The Forgotten Accolade – The VFL Team of the Year

We have taken a lot for granted over the years, haven’t we? In a time when rule changes and interpretations shift the game further from what we knew toward something we’re not quite sure of, I like to look back to compare and contrast what was with what is. Along the way, I have been lucky enough to find little snippets that make the journey back in time worthwhile.

I came across one of these little snippets as I was looking at notes for a couple of vintage games I am covering for some upcoming articles. Whilst looking up a few facts, and checking a few of what I thought were facts before publishing (I do that… but only from time to time) I encountered the honour of “VFL Team of the Year” as an award some players were able to obtain throughout their footy careers. A little research was required, so down the rabbit hole, I went.

This award was instituted prior to what we now have in the All-Australian Team. In essence, it WAS an annual All-Australian selection before there was an official All-Australian Team, and was featured in the VFL yearbook each season.

Yes, I realise there were AA awards they’d hand out as part of state-of-origin carnivals over that period. I’ll get to that later.

Oh, but I hear the arguments already – “This is VicBias! This team of the year concept is just a VFL-centric team, and players from West Australia and South Australia wouldn’t have been recognised unless they moved to Victoria.”

And yeah, you’re right, it’s not fair, but I didn’t choose where players played. They did.

To me, it’s just the same as the other Vic-centric histories of the AFL. It’s not fair that the VFL premierships are recognised and the WAFL and SANFL victories aren’t. Just the same as it’s not fair that the Brownlow Medallists prior to 1990 are recognised and the Margarey Medal and Sandover Medal winners aren’t recognised as being at the same level.

For the purpose of this article, we’re gonna have to wear this “VicBias” just this once, okay? Selection in this combined team of this nature deserves recognition, and there are players from WA and SA who are featured heavily.

What I propose is that selection in this VFL Team of the Year is elevated to be held in the same regard as the current All-Australian selections. This was the team of the year in the best competition in the land, and if we’re trying to look at things fairly, the way the All-Australian selections were doled out prior to 1991 was pretty suspect at best, anyway.

Players named as an All-Australian prior to 1991 were basically players who strung together a couple of good games as part of the state-of-origin carnivals that were held… hmmm, ‘sporadically’ would be a good word to describe their frequency. From 1972 until 1988, there were eight carnivals, which meant that the best you could achieve… assuming you played all 18 years, was eight All-Australian selections. Pretty unlikely.

It was a cobbled-together selection of players based on how they fared over two or three games – hardly the best way to determine the team of the season and a far cry from what being named All-Australian currently means.

All-Australian selection back then had a very narrow window for players to be at their best and gain selection. It was a little bush league to a point, but that was the nature of it at the time.

Take for instance Alex Jesaulenko – he was All-Australian in the 1969 carnival. Given his stature in the game, he should have been able to go back and become a multiple-time All-Australian at several Origin carnivals, right?

Nup, he couldn’t. The next carnival was three years later in 1972, and whilst he managed a second AA berth there, he would not receive another chance until 1979, and Jezza was past his best by then. Six years without a chance at another AA selection – seems a bit harsh. So, bad luck Jezza. You’re a two-time All-Australian and that’ll be it for you. Thanks for coming.

How about someone like Fitzroy’s Garry Wilson? All-Australian in 1979 and 1980. He had the chance to really rack up a few selections as one of the best rovers in the caper. But of course, there were no carnivals in 81 or 82, and thus no AA team again until 1983. By 1984, Wilson was done with the game, so it wasn’t exactly rewarding consistency, was it?

So, where to?

Okay, now that I have royally pissed off people from at least two footy states, as well as All-Australian loyalists, I should take a minute to look at what being named in the VFL Team of the Year SHOULD mean to the legacies of the players.

In contrast to the hodgepodge of All-Australian selection prior to 1991, the VFL Team of the Year was named from 1982 until 1990 (yet I cannot find the 1985 team for the life of me! The VFL didn’t produce a yearbook in 86, so the team from 85 is not readily available). The selection of this side was more consistent, and gives a fantastic indication as to who was playing well for an entire premiership season, or several seasons in a row, as opposed to two good games representing the state every two or three years.

I’m not attempting to whack State of Origin, or selection in teams to represent your state – state selection is an accolade in and of itself, but I believe achievements in those games and at those carnivals should be kept completely separate from awards pertaining to the performance over the whole season.

All-Australian selection is now based on a player’s performance over the season, and with this accolade, we have the opportunity to backdate that. The info is already there, and in the process we can give the AA selections acquired in the old carnival system recognition without fitting them in like a square peg in a round hole.

In regard to the all-time All-Australian selections, what we have now is a miss-mash of season awards (from 1991 onwards) and state-of-origin carnival awards (from 1988 backwards to 1953).

It’s a mess.

Paul Roos was able to bolster his total number of All-Australian blazers with selections in the carnivals in 1985, 87 and 88, which in itself is a great achievement, but against his peers in the VFL, he made just two VFL teams of the year in that timeframe – 1986 and 87. In 84, he had to take a back seat to Ross Glendinning in the team of the year, yet Rosco has just one All-Australian selection under the current system. It’s wrong. Glendinning’s four selections in the VFL Team of the Year are an outstanding return.

For the record, Roos was third in the Brownlow in 1985, so chances are he’d have a VFL team of the Year selection that year as well if that team ever finds the light of day.

The VFL housed the best players in the land through the 1980s. Of this, there can be little doubt. Players like Kernahan, Platten, Bradley, Krakouer x 2, Glendinning… they all headed to the VFL to play in the biggest competition in the land. There is a very good reason that the VFL became the AFL, and the other state leagues became… state leagues.

Some South Aussies will argue that Garry McIntosh, Michael Aish, Russell Ebert or Graham Cornes were in the top handful in the land at times during the late 70s and 80s, and they may be correct, but McIntosh and Aish opted to stay in the SANFL, whilst Cornes and Ebert did venture into Victoria, but did so too late in their careers to really make an impact (Ebert did have a ripping season in his one year at North Melbourne).

West Aussies will sing the praises of Stephen Michael til the cows come home but given he was never a part of the VFL, it is hard to gauge just how good he could have been against the absolute best, week in and week out. Many of the top WAFL players made the jump to the VFL, and their exploits are represented well.

So, below, I have compiled eight of the nine VFL teams of the year. Have a bit of a peruse and I’ll jump back in following the lists.

B: D. Ackerly, K. Moore, D. O’Halloran.
HB: K. Hunter, R. Glendinning, S. Icke.
C: J. Buckley, B. Wilson, R. Flower.
HF: P. Daicos, P. Van Der Haar, Gerard Healy.
F: G. Dempsey, M. Blight, L. Matthews.
Foll: M. Fitzpatrick, B. Rowlings.
Rover: R. Ashman.
Inter: T. Wallace, G. Smith.
Coach: D. Parkin.

B: D. English, G. Malarkey, G. Ayres.
HB: K. Hunter, R. Glendinning, R. Greene.
C: R. Flower, T. Wallace, G. Cunningham.
HF: T. Watson, T. Daniher, M. Rioli.
F: S. Madden, B. Quinlan, L. Matthews.
Foll: M. Lee, M. Tuck.
Rover: B. Royal.
Inter: W. Picken, M. Browning.
Coach: A. Jeans.

B: D. Ackerly, C. Mew, P. Moore.
HB: B. Doull, R. Glendinning, R. Thornton.
C: R. DiPierdomenico, L. Baker, R. Flower.
HF: Gary Ablett, T. Daniher (capt.). Gerard Healy.
F: M. Lee, B. Quinlan, A. Shaw.
Foll: S. Madden, R. Greene.
Rover: K. Hodgeman.
Inter: R. Ashman, D. Banks, A. Purser,
D. Hawkins, G. Burns, B. Evans.
Coach: K. Sheedy.

B: M. Thompson, G. Pert, G. Ayres.
HB: G. Hawker, P. Roos, D. Carroll.
C: D. Hawkins, G. Williams, R. DiPierdomenico.
HF: Gary Ablett, T. Daniher (capt.). G. Buckenara.
F: W. Blackwell, B. Taylor, J. Krakouer.
Foll: G. Dear, Gerard Healy.
Rover: D. Weightman.
Inter: C. Bradley, J. Madden, J. Platten, D. Brereton.
Coach: A. Jeans.

B: A. Bews, C. Langford, D. Rhys-Jones.
HB: S. Wight, P. Roos, M. Bos.
C: R. DiPierdomenico, G. Williams, S. Stretch.
HF: W. Johnston, S. Kernahan, T. McGuinness.
F: M. Bairstow, T. Lockett, D. Weightman.
Foll: J. Madden, Gerard Healy.
Rover: J. Platten.
Inter: S. Madden, R. Morris, J. Krakouer, R. Glendinning.

B: G. Ayres, C. Langford, D. Frawley.
HB: J. Worsfold, S. Silvagni, B. Lovett.
C: D. Kappler, G. Williams, C. Bradley.
HF: G. Buckenara, S. Kernahan, P. Daicos.
F: D. Weightman, J. Dunstall, S. O’Dwyer.
Foll: S. Madden, Gerard Healy.
Rover: J. Platten.
Inter: S. Morwood, D. Brereton, M. Larkin, B. Mitchell.

B: A. Johnson, C. Langford, G. Pert.
HB: B. Lovett, G. Lyon, G. McKenna.
C: D. Pritchard, P. Couch, G. Brown.
HF: N. Winmar, S. Kernahan, Gary Ablett.
F: B. Stoneham, J. Dunstall, A. Bews.
Foll: S. Madden, M. Bairstow.
Rover: J. Platten.
Inter: T. Daniher, T. Watson, M. Bayes, G. Williams.

B: A. Collins, S. Silvagni, J. Worsfold.
HB: B. Lovett, G. Lyon, G. O’Donnell.
C: D. Millane, A. Shaw (capt.). G. Wright.
HF: P. Daicos, S. Loewe, Gary Ablett.
F: S. Kernahan, J. Longmire, S. Russell.
Foll: S. Madden, C. Lewis.
Rover: T. McGuinness.
Inter: M. McGuane, M. Thompson, T. Liberatore, M. Tuck.
Coach: L. Matthews.


So, now that the teams are up there, let’s take a look again at what this means for player legacies.

John Platten is currently listed as a one-time All-Australian. Just once – in 1992. Don’t you think he was a little better than that? He’s a Brownlow Medallist for Gary Ablett’s sake! If we add four VFL Team of the Year awards to his name, it becomes a little more impressive. It’s kind of like making him a five-time All-Australian.

That is much more commensurate with his impact on the game over the years.

Ken Hunter had one AA nod at the carnival in 1980. He was done and dusted before they were handed out for actual in-season performances, but he was selected twice in the team of the year. Three-time All-Australian, Ken Hunter sounds much more appropriate for a man of his talents and courage.

Robbie Flower? Three times in the team of the year. Much better.

Chris Langford? Three selections, which would make Hawks fans smile.

Ross Glendinning? Four-time team of the year representative – far more reflective of how good he was than the single AA selection he received. He was a beast.

Collingwood fans – Darren Millane gets the nod as well, which should bring a smile to your face.

Carlton fans – Stephen Kernahan garners four selections in the team of the year as his prowess as centre half forward is recognised properly. This makes him the equivalent of a five-time AA player.

West Coast fans – don’t like it because it is too VFL-centric? John Worsfold is a two-time selection. Guy McKenna gets a guernsey, and so does Chris Lewis. For a bloke as talented as Lewis, no All-Australian selection is a joke, but here he is being recognised for his 1990 season.


There are other winners here.

Simon Madden rams home just how good he was through the 80s with six selections, whilst Gerard Healy slots in with five – as terrible a commentator as he is, people forget how good this bloke was at footy. Players who are named in this team that never received an AA nod include Peter Daicos (Yep, never got an AA nod), Mark Bairstow, David Rhys-Jones and Wayne Johnston.

The VFL Team of the Year may not be your cup of tea, but it is an accolade that has been lost in the shuffle over the years, and some of the great individual seasons in V/AFL seasons have not been afforded the recognition they deserve. Perhaps it’s time they were.

And if anyone ever finds the results from 1985, please let me know… this is killing me!



Simon Madden – 6

Gerard Healy – 5

Greg Williams – 4

Terry Daniher – 4

Gary Ablett Snr – 4

Stephen Kernahan – 4

John Platten – 4

Ross Glendinning – 4

Robert Flower – 3

Peter Daicos – 3

Gary Ayres – 3

Robert DiPierdomenico – 3

Dale Weightman – 3

Brett Lovett – 3

Leigh Matthews – 2

Mark Lee – 2

Michael Tuck – 2

Russell Greene – 2

Terry Wallace – 2

Tim Watson – 2

Bernie Quinlan – 2

Rod Ashman – 2

Tony Shaw – 2

Doug Hawkins – 2

Mark Thompson – 2

Gary Pert – 2

Paul Roos – 2

Gary Buckenara – 2

Jim Krakouer – 2

Justin Madden – 2

Dermott Brereton – 2

Andrew Bews – 2

Tony McGuinness – 2

Mark Bairstow – 2

John Worsfold – 2

Craig Bradley – 2

Jason Dunstall – 2

Garry Lyon – 2

David Ackerly – 2

Ken Hunter – 2


So, there we go. On a personal note, I was a little shocked to see Jim Krakouer make the team twice, but Phil didn’t get a spot, at all. I always loved the way Phil played. Maybe I was in the minority?

And how underrated is Brett Lovett in footy history? Three selections in this team are nothing to sneeze at.

Finally, wingmen being selected on the wing in the team of the year… kind of gives it a little more credibility, as well. Would be good in the current AA teams took a leaf out of this book and actually played players in position.

Yeah… like that’ll happen.


PS – If any SA or WA people have a commensurate list of SANFL or WAFL teams of the year from the same period, I’d be happy to dive into them, as well. Let me know if you do.


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