Brownlow Medal: Lachie Neale shock win defended by AFL boss Gillon McLachlan

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Outgoing AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has declared “there’s no way” Brownlow Medal voting should be taken away from the umpires after criticism erupted following Lachie Neale’s boilover victory on Monday night.

The Brisbane midfielder became a dual Brownlow medallist after flying under the radar during the 2023 season, missing selection for the All-Australian team and being convincingly beaten in the players’ and coaches’ MVP awards by rivals including Marcus Bontempelli (Brownlow runner-up), Nick Daicos (third) and Zak Butters (equal fourth).

Pockets of footy fans were outraged when Neale polled three votes in round 6, a win over the Giants in which he did not poll a single coaches’ vote, but McLachlan said calls to break tradition and strip umpires of their voting power were extremely misguided.

The AFL chief executive, who will depart the role after the grand final, conceded though that umpires could benefit from being provided “baseline data” following the game before making their decision.

“I’ve got a say for the next six days, but there’s no way in the world anyone should contemplate changing it,” McLachlan told SEN on Tuesday.

“Generally, the best players win, and it’s the beauty of the thing.

“Should you give them some baseline data to work with, that could be debated … but it’s an umpires’ vote and that’s absolutely right from my point of view – it’s created this mystique and uncertainty. I don’t know what people want … the formula works.”

Aussie rules great Leigh Matthews said he believed the AFLCA Champion Player of the Year, which was won by Port Adelaide’s Butters, was now “the most credible award in football”, but he said the spirit of the Brownlow should not be harmed by changing the voting process.

“This is what the Brownlow is all about, it’s the umpires’ award,” Matthews told 3AW.

“Lachie Neale has been a very good player, he didn’t win any of the other awards, and that’s fine. Controversy is part of the Brownlow.

“I’ve never heard a system that is preferable as an official AFL award other than the umpires … this happens a lot of Brownlow Medal mornings.

“I don’t think the four umpires generally get it horribly wrong.”

Speaking from the Lions’ training base in Brisbane on Tuesday morning, Neale said he was “surprised” by the result, particularly the round 6 outcome, but said there were other games where he didn’t poll as expected.

“Yeah, I was surprised, that’s the beauty of the Brownlow though,” he said.

“I think it comes around in swings and roundabouts … I was lucky in that game to poll but maybe unlucky in some others.”

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