While comparing teams from one year to another is difficult and subjective, as are any debates seeking to decide the greats of each sport, they are indeed interesting subjects for sports fans whether it be boxing, running, horse racing, football or any other sport.
In the case of the AFL, I have a number of reasons why I choose Essendon’s 2000 AFL premiership team with regard to the champion teams I have observed either live or via television.
While it can be argued that Essendon fell short of expectations in terms of sustained success when compared to other teams, winning just one premiership after finishing on top of the ladder after the home-and-away season in 1999 and 2001, the single-season performance in 2000 was formidable.
I argue this despite barracking for Essendon since I was a kid.
First, the 2000 Essendon team – like any premiership team – had many star players, including four All Australians that year (Damien Hardwick, Dustin Fletcher, James Hird and Matthew Lloyd).
Many Roar readers would be familiar with the players of the 2000 grand final side.
B: Mark Johnson, Dustin Fletcher, Sean Wellman
HB: Damien Hardwick, Dean Wallis, Dean Solomon
C: Chris Heffernan, Joe Misiti, Blake Caracella
HF: Mark Mercuri, Scott Lucas, James Hird (c)
F: Adam Ramanauskas, Matthew Lloyd, Michael Long
Foll: John Barnes, Justin Blumfield, Jason Johnson
Int: Darren Bewick, Paul Barnard, Steven Alessio, Gary Moorcroft
Essendon’s forward line was aided by having many prolific goal scorers: Matthew Lloyd (109), Lucas (57), Hird (36), Caracella (35), Mercuri (32), Blumfield (27), Alessio (24) and Gary Moorcroft (23).
The team dominated the 2000 home-and-away season, losing one of 22 home-and-away games to the Western Bulldogs in Round 21 at Docklands. This is five wins more than the second best team that year (Carlton).
With Essendon achieving a high percentage for the home-and-away season (159.1 per cent) – as they both easily outscored all opposition (+139 points) for the season and had the least points kicked against their defence (-229 points) – the club’s season included some massive wins.
For myself, having witnessed many big matches where Richmond often beat Essendon over the years, none were more rewarding to watch than Round 17 when Essendon destroyed Richmond by 101 points before 73,465 spectators. The score was 24.23 (167) to 10.6 (66).
But it was the finals that left a lasting impression on me.
After all, many great home-and-away teams have fallen down when it counts. For example, while Geelong lost just one of 22 home-and-away matches during the 2008 AFL season (to Collingwood by 86 points), they were defeated by Hawthorn in the grand final by 26 points after earlier defeating Hawthorn in Round 17 by 11 points.
But the Essendon team of the 2000 finals easily out-performed their home-and-away dominance in the finals.
They would beat the teams they played in the finals much easier than during the home-and-away games.
In the first week of the finals, Essendon kicked the highest ever finals score of 31.12 (198) when defeating the 1999 premiers the Kangaroos by 125 points. During Round 13, Essendon 17.17 (119) had defeated the Kangaroos 11.4 (70).
In the preliminary final, Essendon 18.17 (125) beat Carlton 12.8 (80). In Round 5, Essendon 18.15 (123) defeated Carlton 15.9 (99), and again in Round 20, by a score of 16.13 (109) to Carlton’s 12.11 (83).
In the 2000 AFL grand final, Essendon 19.21 (135) thrashed Melbourne 11.9 (75) after beating Melbourne in Round 9 by a score of 15.16. (106) to 13.15 (93).
Essendon not only dominated the 2000 season, but had peaked for the finals like few other teams to raise their game to an even higher level to destroy the other top 2000 teams.
While their single loss in a season merely matched the records of Carlton in 1908 (19-1), South Melbourne in 1918 (15-1) and Collingwood in 1929 (19-1), their 24 victories in 2000 were won by an average of 51 points, kicking 131 points per game with only 80 against.