The curtain has just come down on the 2017 AFL season and it was among the most interesting in recent memory, a heady blend of excitement, controversy, upsets and drama. We saw Richmond pull off a surprise victory, Sydney achieve one of the greatest comebacks in history, the fall of the Hawthorn dynasty and much more besides.
There were highs, lows, laughs and tears galore, and it will certainly be looked back upon fondly by many fans. But how does it compare to the greatest AFL seasons in its 27-year history? Here we have listed them, so you can decide for yourself:
The 2006 season will always be remembered for one of the greatest Grand Finals of all time, a pulsating encounter played out between West Coast and Sydney. It was a nail-biting clash, decided by a single point – the only time that has ever happened since the AFL began.
The Eagles started in dominant fashion, but Sydney clawed their way back into it in the second and third quarters and in the final quarter West Coast’s lead fluctuated between one and seven points as they teams went goal for goal. The Eagles defended desperately and ultimately held on for a narrow victory in arguably the most exciting final of all time.
It was heartbreaking for Brownlow Medal winner Adam Goodes, who was sensational throughout the season and great in the final, but West Coast – who finished top of the ladder – deserved their win.
This season saw the all-conquering Brisbane Lions dynasty led by the Fab Four of Simon Black, Michael Voss, Nigel Lappin and Jason Akermanis cement their dominance over the AFL. They finished second in the ladder but absolutely annihilated the first placed team, Port Adelaide, at The Gabba in the Preliminary Final.
That set up a showdown with the season’s surprise package, Collingwood, who made it to the finals for the first time in eight years and shocked everyone by upsetting Adelaide in the other Preliminary Final. A thrilling Grand Final played out in treacherous conditions in front of 91,817 fans at the MCG and Collingwood battled bravely throughout, but Brisbane withstood the onslaught to claim a second successive title. It was harsh on Nathan Buckley, who became one of only four players in history to win the Norm Smith Medal despite being on the losing side.
This season saw Hawthorn lose six of their first seven games and Alastair Clarkson was nearly sacked as manager. He stopped the rot in round eight with victory over Richmond and the rest is history: he is still in charge of the Hawks, having won four Premiership titles. But it could so easily not have come to pass had Hawthorn lost that game to Richmond. Mark Williams did walk away from Port Adelaide, drawing the curtain on a glittering 10-year reign.
We also saw Steven Baker suspended for nine weeks and Steve Johnson for three for their notorious clash, and it was the last ever 16-team season as West Coast joined the party the following year. But the main reason 2010 will go down in history is because it was the last ever Grand Final to end in a draw and replay. It is the only time it happened in the AFL era and it will never happen again after new extra-time rules were introduced.
Underdogs St Kilda were trailing by 24 points at three-quarter time, but produced a magnificent comeback and took the lead with Brendan Goddard’s goal, only to suffer the heartbreak of seeing Lenny Hayes’ long kick bobble past Stephen Milne to level the scores in the final minute. In the replay Collingwood destroyed the Saints, but that first game was an epic contest.
The prevailing image from round one was of St Kilda champion Nick Riewoldt in tears on the bench after the Lions’ Mal Michael and Chris Scott battered his shoulder, eventually breaking his collarbone. The drama was then ramped up week after week. There were 25 games throughout the campaign that were decided by six points or less.
Among the highlights were bottom of the table Collingwood ending West Coast’s eight-game unbeaten run to knock them off the top of the ladder in round nine and defending premiers Port Adelaide overtaking the Dockers with a victory over Fremantle in round 22, going on to face Adelaide in the finals, where the Crows delivered the most emphatic Showdown win of all time. It all ended with a sensational Grand Final played out between Sydney and West Coast – marking the start of their intense rivalry. The final was one for the purists, akin to a high-stakes game of chess between expert tacticians, and it culminated in Sydney’s first Grand Final triumph in 72 years when Leo Barry took that famous mark in the middle of a pack of Eagles players.
This fairy-tale year had everything you could ever want in an AFL season. While 2017 was an exciting ride, it would take something special to beat the previous year in terms of drama, intrigue and exhilaration. The Western Bulldogs ended the longest Premiership drought to bring to a close 62 years of hurt, beating the Swans by 22 points. It was the first time in history a team that finished seventh in the ladder had ever won the Premiership. That was just one of many incredible storylines taking place in the greatest finale to a season the sport has ever seen.
We had the Swans’ devastating annihilation of Geelong, the emergence of Greater Western Sydney as a force to be reckoned with, only to fall agonisingly short of their first ever Grand Final, and the meltdown of Hawthorn. The Hawks were chasing a fourth straight flag, hich would have made them the most successful dynasty in history, but Isaac Smith’s missed shot after the siren was followed by a straight-sets defeat a week later, and a new order came to pass.
Fremantle suffered one of the worst falls from grace in memory, Essendon were hit with suspensions in an anti-doping scandal and Patrick Dangerfield earned a record-breaking Brownlow Medal. This was the greatest AFL season ever and sets a high benchmark for others to follow.
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Martin Green is an experienced sports writer and has been covering the AFL for many years.