Everyone’s doing a bloody footballers list. Lists of the greatest of our generation, club by club. Top 20s of the best we’ve seen. But now for the definitive ten, across the entire league, of our time..

The challenge..

Bloody hell this is a difficult task. Not suggesting its one warranting courage and bravery and skill, coz in essence its just another f#$%ing list. But your criteria for who’s eligible and who is not, and then how you end up ranking these damn bastards in an order of note. Yet through the talents of this column we did it and got it damn spot on at that.

We’ve not cut off players who killed it post 2000 but were drafted or played some footy before the turn of the millennium. But for those who played most or as near as makes no difference half their career 1999 or earlier, they weren’t counted. So big apologies to Matty Richardson, Matty Lloyd, Brad Johnson and Dustin Fletcher who came close.

But if you’re looking for Voss, Buckley and Hird, this is far more focused on guys drafted no later than 1998 or so, although one sneaks through but we’ll touch on that later.

The shout outs

Didn’t end up close to the final ten, but want to rattle off some names who made the shortlist. Both Josh Kennedy‘s were thought about, both got three All-Oz jumpers, the ex-Hawk now Swan has three best and fairests, the ex-Blue now Eagle has two Colemans. Great careers.

Also Eddie Betts for probably being the best small forward we’ve seen, and is stiff not to make the final cut. Thee AA jumpers and 600 goals. Stiff. As is Jack Riewoldt, three Colemans, 634 goals, real stiff. And then someone like Joel Selwood, six AA jumpers, three b&fs at a club in a real successful period, couldn’t find him a spot.

Then Ben Cousins, he was thought of. Drafted in 1996, but four of his six AA jumpers where this century, his four b&fs were this century and so was his Brownlow. His best years were in a very successful team, sure, he was a brilliant, damaging midfielder, but he won a Charlie with 20 votes, came equal fourth two years earlier with 21. Very good, but not all-time great.

And then his ruckman, Dean Cox, the best of the decade no question. Very stiff not to make the hon. mentions, five AA jumpers and a b&f, mind you in a year they won four games and drafted Nic Nautinui off the back of it. But revolutionsed the position no question.

The honourable mentions..

Feel like these seven went real close. So in no order, Simon Black I think was the best midfielder in that Lions side. Voss is a champion, no question, but I was more worried about the Western-Australian getting 30+ than anyone else, he was dominant. Three AA jumpers, three b&fs, two in premiership years, and of course one of very few to win a Brownlow and a Norm Smith. Underrated champion of our game.

Andrew McLeod, sure won two Norm Smiths last century, but he had played less than 80 games to that point and went on to be amass 340 when it was all said and done – had a dominant 2000s. Four of his five AA jumpers where post-2000, so were two of his three b&fs, but moving to a half-back flank he became the best in the game, rebounding defense into attack and with all those silky skills at the same time.

Then there’s two Cats in Matty Scarlett and Corey Enright. One is the best full back of our generation, for sure, the other his right-hand man probably the best small to medium defender of our generation (although a bloke in the top ten is somewhat similar). Both were awarded six AA jumpers each, Scarlo won a b&f, which as a fullback is no mean feat, and Enright won two, both in premiership years which always says something.

Then two mids who probably were worthy but missed out, Sam Mitchell and Dane Swan. Both won a Brownlow, both were heavy Brownlow pollers in fact. The ex-Hawk and Eagle polled 30 once, had two years of 26 whereas the ex-Pie had a 30 year when he won, but also had years of 26, 25 and 24. Mitchell won five b&fs through their glory years, and got three AA jumpers, Swan three b&fs but five AA jumpers. Both utter guns.

Lastly, wanted to get Brendan Fevola in here. Just made it to 204 games, but kicked 623 goals. For guys we’re considering in this list, his goals to game ratio is unrivaled, a big bloke this column has high in the top ten is pretty much on par. Two Colemans, three All-Australians, Fev was a freak. Kicked nine goals once and kicked eight goals eight times. Don’t forget how destructive he was.

The top ten..

10. Scott Pendlebury

Games: 302
All-Australians: 6
Best and Fairests: 5
2010 Norm Smith Medal

Wanted to avoid bias as best I could but felt he just had to make the ten. Hasn’t won a Brownlow, which might be a knocker, but this is a guy who has 13 votes or more every year since 2009, and polled over 20 three times. Let alone that only three of his contemporaries have more AA jumpers than he does and won a Norm Smith too. Freak.

9. Dustin Martin

Games: 225
All-Australians: 3
Best and Fairests: 1
2017 Brownlow Medal
2017, 2019 Norm Smith Medals

Definitely in the conversation with his last five years particularly, three AA jumpers and 19 votes or more each year. Pips Pendles, one, to avoid bias, but two his best appears to be more damaging, and he has done that now for a good portion of his 200+ games. ‘The’ megastar of our comp.

8. Nat Fyfe

Games: 174
All-Australians: 3
Best and Fairests: 3
2015, 2019 Brownlow Medals

Got this guy above both Pendles and Dusty because I think he is a better player, and almost won three Brownlows before he turned 28. Close to the most physically dominant, modern-day midfielder we’ve seen. He is 6″4 in the old and a big lunch away from 100kg. But moves like a dream. Don’t let the east-coast, ‘we don’t care about Freo’ bias get in the way here. Or for the next guy..

7. Matthew Pavlich

Games: 353
All-Australians: 6
Best and Fairests: 6

Phenomenal career by a supremely-talented big man. Few in our game have been excellent in all three parts of the game. He got his first AA jumper, in his third year, as a fullback. His second, the following year, was as a centre-half forward. He repeated that in 2005, got a bench spot in 2006, was the full-forward in 2007 before winning his final AA jumper as a midfielder in 2008. A tremendous leader, to have gone out a premiership-winning captain in 2013 might have got him top five, the man is a champion, and then some.

6. Nick Riewoldt

Games: 336
All-Australians: 4
Best and Fairests: 6

Speaking of champions, this guy had to get in here and this high. Have him above the mids 8 through 10 because I think Roo had more influence when on song. If Fyfe or Pendles have 30, its damn good, but if Roo takes 12 marks and kicks 4, Saints are on fire. Then, I have Roo and Pav close together because I think they had very similar careers. Different players, Roo was the endurance overhead mark beast, whereas Pav was more agile and powerful, but the ex-Saint just was that more spectacular and had more moments of brilliance.

5. Luke Hodge

Games: 346
All-Australians: 3
Best and Fairests: 2
2008, 2014 Norm Smith Medals

Just a weapon. Said Boris Enright earlier was the best at his position, well even though Hodgey is a slightly different player, he is in essence a small-medium backman. But what a weapon. Awesome in pretty much any Grand Final he has played, I mean the four he won alone (he was pretty tidy in Prelims too), let’s rattle them off quickly: 26 touches, nine marks and five tackles in ’08 against Geelong, 21 touches against the Dockers in ’13, 35 and two goals against the Swans the next year and finally 30, eight marks and a goal in 2015 against West Coast. Could have been our first three-time Norm Smith winner, like I said, a weapon.

4. Patrick Dangerfield

Games: 248
All-Australians: 7
Best and Fairests: 4
2016 Brownlow Medal

Seems high. Better than Pendlebury, Fyfe, Martin? Yep. Powerful, strong, explosive, good inside, good outside, quick, gets plenty of it, can hit the scoreboard, he just has so many strings to bow and is great at all of them. Seven AA jumpers is an insane number, only missed one year since 2012, only missed one b&f since 2015 as well. Excellent Brownlow poller too, won with 35 votes, had 33 the next year losing to Martin by three, had four years of 20+ in the lead up to his win in 2016.

3. Gary Ablett Jnr

Games: 346
All-Australians: 8
Best and Fairests: 6
2009, 2013 Brownlow Medals

Seems low? The next two are just better. Don’t get me wrong, worthy top three, one of the best of all time, a Hall of Fame Legend in waiting. The Brownlow at the Suns is really impressive losing week in week out. However, as some of his ex-Cats teammates have said, he was looked after by his teammates in those great Geelong years and they were a machine in that midfield. But hard to argue with eight All-Australians, four at each club, and six b&fs, two as a Cat both in premiership years, and then four at the Suns.

2. Lance Franklin

Games: 300
All-Australians: 8
Best and Fairests: 1 *
2008, 2011, 2014, 2017 Coleman Medals

The rarest club left in our game is the 1000-goals club. Six men have reached the milestone and they are all deadset legends of our code: Lockett, Coventry, Dunstall, Ablett Snr, Wade and Titus. Buddy, the lanky centre-half forward, who isn’t really a great overhead mark in the grand scheme of things, is 56 goals shy of being just the seventh all-time to kick the thousand. Only played ten games last year, give him another ten at his average and in a normal 2020 (we know) he would have been staring it down sometime during the winter. Utter greatness.

1. Chris Judd

Games: 279
All-Australians: 6
Best and Fairests: 5 (2006)
2004, 2010 Brownlow Medals
2005 Norm Smith Medal

Why is he the best? Because all these blokes, at their best, I’m picking Juddy first. Cousins, and Kerr, and Cox, and Embley, and all them were good, but Judd was so good he took that team to two Grand Finals, won a Norm Smith in a losing effort and had 28 touches in the win the following year. He won the club’s b&f in 2006 too, which speaks to his influence.

Won both Brownlows with 30 votes, in the five years between he got 90 votes and even in 2011, the year after his second medal, he came equal 5th.

He was explosive, untouchable, pretty much untaggable. He could get 25 or 30 and that’s it, you just lock in an Eagles win. Over at Carlton he lost a yard but was still so clean, so smart, and set up chain after chain. That second half of the final against Essendon, Judd took the team on his back and got them up. No wonder he had bung shoulders.

Put simply, whilst some have played over 300 games, over 350, and had a few more trophies in the cabinet, the Caulfield Grammar boy from Sandy was the very best we’ve seen this millennium.

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