Picking your AFL club’s best year isn’t like picking your favourite child.
There is definitely a standout when it comes to your Footy club!
Every Football season is unique, every era has good and bad but each club has that one year where they were simply at their best.
Avid readers of the Ladbrokes Blog know that we love a good list, so in the leadup to the AFL finals, we’ve bunkered down with history books and passed our judgement as to when we think was your Clubs best season.
Adelaide – 1998
The Crows went back to back in ‘98 but sometimes it’s easy to forget how hard they did it to achieve that milestone.
Adelaide had to travel for five weeks straight from Round 22 in Perth, the Qualifying final in Melbourne, the semi-final in Sydney followed by the Prelim and Grand Final at the MCG.
There were no complaints about the venues they played at either back then.
Malcolm Blight’s men finished fifth in 1998 and had it not been for the Macintyre final eight system, the Crows were able to suffer a 48 point loss to the fourth-placed Dees at the MCG in the Qualifying Final only to progress to the next week of the finals.
There were some epic wins in season ‘98 for the Crows including a thriller against North at the MCG, thrashing Geelong at Kardinia Park and two victories against the Swans at the SCG.
Being a team coached by Malcolm Blight there were also some strange moments, such as the time Blight walked off into the change rooms during the Crows loss to Richmond at Football Park in round eight of that season.
Back to Back premierships isn’t easy and the Crows were the only team to do it during the 1990s.
Coming back from 24 points down at half-time in the Grand Final against a highly fancied North Melbourne was also a phenomenal effort and fitting of how the Crows 1998 season was their toughest and best.
Brisbane – 2001
It’s easy to forget that during the era of the Brisbane Lions three peat, not once did the Lions finish the home and away season the minor premier.
Season 2001 was the beginning of the Lions dominance and for mine, their best.
The first third of the season brought out the best and worst of the Lions.
From dominant wins at their Gabba fortress, the Lions were starting to get a reputation for being flat-track bullies suffering losses to Port Adelaide at Football Park, Richmond at the MCG, the Western Bulldogs at Colonial Stadium and a humiliating 74 point defeat at the hands of Carlton at Princes Park.
After a five-point loss to Adelaide at the Gabba in Round 9, the Lions faced League leaders Essendon the following week.
This was the game where coach Leigh Matthews famously channelled Arnold Schwarzenegger and the movie “Predator” with the mantra “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”
Arnie’s message got through to the Lions with a 28 point win.
They didn’t lose another game for the 2001 season and went on to win the clubs first of a three-peat of premierships out of four Grand Final appearances.
In 2020, the Lions are every chance to not only win a Premiership, but win it at the Gabba which would easily take the cake for the best season in the history of the club.
Carlton – 1995
1995 was the Blues 16th and most recent premiership and what was probably their greatest season.
Apart from two losses in a row to Sydney in Round 8 and an embarrassing 56 point loss to the bottom side at the time, St Kilda in Round 9 the Blues dominated in the ‘95 season with 20 wins and two losses in the home and away season.
After the loss to the Saints, the Blues went on to record seventeen wins on the trot and easily accounted for poor old Geelong with a 61 point thumping in the Grand Final.
The likes of Greg Williams and Anthony Koutoufiedies dominated that season along with the reliability of skipper Stephen Kernahan and veterans Justin Madden and Craig Bradley.
Along with Carlton Team of the Century coach David Parkin, this was a star-studded Carlton line up and nothing was getting in the way of the Blues claiming their 16th premiership which at the time, made them the single-most successful club in League history.
They haven’t got any closer since.
Collingwood – 1929
Brisbane tried in 2004 to match it and at stages during the 2016 season, Hawthorn looked on track to win four in a row but no one has ever been able to replicate Collingwood’s streak of four consecutive flags from 1927-1930.
Picking the best of the bunch of four is hard, but it’s hard to go past the Pies 1929 campaign.
Collingwood won all of their 18 games in the home and away season and the legendary Gordon “Nuts” Coventry became the first player to kick 100 goals in a season.
Along with that, Pies backman Albert Collier won the Brownlow that season with six votes (one vote was awarded per match back then)
Collingwood would lose one game only in 1929, going down to Richmond by 62 points in the Semi-Final but the finals system at the time allowed the Magpies to challenge for another match up and they easily accounted for the Tigers with a 29 point win in the Grand Final.
It would be truly remarkable if Collingwood were able to take out the 2020 premiership from 8th spot, but nothing could top the efforts of the machine.
Essendon – 2000
Has there been a more perfect season in recent memory compared to what the Bombers achieved 20 years ago?
On paper, Essendon was the best team from 1999-2001 but only managed one premiership.
However, the year they won the flag was one of the most dominant we’ve seen in recent years.
Essendon won 21 out of 22 home and away games and only the Western Bulldogs implementing the Super Flood in that famous Round 21 clash at Colonial Stadium would beat the Bombers that year.
In the finals, the Bombers kicked a record score and Matthew Lloyd kicked his 100th goal for the season as they thrashed North Melbourne by 125 points in the first qualifying final, got revenge over Carlton for the previous season with a 45 point win in the Prelim and won the Grand Final against the Dees by 10 goals.
Bomber fans haven’t had much to cheer about in recent years, but they can look back fondly on the year 2000.
Fremantle – 2013
The premiership hasn’t sailed into Fremantle yet but it almost docked back in 2013.
Fremantle went down to Hawthorn by 15 points in the 2013 Grand Final in what was a spirited performance.
Under coach Ross Lyon, the Dockers played a brutal, uncompromising and defensive style of Football and proved they were the real deal especially after beating Geelong by 15 points in the one and only final played at Kardinia Park.
The Dockers did finish the 2015 season as minor premier, however, it’s hard to go past the year they played in their one and only Grand Final.
Fitzroy – 1916
There will never be a season quite like the one Fitzroy produced back in 1916.
With only four teams in the VFL due to the great War, Fitzroy lays claim to being the only team to win the wooden spoon and the premiership in the same season.
The Roys only won two games during the home and away season but found form at the right time of the season – The Finals.
Fitzroy defeated Carlton in both the semi-final and the Grand Final and had the Blues won either of those games, they would have been premier but to the victor goes the spoils.
After leading all day in the Grand Final, Fitzroy recorded a 29 point win in the most unique season in the history of the game.
The Royboys had some great times and were even the most successful Football Club in the early days of the VFL, but nothing will ever compare to what transpired in season 1916.
Geelong – 2007
In the aftermath of Geelong’s 16 point loss to the Kangaroos in Round 5 of the 2007 season at Kardinia Park, the players aired some honest and brutal truths about themselves and where the team was headed.
What transpired after that was a 157 obliteration of Richmond the following week at the then-named Telstra Dome and bar a narrow five-point loss to Port Adelaide in Round 21 nothing was going to stop the Cats in the 2007 season.
The Cats not only broke their 44-year premiership drought but won everything in between.
Jimmy Bartel won the Brownlow, Steve Johnson the Norm Smith, Gary Ablett Jnr won the AFLPA MVP, Joel Selwood took out the Rising Star and for good measure, they even won the VFL Grand Final.
No one would have beaten Geelong on Grand Final day 2007 and Port Adelaide was made to look like witches hats as the Cats smashed them by 119 points in what was only the beginning of one of the clubs greatest eras.
It’s worth noting that the Geelong team of 1952 were on a 26 game winning streak, even with Collingwood giving them a few headaches in the Grand Final the Cats still got the job done.
However, the dominance of the Cats from 2007 – 2011 was something to behold, especially when they got on a roll hence why we’ve backed 07 as the best year for the Blue and White hoops.
The Cats have now achieved 11 top four finishes in 14 years and are very much in the mix to win 2020 premiership ahead of the finals.
When you factor in that they’ve had to hub up in Queensland in one of the most unpredictable off-script once-in-a-lifetime seasons – Geelong 2020 would be something truly special.
Gold Coast – 2014
The first nine seasons of the Gold Coast Suns have not been easy and with only a few major upset wins here and there – the closest they got to finishing in the top eight was in the 2014 season.
The Suns began the 2014 season with much promise winning seven out of nine matches and sitting in fifth position on the ladder by round 11 but by the second half of the season, injuries had gotten the better of them.
Captain Gary Ablett injured his shoulder after the Suns beat Collingwood in Round 16 and would miss the rest of the season.
Gold Coast would win only two more matches for the remainder of the season and eventually finish 12th.
Coach Guy McKenna was sacked at the end of the season.
One could argue that the Suns were on track to have their best season in the clubs history at the resumption of the 2020 season when the likes of Matt Rowell and Izak Rankine capturing footy fans imaginations.
The Suns notched up some solid wins and then Rowell injured his shoulder against Geelong.
Their best season is still yet to come.
GWS – 2019
The Giants have been in the mix in recent years but there’s no doubting that last season was their best in the club’s short history.
GWS finished sixth on the ladder after the home and away season and went on to have a big 58 point win against the Western Bulldogs in an Elimination Final, two heart-stopping wins against Brisbane and Collingwood to book themselves a spot against the Tigers in the Grand Final.
While their performance on MCG in the last Saturday of September last season is one to very much forget, the journey the club went on to get there along with some of the injury problems the club faced last season is nothing short of an amazing achievement.
The Giants best year in Football is yet to come but for a Club still in its infancy, their efforts in 2019 is something to be proud of.
Hawthorn – 1989
No club has had more success over the past 50 years than Hawthorn but if you had to pick their best year, it’s hard to go past 1989.
Prior to that infamous Grand Final, the Hawks had only lost six games in two years, played in the last six Grand Finals and were looking to go back-to-back.
Hawthorn had only lost three games in the 1989 home and away season including a surprise 16 point loss to the Brisbane Bears in round 20.
Many regard the Grand Final of that season against Geelong as the greatest game ever played.
We all know the story: Mark Yeates smashing into Dermott Brereton, Dipper playing out the game with a punctured lung, John Platten suffering a concussion, the Hawks dominant first quarter on the scoreboard, the brutality of the Cats, Gary Ablett 9.1 and the Hawks fighting off a Geelong comeback to win by one goal.
Perhaps some will say Hawthorn had better seasons but just happened to play in the greatest Grand Final, but if winning a Grand Final like the one in 1989 doesn’t make it your teams best season then I don’t know what will.
Melbourne – 1960
It’s been a long time since the Grand Old Flag ruled supreme, but when Melbourne was at their best in the 1950s-early 1960s nothing could stop them.
Back in 1960, Melbourne went on to win their fifth flag in seven years with a 48 point demolition of Collingwood in the Grand Final.
At the time, the Demons achieved the league record of seven successive Grand Final appearances and had they gotten over Collingwood in 1958 they would have won six-straight.
Melbourne finished the 1960 home and away season on top of the ladder with 14 wins, 4 losses and a healthy percentage of 141.1% compared to second-placed Fitzroy who had the same win-loss ration but a percentage of 112.5%.
The Demons were clearly the dominant team of that year and while the 1960 Grand Final wasn’t the most memorable in terms of a contest it cemented the Demons Dynasty.
North Melbourne – 1977
There’s no doubt that North was the team of the 1990s and some of the Football the Kangas played back then with the likes of Pagan’s Paddock and Wayne Carey was stunning to watch.
However, in terms of an epic season, North Melbourne in 1977 was quite something.
North’s season in 1977 is captured brilliantly in John Powers fly on the wall book – “The Coach – A season with Ron Barassi” which documents everything from the brutal pre-season, epic Barassi logic/sprays and the infamous Drawn and Replay Grand Finals of that season.
The Kangaroos finals series in 1977 consisted of them playing five matches along with coming back from 27 points down at three-quarter time to force a replay of the Grand Final the following week.
North dominated in the Grand Final replay, leading all day and ensuring the club would win their second VFL premiership with a 27 point win against the Pies.
Having read the book “The Coach”, I’m convinced it’s North’s greatest season and recommend it as a must-read for any sports fan.
Port Adelaide – 2004
In the early 2000s and when the Brisbane Lions did the threepeat, Port Adelaide had developed a reputation for being chokers having finished in the top four in 2001 and being the 2002-03 minor premiers but no cup or Grand Final appearance to show for it.
By 2004 something had to give and the Power didn’t muck around with big wins over Essendon, West Coast and Hawthorn to open the season along with beating sides such as Collingwood, Geelong and St Kilda who dominated that season.
The Power would lose to the Brisbane Lions in Round 11 at the Gabba of that season but not lose another game.
Port Adelaide won a thrilling Preliminary Final against St.Kilda by six points and then would go on to win the Grand Final beating the Lions to the tune of 40 points.
Major club sponsor Alan Scott of Scotts Transport said the club wouldn’t win a flag under coach Mark Williams but Choco made sure to give him a special shout-out during the post-match presentations.
In 2020, Port Adelaide started on top of the ladder and finished on top of the ladder winning the minor premiership.
Punters are still not convinced that Port will take out the ultimate prize, with the Power currently in the fourth line of 2020 Premiership betting @ $6.50
However, should Port take out the premiership this season one could easily mount an argument that 2020 was the Power’s finest in the AFL.
Richmond – 1973
The glory days are back at Punt Road now but if you want to look at a year when the Tigers were at their most ruthless – it would have to be 1973.
On the Grand Final Day of that season Richmond didn’t just win the VFL premiership – their reserves and under 19’s teams also got the job done.
After going down to Carlton in the 1972 Grand Final, Richmond was out for revenge that season and didn’t they get it.
In what was the Haffey-era at its peak, the Tigers took no prisoners with Laurie Fowler KO-ing Carlton captain-coach John Nichols and when Geoff Southby got poleaxed in the second quarter.
The likes of Royce Hart and Francis Bourke played injured and the likes of Kevin Bartlett, Kevin Sheedy and Ian Stewart all stared for the Tigers s Haffey’s men reached their zenith as Ruthless Richmond.
Richmond led at every change and won by 30 points.
If winning all three flags in one day doesn’t constitute the perfect end to a football season then what does?
The Tigers are favourites to go back-to-back making it three flags in four years and Damien Hardwick has recently broken Tommy Haffey’s record for games coached.
If Richmond are to win yet another premiership, the 2020 team could very much be in this conversation – depending on who you ask.
St Kilda – 1966
Had they held on after leading by 20 points in the 1971 Grand Final.
Had someone done something about Darren Jarman or Shane Ellen in the 1997 Grand Final, it would be the year.
Had it not been for Matthew Scarlett’s toe-poke in the 2009 Grand Final, that year would easily be considered the Saints best having won their first 19 matches.
Had the ball bounced in a different direction in the 2010 Grand Final, there might not have been a replay and we’d be celebrating that.
There’s only one great year for the St.Kilda Football Club – 1966.
Their one and only Grand Final won by one point.
The Saints have played better football since then but the trophy cabinet at Moorabbin still has only that one premiership cup and until they win another one, 1966 remains the Saints best year of Football.
It would be very on-brand for St Kilda to win a Grand Final that the overwhelming majority of their long suffering fans couldn’t attend.
However, if they go all the way this year – that wouldn’t matter and it would truly be one of the all-time great premierships.
Sydney/South Melbourne – 1933
It’s easy to remember the Sydney Swans premiership years of 2005 and 2012, let alone the past 25 years where the club has been regular finalists but for the greatest season of the South Melbourne/Sydney Swans Football club you have to go back to 1933.
The club invested heavily in recruiting the best players from around the country along with legendary full-forward Bob Pratt who kicked 109 goals for the season.
The Bloods as they were then known won 15 out of 20 matches and went on an 11 game winning streak after going down to Fitzroy in Round 9 of that season, including their 42 point win over Richmond to take out the 1933 flag.
It would be their last before Leo Barry took that pack mark in the dying stages of the 2005 Grand Final to break the clubs 72-year drought.
West Coast – 1994
The West Coast Eagles of the early-mid 1990s under coach Mick Malthouse were a scary prospect for any team.
While the Eagles past two premierships have resulted in some of the most thrilling Grand Finals in recent history, their dominance in 1994 was quite something.
West Coast finished the home and away season on top of the ladder with 16 wins and six losses in what was a reasonably even year.
Travel wasn’t an issue for the Eagles either.
The club played six matches at the MCG that season and won four along with that, they also beat Geelong by 18 points at Kardinia Park in Round 14 of the ‘94 season.
They survived an early scare with a two-point win against eighth-placed Collingwood in a memorable qualifying final at the WACA.
They went on to thrash Melbourne in the Preliminary Final by 65 points and dominate all day against Geelong taking home the clubs second premiership with an 80 point thumping.
The lineup boasted the likes of Dean Kemp, Chris Mainwaring, Peter Sumich, Guy McKenna, John Worsfold, Chris Lewis, Glenn Jackovich just to name a few and the Eagles were still the only show in town in Western Australia when it came to the AFL.
The 1994 season saw the Eagles dominate and scare anyone who crossed them and for that, we consider it to be their best year.
The Eagles are aiming to win their 5th premiership and their second in three years ahead of the 2020 finals.
It would be a mighty fine effort if they were able to acheive it.
Western Bulldogs/Footscray – 2016
Perhaps it’s a recency bias showing, but it is very hard to pass the efforts of the Western Bulldogs team of 2016.
Despite finishing in seventh position after the home and away season, the Bulldogs peaked at the right time going on to win only the clubs second VFL/AFL premiership in its history.
The Dogs struggled with injury during the season but coach Luke Beveridge went with the mantra of a soldier in, a soldier out and 39 players all got a game in 2016.
Club captain and hero Bob Murphy injured his knee early in the piece and missed out on the rest of the season.
2016 was also the year the pre-finals bye was first implemented.
This allowed the likes of Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae and Jordan Roughead enough time to recover before the finals.
The Dogs 2016 finals series was nothing short of amazing.
The Elimination Final win against the odds against West Coast in Perth, kicking Hawthorn out in straight-sets and denying them a chance to go for four flags in a row in the semi, the epic Preliminary Final against GWS at Homebush and of course the Grand Final against the Swans and the emotional scenes that followed.
Perhaps some old-timers will say 1954 was better, but it’s hard to go past the events of September 2016 that made this a special one for the Footscray faithful.
Heading into the 2020 finals, the Western Bulldogs are coming from 7th place – the same as 2016.
Doggies fans can only hope for a case of history repeating.
University – 1910
Long forgotten University played only seven seasons in the Victorian Football League from 1908-1914.
The club was relatively competitive in their first few seasons with the 1910 season seeing the Uni boys finish with 10 wins, eight losses and sixth place in a 10 team competition.
It was all doom and gloom for Uni in their final four seasons with only two victories to the clubs name.
During their time in the League, University not only struggled with injury but had to factor in things like School Holidays and exams impacting on the teams list at the time.
University can hold claim to beating each club they competed against at least once and even had two draws with Collingwood.
The beginning of World War I saw University withdraw from the VFL and they were never to return to the big league.