DUSTIN Martin is clearly the most valuable player in the AFL, according to the game's coaches, who view midfielders that can play inside and outside as their most precious on-field asset.
Martin was a clear choice as the game's MVP, receiving more than 70 per cent of the vote from senior coaches surveyed in an exclusive poll for AFL.com.au ahead of the season.
The three-time Norm Smith medallist was also voted the AFL's best midfielder and tied with Geelong star Tom Hawkins as the competition's best forward, highlighting his versatility and influence.
Fremantle superstar and dual Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe was the only other player to receive multiple nominations from the coaches on the question of who the League's most valuable player was.
While Martin was also a standout choice for the game's best midfielder, Brisbane Brownlow medallist Lachie Neale received multiple nominations to be the coaches' choice behind the champion Tiger.
Nominations were evenly spread in attack, with Martin, Hawkins, Tom Lynch and Josh Kennedy receiving multiple votes, and Jordan De Goey, Toby Greene, Jack Darling, Harry McKay and Jack Riewoldt individual nominations.
Richmond premiership defender Dylan Grimes and Brisbane's two-time All-Australian Harris Andrews were the only players to receive multiple votes in defence, with Grimes narrowly in front from the coaches surveyed.
Asked what type of player they believed to be the most valuable, the coaches nominated inside/outside midfielders (46 per cent) ahead of goalkicking forwards (33 per cent).
A dominant ruck, playmaking defender and key defender received one vote each.
The skill coaches believed required the most improvement was field kicking, slightly ahead of goalkicking. Applying pressure to the opposition and tackling also received votes.
Assessing the premiership race, only five clubs were nominated when asked which team other than yours could win the flag – Port Adelaide, Geelong, Brisbane, Richmond and West Coast – with the Power in front with 27 per cent of the vote.
Fremantle (47 per cent) was the popular tip to rise up the ladder, ahead of Carlton, Sydney and the Western Bulldogs.
While nominated by one coach to rise up the ladder, Collingwood was a popular pick to fall, receiving 33 per cent of the vote ahead of Greater Western Sydney and Hawthorn.
After the upheaval of 2020, coaches were asked their preferences for the structure of the season. Half the coaches surveyed said the traditional 22-game season was ideal, while another 36 per cent preferred the shorter 17-game season in which every team played the others once.
The bright lights and big stage of Friday night football was a clear winner in the timeslot stakes, with 66 per cent of coaches nominating it as their favourite ahead of Saturday afternoon (27 per cent). Overall, almost three-quarters of the coaches prefer night games to day games.
And on the contentious issue of game length, 60 per cent of the coaches said quarters of 20 minutes plus time-on was their preference ahead of a shorter match.