Lachie Neale is an odds-on favourite to win the Brownlow Medal. Picture: Michael Klein
Lachie Neale is an odds-on favourite to win the Brownlow Medal. Picture: Michael Klein

How Neale went from 'fat little forward' to Brownlow champ

He is the pocket-rocket onballer who became the game's best player.

Two years after Lachie Neale sought a trade from Fremantle to the Brisbane Lions, the superstar midfielder was on Sunday night crowned the Brownlow Medalist after a stunning 2020 season.

The red-hot pre-count favourite polled 31 votes to win the game's most coveted individual prize by a whopping 10 votes ahead of Port Adelaide's Travis Boak (21).

It was the second-biggest Brownlow Medal margin under the current 3-2-1 system, an extraordinary feat in a shortened 17-game season. 

Melbourne's Christian Petracca (20) and St Kilda hard nut Jack Steele (20) finished equal-third. Four players finished equal-fifth including Patrick Dangerfield and Dustin Martin, who will face off in Saturday's Grand Final.

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Neale said the award was incredibly humbling and thanked former Fremantle coach Ross Lyon for delivering an early wake-up call about his training ethic and professionalism after his first AFL season.

"I had so much to learn but Ross was a great influence on me and he really drove me to become a better player and I cannot thank him enough," Neale said.

"We had a couple of really stern conversations early on in my career and he basically told me when I came back from my first off-season that if I came back like this (out-of-shape) again I would be a fat little forward pocket at Glenelg (in the SANFL) pretty soon.

"And I would play my 20 or 30 (AFL) games and be out of the system.

"Those were the things that really drove me and I am really glad responded well to them."

Neale, who has since become the ultimate pro at Brisbane, said he jumped on a motorbike to clock up some kilometers instead of running them to try and trick his Dockers' coaches and fitness staff during one off-season training season in the west.

Neale, who is from Kybybolite, a tiny town of about 100 people in South Australia, had the award effectively stitched up with three rounds to go when he took an eight-vote lead over Petracca.

He clinched the award in Round 16 with a dazzling 33-possession performance against Gold Coast.

In all, Neale polled three-vote games 10 times, and was named best-on-ground in six of the Lions' first nine games to take a commanding early lead.

It meant the 177cm Neale had a seven-vote buffer over Boak and Melbourne captain Max Gawn at the halfway point, and never looked like being headed in the back half of the count.

The triumph capped a dominant season for Neale, whose Brownlow triumph came after he took out the AFL Coaches' Association and AFL Players' Association player of the year awards.

"It's unbelievable," Neale said on Sunday night.

"I feel really humbled to be in this position and to be amongst some of those (Brownlow Medalists') names is still pretty crazy for me.

"The boy from 'Kyby', never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be standing here today."

Neale, 27, had been one of the game's most prolific ball-winners in recent years. But he was even more damaging with his ball use and goalkicking in the forward half this year, slotting 11 goals in 17 home-and-away games.

The Brownlow Medal caps an incredible rise for a man in his ninth season after he was originally taken pick 58 in 2011 and started in the substitute vest for the Dockers in the 2013 Grand Final loss to Hawthorn.

"He's a special player, Lachie," Lyon said. "Very focused and very driven."

First-year sensation Matt Rowell capitalised on his blistering start to the season, polling nine votes across the first four rounds before his season-ending shoulder injury in Round 5.

See the full leaderboard and club voting numbers below and scroll down for all the news, betting and more. 

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