CLASSY North Melbourne midfielder Shaun Higgins has edged out Ben Cunnington and Ben Brown in a tight race to claim his maiden best and fairest in Docklands on Friday night.

Higgins finished with 217 votes, ahead of Cunnington (211) and Brown (209). 

It capped off a superb campaign for the 29-year-old, whose previous best finish was third in 2015. 

Injuries have often inhibited the former Western Bulldog, only having allowed him to line up in at least 20 games in a year in five of his 12 seasons.

He managed it in 2017, missing only the five-point loss to Fremantle at Domain Stadium in round five with a hamstring complaint. 

Higgins averaged 24 disposals and just under a goal a game, and was ranked third in the competition for total inside 50s and ninth for total goal assists. 

He told of his "genuine shock" at winning the award and credited coach Brad Scott for his evolution into a North Melbourne star, having played a more inside midfield role, rather than in attack.

"It was something that we probably flagged a couple of years ago and unfortunately last year, I had a knee operation that didn't allow me to play through the midfield," Higgins said.

"Then we spent a lot of time over the pre-season learning that role and I spent countless hours annoying the assistant coaches to make sure that I could be equipped to play through the midfield, doing a lot of video work. The coaches were great in allowing me to play to my strengths, so that was through the whole pre-season."

"Throughout the year, it's just been learning week-to-week how to go about it and I've played for 12 years - I felt like I was kicking off a new career playing in the midfield."

Having been largely confined to a role in attack in his nine years at the Dogs, Higgins felt his obvious talents weren't being fulfilled.

"That was a part of the frustration a number of years ago, that I had faith that I could still play some good football when maybe others didn't, and that's why I'll be forever grateful to North Melbourne for giving me that opportunity," Higgins said.

He was drafted with the No.11 selection in 2005 and went to the Kangaroos at the end of 2014 as a restricted free agent.

North missed out on acquiring Richmond superstar Dustin Martin but Higgins maintained faith other similar calibre players would become future Roos.

"I'm sure that will happen, whether it's this year or in the coming years. I know this is a footy club that guys still want to come to. It's a footy club with coaches that bring out the best in players," he said. 

"I'm sure that guys will see that and we'll acquire the right player at the right time."

Cunnington, 26, almost added a second Syd Barker Medal to his collection after having averaged 26 disposals per game and ranking fourth in the AFL for clearances per game and sixth for contested possessions per game.

He was previously named club champion in 2014. 

Meanwhile, Brown rounded out the top three after being the only Roo nominated for the Virgin Australia AFL All Australian squad of 40. 

The 24-year-old booted 63 goals to finish third in the Coleman Medal, behind Sydney superstar Lance Franklin (69) and West Coast spearhead Josh Kennedy (65). 

Former captain Andrew Swallow, ruckman Todd Goldstein and veteran backman Scott Thompson were awarded life membership.

Goldstein finished 12th on the night, after plenty of speculation about whether he will remain a Roo beyond 2017.

Both seventh-placed Sam Gibson and ninth-placed Thompson have yet to be offered a new contract.

Syd Barker Medal top 10

1. Shaun Higgins 217
2. Ben Cunnington 211
3. Ben Brown 209
4. Robbie Tarrant 204
5. Luke McDonald 192
= 6. Jack Ziebell 161
= 6. Sam Gibson 161
8. Taylor Garner 134
9. Scott Thompson 126
10. Shaun Atley 125    

Other awards

Shinboner of the year: Ben Cunnington
Best Young Player: Jy Simpkin
Peter Scanlon Community Award: Ben Brown
Harold Henderson Best Clubman: Lachlan Hansen
Mazda Excellence Award: Ben Cunnington