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Opinion

The AFL all-time great alphabet teams: Letter C

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Roar Pro
1st May, 2020
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The C team contains some of the most famous names in Australian football history and a few members of a modern golden era, as well as one of the players who has a legitimate claim to be the greatest ever.

Back line

Frank Curcio (Fitzroy 1932-48)
249 games, 17 goals
In a tough era, Curcio was one of the toughest for Fitzroy. As a ruckman who often played in defence as well, he would protect his smaller teammates from opposing enforcers. Interestingly, Curcio was also a bass violinist when away from the field, and on at least one occasion was known to tell an opponent, “Hit me as hard as you like, but don’t hurt my fingers.” He missed the 1937 season to concentrate on music, and unfortunately missed the 1944 flag due to military service. By the time he retired he was the Roys’ games record holder, and would go on to be named as back pocket in Fitzroy’s Team of the Century, as well as in the Italian Team of the Century.

Dick Clay (Richmond 1966-76)
213 games, 80 goals
Recruited from Kyabram, Dick Clay’s signature was one of the most sought after in the 1960s. North had claim to him, but he eventually went to Richmond, where he firstly starred as a wingman alongside Francis Bourke. Winning premierships in 1967 and 1969 as a wingman, he moved to fullback and for the first half of the 1970s found his niche as one of the preeminent defenders of the era. Although he was named on the wing in Richmond’s Team of the Century I’ve slotted him at fullback to reflect the latter part of his career.

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Bruce Comben (Carlton 1950-61)
188 games, 36 goals
In a relatively lean period for Carlton, Bugsy Comben started his career as a rover before transitioning back in 1954 and becoming a star. Known for his skill and ability to read the play, he was appointed captain of the club from 1958-60 – and indeed captained Victoria in 1960 to a loss against Tasmania, of all things! After his playing career, Comben contributed significantly to Carlton as an administrator and as vice-president at one stage. He would go on to be awarded an OAM for his service, and be named as back pocket in the club’s Team of the Century.

Halfback line

Bob Chitty (Carlton 1937-46)
147 games, 32 goals
One of the most fearsome men to step onto a football field, Bob Chitty had a reputation for being tough, aggressive and dangerous. He virtually precipitated the bloodbath of the 1945 grand final by knocking out Ron Clegg and Billy Wiliams, and he lost a finger in an industrial accident but still played on the next Saturday. A two-time premiership winner (1938 and 1945) and two time best-and-fairest winner (1941 and 1944), he went on to star in the critically panned film about Ned Kelly, The Glenrowan Affair. One of his toughest opponents, Jack Dyer, paid tribute by saying that the film was the only time that Bob Chitty had needed armour.

Albert ‘Leeter’ Collier (Collingwood 1925-39, Fitzroy 1941-42)
217 games, 66 goals
Collier was one of the lynchpins of the Collingwood machine of the 1920s, playing in all four of their premierships in a row. Starting off as a forward, his style of play was better suited to the back line, and it was at centre halfback where he eventually made his name. Winning the Brownlow Medal in 1929, Collier also won three Magpies best-and-fairest awards to go with the six premierships (1935-36 to go with the four-peat of 1927-30). After the 1930 flag he spent two years in Tasmania, but returned with no ill effects but a revised role as ruckman. Injuries dimmed his star a little, but he played on until 1939 and was named as centre halfback in Collingwood’s Team of the Century.

AFL generic

(AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

Norm ‘Hackenschmidt’ Clark (Carlton 1905-12)
126 games, three goals
One of the most distinctive nicknames in VFL history, Hackenschmidt was so named for a contemporary wrestler whose physique he was said to share. At 170 centimetres and 84 kilos, Clark was a tough, dashing defender – winning the Stawell Gift in 1899 while still playing in SA – and played a starring role in the Carlton premiership hat trick of 1906-08. Clark alternated between the back pocket and halfback flank, but was renowned across the league for his skill and fairness. However, he was dropped for two matches at the start of 1909 for trying to attain greater match payments for the players, and the controversy that followed swallowed the Carlton club for some years. He returned to coach the club to the 1914 and 1915 flags.

Centre line

Garry Crane (Carlton 1964-76)
148 games, 16 goals
For over a decade Garry Crane was one of the bravest players on the field. Playing only the last two games of the season in 1964 wearing number 31, Crane relinquished the number when Ron Barassi came to town, and moved to number six. His toughness was renowned, and resulted in several injuries that kept him off the field for long periods of time – a concussion and broken jaw in 1967 the most impactful. Crane won Carlton’s best-and-fairest in 1969, and after an aborted retirement in 1971, played for an additional four years plus a game in 1976, being one of nine players to play in each of Carlton’s 1968, ’70 and ’72 premierships. In 2000, he was named on the wing in Carlton’s Team of the Century.

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Jack Clarke (Essendon 1951-67)
263 games, 180 goals
Fitness ran in the Clarke family – quite literally, as Jack’s brother was legendary runner Ron. Clarke played in a grand final in his first year as a reserve, before stepping up to prominence and representing Victoria on no less than 27 occasions. Clarke captained Essendon to a flag in 1962, and also played in the 1965 premiership. He won two Essendon best-and-fairests to go with this, and turned his hand to coaching for three seasons after his playing career was over. Clarke was named as the centreman in Essendon’s Team of the Century, and is number eight on their list of champions named in 2002.

Shane Crawford (Hawthorn 1993-2008)
305 games, 224 goals
Throughout the 1990s, Shane Crawford was the shining light for Hawthorn, culminating in his 1999 Brownlow Medal win. A hard-running midfielder, Crawford had impeccable skills to go with his gut-running endurance, and won four Hawthorn best-and-fairests to go with the Brownlow. Finishing his career on a high with the 2008 flag, he had been offered another year but chose to go out on top. He also represented NSW and the Allies in State of Origin several times through the 1990s.

Ruck line

Roy Cazaly (St Kilda 1911-20, South Melbourne 1921-27)
198 games, 167 goals
One of the first official Hall of Fame Legends, Cazaly spent a decade at St Kilda as a decent if unremarkable player, although he did win a best-and-fairest in 1918 and captained the club in 1920. It was after he crossed to South that he became a superstar, with his high-leaping inspiring teammate ‘Skeeter’ Fleiter to call out “Up there Cazaly!” as he took flight. The phrase lives on in memory through Mike Brady and an iconic song. Cazaly was more than a high jumping ruckman, with his focus on fitness being ahead of its time, and a wily football brain bringing seven premierships to the clubs he coached, as well as being responsible for Hawthorn becoming known as the Hawks. Cazaly won two best-and-fairests at South as well as leading the goal-kicking in 1926.

Trent Cotchin (Richmond, 2008-)
235 games, 126 goals
Cotchin was a highly sought-after prize in the 2007 draft, and Richmond were able to pounce after Carlton took their winnings in the Kreuzer Cup. He had a few slow years to start, but once his fitness base was set, he was able to begin starring, winning his first club best-and-fairest in 2011. He went even better in 2012, winning the Brownlow Medal (eventually) and was named All Australian for the first time. Since being appointed captain in 2013, Cotchin has gone from strength to strength, leading Richmond to two premierships, and embodying the team spirit in the 2019 grand final by flattening the much bigger Shane Mumford. He was the youngest person in Richmond’s history to win three best-and-fairests, which he did in 2014. Once the AFL resumes, Cotchin is in line to wrap himself in even more glory.

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Trent Cotchin

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/AFL Media/via Getty Images )

Harry Collier (Collingwood 1926-40)
253 games, 299 goals
The second Collier brother, Harry was older than Albert but debuted a year later. Collier was quick and skilled, and relished in the protection afforded him by the likes of Albert, playing in over 250 games and winning six premierships. Collier controversially missed out on the 1930 Brownlow Medal at the time – having the same number of votes as winner Stan Judkins but having played more games, Judkins won on a count back, however it was said that there was a vote labelled ‘Collier’ that was discarded as both brothers had been playing in that match. Collier did get his medal in 1989 once the count-back rule was abolished, and was named as first rover in Collingwood’s Team of the Century.

Half forward line

Frank ‘Silver’ Caine (Carlton 1905-09, Essendon 1912-14)
102 games, 180 goals
So named for his prematurely greying hair, Silver Caine was one of Carlton’s first superstars. High-flying and strong-marking, Caine led the club goal-kicking in 1905 and 1907 and played in the 1906 and 1907 flags before injury cruelled his bid for a personal hat trick in 1908. After the 1909 season’s upheaval (as mentioned for Norm Clark), coach Jack Worrall resigned at the club’s AGM – Caine was one of four players to leave the club in protest. After two years with North Melbourne in the VFA, Caine and Worrall joined forces again at Essendon, with Caine playing in that club’s 1912 flag. Upon Caine’s passing, Worrall called him one of the four best forwards of the league’s first 40 years.

Wayne Carey (North Melbourne 1989-2001, Adelaide 2003-04)
272 games, 727 goals
Up until 2001, Wayne Carey stood atop the AFL tree as one of the greatest players of the era. Very few players could impose themselves on a game through sheer willpower the way Carey did, whether by taking a series of strong marks, kicking a team-lifting goal, or simply dragging the team up to his standard. Named All Australian in every season from 1993 to 2000 except 1997 (after dislocating his shoulder), Carey captained the Kangaroos to the 1996 and 1999 flags and was named as centre half forward and captain in North Melbourne’s Team of the Century. What happened after 2001 is well known, and Carey’s time in Adelaide was a mere coda to one of the great careers, but it doesn’t take away from the brilliance that had come before.

Wayne Carey

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Paul Chapman (Geelong 2000-13, Essendon 2014-15)
280 games, 366 goals
Paul Chapman was one of the key players in the great Geelong sides from ten ago, building his career through the first few years to become an important link between the midfield and the forward line. Talented enough to back up his off-field comments (I recall his statement that Geelong were the better team over St Kilda following the 2004 Wizard Cup), on the whole individual awards eluded him except for a club best-and-fairest in 2006 and a Norm Smith in 2009. He played in all three of Geelong’s premierships of the era before crossing to Essendon and sharing his experience there for two years.

Forward line

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Mick Conlan (Fitzroy 1977-89)
210 games, 395 goals
Conlan would run all day for Fitzroy, alternating between the flank and the pocket for over a decade. On top of this, he was noted for building up strength much more than most players of the day, allowing him to burst through packs with ease. Conlan’s greatest moment was the 1986 elimination final against Essendon where he kicked the winning goal. He represented Victoria on four occasions, and kicked the seventh most goals in Fitzroy’s history, being named on the interchange bench in their Team of the Century.

John Coleman (Essendon 1949-54)
98 games, 537 goals
The full forward of the century, John Coleman flashed like a bolt from the blue across five and a half seasons before a knee injury ended his career. Twelve goals on debut and 100 for the season, with his 100th coming with virtually the last kick of the grand final, another century of goals and a premiership the following year. A third century came in 1952 and he was well on the way in 1954 before his knee buckled. Coleman had a reputation for outstanding high marking and scrupulous fair play – the only exception being the sensational suspension for retaliating against Harry Caspar in 1951, which many believe cost Essendon a third straight flag. One of the first inducted Legends in the Hall of Fame and the second greatest Bomber ever, the Coleman Medal was introduced in 1981 in his honour.

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(Photo by Michael Dodge/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Gordon Coventry (Collingwood 1920-37)
306 games, 1299 goals
Had John Coleman not existed, Gordon Coventry could very easily have been the full forward in the AFL Team of the Century instead of him. As it is, he has to make do with forward pocket here, and full forward in Collingwood’s Team of the Century. Coventry owns several records that can never be broken – the first man to kick 100 goals in a season, the first to play 300 games, five straight league leading goal-kicker awards, 16 straight club goal-kicking awards, the most goals in a grand final (nine in 1928) and Legend status of his own in the Hall of Fame. Much like Coleman, Coventry missed a finals series due to retaliation against an opponent (Joe Murdoch in 1936), although Collingwood would go on to win the flag. He played one more season after this incident, winning one last league goal-kicking award, before bowing out after losing the grand final.

Interchange

Ron Clegg (South Melbourne 1945-60)
231 games, 156 goals
A strong mark and unflinchingly courageous, Clegg was equally adept at centre half forward – where he started in the 1945 grand final – or centre halfback, where he primarily played in 1949 when winning the Brownlow Medal. He came close to winning a second Brownlow in 1951, and won three club best-and-fairests. After a year in Wagga in 1955, he returned to South and coached them for two years trying to lift them into the finals, albeit with little success. Clegg was named as centre halfback in South’s Team of the Century and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.

Dean Cox (West Coast 2001-14)
290 games, 169 goals
Cox spent his time at West Coast not just as one of the most effective tap ruckmen in the league, but athletic enough to cover a lot of ground and give more midfield depth to the Eagles. Often called the fifth midfielder of the side, he averaged over 17 touches a game from 2004 to his retirement. Cox was the lead ruckman in the 2006 flag, and won a best-and-fairest two years later, as well as being named to the All Australian side on six occasions. He is currently the Eagles’ games record-holder with only Shannon Hurn within shouting distance.

Barry Cable (North Melbourne 1970, 1974-77)
115 games, 133 goals
Although Cable’s exploits were primarily in the WAFL, his five years playing for the Kangaroos were enough to make the team here. In his first year in the east after eight years playing for Perth, Cable won North’s best-and-fairest and finished fourth in the Brownlow Medal before returning to WA for another three years. He had an uncanny knack for being where the ball was, and often found his forwards in the right position – enough so that he was a key mover in North’s first two premierships in 1975 and 1977. Named first rover in North’s Team of the Century and the Indigenous Team of the Century, Cable is a legend in both the Western Australian Football Hall of Fame and the AFL Hall of Fame.

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Joel Corey (Geelong 2000-13)
276 games, 79 goals
Joel Corey was a dependable Mr Fix It for Geelong during their halcyon days, slotting in on a wing, halfback, half forward, or anywhere that needed a hole plugged. He played in the Cats’ three premierships and won two club best-and-fairests in 2005 and 2008. A dual All Australian, Corey retired in 2013 in the same low-key yet respected way that he went about his football that was reflected in the way that multiple teammates named him their favourite teammate to play with.

Emergencies

Denis Cordner (Melbourne 1943, 1948-56)
152 games, 82 goals
After one game for the Demons in 1943, Denis Cordner went on to be the best of the family, although Brownlow medallist brother Don wasn’t far behind. He won a flag in his third game as one of the best players on the ground at centre halfback. His second game had been the grand final draw! In his first full season, 1949, Cordner was named to the Victorian team for the first time, and noted for his hard work in the trenches, being considered one of the greatest wet-weather ruckmen of all time. Winning two best-and-fairest awards and being nearly best on ground in both the 1955 and 1956 premierships, Cordner was named as first ruckman in Melbourne’s Team of the Century.

Syd Coventry (Collingwood 1922-34)
227 games, 62 goals
He was the captain of the Collingwood machine of the era. If things had turned out a little differently, Syd Coventry could have been a revered name at St Kilda, but instead sat out of the game for a year to join younger brother Gordon at the Pies. A vigorous and tough ruckman slash defender, Coventry was a natural leader and captained the club from 1927 to his retirement in 1934, including the four straight premierships from 1927-30. Coventry won the 1927 Brownlow Medal and two club best-and-fairests, and was named as back pocket in Collingwood’s Team of the Century.

Ben Cousins (West Coast 1996-2007, Richmond 2009-10)
270 games, 217 goals
Winning the Rising Star in his first year, Cousins was a defining part of the Eagles team as they dipped out of the finals before coming back up to the ultimate in 2006. Cousins won the Brownlow Medal in 2005 and won four Eagles best-and-fairests in five years. Towards the end of his career, the off-field problems stacked up, and he was stripped of the captaincy in 2006 before the Eagles won the flag. Sadly, after the 2007 season, this came to a nadir and he was deregistered for 12 months. Making a comeback with Richmond, he was still effective but not as dynamic before retiring in 2010.

Up next is the D team, with a very modern flavour in the midfield, and another who has a reasonable claim to being one of the greatest full forwards ever.