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The greatest team of all

Date

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.

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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.

AFL 2015

Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78vs RIC 105 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115vs GCF 89 Stats
SYD 72vs ESS 60 Stats
BRI 74vs COL 86 Stats
WBU 97vs WCE 87 Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78vs GWS 87 Stats
ADE 140vs NTH 63 Stats
FRE 75vs PTA 68 Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123vs GEE 61 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131vs CAR 62 Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66vs WBU 85 Report Stats
GWS 101vs MEL 56 Stats
COL 63vs ADE 90 Report Stats
GCF 76vs STK 104 Stats
PTA 44vs SYD 92 Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60vs FRE 104 Stats
ESS 78vs HAW 76 Stats
NTH 133vs BRI 51 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140vs STK 66 Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84vs ESS 105 Stats
ADE 80vs MEL 55 Stats
SYD 111vs GWS 90 Report Stats
NTH 105vs PTA 113 Stats
BRI 58vs RIC 137 Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127vs WBU 57 Stats
GEE 105vs GCF 96 Stats
WCE 81vs FRE 111 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51vs MEL 83 Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 81vs CAR 121 Report Report Stats
ESS 49vs COL 69 Report Stats
GWS 119vs GCF 53 Stats
PTA 99vs HAW 91 Stats
FRE 74vs SYD 60 Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 65vs WCE 118 Stats
GEE 67vs NTH 83 Stats
WBU 125vs ADE 68 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 45vs COL 120 Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 76vs GEE 85 Stats
SYD 73vs WBU 77 Stats
GCF 118vs BRI 54 Stats
NTH 70vs HAW 130 Stats
WCE 120vs GWS 33 Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 50vs FRE 118 Stats
STK 80vs ESS 82 Stats
ADE 91vs PTA 115 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL 59vs GEE 100 Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH 109vs RIC 74 Stats
WBU 87vs STK 94 Stats
GWS 108vs HAW 98 Stats
GCF 78vs ADE 119 Stats
MEL 50vs SYD 88 Stats
FRE 80vs ESS 52 Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 75vs BRI 84 Report Stats
PTA 68vs WCE 78 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 82vs NTH 93 Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE 119vs STK 73 Stats
HAW 155vs MEL 50 Stats
CAR 57vs GWS 135 Stats
SYD 120vs GEE 77 Stats
WCE 135vs GCF 43 Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU 88vs FRE 101 Stats
RIC 105vs COL 100 Report Stats
BRI 102vs PTA 65 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE 140vs CAR 63 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 78vs WCE 131 Report Stats
GWS 108vs ADE 84 Report Stats
GCF 63vs COL 132 Report Stats
HAW 69vs SYD 73 Report Stats
FRE 115vs NTH 42 Report Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 136vs BRI 78 Report Stats
MEL 103vs WBU 64 Report Stats
PTA 43vs RIC 76 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 122vs CAR 62 Report Stats
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW 93vs GCF 40 Report Stats
MEL 54vs PTA 115 Report Stats
WBU 113vs GWS 68 Report Stats
RIC 72vs ESS 59 Report Stats
ADE 57vs FRE 68 Report Stats
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI 86vs STK 108 Report Stats
COL 112vs NTH 95 Report Stats
WCE 120vs GEE 64 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE 70vs RIC 97 Report Stats
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 90vs ADE 99 Report Stats
GCF 41vs SYD 93 Report Stats
ESS 53vs GEE 122 Report Stats
PTA 100vs WBU 62 Report Stats
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS 97vs BRI 67 Report Stats
NTH 85vs WCE 75 Report Stats
STK 69vs HAW 132 Report Stats
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL 85vs COL 110 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA 69vs GEE 92 Report Stats
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF 46vs FRE 53 Report Stats
WCE 96vs ESS 46 Report Stats
NTH 75vs SYD 91 Report Report Stats
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL 119vs GWS 77 Report Stats
STK 85vs MEL 83 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE 85vs HAW 114 Report Stats
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC 70vs WCE 90 Report Stats
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 110vs PTA 106 Report Stats
GWS 61vs NTH 117 Report Stats
WBU 146vs BRI 74 Report Stats
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE 89vs MEL 113 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE 80vs COL 73 Report Stats
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD 77vs RIC 95 Report Stats
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW 114vs ESS 76 Report Stats
BRI 69vs ADE 82 Report Stats
STK 56vs WBU 62 Report Stats
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 103vs GCF 69 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD 94vs PTA 84 Report Stats
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL 91vs HAW 101 Report Stats
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 78vs GWS 69 Report Stats
GCF 125vs NTH 70 Report Stats
WBU 64vs CAR 53 Report Stats
MEL 60vs WCE 114 Report Stats
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS 52vs STK 162 Stats
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE 84vs BRI 48 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA 66vs COL 63 Report Stats
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 71vs CAR 41 Report Stats
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS 69vs MEL 60 Report Stats
WBU 95vs GCF 73 Report Stats
NTH 120vs GEE 79 Report Stats
WCE 147vs ADE 91 Report Stats
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS 84vs STK 49 Report Stats
HAW 115vs FRE 43 Report Stats
BRI 49vs SYD 70 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH 93vs ESS 68 Report Stats
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE 72vs WBU 64 Report Stats
GCF 79vs GWS 94 Report Stats
COL 56vs WCE 87 Report Stats
SYD 57vs HAW 146 Report Stats
FRE 95vs CAR 53 Report Stats
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL 60vs BRI 36 Report Stats
PTA 113vs ADE 116 Report Stats
STK 73vs RIC 89 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR 35vs HAW 173 Report Stats
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS 42vs GEE 69 Stats
ADE 125vs GCF 80 Stats
RIC 78vs FRE 82 Stats
ESS 116vs PTA 129 Stats
BRI 38vs NTH 110 Report Stats
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU 104vs COL 86 Report Stats
MEL 46vs STK 83 Report Stats
WCE 103vs SYD 51 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW 53vs RIC 71 Report Stats
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE 113vs BRI 57 Stats
COL 54vs MEL 91 Report Stats
SYD 117vs ADE 65 Report Stats
CAR 54vs NTH 118 Report Stats
GCF 83vs WCE 83 Report Stats
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA 112vs STK 49 Report Stats
ESS 40vs WBU 127 Report Stats
FRE 84vs GWS 63 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE 88vs RIC 52 Report Stats
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL 105vs CAR 87 Report Stats
WBU 128vs PTA 64 Report Stats
BRI 100vs GCF 114 Report Stats
GEE 95vs SYD 63 Report Stats
WCE 74vs HAW 88 Report Stats
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL 92vs NTH 127 Report Stats
GWS 93vs ESS 61 Report Stats
STK 59vs FRE 96 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD 87vs COL 76 Report Stats
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS 59vs ADE 171 Report Stats
NTH 120vs STK 83 Report Stats
PTA 111vs GWS 90 Report Stats
GEE 85vs HAW 121 Report Stats
BRI 131vs CAR 67 Report Stats
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC 138vs GCF 55 Report Stats
WBU 153vs MEL 55 Report Stats
FRE 80vs WCE 104 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW 86vs PTA 108 Report Stats
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL 56vs RIC 147 Report Stats
GWS 44vs SYD 133 Report Stats
GCF 97vs ESS 95 Report Stats
STK 97vs GEE 97 Report Stats
ADE 131vs BRI 44 Report Stats
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH 94vs FRE 83 Report Stats
CAR 78vs MEL 55 Report Stats
WCE 162vs WBU 85 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE 62vs COL 110 Report Stats
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS 132vs CAR 51 Report Stats
HAW 134vs BRI 62 Report Stats
NTH 73vs WBU 96 Report Stats
ESS 47vs RIC 74 Report Stats
GCF 51vs PTA 88 Report Stats
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE 126vs WCE 69 Report Stats
STK 38vs SYD 135 Report Stats
FRE 108vs MEL 54 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
RIC vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 05 SepTimes shown AEST
GEE ($2.75)vs ADE ($1.42) 13:05SS
BRI ($5.00)vs WBU ($1.15) 13:45G
PTA vs FRE 15:50Adelaide Oval
HAW ($1.01)vs CAR ($15.00) 16:40MCG
SYD ($1.05)vs GCF ($8.50) 19:20SCG
WCE ($1.05)vs STK ($8.50) 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 06 SepTimes shown AEST
MEL vs GWS 13:10ES
COL vs ESS 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 21 17 4 0 125.10 68
West Coast Eagles 21 15 5 1 143.00 62
Hawthorn 21 15 6 0 156.77 60
Sydney Swans 21 15 6 0 124.11 60
Richmond 21 14 7 0 121.39 56
Western Bulldogs 21 14 7 0 116.76 56
Adelaide Crows 20 13 7 0 119.10 54
North Melbourne 21 13 8 0 109.08 52
View all
 

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