2012 was a long time ago. Sydney made the grand final yet actually won, the Western Bulldogs finished a paltry 15th, it was the Giants first year in the competition and Caitlyn Jenner was still Bruce.
How a lot can change in four years.
In the ensuing period the Essendon footy club, no matter whether you barrack for them or loathe them, nor whether you see them as harshly done by or guilty as charged, have been put through the ringer.
How liable the players all were has been long debated but the mental toll inflicted on them as individuals goes without saying.
The club was heavily sanctioned and then when the players thought they had gotten through with just a tarnished reputation a twelve-month ban came out of nowhere like a reality TV host in a presidential election.
Some of the game’s biggest names sat out the 2016 season for the alleged crimes of 2012, and whilst succeeding the Bulldogs’ triumph those bans are now over and behind us, the debate over Jobe Watson’s relinquished Brownlow takes centre stage.
The AFL Commission was to decide the fate of Watson’s medal this week but he rather nobly and understandably took the matter out of their hands by volunteering the medal back, not through reaffirming an admission of guilt but largely because the speculation not doing so might create.
So now the process looks at whether the award should be handed over to the two runners up on that night, Sam Mitchell and Trent Cotchin.
Were they then, and retrospectively so, the fairest and best players of 2012? Possibly so.
But should they receive the medal? No.
It will be a large case of semantics should the former-Hawk now Eagle Mitchell and Tigers’ captain Cotchin be named Brownlow medallists this week. Just the fact that it comes down to a Commission decision as opposed to a result laid out plainly in black and white mars the surety should they decide to do just that.
It was even mooted, and if true makes it even worse, that Mitchell and Cotchin present to the Commission on why they should receive Brownlows in Watson’s place. Is this a football award or a job application cover letter?
Sure, if Watson was suspended throughout 2012 he would have seen an asterisk against his name on the coverage and like Chris Grant and Corey McKernan of recent times, he would have polled the most votes but seen someone else take home Charlie.
But that wasn’t the case, Watson had no indiscretions with the AFL Tribunal.
And for that matter, that same AFL Tribunal, albeit in different circumstances, actually cleared the players of any wrongdoing. It wasn’t until some Swiss killjoys in between sittings of holey cheese and mid-range watch-making thought they needed something else to do and intervened.
Were not Switzerland a neutral people… can’t have it both ways.
And on Switzerland, the Red Cross called, they’d like their flag back.
So once again, despite your personal view on the legitimate allegations the Essendon players succumbed to and the righteousness of all the parties involved, there was very little black and white in how the saga dragged out and to say it was less messy than someone called Malcolm trying to organise a plebiscite would be sorely mistaken.
It’s this ‘grey’ that leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth in re-awarding the 2012 Brownlow to Mitchell and Cotchin. No doubt, at the time, if we took Watson out of the running they would rightfully be joint-winners and etched in the pages of history as so.
But given where we are now, what we’ve gone through and then, at the pinnacle, we arrive at a Commission meeting where the freshness of the Milk Coffees and Arrowroots provided will be as relevant as the chronological events tabled to inform their decision, what is so wrong to leave the 2012 Brownlow with the same tag we currently describe the Australian cricket team – ‘No Winners’.
Mitchell and Cotchin don’t need to have ‘Brownlow Medallist’ next to the names to be judged any differently – the debacle of Watson’s Brownlow will forever be in the conscious and provide the right and proper context to any conversation or judgement.
And the hollowness they may feel anyway toward how a fellow professional was treated may trump any personal sense of pride in receiving a medal for achievements four years prior.
Let’s let the Brownlow debate disappear into the horizon like the whole Essendon saga, move on, and never, ever let the same thing happen again.