Pointing out the AFL’s father-son rule is a quick way to lay to rest any argument claiming there is no longer romance in football. Currently, we have a Daicos at Collingwood, a Daniher at Essendon, an Ablett at Geelong, and a Jarman in Adelaide.
Family connections in the AFL are strong, and both the clubs and the league have embraced the nostalgia embodied by having family ties at club level. It’s one aspect unique to AFL football, and something that should be not only retained, but fostered as we move forward. Fathers and sons attending Western Bulldogs games, or watching them together on TV can see Tom Liberatore tackle an opponent to the ground whilst the father reminisces about Tom’s Brownlow Medal-winning dad, Tony in the red, white and blue. The recently retired Jobe reminded so many of his father with the way he moved with the ball for Essendon, and in 2018 we’ll see Patrick Naish follow in his father Chris’ footsteps at Tigerland.
If the son is good enough, he'll get the opportunity to walk the same path as his father, or possibly even his grandfather in Jack Silvagni’s case.
With that in mind, the question of powerful football families deserves a little more exploration. Which families have made the biggest impact on the sport over its long history, and which families are set to expand their influence as we enter 2018?
It’s hard to look beyond the Ablett family when you are talking about upper echelon talent. Gary Senior had the football world at his feet. Sadly, he stumbled over it a few times en route to being regarded as one of the greatest to ever play the game. His son won two Brownlow Medals and a record five AFL Most Valuable Player awards. Many believe that the son surpassed the father, if not in terms of sheer talent, then in commitment and sustained success. As the amount of awards piles up, it has become a difficult point to argue against.
But the Ablett family had more strings to its bow than just that father-son combination. I think its safe to leave Nathan out of the conversation, as I believe football wasn’t his passion. He probably wouldn’t mind too much if he wasn’t prominently featured in an article examining famous football families. Geoff Ablett is another story.
Gary Snr’s older brother, Geoff played for Hawthorn, but also had short spells at both Richmond and St Kilda. His 229 games saw him play in 2 Hawk premierships (76 and 78) and he finished with a healthy career average of over 18 touches per game. The third Ablett brother, Kevin played for Hawthorn, Richmond and Geelong.
Now, in any regular footballing family, anyone else we threw into the Ablett family-mix could be seen as the steak knives at this point. However, when you consider that Michael Tuck is the man we’re adding, those steak knives start to look like a pretty tempting purchase all by themselves. Tucky married Fay - the sister of Gary, Geoff and Kevin, bringing the man who would, until recently, hold the AFL games record into the family. Michael and Fay would then have two sons who played in the AFL. Travis, who spent time at both Hawthorn and Richmond, and Shane, who was an important part of the Tigers’ engine room for many years.
And just when you thought it was all done for the Abletts, don’t forget about Luke - son of Kevin, who bobbed up in Sydney and was part of their 2005 premiership team. Phew…
The Daniher clan made history in 1990, when four brothers lined up for the Bombers. Terry, Neale, Chris and Anthony grew up playing in New South Wales, but became central to Essendon’s success through the 1980s. Terry would win the Most Valuable Player Award (now known as the Leigh Matthews trophy) in 1983 and was All-Australian captain in 1985.
Those who watched a young Neale Daniher play swear black and blue (or red and black) he was the most talented of the brothers, however repeated knee injuries hobbled him, and he could only manage 82 games for his Bombers. He would go on to become Melbourne coach and, like Terry, had a larrikin personality that drew people to him.
Anthony’s 233 VFL/AFL games were extremely underrated. He played almost equal amounts for South Melbourne and Essendon, and was All-Australian full back in 1991, but he is also beloved by Essendon fans for another reason. Anthony delivered the Bomber faithful Joe Daniher, their current towering forward. Joe, drafted under the father-son rule, looks as though he will be adding more glory to the Daniher name as the go-to forward for the next 10 years for Essendon.
Chris reminded me of the runt of the litter in many ways. Still, he amassed 124 games for the ‘Dons, and was the last of the four brothers standing, playing in the 1993 premiership team.
But wait, there is some steak knives here. We almost forgot about Darcy Daniher. Playing only 6 games, he retired in 2011, but hey, he made the league and gets a guersney in the Daniher Dynasty.
People tend to forget how good David Cloke was at Richmond. Patrolling the half forward line, Cloke was an absolute gun in the Tigers’ 1980 premiership year. In a team laden with talent the likes of Roach, Raines and Bartlett, Cloke was the standout player in many games. Check out these stats for a Centre Half Forward in 1980.
Round 5 – 29 disposals, 9 marks, 3 goals
Round 7 – 25 disposals, 9 marks
Round 11 – 27 disposals, 12 marks
Round 13 – 25 disposals, 12 marks, 5 goals
Round 16 – 32 disposals, 10 marks, 3 goals
Cloke was playing Centre Half Forward like a modern day champion back before it was fashionable. And fashion wasn't really his strong suit. He moved to Collingwood, and it was there that the Cloke bloodline continued to flow into the next AFL generation.
It started with Jason, who was a very serviceable backman for the Pies. That is, until Mick Malthouse decided to throw him forward in the 2003 grand final; a move that did not pay dividends. Jason looked all at sea, and was one of the Magpies’ least effective players in that game, collecting only four disposals. It spelled the beginning of the end for his AFL career.
Cameron Cloke played for both the Pies and the Blues, and is probably best remembered for being assaulted by his own teammate during an intra-club match. Cam probably still has an imprint of Setanta O’Hailpin’s boot on his backside.
Travis was the pick of the Cloke-offspring. Despite being a maligned player much of the time, Travis had an excellent AFL career. Playing over 250 games and adding over 450 goals to his name, he was one of the strongest contested marks in the game during his prime, and was integral in the Magpies 2010 premiership triumph. He led the Collingwood goalkicking four times, made two All-Australian teams, and won the Copeland trophy and the Pies’ Best and Fairest in 2007.
Now we start really getting out on branches in family trees. The Krakouer Brothers burst onto the VFL scene for North Melbourne in 1982, but both Jim and Phil were already stars in Western Australia, playing in Claremont’s 1981 premiership alongside future Richmond star, Maurice Rioli. We’ll get to the Rioli family soon enough…
Jim and Phil were a revelation, and soon the phrase ‘Krakouer Magic’ was being uttered on every football oriented show in the country. While they did not achieve premiership glory at North Melbourne, anyone who watched them play marveled at their sixth sense when it came to finding each other on the field.
Jim’s son, Andrew followed him into the league and started as a quick small forward for Richmond in 2001. Sadly it would not be the only place he followed his troubled father. Andrew was jailed in 2008 and spent almost two years behind bars before he resurrected his career with Collingwood in 2011, averaging almost a goal a and a half per game for the next three seasons.
Maurice, Cyril, Daniel… the Rioli family oozes class and success on the field. The late, great Maurice won the 1982 Norm Smith Medal for the Tigers; one of only four men to win the award as part of a losing side. His nephew, Cyril, added a Norm Smith of his own to the family honour board when he secured the award in 2015, and has four premiership medals and three All-Australian berths to his name as well
But there’s more to this Rioli family. Essendon champion, Michael Long is an uncle of Cyril, and guess what medal Uncle Michael managed to nab for himself in 1993? Yep – a third Norm Smith for the family. Young Daniel has a bit of work to do to catch up to his three famous relatives, but 2017 was a great start. His performance in the preliminary final, kicking a career-high four goals, gave an indication of things to come, and his repeated efforts in the Grand Final that saw him injure an ankle in the process, were inspiring.
Of course, if you’re looking for more Rioli magic, Dean is one that you can add to the mix too. He played 100 games for the Bombers, and was supremely skilled. He also enjoyed eating pies.
And now we come to the Silvagni family. There are not many more names more synonymous with a club than that of the Silvagni clan with Carlton.
Serge played 239 games in the navy blue, including two premierships in 1968 and 1970. He formed a famous on-ball duo with John Nicholls and spent a season as the Blues captain before Ron Barassi arrived on the scene to usher in a period of glory for Carlton.
The arrival of Stephen Silvagni at Carlton raised the bar for father-son duos. SOS played 312 games, and was named full back in the AFL’s Team of the Century. Silvagni was no traditional gorilla full back. He was quick, he was gangly, and he looked like he was out of a contest right until the ball got into the vicinity. Somehow, his fist would make contact with the ball, foiling another opposition attack.
Stephen proved that he was as versatile as they come, pushing forward on occasion and finishing several games with bags of 8 or more goals, including a memorable 10 against Fitzroy in 1993.
Young Jack Silvagni has big shoes to fill indeed. Following in the footsteps of a revered grandfather, and an adored father cannot be easy. His early form has suggested that he might just be up to the task of building a name for himself. Built like his father, and looking a little untidy at times on the field (in the way he moves, not in terms of his disposal) he played 20 games in 2017 and notched almost a goal a game. He now has his third-cousin, Alex at Carlton with him as well, after a few years at Fremantle.
The Cordner family could have an article all of their own. With ten members all playing footy at the highest level, it is Don and George who combine to provide the highlights. Between them they have 5 premierships, 3 Bluey Truscott medals, 2 Melbourne FC Hall of Fame Inductions, and 1 Brownlow medal.
The tradition at Melbourne continues to this day, with Harriett Cordner, the granddaughter of Don, re-signing for her second season in the AFLW competition. She played seven games in 2017.
For further reading on families with storied histories in the AFL, check out some of the following names.
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