But enough of that parochial rant, let’s celebrate the 20 years of the AFL, and get excited about the 21st. In looking back over the past 20 years – 20 years in which I have rabidly watched as many games as I could (not that many when you live for 11 years in Cairns without Foxtel) – I thought about ranking the 20 Premiership teams. The problem, however, to be honest is that I can’t really remember how good or not so good was the 1994 West Coast team, let alone compare it to the 1991 Hawthorn team. But I had the idea in my head, and so I thought the best thing was to come up with some sort of quasi-mathematical way to determine the order of the teams.
I decided to order the teams through the use of a number of criteria:
- a point for the number of games it won in the minor round.
- a score dependent on their position at the end of the minor round – 16 for 1st, 15 for 2nd etc etc
- a rank according to the number of All-Australian in the team – the team with the most gets 20 points, the one with the least gets 1
- a score dependent on the rank of the Grand Final opponent – 8 if the opponent finished 1st (I figure beating 1st isn’t as good as finishing 1st)
- a score according to the team’s rank in terms of points scored in the season – most ‘point for’ gets a score of 16, 2nd most gets 15 etc
- a score according to the team’s rank in terms of points conceded in the season – least ‘points against’ gets a score of 16, 2nd most gets 15 etc
So let’s see how we go. From 20th to 1st:
20th – 2005, Sydney (score 61)
Sydney finished third, had only 2 All-Australians (Leo Barry and Barry Hall) and had only the 14th best attack (easily the worst attack to win the Premiership). True, they beat West Coast, but the Eagles came second that year – the Crows finished top (and incidentally beat Sydney twice that year).
19th – 1992, West Coast (score 62)
The Eagles only had 1 All-Australian member (Dean Kemp), the 9th best attack, though it did have the best defence. It’s ranking was also hampered by it finishing only 4th.
18th – 1991, Hawthorn (score 68)
The only premier with no All-Australians, which really hurts its ranking. It had the best attack of the year, and the fifth best defence.
=16th – 1993, Essendon (score 69)
Essendon only won 13 games (ok they only played 20 games that year, so I could give them another game, but stuff them – they beat the Crows in the Preliminary Final, and I can’t forgive them!). The team that year only had 2 all-Australians (Wanganeen and Harvey), and was the 2nd best attack and 3rd best defence. They did finish top, but they were never feared.
= 16th – 1999, North (score 69)
North in 1999 was at the end of their great run. They had 3 all-Australians (Pickett, Carey and Bell), they finished top and had the best attack, but only the 10th best defence (the worst ranking defence of any of the 20 premiers).
15th – 1997, Adelaide (score 72)
Ah what great memories. But let’s be honest, this was a team that peaked at the right time, rather than a dominant force. They finished fourth (but get points for beating the top ranked Saints). They had only 2 all-Australians (Ricciuto and Modra – neither of whom played in the Grand Final), but surprisingly (for some), they had the 2nd best attack, and the best defence. As a Crows fan (and stats nut) I can remember looking at that fact throughout the season and thinking they deserved to be ranked higher.
14th – 2003, Brisbane (score 73)
A shock for me to see the team that destroyed Collingwood in the final so low in the rankings. But they only finished 3rd (though yes everyone knew they were “better than that”). They only won 14 games, though they did have 3 all-Australians (Leppitsch, Lappin and Voss). They had the 2nd best attack, and the 5th best defence. A good side, though perhaps considered greater purely because they were the third Brisbane premiership team in a row.
13th – 2004, Port (score 74)
The team that ended Brisbane’s run, finished the year to with 17 wins. They had the third best attack, and fourth best defence. The small number of all-Australians – only 2 (Chad Cornes and Tredrea), keeps them lower than they otherwise would be.
12th – 2008, Hawks (score 75)
My memory is of the Hawks coming good in the finals, but they actually finished the year in 2nd with 17 wins, so they were doing something right in the minor round. They only had 2 All-Australians (Hodge and Franklin), and the 3rd best attack and defence. They score the maximum points for beating the top side, Geelong, in the final.
11th – 1996, North (score 76)
The first year of the dominant 1990s North. They once again had the best attack, but in defence they only came 7th. They won 16 games, finished 2nd, but best the top ranked Sydney in the final. Three All-Australian selections (Carey, McKernan and Archer) helped bump them up.
10th – 1998, Adelaide (score 77)
The only team to win from 5th (though of course the rules were different then). The ‘98 Crows make up for their lowly finish with 4 All-Australian selections (Smart, Ricciuto, McLeod and Rehn), and the best defence in the league. They had the 5th best attack. They too get a slight boost in points for beating the top side, North. Incidentally had North won, they would be ranked lower as they only had the 12th best defence that year – something the Crows exploited in the second half of the final).
8th – 1994, West Coast (score 79)
The last of the 1990s Eagles teams. As ever they had the best defence. They had 16 wins, finished top, and had 4 All-Australians (David Hart, Guy McKenna, Glenn Jakovich, and Peter Matera). Their 7th ranked attack stopped them from being up in the top echelon.
7th – 2006, West Coast (score 80)
Ah yes, the juiced up Eagles. Ok, maybe not… but Ben Cousins came out at half time in the Preliminary Final and destroyed the Crows like he was... well like he was on something. The team of course also had Chris Judd pre injuries. They had 17 wins for top spot, and 4 All-Australians (Darren Glass, Judd, Cousins and Cox). What keeps them from being ranked in the top five is that their attack and defence were hardly dominant – they were ranked 4th in both.
6th – 2001 Brisbane (score 82)
The first of the Brisbane dynasty. They finished 2nd with 17 wins and they dethroned the reigning kings in Essendon. Four All-Australians (Ackermains, Voss, Black and Lappin), gives them plenty of points, and they were a solid unit in attack – ranked 2nd, but in defence they were only 6th, which loses them points and stops them being the best Brisbane side.
= 5th – 1990, Collingwood (score 86)
This is one that surprised me, and is explained by one amazing statistic: they team had 6 All-Australian selections (Millane, Shaw, Wright, Daicos, Russell and McGuane). Other than that they don’t seem that remarkable (and I have to admit I had forgot they had that many in the All-Oz back then – I don’t know how they were chosen, or if the selection process has changed). The side had 16 wins, came 2nd and were ranked 4th in attack and 2nd in defence. I probably have Collingwood amnesia, but I would have put this team closer to 10th.
=5th – 2009, Geelong (score 86)
The highest ranked side not to finish top after the minor round. They still won 18 games, and had five all-Australians (tied for fourth highest of all Premiership sides – Enright, Scarlett, Selwood, Chapman and Ablett Jnr). They had the 2nd best attack, and the 4th best defence. And let’s be honest even though the Saints were top, most thought Geelong were the team to beat. Incidentally, if the Saints had won the final, by my measure they would be ranked the equal 2nd greatest side of the AFL.
=4th – 2002, Brisbane (score 87)
Yes they only snuck over the line against Collingwood in the final, but look at this side! Six All-Australians (Johnson, Leppitch, Ackermanis, Black, Voss and Lappin). They had the best attack and the second best defence. From here on in we’re talking about sides that are in the “Best ever debate”. Are the 2002 Lions ranked too low? Perhaps – I certainly would never want the Crows to have to play against its like again.
3rd – 1995, Carlton (score 90)
I remember at the end of this season thinking we’ll never see a side as good as this one again. Five All-Australians (Silvani, Christou, Madden, Bradley and Koutafidies). It won 20 games (bizarrely losing once to the bottom ranked Saints) and had the 3rd best attack and 2nd best defence. It was an awesome side, and it flogged the second ranked Geelong by 61 points in the Grand Final. I thought this was as good as it gets…
2nd – 2000, Essendon (score 91)
… and then in 2000 there was Essendon. Shattered by missing out by a point in the 1999 preliminary final, this team was on a mission to not just be the best, but be the best ever. They didn’t sing the club song after any of their 21 wins – only doing so when they finally won the flag. The side had four All-Australians (Hardwick, Fletcher, Hird and Lloyd) and had the best attack and defence. There was no doubt they were going to win the flag, and there was no doubt in my mind, that I’d never see a side as good again…but...
1st – 2007, Geelong (score 93)
How good were they? The finished top with 18 wins, were the best team in attack and defence, they absolutely flogged the second best side in Port (ah sweet memories) and they had nine All-Australians! – Scarlett, Millburn, Egan, Bartel, Johnson, Mooney, Corey, Ling and some bloke called Ablett Jnr. The only way we’ll see a side better than this is one that is as talent laden (nine All-Australians!), and it wins every game. The only thing keeping this side from a perfect score of 97 was those 4 loses. But though they did not win as much as the 2001 Essendon, I have to say looking at the two squads, I’d put my money on the 07 Cats, every day and every night – and that goes for it against any of the other 19.
So there you go. A list that could be debated (though I don’t think the top side could be). Perhaps I give too much weight to the All-Australian selections (especially as that process is fundamentally flawed), but I don’t think there’s too many shockers here.