Watson top Bomber again
LAST April, Dustin Fletcher played his 350th game. Last May, he turned 37. And last night, Essendon's 20-year defender finished third in the club's best and fairest award.
Unsurprisingly, Brownlow medallist Jobe Watson won his third Crichton Medal, polling 551 votes to finish well clear of second-year player Dyson Heppell on 310.
Fletcher, who will play on again next year, finished third on 256 votes, with the rest of the top 10 reflecting both Watson's struggle for consistent support this season and the club's horrible battle with injuries and fading form.
Brent Stanton, who polled well early but faded in the second half of the season, finished 14 votes behind Fletcher in fourth spot, with Ben Howlett fifth and David Zaharakis taking sixth spot despite missing half the season.
Courtenay Dempsey, Stewart Crameri, Patrick Ryder and Michael Hurley completed the top 10. Dempsey made a successful return to the half-back line after knee surgery in 2011, and Crameri, Ryder and Hurley had multiple injuries.
The likes of Heath Hocking, Jake Melksham and Leroy Jetta, who played fuller seasons, finished outside the leading group.
Fletcher won his one and only best and fairest 12 years ago, in the Bombers' premiership season of 2000, and despite his brilliant career has finished in the top five just five times.
The full-back, who will turn 38 next May after starting out as a 17-year-old schoolboy in 1993, finished second in 2007 and 2009, and third in 2006.
Crameri's 32 goals earned him the leading goalkicker award.
Heppell was voted the best clubman and Michael Hibberd the rising star after establishing himself on the half-back line this year despite hamstring injuries.
Defender Jake Carlisle won the most-improved player award, onballer Howlett was judged most courageous, and Fletcher won the best-team-player award.
Coach James Hird said Watson, who also claimed All-Australian selection, the AFL Players Association's best captain award and Channel Nine's Lou Richards medal this year, had been rewarded for his dedication and professional attitude.
"Jobe is an outstanding leader of our football club, and I think it's fantastic he has received recognition for his impressive season," Hird said.
"Jobe's professional attitude towards his preparation meant his body was able to withstand the physical demands of the game and enabled him to perform at a consistent level.
"To win a third Crichton Medal in four years is a great effort, and it just proves the ruthless standards Jobe demands of himself."
Watson, who won his previous best and fairest awards in 2009 and 2010, said the last few weeks had felt surreal.
"I love playing for the Essendon Football Club and while individual accolades are great, we play football to achieve success as a team, and that's something I know this group has their sights set on."