The 7AFL Instagram page has been running polls this week to see who the public think is the greatest player from 2010 until now. These polls got me thinking about some of the great individual players this decade such as Garry Ablett, Nathan Fyfe and Trent Cotchin.
However, these polls do not address the great teams of this decade and how the individual clubs are making this league a true success. Therefore, I began to think about which club has truly been the best in all areas of the game and therefore which club is the best of this decade.
Now to figure this out I came up with a set of criteria to judge success. Premierships, finals series, individual players, signings and trades, fans and impact outside of the club has had on the game.
Realistically, to be the best club, you must have received the highest team accolade, an AFL premiership. Since 2010, Seven teams have won a premiership which instantly knocks out 11 of the other teams and makes my job a lot easier. Out of these seven teams, only Hawthorn has won multiple flags with titles in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Therefore, Hawthorn takes an early lead in the contest.
Secondly, playing finals is the primary goal for most AFL clubs and many teams this decade have been tormented by a lack of finals series. As there is genuinely no way to win a premiership than to firstly play finals, this may be a crucial criterion.
So out of the seven clubs left in the race, only one team has played all finals series between 2010-2018, the Sydney Swans. Despite not making finals in 2019, this is still an incredible feat and should not be underestimated.
Hawthorn and Geelong have only missed one series each which will be favourable for them further on.
Despite these clubs often playing in September, the Western Bulldogs have frequently missed out with only four finals series during these years. So as dramatic and heroic their 2016 premiership season was, it is not enough to make them the best club of this decade. Down to 6…
I started this article by saying that these online discussions often only mentioned the great players instead of the great clubs, but it is rare that these great clubs do not also contain the most elite players.
When looking at these six clubs left in the race, there is no shortage of talent. Geelong have players like Steve Johnson, Gary Ablett, and Patrick Dangerfield. Sydney have Lance Franklin, Josh Kennedy and Adam Goodes. Hawthorn have Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge, Jarryd Roughead (and Franklin).
Even Collingwood and Richmond have seen outstanding players this decade in Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury, and Dustin Martin.
With this category being so difficult to judge, it is near impossible to eliminate one club. Despite the West Coast eagles having some great players such as Matthew Priddis, they lack the depth of talent that other clubs have had this decade, therefore are eliminated from this competition.
With their list being one of the most impressive and deep in the 2019 season, maybe they can have more of an argument for the best team of the next decade.
Since its introduction in 2012, free agency has allowed clubs to improve their list and make changes in the hopes that it will bring them further success.
When looking at some of the great free agency moves, the five teams left in the debate have often been involved. For instance, Geelong’s signing of Patrick Dangerfield and Hawthorn signing of Tom Mitchell were both great moves for the club. But the one standout move for me is the signing of Lance Franklin to the Sydney Swans at the end of the 2015 season.
This move was shocking at the time and was a smart piece of business from the Swans. Franklin is arguably the greatest forward to play the modern game and bringing him to the Swans was incredibly impressive.
For Richmond and Collingwood though, free agency has been much quieter. Looking past the Tigers signing Tom Lynch and the Magpies signing Dayne Beams last year, moves have been few and far between.
So, when comparing these big free agency moves, I think that the Tom Lynch has already proven to be more of an asset for his club with 50 goals to date and Lynch has much more potential to grow as a player in the future. So, similar to last year’s grand final, Collingwood has fallen short at the last hurdle. Then there were four.
For the category of fans, membership numbers are always a key indicator and by latest numbers, there is a clear standout.
Richmond is the top of this list being the first club ever to gain over 100,000 members last year. But looking deeper than just membership numbers it was found by Roy Morgan research in 2019 that the Sydney Swans have over a million worldwide fans making them the most popular club in the AFL.
This may be due to the popularity of the city itself, the Swans AFL market dominance in Sydney or just due to the success of the club itself.
Neither Hawthorn nor Geelong lack fans but the Hawks have 15,000 more members than the Cats. There is no doubt that the small city of Geelong does disadvantage them but Cats fans all but make up for it in their fanatic support. But controversially, the Geelong Cats must be eliminated from this debate.
Impact outside of the game is a tough one to judge as there is no key indicators. Maybe in the growth of the clubs financially, but as the AFL as a whole is in their most successful period to date, it’s hard to judge who is doing best. However, the growth of the sport is one area that I can begin to differentiate the last three clubs.
Hawthorn and Richmond have benefited from the Victorian market being so fanatical about football and invested and the sport of AFL. On the other hand, the Sydney Swans are in the difficult market of New South Wales where AFL is still viewed as a ‘challenger’ sport when it comes to participation.
This makes their work with grassroots level footy even more impressive as its extremely difficult to impact kids who are invested in other sports such as rugby.
Being from New South Wales myself, the impact the Swans have had on the sport in this state is immense and most discussion around the sport of AFL always involves the Swans.
This success off the field can be heavily attributed to success on the field as without this success, AFL would be irrelevant in the state of NSW. From the academy program to school visits, the Swans are really pushing to make AFL the top sport in this state.
Therefore, when assessing all of these criteria there is only one obvious winner for my best club of this decade, the Sydney Swans.
With a premiership in 2012, nine finals series, great players like Lance Franklin and Josh Kennedy, over 60,000 members and over a million worldwide fans, it was difficult to look past this club for the award even without their impact on grassroots footy.
But that is the point of difference between the Swans and the other 17 clubs, their ability to make an impact outside of the professional league.