Nat Fyfe and Michael Barlow at the Brownlow Medal after-party.
Nat Fyfe and Michael Barlow at the Brownlow Medal after-party.

How Michael Barlow became the best Brownlow date ever

Late night TV time at the Brownlow Medal is generally reserved for a special few.

So if you had told me at the start of the 2015 season that I would be front and centre with Bruce McAvaney at about Round 20, I would have been rubbing my hands together at the monster year I was surely about to have.

Well, my tied for 70th finish would suggest that things didn't exactly go to plan.

Stream every match of the 2019 Toyota AFL Finals Series before the Grand Final Live & On-Demand on KAYO SPORTS. Get your 14 day free trial and start streaming instantly >

But I managed to find my way into the headlines for a slightly different reason. I attended that night as a plus one. I wasn't just any date though. I was the date of the winner and one of my best mates, Nat Fyfe.

Flashback to this time four years ago and I was coming off a rough 48 hours. We'd just lost the preliminary final to Hawthorn, which incredibly was only my second toughest defeat of the weekend.

The real spirit crusher occurred at our commiseration drinks the following day, when I was nominated to compete in the Fremantle Sprint.

Each year, two Dockers (who may or may not be on the slower side) go head-to-head in an 80m foot race.

As the loser from the previous year, Jack Hannath nominated me as his opponent of choice.

On paper, it was a serious mismatch as he was a 199cm ruckman who wasn't exactly known for breaking land speed records.

But when he held an insurmountable 30m lead late in the race, I realised I may have underestimated the guy I referred to as Turtle.

Post loss, I returned to the watering hole and I got talking to Fyfey about the Brownlow.

The funny thing about the Brownlow is that when you're an interstate club competing in a preliminary final, it couldn't be more inconvenient.

Michael Barlow and Nat Fyfe at the 2015 Brownlow Medal. Picture: Colleen Petch
Michael Barlow and Nat Fyfe at the 2015 Brownlow Medal. Picture: Colleen Petch

If you plan your accommodation, flights, outfit, pre-drinks, post drinks and anything else, it means you're essentially planning to lose that weekend. Because if you make the Grand Final, you won't be going to the official function anyway.

For Nat, even though he was the raging favourite, he didn't want any of that bad karma in the air.

So on Saturday night, less than 48 hours out from the votes rolling in, he didn't have any of those things organised. But more importantly, he hadn't used his plus one.

As he weighed up whether to hit the red carpet one out, Nath then floated a left field idea, 'Will you come?'

The mid-afternoon September sun presented the perfect backdrop to my immediate answer, 'We can't have you winning the Brownlow solo'.

Back in 2010 I took my Dad to the Brownlow and he fell into the low maintenance category.

In 2014, I took a former partner and let's just say that she fell into the higher maintenance category. On this occasion I was looking forward to not standing in the steam room with a wrinkled nightgown for 30 minutes.

But as Nat's date, I felt like I was prepared for anything. Which was lucky because between us, the questionable decisions were flowing.

The next morning we boarded a flight to Melbourne minus any suits or extra clothes, which might explain Nat's shirtless photo with the medal around his neck that was doing the rounds on the Tuesday. We really were packing light.

Nat Fyfe was packing light.
Nat Fyfe was packing light.

 

As for the formal wear, we had always been good at landing on our feet in times of adversity and MJ Bale came to the table on short notice.

Our flight across the country also featured the North Melbourne players who had been rolled by West Coast in their preliminary final the night before.

So it's fair to say that between us and them, there were some weary heads on this flight.

For Fyfey, his discomfort was slightly more serious though, given he had played the second half of our loss with a fractured fibula. To be honest, if we'd gone on to make the Grand Final, I'm not sure he would have been able to play.

He had already booked himself in for surgery on the Tuesday in Melbourne, which was Nathan's nature. Get in, get the job done and get out of there.

However, it did give birth to what was in my opinion a hall of fame Brownlow fashion moment.

Fyfey's decision to ditch the crutches and moon boot and hit the red carpet with a cane was legendary.

Nat Fyfe rocks his cane at the Brownlow Medal. Picture: Michael Klein
Nat Fyfe rocks his cane at the Brownlow Medal. Picture: Michael Klein

 

I don't think anyone else in the AFL would have even thought to pull that off.

I can also confirm that while on TV it looked like I broke the cane celebrating one of my only votes that year, they're actually incredibly sturdy and it survived the night.

For any first timers out there, let me tell you - walking the Brownlow red carpet can be a bit of a mine field.

I was doing my best to avoid any awkward moments.

However, word started to spread as to why I got my invite, which led to my primetime chat with Bruce.

I am definitely the first player in history to get that much Brownlow airtime in the same season they got subbed out of a game at half time. Thanks again, Ross and Xav Ellis for the close attention in the second derby.

Gary Ablett congratulates Nat Fyfe. Picture: Colleen Petch
Gary Ablett congratulates Nat Fyfe. Picture: Colleen Petch

We had a great vibe on our table.

Myself and Chris Mayne, Pav, Dave Mundy and Lachie Neale were riding every one of Nat's votes.

We did lose Mayney at one point though. He was up for an award early in the night and after that, you could say his attention kind of waned.

At one stage I looked over at him and his now wife Britt and they were playing hangman.

I'm not sure who won but knowing Mayney's competitive nature, he wouldn't have gone down without a fight.

Nat Fyfe enjoys a joke with Fremantle teammate Chris Mayne. Picture: Colleen Petch
Nat Fyfe enjoys a joke with Fremantle teammate Chris Mayne. Picture: Colleen Petch

What I am sure about is how pumped we all were for Fyfey when those final votes were read out.

It was a huge moment for him, but he made it a defining moment for the Fremantle Football Club.

I know I am biased, but I really do think it was one of the best Brownlow speeches of all time.

As he said, it was an award for everyone at the Dockers and we all felt that.

Fyfey is obviously one of the favourites again this year. As yet, he hasn't touched base to see if I'll be free to ride shotgun.

I'm sure his lovely partner Elli will get the nod there.

But IF he was to win, I may pop down to the Crown to enjoy the moment with him again.

My top 3: Fyfe, Dangerfield, Dunkley

Nat Fyfe. Picture: Colleen Petch.
Nat Fyfe. Picture: Colleen Petch.
Cane life. Picture: Michael Klein
Cane life. Picture: Michael Klein
News Corp Australia


Business dedicates awards’ win to Lockyer farmers

premium_icon Business dedicates awards’ win to Lockyer farmers

Farming business takes out top gong at Lockyer Valley business awards

Crisis accommodation key to curing homelessness in Ipswich

premium_icon Crisis accommodation key to curing homelessness in Ipswich

Care facilities gone by the wayside with political upheaval.

Christmas cheer for isolated seniors

premium_icon Christmas cheer for isolated seniors

There are thousands of senior citizens living alone.