Rohan Connolly's 2013 All-Australian team:
B: Michael Johnson Scott Thompson Josh Gibson
HB: Nick Malceski Harry Taylor Jarrad McVeigh
C: Ryan Griffen Scott Pendlebury Patrick Dangerfield
HF: Dane Swan Travis Cloke Chad Wingard
F: Jeremy Cameron Jarryd Roughead Michael Walters
FOLL: Will Minson Joel Selwood Gary Ablett
I/C: Nathan Fyfe Sam Mitchell Steve Johnson Kieren Jack
Being an All-Australian selector is a pretty thankless task, with only 22 spots available in the team of the year and 40-odd worthy contenders. And the panellists appear to be gluttons for punishment.
The recent concept of announcing a 40-man squad from which the official team, announced on Monday night, will be picked, gives the critics two chances to have a whack instead of just the one.
This year, too, selectors were asked simply to name the 40 they believed to be the best players of the season rather than groups of defenders, forwards and on-ballers. So more than half the squad are players whose primary roles are based in the midfield. Another criterion is that the side be picked as if to play a match.
If that's the case, and with the proliferation of star on-ballers who need to be shut down, how did Fremantle's Ryan Crowley, the best ''stopper'' in the AFL, fail to earn a spot even in the initial squad?
But, in my book, Crowley's isn't the only glaring omission.
Essendon defender Michael Hibberd had a stunning breakout year but wasn't on the shortlist, despite averaging more disposals than a similar running defender, Sydney's Nick Malceski, more rebound 50s than another similar type in Swans co-captain Jarrad McVeigh, and more intercept marks, intercept possessions and spoils than either of the Swans' pair, both of whom were named in the 40.
Similarly, the omission of Hawthorn's Luke Breust from the 40-man squad is hard to understand, given the role of small, goalkicking forward is one of the few specialist roles left in football.
His numbers are only fractionally below another very worthy candidate in Fremantle's Michael Walters for disposals and scoreboard impact, and he takes more marks inside 50 and tackles nearly twice as much as the Docker.
As for midfielders, Freo's Michael Barlow and Geelong pair Steve Johnson and Mathew Stokes can consider themselves unlucky. Barlow averaged more disposals, contested ball and clearances than a large number of mids who did make it. Johnson was fifth in the AFL for disposals and sixth for scoreboard impact, whilst Stokes also won more touches and had more scoreboard impact than several who got in.
But my All-Australian team doesn't contain too many surprises. There are some noteworthy selections, though. Arguably none more so than Western Bulldogs ruckman Will Minson, and boom youngsters Chad Wingard and Jeremy Cameron.
Minson, whose career seemed at the crossroads a couple of years ago, was the best ruckman this year, winning more taps, hitouts to advantage, clearances and applying more tackles than his rivals.
Wingard, just turned 20, was phenomenal, the epitome of a prolific midfielder who can also go forward with impact. No other midfielder in the competition managed to win 20-plus possessions a game as well as average two goals.
Cameron's third in the Coleman Medal, with 62 goals, speaks for itself, particularly in a side that won just one game. More than agile enough to play as a third tall covering plenty of territory in this team alongside fellow key forwards Jarryd Roughead and Travis Cloke, the 20-year-old is going to be a star for the next decade.
Steven Motlop is perhaps stiff to miss out on the small forward berth, a victim of spending more time midfield than does Walters. He has more touches, but the Freo players just shades him for marks and scoreboard impact.
In defence, I think North Melbourne's Scott Thompson (whom I picked last year as well despite somehow not being in the squad) is again a lock at full-back.
While capable of negating dangerous key forwards, Thompson was also a clear No.1 for intercept possessions, and also ranked highly for intercept marks, spoils and rebounds.
Some might take issue with my two back-pockets - Hawthorn's Josh Gibson and Freo's Michael Johnson. But Gibson's reading of the play is second to none. He was again the best spoiler in 2013, and ranked equal second for intercept possessions, a perfect complement to the talls in any defence. Johnson, similarly, is agile, and solid across all aspects of defensive play.
It's worth noting also how, on an individual level, the cream rose to the top the longer the season went. I didn't have Geelong's inspirational captain Joel Selwood, Brownlow medallist Dane Swan or Hawthorn's perennial possession-winner Sam Mitchell in my mid-season team. But all just kept getting better as a score of younger, less-seasoned peers began to feel the pinch.
Which is probably how the All-Australian selectors might also be feeling come the end of this week after fielding the inevitable grumbles that go along with this exercise. Now, back to that point about Crowley …
BACK POCKET: MICHAEL JOHNSON (Frem)
Agile and mobile defender, solid across all aspects of defensive play and a key part of the AFL,s best backline.
BACK POCKET: JOSH GIBSON (Haw)
Once again the best spoiler in the AFL, Hawk is a great reader of play, ranking equal second for intercept possessions.
FULL-BACK: SCOTT THOMPSON (NM)
Negates key forwards and attacks as well, a clear No.1 for intercept possessions, and high for intercept marks, spoils and rebounds.
HALF-BACK FLANK: NICK MALCESKI (Syd)
Best rebounding defender in the comp, ranked 6th for disposals at an average of 23 per game.
CENTRE HALF-BACK: HARRY TAYLOR (Geel)
Super reliable key defender, ranked second for intercept marks, third for spoils, and was regularly thrown forward with effect.
HALF-BACK FLANK: JARRAD McVEIGH (Syd)
Swans skipper had great year across half-back, averaging 27 disposals, four more than next nearest defender, and used ball well.
WING: RYAN GRIFFEN (WB)
Stellar year for Bulldog, averaged more inside 50s than anyone, was ranked sixth for disposals and third for clearances.
WING: PATRICK DANGERFIELD (Adel)
Numbers a little lower than last year, but held his ground in year when most teammates struggled. Greater scoreboard impact this season.
RUCK: WILL MINSON (WB)
Seasoned Bulldog did it on his own with aplomb. Won more hitouts to advantage, clearances and tackles than all ruck rivals.
ROVER: GARY ABLETT (GC)
Fifth AFLPA most valuable win said it all. Ranked second for disposals, second for contested possession and No.1 among mids for scoreboard.
RUCK-ROVER: JOEL SELWOOD (Geel)
Cats' skipper got better longer year went, averaged 25 disposals per game and was ranked second of mids for scoreboard impact.
INTERCHANGE: NATHAN FYFE (Frem)
Another great year for Docker tyro with courage beyond his slight build. Ranked sixth for clearances.
INTERCHANGE: KIEREN JACK (Syd)
Swans co-captain took another great leap forward. Ranked second in comp for inside 50s, third for scoreboard impact.
INTERCHANGE: STEVE JOHNSON (Geel)
The football artist wove for Cats. Ranks sixth for scoreboard impact. All class.
INTERCHANGE: SAM MITCHELL (Haw)
Hawk veteran broadened his repertoire with stints across half-back line. Seventh for disposals, fourth for uncontested possession.
CENTRE: SCOTT PENDLEBURY (Coll)
Ranked third in AFL for disposals. Magpie midfielder consistently classy in up-and-down year for team.
CENTRE HALF-FORWARD: TRAVIS CLOKE (Coll)
Great year for Pie key forward, easily AFL's No.1 for contested marks and marks inside 50 and runner-up in Coleman Medal.
HALF-FORWARD FLANK: CHAD WINGARD (PA)
Boom Port youngster was all class either on ball or as small goalkicker, only man to average 20-plus disposals and two goals per game.
HALF-FORWARD FLANK: DANE SWAN (Coll)
Like Pendlebury, Brownlow medallist stayed consistent, No.1 in competition for disposals and third for uncontested possession.
FORWARD POCKET: JEREMY CAMERON (GWS)
Young GWS tyro going to be star for long time. Third in Coleman Medal with 62 goals despite regularly being denied supply in poor team.
FULL-FORWARD: JARRYD ROUGHEAD (Haw)
Took out Coleman Medal with 68 goals at more than three per game despite spending plenty of time as mobile on-baller or ruckman.
FORWARD POCKET: MICHAEL WALTERS (Frem)
Freo small forward picked up where left off last year. Applied great defensive pressure and had a big impact on the scoreboard.
Rohan Connolly, a senior football writer for The Age and radio broadcaster with sports radio station 1116 SEN, has been covering the game since 1983. A multi-AFL Media Association award-winner known for his passion and love of the game, he analyses the AFL for the newspaper and contributes a blog and weekly video, "Footy Fix", for The Age's football website, Real Footy.
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