The Losing Winners: Norm Smith Medal Edition


There’s a lot of history attached to the AFL Grand Final and the Norm Smith Medal.

First awarded in 1979, the medal goes to the best on ground, usually rewarding the player who has helped their team to a Premiership.

Every so often however, the best on ground is a member of the losing side which always causes plenty of debate.

There have been four occasions where the Norm Smith Medal has come from the losing side, most recently in 2005, and it has taken a special performance to upstage the winning side.

After the Clive Churchill Medal edition yesterday, the Ladbrokes Blog presents the Norm Smith Medal edition of The Losing Winners or as it’s otherwise known, the “You Tried But It Wasn’t Enough” series.

2005 – Chris Judd – West Coast Lost to Sydney

The other half of West Coast’s dynamic duo of 2005, Chris Judd took out the Norm Smith Medal to go with Ben Cousins’ Brownlow Medal, although both would have loved to have a Premiership to go with it.

The game was a war of attrition with neither side able to withstand the others surges, with the 112 total points the lowest since 1968.

Judd starred to the Eagles in a losing effort but it wasn’t enough to get his side over the line, despite a 10 point lead late on.

If you were awarding the Norm Smith based on who made the best play of the game you can’t look past Leo Barry who flew above the pack in the dying seconds to knock back West Coast’s final attack.

On the day however Lewis Roberts-Thompson had a game to remember and would have been a well deserved Norm Smith Medal winner.

2002 – Nathan Buckley – Collingwood Lost to Brisbane

As Buckley prepares for his first Grand Final as Collingwood coach this Saturday, it is only fair to remember his first appearance on the AFL’s biggest stage as a player.

If Collingwood had been able to hold on in 2002, there would have been no complaints about the Magpies captain taking out the Man of the Match award here.

In what was undoubtedly one of the best Grand Finals in recent memory, the Lions and Magpies went back and forth, with Collingwood holding a slight edge when the Norm Smith votes were cast.

Buckley had to get on stage at full time and the medal did not last all that long on his neck, taking it off as he left the stage.

Lions captain Michael Voss would have been the favourite to win it from Brisbane’s side on the day as he was spectacular in shocking conditions.

1989 – Gary Ablett Sr. – Geelong Lost to Hawthorn

One of the great individual Grand Final performances of all time won Gary Ablett Sr his only Norm Smith Medal and was the closest the great forward came to glory on Grand Final Day.

Ablett was a dominant force throughout the game despite Geelong trailing by 36 or more points at every break.

In the fourth quarter a Cats revival brought them back to within one straight kick of the Hawks but could not find the crucial score and the Hawks held on to claim back to back flags.

You would be hard pressed to find a Hawks player who had a better day than Ablett (certainly not the guys who were tasked with marking Geelong’s star forward) however in the interests of offering a solution, a couple of names stand out.

Robert DiPierdomenico was crunched during the game by Ablett, causing his celebrations to take place mostly on a hospital bed and wound up making a critical tackle despite broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Dermot Brereton was flattened within seconds of the opening siren and suffered broken ribs and a bruised kidney, before going on to help lead his team to a memorable victory.

1982 – Maurice Rioli – Richmond Lost to Carlton

In the first instance of a player winning the Norm Smith Medal from the losing side, Richmond’s Maurice Rioli making this piece of history capped a wild day at the MCG.

With hail, half-time entertainment that did not go down too well with the people in the ground, Rolf Harris was booed relentlessly.

The game was interrupted in the third quarter when a streaker took to the field wearing only a Carlton scarf, with the Blues hitting the front by the end of that period, some say she was the best on ground with the way she interrupted Richmond’s momentum.

The Blues would go on to claim their 14th flag and Wayne Johnston had a great case for taking out the Norm Smith Medal himself (not least of all for corralling the streaker), however it would instead going to Rioli.

Special Mention – Lenny Hayes in 2010

You can’t go past Lenny Hayes who won the Norm Smith Medal for the first AFL Grand Final in 2010 despite his side not winning the match.

They didn’t lose either, and he was judged best on ground as both sides were forced to come back a week later when they ended the fourth quarter locked up at 68 apiece.

That was as good as it got for Hayes and St Kilda as Collingwood cruised to a 56 point win in the replay a week later and Scott Pendlebury won the other Norm Smith Medal.

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