The best of 2011

Carlton skipper Chris Judd was clearly the best player in the competition in 2011 and is expected to pick up his third Brownlow Medal in September.

With the All-Australian team to be officially announced tomorrow night, I thought I’d have a crack at selecting my All-Australian team for 2011. And what a tough job the selectors have from the initial squad of 30 that has to be trimmed to a 22 hand-picked side.

The key positions usually pick themselves, with Ben Reid, Travis Cloke and Lance Franklin among the talls who are clear stand out performers to select as the bookends. But it’s the midfield selections, given the spread of quality in the competition this season, where it gets difficult.

In years gone by I’ve seen a common trend that there’s been up to 30 players who’ve been good enough to be granted All-Australian selection, but only a small minority can be selected when it comes down to the 22. This is where you see numerous players only just miss the mark every year.

The hardest players I found to leave out were Scott Thompson, Daniel Wells, Matthew Boyd and Darren Glass. Thompson and Wells had outstanding years for their respective clubs Adelaide and North Melbourne, while Boyd took his game to another level in his first year as captain of the Dogs and Glass has played a key part in the Eagles resurgence this season.

I also couldn’t give Fremantle’s Nathan Fyfe a spot, who after a terrific breakout season, fell away in the latter part of the season given the Dockers’ horrid injury run. North Melbourne’s Todd Goldstein held out Sydney’s Shane Mumford just because of his consistency and continuity, while Docker Luke McPharlin just got the nod over his cross-town rival and Eagle full-back Darren Glass.

Essendon skipper Jobe Watson made my All-Australian side mid-year but persistent hamstring injuries have robbed him of a place at the pointy end of the season. His teammate and this year’s Rising Star, Dyson Heppell, was considered after a superb first year at the top level but he wasn’t as damaging as Carlton’s Heath Scotland and Hawthorn’s Grant Birchall.

There are three club captains in my side – Gary Ablett, Adam Goodes and Chris Judd.

All have been terrific this year but I’ve opted for Judd as captain and Ablett as vice. Forget Judd’s below par month in this year’s finals series, the Carlton skipper didn’t win the AFLPA MVP for nothing after a dominant season. Ablett, though, has impressed me and others for what he’s done leading the young and inexperienced Gold Coast Suns in year one. He was very consistent, played just about every game and led from the front on and off the field. He must be given full credit in what has been a challenging year.

BACKS

Leon Davis (Collingwood): Has been a revelation in defense since his reinvention as a small defender this year and is rarely beaten in the contest. No.1 in rebound 50’s at the Pies.

Luke McPharlin (Fremantle): Was pivotal at full-back for the Dockers this season, taking the opposition’s no.1 key forward in his 21 games, performing admirably in a career-best year. Favourite for the club best and fairest.

Corey Enright (Geelong): An underrated player who reads the play very well, he also knows when to attack, when to defend and when to rebound from the Geelong backline. Isn’t the quickest player on the ground but shuts down small forwards well and uses his skills to hurt the opposition. Integral part to the Cats’ back six.

Heath Scotland (Carlton): Another player who has been underrated in years gone by. He’s been very consistent since crossing to Carlton from Collingwood at the end of 2002. His game has gone to another in level in 2011, with courageous defensive efforts and his skills as a rebounding defender first class.

Ben Reid (Collingwood): Great success story since being drafted as a key forward with pick no.8 in the 2006 draft, traded by Fremantle in exchange for Chris Tarrant, who was traded back to the Pies in the 2010 trade period. He’s ranked no.1 in the competition for marks from opposition kicks and is a great contested mark. Best tall defender in the game right now.

Grant Birchall (Hawthorn): Has proved to be a blue chip selection at no.14 in the 2005 draft and a key component of the Hawthorn back six. His run, ball use and overhead marking are features of his game, while he’s added much needed aggression in 2011 as well.

MIDFIELD

Marc Murphy (Carlton): The no.1 pick from the 2005 draft has developed into a ball magnet with sublime skills. Took his game to a new level in 2011, winning his own contested ball to compliment his outside run. Ranked top five in the competition for disposals. Expected to poll well in the Brownlow Medal and club best and fairest.

Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn): Long overdue for his first ever All-Australian Guernsey. Has produced a consistent 2011 and is ranked high in the competition for contested possessions and centre clearances, outlining his importance to the Hawks.

Scott Pendlebury (Collingwood): Poise, balance and class best describes the former no.5 pick from the 2005 draft this season. Rarely takes a step wrong and is a future captain.

FORWARDS

Gary Ablett (Gold Coast Suns): Proved the critics wrong at the Gold Coast, combining his class and skill with going after his own ball and leading a team full of youngsters in their debut year. Couldn’t have done much more.

Travis Cloke (Collingwood): Took a staggering 85 contested marks this season, the most ever recorded in an AFL season. Cloke has been the best forward in the competition this season and his 63 goals proved just that.

Adam Goodes (Sydney Swans): Had an outstanding season, and arguably his best ever. The Swans’ skipper played every game and at 31, showed he still hasn’t lost any of his electric pace and match-winning abilities. His versatility to play as a key forward and as a midfielder makes it difficult for the opposition to find the right match up to shut him down, which was evident in 2011.

Steve Johnson (Geelong): Kicked 45 goals in a superb year for the talented Cat, also ranked third in the competition for score assists. Creative forward whose improved fitness allowed him to push up into the midfield as well, adding another dimension to his game. A genuine match winner and crucial player for the Cats.

Lance Franklin (Hawthorn): Booted 71 goals in an outstanding season, winning his second Coleman Medal, delighting fans with some extraordinary performances. At his best, is a difficult match up for any opposition.

Stephen Milne (St Kilda): Booted 46 goals in another impressive season in a difficult year for the Saints. Premier small forward with an outstanding record over his career, now nearing the end.

FOLLOWERS

Dean Cox (West Coast Eagles): Won more disposals and clearances than any ruckman in the competition, outlining his shire dominance at the centre bounce and his work rate around the ground. Is the Eagles’ most important player and was another key in their resurgence from wooden spooners in 2010 to top four this season.

Dane Swan (Collingwood): Has averaged 32 disposals a game and kicked a career-high 31 goals for the season. Since his trip to Arizona mid-year, he has gone to a new level and become a hard man to stop.

Chris Judd (Carlton): Best player in the competition this season should win his third Brownlow Medal. Just when we thought he couldn’t improve, the Blues skipper lifted in 2011 to a level we have not seen before. The AFLPA MVP award winner didn’t dominate and break games open in the finals but still had an impact.

INTERCHANGE

Todd Goldstein (North Melbourne): After Cox, was clearly the next best ruckman in the competition. Goldstein was ranked no.1 for hitouts and hitouts to advantage, outlining his influence. His consistency in winning his own clearances and his tackling was also a feature.

Dale Thomas (Collingwood): The no.2 pick from the 2005 draft has gone from strength to strength since his debut and this season has been no different. His balance between contested and uncontested possessions is terrific, and his pressure is as good as anybody in the competition.

Nick Dal Santo (St Kilda): Has had a sensational season and his ranked no.1 in St Kilda in contested possessions and hardball gets. Moves around the ground like a Rolls Royce and oozes with class and poise.

Brett Deledio (Richmond): The no.1 pick from the 2004 draft has developed into a terrific player, who can play just about anywhere. He has found his niche as a running defender who can step into the midfield if needed and also go play as a medium size forward out of the goal square. He played every game in 2011 and led the club in possessions, handballs and uncontested possessions. Still has upside and improvement in his game.

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