Football’s Greatest Teams – The AFL Era (1990-Present)

Part two of this series will look at the greatest teams in the modern era of AFL football.

While the AFL has only established in 1990, there are still numerous teams who can promote their argument for being the greatest team of all time.

Some of these teams dominated for a substantial period of time, without achieving the amount of success they ultimately deserved, while others can lay claim to winning consecutive premierships.

North Melbourne 1994-1999

Record books will show North Melbourne have had two great decades of success. While the 1970’s was the decade when the Kangaroos broke the premiership drought, the 1990’s will be remembered for the individual brilliance of North’s star players and the pioneering of Friday night football.

From 1994 to 1999, North Melbourne made three Grand Finals, winning two (1996 & 1999) and losing one to Adelaide in 1998, in a match they could have won if they had kicked accurately (North kicked 8.22 in the match).

The lowest North finished at the end of the home and away season at the end of those six years was seventh, but come finals North always managed to make at least the Preliminary final.

Friday night football was pioneered by North Melbourne in 1985 and by the 1990’s it had become a regular in AFL football. North continued to predominately hold the prestigious timeslot and a lot of this had to do with their on-field success and the marketing machine that was Wayne Carey.

Similar to Michael Jordan in a promotional sense, Carey was the face of the AFL because his athletic ability and ability to carry his team to victory.

Along with the two premierships, Carey’s individual success included 2x Leigh Matthew’s trophy, 7x All-Australian, 4x North Melbourne Best & Fairest and 5x North Melbourne leading goal kicker.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Australian football, highly acclaimed AFL journalist Mike Sheehan comprised a list of the 50 greatest players of all time and had Carey as the greatest to play the game.

Essendon 1999-2001

The Essendon team from 1999 to 2001 had an opportunity to become one of the most successful teams in AFL football.

In the three-year period the Bombers won 61 of 66 home and away games.

2000 will be the year the Bombers are most remembered for as they won all possible silverware a team could win. The Bombers started the season by winning the pre season competition. The Bombers then won 21 home and away games to claim the minor premiership, before they ran away with the flag by defeating Melbourne by 60 points.

1999 and 2001 will be remembered as years the Bombers let slip of the premiership flag. In 1999 the Bombers were by far the best team in the competition and after comfortably beating Sydney in the Qualifying final, some Essendon fans purchased Grand Final tickets, assuming their side would easily account for Carlton in the Preliminary final.

Essendon would be a no show in the Grand Final, as they went down to Carlton by a point.

In 2001 Essendon again finished the regular season as minor premiers and went into Grand Final day as premiership favourites.

But unable to hold on to a 14-point half time lead, the Bombers went down to Brisbane by 26 points.

Brisbane Lions 2001-2003

Brisbane players celebrate the 2003 premiership

When the final siren sounded at the end of the 2003 Grand Final, people were asking “have we ever seen a side as good as this?” Brisbane had just won it’s third consecutive premiership and with the likes of Michael Voss, Jason Akermanis, Simon Black, Nigel Lappin, Alastair Lynch, Mal Michael and Jonathon Brown, Brisbane had the right mix of skill and aggression to frighten every team in the competition.

The 2001 premiership may have come as a surprise as Essendon were clear favourites heading into the match, but by 2003 everyone was wondering how long the dynasty would last.

Under the guidance of Leigh Matthews the Lions never finished higher than second during the regular season in the premiership seasons. But come finals time, the Lions only lost one final between 2001 and 2003.

Individual success was also a hallmark in the Lions side, as Jason Akermanis and Simon Black won Brownlow medals in 2001 and 2002.

Brisbane looked set to equal Collingwood’s four consecutive premierships in 2004, but with aging legs the Lions could not compete with the determined Port Adelaide side.

The Lions brought great enjoyment for long suffering Brisbane and Fitzroy fans and with supporters again suffering from a lack of success in recent years, Lions supporters will be hoping for a return to the success of the early 2000’s side.

Geelong 2007-2011

It took one game to kick-start the Geelong dynasty.

By round 6, 2007, media questioned whether Mark Thompson was the right man for Geelong. The Cats sat in sixth position and were going up against a winless Richmond side. Anything other than a massive win would be seen as a failure for the Cats.

But what transpired would have to be seen to be believed. Geelong kicked 20 goals in the opening half to lead by 107 points at the main break. When the final siren finally sounded to end Richmond’s torture, the Cats had handed the Tigers their biggest loss in history; a 157 point defeat.

The victory sparked a string of wins for the Cats, as would only lose one more game for the season and win the premiership by a record margin of 119 points against Port Adelaide.

It may have been hard to top but somehow Geelong became even better in 2008. The Cats only lost one game during the home and away season and ended the campaign with an average winning margin of 53 points.

But inaccuracy in front of goal cost Geelong in the Grand Final, as Hawthorn came away with a unlikely victory.

Redemption came the year after as the Cats would win the premiership over the highly fancied St Kilda.

Geelong’s success during 2007 to 2009 is largely due to the unique style of play. Teams of that area worked tirelessly on defence and tight low scoring contest set the tone, evident in the 2005 and 2006 Grand finals.

Under Mark Thompson the Cats challenged the norm and became an attacking side, moving the ball with rapid speed through the centre of the ground.

Having superstars Gary Ablett, Jimmy Bartel, Joel Selwood, Steven Johnson, Cameron Ling and Matthew Scarlett also helped the Cats achieve success.

At the end of 2010 Mark Thompson and Gary Ablett both departed the Cats, leaving many to assume the Geelong dynasty was over.

But a rejuvenated Cats side under the guidance of Chris Scott returned to the pinnacle of football by beating Collingwood in the 2011 Grand Final.

Hawthorn 2013-2015

Hawthorn shocked the footballing world by beating Geelong in the 2008 Grand Final. With an average age of only 24, the Hawks were expected to win multiple premierships in the upcoming years.

But sport doesn’t always go to plan and the Hawks failed to qualify for the 2009 finals series.

Hawthorn failed to play in another Grand Final until 2012, a surprising fact given that they had Lance Franklin, the games best forward in the team.

Hawthorn would lose the 2012 flag, but success would arrive a year later as they defeated Fremantle in the decider.

At the end of 2013 Lance Franklin departed for Sydney, but Franklin’s departure would mean little for the Hawks who would again win the premiership in 2014 and 2015.

Under the senior heads of Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis and Jarryd Roughead the Hawks would bully opposition with their ruthless style of play. This style would be too much for teams they played in the treble of premierships as the Hawks would win those flags by an average margin of 42 points.

Hawthorn players celebrate 2015 flag

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