Immediately after Brisbane claimed their third consecutive premiership in 2003, Anthony Hudson proclaimed that they had become “the greatest side of the modern era”. Robert Walls, who had seen some mighty sides in his time, declared them to be “the best team that I’ve seen”.
Only six years later, Geelong won their second premiership in three years and the commentators announced: “They are one of the greatest teams of all time”.
It’s probably just idle speculation comparing teams who never played each other (also, the rapid evolution of the game meant these two sides – who played in the same decade – were essentially from different eras), but who were the greatest: the Lions of 2001-03, or Geelong of 2007-09?
If greatness is measured by premierships then you would have to give it to the Lions. Premierships are difficult to win.
Even with all the talent and experience in the world, the greatest coaches and the best facilities, it seems fate and luck still have a big influence. If you can overcome what is out of your control and manage to win three on the trot, you deserve the label of ‘great’.
On paper, it’s cruel for the Cats.
In the future, to someone looking at the list of premiers, Brisbane’s triple – only the fourth time it has been achieved – will seem mighty impressive; not so Geelong’s non-consecutive double.
Like the many excellent teams before them who hovered at the top for extended periods, they won everything but back to back flags.
But it’s on paper also, that many people believe Geelong were the greater outfit.
The Cats of ’07 and ’08 claimed the minor premiership, dominating the competition and finishing several games and a massive percentage clear. Over the three years Geelong lost just ten games.
Brisbane failed to win a minor premiership and couldn’t match Geelong’s win-loss ratio; losing eighteen games over the same period.
The ’09 Geelong premiership team had fourteen All-Australians (and two future ones) compared to the ’03 Lions’ nine representatives but the latter had an extra Brownlow Medallist.
It’s extremely difficult to separate the two on sheer class
Milburn, Scarlett, Enright, Mackie, Taylor and Harley were an imposing back six but what of the Lions unique and fearful blend of skill and mongrel in Johnson, Michael, White, Power, Leppitsch and Lappin?
Geelong probably had the edge in the midfield with the brilliant combination of Ablett, Selwood and Bartel.
Or would Voss, Black and the underrated Norm Smith Medallist Shaun Hart have done the job on them?
The Cats also had two game-winning smaller forwards (Johnson and Chapman) to Brisbane’s one (Akermanis).
In terms of power forwards it’s a non-contest: the sometimes flaky Mooney and a still raw Hawkins versus Brown, Lynch and Bradshaw. Imagine the lengths a current day team would go to obtain just one of those last three in their prime.
But did Geelong have greater depth, and Brisbane more “passengers”? Perhaps.
Leigh Matthews has said his 02-03 team would “eat” the current Geelong outfit. But he wasn’t so sure they could do the same to the Geelong of ’09.
It says something about Matthews that he values the seemingly less accomplished Geelong team over its predecessors. The 2009 version seemed to be a shadow of the ’07 and ’08 ones, finishing well behind the minor premier St Kilda and being beaten by the Saints during the year.
They should have lost the Grand Final too. Early inaccuracy cost the Saints dearly but Geelong were still forced to claw their way to victory in one of the great premiership deciders. I think Matthews preferred his teams to win that way.
The Lions of 2001-03 and Geelong 2007-09 were both great outfits with superb defence, power and skill.
Just like their mascots, the Cats had the edge in skill and speed, while the Lions were more brutal and relentless.
Today, not even Leigh Matthews is prepared to give a definite answer to the question of which team was the greater one.
With the extra premiership and the fear they instilled in the opposition, I’d have to say it was Brisbane.
This is my final column for The Roar. It’s been a pleasure conversing with such knowledgeable, articulate and passionate sports followers.