Best finals player: Walsh wins 2023 Gary Ayres Award

SAM Walsh’s stunning September has been acknowledged, with the star midfielder crowned the winner of the 2023 Gary Ayres Award.

Voted on by the AFL coaches, the Gary Ayres Award was founded in 2016 and adopts the same voting method as the Champion Player of the Year Award, with competing coaches for each game providing their votes on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis.

Walsh’s month of September was so prolific that he became the first Gary Ayres Award winner whose team didn’t proceed to a Grand Final, such was his influence in the opening three weeks.

Highlights: The best of Walsh’s September

This is why Sam Walsh was crowned the winner of the 2023 Gary Ayres Award as the best finals player.

Returning in Round 24 following a hamstring injury, Walsh wasted no time in further enhancing his standing in the competition with what he managed to produce in football’s biggest month, kicking off with 29 disposals – and a late game-changing spoil – against Sydney in the elimination final.

He backed that up and raised the bar again the following week, producing a clear best-on-ground performance against Melbourne in one of the most famous Carlton triumphs. That night, Walsh received the perfect 10 votes for a brilliant individual performance, amassing 34 disposals and kicking two clutch goals in the Blues’ last-gasp victory over the

While Carlton’s finals run came to an end the following week against Brisbane, Walsh was once again at the forefront with 33 disposals at the Gabba. It was a mark of his consistency that he achieved game-high disposal counts in all three of his games and was the No.1 disposal winner in September across all eight clubs.

He’s the first player to win the Gary Ayres Award in a maiden finals campaign, adding to his 2019 AFL Rising Star, 2019 AFLPA Best First-Year Player, 2020 AFLCA Best Young Player, 2021 John Nicholls Medal and 2021 All-Australian accolades.

“Performing on the big stage comes back to preparation, and there are few players I have seen who do that to the level of Sam Walsh,” Carlton AFL Senior Coach Michael Voss said.

“As a group we spoke about ‘wanting the moment’ and Sam certainly did that. The focus often goes to what he was able to do with ball-in-hand, however it is his selflessness that we truly value. His defensive work, what he does to make his teammates better – he leads from the front in those areas.

“His leadership when the pressure was at its highest was also another shining light in his performance, which is something he should be proud of and can build on moving forward.

“Sam is not a player who dwells on personal accolades but to be named the competition’s best finals player, in your very first finals series, is an achievement that deserves to be acknowledged: no doubt every Carlton person is proud of what Sam was able to do.”