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The best two clubs of the AFL era (and no, neither is Hawthorn)

Brayden Rise Roar Pro

By Brayden Rise, Brayden Rise is a Roar Pro

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144 Have your say

    Most will accept the AFL era began in 1990, when the competition was renamed from the VFL to the AFL.

    Carlton were the most successful VFL era side, with 15 flags, Essendon were next (14) and then followed Collingwood (13), Melbourne (12) and Richmond (10).

    Hawthorn, despite securing flags in 1983, 1986, 1988 and 1989 were further down the list, with eight flags.

    So, with 1990 as the starting point of the AFL, we now have a lot of AFL footy to analyse – 28 years is a lot of footy! Think of a 15-year-old following the Doggies in 1990 as now being a 43-year-old man, perhaps with a 15-year-old of his own.

    Let’s break the AFL era down and look at what defines success. For some fans, nothing short of flags are worth mentioning; others want to be in contention deep into most seasons, rather than patiently wait for rebuilds.

    If your definition of a successful club is only premiership flags, there will be no surprises that Hawthorn is clearly the most dominant club of the AFL era.

    If that is your only barometer of success, then the article stops here. The Hawks are the best, as their five flags has no rival.

    Some will be a little surprised with the members in the next grouping – Brisbane, West Coast and Geelong.

    What an amazing achievement in a non-football state by Leigh Matthews mighty triple flag Lions in 2001-2003.

    Once again, if flags are your only barometer of success, looking just at non-Victorian clubs, Brisbane are every bit as successful as West Coast and leave Sydney and Adelaide, Port, Fremantle and the new franchises in their wake.

    Flags since the beginning of the AFL in 1990
    Hawthorn 5
    Brisbane 3
    West Coast 3
    Geelong 3
    Sydney 2
    North Melbourne 2
    Adelaide 2
    Collingwood 2
    Essendon 2
    Port Adelaide 1
    Carlton 1
    Richmond 1
    Western Bulldogs 1

    Hawthorn Hawks 2015 AFL Grand Final Premiership Flag

    The Hawks have featured in plenty of grand final classics (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Grand finals
    Some look beyond flags as their definition of success – after all, who doesn’t enjoy the week leading up to the big dance with your team as one of two who just might win the cup?

    Surely, we need to give credit for those teams who actually make the grand final?

    Club: number of grand finals for flags: conversion to flags
    Geelong: seven for three flags: 42.8 per cent
    Hawthorn: six for five flags: 83.3 per cent
    Sydney: six GF for two flags: 33.3 per cent
    West Coast: six for three flags: 50.0 per cent
    Collingwood: five for two flags: 40 per cent
    Brisbane: four for three flags: 75 per cent
    Essendon: four for two flags: 50.0 per cent

    It tells a story, don’t you think? Let’s say you are playing your first grand final in 20 years, well you don’t want to be playing Hawthorn, but Sydney will give you a chance.

    Is there anything worse than watching the other teams prepare for the finals, while your side are dressing up as Avengers on Mad Monday?

    The smell of the spring grass being cut, the analysis of the upcoming knock-out series, the doubts over injured players, the waiting on the teams being announced, and – best of all – the pre-match feeling of breathless excitement as you walk through the turnstiles.

    Surely, this is the ultimate definition of a successful club: one who can regularly give its supporters the finals feeling?

    Club: finals appearances: participation rate

    West Coast: 20 appearances from 28 years: 71.4 per cent
    Geelong: 19 appearances from 28 years: 67.8 per cent
    Sydney: 19 appearances from 28 years: 67.8 per cent
    Hawthorn: 17 appearances from 28 years: 60.7 per cent%
    Essendon: 16 appearances from 28 years: 57.1 per cent%
    North Melbourne: 16 appearances from 28 years: 57.1 per cent
    Adelaide: 15 appearances from 27 years: 55.5 per cent
    Port Adelaide: 10 appearances from 21 years: 47.6 per cent
    Bulldogs: 13 appearances from 28 years: 46.4 per cent
    Collingwood: 13 appearances from 28 years: 46.4 per cent
    St Kilda: 11 appearances from 28 years: 39.3 per cent

    All pretty clear there – West Coast give its supporters the most finals appearances, followed closely by Geelong and Sydney.

    Others who provide better than 50 per cent include Hawthorn, Essendon, North Melbourne and Adelaide.

    The lowest return on investment for fans wanting finals in the AFL era? By a significant margin, it is the 2017 premiers.

    Richmond have played finals in just 21.4 per cent of their years in the AFL, with Fremantle next worst (30.4%), then Melbourne (32.1%) and Brisbane (35.7%).

    As for Greater Western Sydney (currently 33.3%) and the Suns (no finals), neither have been around long enough to give them a fair rating, while Fitzroy spent their last seven years in the AFL without playing finals.

    Average ladder positions
    So, after 28 years of this competition, where does your side sit on average ladder positions?

    Let’s make it after each grand final, as surely the Doggies finished first, not seventh, in 2016.

    Cats = 5.53
    West Coast = 6.60
    Hawthorn = 7.14
    Sydney = 7.14
    North = 7.28
    Adelaide = 7.44
    Port Adelaide = 8.00
    Collingwood = 8.17
    Essendon = 8.39
    Bulldogs = 8.53
    St Kilda = 9.14
    Carlton = 9.57
    Brisbane = 10.28
    Fremantle = 10.47
    Melbourne = 10.71
    Richmond = 10.50
    GWS = 12.00
    Fitzroy = 13.28
    Gold Coast = 15.28

    In many ways it’s easier to look from the bottom and claim that any club averaging ninth or worse really isn’t providing fans with return on investment, although Lions fans may argue they’d put up with the rest of the horror for three delicious flags.

    A big group are kind of ranking in the middle – up, down, up, down – and the outliers at the top are the Cats and West Coast, with truly remarkable averages.

    Wooden spoon table
    Life isn’t all positives. Let’s take a look at the biggest accumulators of the dreaded spoons:

    Carlton = 4
    Melbourne = 3
    Sydney = 3
    Brisbane = 3

    Carlton, the most successful club of the VFL era, have accumulated the most wooden spoons in the AFL era and have a genuine chance of making it five this year.

    The Hawks may have the most cups, but the truth is Geelong and West Coast are the most consistent clubs in the AFL era.

    Geelong average a remarkable ladder position of 5.5, have played the most grand finals, and are equal second for finals appearances, after West Coast. The Cats are a remarkably consistent club that seem to continually reinvent themselves, playing finals 67 per cent of the time, having snared three flags – and seem destined for the finals and another flag shot this year.

    West Coast are very similar, with an average ladder position of 6.6, the most finals appearances, and six grand finals of their own at a 50 per cent return for three flags.

    This is an interstate side who defies the consensus of extra travel equalling less success, who too are back in contention again this year.

    Geelong and West Coast are inseparable as the two most consistent clubs in the AFL era. Hawthorn may have the most flags but it is the Cats and Eagles who give their fans the most chances for success.

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    The Crowd Says (144)

    • Roar Pro

      May 9th 2018 @ 5:15am
      anon said | May 9th 2018 @ 5:15am | ! Report

      I don’t think much of the ethics of the club (steroid era 90’s, widespread drug culture 00’s) and the parochialism of their fans reflects some type of deep-seated inferiority complex, but West Coast are the biggest club in the land.

      At one point it might have been Collingwood, Richmond might have more memberships, but West Coast are a financial powerhouse.

      When looking at the revenues and membership numbers of of each club, if you discount pokie revenue, dole money from the AFL, pet memberships, general admin memberships, memberships bought in bulk by sponsors to pad numbers, West Coast is miles in front of the competition.

      Memberships range from about $400-$900 yet there’s still a waiting list. They could probably put memberships up by another $200-300 and still pull in 55k people each week.

      Powerful off field and always compete on field unlike their cross-town rivals.

      West Coast doesn’t do 5 year rebuilds like Ross Lyon. Fans have high expectations and demand success.

      • May 9th 2018 @ 8:51am
        I ate pies said | May 9th 2018 @ 8:51am | ! Report

        West Coast has the advantage of a captive audience, but I can’t disagree with you.

        • Roar Rookie

          May 9th 2018 @ 11:32am
          Mattician6x6 said | May 9th 2018 @ 11:32am | ! Report

          The thing that separates both wa teams is freo is very location based, every freo fan I have known is either connected to area, went for east or south freo or were Claremont fans and would follow neesham anywhere, the rest were ppl who hated wce and finally had an option in afl. Though a American styled name in west coast it leads to a greater audience much like Adelaide/port.

          • Roar Guru

            May 9th 2018 @ 12:20pm
            Cat said | May 9th 2018 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

            What is ‘American’ about the name West Coast?

            • Roar Rookie

              May 9th 2018 @ 12:33pm
              Mattician6x6 said | May 9th 2018 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

              It’s the more common to hear now but back in 86 when the name was announced no one would refer or describe anything wa as the west coast, were I think you’d agree west coast/east coast is used to varying degrees to describe things in the states, not a dig in anyway mate.

              • May 9th 2018 @ 12:43pm
                Birdman said | May 9th 2018 @ 12:43pm | ! Report

                yeah I get that – sounds American like east coast jazz vs west coast jazz

              • May 9th 2018 @ 12:44pm
                truetigerfan said | May 9th 2018 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

                Also been used in Victoria for at least 50 years to refer to surfing locations. East Coast meaning Point Leo, Flinders, Phillip Island, etc West Coast meaning Torquay, Bells and beyond. All Vic locations.

              • Roar Rookie

                May 9th 2018 @ 4:15pm
                Mattician6x6 said | May 9th 2018 @ 4:15pm | ! Report

                As all coast is mostly west over here we just say the coast

              • Roar Rookie

                May 9th 2018 @ 4:17pm
                Mattician6x6 said | May 9th 2018 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

                Only west coast I knew before the eagles were coolers cause my mum drank them

              • May 10th 2018 @ 4:04pm
                Confused said | May 10th 2018 @ 4:04pm | ! Report

                It’s always been the East Coast vs West Coast way before the Eagles.

                I bought my West Coast jeans from JeansWest 45 years ago.

      • May 9th 2018 @ 9:04am
        Guttsy said | May 9th 2018 @ 9:04am | ! Report

        5 year rebuild???

        If only it was that short. Freo look like they are at the beginning of a 20 year rebuild.

      • Roar Guru

        May 9th 2018 @ 2:55pm
        Paul Dawson said | May 9th 2018 @ 2:55pm | ! Report

        West Coast are the sort of club we’d have in Queensland if the AFL had just left us with one.

        • May 9th 2018 @ 9:34pm
          Basil (the original) said | May 9th 2018 @ 9:34pm | ! Report

          Umm no

    • May 9th 2018 @ 5:51am
      Kurt said | May 9th 2018 @ 5:51am | ! Report

      “Yeah, sure we’ve won all these premierships but what I really wish is that we had a higher average ladder position. That’s what really counts, not all of this winning flags nonsense” said no fan ever in the history of the game.

      • May 9th 2018 @ 7:43am
        AR said | May 9th 2018 @ 7:43am | ! Report

        And with that…Kurt nails it.

      • May 9th 2018 @ 8:58am
        Guttsy said | May 9th 2018 @ 8:58am | ! Report

        Hawthorn are a little hard done by not having another two AFL era Premeirships included in their list, the 1988 and 1989 grandfinals. The start of the AFL era was accompanied by an increase in professionalism in football and the Hawthorn teams of the late 80s were the greatest exponents of this at the time. In many ways the Hawthorn teams of the late 80s have much more in common with the AFL teams of today than the VFL teams of the 70s and early 80s.

        Arguably the AFL era began in 1987 when the Brisbane Bears and West Coast entered the competition. At this time three interstate clubs were in the VFL competition, including the Sydney Swans (who moved to Sydney in 1982) and it also fits well with the increasing professionalism (of some teams) in the AFL. I can also equally see that it can be argued that the AFL era didn’t really begin until 1991 when Adelaide Football Club entered the competition and the Aussie Rules SANFL powerhouse was reprensented in the competition. The 1990 year for the creation of the AFL is largely based on a name change for the competition and in someways is a compromise date between 1987 and 1991. Maybe the best way of thinking about it is that the start of the AFL era was a transition that began in 1982 and was more or less completed in 1991 (some might even argue that it is not yet complete and won’t be so until a Tasmanian team is included in the AFL).

        • Roar Guru

          May 9th 2018 @ 9:23am
          Cat said | May 9th 2018 @ 9:23am | ! Report

          The era should actually start later. The salary cap didn’t have any teeth or effect until years after it was first implemented. The first year of the national draft didn’t change teams that were already largely built prior to its inception. It would probably be 5–10 years before lists reflected the draft. Instead of Hawthorn being ‘hard done by’ missing out on ’88 and ’89, I’d say Collingwood and Hawthorn are lucky to have ’90 and ’91 count.

          Unfortunately the line has to be drawn somewhere and whatever is picked will have issues. 1990 is as good as any and easy to remember.

        • May 9th 2018 @ 9:33am
          Pope Paul VII said | May 9th 2018 @ 9:33am | ! Report

          “Hawthorn are a little hard done by”. Too funny Guttsy.

          • May 9th 2018 @ 6:00pm
            Kurt said | May 9th 2018 @ 6:00pm | ! Report

            It’s true. Sometimes we have to go 4 or even 5 years between premierships. The suffering is profound…

        • Roar Guru

          May 9th 2018 @ 9:36am
          JamesH said | May 9th 2018 @ 9:36am | ! Report

          Great post, Guttsy. There is an element of arbitrary-ness (not a word?) wherever you draw the line. The people who so vehemently argue that nothing before 1990 matters are usually only doing so to bash clubs who haven’t bee as successful since then (Carlton, Richmond and Essendon seem to be the most common targets.

          The reality is that changing a letter in the name in 1990 didn’t significantly alter the competition. In terms of developing the modern game, far more influential changes include moving South Melbourne to Sydney (1982-83), the first ‘modern’ draft (1986), the introduction of the salary cap (1987), the entry of Brisbane and West Coast (also 1987), the entry of Adelaide (1991), the establishment of the current finals system (2000), the entry of GC and GWS (2011-12) and the advent of free agency (2012).

          Treating the development of the AFL as a transition (particularly through the period 1981-1991) makes much more sense than drawing a line, but that wouldn’t suit the narrative of those wanting to dump on particular clubs, would it?

          In saying all that, it’s pretty hard to argue Hawthorn isn’t the most successful club of the modern era, with daylight in second place.

          • Roar Guru

            May 9th 2018 @ 9:57am
            Cat said | May 9th 2018 @ 9:57am | ! Report

            Pre-1990 (I’d argue for a later line but as I said above, any year picked has issues) the game was massively different. Comparing flags from the early part of the last century to today’s is chalk and cheese. You are right there is no definitive line but there is a clear rapid change with a band of gray area in between.

            • May 9th 2018 @ 8:36pm
              Brian said | May 9th 2018 @ 8:36pm | ! Report

              The great thing is wherever you put the line between 1970 and 2014 the same club has won more flags then any other so it doesn’t affect the outcome

    • May 9th 2018 @ 8:18am
      Jack said | May 9th 2018 @ 8:18am | ! Report

      Yeah I’ll take the flags, thanks.

    • May 9th 2018 @ 8:27am
      shiftyxr said | May 9th 2018 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      The only true measure of success is flags.

      • Roar Guru

        May 9th 2018 @ 8:53am
        DingoGray said | May 9th 2018 @ 8:53am | ! Report

        I don’t think that’s completely True.

        Take Brisbane, with the timeframe taken under Premiership’s only Brisbane are equal too probably better than Geelong & West Coast (considering they play 4 Grand Finals in a row)…….

        Now i don’t think that for a moment as Brisbane have played Finals once since losing that last Grand Final.

        But I agree with the Punters that Hawthorn can’t be ignored as one of the best two clubs of the AFL era.

    • May 9th 2018 @ 8:50am
      I ate pies said | May 9th 2018 @ 8:50am | ! Report

      Hang on, the title of the article is the best clubs of the AFL era, not the most consistent. The sole goal of playing footy is to win premierships; success must be measured on that basis.
      Being consistently not quite good enough is not being successful. it’s like doing well in job interview after job interview but never getting the job; you’re ok, but there’s always someone better than you.

    • Roar Guru

      May 9th 2018 @ 8:55am
      Wayne said | May 9th 2018 @ 8:55am | ! Report

      Success is measured in Premierships.

      St.Kilda were at the pointy end of the ladder, even played the last ever Drawn Grand Final. We didn’t win anything, except the Wizard Cup against Adelaide in that time.

      I was expecting from the headline maybe Brisbane Lions Three-peat would be on there.

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