BEN CUNNINGTON'S emergence as an elite inside midfielder this year has been rewarded with his first North Melbourne best and fairest award.
In a thrilling vote count at Docklands' Peninsula Central Pier, Cunnington won the Roos' coveted Syd Barker Medal on 47 votes, just one vote ahead of ruckman Todd Goldstein and rejuvenated midfielder Levi Greenwood.
Goldstein pipped Greenwood for second on a count-back, while veterans Brent Harvey and Drew Petrie rounded out the top five, each finishing just two votes behind Cunnington.
Former St Kilda star Nick Dal Santo capped off an outstanding first season at Arden Street with a sixth-place finish on 41 votes.
Cunnington was the No.5 pick in the 2009 NAB AFL Draft, but struggled for consistency in his early seasons at North as he built his fitness to AFL standards.
However, in 2014, the hard-nosed on-baller underlined why North's faith in him has never wavered.
At stoppages, Cunnington was fearless in his attack on the ball and almost impossible to shift from the contest. With the ball in hand, he had the ability to find time and space – no matter how heavy the traffic – and then set up teammates with creative ball use.
Cunnington, 23, finished 2014 ranked sixth in the AFL for total clearances (averaging 5.8 a game) and 10th for tackles (5.6 a game).
He also averaged 22.1 disposals a match and polled 13 votes in the Brownlow Medal (second at North behind Brent Harvey).
Cunnington spent more time in attack this season, with his strength overhead making him a difficult match-up for rival teams. In round 21, he showed how big a handful he could be, kicking four goals against the Western Bulldogs, all of them in the final quarter.
Goldstein's runner-up finish came after he also missed last year's Syd Barker Medal by just one vote, finishing third to joint 2013 winners Scott Thompson and Daniel Wells.
After playing just 11 games in 2012 and 2013, Greenwood enjoyed a career renaissance this year, averaging 25 possessions in his 22 games.
In addition to his third placing in the best and fairest count, he was recognised with the McCartney Jumper Award voted for by North's players, and the Blackwoods Supporters' Player of the Year award.
Utility Luke McDonald, 19, was named North's best first-year player after a stellar debut season, when he played 23 games, including all three of the Roos' finals, and finished third in the NAB AFL Rising Star award.
Veteran defender Scott McMahon was recognised for his off-field work with the Peter Scanlon Community Award.
North Melbourne best and fairest top 10
1. Ben Cunnington 47
2. Todd Goldstein 46*
3. Levi Greenwood 46*
4. Brent Harvey 45*
5. Drew Petrie 45*
6. Nick Dal Santo 41
7. Sam Gibson 40
8. Scott Thompson 35*
9. Andrew Swallow 35*
10. Shaun Atley 35*