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. If they did at the right time of year, they’d actually beat out the perpetually loved wrestlers and be votes as the most popular wrestler pf the year, as Roddy Piper did in 1986.
So, you know, 30 years later I started thinking about applying that to the AFL and I released the first and second versions below.
But it has been 16 long months since the last one, and boy the landscape in the AFL has changed dramatically. Who would be the most hated personalities in the game right now? Who are the most loved? And what has caused the spike?
So, over the last few days, I’ve been gauging the amount of love or hate people involved in the game get and have updated accordingly. 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 third instalment of The Mongrel Punt Most Popular/Most Hated rankings.
1 – SAM DOCHERTY
I don’t care whether you barrack for the Blues or absolutely despise them like a normal person, this is the best footy story of the season and it has received nowhere near the amount of coverage it deserves… which is likely why several media figures appear in the “hated” section. Bloody bottom feeders…
Anyway, after fighting through a second bout of testicular cancer, Doc has returned to be smack-bang in contention for another All-Australian selection. He carries himself with class, I have never once seen him act like a dick on the field, and if we rewind a year or so, there were not just questions about when he’d return, but IF he’d be able to get back.
He’s done that, and continues to be a shining example of the good in footy.
2 – BEN CUNNINGTON
A bit harsh sticking Cunners at number two, given the bloke is battling through the same thing that the number one player has come back from, but there are now reports flying around that we may see Cunnington again as soon as this season!
How good would that be!?!?
There have been points in Cunnington’s career where he may have made the other list – repeated punches to the guts of opponents earning him the ire of opposition supporters, but some things are bigger than footy and this is one of them.
Get back, Cunners. Your team, and the comp needs people like you.
3 – NICK DAICOS
This is called the honeymoon period for Nick Daicos – everyone loves what they’re seeing from the first-year star.
He is picking up touches like Joe Ganino at a swingers party and is torching teams with intelligent, skilled disposal of the footy. But people tend to love a little less when you burn them, and as Daicos the Younger continues to cut through teams like a scythe, the love from opposition fans may start to fade a little.
Enjoy the honeymoon, young man. It won’t last long.
4 – NEALE DANIHER
A perpetual member of the most popular list, Neale Daniher continues to be the face of the fight against MND and his work to raise funds for those who will continue the fight once he is gone is as admirable as it gets.
I’m not going to tell you the story of Neale Daniher in two or three paragraphs – to attempt it would be foolish. Luckily, we have a man named Jimmy Ayres at The Mongrel, and he has already penned an article on the great man a couple of years ago. Linked below.
He cannot seem to put a thing wrong at the moment, with everything he touches turning to gold… or purple, as it may be.
He’s been anointed as the next captain of Freo, does the little things in a game that don’t mean a lot in isolation, but mean a heap when you look at where and when they occur, and he has stormed into Brownlow favouritism.
If he manages to win it this season, the torch will officially pass from Fyfe to Brayshaw as the darling of the Freo faithful.
6 – PADDY MCCARTIN
In any other season, this would be higher, but the challenges facing the top two probably water down the return to footy of Paddy McCartin as part of the Sydney defence.
He has reinvented himself as a defender after being delisted by the Saints following numerous concussion-related issues. Everyone thought he was done, but we’re now 18 rounds into the 2022 season and there is Paddy, clunking big intercept grabs on a monotonous basis for the Swans, making him one of the best recycled pickups in recent history.
7 – EDDIE BETTS
He could have strolled off quietly into the night and become an assistant coach somewhere… which he did, but the presence of Eddie Betts has become an important part of the Fox Footy coverage in 2022.
Look, I admit to cringing through a few of his early boundary-side reports as he struggled to make a coherent sentence, but Betts has since come on brilliantly, and has embraced the cheeky little comments as part of the commentary team to genuinely add to the viewing experience.
Case in point – one game during the weekend, Eddie casually slipped in that he was the AFL’s all-time record holder for goal assists after one of his team mentioned he may have led the league a couple of times. Good stuff, Ed… glad to see you a bit looser in front of the camera, now.
8 – TRAVIS BOAK
This poor bugger has given every last part of himself to the Port Adelaide Football Club, and as we turn for home, it is becoming likely that the elusive premiership will remain that way for Travis Boak.
At a time when the marquee mids are moving, or being pushed aside by younger talent in the midfield, Boak has remained one of Port’s big two in the middle throughout the course of 2022. After an experiment at half-forward, which didn’t really suit him, Boak knuckled down, and for the past three years has been Port’s most consistent player.
Never dirty, never plays for free kicks. Just a footballer’s footballer.
9 – SCOTT PENDLEBURY
350 games in and the talk now is whether Pendles will hit 400 by the time all is said and done.
Former teammate, Dane Swan came out in support of Pendles last week, stating he has been the most consistent high-level player of his generation. He’s not wrong – despite a move to half-back for long periods this year, Pendles has maintained the highest levels of output and at 4.6 tackles per game, is the best of all defenders.
He can still buy time where none is available and though he hasn’t bounced the footy on a pigeon just yet this season, you know he has it in his kit bag – maybe he is waiting for one of those seagulls to land so he can nail one of those bastards!
10 – NATHAN BUCKLEY
Almost unthinkable 12 months ago in the wake of the Heretier Lumumba allegations, and Collingwood parting ways with their coach, but Bucks is made of some pretty tough stuff, and has rebounded brilliantly in 2022.
Seemed to have had enough of the Lumumba business, and publicly challenged his former player to release full recordings of conversations the player had recorded without Buckley’s knowledge. Lumumba declined and suddenly felt as though he’d had enough of the fight. Am I wrong in saying I was Team Bucks on this in the end? Because I was.
Anyway, his work in the media this year has been superb, already a standout as the best analyst on TV as, fresh out of coaching, he has insight most others just guess at.
After all the smoke cleared and the dust settled… Bucks actually comes across as a pretty good bloke.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP TEN
1 – JACK GINNIVAN
Now, this is you people, not me, spewing this hatred. I’m just the messenger.
I like Jack Ginnivan. I love a player with personality who has the ability to press buttons and flip switches inside your mind and the minds of the opposition players, and I have not seen someone do this as well as Ginnivan has in years.
In a league where people say we get cookie cutter answers from cookie cutter players, it’s a sight for sore eyes.
Watching him play is almost like watching slapstick comedy. You know there is a punchline coming – the setup is perfect, then he drops the shoulder, draws the free kick, flops around like a fish as the opposition scrag him and throw him around in protest, he draws 50 metres, kicks the goal…
… and he smiles.
He fucking smiles at them!
Hate him all you like – this bloke is great for the game and you get the feeling that he could be one of those blokes that plays better with more heat on him.
2 – BRAD SCOTT
Thanks Brad, you dick!
He is the master of the rules no one asked for or needed and after a distinguished career as a player and coach who routinely let the umps know what he thought about their performance, he trots on into the AFL and decides that people should do as he says and not as he did?
Get stuffed, Brad. A couple of these farcical rules threatened to drive long-term supporters away from the game, but most seem to have been relaxed over the second half of the year because it became apparent that they absolutely sucked arse!
3 – TAYLOR WALKER
Copping the racist tag is not an easy one to come back from. It kind of sticks to you like… something very sticky indeed. A sticky stick, perhaps?
Anyway, Tex has made his apologies, copped his whack, and for the first six or so weeks after his return, he heard the boos of the crowds, obviously filled with people who never say or do anything wrong.
Walker has let his footy do the talking again in 2022. After a very solid 2021, he has actually matched his goals-per-game average from last year, which is a great feat considering the pressure he placed himself under.
Still, irrespective of how well he plays, that tag will be a hard one to shake for a while, yet.
4 – BRIAN TAYLOR
So, what would you like to talk about, BT?
The type of grass growing on a particular oval? How many seagulls are flying around at the moment? Whether the players are allowed to wear long stops or short stops for the hundredth bloody time with the same freaking answer?
No, you’d like to commentate on the footy?
It’d make a welcome change.
BT has a lot of character, but given his vast knowledge of the game and his excellent and unique delivery, I’d really love some substance from him. Right now, he has become all sizzle and no steak.
5 – WAYNE CAREY
I’ll go on record – I am one of the few that enjoy the understated special comments of Carey. He doesn’t try to say three sentences at once, and occasionally, you get a bit of a gem from him. Remember a few weeks back when he spoke about Joe Daniher’s kicking at goal. Lo and behold, Joe did exactly what Carey predicted.
Minutes later, Joe had another set shot and Carey then stated Joe would over-correct and miss to the other side. He did.
I know there are some who will argue he should not have a job at all given his past, and yes, you have every right to say it, but he has a job in footy for the simple fact that he knows a hell of a lot more about the game than you.
6 – CAROLINE WILSON
I cannot remember the last time I heard Caro mention something positive about a game of footy.
Look, that might be because I now refuse to listen to her or watch any show she is on, as she is really starting to give off Emperor Palpatine vibes, and I found myself waiting for her to shoot electricity at Hutchy, but even when I see her quoted, it is always about the most negative parts of football.
I wonder if she actually likes footy these days?
7 – CODY WEIGHTMAN
You all found yourself another blonde forward to hate, so it seems s though Cody Weightman is now free to roam around and play footy whilst all the attention for ducking goes onto Jack Ginnivan.
Good for Cody, I guess.
Couple that with the fact that the bloke dislocated his bloody elbow and kept on playing about a month or so ago, and you have a player who is in the process of turning from being a feisty little prick you hate, into a feisty little prick you kind of admire and wouldn’t mind having on your team.
Other players should look at dislocating their elbow to prove how tough they are. Even better, dislocate someone else’s!
8 – TOBY GREENE
It’s a funny thing – Toby Greene is much easier to tolerate for most people when his team absolutely sucks arse.
Had the Giants been winning, I have no doubt Toby would have been splashed across the front page for his wrestle against Mitch Robinson on the weekend, but hey… as long as this upstart team from rugby state stays out of contention, who cares if Toby is playing well, or playing up?
I kind of care, because we are wasting the prime of one of the true stars of the game, and with a new coach and a new gameplan in play, I am pretty hopeful we get to see Toby back on the big stage as soon as next season.
Just so you can all hate him again.
9 – EDDIE MCGUIRE
Well, Ed doesn’t quite have the same platform he once had.
His time at Collingwood came to a bloody, horrible end, and it wasn’t long until his lovechild, Nathan Buckley followed him out the door. Still, Ed had Footy Classified…. and hasn’t he used that to float some ripper ideas that have confused just about everyone, and bored those they didn’t confuse.
In a lot of ways, Ed has started to become like the drunk uncle at a Xmas party who insists he has a way of fixing things that may not necessarily be broken, and in the process, he just ends up pissing off every kid in the place as toy after toy is dismantled under some misguided vision that Ed was creating something unique and wonderful.
And then that uncle falls asleep on the couch, the kids are crying, looking at their almost unrecognisable piles of parts and their mum tells them “he means well”.
The funny thing is, I think he does.
10 – JASON HORNE-FRANCIS
Whoa… HB, he’s like 12 years old, mate.
Ahhhh, that would explain the petulance. As soon as JHF put contract extension talks on hold, David Noble was a man on borrowed time, but the kid didn’t stop there. No, no… he jumped on a plane and flew back to South Australia to visit his mum, liked a fake trade on instagram that suggested trading him to Port Adelaide, and had a bit of a brief exchange of ideas with one of the elder statesmen of the club as they left the field.
And then he got suspended.
In a way, he is the anti-Daicos this season. He has been thrust into the limelight as the number one pick and has not had a huge impact given the nature of the role he has been forced to occupy. With the Kangaroos investing so much in him, his non-committal is certain to upset a few along the way.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP TEN
Aaaaand, I may have forgotten all about Jordan de Goey when I did this. Thanks to Matt Leary for pointing it out. JDG should probably be top five given the vitriol he’s copped from fans.
Once again, it actually turned out to be a lot easier to list those personalities that 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. This is all in good fun – it’s inspired by pro wrestling; it’s obviously not real.