Matthews backs Lions over Cats as AFL era's best
It's arguably a game of threes that determines which team is the best of the AFL era.
Come the 22nd season of AFL football two clubs – Geelong and Brisbane Lions – had each won three premierships.
In 2007 a VFL/AFL record 119-point grand final win over Port Adelaide stamped Geelong as a side for the ages. An epic win over St Kilda followed in 2009, before the Cats turned the tables on the Magpies last year.
The victorious Brisbane Lions after the 2003 Grand Final victory. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
At the start of the decade, however, another maiden premiership win – the first of three consecutive flags – elevated the Lions as Queensland's favourite sons in 2001.
A comfortable, 50-point victory over the Magpies completed the hat-trick in 2003.
It was the first time in more than 40 years that a club had won three VFL or AFL premierships in a row.
But which team – the Lions of the early 2000s or the Cats of the late 2000s – would take the silverware in a fantasy match?
With sustained excellence as his yardstick, AFL legend Leigh Matthews has argued it would be the Lions.
In Brisbane today Matthews said the hat-trick of flags and four straight grand finals from 2001-04 gives his former team the edge on their southern feline counterparts.
"I would've backed our team," he said. "You often have a premiership era. The longest premiership era in my time in footy is the Hawthorn decade. From '82 to '91 they could have won the premiership any one of those 10 years but most premiership windows are five or six years.
"[But] none of the other teams – even the Hawthorn team of that era – could win three in a row.
"The ability to actually come up and get to the final day and win it in the three consecutive years – whatever you think of this now, you'll think more of it in the decades to come because history says it just doesn't happen."
Matthews has two lasting memories of the Lions' 2003 premiership. One is the stellar performance of midfielder Simon Black against the Pies (his game high 39 possessions earned him the Norm Smith Medal).
The other he would rather not have.
"About 45 minutes before the siren was about to start the game we didn't know who our 21st player was going to be; that was when Nigel Lappin was very uncertain . . . that close to the game," he said.
Lappin played the game with a broken rib.
"I wouldn't like to have gone through that uncertainty again," Matthews said