I’m going to show my age here.

When I was a kid I used to love heading down to the newsagency to grab a copy of Pro Wrestling Illustrated to check out the page that had the rankings for all the wrestling organisations and the overall top ten in the world.

Yeah, I know it was convoluted and really meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, but I loved it and I would always get a little sucked in by the “Most Popular/Most Hated” rankings every month.

It always intrigued me that the wrestling fans were so fickle. A quick turn and the bloke that was a mainstay in the most hated column could all of a sudden top the rankings in the most popular stakes the very next month.

So, you know, 30 years later I started thinking about applying that to the AFL. It takes me a while to process things, sometimes. Who would be the most hated personalities in the game right now? Who are the most loved?

So, over the last little while I’ve been gauging the amount of love or hate people involved in the game get. It’s an imperfect science, admittedly, and I’m happy for people to offer alternatives.

I should state in regard to the “Most Hated” list – this isn’t a character assassination by any stretch – I am a big believer that in a sport that thrives as much on personality as it does performance, it is much better to be talked about than not talked about at all. That rings true even if the discussion is around how much the fans despise you. I reckon many would wear the dislike as a badge of honour – it means they’re doing their job right. I know I would.

With that in mind, here’s the inaugural Mongrel Punt Most Popular/Most Hated rankings for 2020.

 

MOST POPULAR

 

1 – DUSTIN MARTIN

People love the big-game player, and no one has performed better in big games than Dustin Martin.

What was that ridiculous stat during the finals? In eight of the last however many Richmond finals, Dusty had been judged best on ground?

We’re at the point right now where people realise they’re seeing true greatness and with the Tigers still a devastatingly good team, we may end up seeing Martin hailed as the greatest finals player of all time when all is said and done. He’s not that far away as I write this.

 

2 – CHRIS FAGAN

Uncle Fages… everyone seems to love Uncle Fages.

He has the kind of look about him that just endears him to you. His efforts in taking this Brisbane team from the outhouse to a floor or two below the penthouse are acknowledged by all. He is a mentor, a father-figure, and as we saw in the finals, he can fire up when necessary.

At the end of the day, he likes his old albums, plays them on his turntable and makes people smile. He is the modern coach in yesterday’s body and is as lovable as any bloke in the game.

 

3 – MATT ROWELL

Took the AFL world by storm and would have been the rising star if not for his shoulder injury in just his fifth game.

Rowell is the kind of player teams can build around and the Suns are acutely aware of it. The Red Bull… the Red Hulk… whatever you want to call him, the AFL public loves when a young blokes takes the game on and wins. And in 2020, Rowell leapt to the top of the heap of young players and changed the future of the Suns.

 

4 – LACHIE NEALE

The consensus player of the year, Neale performed the hat-trick, winning the Brownlow, the Coaches Association award and the MVP award in 2020.

If he was a sitcom, it’d be called Everyone Loves Lachie.

We had Fages at number two, but the other huge component of the Brisbane turnaround has been the influence of Lachie Neale. He is a game-changer.

 

5 – TRAVIS BOAK

Might surprise a few to see him so high, but Boak should be the poster boy for doing things the right way.

Accepted a reduced role a couple of seasons ago and rather than sulking about it, decided to go away in the off-season, put in a mountain of work and return in the best shape of his life. As a result, he has arguable played his best footy in the last two seasons – post 30 years of age.

There are a few others hitting 30 that should be looking at what he’s done and trying to emulate it.

 

6 – ANTHONY HUDSON

One of the best callers in the game is the only media member on the most popular list. There is something about Huddo that screams “enthusiasm”.

Whilst others seem to be content trying to exchange witty banter, Huddo is the baby bear of the AFL commentary story. He focuses primarily on the game, yet retains the ability to engage in byplay at a level that is juuuust right.

 

7 – SCOTT PENDLEBURY

At a club where things have seemingly gone pretty wrong, Scott Pendlebury continues to do things the right way.

Written off by Mike Sheahan a few years ago (“no longer and A-Grader”), Pendles has continued to play the kind of football that is beautiful to watch. Respected by the footy world, there is absolutely no denying his class.

 

8 – EDDIE BETTS

Still insanely popular with fans despite his advancing age and less-than-stellar production, 2020 is the Eddie Betts retirement tour.

People will cheer every tackle, celebrate every touch and be in raptures over every goal as the little champ plays out his last season. Personally, I really hope this isn’t one year too long, but the people want Eddie, and it seems Eddie wants the people.

 

9 – NEALE DANIHER

Loved, respected and admired, Daniher’s fight against MND will endure long after his relationship with footy is over.

The Big Freeze and the research it enables is a legacy far greater than anything Daniher was able to achieve on the footy field. I don’t think there could be anyone in the footy world with a bad word to say about Neale Daniher, and if they did, they’d probably find themselves entrenched on the list below.

 

10 – DOM SHEED

Are we living in the past?

Maybe, but when the past contains such a glorious moment, who can blame us?

West Coast has an enormous following, and if we put this to a public vote, he might be a fair few places higher. He also may accrue a few votes in the ‘Most Hated’ category due to some jaded Pies fans still hurting after 2018.

 

JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP TEN

 

Gillon McLachlan

Dane Swan

Sam Walsh

Paddy Ryder

 

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MOST HATED

 

1 – EDDIE MCGUIRE

There is simply no middle ground with Ed. People either love him, or despise him.

Actually, there is a middle ground, because I don’t do either of those things. However, I am acutely aware that many people absolutely hate the dual-hat wearing McGuire. Whether he is in the capacity of media personality or Collingwood president, few can unite the football public quite like disliking Eddie can.

Whether he is calling for people to be sent home from quarantine hubs only to be silent when his own coach breached protocol, or overseeing a club that cocked up their salary cap so badly that they had to move on two very good players for next to nothing, no one gets people offside as effectively as Big Ed.

It’s a talent in and of itself.

 

2 – SAM NEWMAN

Amazing that after leaving the Footy Show and Channel Nine, he still has journos scouring his podcast in the hopes that he will provide them with a headline or two.

Sam’s reach is enormous and I personally believe that as many people listen to what he says to hate on his opinion as listen to enjoy it. He is a lightning rod for controversy and speaks his mind in a time where people jump at the mere thought of saying something that others don’t agree with.

Many call him a dinosaur, irrelevant and a has-been amongst other things, yet there he is, tending on Twitter every second day. He has made a living out of being hated and the beast continues to be fed by the media.

 

3 – KANE CORNES

A shock-jock, or someone who actually says what he thinks about the current state of footy and those within it without fear or favour?

Kane Cornes makes enemies left, right and centre and the funny thing is – he doesn’t seem to give a shit about it. I don’t know about you guys, but I kind of respect that. Actually, not kind of… I respect the hell out of it.

That said, if he talks for long enough and you choose to listen, he is bound to state something that gets up your nose. My advice – you know what you’re getting into when you listen to Kane; if you get upset about something he says, it’s as much on you as it is on him.

 

4 – RAY CHAMBERLAIN

I don’t know if it is just me, but it seems that Razor Ray feels compelled to make a decision every time the ball is in the area he is umpiring. I remember watching a finals game this season – the first week, I think it was; every time the damn whistle blew, it was Ray.

The other umpires seemed content in allowing the play to continue, but not Ray. Whistle after whistle from him annoyed the hell out of me, and I’m guessing, plenty of others.

Personality-wise, I really don’t mind him – he brings a bit of character to the game, but to say Ray is a little over-officious would be like saying the ocean is a little wet.

 

5 – DAMIEN BARRETT

How does he come across to you?

Smarmy?

I reckon that’s the word that fits him best. If you’re looking for the most punchable face involved in footy, I reckon Damo has all the others covered. I used to think it was James Sicily, but his injury and subsequent year out of the game probably excuses him from this list.

Not Barrett, however. He is there, week after week on the AFL website with the easiest column in history to write.

IF Damien Barrett is not on the most hated list…

… THEN I don’t know what I am talking about.

 

6 – STEVE HOCKING

Need a shitty rule change? Steve is your man!

Charged with increasing scoring and making the game better, Hocking has spearheaded a host of changes that have had little impact in that regard… but man have they ever cocked things up in other ways.

Do you know what the public loves? 50-metre penalties. Apparently, that’s what Hocking and his mates believe, so look out for a heap of them in the first few rounds as his incoming changes once again confuse everyone.

LEAVE THE GAME ALONE!

 

7 – TOM LYNCH (RICH)

The only player on the most hated list gets there on the back of some assorted cheap shots of over the course of 2020.

Pushing people’s heads into the ground, giving them a shot in the guts in order to take an uncontested mark… Lynch was a dirty tricks maestro in 2020 and whilst many called for his head… I have to admit… I really dug that about him.

 

8 – JEFF KENNETT

Please Jeff… shut up!

Years after leaving politics, the politician is still politicking. Recently he made the claim that Hawthorn missed out on State Government funding because of his comments about the Andrews Government on social media.

Jeff… why are you making those bloody comments when you know that it could have an adverse effect on the club?

Hawthorn brought this bloke back at a time when the club’s management was struggling. Personally, I am looking forward to Hawthorn life after Kennett.

 

9 – WAYNE CAREY

Trends every Friday night during the season, with a large number of people making a concerted effort to remind everyone of Carey’s past indiscretions.

A champion player who really went off the rails, he has been offered a lifeline by Channel Seven that many don’t believe he deserves.

It’s an interesting topic – does he deserve the chance to make a living in the area he has expertise? Or are the people baying for his blood correct?

 

10 – ADRIAN DODORO

The Essendon recruiting boss has well and truly earned the ire of both Bomber fans and the wider football community due to his trade practices.

Overvaluing his own players and lowballing opposition clubs has been a Dodoro trademark, but you know what? He just convinced Carlton that Adam Saad was worth pick eight this year and they bought it, so there is a definite method to the madness.

 

JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP TEN

 

Brian Taylor

Mark Riciutto

Kim Hagdorn

Tom Browne

Mark Robinson

Patrick Dangerfield

Caroline Wilson

 

It actually turned out to be a lot easier to list those people seem to hate than it did to list those who are universally loved. It’s a pretty sad indictment, huh?

Anyway, if you have any you believe I missed in either column, by all means add them in the comments or on our socials. One of our writers mentioned to me that Adam Goodes would probably go close to making both lists if it went to a vote. I don’t think he is that far off the mark.

 

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