Max Gawn set out to be the AFL’s best ruckman in November 2015, now he’s achieved his goal

thYOS8VV8GWHEN Geelong superstar Patrick Dangerfield was asked on AFL 360 last week how he responds to praise that he is the best player in the game, the midfielder deflected the question.

But ask LeBron James, Christiano Ronaldo or even Roger Federer the same thing, and they would answer it forthrightly.

It takes a special athlete in the right sporting climate to publicly state they want to be the best at their chosen craft.

Muhammad Ali was unashamedly self-assured, as are many of his fellow American sports stars.

“If I could clone myself, we’d all be right. But I can’t,” LeBron James once said.

Indeed part of the appeal of sports like boxing, basketball and athletics is how brash the athletes are. In many respects the spectacle is enhanced by the often confrontational narrative that underpins it.

When Max Gawn suggested he wanted to be considered in the upper echelon of AFL ruckmen last November, he broke the trend in Australia.

We live in a sporting landscape of obligatory modesty, of team before individual. Some call it a flow-on effect of tall-poppy syndrome. Whatever the case, it’s distinct from other areas around the world.

“Maybe they hate me because I’m too good?” Christiano Ronaldo once asked.

In Australia, less is more.

But despite the humility, clearly players harbour strong ambitions. If they didn’t they would not have reached the elite level in the first place.

Gawn’s public statement was as bold as it was refreshing.

Crucially, the 208cm Melbourne big man’s words have been vindicated.

Partly aided by a barely fit Todd Goldstein and a recuperating Nic Naitanui, Gawn is now the top dog, according to Essendon great Matthew Lloyd.

“Max Gawn said at the start of the year that he wants to be the No. 1 ruckman in the game. He’s become that,” Lloyd told Footy Classified on Monday night.

“I think he’s gone past Goldstein.”

When Gawn made his prophetic statement he had just 39 AFL games to his name and had never played more than 13 in succession.

He had risen Paul Roos’ No. 1 option, but a long way from Goldstein’s or Naitanui’s bracket.

This season no player has notched more hit outs than the 24-year-old and no ruckman clunked more than his 37 contested marks.

His tally of 807 hit outs from 19 games is 123 greater than Goldstein. Even Shane Mumford’s statistics pale into insignificance.

And there was no better illustration of his utter dominance than at the MCG on Saturday afternoon.

“He was marking balls that you haven’t seen ruckmen mark,” Lloyd said of Gawn’s best afield performance against Hawthorn on Saturday.

“It was something you had to see to believe. I think he won the game for Melbourne on the weekend.”

So impressive was his effort, both Alastair Clarkson and Roos awarded Gawn maximum votes in the AFLCA Player of the Year Award.

“We just couldn’t curb the influence of Gawn,” Clarkson said post-game.

“His second half was one of the best halves of footy by a ruckman I’ve seen in a long time. 11 contested marks plus some of the pure clearances he gave his side via clean hits of the ball was just outstanding.”

Melbourne skipper Nathan Jones, who is typically measured in his assessment of teammates, was glowing in his praise for Gawn.

“He’s probably the most important player for us right at this moment,” Demons skipper Nathan Jones said on Monday.

“He’s a larger than life character and a real leader for us. He really brought that consistency into his game this year which has elevated him to a whole new level.”

The jump has been steep but electrifying. The rise has paralleled Melbourne’s.

Gawn’s achieved what he set out to do in fewer than 12 months. The challenge now is solidifying his reputation beyond reasonable doubt.