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The greatest team of all


Rohan Connolly

A job well done: Joel Selwood with the 2011 premiership trophy, the Cats' third in the AFL era.

A job well done: Joel Selwood with the 2011 premiership trophy, the Cats' third in the AFL era. Photo: Mal Fairclough

HISTORY starts here. It's what they probably should have said when the VFL officially became the AFL on New Year's Day, 1990.

That significant moment came and went with barely the bat of an eyelid, but its importance now can't be overstated as football continues to fight its own version of the history wars.

Who are the kings of football's castle? For Victorian fans, it remains Carlton and Essendon, with 16 premierships, Collingwood close behind on 15. But for the sizeable army of AFL clubs and supporters beyond this state's borders, those figures are largely irrelevant, with only five of those collective 47 flags won under the AFL banner.


A new era deserves a new measuring stick. And in an age of equalisation and concession, even that's not so simple. Come the 23rd season of AFL football, three clubs — Geelong, Brisbane Lions and West Coast — have each won three premierships, another five clubs boasting a double, and 11 in total having tasted the ultimate success.

How do you separate them? Grand final appearances. Finals played. Numbers of years in finals. And the all-important win-loss percentage.

Tally them up and the picture becomes clear. Geelong is the best team in AFL history. West Coast is not too far behind. Brisbane's three premierships, won consecutively, don't necessarily put the Lions at the top of the AFL tree.

Geelong's record has been phenomenal. In 22 completed seasons of AFL football, the Cats have contested seven grand finals, played in 14 finals series, 10 in which they've reached at least the preliminary final, and from 525 matches to the end of round five, boast a clearly superior winning rate of 61 per cent.

Geelong chief executive Brian Cook, who's occupied the position since 1999, concedes there's a quiet satisfaction about how the club has remained so consistently competitive. “We're aware of it,” he says of the Cats' beautiful set of numbers, “but we haven't used those stats in any public arena. We prefer other people to be blowing our trumpet.”

Things weren't going quite as well for the Cats when Cook arrived after the salad days of Gary Ablett snr, Barry Stoneham, Mark Bairstow, Paul Couch and co. under coach Malcolm Blight, then Gary Ayres. An ageing playing list was starting to slip down the ladder, captain Leigh Colbert headed to North Melbourne and, more alarmingly, the club was carrying a $10 million debt.

Cook credits Mark Thompson's appointment as coach in 2000, and that of Stephen Wells as national recruiting manager, as pivotal moments in Geelong's AFL history, the remarkably durable generation of Cats' on-field leaders, not to mention 106 victories from the past 125 games, as vindication.

“The recruiting philosophy has been about treating talent as no more important than character, and we still do that,” he says. “We haven't wandered from that formula. There were times in those first three or four years where we doubted it, but we've stuck to it.”

West Coast's effort over the past two decades deserves more credit than it has received. The Eagles have made finals 17 years out of 22, and played 40 of them — both figures the best in the competition. They sit behind Geelong only by virtue of two fewer grand finals, a poorer win-loss ratio, and having turned only seven of those 17 finals campaigns into a preliminary final spot or better.

Brisbane represents the curve ball in the debate about AFL heavyweights. Many argue the Lions' hat-trick of flags and four straight grand finals from 2001-04 gives them the crown. But as compelling as that record is, it's surrounded by as many seasons of failure.

In the first five years of the AFL, the Lions never finished higher than 12th, and only once since 2004 have they finished higher than 10th, with their win percentage of 45.9 ranking a lowly 13th.

If consistent performance is your yardstick, it's another non-Victorian team, Sydney, which scrubs up very well indeed. The Swans' 13 years of finals is behind only Geelong, West Coast and Essendon, and includes three grand final appearances. Sydney has a better win-loss record than Brisbane and has played in more finals.

In fact, take out those abject few years from the formation of the AFL, which included a 26-game losing streak over the 1992-93 seasons, and from 1995 on, the Swans have actually won more games of football than any team except Geelong.

Of those old traditional VFL powers, it's arguably Collingwood which has kept pace in the AFL era the most effectively.

The Magpies have won two AFL flags and played in five grand finals (six if you throw in the replay against St?Kilda in 2010), more premiership play-offs than anyone except the Cats, and more than arch-rivals Carlton and Essendon, who have been involved in three and four respectively.

And while it won't come as any great shock given the three decades it's now lingered in the wilderness, Richmond has struggled in the AFL era just as much as it did towards the end of the VFL.

The Tigers' two finals campaigns in the AFL have been bettered by Fremantle, which gave Richmond a five-year head start, and Port Adelaide, which started seven years later, and the Power also has a flag and two grand finals under its belt.

Richmond's winning percentage of 39 beats only Fitzroy, which was falling into disrepair and gone by 1996, and new boys Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney.

It's been an amazing fall from grace given the VFL powerhouse status the club enjoyed with four premierships and five grand final appearances in just eight seasons between 1967-74, and SEN broadcaster Kevin Bartlett has been intimately involved with both ends of the spectrum. The champion Richmond rover was part of all those VFL flags, then coach of the struggling and broke club which entered the AFL era.

Bartlett points out that in 1977, Richmond was the first VFL club to attract one million fans through the gates in a season. A far cry from the club teetering on the edge of financial ruin he coached, and which has laboured under the weight of debt for most of its existence since.

He's more optimistic about the future now, as are most Tiger fans, with a stable administration, an end to the in-fighting which had become synonymous with Richmond's struggles, and some real progress being made on the long-term playing front under the coaching of Damien Hardwick.

“I'll tell you one thing,” he says. “As soon as Richmond starts to move up the ladder and play finals on a regular basis, the Richmond support base will challenge Collingwood's, because it's a club with great history, enormously loyal supporters and a lot of well-known, iconic players. If they make the on-field stuff work, they can again become an unbelievable force.”

But in AFL terms, a new force. Football history effectively started again in 1990. There's new heavyweights, new measures of success. And to match teams such as Geelong, and the symbol of the national competition that West Coast has become, the Tigers, like a few champions of the VFL era, have a bit of catching up to do.

HuffPost Australia

AFL 2016

Round 1
Thu, 24 MarTimes shown AEDT
RIC vs CAR 19:20MCG
Sat, 26 MarTimes shown AEDT
MEL vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
NTH vs ADE 19:25ES
SYD vs COL 19:25ANZ
Sun, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
PTA vs STK 15:20Adelaide Oval
WCE vs BRI 19:40Domain Stadium
Mon, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
GEE vs HAW 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 01 AprTimes shown AEDT
COL vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
ADE vs PTA 13:45Adelaide Oval
ESS vs MEL 14:10MCG
BRI vs NTH 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:25ES
FRE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 03 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:10SO
HAW vs WCE 15:20MCG
CAR vs SYD 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 08 AprTimes shown AEST
PTA vs ESS 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 09 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs COL 13:45MCG
RIC vs ADE 14:10ES
SYD vs GWS 16:35SCG
GCF vs CAR 19:25MS
WCE vs FRE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs MEL 13:10BA
WBU vs HAW 15:20ES
GEE vs BRI 16:40SS
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 15 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 AprTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GEE 13:45MCG
HAW vs STK 14:10AS
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
CAR vs WBU 19:25ES
ADE vs SYD 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs PTA 13:10SO
COL vs MEL 15:20MCG
NTH vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 22 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ADE 19:50MCG
Sat, 23 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD vs WCE 13:40SCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs BRI 19:25ES
PTA vs GEE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs GWS 13:10ES
FRE vs CAR 16:10Domain Stadium
MEL vs RIC 19:10MCG
Mon, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 29 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs WBU 19:50ES
Sat, 30 AprTimes shown AEST
MEL vs STK 13:45ES
ADE vs FRE 14:10Adelaide Oval
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
RIC vs PTA 19:25MCG
GEE vs GCF 19:25SS
Sun, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs SYD 13:10G
CAR vs ESS 15:20MCG
WCE vs COL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 06 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 07 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
GEE vs WCE 14:10SS
SYD vs ESS 16:35ANZ
GCF vs MEL 17:10MS
WBU vs ADE 19:40ES
FRE vs GWS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs NTH 15:20ES
PTA vs BRI 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 13 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 14 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 13:45ES
HAW vs FRE 14:10AS
GWS vs GCF 16:35Spotless Stadium
BRI vs COL 19:25G
RIC vs SYD 19:25MCG
Sun, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs STK 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 20 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs SYD 19:50MCG
Sat, 21 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 13:45MCG
GCF vs ADE 14:10MS
PTA vs WCE 16:35Adelaide Oval
NTH vs CAR 19:25ES
FRE vs RIC 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
GWS vs WBU 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs ESS 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 27 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs NTH 19:50SCG
Sat, 28 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs HAW 13:45G
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
STK vs FRE 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:25MCG
ADE vs GWS 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GEE 13:10ES
COL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs GCF 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 03 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 19:50BA
Sat, 04 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs MEL 13:45MCG
CAR vs BRI 14:10ES
GEE vs GWS 16:35SS
GCF vs SYD 19:25MS
FRE vs ESS 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs PTA 13:10MCG
WBU vs WCE 15:20ES
ADE vs STK 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 10 JunTimes shown AEST
ESS vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 11 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs WBU 13:40Adelaide Oval
BRI vs FRE 16:35G
GEE vs NTH 19:25ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
STK vs CAR 13:10ES
RIC vs GCF 15:20MCG
GWS vs SYD 16:40Spotless Stadium
Mon, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 17 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI vs WCE 13:40G
FRE vs PTA 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs MEL 13:10SCG
ESS vs GWS 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 23 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs NTH 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 24 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs FRE 19:50MCG
Sat, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs BRI 13:40MCG
GWS vs CAR 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 15:20AS
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 30 JunTimes shown AEST
WCE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 01 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
GCF vs STK 13:40MS
SYD vs WBU 16:35SCG
CAR vs COL 19:25MCG
Sun, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs ADE 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Thu, 07 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 08 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs SYD 19:50SS
Sat, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs COL 13:40Spotless Stadium
GCF vs BRI 16:35MS
WBU vs RIC 19:25ES
MEL vs FRE 19:40TIO
Sun, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:10MCG
WCE vs NTH 15:20Domain Stadium
ESS vs STK 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Thu, 14 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs HAW 19:20SCG
Fri, 15 JulTimes shown AEST
FRE vs GEE 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs ESS 13:40MCG
NTH vs PTA 16:35ES
WBU vs GCF 19:25CAZ
ADE vs COL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs WCE 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 15:20ES
BRI vs GWS 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 22 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 23 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 13:45ANZ
GCF vs FRE 14:10MS
WCE vs MEL 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs STK 19:25ES
GEE vs ADE 19:25SS
Sun, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
HAW vs RIC 15:20MCG
PTA vs GWS 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 29 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 19:50SS
Sat, 30 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs RIC 13:45SO
HAW vs CAR 14:10AS
COL vs WCE 16:35MCG
BRI vs PTA 19:25G
NTH vs STK 19:25ES
Sun, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs GCF 13:10MCG
FRE vs SYD 15:20Domain Stadium
ADE vs ESS 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 05 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 06 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 13:45SCG
MEL vs HAW 14:10MCG
GCF vs GWS 16:35MS
WBU vs NTH 19:25ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs STK 13:10MCG
GEE vs ESS 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 12 AugTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 19:50ES
Sat, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI vs CAR 13:45G
HAW vs NTH 14:10MCG
GWS vs WCE 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs SYD 19:25ES
PTA vs MEL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GCF 13:10ES
RIC vs GEE 15:20MCG
FRE vs ADE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 19 AugTimes shown AEST
WCE vs HAW 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs SYD 13:45BA
RIC vs STK 14:10MCG
GWS vs FRE 16:35Spotless Stadium
COL vs GCF 19:25ES
PTA vs ADE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs MEL 13:10MCG
BRI vs GEE 15:20G
ESS vs WBU 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Sat, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs COL 12:00MCG
STK vs BRI 12:00ES
ESS vs CAR 12:00MCG
GCF vs PTA 12:00MS
SYD vs RIC 12:00SCG
NTH vs GWS 12:00ES
GEE vs MEL 12:00SS
ADE vs WCE 12:30Adelaide Oval
FRE vs WBU 14:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Adelaide Crows 0 0 0 0 - 0
Brisbane Lions 0 0 0 0 - 0
Carlton 0 0 0 0 - 0
Collingwood 0 0 0 0 - 0
Essendon 0 0 0 0 - 0
Fremantle 0 0 0 0 - 0
Geelong Cats 0 0 0 0 - 0
Gold Coast Suns 0 0 0 0 - 0
View all

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