SOUTH Australian captain Jack Graham has become the first Croweater in 14 years to win the Larke Medal as the best division one player at the AFL Under-18 National Championships.
The North Adelaide product beat a crack field to soften the blow of SA falling short in its championship campaign, following Vic Metro’s final day victory against WA on Wednesday.
Vic Metro’s 23-point win at Simonds Stadium at Geelong gave it an unbeaten 4-0 carnival record and its first title since 2012.
SA, which finished with a 3-1 record, needed WA to upset the Victorian team to win the championship on percentage.
But Graham’s medal win at least gave it something to crow about.
The powerfully-built, 183cm, 85kg midfielder enjoyed a standout carnival, averaging 25.3 disposals, to become the first SA player since West Adelaide’s Byron Schammer in 2002 to win the award.
Schammer went on to be drafted at pick 13 by Fremantle, playing 129 games from 2003-11.
Graham also won SA’s most valuable player award.
He will almost certainly be selected in the All-Australian team, along with fellow SA midfielders Jonty Scharenberg (Glenelg) and Jake Pitman (Norwood), who was one of the revelations of the tournament.
Several other Croweaters are also in contention for the elite team.
SA coach Brenton Phillips praised Graham for his strong carnival, work ethic and leadership.
Phillips, who coached SA to national championships in 2013 and 2014, said his side played just two “ordinary’’ quarters for the carnival — the final terms against Vic Metro and Vic Country.
The Croweaters lost a 35-point three-quarter time lead against Vic Metro at Football Park, losing by three points, in a collapse that cost it the championship.
“We played 14 very good quarters and two ordinary ones, which sums it up,’’ Phillips said.
“It was extremely frustrating to lose that game to Vic Metro when we were so far in front but in terms of where people predicted us to finish, how they all thought we would struggle, I was extremely pleased with the playing group.
“We played a good brand of football.’’