Today we conclude The Roar’s list of the Top 50 AFL players – here they are, the top 10.
GWS Giants | Midfielder
Josh Kelly moves exactly like you’d imagine that a perfect footballer would move. He’s like an intense skater – smooth but powerful, with his running a strange, enviable mix of pattering steps and long strides.
He uses the ball exquisitely and links chains as well as anyone. He has all the grace in the world but does the tough stuff too, winning clearances and putting on punishing tackles. He hits the scoreboard, though he’s an oddly inaccurate kick for goal.
All Kelly lacks is an iconic run where the league becomes his. He was anonymous in the grand final, which will be held against him, despite a sea of anonymity around him. He’s yet to have the defining, dominant stretch that the top players on this list have had – until then, he’ll have to settle for being a superstar.
GWS Giants | Forward
Like Kelly, Jeremy Cameron also lacks a special moment. His career was at an unexpected crossroads heading into last season, coming off consecutive seasons where he failed to break 46 goals – incomprehensible for a player with his gifts.
Last year, the gifts had a sharp edge again. Cameron is the most skilled key forward in the game, strong and commanding on a lead, adept in the air, impossibly agile at ground level, and armed with a wonderful kick, with a left foot like a caressing whip.
His grand final, like Kelly’s, was underwhelming, though there’s not much he could have done. His finals until that point had been fine, dispelling some perceptions along the way.
GWS Giants | Midfielder
Another Giant, and the best of them this time. Coniglio isn’t as ethereal as Kelly or Cameron, but he’s the heartbeat of the Giants along with Callan Ward, and the player most emblematic of the mixture of skill and toughness that has come to define GWS’s talent.
Coniglio accumulates and does so with purpose, like Kelly so often a part of game-altering chains. He’s added a scoreboard menace to his game, with 39 goals the past two years. The concern is health – only twice in eight years has Coniglio topped 18 games.
West Coast Eagles | Midfielder
Players who become stars out of nowhere usually hit stasis or begin to get found out – they don’t normally continue to ascend like Tim Kelly did last year. Kelly was a fantastic player in 2018 who became a magnificent player in 2019 – climbing from excellent midfielder to game-breaking force.
Kelly hunts. He looks like a bigger-bodied, broader-shouldered, crouching Chris Judd at times, the way he scavenges the ball off the deck then accelerates through traffic with ease. There is something about the combination of speed and brute strength that is much more frightening than profound skill or vision. That is why, perhaps, players like Kelly and Patrick Dangerfield often feel more overwhelming than a Scott Pendlebury or Marcus Bontempelli.
The bookends to Kelly’s season were monstrous – best on ground in Round 1 against Collingwood, then nearly ending Richmond himself in the preliminary final – and a sign that he is here in the league as a champion and here to stay.
Collingwood | Ruckman
It’s hard to quantify the exact value of a ruckman, but it’s not hard to see that Brodie Grundy is special. His power and improbably low centre of gravity make him a marvel, an in-and-under midfielder who is also six foot eight. He can devour games, like he did against the Bulldogs last year.
Still, questions remain. He’s prone to brain fades – inexplicable decisions with ball in hand and dreadful free kicks conceded. How valuable can his tap work be (or, perhaps, tap work in general) if Collingwood ranked 13th in clearance differential last season despite his dominance?
This is nit-picking greatness, though. Grundy is a phenomenon – it’s only a question of to what degree.
Carlton | Midfielder
Heading into last year, I viewed Patrick Cripps as the most laughably overrated player in the competition. Then I watched what he did to Brisbane at Etihad Stadium, and realised the joker was me.
Cripps is unfair. He’s Wayne Carey as clearance specialist, Brad Pitt in Troy as AFL midfielder. He is bigger and stronger than everyone else to an uncomfortable degree, and added an unexpected class to his game last year. He can’t kick but it doesn’t matter when he does everything else so perfectly.
Geelong Cats | Midfielder
This is what you know you’re getting with Patrick Dangerfield every season – 27 touches a game, five-plus clearances, a goal, the occasional hanger, and every week three or four moments of superhuman toughness and acceleration.
That’s been Dangerfield for five years now. He’s not the same force he was in 2016 and 2017 when he was, across the two years, the best player in the game, but he’s still relentless and still capable of physically overwhelming a game in the clinches in a way that no other player can.
Western Bulldogs | Midfielder
For a small, confusing period of time, there was the hushed concern that Marcus Bontempelli might not have another gear. He took over the world after 2016 and wasn’t able to climb any higher in 2017 or 2018 as his team disappointed.
Last year, though, he found the next level, and vaulted himself into the true top tier, adding more volume to his permanent class. He was still the same player – the same effortlessly aware, powerful athlete capable of jaw-dropping elegance – but now came in a bigger box. His stats soared and his team went with him.
With the Bulldogs a popular choice to take a further leap this year, Bontempelli’s ability to find another level still and become the best player in the competition – which felt like his destiny in 2016 – will be key.
Fremantle | Midfielder
The game’s most impressive athlete might be considered its best player if he could just get a little help. It’s been five years since the Dockers won more than nine games in a season. Last year – when they finished 13th – was their best season since 2015.
Fyfe’s week-to-week relevance has suffered but his legend hasn’t. The two most iconic sights in football this century might both be from out West – Chris Judd accelerating out of packs and Fyfe rising above them. His aerial ability makes him special in history and his toughness and brutal force of will make him unstoppable every week.
A second Brownlow was deserved. What he deserves more than anything, though, is the chance to do what he does on the biggest stage again, and rise above September packs.
Richmond | Midfielder
After a down year when he was only maybe the third or fourth best player on the planet, Martin ascended again last season and confirmed his place as the most influential player in the game.
He is as close to a perfect footballer as exists – strong, quick, stupidly skilled, and a genius in how he sees the game. He can be the best midfielder and the best forward in the sport in the same quarter.
And so he was in the grand final, and took away a second Norm Smith medal – the greatest player on the greatest team, and everyone looking up at them.