IT’S been described as one of the tightest seasons in Hampden league history but ardent fans could never have predicted what unfolded in yesterday’s Maskell Medal count.
Four players — Cobden brothers Levi and Joe Dare, Camperdown’s Sam Chapman and Warrnambool’s Tim Hunt — produced the first four-way tie in the league’s best and fairest award with 19 votes.
It was also historic in other ways. It was the first time brothers have tied for the Maskell, the first time two players from the same club had shared the award in the same year and never have three clubs had Maskell winners crowned on the same day.
There have been six other ties since the award was first presented in 1949, with yesterday’s the third in succession.
Lost in the drama of the last round votes was that Levi Dare became just the seventh player in 63 years to become a multiple winner, with yesterday’s triumph his second in three seasons.
For Hunt, the win was a victory for perseverance and overcoming adversity.
The Warrnambool midfielder, 22, walked away from football after round one last year following his third serious injury in less than two years.
In 2009 the Collingwood VFL-listed player suffered a shoulder injury while playing in Warrnambool’s preliminary final victory. He had his left shoulder reconstructed. Then, playing with Collingwood 12 months to the day later, he hurt it again and underwent another reconstruction. He joined Uni Blues in the amateurs last year and in the season-opening game suffered a fractured cheekbone.
“I just thought I had been through a rough trot and I wasn’t all that keen to get back playing,” Hunt revealed.
“I had a year off and tried to get my body right. Looking back it was a good decision. Coming into the pre-season I was keen to get into it. I was refreshed and healthy.”
The sports management university student landed back at his home club after he watched the Blues win last year’s preliminary final.
“Being a Warrnambool boy, my pa (Alan) and dad (David) played there and I had played all my juniors there.
“I thought I would like to get back being my home-town.”
Hunt said he would put any celebrations on hold until after Warrnambool’s grand final against Cobden on Saturday. “It’s a good feeling,” he said of the win.
“Obviously you have a few people saying the Hampden league has dropped a little bit in standard but I don’t agree.”
Chapman, despite his standing as one of the best in the competition, didn’t have high expectations entering the count.
“I didn’t think I was any chance,” he said.
“I thought I had a pretty good year but missing three games at the start with the (hamstring) injury and one when I was away with the VCFL. I thought I would be too far behind.”
Chapman said the victory had not sunk in.
“I never thought I would be a Maskell medal winner. You always aspire to it but I’m one of those people who don’t think I should be held in such high esteem. That’s why I’m a little embarrassed at some things you write.”
Chapman said he started getting nervous when the count reached round 16. He made light of his sweat- soaked shirt at the presentations, such was the tension.
“I still thought I was going to get pipped at the post. I knew Levi and Joe had terrific ends to the season. I still didn’t think I would be a chance. I thought I would have come second. Even then I would have been pretty chuffed.”
Like Hunt, Chapman made the decision to return to the club where his career started. After multiple years overseas he returned last year, wanting to help his childhood club. He played at half-back but a move into the midfield this season, which he said was by necessity after Luke Mahony suffered a serious knee injury in round five, had benefited his game.