The biggest scandal of the decade was the ‘supplements’ program at Essendon, initiated by Stephen Dank, which was not properly overseen and ended up not only costing James Hird his job and reputation, but besmirched the reputation of 34 players and cost Jobe Watson a Brownlow medal.
In 2014 and 2015, the masses turned on Adam Goodes. The Sydney Swans champion tried to make a stand against racism but instead sparked a culture war that engulfed the nation, and the AFL’s inaction hung him out to dry. Goodes retired with no fanfare, his own love for the sport completely destroyed by the saga.
The AFL was also struck by tragedy numerous times, and this is no exhaustive list – the passing of Danny Frawley shocked the game this year, former Melbourne coach Dean Bailey succumbed to lung cancer in 2014, and respected Adelaide Crows mentor Phil Walsh was violently killed by his own son in 2015.
Dustin Martin made his debut in 2010’s round one and will be remembered as the iconic player of the decade. On his day, the Richmond dynamo is simply unstoppable. His resume features two flags, two Norm Smiths and a Brownlow, and together with his roguish personality, he is a household name for a reason.
In an era where scoring dried up and dominant spearheads went the way of the dodo, Lance Franklin’s brilliant exploits for both Hawthorn and Sydney were a joy to behold and redefined the role of a key forward. Buddy is in his twilight now but has moved to seventh in the AFL/VFL’s all-time goalkickers list and the 1000-goal mark is in sight.
An extremely honourable mention to Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe, the only player to win two Brownlows this decade, and Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield.
THE ALSO RANS
Can’t go past the Gold Coast Suns. Where the GWS Giants have surged on and off the field, the Suns have become a rabble with a tenuous future. Midway through 2014, a finals appearance looked a real possibility – then prized recruit Gary Ablett did his shoulder against Collingwood in round 18. They won just one more game for the season, and a total of just 23 over the next five years. The AFL will be praying a bevy of generous new concessions can make them a half-decent side and help the Suns establish a foothold in the notoriously difficult Gold Coast market.
It’s also been a rather miserable decade for the Brisbane Lions and Carlton, who spent most of it at the bottom of the ladder, engulfed in turmoil. The Lions sacked two coaches, and the Blues three, but both sides seem to only now be coming out of their lean periods.
THE BOLTS FROM THE BLUE
Nobody saw Franklin’s move from the Hawks to the Swans coming, except those who quietly engineered it in the background. Everyone expected him to become the face of the GWS Giants – even the AFL – but his shock swing to the Swans in late 2013 set the tone for a decade in which the introduction of free agency changed the player movement landscape forever.
Another huge surprise was the Western Bulldogs’ 2016 premiership – their first since 1954 – coming from seventh on the ladder and becoming just the second team in AFL/VFL history to win four finals matches to claim the flag. A true footy fairytale.
Before 2017, you’d be forgiven for thinking women didn’t play Aussie rules. The advent of the AFLW league propelled what was previously a niche subculture into the mainstream. There’s a long way still to go but AFLW already has the goodwill, momentum and grassroots support that should take it to another level over the next 10 years.
THE CRYSTAL BALL
There will be at least one more team added to the AFL in the 2020s – Tasmania, and possibly another in somewhere like Canberra, North Queensland or even a third WA side to make it an even 20 in the comp.
The trend of long-term player contracts – such as Franklin’s at the Swans and Coniglio, Kelly and Whitfield at the Giants – will continue as clubs and their most identifiable stars look to lock things down. Speaking of the Giants, they will emerge as the AFL’s Melbourne Storm, a perennial contender who will win at least two flags next decade.
And instead of traditional TV broadcasters, the AFL will either partner with a technology monolith like Google, Facebook or Amazon to stream matches online – or go it alone and create their own service.
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.