Lions star Neale wins 2020 Brownlow medal

Brisbane's Lachie Neale and his wife Julie Neale attended the Brownlow Medal ceremony at the Gabba.
Brisbane's Lachie Neale and his wife Julie Neale attended the Brownlow Medal ceremony at the Gabba.

Brisbane star Lachie Neale has won this year's Brownlow medal, polling 31 votes from 17 games in the shortened AFL season.

Neale was voted best on ground in a remarkable 10 matches during 2020, fashioning an unassailable lead in Sunday's Brownlow count after 16 rounds of the 18-round season.

The gun midfielder, who had been backed into $1.25 favouritism, easily finished ahead of Travis Boak (21 votes) with Christian Petracca and Jack Steele (both 20 votes) equal third in a ceremonial night that was as predictable as it was peculiar.

AFL's night of nights was staged across venues in Adelaide, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney because of COVID-19.

It meant 2019 Brownlow winner and Fremantle captain Nat Fyfe wasn't able to give his former teammate a "big hug and put the medal around" his neck in Brisbane.

Fyfe instead gave a short speech via video link before Neale presented and accepted the medal.

"I feel really humbled," Neale said on the Seven Network, thanking his wife, family, teammates, coach Chris Fagan and others.

"I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd be standing here."

The South Australian is the latest player to embarrass recruiters across the country, having struggled to impress clubs during his junior career before being recruited by the Dockers with pick No.58 in the 2011 draft.

Neale revealed how some "stern conversations" with Ross Lyon helped put him on a path towards greatness, confirming he once tried to fool the former Dockers coach with fake training data on fitness app Strava.

"It's a story I'm not that proud of," the 27-year-old said.

"I strapped the phone to my arm and jumped on my ... motorbike and did the session.

"Ross was a great influence and really drove me to become a better player.

"He basically told me when I came back from my first off-season that if I came back like this again I'd be a fat little forward pocket at Glenelg pretty soon, play my 20 or 30 games and be out of the system."

The highlight of Neale's career came one day after Geelong ended his side's campaign, ruining the Lions' hopes of reaching their first grand final since 2004 - at their Gabba home.

Neale, who grew up in the small town of Kybybolite on the SA-Victoria border, took his game to another level during his second season at the Lions and was always going to be hard to stop.

Port Adelaide veteran Boak was voted best on ground in his side's season-opening win over Gold Coast and led the count after three rounds, having tallied eight votes at that stage.

Neale made his move with four consecutive three-vote performances, a streak that started in round two.

He became the joint leader after four rounds, sitting alongside Suns youngster Matt Rowell, then claimed the outright lead after five rounds with 12 votes.

Neale failed to poll in the next two games, but remained count leader for the rest of the night.

His Brownlow medal capped an incredibly dominant 2020 campaign in which he was also judged this season's best player by the AFL Players' Association and AFL Coaches' Association.

Neale joins Gary Ablett Jnr (2009), Patrick Dangerfield (2016) and Dustin Martin (2017) as the only players to have been collected the Brownlow medal plus AFL Players' Association and AFL Coaches' Association awards in the same season.

Australian Associated Press