Ranking VFL/AFL clubs – which has been the most successful?

Last year, I wrote an article, A look at the most dominant eras in VFL/AFL history, which, as the title implies, looked at which VFL/AFL clubs have enjoyed the best eras/dynasties spanning five to eight years. Such dynasties are invariably built on the back of a club boasting an amazingly talented playing group during the period, and usually accompanied by a true master-coach at the helm. While it’s simply not possible for a club to maintain such a reign of dominance for decades on end, I’ve been wondering which club has been the most successful across its entire VFL/AFL history. The big question: How do you rank overall, long-term success?

I’m sure many people will say “That’s easy! Look at which club has won the most competition Premierships!”

Well, it sounds like a good place to start:

*It's a little known fact that there have been two VFL/AFL seasons in which no Grand Final was played. These were the inaugural season of 1897, and also the 1924 season. In both of those seasons, a round-robin finals series was contested with no Grand Final being played. Essendon was awarded the premiership on both occasions. So although Essendon has officially earned 16 Premierships, it has actually won only 14 grand finals.

So Carlton and Essendon have won the most Premierships with 16 each, followed by Collingwood with 15 and then Hawthorn with 13. So does that mean Carlton and Essendon have been the most successful clubs in VFL/AFL history? Not so fast. You have to take into account that Hawthorn didn’t enter the competition until 1925, whereas Essendon, Carlton, and Collingwood are all foundation members since 1897. Those foundation members have had 28 more years to win more Premierships than Hawthorn.

So if we are looking at Premierships as a gauge, we clearly need to look at Premiership strike-rate. ie Premierships won per year of competition existence:

Metric#1: Premiership win-rate

Now we see a fairer picture, Hawthorn have actually won the most Premierships per season with a 13.8% strike-rate – or  1.38 Premierships for every ten years. Carlton and Essendon are ranked second and third respectively, and we see that West Coast has displaced Collingwood in the top four with its 12.5% Premiership strike-rate.

So does this mean Hawthorn are actually the most successful VFL/AFL club of all-time? Again, not so fast. As mentioned, bags of Premierships can be gathered on the back of two or three dominant eras/dynasties.  If we are going to look at how good a club has been at key times across its history, then we also need to look at how bad it’s been.

2. Wooden Spoons

We can look at the opposite to winning a Premiership – ‘winning’ the dreaded ‘Wooden Spoon’ (ranked from best to worst):

All of a sudden, Hawthorn go from being ranked first, to being ranked 16th due to finishing last 11 times in its 94 year history – 11.7% of the time. At the top of this table we learn that only two clubs have never finished last – the two South Australian clubs – Adelaide and Port Adelaide. We also see that, remarkably, Collingwood has finished last just twice in its 122 year history and is ranked third. In a way that’s more impressive than the ‘younger’ Adelaide clubs’ clean-sheet but we certainly can’t assume that one of them will get ‘spooned’ any time soon, so they certainly deserve their spots at the top of this table.

At the bottom, we can see that the defunct University ‘won’ the wooden spoon more often than not during its short-lived existence, and GWS has received two in its seven completed seasons to date. But the most damning spoon record appears to be St. Kilda which has received a whopping 27 wooden spoons – finishing last about one in every five seasons.

3. Minor Premierships:

Ok, so we’ve looked at Premierships and Wooden Spoons, but there is another award for clubs (they do actually receive a small trophy) who finish on top of the ladder after the regular Home and Away season.  These clubs are crowned the ‘Minor Premier’. Many pundits don’t rate finishing as Minor Premier very highly since it’s an award dished out before any finals have even been contested. Still, it would be remiss of me to not include them as an official ranking factor. So here we go:

So Collingwood have been Minor Premiers the most times with 19 and also the highest percentage of times with 15.6%. Essendon and Carlton are ranked second and third. At the other end of the scale, we see that Footscray/Western Bulldogs have never been Minor Premiers in any of their 94 seasons. They, along with Brisbane, are the only two clubs to have won a Premiership but never the Minor Premiership. Conversely, Fremantle is the only club to have been Minor Premier (once in 2015) but never the actual Premier.

4. Average finishing position

Another measure is to rank clubs by their average finishing ladder position:

Collingwood come out on top quite clearly here with an average finishing ladder position of 4.8, followed by Carlton (5.4), Geelong (5.6), and Essendon (5.8). If we look to the bottom, we see that Gold Coast (15.6) is well and truly last. Now, this particular ranking methodology, although useful, slightly disadvantages a struggling newer club like Gold Coast which has always played in an 18-club competition, resulting in a more blown-out figure compared to University for example which only took part in seasons featuring ten clubs.

5. Overall home win-rate

So far we’ve looked at Premierships, Wooden Spoons, Minor Premierships, and average finishing position. Perhaps an even better measure of overall success is win percentage of all matches played in a club’s history. Let’s begin with overall win percentage  when playing as the designated home side:

As can be seen, West Coast (69.9%) have performed better at home than any other club. Next best is Collingwood (68.1%), followed by Adelaide (67.2%), and Geelong (65.5%) At the other end of the table we see that three clubs have actually recorded a negative overall win percentage at home – St Kilda, Gold Coast, and University. This is a tell-tale a sign of clubs whose histories consist mostly of gloomy times. North Melbourne barely scrape into positive territory and are also well below average by this measure.

6. Overall away win-rate

Now let’s look at how clubs have performed while playing away:

Away Stats (all matches including finals)
Collingwood (52.7%) easily takes the cake here – it is also the only club to have recorded a positive win percentage when playing away. A remarkable effort and certainly helped a great deal by the crowd-support the club receives from its army of supporters not just all around Melbourne and Victoria, but all around the nation. In second place, another club with a prodigious supporter-base, Carlton (49.8%), have come very close to having a 50/50 away record, as have Essendon (48.7%). Rounding out the Melbourne-based powerhouse clubs, in fourth place , Richmond (44.0%) has a relatively poor away record compared to its ‘Big Four’ peers.

At the bottom of the table we see that, in a damning sign,  Gold Coast’s away record (15.9%) after 82 matches is even worse than University’s (19.0%) away record. I also wrote an article comparing the plights of these two clubs.

7. Reaching the Finals

Another pretty obvious measure springs to mind – finals. Reaching the finals (or not) is clearly a good indicator of a club’s  success over the journey. So let’s look at how often each club has made the finals:

This time West Coast clearly tops the table having made the finals 23 times in 32 years  – at a very impressive 71.88%. Next best is Collingwood at 81/122 (66.39%). There is a quite a bit of daylight between the Pies and third-ranked Sydney with 22/37 (59.46%). Only six clubs have made the finals more often than not – West Coast, Collingwood, Sydney, Carlton, Adelaide, and Essendon.

At the other end of the table we see that the defunct University never played finals in its brief seven year history, nor has Gold Coast in what, as mentioned earlier, has been a very disappointing start to its existence.

8. Finals matches win-rate

Now, making the finals is one thing, but winning them is more important. The following table ranks clubs by this measure:

So Brisbane are the clear chart-toppers in this one, winning 68% of its 25 finals matches. It is followed by Hawthorn (61.63%), Melbourne (58.62%), and Richmond (58.14%). We see that Fitzroy (57.63%), at fifth, also had a very good record in finals. The big fall from grace by this ranking system is Collingwood. We saw earlier that Collingwood has qualified for the finals almost seven times per ten seasons in its history, but we see here that it has  won only  43.09% of its 181 finals matches.

9. Reaching the Grand Final

We have looked at finals overall, so now it is time to look at clubs’ performances in the most important final of them all, the Big Dance, the GF, the Grand Final!

Firstly, we’ll look at how often clubs manage to contest the ultimate match (draws not counted):

We see that Collingwood has made the Grand Final an extraordinary 42 times at a rate of 3.4 times per ten seasons. Next best is Carlton with 29 Grand Finals (2.4 per ten seasons). At the bottom of the table we see that the defunct University never qualified for the Grand Final. GWS Giants and Gold Coast are also yet to do so in their brief histories.


10. Grand Final win-rate

Making the Grand Final is a good achievement, but let’s examine how clubs have actually performed on the big stage when it matters most:

Topping the table is Brisbane, but thanks solely to its 2001-2004 dynasty in which it contested four consecutive Grand Finals, winning the first three in a row for a 75% win percentage. Perhaps more impressive is Melbourne which also boasts an impressive  win rate on the big stage going 12/17 (71%), and Hawthorn are not far behind with 13/19 (68%).

It must be noted that Collingwood, despite a great effort to qualify for the Grand Final on 42 occasions, has an absolutely horrendous big stage record winning only 15/42 (36%). Yes, bewilderingly, Collingwood has finished 27 seasons as runner-up. I’d be surprised if any other top-tier sports league from around the world has seen a team lose the ultimate clash at such a rate. Perhaps a topic for another article.

And the most successful club is…

This article has looked at ten ranking methods all of which, I believe, are solid and reliable measures of success across a club’s entire history. They are:

  1. Premiership %
  2. Wooden Spoon %
  3. Minor Premiership %
  4. Average Finish Position
  5. Overall Home Win %
  6. Overall Away Win %
  7. Made Finals %
  8. Finals Win %
  9. Made Grand Final %
  10. Grand Final Win %

In each of the ten tables above, clubs have been assigned a ranking position from 1 to 21. Hence,  I have assigned 21 points for a first position, 20 points for a second position, 19 points for a third position and so on. The grand table below shows the clubs ranked by their total points accumulated across the ten key measures of historical success:

The winner is Carlton! Now, this may come as a surprise to some, due to Carlton’s recent lack of on-field success, brought-on primarily by the salary-cap scandal of the late nineties/early 2000s for which it was severely penalised and forced to forfeit player picks across three drafts. A huge set-back that it is only just beginning to recover from. As a result, it may be easy to forget what a truly successful powerhouse club the Old Navy Blues have been over the journey – the stats don’t lie.

In second place, Collingwood is left to ponder what may have been. If not for such a poor record in finals, especially Grand Finals, it would almost certainly sit on top of the table.

Ranked third is Essendon which has obviously always been a very strong club. Like Carlton, Essendon has been set-back by scandals of its own in recent seasons.

West Coast round out a clearly strong top four and show what a high-achieving club it has been since joining the competition in 1987. Looking at the final table, we can see there is a significant gap between West Coast and fifth-placed Hawthorn.

Towards the less desirable end the table we see that GWS has already surpassed the lowly St. Kilda across the key indicators during its brief existence. However, the same can’t be said for fellow expansion-club Gold Coast. The Suns, and the defunct University really are two poorly-performed outliers at the bottom of the table.

So there you have it. Congratulations to Carlton

Paul P Mark.

Never before have we seen more upsets after four rounds

It’s official, there has never been a more unpredictable first four rounds of an AFL season. After four rounds (36 games), 19 underdogs have been victorious at a win rate of 52.78%.

As can be seen in the table below, in the history of AFL betting since 1996, the previously held record of underdogs winning in the first 36 matches of a season was back in 2000, with 47.22%. But this 2019 season has taken the early upsets cake…

AFL Underdog (UD) wins after first 36 matches since 1996


What does this mean?

Well, firstly, it means that if you had simply put 10 dollars on the underdog in every match this season, you’d be several hundred dollars ahead (the average underdog winning odds have been 2.85). But, gambling aside, it basically means that season 2019 is thus far an anomaly, and you should keep faith in your tipping ability. If your workplace tipping comp is being led by someone who knows nothing about footy, let them have their time..it probably won’t last long!


Paul P Mark

AFL: How often does the same line-up play together?

At the start of a season it’s natural for fans to pencil in their side’s “best 22” and then hope for that specific combination of 22 team-mates to actually play together fairly regularly. Sure, there’s injuries, and sometimes even pretty good players might get dropped, but you’d think  any given 22 players would still regularly go into battle alongside each other. But…it’s simply not the case.

The fact is, in the entire history of the VFL/AFL, spanning back to 1897, across more than 15,000 matches, the most times any unique line-up has played together is seven. Hard to believe isn’t it? I barely believed it myself when I first generated this data. Let’s have a look:

Any unique VFL/AFL line-up
To play together Likelihood Occurrences
Just once 92.54% 28,550
2 games together 6.20% 1,912
3 games together 0.92% 285
4 games together 0.05% 15
5 games together 0.02% 5
6 games together 0.01% 2
7 games together 0.003% 1
Current as of April 9, 2019

As can be seen in the table, when a combination plays together,  it will most likely be the only time that same combination ever plays together. There’s only a 6.20% chance of a line-up playing two games together – three games? Less than a 1% chance. Four times or more is exceedingly rare, and that seven times mentioned earlier has only happened once.

What about Grand Finals sides?

There has actually only been one occurrence where the same line-up has played in two grand finals, but this was in the same season. In the 1977 Grand Final, North Melbourne drew with Collingwood and then fielded exactly the same line-up the following week in the Grand Final replay – winning by 27 points to take the flag. No grand final side has ever ‘got the band back together’ in any match in any following seasons.

Ok, but has any unique line-up from any match appeared in more than one season?

No. It has actually never happened in any of the 121 VFL/AFL seasons to date. It seems that the combination of retirements, new recruits, and injuries from season-to-season makes this incredibly unlikely to occur. However, in many seasons, when enough players are retained on the list, there is a possibility of it occurring  – but it would require a situation with no new players picked in the side, and a remaining list featuring almost no injured players.

So which unique line-up holds that record of seven games together?

Roy Cazaly featured in the line-up that played the most games together

It was South Melbourne in 1924 and perhaps it’s quite fitting that the team was captained by possibly the most well-known name in Australian Rules Football – the legendary Roy “Up There” Cazaly. Here they are:

7 games together for South Melbourne- all in 1924 (3 were consecutive):

Bobby Allison, Martin Brown, Roy Cazaly (c), Bill Condon, Fred Fleiter, Arthur Hando, Ted Johnson, Tom Joyce, Frank Laird, Herb Matthews, Charles McDonald, Charlie Nicholls, Jack O'Connell, Joe Scanlan, Paddy Scanlan, Mark Tandy, Les Woodfield. (18 players)

So no other full combination has played more games together. Here are their results:

We can see this combination played four games at home and three away, including three consecutive games together in rounds five, six, and seven. They won five out of the seven, with the team-mates playing their last game together in a semi final – suffering a loss to Richmond at Windy Hill  – a game that happens to be the only final ever played at the venue.

It’s also important to note that in the competition pre-1930, there were only 18 players per side (with the exception of 1897-98 where there were 20). 1930-45 was 19 players per side, 1946-93 saw 20 players per side, 1994-97  was 21 players per side and 1998 until now is 22 players per side. This means these days, with 22 players per side, thus more possible combinations, there is even less chance of this record of ‘seven games together’ ever being broken.

What about the most consecutive games together?

"The Machine" of 1929 featured the most consecutive games played by the same line-up.

From rounds three to eight  in 1929, readers would have noticed “No change” next to Collingwood’s line-up in the newspaper – and there were no late changes either. Yes, for six weeks in a row, the same 18 players ran out for the Pies. This record is also equal-second on the list of most games played together:

6 games together for Collingwood- all in 1929 (all consecutive):

Jack Beveridge,	Harry Chesswas,	George Clayden,	Albert Collier,	Harry Collier, Gordon Coventry, Syd Coventry, Charlie Dibbs, George Gibbs, John Harris, Albert Lauder, Billy Libbis, Norm MacLeod,	Bob Makeham,	Frank Murphy, Len Murphy, Harold Rumney, Leo Wescott. (18 players)

Their results:

Perhaps this was the line-up of all line-ups during Collingwood’s rampaging era of 1927-30, which netted a record four premierships in succession. Led by the Coventry, Collier, and Murphy brothers, this group of 18 players were never beaten. They played together six times in a row for six wins, with their last outing together being a narrow win against St Kilda at the Junction Oval in round eight.  It mattered not that this particular combination never re-united on-field, for ‘The Machine’ were well on their way to a third straight flag under Jock McHale.

In the 22-player era

The most games played together in 22-man sides is five – this is jointly-held by Sydney in 2005 and Adelaide in 2016.

In summary

So this has illustrated how rare it is for a club to field exactly the same line-up in multiple games. It also highlights the importance of having depth on a club’s list.

So, enjoy that “best 22” when they do finally run out together because, chances are, that same line-up may never feature again!


Paul P Mark


We can now compare Gold Coast with University

So we are now seven seasons into the existence of the Gold Coast Suns. This means we can compare Gold Coast’s performance thus far with that of the defunct Melbourne University Football club who spent seven seasons in the big league from 1908 to 1914.

Gold Coast 2011-2017 vs University 1908-1914

Click to enlarge

Looking at the table, it must be said that the Suns have been a huge disappointment to date – in fact, that would be a mammoth understatement. As can be seen in the table, the Suns have only performed about 5% better than University did in their seven seasons, and yet their respective circumstances couldn’t be further apart.

Key to University’s rapid decline after 1911 was the fact the club chose to remain strictly amateur while rival clubs had already begun issuing match payments to many of their players. There is no doubting that University fielded many genuinely good footballers but, by all accounts, it seems University’s players and officials were primarily focused on their studies and/or careers. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the club was comprised of current and former students of Melbourne University!

Let’s contrast this to the enormous salary cap afforded to clubs these days, along with the plethora of high draft picks that were handed to the Suns on a platter by the AFL in 2011. But yet, in seven seasons, they have performed only marginally better than a bunch of genuine amateurs to whom footy was not much more than a weekend hobby. In fact, even University’s away record is superior to that of Gold Coast’s. On the flip side, at least Gold Coast’s home record is significantly better than University’s, but this would be mostly due to the fact that the Suns get a home-state advantage in every home match they play ,with the exception of matches played against the Brisbane Lions – but even then, they technically still have a home city advantage (similar to Geelong at Kardinia Park vs Melbourne-based clubs).

Now, don’t get me wrong, I really like the idea of having an AFL club based on the Gold Coast. While I certainly don’t believe a second Brisbane-based club would be viable, I think with Gold Coast being a distinct, and somewhat glitzy, city about an hour’s drive south of Brisbane,  it really does have potential to become the talk of the town in a very lucrative marketplace. But something has gone terribly wrong.

So why has Gold Coast started so poorly? I think a lot of the blame has to fall on the first two coaches, but for different reasons.

  1. They started out far too young and inexperienced

I don’t think there was much wrong with inaugural coach Guy McKenna’s game plan or match-day tactics, but the list he assembled, or helped to assemble, was simply too young. Sure, you have to have a long-term view when harvesting young talent, but I feel they went in drastically on the young side.

In their first ever match on April 2nd, 2011 at the Gabba against Carlton,  they went in with 12 AFL debutants and were duly flogged to the tune of 119 points by a fairly ordinary Blues line-up.  In regards to list management, did Gold Coast really need to field a team of which more than half the players had never played and AFL game?

Things got particularly embarrassing (for both the Suns and the AFL)  in round six at Etihad Stadium when Essendon led by a record 93 points at quarter time.  Thankfully for the Suns, the Bombers may have empathetically taken their foot off the gas by adding just 103 more points to their tally across the remaining three quarters, eventually winning the match by 139 points (197 to 58)

As a saving grace, Gold Coast did manage to scrounge out three wins for the season, including an interstate win against Port Adelaide at Football Park in round five.  Three wins, 19 losses, and a woeful percentage of just 56.3 as a result of being on the receiving end of many a frightful flogging. I feel it just didn’t need to start this way. An additional recruitment of just three or four more reasonably experienced (50-100 game) players would, most likely, have made a big difference to their results in their formative years.

2. The appointment of Rodney Eade as coach failed  miserably

Taking the reigns in 2015, Rodney Eade was supposed to be the experienced coach that Gold Coast needed to finally guide such a talented playing group into a successful period. By this time, the players had also gained significant experience on the AFL stage – talent plus experience usually equals success. But things went even further downhill. In his three seasons as coach, The Suns finished 16th, 15th, and 15th. Eade was abruptly sacked towards the end of 2017.

To be fair, Eade’s playing group was decimated by injuries during a large part of his tenure, and any coach would have struggled under such circumstances. Still, one got the feeling his game plan never quite brought out the best in the players.

So where to from here for the Suns?

The appointment of Stuart Dew as head coach for 2018 may be just what the Suns need.  A fresh look, fresh game plan, fresh feel. Ablett may be gone, but the bulk of that initial talent is still there. Let’s see if Dew can be the one to finally get the best out of this incredibly talented playing group.

Paul P Mark.

Any feedback is welcome – please leave a comment!

A look at the most dominant eras in VFL/AFL history

By Paul P Mark

A fond memory as a young boy when staying over at my Nanna and Pop’s house in the mid-80s was looking through the annual Miller’s Guide sporting publications that my Pop had accumulated over the years. Although horse racing focused, these guides, in their thick paperback book format, were a treasure-trove of sporting records from around the world.

I loved looking down the list of VFL (as it was still known in the ‘80s) premiers and runners-up since 1897. Yes, the first VFL season was way back in 1897. The trusty Miller’s Guide revealed that Essendon won that first one. I would continue down the list…

“Collingwood won four flags in a row from 1927 to 1930!” I remember exclaiming to Pop one time as he was studying the form guide for the next day’s races at Flemington. “Jock McHale was coach” he replied, “No other club has ever done it”.

As of 2018 – that record still stands. Four premierships in a row from 1927-1930. What’s more, Collingwood had finished runners-up in the grand finals of 1925 and 1926 – which means the streak also included six consecutive grand final appearances. So, Jock McHale’s men lost two, and then won the next four. Legendary stuff. But is it enough to claim the title of the best era in VFL/AFL history? Let’s find out.

What length of time constitutes an era?

The minimum – 5 years

One of the most difficult aspects of this ranking process was deciding the length of time that constitutes a true dynasty/reign of dominance/era. As I began the research involved in getting a clearer picture, one thing soon became apparent – the length of any truly successfully sustained era couldn’t be less than five years in duration. As you’ll see in the table below, two clubs boast eras that achieved seven consecutive grand final appearances. Two others made the grand final six times in a row. Yet another two clubs have made the grand final five times in succession. That means we have six separate occurrences of a club reaching the grand final at least five times in a row. So, five years had to be the minimum length of an era.

The maximum – 8 years

At the other end of the scale we also need to have a cut-off point. Some may even argue an ‘era’ can perhaps only be regarded as a true era whilst under the guidance of the one coach, the one guru. Well, of the 12 eras I ranked, only three clubs had more than one coach at the helm during the period, which is quite fitting really. But the main deciding factor was changes to playing personnel. If you go longer than eight years, the ‘core’ group of players tends to change too dramatically to constitute a recognizable ‘era’.

How to rank them?

Total premierships won in the period simply had to be the number one ranking method. Coaches, players and supporters want to win premierships – that is the goal year in, year out. So, the eras are ranked by total premierships first, then by consecutive grand final appearances, then by consecutive premierships where applicable.

So here we have it in the table:

 Click to enlarge

 As you can see, there are some amazingly successful eras in this list. What’s more, it was only after I had settled on this top 12 that I realised every single decade of the game’s 120 year history is included! What a testament to this great competition. Below is a summary of the top 3.

#1: Melbourne of 1954-1960 coached by Norm Smith

Ron Barassi holds up the 1964 premiership cup alongside Ray Gabelich

This was a run of seven consecutive grand finals, netting five premierships, which also featured a triple and a double. Astonishing. Thus, this Norm Smith-coached Melbourne of 1954-1960 takes the number one position as the best era in VFL/AFL history. Besides being the only side to win five premierships in an era, if you have a look at the stats when playing at either home or away, we see that Norm Smith’s boys, captained by the legendary Ron Barassi, had a remarkable home win rate of 91% with a points percentage of 157.8%. In fact, they only lost six games at home in seven seasons! The MCG was their fortress, their coliseum. They owned it. And, mind you, this was done in an era without playing against travelling non-Victorian sides – they never even had a home-state advantage yet still won 91% of home games. Remarkable.

Melbourne is also one of only two clubs, along with Hawthorn, to make this list twice. When you consider Norm Smith was captain during the other great Demons era of 1937-1941, which also featured a ‘three-peat’, it really is no wonder that the award for the best player in the grand final is titled the Norm Smith medal.

#2: Collingwood of 1927-1930 coached by Jock McHale


 The legendary Jock McHale (left) and Collingwood team photo 1930




I’m guessing many people, especially Collingwood supporters of course, might argue that being the only side to have managed to win four premierships in a row, is deserved of the number one ranking position. Well, while four in a row is definitely the best streak in VFL/AFL history, I felt Melbourne’s effort of winning five premierships in seven years, including a triple and then a double, was superior. But don’t get me wrong, this Collingwood effort was more than just a streak of course. It was kind of an era within an era given it was the pinnacle period of Jock McHale’s staggering 38-year coaching stint at Victoria Park.

As can be seen in the table, this golden run featured six consecutive grand final appearances, having been beaten in the grand finals of 1925 and 1926 before going on to score the ‘quadrella’.

The Magpies’ overall win percentage of 81% from their 122 games is also the second best in the entire list. (second only to Geelong of 2007-2011)

Even though these ratings are purely based on statistics, this effort by Collingwood was also a great example of perseverance – many a group of men in woeful economic times may have never gotten over the anguish of losing consecutive grand finals in 1925 and 1926. Quite to the contrary however, they went on to win the next four in a row!

Whether you barracked for Collingwood or not, this was an extraordinary feat that brought inspiration and hope to a down-trodden city during the Great Depression. 

#3: Hawthorn of 1983-1989 coached by Allan Jeans

Hawthorn captain Michael Tuck and coach Allan Jeans hold up the 1989 premiership cup

Oh, they were indeed a happy team at Hawthorn in the ‘80s! Although I have them at number three, the mighty Hawthorn lineups of 1983-1989 may well be the most universally regarded ‘best ever’ in history. You just hear so much about them. And it’s not difficult to see why. Four premierships in seven years, and one of only two eras that featured seven consecutive grand finals. They possessed players of all-time greatness from one end of the field to the other. Could they have been number one? Well, losing to Essendon twice in a row in 1984 and 1985 conjures up questions of what might have been. The Dons sure did extract revenge, and then some, on the Hawks after going down to them in 1983. Still, the Hawks bounced back in 1986 to beat Carlton, who in turn however, extracted some revenge of their own on the Hawks in 1987.

So after finishing runners-up three times already by 1987, it may have appeared the Hawks’ quest for going back-to-back was shot. Not this outfit though – they then went on to win the flags of 1988 and 1989 against Melbourne and Geelong respectively. The grand final of 1989, in which the Hawks prevailed by 6 points, is still regarded as one of the most bitterly fought and highest quality grand finals ever contested.

After finishing fifth in 1990, Hawthorn won yet another flag in 1991. This was the only instance where I was tempted to make an exception to the eight-year era limit. Extending their era to 1991 would have made it five premierships from nine years. Still not superior to Melbourne’s five from seven though. Adding to my decision was the fact that, after 1990, Allan Jeans had permanently handed over the reins of head coach to Alan Joyce (who had stood-in as caretaker coach during Jeans’ illness in 1988), which further signified the end of an era. 

HONOuRABLE mentions

There are many more truly epic eras in the list which deserve mentioning, but I shall stick to the ones I have personally witnessed live.

The Brisbane Lions were almost unbeatable when it mattered most

Leigh Matthews and Michael Voss hold aloft the 2003 Premiership cup.

I certainly wish to mention the mighty Brisbane Lions sides of 1999-2004 coached by Leigh Matthews. Although they came in at #8, I would dare suggest that, at their very best, they were in fact the very best the league has seen. Along with their renowned hardness and fearlessness, this was an outfit that included three Brownlow medalists in their midfield (Michael Voss, Jason Akermanis, Simon Black) plus Nigel Lappin who could have easily won one himself. Jonathan Brown, Alistair Lynch, Justin Leppitsch, the Scott twins, the list of greats goes on.

Now, a lot of pundits rate Kevin Sheedy’s Essendon side of 2000 as the best ever playing group. Sure they only lost one game in that premiership year, but what many seem to forget is that virtually the same Essendon lineup was soundly beaten by Brisbane the following year in 2001. Essendon were unable to go back-to-back, but these Lions were just getting started in winning three in a row from 2001-2003. Unfortunately for Brisbane however, their shot at unarguable immortality was thwarted by a brilliant Port Adelaide in the 2004 grand final.

 Geelong have the stats, but the Hawks have the results

Luke Hodge and Alastair Clarkson after winning the 2013 Premiership

There are two other teams I wish to mention. These happen to be the two most recent, and overlapping, eras on the list – the arch rivals of modern times – Alastair Clarkson’s Hawthorn of 2008-2015 and Geelong of 2007-2011 coached by Mark Thompson and Chris Scott.

Let’s start with Geelong. If you look at the stats table, they top, or equal top, every single match stat – winning percentage of games for overall, home, and away – same goes with the all-important points percentage (points for/ points against).

Here is the table again. Behold Geelong’s row of highlighted stats.

Click to enlarge

This stat-topping Geelong unit had a plethora of greats including Gary Ablett Jr, Joel Selwood, Jimmy Bartel, Steve Johnson plus many more. There is no doubt they regularly fielded some of the best line-ups in AFL history.

Mystery still surrounds the circumstances leading up to coach Mark Thompson‘s resignation at the completion of the 2010 season after finishing 3rd. Had his heart been in it that year?  Would they have won it otherwise? Who knows, but Chris Scott was certainly lucky to inherit such an accomplished playing group whom he took to a premiership during his first year as coach in 2011.  But alas, after 2011, there were no more grand final berths.

Although no other club matches Geelong’s overall statistical dominance across five seasons, they are ranked 11th because this ranking system is weighted towards total premierships first and foremost. Geelong ‘only’ won three premierships and also didn’t manage to go back-to-back. In fact, they are the only team to win three or more premierships in an era without winning any in succession.

Unfortunately for them, it all comes down to the 2008 grand final loss to HawthornMention this grand final to any avid Geelong supporter and the pain will be evident on their face. If they had won this grand final, their era would’ve yielded four premierships instead of three, and would’ve also most likely included  a ‘three-peat’ instead of no consecutive premierships at all. Ouch. So did they blow it? I actually don’t think so.

The Hawks had a freakishly talented side in 2008

Luke Hodge and Stuart Dew celebrate with the 2008 Premiership cup.

After smashing Port Adelaide by a record margin in the 2007 grand final, Geelong were expected to go back-to-back  in 2008. In the grand final, the bookies had installed them firm favourites against the younger Hawks who seemed to have come from nowhere in recent years to suddenly find themselves in the big dance. How could these young upstarts possibly bother the all-conquering Cats? One ‘word’: X-Factor.

X-factor is very hard to define. I’d say it has has something to do with performing almost-impossible feats when it matters most. This Hawks 2008 lineup had it in spades. They were younger, but not too much younger and still had plenty of seniority around with the likes of their spiritual leader and Brownlow medalist Shane Crawford, and the powerfully versatile key position player Trent Croad. Sadly, but maybe fittingly, for both of these club stalwarts the 2008 grand final would be their last game.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Hawks had the amazingly talented Cyril Rioli who was playing his first season and, speaking of X-factor, they had a mercurial medium-sized forward, with a penchant for imaginary shotguns, by the name of Mark Williams. He kicked a game-high three goals without even firing an imaginary shot! (His shotgun celebration had been banned earlier in the season by Alastair Clarkson).

Then you had Stuart Dew. An experienced recruit whose awe-inspiring third quarter purple patch was one for the ages. X-factor again.

When you also take into account that Coleman medalist Lance “Buddy” Franklin, Jarryd Roughhead, Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis, Grant Birchall, Campbell Brown, and Brad Sewell had just entered their prime, the level of talent starts to look frightening.

I feel that in the 2008 grand final, Geelong didn’t blow it, they were simply  beaten by a better side. A side whose same core group of players, although faltering to miss the finals in 2009, would ultimately go on to reach four more grand finals and win three more premierships – all in succession. That’s why Alastair Clarkson’s men are ranked so high (4th) on the all-time list of the great AFL eras.

So there you have it! I chose not to go into the details surrounding all 12 eras in the list, but I am satisfied with my ranking method.  Any feedback is welcome – please leave a comment!


Paul P Mark