DAVID Fevaleaki's dominant season for the Bendigo Pioneers was rewarded with an equal third-place finish in the VFL TAC Cup under-18s Morrish Medal.
Fevaleaki polled 16 votes in the TAC Cup's equivalent of the Brownlow Medal, behind Eastern Ranges' Matthew Bate (21) and Murray Bushranger Jordan Wood (18).
Tim Sheringham of the Geelong Falcons also polled 16 votes.
The tenacious Fevaleaki was the only player from the Bendigo Pioneers to poll in double figures.
"I didn't expect to be third," Fevaleaki said yesterday.
"There were a few games where I thought I would poll votes, but I didn't, and there were also games where I didn't think I would poll votes, but I did." The 18-year-old from the Robinvale Football Club admitted the nerves started to get to him late in the count when he realised he was a chance of winning the medal.
"I started getting the sweaty palms and a bit nervous." Fevaleaki took a back and foot injury into the start of the season, but began to hit his straps about one month in.
"I started to recover more quickly about three or four games in and really got into it.
"The fitness really picked up and I reckon it was my best year out of the three I've had here," he said.
He was never out of the Pioneers' best players after round three and was named the club's best in four games.
Fevaleaki spent most of the season alternating between the half-back flank and in the midfield for the Pioneers.
After making a preliminary final last year, the Pioneers won just four of their 18 games this season to finish 11th.
"I thought we would actually do pretty well.
"We were all talented players, but we just couldn't play well together," he said.
"It was probably because of the distance . . . most of the players were from out of Bendigo and the only times we really saw each other was on Wednesdays when we trained together as a team.
"Last year, most of the boys were based in Bendigo." Fevaleaki, who joined the Pioneers in 2002, played 49 games and is the club's games record holder.
He surpassed the previous record of 46 held by Josh Hunt, now with Geelong, earlier this season.
Fevaleaki hasn't received an invitation to the AFL Draft Camp later this year, but his high placing in the Morrish could change that.
"There was a recruiting officer sitting on our table at the Morrish who has seen me play before and reckons I've been doing pretty well." The recruiting agent was from the Hawthorn Football Club.
"I just want to really knuckle down now and get as fit as I can in case something does come through for me," Fevaleaki said.
"If it doesn't, I'll just send letters (to clubs) and get myself known." Nathan Brown remains the only Bendigo Pioneer to win the Morrish Medal.
He won it in 1996 before being drafted by the Western Bulldogs.
Meanwhile, the Bendigo Pioneers awards presentation night will be held on October 2 at the Golden Square Football-Netball Club social rooms in Wade Street from 6.30 pm.
Fevaleaki will be a leading contender to win the Neville Strauch Memorial Trophy as club champion for the 2004 season.
Other players tipped to poll well include Marcus Carroll, Sam Barnes, Tom Hallam, Kurt McGlynn, Jason Curtain and Chris Casey.
Bookings for the Pioneers presentation night close on September 24. Phone 5444-5832.