Patrick Dangerfield may remain "bitter" at having been denied the team success he had craved but the Geelong superstar was on Monday night crowned the AFL's best player.
Dangerfield, 26, polled 35 votes in the Brownlow Medal count at Crown Palladium to claim the league's highest individual honour, breaking Dane Swan's all-time record of 34 votes.
The All Australian raced away from Sydney's Luke Parker (26), Richmond's Dustin Martin (25) and Adelaide's Rory Sloane (24). The dynamic Crows midfielder had been ineligible to win because of his controversial one-match ban for striking Port Adelaide's Brad Ebert in round 22.
While his season had ended earlier than he had hoped, when the Cats were thumped by the Swans in a preliminary final last Friday, Dangerfield could take solace from earning the prestigious award in his first year with his new club.
"It was a weekend of real disappointment because our team has played some wonderful footy this season and, unfortunately, when we really needed to produce it, we weren't able to do it," he said.
"It just feels we had unfinished business in the season. So, there is all that disappointment still there and is for our players. I suppose it was easier to not focus on tonight because quite a few of us are still very bitter with how it ended on Friday."
The victory capped a stellar year for the former Adelaide Crow, who had already collected a swag of awards, including being named the most valuable player by the AFL Players Association and the AFL Coaches Association, and all major media awards, including those of The Age and Herald Sun.
The shortest-priced Brownlow favourite in history, Dangerfield claimed a best-on-ground in round one against Hawthorn with 43 disposals, while skipper Joel Selwood was given two votes.
In a year when the Cats finished second on the ladder and enjoyed 17 wins, Dangerfield, yet to taste premiership joy, and Selwood were the chief architects.
Dangerfield said Selwood had been "an inspiration" to him.
"It has been a great year. I have been so lucky at what is an incredible football club in Geelong," he said.
"There are so many stories to this football club to why it's great. I feel privileged."
Dangerfield became the seventh Cat to claim the honour, the last being Gary Ablett junior in 2009. He said he hadn't comprehended the magnitude of what potentially lay ahead until the count paused to hear four retired Cats discuss their former teammate Paul Couch, the 1989 Brownlow Medallist who died this year.
"It didn't hit me until halfway through the night when the scenes of Paul Couch and the older Geelong players talking about him, and then you think of the past players to have won the medal and realise what it actually means," he said.
"It's the oldest award the AFL has. My mind is racing now as is my heart. It's hard to articulate it properly but it's certainly something that I will look back on with great pride."
Having finished sixth, fifth and fifth in the Brownlow count in the past three years, Dangerfield elevated his game this year, averaging 31.7 disposals and booting 24 goals.
His dominance either as an inside midfielder or providing outside run and carry, while also being a goal-kicking threat when sent forward, ensured he was regularly in the play. He also thanked the Crows for his eight years there.
"I am sure there will be plenty of bitter Adelaide supporters but I had a wonderful time in Adelaide, wonderful people, such a community-centred football club and I learnt so much. I wouldn't be the person I am today without having spent time there and I still have so many mates (there)," he said, pointing to former teammate Eddie Betts who had snuck into the press conference.
Dangerfield's strong start to the count continued with a best-on-ground in round three, but it was Parker, with 10 votes, and Gold Coast midfielder Aaron Hall (nine), who would enjoy the lead after five rounds. Parker, another favourite, had claimed the maximum six votes from the opening two rounds.
Dangerfield would follow up with another best on ground, against the Suns in round six. So would Parker who, with 13 votes after six rounds, had the most votes ever to that point of a Brownlow count.
Dangerfield would have another three votes, against West Coast in round seven, but Parker, who said through the count he surprised himself by his strong start, regained the lead after round nine. Come the end round 12, Dangerfield had leapt back into top spot, Parker was second, Swans midfielder Dan Hannebery third, while Martin had enjoyed three best on grounds in the previous four matches, having begun the count sluggishly.
Emerging Western Bulldog Marcus Bontempelli had also begun to find the eye of umpires.
Martin's run gained pace with three votes against Brisbane in round 14 but when Parker polled two in a loss to the Bulldogs at the SCG, he and Dangerfield were knotted.
Dangerfield then broke away, with best on grounds in rounds 17 and 19, while Parker was voteless and could only watch as teammates attracted the votes he needed.
That changed in rounds 20 and 21 with successive best on grounds, while Dangerfield could only muster the one vote in that period. Bontempelli also enjoyed a maximum six votes, kick starting his comeback.
With three rounds remaining, Martin, seven votes off the lead, said he didn't give himself any chance of winning. He would poll another best on ground but Dangerfield secured the medal with six votes in the final three rounds. He had the medal won before the count of the final round.
Patrick Dangerfield (Geel) 35
Luke Parker (Syd) 26
Dustin Martin (Rich) 25
*Rory Sloane (Adel) 24
Andrew Gaff (WC) 21
Dan Hannebery (Syd) 21
Adam Treloar (Coll) 21
Marcus Bontempelli (WB) 20
Lachie Neale (Frem) 20
Robbie Gray (Port) 19
Nick Riewoldt (StK) 19
Zach Merrett (Ess) 19