If we set aside the VFL as ancient history and analyse just the start of the AFL from 1990, we see the following premiership tallies.
In a mixed martial arts weighting analogy, where does each premiership club sit in the AFL era? Carlton, Essendon and the Pies may still hold the most VFL-AFL cups overall but in the AFL era I’m afraid they are no longer heavyweights.
Heavyweight class (MMA = 120.2 PLUS KGS)
Hawthorn – 5
Cruiserweight class (MMA 102.1 KGS)
Geelong – 3
Brisbane – 3
West Coast – 3
Light heavyweight class (MMA = 93.0 KGS)
Sydney – 2
Adelaide – 2
Collingwood – 2
Essendon – 2
North Melbourne – 2
Super middleweight class (MMA = 88.5 KGS)
Port Adelaide – 1
Western Bulldogs – 1
Carlton – 1
Total = 27 premierships by a total of 12 clubs.
The heavyweight class – Hawthorn – 5 premierships in the AFL era: 1991, 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015
Even with the Hawks penalised by starting this list in 1990 (the year after they went back to back) they still are the stand out – a genuine stand-alone AFL heavyweight.
After an injury-plagued 1990 for the Hawks that saw Leigh Matthews’ Pies finally break their hoodoo, it was the Hawks straight back to business in 1991 before a rare break for the hawks of some 17 years until they tasted success again in 2008.
Oh boy did they make up for it after that though. Even while watching on this year, the undisputed heavyweight AFL era champion still sit clearly on top and the others have some work to do to close the gap.
Those chasing clubs below them better act fast as there’s not much doubt Clarkson will have the new Hawks up and about sooner rather than later.
The cruiserweight class – Geelong – three premierships in the AFL era 2007, 2009, 2011
Some would argue the Cats have attained their three flags in the AFL era the hard way in staying up for five years to nab the 2007, 2009 and 2011 flags, then finishing sixth in 2012, second in 2013, third in 2014, dropping to 10th in 2015 then straight back to second in 2016 and here contending again in 2017.
What an amazing show of longevity that stands against all except the mighty Hawks themselves, nabbing four flags in eight years from 2008-2015.
Yet, this year at least, the undisputed heavyweight champs from Glenferrie are looking on and the Cats now in 2017 still sit top four and are one game away from yet another preliminary final. With arguably the best player in the competition, one of the most courageous players ever seen as their captain, is 2017 the time the Cats strike to sit just one AFL era flag behind the mighty heavyweight Hawks?
The cruiserweight class – West Coast Eagles – three premierships in the AFL era 1992, 1994, 2006
The West Coast Eagles somehow, someway, did just enough against the Crows to sneak in by a whisker to eighth place and secure an elimination final against the one-flag Port Adelaide.
Can they do even better than the Dogs and win the whole thing from eighth? Sadly for Eagles fans it just doesn’t seem possible for the Eagles to go the whole way this year and jump to four flags in the AFL era where they would sit just behind the heavyweight Hawks. However, they are still clearly one of the most successful teams in the modern AFL era.
The cruiserweight class – Brisbane – three premierships in the AFL era 2001, 2002, 2003
The Brisbane Lions of course cannot add to their impressive AFL era record this year but it is worth mentioning them as one of the big three cruiserweight clubs who sit behind Hawthorn in the AFL era. They are still the equal most successful interstate side, along with the West Coast Eagles.
The mighty Lions announced their arrival with an immortal line delivered by then coach Leigh Matthews “If it bleeds, we can kill it….and we reckon Essendon can bleed”.
Matthews team was brutal and must have been fearsome for some of the younger teams of the competition to face.
The light heavyweight class- Sydney – 2 premierships in the AFL era 2005, 2012
Sydney despite recent misses in 2014 and 2016 and the worst start imaginable at 0-6 to the current season, have another shot at their third flag this year and potential to join the cruiserweight class with three AFL era flags.
Their AFL finals history is so strong, with flags in 2005 and 2012 from six grand final appearances in the AFL era.
The fact they are 2-4 in grand finals in the AFL era would hurt and be starting to build pressure too.
They also have been around long enough that they now have history.
Who can forget Nick Davis somehow propelling the Swans into the 2005 preliminary final with four last quarter goals off his own boot, denying the Cats who were up by 23 in the final quarter?
The light heavyweight class – North Melbourne – two premierships in the AFL era 1996, 1999
North are another club who will not add to their list this year and we have to go back to the 1990s to find their most recent AFL era success.
The light heavyweight class – Essendon – 2 premierships in the AFL era 1993, 2000
17 years is a rare break for the Bombers between grand finals let alone flags, and they hit the 2017 finals series with still an outside chance to add to their tally.
The heartache of being beaten in an upset by Carlton in the 1999 preliminary final by one point led to one of the most dominant seasons in AFL history in 2000 and the Bombers were expected to go on a premiership run. They are back in the finals this year and could add to their tally.
The light heavyweight class – Collingwood – 2 premierships in the AFL era 1990, 2010
The Pies had a huge shot to add to their two AFL era flags in 2002, 2003 and 2011, losing all three grand finals.
In 2002 the Melbourne weather kicked in keeping the more powerful Brisbane Lions down at ground level and they went close, really close.
In fact, if Scott Burns had have fully collected Michel Voss early in the game the result could have been different.
Voss of course stood back up and brushed it off and then the Lions belted the Pies in 2003. In 2011 the Pies had a dominant season yet so did one other team, who would ultimately deny them in Geelong.
The light heavyweight class – Adelaide – 2 premierships in the AFL era 1997, 1998
The Crows pulled off two amazing flags in 1997 and 1998 both from fourth and fifth positions respectively on the ladder.
One of the most unique and idiosyncratic coaches in football history, Malcolm Blight stands alone still as the only Adelaide premiership coach in the AFL.
The Crows this year however have a huge opportunity to join the cruiserweights with their third flag.
Two home final wins will have them in the grand final and they are favourites to win the 2017 flag and with the tragic history of the club recently with the death of coach Phil Walsh now is the time to stamp their mark and join Brisbane and West Coast as the only interstate teams on three flags in the AFL era.
Super middleweight class (MMA = 88.5 KGS)
Carlton, Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs sit on their own with one flag each in the AFL era.
Only Port Adelaide has the opportunity to add to their tally this year. Port Adelaide of course won their epic flag in 2004 halting the might Brisbane Lions run at four flags in a row.
Who can forget coach Mark Williams doing the choker hold with his tie as Port stormed to the premiership by 40 points?
Port would make the grand final again of course in 2007 but Geelong had waited too long by then and the ruthless Cats blew them apart to win by 119 points. Can Port go one more this year and add their second flag in the AFL era and join the light heavyweights or will the Giants or Tigers achieve their very first AFL era flag and start their own chase of the mighty Hawks?