Former Bordertown Football Club player Billy Hayes has won the Wimmera Football League’s best and fairest count.
Hayes became the first Nhill footballer to win the Toohey Medal since Robert Brodhurst (a former Kaniva/Leeor United player) at the Wimmera league’s best and fairest count on Monday night.
It had been 20 years since the Tigers had celebrated a winner. Hayes thought he started the night with very little chance of changing that.
“Coming into the night, I honestly didn’t expect too much,” he said.
“We only won the three games so I thought it would be tough to poll enough best on grounds. Luckily the umpires thought I played well and I ended up snatching it.”
Hayes’ polled 18 votes in sevens rounds despite the Tigers managing just three wins on the way to finishing seventh on the ladder.
Heading into the final round, Hayes and Minyip-Murtoa’s Kieran Delahunty were tied on 16 votes each, one behind Horsham Saints’ midfielder Sam Clyne.
Warrack Eagles coach Ryan McKenzie and Horsham’s Tyler Blake were two votes further back on 14 at the same stage.
Hayes was the only one of the five to poll in the last round. He had lined up against Clyne in the round 16 encounter and managed to edge in front when the umpires awarded him two votes.
“I thought I played well in that game but I wasn’t sure whether or not I could get in the votes because we did lose and the Saints had some pretty good players,” he said. “I managed to snag two and get the win though.”
Clyne had polled strongly in the opening rounds of the season and early on looked a chance to win his consecutive Toohey medals.
After eight rounds the 2016 winner had already secured 11 of his eventual 17 votes and was two clear of Horsham’s Deek Roberts.
“I didn’t think I was any chance. I was surprised when I even got the invitation to come,” he said. “I played on Billy in that last game and he tore it apart so it was a well-deserved win.”
At the midpoint of the season, Hayes had picked up eight votes, three behind Clyne. By round 13 he had drawn level with Clyne, but was still three adrift of Delahunty who was also chasing a second Toohey.
Hayes said there were games early in the season where he missed out on votes despite thinking he had played well but there were other games where he was surprised to poll.
“I think our ruckman, Dan Batson, played a big part in this,” he said. “He was hitting the ball straight down my throat pretty much every game. We’ve got a young side who can move the ball pretty fast and that allowed me to get on the end of some as well. It was good to see Jake Harrap finish on 11 votes as well because he had a good year.”
Before Hayes, Leonard Clark was the most recent winner of the medal to come from a side that did not play in finals. When he won the medal in 2010, Minyip-Murtoa finished seventh on the ladder in the nine-team competition.
Hayes thanked the Nhill Tigers for all the support they had given him in his second season at the club. “Everyone at the club is very welcoming and they are a great bunch of people,” he said.
He also reserved a special mention for his Bordertown-based parents who made things easier for him as he travelled from Adelaide each week to play.
“They drove me to most games and hung around at the club, they’ve been incredibly supportive,” Hayes said.