With the Grand Final played and won, the long dark no football months of summer lie in wait for us. In an effort to bring some light to this miserable time, The Pinch Hitters intend to take a look back at the season that was and celebrate the great moments of season 2018. Today we shine a spotlight on the results that nobody saw coming with the Top Five Individual Performances of 2018.
5. Introducing Mr September: Steele Sidebottom – Preliminary Final.
Given the unstoppable force he was in September there was little surprise when Steele Sidebottom was awarded the Gary Ayres Medal as the AFLCA’s player of the finals. The pièce de résistance in a month of spectacular performances was his Preliminary Final torching of the Tigers.
After being surprisingly left unattended by Richmond Coach Damien Hardwick, the 27-year-old was the leading possession winner with an astonishing 41, the most ever in a Preliminary Final. Working on the inside and outside he won five clearances, hit his opponents at will and gained 545 metres.
4. Who needs Buddy Franklin: Ben Ronke – Round Eight.
When Buddy Franklin was a late withdrawal from the clash against the Hawks in Round Eight, it would have surprised nobody that another Swan would lift to fill the breach left by his absence. Yet even John Longmire would have been shocked that the player in question had never been to the MCG before and was playing just his third game.
It was probably a surprise for Ben Ronke too, as he made himself at home at the MCG in a match winning performance. Unaware of the danger his side faced pre-game, Alastair Clarkson was left in no doubt by quarter time with the 20-year-old already having kicked four goals. By night’s end he had seven goals to his name out of the Swans ten, and in laying 10 tackles, would no doubt have pleased the coach equally with his efforts without the ball.
3. A record breaking night: Tom Mitchell – Round One.
With Tom Mitchell collecting 50 & 35 possessions against his team in 2017, Collingwood Coach Nathan Buckley was stubborn in his belief that the Hawks ball-magnet wasn’t damaging enough to warrant extra attention. As a result expectations were high that Mitchell would be in for a big night when the two sides clashed in Round One, but not many would have predicted how big.
In a ridiculous display of not just ball winning but also of clean hands and execution in tight spots, the then 24-year-old surpassed Gary Ablett and Greg Williams single game record of 53 possessions and set a new mark of 54. It was an opening salvo in a season that Mitchell would collect the Brownlow Medal and break the record for most disposals in a season.
2. Settling the Coleman Race: Jack Riewoldt – Round 21
Some of our older readers might remember a time when 10 goal hauls were a lot more frequent but in today’s age of spreading the scoring Jack Riewoldt’s efforts against Gold Coast are something to savour. The Suns had no answer for the Tiger star with Steven May, Kade Kolodjashnij and Jack Leslie were all sent to Riewoldt in an attempt to stymie his output without success.
Entering the day fourth in the race for the Coleman Medal, the Tiger’s full-forward had four goals by quarter time as they toyed with the Suns. His 10 goals would see him finish the day four goals clear on top of the standings but his 16 scoring shots, the most by any Tiger since 1931, could have wrapped the Medal up completely if not for some wayward kicking. The most dominant display by a key forward in 2018, it was the third time in his career he had kicked 10 goals in a game equal with Josh Kennedy for most times by a current player.
1. Norm Smith Medal Performance: Luke Shuey – Grand Final.
Champion Data rated it the best final performance by any player this decade and with stakes as they were, who are we to nominate a better individual performance this year While his team mates struggled early, Shuey was superb from the opening bounce. In fact it was his pinpoint pass that should have resulted in the first goal of the game if not for Josh Kennedy’s early miss in the first quarter that was followed by five Collingwood goals.
Undeterred Shuey continued to rack up possessions, collecting a game high 34 with 18 contested, and in tandem with Dom Sheed he ensured that the Pies dual threats of Steele Sidebottom and Scott Pendlebury were well and truly out-pointed. While his partner in crime would kick the most important goal of the game, Shuey himself kicked a vital goal to keep the Eagles in touch before half time.
Champion Data weren’t the only ones to recognise 28-year-old’s impact on the Grand Final, the Norm Smith Medal judges were almost unanimous in their decision to award him the honour. Shuey garnered 11 of a possible 12 votes for the award, with only Gavin Wanganeen providing a dissenting opinion. With due respect to the 1993 Brownlow Medallist, he got it wrong, Luke Shuey produced the best individual performance of 2018 in the seasons biggest game.