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Could the VFL's best player finally earn an AFL opportunity in 2024?


Werribee star midfielder Tom Gribble could become the first player to hold three J.J Liston Trophies if he wins the 2023 award on Monday night.

Gribble, along with Footscray midfielder Lachie Sullivan, are the favourites to win the VFL best and fairest award.

The question regarding Gribble now simply is – why has he not received an AFL opportunity?

The 28-year-old averaged 31.4 disposals, 5.4 marks and 3.6 tackles per game for Werribee this season and Tigers coach Michael Barlow believes he has become a much better player in 2023, compared to his first J.J Liston Trophy in 2019.

“Absolutely he could have gone and played AFL footy,” Barlow told SEN’s The Run Home.

“There’s dozens of Tom Gribbles out there. He probably was a late developer. I got to Werribee when he won his first in 2019. Then he won it again in 2022.

“If he wins it again next Monday … it would be a phenomenal effort.

“I think he’s become a far better player and polished product this year than he was in 2019 and he was a very high level those two years.

“His ability to bring others along and drive standards and just find the ball and be clean with hands in tight, it’s pretty special.”

Barlow, who went through a similar career path himself, believes recruiters can tend to look at one or two negatives rather than the eight or nine positives a player brings to the table.

“(Gribble) could have gone on to the AFL. We’ve got a couple of others too. Matt Hanson, he’s won four best and fairests, a good solid inside mid,” the former Fremantle and Gold Coast player added.

“The knock on Matt was probably speed and skill, but if recruiters just looked at a guy who can find the ball and play, Tom, Matt … if you can find the footy and compete at state level footy consistently and live that lifestyle.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a tremendous state league player.

“Recruiters, it’s a very difficult job, but in that environment, there might be nine good things, but they have to dwell on the one or two things that might be seen as a limiting factor.”

Barlow was also asked if any AFL listed players stuck in the VFL could thrive with greater opportunities in 2024.

“Jordon Sweet, he’ll add value to Port Adelaide. He should go and get that opportunity,” he said.

Sweet has officially requested a trade to the Power after being stuck behind Tim English at the Bulldogs all season.

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