If ever there was a case of ‘so close and yet so far’, it was Touk Miller just after 10pm AEST on Brownlow Medal night last year.
Joint with Lachie Neale atop the count at the close of Round 22, Miller was eventually pipped at the post by Patrick Cripps, who stormed home with a three-vote performance to leave Miller two votes behind in third and one vote behind his cross-town rival in Neale.
Having polled at least two votes in 10 games across another glittering season, Miller needed just one more of those performances to take home ‘Charlie’.
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It may not have been the end goal for Miller when he came into the competition with pick No.29 in the 2014 draft, but it was still some sort of night for the 26-year-old.
“It is a big award, but in saying that I don’t think it’s something you have there (alongside a premiership). I’ve got to say though, when you do come that close there’s part of you that’s like maybe that is a possibility,” he told foxfooty.com.au.
“I think for me, being a kid that grew up in inner city Melbourne and played footy all my life, even just being at the Brownlow and being in contention at something like that was pretty epic.
“You’ve got the shining lights, you’re getting your name read out for three votes, the anticipation on every vote that gets put in.
“It was an absolutely surreal experience the whole entire thing.”
A Brownlow Medal could well be in Miller’s future, with perhaps the Gold Coast Suns’ win-loss count the final hurdle for him to overcome in that quest.
There are far bigger goals on Miller’s mind, however, with the club’s first finals berth (and more) head and shoulders above the rest.
“We don’t want that to be our ceiling. We want to win a premiership,” Miller said.
“I’m so ready. This is my eighth season and I haven‘t had an opportunity personally to play finals and I know there’s a few other boys in the same position.
“It’s a privilege that you get to play finals when you get that opportunity. I know that when we get our chance, we’re going to be ready for sure.”
One addition to the line-up that has the potential to supercharge that run at the finals is Ben King, who missed the entirety of last season with an ACL injury.
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While the performances of Mabior Chol and Levi Casboult helped cover for King in 2022, the return of the 22-year-old cannot be understated.
Last we saw King, he booted 47 goals to finish equal-sixth in the Coleman Medal and looked set for an even bigger 2022 before the pre-season injury blow that put his career on hold.
“He’s tracking really well. It’s funny, sometimes you forget when someone has a long-term injury like that, just how much you do miss them,” Miller said of his young teammate.
“I guess it provided a lot of opportunity for blokes like Levi and Mabior, we saw how well they did last year and now we get to add B.King to the mix. It’s pretty exciting.
“I’m just looking forward to having him coming out of the full forward line, it‘s just going to be epic. You get a bit of a taste watching Max King (Ben’s brother) on the other side for St Kilda and now we get one of our own.
“It’s super exciting for the club.”
While not returning from injury per say, another Suns prodigy in Matt Rowell will be looking to return to his best.
Injury had derailed Rowell after an astonishing start to his AFL career back in 2020, but showed glimpses of his immense potential with some impressive showings in 2022, playing every game as he gathered confidence in his body once more.
There’s hope Rowell will add more outside damage to his game to compliment his sheer brutality at stoppages, which can help bolster a midfield that is headed by Miller.
“I think his ability to handle those injuries and the media scrutiny he probably did get over the last few years, to then still be the type of person that he is and the footballer that he is, he’s so dedicated to his craft work,” Miller said.
“He makes sure he’s a really good team man, he’s actually a really good bloke to be around and he kind of just brings a bit more fun back to football and he’s his own man.
“I think it’s gonna be exciting what he brings to the life brings to the table, that he’s only going to get better every single year and I think he’s better for the run that he’s had.
“He probably came out of the blocks almost too fast and that stuff does happen sometimes. But he’s still gonna be a superstar, 100 per cent.”
Another difference the Suns may enjoy in 2023 is a lack of constant speculation over the future of coach Stuart Dew, who in July penned a two-year contract extension to put to bed talk over Alastair Clarkson’s potential return to coaching, which has instead come at North Melbourne.
The pressure valve has somewhat lifted in that sense, but Miller has been around long enough to know how quickly things can change once the season gets underway.
“You’re never not under the pump. I think that‘s probably one that you just have to live with in AFL,” he said.
“Even when you’re winning, like Geelong, they’re probably coming off the best year they’ve had in for years and now they’ll be another pump if they drop two or three games. It’s the same for us.”
If they can have a 2023 even remotely similar to Geelong’s 2022, then that long-awaited finals debut is surely on the horizon.
Although it might not be the end goal, a Brownlow Medal may also come with that for Miller, too.
Story Credit: foxsports.com.au