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Opinion

AFL top 100: The champions at Hawthorn

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Roar Rookie
16th April, 2020
7

Since Don Scott and Leigh Matthews arrived at the Hawks in the late 1960s the club has produced a cavalcade of stars that has outshone all other teams, with a record eight 300-plus gamers heading their Hawthorn top 100 game players of all time.

It is easy to forget given the success of the club since the 1980s that from their time of entry into the league in 1925 – along with Footscray and North Melbourne – until their first appearance in the finals in 1957 Hawthorn finished in the bottom three on 25 occasions, including ten wooden spoons. In the club’s first 32 years in the league they failed to finish the year ahead of Carlton.

Since winning their first premiership in 1961 the Hawks have proved to be the most successful club in the VFL/AFL, winning a total of 13 premierships, well ahead of their nearest opposition, Carlton, with eight.

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Hawthorn’s greatest game player, Michael Tuck, played 426 games and was the AFL’s greatest game player until overtaken by North Melbourne’s Brent Harvey on 30 July 2016. Harvey went on to play 432 games before retiring. What is amazing is that Tuck took a while to establish himself as a permanent AFL footballer and as a consequence played 50 reserve games as well, so all up played 476 games in a Hawthorn jumper. Surprisingly, he never won a best and fairest but finished runner-up on six occasions. Playing at full-forward in his first AFL game, he kicked three goals with his first three kicks. When he retired in 1991 he was the tenth-oldest player to ever play the game.

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Tuck played for a long time at Hawthorn during their golden era and as a result holds AFL records for most premierships (7), most grand finals (11) and most finals (39). He captained the Hawks to four premierships during his six years as leader after taking over from Leigh Matthews and made All Australian twice. His last game was in the Hawks 1991 premiership win over West Coast.

Number 2 on Hawthorn’s all-time games list is the player considered by many to have been the greatest of all time: Leigh Matthews. Captain for the last five years of his career, Matthews played 94 games fewer than Tuck but has an impressive trophy cabinet that includes four premierships and eight best and fairests. He was the leading AFL goal kicker in 1975 and Hawthorn’s leading goal kicker six times but was All Australian only once. He went on to a very successful coaching career, breaking Collingwood’s drought with the 1990 premiership and winning Brisbane its only three premierships.

Sam Mitchell also boasts four premierships, and he captained the team to victory in the 2008 grand final in his first year of three as captain. He shared the 2012 Brownlow Medal with Richmond’s Trent Cotchin in unusual circumstances – Tim Watson (Essendon) had received the most votes and had been awarded the medal but had to relinquish it as a penalty for the supplements scandal that resulted in 34 of the Bombers players being suspended. Subsequently the medal was awarded to the joint runners-up.

Mitchell was a prolific Brownlow vote receiver and, while he wasn’t always eligible, finished with 227 votes over his career, the third most ever behind the two Garys: Ablett (Geelong and Gold Coast) and Dempsey (Footscray and North Melbourne). An accurate kick with both feet, he only reverted to the left foot to gain additional distance. He won five best and fairest medals at the Hawks and made All Australian three times before finishing his career on a high note at the West Coast Eagles, scoring two goals and gaining 28 possessions in a losing semi-final side.

Three worthy champions of the Hawthorn Football Club.

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