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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 78 vs RIC 105 19:20MCG
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115 vs GCF 89 13:40MCG
SYD 72 vs ESS 60 16:35ANZ
BRI 74 vs COL 86 19:20G
WBU 97 vs WCE 87 19:20ES
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs GWS 87 13:10ES
ADE 140 vs NTH 63 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE 75 vs PTA 68 18:40Domain Stadium
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123 vs GEE 61 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131 vs CAR 62 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66 vs WBU 85 13:45MCG
GWS 101 vs MEL 56 14:10SO
COL 63 vs ADE 90 16:35ES
GCF 76 vs STK 104 19:20MS
PTA 44 vs SYD 92 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60 vs FRE 104 13:10SS
ESS 78 vs HAW 76 15:20MCG
NTH 133 vs BRI 51 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140 vs STK 66 19:50MCG
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84 vs ESS 105 13:45MCG
ADE 80 vs MEL 55 14:10Adelaide Oval
SYD 111 vs GWS 90 16:35SCG
NTH 105 vs PTA 113 19:20ES
BRI 58 vs RIC 137 19:20G
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127 vs WBU 57 13:10AS
GEE 105 vs GCF 96 15:20SS
WCE 81 vs FRE 111 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51 vs MEL 83 19:50MCG
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 81 vs CAR 121 11:10NZ
ESS 49 vs COL 69 14:40MCG
GWS 119 vs GCF 53 17:40SO
PTA 99 vs HAW 91 19:40Adelaide Oval
FRE 74 vs SYD 60 20:45Domain Stadium
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 65 vs WCE 118 13:10G
GEE 67 vs NTH 83 15:20SS
WBU 125 vs ADE 68 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 45 vs COL 120 19:50MCG
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 76 vs GEE 85 13:45MCG
SYD 73 vs WBU 77 14:10SCG
GCF 118 vs BRI 54 16:35MS
NTH 70 vs HAW 130 19:20ES
WCE 120 vs GWS 33 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 50 vs FRE 118 13:10MCG
STK 80 vs ESS 82 15:20ES
ADE 91 vs PTA 115 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 19:50MCG
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 13:45BA
WBU vs STK 14:10ES
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ADE 17:10MS
MEL vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs BRI 15:20ES
PTA vs WCE 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs STK 13:45Adelaide Oval
HAW vs MEL 14:10MCG
CAR vs GWS 16:35ES
SYD vs GEE 19:20ANZ
WCE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
RIC vs COL 15:20MCG
BRI vs PTA 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE vs CAR 19:50ES
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs WCE 13:45ES
GWS vs ADE 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs COL 16:35MS
HAW vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs NTH 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
PTA vs RIC 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 19:50SCG
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 13:45AS
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
WBU vs GWS 16:35ES
RIC vs ESS 19:20MCG
ADE vs FRE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs STK 13:10G
COL vs NTH 15:20MCG
WCE vs GEE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:40MCG
GCF vs SYD 16:35MS
ESS vs GEE 19:20ES
PTA vs WBU 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS vs BRI 13:10Spotless Stadium
NTH vs WCE 15:20BA
STK vs HAW 16:40ES
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF vs FRE 13:40MS
WCE vs ESS 16:35Domain Stadium
NTH vs SYD 19:20ES
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs GWS 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs WCE 19:50MCG
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:40MCG
GWS vs NTH 16:35Spotless Stadium
WBU vs BRI 19:20ES
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE vs MEL 15:20SS
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs COL 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs RIC 19:50SCG
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ESS 13:40MCG
BRI vs ADE 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:20ES
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GCF 15:20ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 19:20SCG
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs CAR 19:20ES
MEL vs WCE 19:40TIO
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs STK 13:10ES
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE vs BRI 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs COL 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs CAR 19:50MCG
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs MEL 13:40MCG
WBU vs GCF 16:35CAZ
NTH vs GEE 19:20ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs STK 13:10Spotless Stadium
HAW vs FRE 15:20AS
BRI vs SYD 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 13:45SS
GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
COL vs WCE 16:35ES
SYD vs HAW 19:20ANZ
FRE vs CAR 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
STK vs RIC 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:45SO
ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
BRI vs NTH 19:20G
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 13:10ES
MEL vs STK 15:20MCG
WCE vs SYD 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs BRI 13:45SS
COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
SYD vs ADE 16:35SCG
CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
GCF vs WCE 19:20MS
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA vs STK 13:10Adelaide Oval
ESS vs WBU 15:20ES
FRE vs GWS 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
WBU vs PTA 14:10ES
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
GEE vs SYD 19:20SS
WCE vs HAW 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL vs NTH 13:10MCG
GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs COL 19:50SCG
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs ADE 13:45ES
NTH vs STK 14:10BA
PTA vs GWS 16:35Adelaide Oval
GEE vs HAW 19:20MCG
BRI vs CAR 19:20G
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GCF 13:10MCG
WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs PTA 19:50ES
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs RIC 13:45MCG
GWS vs SYD 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
STK vs GEE 19:20ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs FRE 13:10ES
CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
WCE vs WBU 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS vs CAR 13:45Spotless Stadium
HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:20MCG
GCF vs PTA 19:20MS
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs WCE 13:10Adelaide Oval
STK vs SYD 15:20ES
FRE vs MEL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 00:00MCG
RIC vs NTH 00:00ES
HAW vs CAR 00:00MCG
GEE vs ADE 00:00SS
SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
MEL vs GWS 00:00ES
BRI vs WBU 00:00G
PTA vs FRE 00:30Adelaide Oval
WCE vs STK 02:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 5 5 0 0 151.10 20
Collingwood 5 4 1 0 147.53 16
Western Bulldogs 5 4 1 0 104.75 16
Hawthorn 5 3 2 0 149.86 12
West Coast Eagles 5 3 2 0 145.92 12
Sydney Swans 5 3 2 0 118.26 12
Adelaide Crows 5 3 2 0 111.40 12
GWS Giants 5 3 2 0 102.87 12
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