And so, after a couple of weeks deliberating, listening, reading and concocting arguments for and against players’ inclusion or exclusion in the All-AFL Era team, I’ve bit the bullet and finalised my side.

Is it perfect? Hell no… no one’s side is perfect, and I am sure dozens of people will poke holes in the composition of the team. And those people, I say… “that’s fine”.

No one lives and dies by this team’s composition. It’s a talking point I’m more than willing to discuss in the comments, on our socials, or via email for those who have a bit more to say and like to get in-depth answers (you know who you are). I think there are substantial cases for many players who missed the cut, and to avoid being bogged down in the same conversations with multiple people, I’ll add some context for the more contentious picks at the bottom of the article.

Let’s start with the defenders

BACKS

BP – MATTHEW SCARLETT

FB – STEPHEN SILVAGNI

BP – GAVIN WANGANEEN

So, why Scarlett in the pocket and SOS at full back? I’m glad I asked.

When looking at the players and who they matched up against, I had vivid memories of Silvagni holding down a true full back position. When Carlton played Hawthorn, Silvagni played on Dunstall. He matched up against Gary Senior and Tony Lockett at regular intervals.

As great as Scarlett was, there were power forward match ups that would be handed to others, such as Tom Lonergan taking on Lance Franklin for most of their duels during the fierce Geelong v Hawthorn rivalry. It takes nothing away from Scarlett or the defender he was – he was allocated other duties at which he excelled – this is just a positional decision. If some may take it as a slight, I don’t think there is much I can do about that.

Maybe Scarlett can win full back of the next century to push Silvagni to the pocket?

Wanganeen started in the back pocket at Essendon and was one of the most acrobatic and damaging defenders in the game. That Brownlow Medal season was one for the ages, and his status in the game was enhanced with his tenure at Port Adelaide, joining as part of their inaugural AFL team, and playing a big part in their eventual flag.

HALF BACKS

HBF – ANDREW MCLEOD

CHB – GLEN JAKOVICH

HBF – LUKE HODGE (Vice-Captain)

Sincere apologies to Corey Enright, who I had battling it out with Hodge on the flank. I ebbed and flowed between the two, but in the end, those two Norm Smith Medals and the demonstrated leadership of Hodge are hard to ignore. The second lease on AFL life Hodge experienced at Brisbane only seemed to add to his legacy. I have to admit, I didn’t think would be the case when he ended his Krusty the Clown-like retirement.

On either of the flanks we have dual Norm Smith Medallists. I reckon it would take something special to displace them. McLeod spent a fair whack of time as a damaging mid, but it was his run and explosiveness from half back that made him a household name.

I believe I made my argument for Jakovich in one of the squad articles. When you take on the best and are able to beat the best, you have to be considered as one of the best, yourself. And that’s what Jako did.

I’ve watched several of his duels against Wayne Carey in full now, and each of them tell their own, distinct story. There were very few who could match Carey for muscle and corral him on the deck as well, but prior to that knee operation, Jakovich was the one man who could, and did consistently.

CENTRES

W – PETER MATERA

C – MICHAEL VOSS (Captain)

W – NATHAN BUCKLEY

I expect a little blowback here, so I’ll start with this – it was tempting to include two pure wingers in this team, but I felt Peter Matera was so far ahead of the next best wing, to throw someone else in there just because they played the same position would be a disservice not only to this team, but to how bloody good Matera was.

I remember seeing him rip games to shreds. I sat with a mate and watched a West Coast v Essendon game at one stage in the 90s and my mate was imploring someone to stop him running and bouncing down the wing. I remember thinking they would… if only they could.

So, instead of having a second pure wing, I cheated and threw Bucks onto the other wing. I always felt he was at his damaging best when he could receive and run, with that blasting kick of his a weapon that any modern team would be thrilled to have. Did he play wing? Look, he may have dabbled and he was named on the wing in the AA team twice… that’s good enough for me.

Voss in the middle for leadership and would have to go close to being appointed captain of this side. My favourite Voss memory is of him bouncing up in the Grand Final after Scott Burns dropped him. As the play continued, Voss was back in the mix immediately, and was involved in the goal immediately after. Inspirational.

HALF FORWARDS

HFF – JAMES HIRD

CHF – WAYNE CAREY

HFF – NICK RIEWOLDT

Carey was another lock at Centre Half Forward, but it did open up a bit of a can of worms in regard to what other talls could fit into the line-up.

Hird was named in four All-Australian teams as a half forward, and though many will argue he played his best footy in the middle, I’m cheating again by having him slot in here. Blame the All-Australian selectors!

The other flank was where I had issues. Without a genuine half forward…or one I thought was worthy to be in the presence of these other two, I looked at talls who were able to be mobile as well.

It came down to Richo and Nick Riewoldt. I love Riewoldt’s game. His hard run, the repeated efforts, the ability to drop the hammer and run his opponent into the ground with fourth, fifth or sixth consecutive efforts. I remember watching opponents gasping for air as Riewoldt would finally get a few metres and take a mark, himself having to suck in the big ones before kicking. He was incredible.

And then there was Richo – pouting, gesturing, and yelling at teammates. I may be a little petty, but I found it hard to get past that. Yes, Richo was amazing, and he owns six of the top 16 places on the list of games with the most contested grabs.

What ifs…? What if Richo or Riewoldt had won a flag? What if Richo had got up in the 2008 Brownlow? Would either of those change this selection? Well, it wouldn’t have hurt the chances of either. However, as it stands I went with the player who had a little more control, and seemed to be more of a “do as I do” kind of player.

FORWARDS

FP – JASON AKERMANIS

FF – MATTHEW LLOYD

FP – LANCE FRANKLIN

No Lockett. No Dunstall. No Ablett.

Let the mocking begin, but keep in mind, what we’re assessing here is only the AFL component of their careers. Ablett started in 1982 – that’s eight years down the gurgler before we even start looking at his career, which still provided three Coleman Medals and 600+ goals. But I am trying not be seduced by the magnificence of Ablett – his epic 1989 finals campaign was outside the parameters of this team. It was in the VFL.

Lockett was similar. 800+ goals came in the AFL, which means we leave 500 or so back in the VFL. Dunstall, again, is penalised for his excellence in the VFL. Two of his Coleman Medals came before we had an AFL, and although his 1992, with 145 goals remains the most complete I’ve personally seen from a key forward, he was just missing too much.

But those who did make it… Lloyd and Franklin are both tracking at over 900 goals each in the AFL Era. Neither of them lose any part of their achievements to the VFL, and with seven Coleman Medals between them, these two are no slouches.

So, Buddy in the pocket? Look, I felt that Lloyd was more a traditional mark/kick kind of forward and much more suited to playing out of the square, irrespective of what Matthew Knights thought. Franklin on the other hand, is non-traditional. He is just as dangerous with the ball on the deck as he is in the air (maybe more so) and his ability to get up the ground and back is incredible.

I could see Franklin playing out of the pocket easily. I cannot see Lloyd doing the same.

As for Akermanis, he is the finishing touch on a potent forward line. Always balanced, always dangerous, and able to finish on either foot from any angle, his brilliance, and ability to perform in big games has catapulted him past other small forwards and into the pocket.

FOLLOWERS

RUCK – DEAN COX

RR – CHRIS JUDD

R – GARY ABLETT JNR

I’m not sure you could have an ALL-AFL Era team without these three.

Cox was far and away the best ruck of the AFL Era, and with both Grundy and Gawn still compiling their CVs, he is an obvious choice.

Judd’s blistering pace away from stoppages and Ablett’s ability to accumulate and execute by foot are attributes that simply cannot be denied. In short, if you are compiling a team encompassing performances in this timeframe and do not have either of those two in, you need your head read.

Brownlows, Norm Smiths, MVPs, the Ablett/Judd combination have you covered for all your top-echelon awards.

INTERCHANGE

ADAM GOODES

MARK RICCIUTO

MATTHEW PAVLICH

MATTHEW RICHARDSON

Okey doke, there was a bit of back and forth-ing in regard to these names.

Goodes was another cheat pick, inasmuch as he can be effectively used in three different positions. I’ve got him in here as a mobile ruck/forward/on-baller as he won a Brownlow playing two of those roles and went forward later in his career to great effect as well. I’ve seen some pretty horrible comments on our page about him over the journey (have hopefully deleted them all) but his talent and success at the highest level is undeniable, and really, he could have, or should have been in the starting 18 but for how damn versatile he is!

I’m a huge Ricciuto fan. He’s a bull… a charging bull who doesn’t care who is in his way. His aggression, leadership and those eight… count ‘em, EIGHT All-Australian nods indicate just how good he is. I often feel that Roo doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as Buckley and Hird in regard to what he achieved, but the way he played, and the way he performed in those Showdown games… it appeals to me.

Pav… this spot was between the unlucky Corey Enright and Pav, but given the versatility of Pavlich, I simply could not go past him. He earned an All-Australian selection at full back as a 20 year old, then one in the midfield, then another as a forward. Pavlich could simply do it all, and the argument is often spouted that if he played in Victorian team, he’d be regarded as one of the greatest. I guess his inclusion here indicates… he already is regarded that way.

Nudged out of the starting 18 by Nick Riewoldt, Richo gets his much-deserved spot on the bench. 800 career goals cannot be ignored, and his contested marking, as stated above, was a sight to behold. Prior to this three year run by the Tigers, Richo was probably the best memory Richmond supporters had of the last quarter of a century, and for good reason – he was amazing.

Is the bench too ‘big’? I did think about that, but really, I am not going to eliminate someone from contention because they’re a big dude simply to accomodate a smaller one.

THE COACH

LEIGH MATTHEWS

This was tough. I really wanted to throw Clarkson in, and I have a huge soft spot for Mick Malthouse, but Matthews, with four flags for two teams gets the nod.

Will Clarkson pass him? Yeah look, he might, and some would argue he already has, but as I will explain below, I am a little reluctant to throw players or coaches into this team unless it is absolutely clear that they’re the best as it stands right now. Clarko is still writing his story… anything can happen, but Lethal has closed the book on his coaching career, and we know exactly what we’re dealing with.

Had I put Clarkson in now, there is simply no way Lethal could leapfrog him… but Clarko could still leapfrog Matthews, and could do so in the coming years if he’s able to get the Hawks back into contention and acquire some more silverware.

Until then, you cannot deny what Matthews did in Brisbane, or in ending the Collingwood drought. Who knows… maybe Hardwick will swoop in and knock them all over before all is said and done?

THE BIG QUESTIONS

WHERE’S DUSTY?

I’m glad I asked. Martin is in the midst of compiling an amazing career. His two Norm Smiths/one Brownlow combination is something that no one else has achieved. Ever. Even if we do include VFL stats.

If he continues on the trajectory, he will displace someone in this side. As it stands, I believe his place in history is well and truly secure, but where he finishes as compared to the Voss, Buckley, Judd, Ablett kind of cohort will be fascinating to see. This will be updated after every season, so if his rich vein of form continues for another year or two, I would expect to see Martin’s name start fending a few off to claim his spot. You just don’t wanna jump the gun, as once they’re in; you can’t drop them out because you feel like it.

ABLETT, DUNSTALL, LOCKETT?

I know a lot of you will be up in arms about this, and that’s fine. If we’re looking at overall careers, Lloyd and Franklin still pale in comparison to the three titular characters.

But we’re not looking at their entire careers. We are looking at only the 29 years (yes, it’s been that long) since the league officially became the Australian Football League. What happened in the Victorian Football League, the South Australian National Football League, or the Western Australian Football League isn’t being taken into consideration. Therefore, the below applies.

Ablett – 619 goals

Dunstall – 777 goals

Lockett – 895 goals

So, when you compare that to Lloyd and Franklin, at 926 and 944 goals respectively, it starts to become apparent that what are amazing careers are severely hampered by the transition from the VFL to the AFL.

I don’t expect that reasoning to be enough for everyone, so here’s a bit more. Lloyd and Franklin have 13 All-Australian selections between them. Dunstall, Lockett and Ablett have 11 in the AFL Era.

Colemans? Dunstall, Lockett and Ablett have seven. So does the Lloyd/Buddy combination.

If we were doing all-time lists, we’d have to include one, two, or all of the Lockett, Dunstall, and Ablett combination would be in. But we’re not. This is the AFL Era only.

And they’re out.

OF THE CURRENT CROP OF PLAYERS, WHO ELSE CAN MAKE THIS TEAM?

I had to add Buddy and Ablett Jnr – all-time greats no matter which way you look at it. They could both fall over, never play another game and their place in this team is secure.

Scott Pendlebury is probably one major award away. He has had a stellar career, and there are plenty who think Pendles trumps Bucks as the greatest Magpie of the modern era. Maybe the title of… premiership captain could elevate him?

Alex Rance? Another All-Australian selection will no doubt put him in the mix. Jeremy McGovern is on the right path as well. We may end up having to choose between the two one day… and who they replace?

I’d love to throw Joel Selwood in the mix as well, just because he’s a gun, but a more astute pick would be someone like Dangerfield, who could pick up another Brownlow before all is said and done. And if Fyfe gets a third, or carries his team deep into the finals, maybe it’s time to start looking at his claim as well.

Grundy and Gawn we covered above, but if we see one of them accrue 5-6 All-Australian selections, it could be enough to unseat Cox.

WHO IS STIFFEST TO MISS OUT?

I mentioned Corey Enright above. He was in my initial team, but the more I looked at it, the more I had trouble slotting him in there over Hodge or McLeod at half-back. With their records in big games, I couldn’t bring myself to elevate him over either of them.

Rob Harvey… yeah, I’ll make some enemies here, and that’s okay, but I didn’t see him as being anywhere near as damaging as the other mids included in this team. Back to back Brownlows, an engine that could go all day, and eight All-Australian teams, I just couldn’t knock one of those mids/on-ballers out for him. Could he have gone in instead of Mark Ricciuto? There’s probably a strong case for that. Should I have got rid of wings altogether and just had it as another midfield spot? If you say yes, you obviously never watched Matera play.

Brent Harvey is another who could have made the grade, particularly had I been angling for smalls to balance out what is a pretty top-heavy forward structure. Roughly four million or so games at a high level (he was going beautifully at the end) has to have him in for consideration.

I did say this wasn’t going to be perfect, and for fans of Enright and Harvey, it won’t be. I’ll have to cop the criticism.

AND WHO SLOTS IN AS CAPTAIN?

I was hoping I could have something jump out at me that would completely convince me that one of these great on-field leaders had something the others didn’t. Carey, Hird, Judd, Voss, Hodge… premiership captains, inspirational leaders, and the sort of players anyone would follow into battle, but despite his brilliance, I reckon Carey eliminated himself once his tenure at North Melbourne came to an end.

With Hird, Hodge, Judd and Voss remaining, what better source than to go to the players, themselves to see who they thought was the leader? Of course, they voted Taylor Walker as best captain twice, so take what you want from this…

Judd was voted best captain in 2011.

Hodge was voted best captain in 2014

Hird was never voted as best captain by his peers.

And Michael Voss was voted best captain four straight years from 2001-2004.

That’s good enough in my book. The next best was Carey with three, but as he was not being considered, Michael Voss is our captain. Luke Hodge slots in as second in command, meaning that two Brisbane Lions legends (settle down Hawks fans!) occupy the leadership positions. Add to that Leigh Matthews as coach and the Lions have taken a significant bite out of this team…

… for now.

With players on the horizon looking as though they’re locks to eventually displace someone on the team, I’d be interested to see who you think will be the first to drop out. It could be as early as next season!

And by all means, let’s discuss. It’s the off-season… as good a time as any to discuss something the likes of this. Feel free to submit your own teams.