A slick midfield list presents All-Australian selectors with some tough choices.
SPARE a thought for the selectors when it comes to picking this year's midfielders. They will have to leave out some exceptional talent.
About eight midfielders will be chosen. Using the traditional positional names, there will be two wingers, a centreman, ruck-rover, rover, one or two who will fill the half-forward flank positions and two will be named on the interchange bench.
When I was a selector, the player we considered the best of the midfielders was chosen as the centreman, the next best the ruck-rover and third best the rover. Goalkicking midfielders would be strongly considered for half-forward roles and predominantly "outside" midfielders for the wings.
Working our way down the ladder shows that these positions will be keenly contested as there are more midfielders than ever before, and more especially good ones.
Sydney's three best midfielders are Josh Kennedy, Kieren Jack and Lewis Jetta.
Kennedy is in the AFL's top three for contested possessions, hard-ball gets and clearances. He also kicks goals (20).
Jack is quick, an effective kick (22 goals) and second in the AFL for goal assists. Tough, strong inside and classy outside, he has a defensive mindset that his backmen appreciate.
Jetta has been a revelation in 2012. Coach John Longmire has used his speed and goalkicking talents to advantage, playing him as a winger with a licence to run deep forward. His 39 goals puts him on top of the Swans' goalkicking list.
Adelaide's best two midfielders have been veteran Scott Thompson and Patrick Dangerfield.
Thompson is hard, skilful and team-oriented. He thrives on being in the thick of the action. Dangerfield is the most explosive of players. His first five steps would match Usain Bolt and, with a thumping kick, he's a game-breaker. The young Crow loves the hard stuff and leads the competition for contested possessions.
Collingwood fans will say that Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury, Dayne Beams and Steele Sidebottom have to be fair contenders for All-Australian selection as each has had a fine season.
Swan gets the ball more than anyone else, but his kicking efficiency is low at 57.5 per cent. Will his recent club-imposed suspension hurt his chances? Maybe. With suspension and injuries, he will have missed four games. If he is in contention for a spot with a player who is deemed as good and has played every game, that player would have to get the nod.
Hawthorn's best midfielder is Sam Mitchell, my choice for the Brownlow Medal. He dominates the disposal, clearance and tackle count for his club.
West Coast veterans Daniel Kerr and Matt Priddis are getting good support from Scott Selwood and Luke Shuey, but the oldies, especially Kerr, aren't as dangerous with their disposal. The young ones' efforts will be recognised by the All-Australian selectors and that will help them in the future, but their time isn't now.
Geelong skipper Joel Selwood has to be selected. Is he now the game’s most valuable player to his team? He leads the way statistically in most areas at his club, but more importantly he leads with courage, presence and control in crunch games. James Kelly, Jimmy Bartel and Joel Corey have had good but not great seasons.
North Melbourne has hit a purple patch, and skipper Andrew Swallow has been especially good. He has had the most disposals for his team, leads the competition in tackles, and he is in the top four in clearances and handballs. He would also be top four for getting your head bandaged, as his fearless approach continually causes collisions.
Daniel Wells would also have to be in contention. Consistency of performance has not always followed Wells, but currently it is at an all-time high and his delivery of the ball forward has been top class.
Essendon captain Jobe Watson is a certainty for his first All-Australian selection. Just on sheer will, he influences games. His numbers are incredible. He is top five in the competition for disposals, clearances, hard-ball gets, contested possessions and goal assists. He also averages a goal a game, which is something you want your top midfielders to do. Brent Stanton’s first half of the season was good, but he has fallen off the pace in recent weeks.
Fremantle's midfielders won't be pressing for selection. Michael Barlow gets plenty of disposals and clearances, but his kicking is woeful.
At St Kilda, big names like Nick Dal Santo, Leigh Montagna and Brendon Goddard have all had solid but not spectacular seasons. Lenny Hayes has been the best. After a year out, he has come back to lead the way at his club in disposals, clearances, tackles, inside-50s and contested possessions. He will be considered because he is so highly respected, but such is the quality of the competition I fear he won’t add to his three All-Australian selections.
Long-term injuries to Carlton's Andrew Carrazzo and Marc Murphy have cruelled their chances. That leaves Chris Judd, who at this stage will have missed five games. It won't help him, even though he has once again led the way in all the tough areas at his club.
Richmond has three midfielders who have had very good seasons. Trent Cotchin, Brett Deledio and Shane Tuck haven't missed a game, and their numbers are impressive. Deledio plays more as an outside player, often as a wingman who covers an enormous amount of ground back and forward. He pumps the ball inside the forward 50 more than any other player with quick and long penetrating kicks.
Cotchin and Tuck excel in and under, and Cotchin has the pace and class to create havoc in space. Averaging a goal a game, he is one the All-Australian selectors would be watching closely.
Of the bottom six teams, there are a few who catch the eye. Gary Ablett is a definite and his teenage teammate Harley Bennell will be pencilled in for future reference.
The Brisbane Lions' three R's — Jack Redden, Tom Rockliff and Daniel Rich — will also be noted.
Greater Western Sydney co-captain Callan Ward has had an exceptionally good season and I'm sure the selectors will give him close consideration. Ward has dominated in all the stats that matter and his on-field leadership has been first rate.
Port Adelaide and Melbourne will not come into calculations, while Western Bulldogs skipper Matthew Boyd must go close to his third All-Australian honour. Again, the gutsy Bulldog has willed himself to be up there among the best.