Over the past couple of days, a couple of the AFL's biggest journalists have compiled a team of players from the 21st century. Jon Ralph and Glenn McFarlane from the Herald Sun compiled their team on Friday and it was quickly followed by the media team at SEN breakfast. We've also seen teams over the past couple of years from other high-profile media journalists.
Which is why today on Bulldogs Centre, I am going to have a go at naming the AFL's team of the 21st century so far. I know it might sound a little silly, given that we are only just 17 years into this century, but it's been really intriguing to find out what the so-called 'experts' have to say.
This was an extremely hard team to choose from, considering how many champions the 21st century has already produced, but I feel as if this team has everything you can ask for. Coleman Medallists, Norm Smith Medallists, Brownlow Medallists and last but not least, Premiership players. Only four of the 22 men I chose did not play in a premiership, with two of those four not even playing off in a Grand Final.
So without further ado, let me introduce to you my version of the AFL's team of the 21st century
It was pretty tough to find a defensive six and settle with it, but these six defenders I believe are the perfect mix of speed, skill, leadership and most importantly team defence.
Picking former Geelong best and fairest Matthew Scarlett at full-back was one of the easiest options when it came to selecting the defenders. A very crucial component in all three of Geelong's premierships (2007, 2009 and 2011), Scarlett's ability to shut down star forwards on a consistent basis meant that he was named as the All-Australian full-back a staggering six times throughout his career being named in 2003-04, in 2007-09 and then again in 2011, before calling time to his career in 2012.
I've named Scarlett's premiership team mate Corey Enright right beside him in a back pocket. Like Scarlett, Enright featured in Geelong's three premierships and is also a six-time All-Australian, having featured in the team from 2008-2011 as well as featuring in the teams of 2013 and most recently, last year. Also a two-time club best and fairest at the Cattery, Enright is a consistent possession winner in the back-line, having averaged over 21 disposals over the last 10 years in his career.
On the other pocket, I've named an Essendon legend in Dustin Fletcher, who has featured in over 20 seasons for the Bombers for two premierships, two All-Australian selections and a club best fairest, and has played a total of 400 games - one of only four men in the history of the AFL to achieve such a feat. Not only was the lanky Fletcher more than capable of beating his opponent in the air, he was widely regarded as one of the game's finest rebounding defenders, with his influence in Essendon's near-perfect season in 2000 so very vital.
Partnering Scarlett as a key defender, I've named former West Coast captain Darren Glass at centre-half back. Anybody outside of Western Australia might have a different opinion on Glass and his influence in defence, but to me, he's one of those defenders that gets criminally underrated. Glass made the All-Australian team in 2006 - the year the Eagles' won the premiership as well as making the team in 2007, 2011 and 2012. Glass is also a three-time best and fairest winner and a captain of the club for when West Coast were struggling at the tail end of the ladder.
On one half-back flank, there is the four-time premiership Hawk who is hanging up the boots at the end of this year, I'm talking about Hawthorn champion Luke Hodge. Whether you love him or hate him, there's no questioning his leadership credentials and footballing ability. One of only three men to win the Norm Smith Medal twice (2008 and 2014) as well a three-time All-Australian (2005, 08 and 2010) and a two-time club best and fairest winner (2005 and 2010), I've named him at half-back instead of in the midfield because he has played some of his best footy off of half-back line.
On the other half-back flank, there is another man who has won multiple premierships with the Brisbane Lions, that being Nigel Lappin. Despite all his injury niggles, Lappin was a warrior and a key part of Brisbane's three-peat of premierships in 2001-03. It was the 2003 Grand Final, in which Lappin played with broken ribs and a punctured lung, such was his courage. A part of a midfield group that boasted stars such as Voss, Akermanis, Black and Power, Lappin is named at half-back because he has also been used as a half-back player during Brisbane's golden run, with his elite use of the ball by foot.
The saying 'Midfielders are a dime a dozen' doesn't get used enough, but this was easily the hardest group to pick from. In 17 years we've seen so many elite midfielders come and go, but this starting six have thoroughly deserved their spots. Four of the five midfielders are Brownlow Medallists and the other probably very unlucky not have one.
Let's start with the ruck spot. I've gone with West Coast legend Dean Cox over another legendary ruckman in Aaron Sandilands. What separated the two was the fact that Cox was a premiership player in 2006, the fact he could be used as a forward option (169 goals in 290 games) and that he was a six-time All-Australian (2005-08 and 2011-12). What makes this all the more impressive was that Dean Cox was a Rookie Draft selection, taken 28th overall back in 2001.
Gary Ablett Junior
Naming Gary Ablett Junior was perhaps the easiest picks in this side as his career will be undoubtedly be talked about for many years to come. Let's roll through his achievements. A two-time premiership player (2007 and 2009), A two-time Brownlow Medallist (2009 and 2013), A five-time club best and fairest (2007 and 2009 at Geelong, 2011-13 at Gold Coast) a five-time AFLPA MVP (2007-09 and 2012-13) and a eight-time All-Australian from the 2007 season all the way until the 2014 season. Not only a midfield ace, Ablett can also go forward and kick goals as well, bagging 386 goals from 301 games.
If Ablett was the first midfielder picked, I had Judd as a close second. Another dual-Brownlow Medallist (2004 and 2010), Judd was electric and vital in the midfield for both West Coast and Carlton for over a decade, with a very long list of awards in his own right. A two-time AFLPA MVP (2006 and 2011), a five-time club best and fairest (2004 and 06 at West Coast and 2008-10 at Carlton), a Norm Smith Medallist in 2005 and a six-time All-Australian (2004, '06 and 2008-11).
Also in the square we have another retiring veteran in Sam Mitchell. Over the past 15 seasons at Hawthorn, Mitchell has been just sensational. A four-time premiership player, five-time club best and fairest (2006, 09, 2011-12 and 2016) and a three-time All Australian (2011, 13 and 15) and a Brownlow Medallist in 2012 (Through dubious circumstances), Mitchell was known for his elite ability to accumulate disposals and win a number of clearances - People don't dub him as 'The Extractor' for no reason.
On one wing we have a man who has been consistently elite for years now, that being current Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury. A premiership player and Norm Smith Medallist in the 2010 Grand Final replay, Pendlebury has enjoyed himself a stellar career and the best part is that it is far from over, as he turns 30 next January. A five-time All-Australian (2010-14) and a five-time club best and fairest (2011, 2013-16). His ability to effectively use the ball under pressure not only makes him a tremendous asset in Collingwood's midfield, but one of the game's elite midfielders.
On the other wing is a man who is arguably one of the biggest players in the history of the Brisbane Lions. Simon Black was somebody I couldn't leave out of this team, because he was part of an elite Lions midfield that won them three premierships in a row in the early 2000s. In 2003, Black won the Norm Smith Medal for his performance in the Grand Final against Collingwood, and add to the accolades, Black is a three-time club best and fairest (2001-02 and 2006, as well as a three-time All Australian (2001-02 and 2004). Not only was Black an elite contested ball winner, he was also a very handy runner.
I love my forward line, because I think it has the size and versatility to be a genuine unstoppable force. There are four players in this six that are well over 190 centimetres, but I'll explain why shortly. These six men have combined for 4,243 goals in their careers, and counting.
Let's start with the two small forwards, both of them former team mates. On a forward flank, I've named Another premiership Lion in Jason Akermanis, despite a controversial career, was a very gifted player and had the talent to win games in either the midfield or down forward. A three-time premiership star with Brisbane, as well as winning a Brownlow Medal in 2001, three All-Australians in the 21st Century (2001-02 and 2004), a second club best and fairest in 2005 after winning his first in 1999 and a leading goal kicker at both Brisbane (2004) and the Western Bulldogs (2009).
The other small forward I have named is in one of the pockets and is one of my favourite Bulldogs of all time. Brad Johnson was a player I couldn't leave out. Some may disagree, but his ability to play as a 182 centimetre full-forward in the latter end to his career was to be admired as before Rodney Eade came in, he was predominantly used as a midfielder/half-forward. Johnson was a leading goal-kicker at the Bulldogs in 2001, before winning four goal-kicking awards in a row from 2005-08, kicking 225 goals in those four seasons.
At half-forward I've named Matthew Richardson from the Tigers. I've named him on the flank because of his athleticism, pace for a big man and work-rate. In 2008, he was moved from centre-half forward to a wing, where he thrived, finishing in the top three in the Brownlow Medal that year as well as a spot in the All-Australian team. Richardson won Richmond's goalkicking award a staggering 13 times, with eight of those 13 seasons coming in the 21st century, taking the award from 2001-08.
At centre-half forward I've named Matthew Pavlich who is arguably Fremantle's greatest player in the club's history to date. He has kicked 700 goals from 353 games starting from the 2000 AFL season. Since his debut, he has won a stack of awards, winning six club best and fairests (2002, 2005-08 and 2011) an eight-time leading goal-kicker (2001, 2005-10 and 2012), a six-time All-Australian (2002-03 and 2005-09) and captain of Freo from 2007-15. Some may not know that Pavlich was an All-Australian full-back in 2002, when he was only 20 years of age and has spent time throughout his career in the midfield, so the versatility is there, but Pav is at his best down forward.
Lance Franklin is my tall forward in the other pocket, because his elite speed and agility has been a staple on his game since arriving to the AFL. He is most likely the next man to join an illustrious group of forwards to kick over 1000 career goals, currently sitting on 838 goals. Buddy's long line of achievements made it hard for him not to get picked. He's a two-time premiership player (2008 and 2013), a best and fairest winner at Hawthorn in their premiership year in 2008 and is the last forward to kick 100 goals in a season. He is also a three-time Coleman Medal winner (2008, 2011 and 2014), a six-time All-Australian (2008, 2010-12, 2014 and 2016) and a nine-time club leading goal kicker (2007-12 at Hawthorn and 2014-16 at Sydney).
Which leads me to my full-forward. It could've been a handful of guys It could've been Jonathan Brown, Nick Riewoldt, Warren Tredrea, Brendan Fevola, Barry Hall. It was none of them. I opted to go with Essendon's Matthew Lloyd, who was an absolute champion goal-kicker back in the early 2000s - when the Bombers were a force in the AFL. Lloyd is a three-time Coleman Medal winner (2000-01 and 2003) including two 100-goal seasons in Essendon's 2000 premiership season and 2001. Lloyd won three of his five All-Australian selections in the 21st century (2000-01 and 2003) and took home Essendon's leading goalkicking from 2000-05 and 2007-09 to add to the three times he won it in 1997-99.
The bench is not short of star talent either, with four premiership stars, three of those four being Brownlow Medallists. I've tried to aim for versatility here and not just four extra midfielders.
I've named Adam Goodes on here, and before everybody whinges about him, understand that despite all the flaws that he may or may not have, a prime Adam Goodes was a star for the Sydney Swans, and that he was extraordinarily versatile. He could play forward, he could play back he could play midfield and he could even play ruck. A two-time Brownlow Medallist (2003 and 2006), A four-time All-Australian (2003, 2006, 2009 and 2011), a three-time club best and fairest (2003, 2006 and 2011) and a three-time leading goalkicker (2009-11) speaks volumes of his talent, whether you love him or you don't.
Another valuable piece of Brisbane's premiership teams of 2001-03 finds himself on the bench in Michael Voss, who will be a part of the midfield rotations. Despite winning his Brownlow in the late 90s, Voss still has earned a ton of accolades in the 21st century, having won three club best and fairests, two AFLPA MVP's, was named in the All-Australian team three times - in all three of Brisbane's premiership years - and was voted best captain by the AFLPA from 2001-04. He was always hard at the ball and certainly led by example all the way until retirement in 2006.
I've also included another midfielder on the bench in the form of Adelaide's Mark Ricciuto, who was an absolute gun, all-round midfielder and another outstanding leader all throughout his career. Having won a flag with the Crows in 1998, Ricciuto added a Brownlow Medal in 2003, five All-Australians to the three he won in the 90s (2000 and 2002-05 - captain in 2004-05), two club best and fairests (2003-04), voted best captain by the AFLPA in 2005-06 and led the Crows in goals in the 2006 season.
The last spot goes to a man who played alongside Ricciuto in Adelaide's 1998 premiership team. Andrew McLeod could arguably be one of the greatest Adelaide players of all time. He was somebody who could play almost everywhere on the ground and excel with his task. In the four times he was selected as an All-Australian, he was selected as a half-forward in 2000, a midfielder in 2001 and a defender in 2006 and 2007 - being named captain in the 2007 team - such is his versatility. McLeod also added two club best and fairests (2001 and 2007) to the one he won in 1997 and was named AFLPA MVP in 2001.
Alex Docherty's Team Of The 21st Century
B: Dustin Fletcher (ESS), Matthew Scarlett (GEEL), Corey Enright (GEEL)
HB: Luke Hodge (HAW), Darren Glass (WCE), Nigel Lappin (BL)
C: Scott Pendlebury (COLL), Gary Ablett (GEEL/GCS), Simon Black (BL)
HF: Matthew Richardson (RICH), Matthew Pavlich (FREM), Jason Akermanis (BL/WB)
F: Brad Johnson (WB), Matthew Lloyd (ESS), Lance Franklin (HAW/SYD)
FOL: Dean Cox (WCE), Chris Judd (WCE/CARL), Sam Mitchell (HAW/WCE)
INT: Adam Goodes (SYD), Mark Ricciuto (ADEL), Michael Voss (BL), Andrew McLeod (ADEL)
There were so many players that were very stiff to miss out, so instead of listing each one out, I made a second team of players that probably would've been the next selected. I wonder how this side could go against the team I originally selected:
B: Chris Johnson (FITZ/BL), Alex Rance (RICH), Gavin Wanganeen (ESS/PORT)
HB: Simon Goodwin (ADEL), Justin Leppitsch (BL), Shaun Burgoyne (PORT/HAW)
C: Nathan Buckley (BB/COLL), Scott West (WB), Jimmy Bartel (GEEL)
HF: Brent Harvey (NM), Warren Tredrea (PORT), James Hird (ESS)
F: Stephen Milne (STK), Barry Hall (STK/SYD/WB), Eddie Betts (CARL/ADEL)
FOL: Aaron Sandilands (FREM), Patrick Dangerfield (ADEL/GEEL), Dane Swan (COLL)
INT: Nick Riewoldt (STK), Joel Selwood (GEEL), Lenny Hayes (STK), Steve Johnson (GEEL/GWS)