Carlton star Sam Walsh has made finals history on two front fronts with the sort of September performances which will only enhance expectations that the Blues can progress one game further in 2024.
Walsh became the first player award the Gary Ayres medal as player of the finals despite not making the grand final and in his maiden finals campaign.
The prolific ball-winner who only returned in Round 24 from a hamstring injury, polled 23 votes, from a possible 30, over three games in the award judged by the coaches.
Walsh finished 2.5 votes clear of Brisbane defender Keidean Coleman, who was runner-up in Norm Smith medal voting on grand final day, and Collingwood’s Bobby Hill, who won the medal, was third.
Carlton coach Michael Voss said Walsh, who was stunning his team’s semi-final win over Melbourne racking up 32 disposals and kicking two goals, had shown himself to be made for September.
“Performing on the big stage comes back to preparation, and there are few players I have seen who do that to the level of Sam Walsh,” Voss said.
“As a group we spoke about ‘wanting the moment’ and Sam certainly did that. The focus often goes to what he was able to do with ball-in-hand, however it is his selflessness that we truly value. His defensive work, what he does to make his teammates better – he leads from the front in those areas.
“His leadership when the pressure was at its highest was also another shining light in his performance, which is something he should be proud of and can build on moving forward.
“Sam is not a player who dwells on personal accolades but to be named the competition’s best finals player, in your very first finals series, is an achievement that deserves to be acknowledged: no doubt every Carlton person is proud of what Sam was able to do.”
AFL legend and four-time premiership coach Leigh Matthews said votes given by the coaches had the most credibility of all awards in the wake of the Brownlow medal, enhancing the merit of Walsh’s win.
Walsh is the first player to win the Gary Ayres Award in a maiden finals campaign, adding to his 2019 AFL Rising Star, 2019 AFLPA Best First-Year Player, 2020 AFLCA Best Young Player, 2021 club best and fairest and All-Australian accolades.