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More than numbers: why Paddy pipped Sauce for All Australian honours

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The pain of missing an entire AFL season through suspension is driving Port Adelaide ruckman Paddy Ryder’s career-best year, which was last night rewarded with All Australian honours – albeit not without controversy.

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Ryder’s selection in the AFL’s showcase team – one of five for the two SA-based teams – caps a triumphant return after being among current and former Essendon players who were banned last year.

“Last year when I didn’t have footy I realised just how much I loved being in the AFL system, how much footy actually means to me,” he told reporters today.

“I just wanted to get back and prove to everyone that has always supported me along the way that, yeah, I am capable of playing at a really high level.”

Ryder said his ban led to introspection about his AFL career.

“There were tough times,” he said.

“But towards the end, I had a long time to prepare myself and think about what I was going to do this season.

“I have done that in the best way I can… it’s a pretty proud moment for myself and my family.”

Ryder said an All Australian jumper couldn’t have been further from his mind after his comeback game – a Port internal trial at Alberton.

“I remember going home after that game and I had a lot of doubts,” he said.

“I hardly touched the ball that day. My timing was out.

“I started to really doubt myself but once I got back into the swing of things… I got back into the speed of the game [and] once I picked that up, I started to flow.”

All Australian selector Warren Tredrea said there was a “genuine three-way split” between the big-men competing for this year’s ruck role in the showcase side, in which Ryder got the nod ahead of local rival Sam Jacobs and Carlton’s Matthew Kreuzer.

I just look at it and go ‘any one of those ruckmen is dead-set stiff’

Former Power spearhead and captain Tredrea, now a sports presenter for Channel 9 and commentator on Triple M, told InDaily the ruck role was one of the hardest to assign in this year’s All Australian calculations, with all three contenders coming off career-best seasons.

“I just look at it and go ‘any one of those ruckmen is dead-set stiff’,” he said.

“It was the first time in a long time there was genuine three-way split… it was put to a consensus and Ryder got the nod.”

The decision prompted some partisan grumbling on social media, particularly given Jacobs was given best-afield honours when he and Ryder went head-to-head in this month’s Showdown.

Jacobs leads the competition for hitouts this season, with 882 to Ryder’s 777, albeit having played one game more after the Port ruckman missed a match through suspension – aptly enough from an off-the-ball incident during the season’s first Showdown.

In possessions, Jacobs has amassed 320 across the season to Ryder’s 271, although the Port man has hit the scoreboard harder, with 11.7 to Jacobs’ 8.5.

Kreuzer (665 hit-outs in 21 games) leads them both for possessions (321) and goals 12.12.

But Tredrea said while Jacobs had the most taps, Ryder’s were the most effective and created more scores.

“The ruck was very difficult – I look at the way they all played, and Ryder’s dominance in terms of hit-outs to advantage, and scores from that – his score involvements – he was clearly number one.

“It was just the general feel across the selectors.”

Ryder’s return has bolstered Port’s resurgence this season. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

Asked about the selection controversy, Ryder agreed that “statistically I probably don’t have the numbers that stack up with some of the other ruckmen”.

“But I have been able to impact games without getting 20-plus possessions, that is the key to myself getting the nod,” he noted.

Ryder’s elevation is all the more impressive for having sat out all of last season, suspended along with 33 of his fellow current and former Essendon teammates over the club’s doping scandal.

Two of those teammates – Bombers defender Michael Hurley and Melbourne back-pocket Michael Hibberd – were also named in last night’s All Australian side.

“Off the back of where Port were last year without a ruck, and where they are now with Ryder, who’s been so influential, I think really the proof is in the pudding,” said Tredrea.

The selection panel is rounded out by Kevin Bartlett, Luke Darcy, Andrew Dillon, Danny Frawley, Glen Jakovich, Chris Johnson, Cameron Ling and Matthew Richardson, and chaired by AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan.

SA’s two teams were strongly represented, with three Crows and two Power players garnering All Australian honours.

Adelaide’s livewire forward Eddie Betts made the cut for the third time in as many years, while rebounding defender Rory Laird and breakout midfielder Matt Crouch got the nod for the first time.

For Port, midfielder-forward Robbie Gray was a logical inclusion, named on the half-forward line. It’s his third time pulling on the All Australian jumper, one shy of Port’s club record-holder – Tredrea himself.

Tredrea said his role on the committee was to push the case for SA-based players, just as Jakovich was charged with arguing for his home state of Western Australia, which had three representatives.

“Because I’m SA-based, I watch the Adelaide teams every week as part of my commentary with Triple M… and being a key position player, you have a fair say on the forward line set-up as well,” Tredrea said.

“I push both [Adelaide teams] real hard and that was my discussion when I took over [selection duties] from ‘Roo’ [former Crows captain Mark Ricciuto] back in the day…I was there to push SA.”

He said the selection debate got “pretty heated”, but noted “Adelaide have been brilliant, and that’s why they got eight players in 40” named in the initial All Australian squad.

“And were stiff not to get [defender Brodie] Smith in as well,” he said.

“I push as much as I can for SA, and it helps when teams perform well.”

Richmond defender Alex Rance, who earned selection for a fourth straight year, was surprisingly named captain of the side, with West Coast forward Josh Kennedy his vice-captain.

That was despite the previous captain, Geelong skipper Joel Selwood, being selected on the interchange bench.

“I’m a bit embarrassed to be totally honest,” the popular backman said.

Referring to fellow stars such as Selwood, Rance added it was “pretty amazing to be named (captain) ahead of those guys”.

GWS forward Toby Greene, midfield teammate Tom Scully and Collingwood defender Jeremy Howe are members of the 40-man squad who are particularly unlucky not to make the final 22.

The team was announced on last night at a dinner in Melbourne.

The team featured 12 first-time selections, with Rance one of eight players who were also named in last year’s team.

Coleman Medallist Lance Franklin was named at centre half-forward and he has the most selections in this year’s team with seven.

Much of the focus as guests arrived at the function was on Rance’s teammate Dustin Martin, who was named centre in the team.

Martin is on the verge of announcing whether he will stay at the Tigers or accept a monster offer from North Melbourne.

He is also a short-priced Brownlow Medal favourite and is enjoying the best form of his career.

 

2017 ALL-AUSTRALIAN TEAM

B: Michael Hibberd (Melb) Alex Rance (Rich) Jeremy McGovern (WC)

HB: Rory Laird (Adel) Michael Hurley (Ess) Sam Docherty (Carl)

C: Josh Kelly (GWS) Dustin Martin (Rich) Zach Merrett (Ess)

HF: Robbie Gray (PA) Lance Franklin (Syd) Dayne Zorko (Bris)

F: Joe Daniher (Ess) Josh Kennedy (WC) Eddie Betts (Adel)

R: Paddy Ryder (PA) Patrick Dangerfield (Geel) Tom Mitchell (Haw)

I: Matt Crouch (Adel) Joel Selwood (Geel) Dylan Shiel (GWS) Elliott Yeo (WC)

-with AAP

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