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Opinion

AFL top 100: Oh, so close

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Roar Guru
18th September, 2021
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Josh Jenkins’ recent retirement from Geelong on 149 games brings to mind all those players throughout the 125 years of VFL/AFL football who have fallen just short of either a traditional or historical milestone and are left lamenting what could have been except for that injury, that suspension or that loss of form that caused their departure just short of the coveted mark that would have lifted their legacy to another level.

Of course, Jenkins played at Adelaide from 2012 until 2019 and recorded 147 of his games there before his move to Geelong in 2020 where one game in his first season was followed by one game in the first round of 2021 to take his total to 149 – one short of the total achieved by only an average of ten players each year. Jenkins also fell just short of a goal-kicking milestone achieved by even fewer players: 300 goals total, achieved by only 189 players. His final total of goals was 296, all scored during his time at Adelaide.

His teammate from the Crows, Tom Lynch, also finished his career this year as the tenth-greatest goal-kicker of all time at the Crows but fell one goal short of the 200-goal mark at the club. His two seasons at the Saints before his move to Adelaide where he kicked four goals ensured he passed the AFL 200-goal mark.

Carlton’s Marc Murphy also retired at the end of the season and missed the 200-goal AFL and club total by three goals.

However, the player considered the most unlucky not to achieve the dual game and goal milestones would have to be the Bulldogs’ Brian Royal. Royal was recruited from Bairnsdale in the Latrobe Valley league in 1983 and promptly won the Best and Fairest in his first year and went on to play until 1993, representing Victoria on seven occasions and making the All-Australian team in 1986.

Affectionally known as ‘Choco’ (after the biscuit) the 31-year-old injured his Achilles tendon in a Round 20 clash at the MCG against Essendon and never played league football again. It was his 199th game and he still remains in the top 40 game players of all time at the Bulldogs and in the top ten goal scorers at the club.

He had kicked five goals in his second to last game against Fitzroy and the career-ending injury left him stranded on 299 goals. No doubt the most iconic near miss of a significant traditional milestone would be that of Collingwood legend Gordon Coventry who – as a 36-year-old – kicked three goals in the Magpies’ 1937 grand final loss to Geelong to finish his career on 1299 goals – the league record from 1937 until beaten by Tony Lockett in 1999 and still the most goals kicked by a player at the one club.

Coventry was recruited from Diamond Creek and was Collingwood’s leading goal scorer for 16 seasons. He played in five premierships, won the league goalkicking on six occasions and the club’s Best and Fairest in 1933.

Another near miss (or was it?) of an AFL top 100 goalkicker was Cliff Rankin of Geelong who joined the Cats for four games in 1915 but didn’t return again until after World War 1 in 1919 when he played another six games. After that he played regularly until 1928 during which time he amassed either 399 goals or 400 goals, depending on which set of statistics you believe.

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Either way, those are sufficient totals to see him still placed in the top 100 AFL goal kickers of all time. He currently sits in 99th position on the list one (or two?) goals ahead of the hot seat holder, Hawthorn’s Jack Gunston who has a hard-luck story of his own: Gunston was on 398 goals at the end of 2020 and would have expected to move up the ranks with teammate Luke Breust. However, a debilitating back injury caused him to only make one brief appearance during the season in which he failed to kick a goal.

Other players who have missed a significant game milestone by one game are Collingwood’s Heritier Lumumba and Geelong’s Steve Hocking and Brenton Sanderson, who all missed the club 200-game total.

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