The AFL has been nothing short of blessed in the past 16 years, witnessing three of the most dominant teams in history take the field.
For the Brisbane Lions to achieve what they did in the early 2000’s as a non-Victorian club was quite inspirational, but look ten years on and the Hawks have completed a dynasty which was arguably the best ever. And the period between that? The Cats.
Do you deduct points off Geelong for never going back-to-back? Does 2008 count as part of the era for Hawthorn? Does Brisbane get extra credit for not being Victorian-based?
The question that will always be left unknown is if these teams played against each other in their absolute prime, who would come out on top? Would it be Lappin, Lynch, White, Akermanis and Black? Ablett, Johnson, Chapman, Bartel and Scarlett? Or Hodge, Mitchell, Lewis, Rioli and Franklin?
There has been plenty of talk that Hawthorn has overtaken Geelong as the greatest team of the 21st century given the three-peat they endured from 2013-2015, but the evidence still falls to the way of the Cats, who enjoyed a far superior dynasty than the Hawks and Lions.
Geelong’s lowest finishing point from the period of 2007-2011 was a preliminary final in 2010 to the eventual premier Collingwood.
If people would like to include 2008 for the Hawks and make it four flags over eight years, then their lowest finishing point was completely missing the finals in 2009 and getting knocked out in the elimination final in 2010. That is why the Hawthorn era did not start until 2011.
The Sydney Swans have also been added into discussions when comparing the best teams of this century. The Cats were ultra-consistent in their time, the Hawks’ success fluctuated and the Lions weren’t much after four years, but what about Sydney?
If they had won that flag in 2014 or even 2016 then they too would have accumulated three/four premierships in an era which spans back to 2005.
Let’s look that far back then, even in 2004, the year the Lions’ dominance came to a complete stop.
The Cats made the preliminary final that year and just fell nine points short of the Brisbane Lions. In 2005 it was Nick Davis who pipped the Cats in the final seconds to deny them a preliminary final berth. From 2007-2014 the Cats made six of a possible eight preliminary finals.
The Swans have made a remarkable 14 of a possible 17 finals series’ since 2000.
From the beginning of this century, Geelong have a win percentage of 66.1 including finals, compared to the Hawks who are at 59.7. From 2000-2009 the Brisbane Lions recorded the second-highest win percentage (57) in the competition, and the highest win percentage for finals matches (76). You have to go back to Richmond in the 80’s who had a better finals record than Brisbane did.
To win back-to-back flags is an incredible achievement especially in the AFL today. The fact that the Hawks were able to win three in a row during the modern game showed just how aggressive this club was.
With free-agency introduced in this time, the Hawks were able to pounce on ready-made players to complement the team and help them be a force for as long as possible. Their list management was superb.
Even after losing Franklin in 2013, the Hawks never seemed to break stride.
The Cats had a tough Hawthorn in 08’, a strong St Kilda side to compete against in 09’ and an up and coming Collingwood in 2010 which ruined their chances of back-to-back premierships.
No other Victorian side played against the Hawks in the grand finals of 2012 – 2015, giving the Victorian club an instant advantage.
The Hawks also had their period of dominance whilst the new expansion teams were given draft compensations.
This worked heavily in the favour of Hawthorn and they were lucky to already be at the top of the league, since nearly all first-round draft picks went to either the Giants or the Gold Coast Suns it made it more difficult for other clubs to catch up.
So why was the Geelong dynasty greater than Hawthorn’s? For eight years the Cats were a very consistent and very tough team to come up against. They bred their own, from 2004 onwards they established a real team-first attitude which was vital for success and this made them a superior team.
After 2008 the Hawks practically had a complete mix-up in terms of personnel. Bye Shane Crawford, Chance Bateman, Campbell Brown and Stuart Dew, hello Shaun Burgoyne, David Hale, Josh Gibson and Jack Gunston.
Geelong did have to overcome some drama to achieve its final flag in 2011 which also adds to the success story.
In 2010, two-time premiership coach Mark Thompson, champion player Gary Ablett and president Frank Costa all exited the club, but to rebound and rejoice the way that they did in 2011 was really something special and said a lot about team-spirit.
With Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis and Bradley Hill leaving the Hawks at the end of 2016, there is still a way for Hawthorn to be considered as the best team of the 21st century, and that is to have success in 2017 and show that they too can rebound.