## Wednesday, March 24, 2010

### The Greatest AFL Teams

Tomorrow night the 21st year of the AFL begins, having started in 1990. Prior to that? I have no idea, like Lincoln to the South Carolina representatives, I have AFL eyes, I cannot see the VFL. Well Ok, I do know about the VFL, but as a South Australian I don’t give a stuff. Collingwood has not won 14 Premierships. They have won 13 in the VFL, and only 1 in the AFL. The VFL doesn’t count to me.

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
Assuming a team won every game, had more All-Australians than any of the other 19 Premiers, finished first, beat the 2nd best team, and also had the most points scored and the least points conceded in that season, the “perfect” score would be 98.

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.

Any thoughts?

 Rank Year Team 1 2007 Geelong 2 2000 Essendon 3 1995 Carlton 4 2002 Brisbane 5 2009 Geelong 5 1990 Collingwood 7 2001 Brisbane 8 2006 West Coast 9 1994 West Coast 10 1998 Adelaide 11 1996 North 12 2008 Hawks 13 2004 Port 14 2003 Brisbane 15 1997 Adelaide 16 1999 North 16 1993 Essendon 18 1991 Hawthorn 19 1992 West Coast 20 2005 Sydney

Chris said...

I was a bit surprised at the Collingwood rank. I'm a pies fan (and yes, I am literate :) and not a convicted criminal), and they aren't really considered a great team - just a team that played very well at the right time.

The All-Australians they had were mostly good players having a great year instead of greats.

Stephen said...

I thought the Port team of 04 deserved a higher ranking than 13th. In terms of wins-losses they were one of the most successful teams of the decade. Granted, they underachieved in finals, but I would assert that if they had made any of the GF's in 02/03 instead of Collingwood, Brisbane wouldn't have won 3 in a row.

john ryan said...

What a waste of a column,like AFL is a waste of space,still I suppose Victards have to have something to do in Melbourne

Matthew said...

Pretty good system Grogs, i reckon it gets it about right. Certainly as a Swans supporter i'd have no trouble agreeing that they were never the dominant team when they went to back to back grand finals.

I reckon something that doesn't get discussed as much is not so much the greatest teams of all time but the greatest stories. I'm probably a bit biased here, but i reckon the story of the Sydney/West Coast rivalry 2005-2006 is great if only for the symmetry of it (iirc):

there being only 12 points between them over the two years

in both years they played each other in the first week of the finals with the team that won going on to lose in the grand final, possibly even by the same number of points.

And then, as you point out, the story of Essendon in 2000 or the inevitability of Geelong in 2007; sport is so much about the story of the season or of the individual games. After all, what's really great about sport is when you watch a game and you go with the ups and downs, when it's good you can't get better theatre.

FWIW, i reckon this is something that the NFL does really well, if you've even seen (i think they call them movies) that they produce, about an hour long, that tell the story of one team's year. It's really enthralling stuff.

Grog said...

You're right there Matthew - it would be good to look at some of the stories of teams over the AFL's 20 years, and those of the people as well - Malcolm Blight is a novel in himself - 3 lost GF's at Geelong (OK one was in the VFL), then the back to backs at Crows, followed byhim walking out in 1999, and then the bizarre Saints situation.

Eater_Mitchell said...

Lions 02 have too be equal best with Geelong 07, they were better than the stats say, and if they were a victorian team, say collingwood they would have had more All Australians

Anonymous said...

I think it's a good idea coming up with a points system to rank the teams and this one has merits. But I would add a couple more criteria, interstate teams get more points for winning the GF as an away game. And I would only look at giving points for home games won during the regular season because the interstate teams have to play many more away games which are harder to win. This I think would put the Lions teams higher up the order which I think most people would agree with.