Now that we have 21 teams based on surnames, it’s time to look at a few selection changes based on feedback and additional research as well as compare each team to come out with an overall best letter.
In Graham Arthur (Hawthorn, 1955-68) 232 games, 201 goals
An unspectacular but effective half-forward who captained Hawthorn’s 1961 premiership and was named as half-forward flank and captain in Hawthorn’s team of the century.
Out David Armitage
In Brent Crosswell (Carlton 1968-75, North Melbourne 1975-79, Melbourne 1980-82) 222 games, 257 goals
Mercurial on a wing or forward flank, he played in all four premierships coached by Ron Barassi. He’s on the interchange bench of North Melbourne’s team of the century and the half-back flank of Tasmania’s team of the century.
Dick Condon (Collingwood 1897-1906, Richmond 1908-09) 181 games, 127 goals
A brilliant early player who could pick the ball up with either hand and kick accurately with either foot but whose temper often got him in trouble – he was banned for life in 1900 for abusing an umpire but was reinstated in 1902.
Out Bruce Comben, Garry Crane
In Leon Davis (Collingwood 2000-2011) 225 games, 270 goals
An electric forward who was named All Australian twice and played in the grand final draw of 2010. He kicked the goal of the year in 2008 and was one of the most popular Collingwood players during his career.
Out Allan Davis
In Mick Grace (Fitzroy 1897-1900, Carlton 1903-07, St Kilda 1908) 167 games, 214 goals
A follower and forward who excelled in finals, he won four premierships. He became the first player to kick 50 goals in a season in 1906 and won two best and fairest awards at Fitzroy. He died tragically young of tuberculosis in 1912.
Jack Gunston (Adelaide 2010-11, Hawthorn 2012-) 208 games, 398 goals
He was the third tall alongside Jarryd Roughead and Lance Franklin during his first two years at Hawthorn and a regular threat in the air and at ground level. Has kicked over 50 goals in four seasons and played in each of the Hawthorn threepeat premierships, winning a best and fairest in 2020.
Out Daniel Giansiracusa, Brendon Gale
In Shannon Hurn (West Coast 2006-) 278 games, 50 goals
He is a prodigious kick from the back line with clear leadership abilities that were recognised when he was named captain from 2015 to 2019. He led the 2018 premiership and has been named All Australian twice.
Out Ross Henshaw
In Peter ‘Percy’ Jones (Carlton 1966-79) 249 games, 284 goals
He was a wholehearted ruckman who was one of the great characters of the 1970s. He played in four premierships, and his effort to ruck all day was vital in the 1972 upset. He won a best and fairest in 1978 and was named in Tasmania’s team of the century. He also kicked the goalpost at Moorabbin.
Out Ted Johnson
In Mark Lee (Richmond 1977-91) 233 games, 94 goals
One of the best on ground in the 1980 premiership and Richmond’s best and fairest in 1984, he captained the club in 1985-86 before injuries stalled his career. He was a talented tap ruckman who perhaps did not live up to early potential.
Tom Lonergan (Geelong 2005-17) 209 games, 55 goals
In his seventh game he suffered a severely lacerated kidney that put him in a coma for four days as he recovered from surgery. He returned to become a reliable and courageous defender, playing in the 2011 premiership.
Out Geoff Leek, Brett Lovett
In Tony Modra (Adelaide 1992-98, Fremantle 1999-2001) 165 games, 588 goals
Yes bdosi, you wore me down enough for this one! Modra was one of the most spectacular full-forwards of the 1990s, winning mMark of the year three times and leading Adelaide’s goal kicking for five straight seasons, winning a Coleman Medal in 1997. He was named at full-forward in Adelaide’s team of the decade and in Fremantle’s 25 since ‘95 team.
Ashley McIntosh (West Coast 1990-2003) 242 games, 108 goals
A deceptively fast and strong defender who could use his body to great advantage, McIntosh played in the 1992 and 1994 premierships and won a best and fairest in 1998. He was named at full back in West Coast’s 20-year anniversary side.
Out Mark Maclure, Stephen Milne
In Teddy Rankin (Geelong 1897-1910) 180 games, 35 goals
He is the patriarch of the famous Rankin family at Geelong and famous for being the first player to touch the ball on the ground rather than attempt a bounce in poor weather. Ranking was blessed with great stamina and discipline, and he was most frequently seen in defence using his anticipation to great effect. He was inducted as a Geelong hall of fame legend in 2018.
Out Max Richardson
Each team got a regular representative other than the two newest clubs – the closest would have been Jarrod Harbrow and Jeremy Cameron, but I couldn’t justify it. I have classified the likes of Gary Ablett Jr and Heath Shaw as being Geelong and Collingwood as that is where they have spent the majority of their careers.
In terms of raw numbers of representatives, the shakeout is as follows:
As a percentage of each team’s time in the league, the shake-out is a bit different – for example, Port Adelaide has eight players named in these squads for 24 years of competition, from 1997 to 2020. That’s eight by 24, so 33.33 per cent.
On nine occasions one team provided five or more representatives for a letter’s team. Essendon doing remarkably well for the F side Letter A (Hawthorn, six players)
Gary Ayres, Col Austen, Geoff Ablett, Graham Arthur, Alec Albiston and Ben Allan.
Letter C (Collingwood, 5 players)
Syd Coventry, Albert Collier, Harry Collier, Gordon Coventry and Dick Condon.
Letter F (Essendon, 8 players)
Dustin Fletcher, Ken Fletcher, Tom Fitzmaurice, Neville Fields, Garry Foulds, Keith Forbes, Ted Freyer and Ken Fraser.
Letter J (Carlton, 6 players)
John James, Syd Jackson, Wayne Johnston, Alex Jesaulenko, Percy Jones and Chris Judd.
Letter N (Geelong, 6 players)
Ernest Newling, Robert Neal, John Newman, Ian Nankervis, Bruce Nankervis and Ken Newland.
Letter P (Collingwood, 5 players)
Bill Picken, Scott Pendlebury, Charlie Pannam, Alby Pannam and Bill Proudfoot.
Letter R (Collingwood, 6 players)
Jack Regan, Ted Rowell, Wayne Richardson, Bob Rose, Lou Richards and Sav Rocca.
Letter T (Collingwood, 6 players)
Dale Thomas, Len Thompson, Des Tuddenham, Ron Todd, Lardie Tulloch and Bill Twomey.
Letter V (Melbourne – 5 players)
Francis Vine, Todd Viney, Barrie Vagg, Jack Viney and Bill Vanthoff.
Only Carlton is represented in every team, although if Zach Tuohy were to continue his career with Geelong for a few years, that would change.
Essendon missed only the K squad (Derek Kickett was close), Geelong missed the P squad (Peter Pianto was a very good option), Hawthorn missed the J squad (Ray Jencke might have made it) and every other club missed at least two letters.
Now it’s time for my personal ranking of these 21 teams to determine the best of the best. I’ve rated each team based on five factors of varying weight – midfield, spine, depth, scoring options, defence – and summed everything up to get the below order.
An unsurprising last place, with only Michael Voss and Soapy Vallence in the superstar category. The likes of Todd Viney, Paul Vander Haar and Travis Varcoe might be able to play a matchwinning hand on occasion, but on the whole the quality and depth just aren’t there.
Best and fairest: Michael Voss Leading goal kicker: Harry Vallence
E really suffers in the key defensive spots, although the experience of the likes of Tyson Edwards, Corey Enright and Andrew Embley offers the ability to never really get blown out. Alan Ezard and Jamie Elliott in the forward line offer some excitement.
Best and fairest: Corey Enright Leading goal kicker: Ron Evans
Gary O’Donnell and Ryan O’Keeffe offer some exceptional leadership ability, Michael O’Loughlin and Richard Osbourne are capable of kicking big bags and the likes of Paddy O’Brien and Kevin O’Neill are powerful and physical defenders. They’re let down by depth more than anything else.
Best and fairest: Ryan O’Keeffe Leading goal kicker: Michael O’Loughlin
A relatively even squad but with only a couple of genuine superstars in John Nicholls and Laurie Nash. Doug Nicholls and Nic Naitanui add flash from the bench, while Chris Newman and Ian Nankervis are quality defenders. But other than besides David Neitz and Alan Noonan, the scoring ability is a bit lacking.
Best and fairest: John Nicholls Leading goal kicker: David Neitz
The composite team has quite a strong forward line, with George and Bill Young being capable goalscorers, Adem Yze and Dayne Zorko capable of the sublime and the ridiculous, and Bernie Quinlan as one of the finest big men in the league’s history. The defence is a weak spot, although the midfield boasting Bryan Quirk, Elliot Yeo, Warwick Irwin and Henry Young has the ability to compete well.
Best and fairest: Henry Young Leading goal kicker: Bernie Quinlan
Elliot Yeo (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
An excellent midfield with the hard nuts of Paul Kelly, Josh Kennedy and Dean Kemp is always going to acquit itself well. The Krakouer brothers at the feet of Josh Kennedy and Stephen Kernaham excite. Defence is again a weak spot, with Anthony Koutoufides not a true centre halfback and Matthew Kennedy a solid fullback at best.
Best and fairest: Peter Knights Leading goal kicker: Josh J Kennedy
One of the most mercurial forward lines of any team, Lance Franklin, Brendan Fevola and Jeff Farmer would give most defences nightmares. They’re a bit tall on the bench, with only Josh Francou able to run through the midfield, but the Fletcher family in defence would stave off some tough attacks.
Best and fairest: Graham Farmer Leading goal kicker: Lance Franklin
Maybe this is a bit of a surprise. They’re consistent around the ground with all-time greats Glen Jakovich, Chris Judd and all sorts of Johnsons up and down the ground but lack of a true full-forward, which hurts a little. Midfield depth is solid but not of all-time greats. It would be plenty exciting to watch up forward with Alex Jesaulenko, Steve Johnson and Darren Jarman though.
Best and fairest: Chris Judd Leading goal kicker: Darren Jarman
Steve Johnson (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Ablett and Ablett (with a side of Ablett, Geoff) headline this squad that suffers a little in the key positions. A genuinely tough backline with Gary Ayres, Glenn Archer, Ron Andrew and Marcus Ashcroft and the likes of Jason Akermanis and Alec Albiston up forward would kick plenty of crumbing goals.
Best and fairest: Gary Ablett Jr Leading goal kicker: Gary Ablett Sr
The fullback line is excellent at locking down on opponents, while the halfback line is exciting with its rebound ability. They mainly has a few small issues with depth, with only two midfielders among the interchange and emergencies. They have a few Swiss army knives that can play anywhere – Adam Goodes, Chris Grant and Ross Glendenning offer plenty of flexibility.
Best and fairest: Keith Greig Leading goal kicker: Fraser Gehrig
At the midpoint is a team with one of the strongest defences of all and a truly exciting forward line built around Jason Dunstall. Patrick Dangerfield aside, most of the midfielders are more outside ball users than in and under, which hurts in this instance.
Best and fairest: Terry Daniher Leading goal kicker: Jason Dunstall
It’s maybe not the best forward line of all the letters, but it’s very very close: Ron Todd and Albert Thurgood playing second and third fiddle is incredibly exciting. Two fullbacks of their respective clubs’ team of the century show the quality in defence, while Mark Thompson and Zach Tuohy rebound well. The midfield has a few weak links in comparison with the very top tier.
Best and fairest: Len Thompson Leading goal kicker: Jack Titus
They’re just missing the finals in this imaginary exercise, let down more than anything else by a slight but perceptible drop in depth. They have high flyers at both ends of the field in Bill Picken and Bob Pratt, who would draw the crowds, while Matt Priddis and John Platten have the hair and midfield covered. The bench is solid if unspectacular.
Best and fairest: Scott Pendlebury Leading goal kicker: Bob Pratt
The finals series of this hypothetical competition would be very hotly contested, with the smallest margins being enough to help or hinder a team’s chances.
Although L has an imposing forward line with Stewart Loewe, Tony Lockett, Matthew Lloyd, and Mark LeCras, the drop in midfield quality on the bench sees them fall just a bit short. Tarkyn Lockyer is a personal favourite, but I can recognise he’s not an all-time great like bench players for other teams. A tall emergency list of Dick Lee, Scott Lucas and Johnny Lewis also doesn’t help.
Best and fairest: Nigel Lappin Leading goal kicker: Tony Lockett
A midfield that boasts two members of the AFL team of the century is let down a little up forward. Steele Sidebottom and Dane Swan both have quality goal nous but are more extra midfielders than genuine scoring threats. One of the tallest teams in the mix with four legendary ruckmen: Aaron Sandilands, Phill Scott, Jim Stynes, John Schultz and even Paul Salmon to an extent too.
Best and fairest: Ian Stewart Leading goal kicker: Peter Sumich
6. Letter C
A very rugged backline and strong midfield are complemented by a spectacular forward line. John Coleman, Gordon Coventry and Wayne Carey is the best trio of tall forwards of any team in the mix. The defence is perhaps one small short and with less rebounding nous than other sides but would be very tough to score against.
Best and fairest: Wayne Carey Leading goal kicker: John Coleman
A midfield boasting three members of the AFL team of the century (Francis Bourke, Ron Barassi and Haydn Bunton) with courage (John Barker, Jimmy Bartel) and flair (Malcolm Blight, Shaun Burgoyne) at both ends of the field. Full-forward Simon Beasley just doesn’t quite measure up to the other full-forwards at this high level. They’re covered well in most positions between the bench and emergencies.
Best and fairest: Shaun Burgoyne Leading goal kicker: Jonathan Brown
We’re splitting hairs here that one individual position can determine placement. Nothing against Darryl Wakelin, but the remaining fullbacks are all named in their club’s teams of the century while he isn’t (for obvious reasons, I admit). Nicky Winmar aside, the midfield might be a little one-paced. Ted Whitten would surely account for a few wins with his inspiring leadership and Doug Wade’s nous combined with Lindsay White’s aerial ability would cause havoc up forward. Gavin Wanganeen and Darryl White are brilliant, while Scott West and Paul Williams would almost guarantee first use for the W team against anyone.
Best and fairest: Ted Whitten Leading goal kicker: Doug Wade
A collection of modern and silver age legends. The likes of Brandon Matera, Andrew McLeod, and Roger Merrett working in tandem on the wings while Dustin Martin and Leigh Matthew impose themselves physically is tantalising. Dave McNamara roosting them from the centre square and Peter McKenna flying for anything that doesn’t make the distance is just as exciting. Perhaps Roger Merrett is a little out of place as a centre half-forward, perhaps there are too few midfielders on the bench.
Best and fairest: Sam Mitchell Leading goal kicker: Peter McKenna
An exciting and versatile backline, a midfield that combines physicality (Mark Ricciuto) with ball-winning ability (Brett Ratten) and sublime skill (Peter Riccardi, Dick Reynolds) and two marking machines up forward (Nick Riewoldt and Matthew Richardson), the R team could easily have been the winner. Picking the slightest of nits has me thinking that Riewoldt and Richardson aren’t necessarily the most accurate in front of goal, and this could have ramifications in a fictional grand final.
Best and fairest: Dick Reynolds Leading goal kicker: Nick Riewoldt
Cyril Rioli (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)
The H team boasts something no other team can manage: each of the fullback (Fred Hughson), centre halfback (Reg Hickey), centre half-forward (Royce Hart) and full-forward (Peter Hudson) occupy the respective slot in their club’s team of the century. It’s one of the classiest half-forward lines possible, with James Hird and Roberty Harvey alongside Royce Hart, courage and skill in equal measure in defence (Ken Hunter, Ben Hart), and Doug Hawkins and Bill Hutchison providing the pace while Luke Hodge and Barry Hall intimidate. The bench is equally skilful and versatile, and although Les Hughes is the only true ruckman listed, he was known for his tireless ability to ruck all day. There are no wrong answers with any of the top four teams, but H just edges it all.
Best and fairest: Robert Harvey Leading goal kicker: Peter Hudson
Thanks to everyone for following along over the past few months. It’s been a lot of fun exploring the history of the V/AFL to a deeper extent than I had prior – and even the SANFL to an extent in the comments!
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