While replying to an excellent Jay Croucher article discussing Fremantle’s woes, I asked in the comments section whether Matthew Pavlich can be considered a champion player without ever having won a premiership?
It stirred a few people up with names mentioned of other ‘champion’ players who never won a flag.
While it was a stellar list of great players, my original assertion remains.
A player can’t be considered a champion without having won a championship.
Premierships, cups, flags – championships matter a lot. If you ask a player the highlight of their career, they will all give that as their answer – provided they have one.
If you ask other players their greatest regret, they will all give not winning a premiership as their answer. It is the yardstick from which all careers are judged.
Players move clubs with the hope of winning one and no career is considered complete without having attained one.
In team sports, winning the premiership of your league remains the driving force and goal of every single player.
Would Bobby Skilton give up his three Brownlow medals for a single Premiership medallion?
You bet he would. He would do it without consideration and before he could blink.
Would any decorated player with a host of individual honours do the same thing? You’re kidding yourself if you think they wouldn’t.
Names like Gary Ablett Sr, Brent Harvey, Nathan Buckley, Pavlich, Nick Riewoldt. While all immensely skilled Australian Rules players, they cannot be considered champions by any means.
This may seem hardest on Gary Ablett Snr. He had a stellar career with a host of individual awards. He played in four losing grand finals, even winning the Norm Smith in the 1989 decider. He is regularly considered in discussions as one of the greatest Australian football players in history.
Yet that last paragraph largely defines my argument. While an immensely gifted player with skills above a lot of others, he can’t be considered a champion.
If you asked him I’m sure he would tell you his career was incomplete as it didn’t produce a premiership. For all his gifts, he was unable to drag his team past the combined skill of Hawthorn, West Coast and Carlton.
Now before your fingers start blazing away in defiance, let me be very clear. It does not mean that everyone who has won a premiership is a champion player.
There are many players out there who have won a flag and are clearly not in the same league as Ablett Sr or any of those other players previously mentioned. We must use other metrics as well, including goals, games played, individual honours to round out a complete picture.
However the baseline stat, and the one that can never be removed, overlooked, glossed over or forgot about is the one thing that every player, and therefore every fan, values is the cup that says for that season your skill contributed to your team being the best.
So while Pavlich is an articulate advocate of player rights, a versatile man, respectable both on and off the field and for a long time the heart of a team, a champion he isn’t.
Not by a long shot.