Best of the contenders for the Johnny Warren Medal

The hotly-contested race for the Johnny Warren Medal will reach its end on Thursday evening when a winner is picked from the pack of standout contenders who excelled throughout the 2019/20 Hyundai A-League campaign.

The top performers came from all around the league; some fresh faces impressed while the stars who have been around the block before reminded us of their undeniable talent. 

There can only be one winner in the race to be named the Hyundai A-League's best player of 2019/20 but whoever crosses the finishing line first will have a raft of contenders snapping at their heels.

Here are just some of the players who will battle it out for the league's ultimate individual prize on Thursday night.

READ: Hyundai A-League edition of the Dolan Warren Awards to be held online on Thursday

Ulises Dávila - Wellington Phoenix

Wellington Phoenix surprised all in an impressive campaign under the guidance of first-time Head Coach Ufuk Talay, who got so many things right in his first taste of senior coaching.

But the recruitment of Mexican creator Ulises Dávila topped the list of Talay's masterstrokes. 

Dávila's class shone through from the get-go; ten goals from midfield in his first 15 Hyundai A-League games helped the 29-year-old explode onto the scene. 

With a lethal left foot, razor-sharp skills and a cunning football brain Dávila helped Wellington assert themselves as one of the best teams in the league.

From his 27 games in the 2019/20 campaign Dávila finished with 12 goals and five assists; he played 48 key passes and completed 45 dribbles as he excited Wellington fans and neutrals alike with a style of play of fluidity, excitement and ruthless efficiency. 

GOAL: Dávila has enjoyed a sensational start to life in the Hyundai A-League

Jamie Maclaren - Melbourne City

When assessing the prime performers of any Hyundai A-League campaign, it's near-on impossible to look beyond the league's Golden Boot winner as a serious contender for the Johnny Warren Medal.

Maclaren won his second Golden Boot with a season defined by his machine-like approach to every game, lurking in and around the box with an unwavering determination to turn chances into goals.

His form to start the campaign was frightening; in his first four games Maclaren scored three braces and one hat-trick to take his tally to a phenomenal nine goals from four games. 

Maclaren scored a further two braces and a second hat-trick to go with six individual strikes which took his tally to 22 goals throughout the regular season as he brushed off stern challenges from Adam le Fondre and Besart Berisha to claim outright ownership of the Golden Boot.

WATCH: All of Maclaren's 22 goals of the regular season

Alessandro Diamanti - Western United

As Western United looked to announce themselves to the Hyundai A-League in their inaugural campaign, Alessandro Diamanti ensured they were not to be ignored with a debut season of equal brilliance, magic and absurdity. 

Onlookers marvelled as the Italian maestro dictated the flow and tempo of games, displaying a remarkable passing range, the ability to beat a player and find goalscoring opportunities where no other player dared to imagine.

His talent was matched by an enormous personality which seemed to encourage those around him at Western United to let their own talents shine; by season's end Diamanti had led the Green and Black into the Semi-Finals, and the team which began the season without a glimmer of hope found themselves dreaming of the ultimate prize.

With eight goals, seven assists and an abundance of awe-inspiring moments produced throughout the 2019/20 campaign, it's safe to say Diamanti put on a performance to remember as he made his Hyundai A-League bow.

GOAL: Diamanti defies belief with stunning chip against the Wanderers

Mitchell Duke - Western Sydney Wanderers

Western Sydney Wanderers had a season to forget as they missed out on the Hyundai A-League Finals Series for the third time running. 

But one man who did all he could to mitigate the Wanderers' shortcomings was their talismanic captain Mitchell Duke.

The 29-year-old led from the front all season long, scoring 14 goals in a fledgling Wanderers outfit. 

He showed from the outset his ability to turn a match with a brace against Central Coast Mariners in Round 1 which helped the Red and Black come from behind to secure victory.

Duke helped Wanderers fans dare to dream in Round 3 when he headed home the only goal of an intense contest with Sydney FC in front of a packed house at Bankwest Stadium.

That result unfortunately did not signal what was to come for the Wanderers but as their form slipped Duke refused to buckle, showing a relentless desire to win which became a hallmark of a memorable individual campaign. 

WATCH: All of Duke's 14 goals for the season

Steven Ugarkovic - Newcastle Jets 

It's been another typically accomplished campaign for Newcastle Jets midfielder Steven Ugarkovic, one of the league's consistently quiet achievers. 

Newcastle's pass-master played 1,670 accurate balls throughout the season at an accuracy of 88.2.%. His passing accuracy in the forward half of 83.2% for the season is a reflection on Ugarkovic's outstanding ability to keep the ball in his side's control.

Ugarkovic's composure on the ball is matched by his determination off it; gut-running is a dependable facet of the 26-year-old's play which he puts on display every time he runs out for the Jets.

An assist and four goals - including a match-winning rocket against Melbourne City in Round 26 - highlighted a typically impressive season for the key cog in Newcastle's engine room.

GOAL: Ugarkovic stunner seals three points against City

Scott McDonald - Brisbane Roar

Scott McDonald's excellent first Hyundai A-League campaign began in frustration, but that all turned around with a change of colours. 

McDonald switched the green and black of Western United for the orange of Brisbane Roar and immediately got down to business; the 37-year old scored just one goal in nine games for United before the mid-season switch accounted for an uplift in form.

Once he got his first goal in Roar colours McDonald stormed to the end of the campaign as one of the in-form players of the league, with a brace against the Wanderers in Round 22 sparking a run of six goals in eight games to take his total to seven for the campaign.

But it was more than just his goals which helped McDonald carve a season to remember out of the truly forgettable beginning to his 2019/20 campaign; his on-field energy, drive and motivation encapsulated the ethos of a club on the up as they surged from second-bottom on the table in mid-season into fifth place and a berth in the Finals Series. 

McDonald picked up form to end the campaign in Roar colours

Diego Castro - Perth Glory

No list of Johnny Warren Medal contenders is complete without the mention of Perth Glory's Spanish magician Diego Castro who enjoyed a superb season before its premature end.

Castro didn't return to action after the Hyundai A-League restart in July, but put forward an impressive body of work throughout his 18 appearances for Perth before the mid-season break.

Four goals and seven assists accompanied 42 key passes, 86 successful dribbles and an impressive shooting accuracy of 63.6%.

It may not have been the most memorable season of the 2015/16 Johnny Warren Medallist winner's Hyundai A-League career, but even a slight dip in Castro's standards puts his name amongst the best performers of the 2019/20 campaign.

Diego Castro

Milos Ninkovic - Sydney FC

Sydney FC won a record-fifth Hyundai A-League Championship in 2019/20, and its no surprise that their Serbian star Milos Ninkovic was at the heart of yet another unforgettable season for the Sky Blues. 

The 35-year-old won his third Championship at Sydney FC this season, contributing six goals of his own from midfield to a deadly two-pronged attack of le Fondre and Kosta Barbarouses ahead of him.

Similarly efficient to Ugarkovic with the ball at his feet, Ninkovic's passing accuracy of 84.3% in the forward half signals his ability to retain and distribute the ball in the most dangerous areas for the Sky Blues. 

The 2016/17 Johnny Warren Medallist inspired his side to a 2-0 Semi-Final victory over Perth, scoring the goal to put his side in the lead as they advanced to the Grand Final to clinch a record-breaking Championship.

GOAL: Ninkovic inspires Sky Blues to Semi-Final victory