BEFORE the opening bounce of the 2022 AFL Central West men's tier one competition, Bathurst Giants talent Cooper Brien was considering a switch to rugby league.
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But he stuck with the Giants in a decision that paid off not only for his club, but the naturally gifted 18-year-old.
On Friday night he was named the league's best and fairest for season 2022.
In beating out Bathurst Bushrangers star forward Nathan Smith in the vote count, Brien added his biggest accolade in the sport yet to his resume.
It's his third big award in as many weeks, having been named best on ground in the grand final despite his valiant Giants falling to the Bushrangers, then picking up the best and fairest award on a club level.
His Giants coach Mark Kennedy said: "It didn't surprise me in the least" when he saw Brien's name on top of the vote count.
He was there when Brien made his senior debut in season 2020 and has guided him through each of his tier one games since.
"He's always been a kid around the club that's had plenty of talent and keenness to learn," Kennedy said.
"At the beginning of this year he was going to go and play rugby league, so we're so lucky he actually changed his mind and hung around with us and has now been rewarded for an absolutely fantastic season.
"Apparently he's pretty handy at rugby league, he's one of those sportsmen who can put his mind to anything I suppose, he's got that natural talent, he's also a good cricketer.
"This year we sort of refocussed a bit about what success meant for us and I know Cooper would've rather won a premiership for the club, but he can really hold his head up high and be thrilled in the fact he's got an accolade that's well deserved."
Given the talent with the Giants' ranks, that Brien still stood out enough to top the league vote count speaks volumes for his performances in 2022.
Though he's been used in a number of different positions by Kennedy, it was his efforts in the midfield this season which really impressed.
"Last year he was good for us, he was pushed up forward and played on the wing a fair bit, but this year he's really taken on that role in the middle to be our go to," Kennedy said.
"He's taken on that role and really made it his own. Sometimes he ran out the game without having a rest either, he's quite fit.
"He does make good decisions with the football and he likes to beat players one-on-one if he can. We've told him 'Just back your ability, take the guys on and if you do get in a sticky situation you can always lob the ball forward nice and high'.
"He is quite versatile, sometimes he's played in the back when the game gets tough to help us out, or we can push him forward and he has the ability to take marks and kick goals."
As good as Brien, who has 31 senior games to his credit, was this season, Kennedy predicts even bigger things lie ahead if he sticks to the sport.
"I think Coop's only going to get better," he said.
"So hopefully next year he puts in another good pre-season, comes back to us and has another cracking year."
While Brien winning the men's tier one vote count was the pinnacle of the presentation, he was not the only Bathurst player to be crowned a best and fairest winner.
Bathurst Giants juniors Connor Hobby (under 12s), and Riley Goodsell (under 14s) topped their respective counts, while both Fergus Mann (men's tier two) and Katie Kennedy (women's) were runners-up.
Bathurst Bushrangers youth girls captain Lucy Driscoll was named league best and fairest for her division while club-mate Joseah Driscoll was runner-up in the under 12s award.
On top of that Bathurst Giants under 17s coach Brad Broes was named junior coach of the year after guiding his side to a premiership.
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