And so, we’re down to the last position, and one of the most important aspects of the at All-AFL Era… the coach. Oh, and the rucks. Not that they’re not important.

It was interesting to read a bit of the feedback around the forwards and the lack of smalls in those highlighted. We didn’t have Eddie Betts or Stephen Milne as options. There was no Phil Matera, either.

I’ll get to Betts in a stand-alone article in the coming weeks, but as good as Matera was for a brief time, one All-Australian berth in his time as an Eagle simply doesn’t cut it. Milne had two AA selections but his 574 goals definitely warranted consideration. Would I have him in my team? Nope, but he definitely deserved a mention, and it was an oversight on my behalf. Apologies, Saints fans.

As we’re realistically looking at one position with the rucks (can you justify two in 22 spots with this much talent to choose from?) I’ve opted to double up and give the shortlist of both their position and the position of coach in this article.

Before I go on, here are the links to the three other categories we’ve discussed.

DEFENDERS

MIDFIELDERS

FORWARDS

So, without further ado (there’ll be a heap of ado when I have to explain the selections and try to justify them in the overall team this weekend), let’s launch into it.

 

RUCKS

 

DEAN COX

6x All-Australian (05, 06, 07, 08, 11, 12), 1x Best and Fairest (08), 1x Premiership (06)

The lockiest of locks, in my opinion. There are a couple of legitimate challengers in the game right now, in Brodie Grundy and Max Gawn, but none have been able to put together the body of work to rival Cox.

Six AA selections in the process of adopting a style of play that forced opposition coaches to factor his work around the ground into their plans every single week, Cox was clearly the best at his position over a duration of time others couldn’t sustain.

 

MAX GAWN

3x All-Australian (16, 18,19), 2x Best and Fairest (18, 19), 1x AFLCA Player of the Year (18)

Here comes challenger number one.

Gawn’s 2018 was spectacularly good, and he was rewarded with the number one ruck position in the AA team. His tap work to the likes of Clayton Oliver and Angus Brayshaw was so good that many had the Dees as favourites to take the next step and make the Grand Final in 2019.

They did take a step, tripped over ambition, slipped on some bad luck and landed right on their ass, but with a player like Gawn trying his guts out week in and week out, the potential for the Demons to recapture that blistering 2018 form is not lost.

Gawn looks to be the most likely challenger to Cox at the moment, but there is still a bit of work for him to do.

 

BRODIE GRUNDY

2x All-Australian (18, 19), 2x Best and Fairest (18, 19)

And the second challenger of the current AFL crop appears. Brodie Grundy is coming off two sensational seasons, where he has duelled with Gawn for the mantle of the best ruck in the game.

At just 25 years old, and a huge payday looming, Grundy’s future is extremely bright, but as good as he is, he is not yet at Cox’s level.

There is a fair bit of Cox about Grundy. His work at stoppages and around the ground is excellent. How he fares over the long haul will be the test.

 

AARON SANDILANDS

4x All-Australian (08, 09, 10, 14), 2x Best and fairest (09, 15)

Immovable and unbeatable at stoppages, Sandilands was like a walking, talking, tapping mountain in the late 2000s, paving a way for the Fremantle mids to get first hands on the footy. Around this time, the two best big men in the game hailed  from out west, and their clashes in derbies were always a highlight.

If there were one thing that prevented Sandilands from taking the next step, it had to be his inability to go forward and hurt teams on the scoreboard. Only ever reaching double figures in goals in two seasons, big Sandi did his best work in the guts and at stoppages, which I guess is what traditional rucks are supposed to do.

 

JIM STYNES

1x Brownlow Medal (91), 2x All-Australian (91, 93), 1x Leigh Matthews MVP Award (91), 4x Best and Fairest (91, 95, 96, 97)

The only ruck in the AFL Era to capture the double of the Brownlow and MVP awards, Stynes morphed into this incredible mobile big man after a start to his career that is probably best remembered for running across the mark of Gary Buckenara in the 87 Prelim and costing the Dees a shot at the Grand Final.

Stynes had amazing durability, playing in 244 consecutive games before breaking his had in 1998 to end his amazing streak.

 

Others to consider – Brendon Lade, Todd Goldstein, Matthew Primus, Shaun Rehn.

 

COACHES – minimum requirement is two premierships

 

MICK MALTHOUSE

3X Premiership coach. Career win percentage – 56.54%

Occasionally lost amid the mess of the ‘succession’ plan at Collingwood and the disaster that was his tenure at the disastrous Carlton Footy Club is the fact that Mick Malthouse was an absolute star as a coach.

He took the Eagles to two flags before moving east and establishing the Magpies as a team on the rise. Two Grand Final losses hurt, but redemption came in the form of a premiership in 2010 before the shift in the power dynamic saw him feeling a little shunted aside, opting to leave the club and eventually move to Carlton. While Al Clarkson may be lauded currently as the best coach in the game, there was a long period where Malthouse was the best in the business.

 

ALASTAIR CLARKSON

4X Premiership coach, Career win percentage – 61.53%

The modern maestro led the Hawks to a three-peat and cemented himself as an all-time great coach in the process. Add to that the triumph of 2008 and his standing amongst coaches continues to grow.

Amazingly, he has never been awarded coach of the year by his peers, despite his enormous success. Will that work against him? He’s got the four Jock McHale medals, but if his peers are voting for others, what does this tell us? And yes, I am aware they vote before the results of the finals series are known, otherwise we’d  end up with the premiership coach winning both the McHale medal and the coach of the year award every bloody year, wouldn’t we?

 

DENIS PAGAN

2X Premiership coach, career win percentage – 50.87%

Another scarred by a trip to Carlton that ended his career… David Teague had better watch himself.

Pagan took a group of kids and guided them as they became men. Names like Carey, Archer, Longmire… they all did their apprenticeship under Pagan. He won at every level, taking the North Under 19s to a flag, then the Essendon reserves, before securing the job at North Melbourne and leaving an indelible mark on the club.

Probably should have had three flags but for some horrendous first half kicking by his team in 1998 left the door open for the Adelaide Crows to storm home and pinch the second of back-to-back flags, and rob North of the chance of doing the same.

 

MARK THOMPSON

2X Premiership coach, Career win percentage – 61.13%

Looking like a possibility to be let go in 2006, Geelong stuck with Thompson into 2007, and boy, did it reap some rewards.

Bomber headed up the Geelong team that won two flags and left Chris Scott with the list to win another. Many speculate he would have been a three-time premiership coach had he just hung around, and it is difficult to argue with that point.

Recent events may have tarnished the way he is remembered by some, but Thompson led a rampaging Cats until pulling up stumps after the 2010 season. He would be handed the reins at Essendon for a season after the supplements scandal embroiled the club – a period that apparently soured his love for the game.

 

KEVIN SHEEDY

2X Premiership coach (Essendon), Career (AFL) win percentage – 51.89%

It seems like so long ago now, doesn’t it?

Sheeds had his ‘Baby Bombers’ fly to glory in ’93 and then the rampant 2000 team made good on the failure of 1999 with a resounding win over the Demons in the Grand Final, going 24-1 in that historic season.

He was coach of Essendon for 17 years under the AFL banner, and moved on to coach the fledgeling GWS Giants for two seasons before handing over to Leon Cameron, enduring 41 losses in 44 games, but such was Sheedy’s manner and reputation that this tenure, unlike those of Pagan and Malthouse at other clubs, did nothing to damage his reputation. It did, however, impact his win percentage quite dramatically.

 

LEIGH MATTHEWS

4X Premiership coach (1x Collingwood and 3x Brisbane). Career (AFL) win percentage – 62.29%

Ahhh, Lethal. Would be first picked if you were putting together an “all-time” team, and with four flags at two clubs, he has to be right in the mix for the coaching role here as well.

His 1990 flag started the AFL Era at Collingwood, and his historic three-peat with the Brisbane Lions firmly entrenched him as one of the greats of modern coaching as well.

So, Lethal or Clarko? Does Malthouse get a look in as well?

 

MALCOLM BLIGHT

2X Premiership coach (Adelaide), Career (AFL) win percentage – 60.09%

Hailed as a genius, Blight turned around the flagging fortunes of the Adelaide Crows and took them to back-to-back flags with an element of ruthlessness coupled with just a touch of OCD madness.

Blight made the hard calls early, cutting players like Andrew Jarman, Chris McDermott and Tony McGuinness and later giving big man, Shaun Rehn a memorable serve at half time of the ’97 Prelim.

Blight pushed buttons and backed himself, and he has a couple of flags with the Crows to show for it.  His time at St Kilda and as captain/coach at North… that wasn’t so great.

 

DAMIEN HARDWICK

2X Premiership coach (Richmond), Career win percentage – 57.02%

The story is still unfolding, and though I reckon there’ll be a few Tiger fans arguing Dimma’s case, there are quite a few chapters to be written before we can put him at the top of this list.

Hardwick has worked diligently to create a culture to be proud of at Richmond. His relationships with players, and his willingness to open himself up has endeared him to Tiger fans, and the spoils have been plentiful.

Another flag and Hardwick could be starting to give whoever sits in the coaches box in this team a bit of a nudge this time next year.

 

So there we go; the final two categories to consider before putting together your All-AFL Era team. I’ll be releasing mine on the weekend, and truthfully, though I have a rough idea of how it’ll look, there are a few decisions I am really deliberating on at the moment.

One is on the half back flank, another on the half forward flank, and the other is whether I go with two designated wingmen or split the difference and have one, and another midfielder fill the void.

I’ve got some work to do.