233 players, coaches, umpires and media personalities have been honoured by the Australian Football Hall of Fame since 1996, including 23 of the games’ “Legends”. So I dare say that the decision made on Wednesday night was probably one of the hardest.
Four champions of the modern era, four players that, as a junior, I looked up to and admired and four Brownlow medallists were recognized for their ability, talent and sportsmanship.
In no particular order, James Hird, Nathan Buckley, Michael Voss and Mark Ricciuto were all inducted into the Australian Football Hall Of Fame: 1138 games, 1164 goals, 4 Brownlow medals and 19 Best and Fairest Awards.
These players have become the champions of the modern game, the recognisable faces and names of the 1990s and 2000s.
It is no surprise that all these players became captain of their respective clubs, nor that between them they represented the All-Australian sides 24 times.
Hird, Buckley, Voss and Ricciuto are the true greats of the modern game.
In a side that was almost unstoppable heading into 2004, Voss and his Brisbane Lions dominated, resulting in three back-to-back flags from 2001-2003.
Captain of that side, Voss demonstrated true leadership not just through his ability to get his players ready for a big game (anyone could have achieved that with such a side), but through his actions on the field.
As hard as they came, Voss showed class and brutal strength in contests and the uncanny ability to boot match-winning goals at pivotal times in games.
Hird sits in the minds of Essendon Supporters as one of the all-time greats of the club. Along with coach Kevin Sheedy, the two became the face of a club that bred success playing finals seven straight years over the turn of the century.
Hird played an integral part of the Bombers line-up that won 21 games in a row on their way to the 2000 premiership.
Hird proved over the stretch his key attribute was his ability in front of the goal.
Nathan Buckley could very well have been a Lion after starting his career with the Brisbane Bears before moving to Collingwood, where admittedly he is now renowned as one of the best.
He has the club’s seventh most games, over the stretch he won six Copeland trophies.
Buckley was All Australian on seven occasions and managed almost every award over his career but on two occasions Buckley missed the opportunity to become another Collingwood Premiership captain.
His strength and hard-work became two of the keys to his game and proved to be influential in many big finals with the 2001 North Smith Medal.
From its inception, Adelaide needed a figurehead and Mark Ricciuto became that figurehead, playing 312 games over a 14-year career.
“Roo” has been selected All Australian, a record eight times including his Brownlow medal year when he shared the medal with Buckley and Adam Goodes.
After missing the 1997 premiership side, the Adelaide hard-man played in his first and only Crows flag, in the their win in 1998.
Ricciuto, like his counterparts was a crowd favourite at AAMI Stadium and set the crowd in Adelaide alive through many a Showdown, taking home three Showdown Medals.
All three players cut from the same crop of tough, hard and contested footballers, paved the way for a new breed of football.
Four players that could bring even the most neutral supporters through the gates. The battles these four players had from time to time demonstrated clearly how evenly matched all four players were.
It is a credit to these players that all four were inducted into the Hall of Fame on the same night as to split them in any way would be almost impossible.
Looking at the history, who ranks as the best player of the four inductees?
Voss – 289 games, 245 goals, 5x All Australian, Premiership Captain 2001-03, 5x Murray/Merett Medallist, captain 1997-2006 (club-record 210 Games), current Brisbane Lions coach.
Buckley – 280 games, 284 Goals, 7x All Australian, 6x Copeland Trophy winner, captain 1999-2007, incumbent Collingwood coach.
Hird – 253 Games, 343 Goals, 4x All Australian, Essendon Team of the Century, Premiership Captain 2000, 5x Crichton Medal Winner, captain 1997-07, current Essendon coach.
Ricciuto – 312 Games, 292 Goals, 8x All Australian, Premiership Player 1998, Captain 2001-2007, Adelaide Player of the Decade, 3x Blight Medal Winner.