Sorry Jack, but three aces trumped you
Jack Riewoldt may have won the Coleman Medal, but many would argue (inset, clockwise from left) Lance Franklin, Tom Hawkins and Matthew Pavlich had more impressive seasons. Photo: Getty Images, Sebastian Costanzo
IT GOES without saying that you can't please everyone when picking an All-Australian team, but generally you'll find reasonable consensus about at least 75 per cent of those selected.
Recent years have followed a bit of a pattern, too, a consequence of the way the modern game has become the province of an army of midfield running types supplemented by a few key position players, a couple of smaller forwards and defenders, and one or two ruckmen.
Which makes the task in 2012 just a little different. Normally, most of those keys and the ruckmen tend to pick themselves, the debates spared for which of the long catalogue of worthy midfield candidates should make the cut. This time, in my team at least, it has been the other way around.
I've had few issues with my selections of the on-ballers. The far closer call was about which key defenders, forwards and rucks deserved the nod more.
Only one Coleman medallist in the past dozen seasons, St Kilda's Fraser Gehrig in 2005, has failed to get the nod as the All-Australian spearhead. When the official team is announced tonight, it might happen again. It did in my version, anyway.
As good a year as he had, Jack Riewoldt topped the goalkicking in 2012 with the lowest tally for just on 50 years. The Richmond full-forward was consistent, going goalless only twice, but there weren't so many highs for him, kicking three goals or fewer in 14 games.
One of the two runners-up to Riewoldt, Tom Hawkins, just three goals behind, played further afield, and to me was the standout centre half-forward of the season. The other, Matthew Pavlich, was more explosive, won a lot more ball besides, and in a team picked to play, as the team of the year is, sits comfortably in a forward pocket.
In the goal square, I couldn't go past Lance Franklin who, despite missing six games, still booted 59 goals, and whose goals-per-game average of 3.7 was a clear best. Apologies Jack, it was a close call.
At the other end of the ground, meanwhile, I've made a bigger call still. How North Melbourne's Scott Thompson (and Hawthorn's Josh Gibson for that matter) failed to make the official All-Australian squad of 40 is beyond me.
Thompson held the Kangaroos' defence together all season. He shut down plenty of opposition goalkickers, but also proved one of the best defensive rebounders going around, so effective that he led the AFL for intercept possessions and was fourth for rebounds. In my team, both he and his Adelaide midfield namesake get a gong.
West Coast skipper and full-back Darren Glass might be a little stiff, but I couldn't go past Luke McPharlin, who was just as effective a negator, and had significantly more disposals, marks and rebounds.
One key defender was an easy pick, though, Sydney centre half-back Ted Richards, who not only shut down some big names, but was also a leading source of drive and rebound for his team. His would be a very popular All-Australian nod indeed.
I've gone for Grant Birchall and Brent Reilly as my running defenders, with St Kilda's Sean Dempster unlucky, and Brett Deledio perhaps even more so. The Richmond star could have snuck in there or in the midfield, but in the end probably paid a price for time spent in either spot.
I'm happy with Collingwood's Dane Swan as a half-forward flanker. The Brownlow medallist had his critics for alleged lack of defensive pressure, but in this side that's a quality hardly lacking, and how do you overlook an output that is close to an average 36 disposals per game?
As for the small forward spot, it's St Kilda veteran Stephen Milne for me. While you can't fault Cyril Rioli's class or tackling pressure, Milne kicked 56 goals to the Hawk's 35. That's the small forward's bread and butter and, in scoreboard terms, Milne was clearly the most effective of his kind.
In the ruck, Dean Cox is a lock.
My second ruckman is Richmond recruit Ivan Maric. Adelaide's Sam Jacobs had his claims, Nic Naitanui is undoubtedly spectacular, but Maric, as well as running a very close second for hitout numbers, did a power of work around the ground, a clear leader of his type for clearances and tackles.
Midfielders? That's easier. Trent Cotchin, Jobe Watson, Gary Ablett, Patrick Dangerfield, the other Thompson, Dayne Beams, Josh Kennedy and Sam Mitchell were clear selections, and Scott Pendlebury's season good enough.
Close but just squeezed out in the end were Kieren Jack and Andrew Swallow.
The football landscape can certainly change quickly. A glance back at my mid-season team shows it has changed by almost half in just three months. Swans runner and goalkicker Lewis Jetta losing a little touch the longer the season has gone, mids such as Brent Stanton and Steele Sidebottom tailing off. Taylor Walker and Joel Selwood were just surpassed by rivals with bigger finishes.
No shame in that, and those last two in particular are candidates for whom you could still argue a strong case. As with any All-Australian team, though, it's not who makes it, but who doesn't, that is always the bigger bone of contention.
ROHAN CONNOLLY'S ALL-AUSTRALIAN TEAM
D = disposals IP = intercept possessions IM = intercept marks R50 = rebound-50s
CP = contested possessions C = clearances I50 = inside-50s M = marks T = tackles
G = goals total HO = hitouts.
BEAU WATERS (WC)
D 22.1 IP 7.2 IM 2.6 R50 3.2
Tough and courageous, smart reader of play, won plenty of the ball and used well. Marshalled Eagles' back line brilliantly. Spiritual leader.
LUKE McPHARLIN (FREM)
D 16.6 IP 5.9 IM 2.6 R50 3.1
Even better this year than last, the mobile and athletic Docker was tremendous overhead and also provided plenty of rebound.
SCOTT THOMPSON (NM)
D 18.4 IP 9.8 IM 3.2 R50 3.5
Should have been in initial squad. Ranked No.1 for intercept possessions and high for rebounds. Negated but was still creative, tremendous season.
GRANT BIRCHALL (HAW)
D 24.2 IP 5.9 IM 0.9 R50 2.8
Smart Hawk with superb kicking skills went to higher level again with incisive disposal, won more ball than any other defender.
TED RICHARDS (SYD)
D 14.4 IP 8.4 IM 3.4 R50 3.5
Absolute lock in this team, outstanding in tough defensive post, kept big names in check and stood out for intercept marks and possessions.
BRENT REILLY (ADEL)
D 19.3 IP 7.6 IM 2.5 R50 2.9
Faded a little but still had good enough year to clinch a spot. Great reader of play, high for intercept possessions and lovely kick.
PATRICK DANGERFIELD (ADEL)
D 27.3 CP 16.4 C 6.7 I50 5.8
Magnificent season, high for disposals and clearances, second in competition for contested ball, and damaging with run and carry.
JOBE WATSON (ESS)
D 29.0 CP 14.4 C 7.0 I50 4.3
Retained his consistency, even as teammates crumbled around him. Third for clearances, fifth for contested ball and great leadership.
DAYNE BEAMS (COLL)
D 31.2 CP 11.8 C 5.8 I50 4.6
Dramatic improvement to elite midfield status. Fourth in competition for disposals, second for uncontested ball, damaging outside and good finisher.
SCOTT PENDLEBURY (COLL)
D 29.4 CP 13.8 C 6.1 I50 3.7
Form continued from last year, always cool-headed with disposal in heavy traffic and as always a prolific possession winner.
TOM HAWKINS (GEEL)
D 12.8 M 6.7 T 1.2 G 62
Last year's grand final just a hint at this season's coming of age. Powerful presence, second for contested marks and 62 goals.
DANE SWAN (COLL)
D 35.7 CP 13.3 C 6.4 I50 4.3
Brownlow winner who copped some stick for lack of defensive pressure but nearly 36 disposals make him impossible to ignore. An enduring ball magnet.
STEPHEN MILNE (STK)
D 12.5 M 3.7 T 2.1 G 56
Small forward's job is to kick goals - the Saints veteran kicked far more than any other of his type. Always a danger to defences.
LANCE FRANKLIN (HAW)
D 18.0 M 5.8 T 3.6 G 59
Missed six games but still fourth in Coleman Medal with highest goals-per-game average at 3.7. Explosive champion and excitement machine.
MATTHEW PAVLICH (FREM)
D 17.9 M 6.2 T 3.0 G 62
Slowish start to season but exploded into life as Dockers' forward lynchpin. Joint runner-up in Coleman Medal, and great leader.
DEAN COX (WC)
D 16.0 HO 25.4 C 2.7 T 1.7
Still the AFL's best ruckman, mobile, won plenty of ball, and also able to go forward to kick more than one goal per game.
TRENT COTCHIN (RICH)
D 27.5 CP 12.4 C 5.1 I50 5.3
Joint Brownlow favourite with good reason. Incredibly classy and consistent year. Failed to pick up at least 24 disposals only twice in 22 games.
GARY ABLETT (GC)
D 33.8 CP 14.9 C 6.6 I50 5.1
At times virtually a lone hand, Ablett never let the Suns down and led AFL for disposals, including a career-best haul of 53 in one game.
IVAN MARIC (RICH)
D 15.9 HO 31.0 C 3.1 T 3.8
Tremendous first year with the Tigers and proved an inspired trade, massive hitout numbers and easily the most prolific of rucks around the ground.
SCOTT THOMPSON (ADEL)
D 29.6 CP 14.5 C 7.2 I50 4.1
Crows' midfield machine kept on keeping on, huge disposal numbers, a standout for clearances and contested ball. Terrific season.
SAM MITCHELL (HAW)
D 27.1 CP 12.4 C 6.0 I50 3.9
Another prolific year for still underrated Hawk, high numbers in all categories, a leader for score assists and always used ball well.
JOSH KENNEDY (SYD)
D 28.0 CP 16.7 C 7.5 I50 3.9
Stellar year for Swans' midfield gun, upped disposal numbers significantly and led competition for both contested ball and clearances.