2007, he dropped Watson. As much as this hurt him, it turned out to be a watershed. Sheedy was probably right and Watson went away to sort himself out, dedicating himself to a new training regime, losing weight and giving himself the opportunity to become a midfielder.
Watson said he had been "naive" to the professional standards when Sheedy spoke to him. "By him talking to me in that way, it drove me to become a better player."
He had played his early footy as a forward. Now he developed the ability to run hard and long, if not quickly. He learned to capitalise on his beautiful, soft hands. He became captain of a club striving to create some history to match that of his father’s era, and struggling.
And he blew them away, polling votes in 12 of Essendon's first 13 games, roaring to 26 votes and an eight-vote lead through round 14. The Anzac Day game was the only match in which he did not poll, an astonishing run of performances. But this was where Essendon hit its quicksand. In the Palladium, Channel Seven’s Cameron Ling quizzed him for an update on his feelings. "A bit more nervous than I was when I walked in," he confessed.
Here was Watson at his best; no pretence that he was too cool to care about the Brownlow. But Gary Ablett and Scott Thompson of Adelaide were looming, and Essendon's fade-out was coming. Watson had four vote-less games and his chasers crept closer. Then in Essendon's round-19 loss to Adelaide, he was voted best-afield. At 29, he had a six-vote lead over Ablett. After round 20, he led by seven. "I'm on the cliff and holding on," he said.
When the votes came for round 21 and Ablett did not poll, Watson could not be headed at 30 votes.
All the favourites polled heavily, with Ablett and Josh Kennedy jumping out to nine votes through three rounds. As ever it was the midfielders' medal, with few favours given to defenders or forwards. The umpires plainly thought more of Sam Mitchell's season than the all-Australian selectors; the Hawk finished equal-second on 26 votes with Trent Cotchin of Richmond.
WAGs shine on Brownlow red carpet
The wives and girlfriends clearly outshine their partners as they walk the red carpet at the Brownlow.
There were quirks, and big applause when Ben Hudson (Brisbane) and Jason Blake (St Kilda) had the first votes of their long careers.