Future stars recognised with Best & Fairest honours
Night two of the 2021 AFL Central West League Presentations did not disappoint on Wednesday evening. The league announced the Junior Best & Fairest award winners with an online live premiere of each grades vote counts. Each winner received acknowledgement post-count with their own social media tile, with medals distributed once restrictions permit.
Across the four grades the winners were all deserving, with some incredibly close counts and a runaway winner highlighting the night. For those unable to tune in, AFL CW have recapped the counts below, with the video coverage still available here.
Bathurst Giants’ Callum Munns got his night off to a great start, with Best on Ground (BoG) performances in rounds 1 & 3 to take a one-vote lead after three rounds. Dubbo Junior AFL star Cameron Healey opened with five-votes to be hot on the heels of Munns. Other highly touted contenders Darcy Fairman (Dubbo), Connor Hobby and Flynn Wolfe (Giants) all polled well early.
Dubbo’s Sam Turner started to take votes from teammate Healey, picking up five votes between Rounds 4-6. Hobby, Wolfe and Munns all polled strongly, with Munns’ five-votes extending his lead atop the count. Bathurst Bushrangers’ Joseah Driscoll and Orange Tigers’ Jack Sara made the board, with three-vote performances.
Through Round 7-9 the leaders failed to fire, with Healey claiming one-vote, and Munns zero. Turner and Hobby continued their good form, claiming BoG honours in their respective round 7 matches. With two rounds remaining, Hobby and Healey (9) had closed the gap to two-votes, from Munns (11). Sam Turner’s mid-season form had him only a further vote behind (8).
Ground availabilities meant the Giants only played one final match, with Dubbo playing two. A stellar round 11 match saw both Munns (3) and Healey (2) poll, leading Munns to his first Best & Fairest award at such an early stage of his career.
Callum Munns (Bathurst Giants), 14 votes
Cameron Healey (Dubbo Junior AFL), 11 votes
Sam Turner (Dubbo Junior AFL), 10 votes
Shaped on paper as the closest count for the night, with up to six players genuine chances of taking home the medal, the Under-14s count started as expected. The competition’s stars all polled heavily in the opening three rounds, with Giants’ Archer Ryan (3), Bushrangers’ Harrison Knight (5), Dubbo newcomer Max McAneney (6) and Orange’s Harvey Shephard (8) starting strong.
The two favourites for the medal, Shephard (6) and Knight (6) polled well again through rounds 4-6, with Knight claiming votes in all three games to keep in contact with the leader. Dubbo’s Cooper Smith (5) polled heavily as well with many two and one vote games being shared amongst individuals.
Knight (5), and Bushrangers’ teammate Caleb Cashman (4) both had outstanding runs after the halfway point, closing the gap on the leading Shephard. Whilst only one vote separated the two leaders, the interrupted nature of the season, meant that we didn’t get the grandstand finish we were after.
Harvey Shephard (Orange Tigers), 20 votes
Harrison Knight (Bathurst Bushrangers), 16 votes
Cooper Smith (Dubbo Junior AFL), 11 votes
Understandably, the Western Region Academy of Sport (WRAS) Girls AFL squad were expected to feature heavily in the count. Similar to the Under-14s, this count was expected to be incredibly close, with many talented teammates likely to take votes off each other throughout the season.
Three of those rising stars, Bushrangers’ Dakota-Taylor Nugent (5), teammate Jade Leven (6) and Giants’ Paige Lowe (6) started the best, with Nugent the only player to poll in each of the opening three rounds.
Throughout rounds 4-6, three players polled in each match as Dubbo’s Molly Mayall (7) charged into contention. Bushrangers’ Callee Black (6) joined the count, as did Orange’s Phoebe Hoolahan (5) the three players to poll in each match. Leaders Leven and Lowe found the competition for votes tough, only managing three apiece.
The second half of the season threw in some surprises, as votes were shared among many players. Leven (2 & 1) was the only player to poll in multiple games between Round 7-9.
Mayall made the most of her club’s ability to host matches over the final week’s of the season, picking up five votes to move level with Leven.
Jade Leven (Bathurst Bushrangers) & Molly Mayall (Dubbo Junior AFL), 12 votes
Callee Black (Bathurst Bushrangers), 10 votes
Phoebe Hoolahan (Orange Tigers) & Paige Lowe (Bathurst Giants), 9 votes
The Under-17s count was all about Bathurst Giants’ star Cooper Brien. Across the nine games he played, Brien polled in seven of them, all of which he was adjudged as best afield. By the time Round 5 had passed, Brien had polled enough votes (12) to win the count, but he didn’t stop there. His run included BoG performances in six straight matches from rounds 3-8. Meanwhile, the race for second place was enthralling. Bottom-age talent Will Sloan was complementing teammate Brien with multiple two-vote matches, whilst Orange’s James Gibson polled in five of six matches between rounds 3-8.
There weren’t many threes (1) for Gibson, but with Brien taking all the Giants’ three vote games, he was able to maintain close contact with the pack around him. Sloan and Gibson broke away from the chasers, namely Orange’s Max Fitzsimmons and Joseph Stewart in addition to the Giants’ Cooper Traves and Hayden Goodsell. With circumstances meaning each played only one game over the final four rounds, the two were tied (9).
Gibson polled two votes in his match against Dubbo (Round 10), Sloan only the one (Round 11) breaking the tie, and rounding out the top three places.
Cooper Brien (Bathurst Giants), 21 votes
James Gibson (Orange Tigers), 11 votes
William Sloan (Bathurst Giants), 10 votes
AFL Central West presentations continue across the remainder of the week. Thursday (Sep 23) sees the senior Best & Fairest vote counts, whilst Friday hosts the inaugural induction of the AFL Central West Hall of Fame.