They normally say the primary time is the toughest. For Lachie Neale final evening, it appeared a magnitude tougher than the final time he stood triumphant on the Brownlow Medal stage.
“It would not sit very properly for the time being. I am positive it’s going to sink in at a later date,” Neale stated after the win.
“I am fairly rattled, to be trustworthy, so apologies if this does not go too properly. I didn’t count on this.”
It takes lots to shake Neale on the sector however, for a second on Monday evening, Brisbane’s talismanic midfielder had seemingly met his match off it.
On the finish of a loopy and chaotic depend with 11 completely different leaders throughout the evening, Neale stood alone on prime with 31 votes.
Neale was not the favorite heading into the evening; a lot of the main target was as a substitute drawn to names like Daicos, Bontempelli, Petracca and Butters.
In the long run, very similar to the results of numerous contests, Neale was the final one standing together with his fingers on the prize.
This season wasn’t the smoothest trip for Neale. Late within the season, his Brownlow hopes appeared over when a flu and niggling accidents took their toll in what has been the longest season up to now.
Neale’s type tailed off and the Lions appeared a bit of shaky coming into the ultimate stretch of the season.
“I really feel like personally, my type is common from after I’m at my greatest. I do not really feel like I am letting the staff down although.” Neale advised Fox Footy in August.
Fairly than resting on his laurels, Neale did what he does greatest and put within the exhausting yards to get again on monitor.
“I really feel like I satisfaction myself on my preparation and watching imaginative and prescient however I’ve doubled down on that,” he stated.
“I’ve doubled down on my contact, my stoppage craft and converse to folks near me that I belief and know my recreation in addition to I do and work out simply small elements the place I am in all probability not at my greatest and what I can do to get again to that.”
That onerous work noticed him win seven votes within the final three rounds to overhaul and maintain off the remainder of the pack. It additionally noticed him turn out to be the oldest Brownlow medallist for practically twenty years, and the fourth-oldest in additional than 4 many years.
That is how Lachie Neale gained his second Brownlow Medal.
Stroll the stroll
Solely 110 V/AFL gamers have been lucky sufficient to win the Brownlow Medal — about 1 per cent of all league gamers to play a senior recreation since 1924. However even that quantity appears big in comparison with the multiple-winner membership.
“To be amongst a few of these names who’ve gained two is unbelievable,” Neale stated after his second win.
Simply 16 gamers have been fortunate sufficient to take a number of medals residence. These are names that litter footy historical past books and the minds of followers alike.
Together with his win on Monday evening, Neale’s identify joins that prestigious record. However to take action, Neale needed to shift his recreation a bit of extra and persevere by damage and sickness.
It’s well-known that Neale’s path to the AFL was comparatively unconventional.
Missed by most on account of his measurement, Neale was taken by Fremantle because the 58th decide within the 2011 draft. Regardless of taking part in a lot of his junior footy as a midfielder, Neale broke into the Dockers’ senior aspect as a small ahead who performed far taller than his listed peak.
Neale’s innate potential to learn the play allowed him to contribute virtually instantly, taking part in within the 2013 grand last as a 20-year-old.
As of late, Neale is firmly generally known as a midfielder, one of many present period’s perfect, however this 12 months has marked a barely completely different model of the Brisbane star.
Regardless of their star-studded midfield, the Lions struggled a bit on the coalface final 12 months.
The query wasn’t expertise however, as a substitute, stability — having the mandatory elements to each win the ball and use it properly. It’s typically part of the sport that’s exhausting to pinpoint.
The Lions desperately tried to infuse extra tempo and measurement into their midfield grouping late within the season, with little success.
The 2022 commerce interval noticed a reshaping of the group. Former Bulldogs midfielder Josh Dunkley nominated Brisbane as his new residence, bringing speedy measurement and burst to the membership. The Lions have been additionally in a position so as to add gifted teenager and goal-of-the-year winner Will Ashcroft, whose potential vastly outmatched his age.
Alongside another shifts, it reset the identification of the Brisbane midfield.
These strikes largely pushed Neale nearer to the within of the competition, forcing him to sacrifice a few of his line-breaking talent to give attention to the within a part of his recreation. The transfer has paid off in spades for each the membership and Neale.
No-one has gained extra clearances this 12 months than Neale, who was typically used to launch his explosive Lions counterparts. Neale’s potential to not solely cleanly decide up a disputed ball but in addition use it successfully shines out.
Neale’s focus has lengthy been not on his personal efficiency, however on making his staff higher.
That always results in his work being misplaced for the bushes and our bodies round him, camouflaged by a cacophony of athletes in movement. It may be why the umpires have rated his influence increased than the All-Australian judges, given their shut vantage level in these contests.
It has meant that some elements of his recreation have been sacrificed. In complete, Neale’s general contribution to scoring has lessened, with fewer uncooked rating involvements.
As an alternative, he’s serving because the prime mover, the primary contact in a scoring chain, extra typically than ever earlier than. It has additionally meant his defensive recreation has stepped up, working tougher each methods and to restrict opposition midfields.
The shift and exhausting work have labored each for him and the membership, with one other Brownlow round Neale’s neck and the Lions making ready for a grand last.
Concentrate on the flag
If there was a much bigger purpose for Neale’s resolve being shaken, it could possibly be that his essential job — profitable a flag — is but to be completed. Neale is aware of that premierships don’t precisely develop on bushes.
His native junior footy membership, the mighty Kybybolite Tigers, have been ready virtually half a century since their final premiership in 1974 for one more one, a product of the robust competitors within the Kowree-Naracoorte-Tatiara Soccer League. It’s seemingly the longest drought in South Australian Nation footy, however the locals are not any much less passionate concerning the membership.
Neale was not within the room in Melbourne with the remainder of the league’s elite, nor have been his Brisbane teammates. Soccer’s evening of nights was absent its largest star. Neale and the remainder of the Lions have been primed for a much bigger battle forward.
“I am sorry I am not there … I am not really that sorry — I am pumped that I am not there. I will see you on Saturday.” Neale stated.
Whereas the wait has been barely shorter for the Lions since their three-peat between 2001 and 2003, it’s no much less anticipated by these north of the border. The Lions have gone by lots in these passing years — the nice and the unhealthy years including up over time. Neale, and the remainder of the Lions, are determined to finish the drought.
“I am simply very lucky and privileged to be on this place to play off within the final recreation of the 12 months with my teammates who I really like and respect a lot,” he stated.
“So, hopefully, we will go on the market and placed on an excellent present for our supporters and the membership.
“In the intervening time, I am picturing Harris [Andrews] holding up the cup with Fages [coach Chris Fagan] on the finish of it.”
That ending would put a becoming finish on Neale’s stellar season, and the goals of all Lions followers throughout the nation.