I would have loved to get the likes of modern-day stars Joel Selwood and Scott Pendlebury in, but there simply wasn’t enough room.
It does include plenty of players from the ’90s and that’s down, in part, to the fact it was a time everyone had an opponent. There were no easy touches.
I’m fully prepared for the colourful feedback, so here goes.
1. JASON DUNSTALL
His record speaks for itself: 254 games and 1254 goals. Dunstall kicked 100 goals in a season six times, and big tons too. He’s the best full-forward I’ve seen and above the likes of Tony Lockett and Gary Ablett snr because he was more unselfish and team-oriented. Dunstall was equally strong overhead and below his knees and applied forward pressure before it was in vogue. Four best and fairests in what was a powerful Hawthorn team also speaks volumes.
2. MICHAEL VOSS
As tough and uncompromising a footballer as you will see, Michael Voss was an incredible leader during Brisbane’s threepeat. While he was ferocious in the contest and great overhead, Voss could also influence a game without even touching the footy. In an era in which the best midfielders would usually get tagged, he was the general in the Lions’ engine room. Leigh Matthews says Voss is the best he’s seen and there’s hardly a greater compliment.
3. JAMES HIRD
Another captain on the list and one who could turn a game in minutes. It’s because of that match-winning ability that I have Hird so high on this list. He was a handful as a forward with his long, rangy arms, but could also play back and in the midfield, which is where I thought he was most damaging. Hird always seemed to deliver in big games.
4. TONY LOCKETT
As the VFL/AFL’s leading goalkicker, ‘Plugger’ was always going to be right up there. Lockett was different to Dunstall in that he wasn’t part of a dominant team, at least at St Kilda, but he’d still manage to kick huge bags week in, week out. He had unbelievable hands and was the best set shot for goal I’ve seen. He’d place the ball on his boot with pure simplicity.
5. CHRIS JUDD
From his very first game at West Coast, Judd was a star. He wasn’t a massive accumulator of possessions, but he didn’t need to be, blowing games open with his explosive speed out of the contest. It was that power that sets him apart from many other great midfielders of the modern era.
6. ROBERT HARVEY
I have this bloke as the best pure midfielder of the ’90s. He wasn’t as explosive as Judd, but could still get out of trouble with his trademark side-step. When we played St Kilda in my early years at North Melbourne, we planned more for Harvey than the likes of Lockett or Stewart Loewe, such was the respect we had for him. He was so fit we’d often rotate a fresh opponent on him each quarter, which was rare in those days.
7. GREG WILLIAMS
A superstar at two clubs in Sydney and Carlton, ‘Diesel’ had hands equal to anyone. While he copped a fair bit of attention, you always had to be wary because he’d give a bit back too. He relished the big games and was central to the Blues’ last premiership in 1995. I’ve got him below Judd and Harvey because he couldn’t burn off his opponent in the same way.
8. LANCE FRANKLIN
The first player I’ve included who’s still playing, Buddy has to be the most dynamic forward of the modern era with his mix of height and athleticism. Not a great mark overhead, he makes up for up for it once the ball hits the ground. The last player to kick 100 goals in a season, Buddy has also been an incredible field kick who brings his teammates into matches.
9. GARY ABLETT snr
The most freakish player we’ve ever seen and a highlights package to match. Ablett was so powerful and had a brute strength that ensured he would often jump and outmark two or three opponents. If he didn’t mark it, he was just as damaging at ground level. Kicked 100 goals in a season and won the Coleman Medal three years in a row, but I have him slightly lower than the game’s other full-forwards because he wasn’t as team-oriented. When he played, it was the ‘Gaz’ show.
10. NATHAN BUCKLEY
Rounding out the top 10 is the now-Collingwood coach. Buckley was a machine from the moment he burst onto the scene with the Brisbane Bears in 1992. He had great penetration in his kicking and could play anywhere, whether it be in the midfield, at centre-half-forward or centre-half-back. All-Australian seven times, and a Copeland Trophy winner six times.
11. MARK RICCIUTO
This man was the early 2000s version of Dustin Martin, only he was even more of a bull. An eight-time All-Australian, Ricciuto could play through the midfield or at full-forward and my old teammate Glenn Archer used to say he was one of the toughest guys he’d ever played on. That’s good enough for me.
12. ADAM GOODES
Has won just about all there is to win in the game and is probably the most versatile player on this list. Goodes could play any position and excel. The first time I saw him was in an Ansett Cup game in the late ’90s when he was playing full-back on John Longmire. Goodes still managed to kick two goals.
13. GLEN JAKOVICH
No surprises who the first defender is in my top 20. I’ve long said Glen Jakovich was my toughest opponent and the best defender of the modern era. He won four best and fairests in a West Coast team that played finals for 10 years straight. Never gave an inch.
14. ANDREW McLEOD
Another champion who was really versatile, Adelaide’s Andrew McLeod combined speed and class for more than 300 games. He was electric off half-back and would always use the ball well. A big-game player as evidenced by the back-to-back Norm Smith Medals he won in 1997 and 1998.
15. DUSTIN MARTIN
The second current-day player to feature, ‘Dusty’ could well be in the top five by the end of his career. Great on both sides of his body, we all know how influential Martin can be up forward or in the middle. Right now, he’s the biggest star in our game and he handles that pressure with ease. An absolute gun, albeit in an era where the best mids get less attention.
16. JONATHAN BROWN
As courageous as they come, Jonathan Brown also had a running ability that often went under the radar. While Warren Tredrea was a four-time All-Australian at centre-half-forward, I’d argue Brown’s best was as good as any forward in the past 30 years.
17. STEPHEN SILVAGNI
With apologies to Matthew Scarlett, ‘SOS’ is the final key defender in my top 20. He played on all the great forwards mentioned previously and stood tall under fire. He played in an era defenders could get away with a lot more, but must be included because of the calibre of opponents he’d regularly beat.
18. MATTHEW RICHARDSON
He had a running ability that made him a nightmare to match-up on and loved to roam from full-forward to centre half-forward and late in his career made him successful on a wing. Despite being in what was often a fairly average Richmond team, ‘Richo’ still kicked 800 goals. Who knows how much higher that tally would have been in a more dominant Tiger outfit.
19. GARY ABLETT jnr
One of the great modern-day midfielders, Gary Ablett has an honour roll as big as anyone. At times I’ve been critical of him as an accumulator, but he’s also been a goalkicker. While some might say I have him too low, he’s still one of just three players included who are still playing. A champion.
20. PAUL KELLY
A fellow Wagga boy, Paul Kelly sneaks into the final spot in my top 20 on the back of his toughness. While a flag eluded him, he won the game’s most courageous award six times. Doesn’t always get the recognition he deserves because of the understated way he went about his footy.
Download the Real Footy podcast from 5pm on Monday to hear Jake Niall, Caroline Wilson and Michael Gleeson grill the North Melbourne champion on his choices.
Two-time AFL premiership captain and columnist for The Age.