Chris Judd announced his retirement on Tuesday and media and fans alike were quick to find a place where he ranks among the best footballers of his era.
I have decided to do a Top 10 list of the best AFL footballers that I have seen. Although I started watching football in 1993, I really started watching the game week-in, week-out in 1999 so I will only include players from that year until today.
Due to the criteria, players like Gary Ablett Snr, Jason Dunstall, Greg Williams and Tony Lockett miss out but due to the size of the list, eligible players such as Jonathan Brown, Anthony Koutoufides, Jimmy Bartel, Dane Swan and Matthew Pavlich unfortunately miss out.
This list will raise eyebrows but enjoy reading.
10. Steve Johnson – Geelong (2002-present)
Honours: AFL premiership (2007, 2009 and 2011), Norm Smith Medal (2007), Geelong leading goalkicker (2008 and 2010), All-Australian (2007-08 and 2010)
“Stevie J” has been the player that provides some X-factor in the Geelong forward line. Mark “Bomber” Thompson had Cameron Mooney and Brad Ottens as marking targets and Paul Chapman was a tough small, forward. Johnson was and still is the mercurial goalkicker who can make the hard things look easy.
9. James Hird – Essendon (1992-2007)
Honours: AFL premiership (1993 and 2000), Brownlow Medal (1996), Norm Smith Medal (2000), W.S. Crichton Medal (1994-96, 2003 and 2007), Anzac Day Medal (2000, 2003-04), All-Australian (1995-96, 2000-01, 2003)
“Hirdy” was a man for the big occasion as his Anzac Day Medals and Norm Smith Medal illustrate. The heart and soul of Essendon in the 1990s and 2000s, he was a superb half-forward flanker before finding more time in the midfield. Injuries possibly halted him back from being even more devastating.
8. Chris Judd – West Coast and Carlton (2002-15)
Games: 279 (134 with West Coast, 145 with Carlton)
Goals: 228 (138 with West Coast, 90 with Carlton)
Honours: AFL premiership (2006), Brownlow Medal (2004 and 2010), Norm Smith Medal (2005), All-Australian (2004, 2006, 2008-11), John Worsfold Medal (2004 and 2006), John Nicholls Medal (2008-10), Ross Glendinning Medal (2005 (twice), 2006)
“Juddy” was a ball magnet and a superb athlete. He had great strength, stamina and pace. Although he is highly-regarded by football fans and media, I found his style to be rather plain. He used his physical attributes to great effect, especially with his ability to weave through packs but there were players even in his era who were either tougher, more graceful or had more flair.
7. Adam Goodes – Sydney (1999-present)
Honours: AFL premiership (2005 and 2012), Brownlow Medal (2003, 2006), AFL Rising star (1999), Bob Skilton Medal (2003, 2006 and 2011), All-Australian (2003, 2006, 2009, 2011), Sydney leading goalkicker (2009-11)
Goodes has been a graceful mover around the ground, especially for someone of his height. A player who is comfortable as an on-baller and in the forward 50, his athleticism and agility have made Goodes a tough player to stop in full flight.
6. Luke Hodge - Hawthorn
Honours: AFL premiership (2008 and 2013-14), Norm Smith Medal (2008 and 2014), All-Australian (2005, 2008 and 2010), Peter Crimmins Medal (2005 and 2010)
A tenacious player but one with great skill and versatility, Hodge is a player that feels comfortable wherever he plays on the field. “Hodgey” can play as a ‘sweeper’ in defence, become a ball magnet in midfield as well as do the gritty stuff, and he can also chip-in with his share of goals.
5. Robert Harvey – St Kilda (1988-2008)
Honours: Brownlow Medal (1997-98), Trevor Barker Award (1992, 1994, 1997-98), All-Australian (1992, 1994-99, 2003)
These days, people are in awe of Gary Ablett Jnr getting more than 40 disposals a game. The game has changed in the millennium but in the 1990s, it was remarkable for someone to regularly get over 30 disposals a game. Robert Harvey used to do that. He was a ball magnet and he could run all day. Despite injuries, he still managed to play in the VFL/AFL for over 20 years.
4. Michael Voss – Brisbane Lions (1992-2006)
Honours: AFL premiership (2001-03), Brownlow Medal (1996), All-Australian (1996, 1999, 2001-03), Brisbane Best and Fairest (1995-96, 2000-01, 2003)
“Vossy” was tough, courageous and skilful. The captain of Brisbane during the Lions three-peat, he was a great leader and he was an outstanding performer in a midfield blessed with talent.
3. Jason Akermanis – Brisbane Lions and Western Bulldogs (1995-2010)
Games: 325 (248 with Brisbane, 77 with the Western Bulldogs)
Goals: 421 (307 with Brisbane, 114 with the Western Bulldogs)
Honours: AFL premiership (2001-03), Brownlow Medal (2001), Merrett-Murray Medal (1999 and 2005), All-Australian (1999, 2001-02, 2004), Brisbane leading goalkicker (2004), Western Bulldogs leading goalkicker (2009)
“Aker” was known for his colourful personality but he was a phenomenal footballer. He had big mouth but his talent was even bigger. A mercurial player, he did things most other players could dream of. Great with both feet, Akermanis could snap goals from anywhere and he could score from the most impossible of angles.
2. Wayne Carey – North Melbourne and Adelaide (1989-2004)
Games: 272 (244 with North Melbourne, 28 with Adelaide)
Goals: 727 (671 with North Melbourne, 67 with Adelaide)
Honours: AFL premiership (1996 and 1999), All-Australian (1993-96, 1998-2000), Syd Barker Medal (1992-93, 1996 and 1998), North Melbourne leading goalkicker (1995-96, 1998-2000)
Although he wasn’t as good as he was in the new millennium as he was in the 1990s, he was a genuine match-winner. North Melbourne had stars in its team but Carey was head and shoulders above the rest. He made marking and kicking goals look so easy even if he had defenders on him.
1. Gary Ablett Jnr – Geelong and Gold Coast (2002-present)
Games: 270 (192 with Geelong, 78 with Gold Coast)
Goals: 361 (262 with Geelong, 99 with Gold Coast)
Honours: AFL premiership (2007 and 2009), Brownlow Medal (2009 and 2013), All-Australian (2007-14), Geelong leading goalkicker (2006), Carji Greeves Medal (2007 and 2009), Gold Coast Club Champion Award (2011-13), Gold Coast leading goalscorer (2012 and 2013)
If this was a debate about who was the better Ablett, Gary Snr would get my vote. Gary Jnr is still an amazing player though and he has played well in a great team like Geelong and in a struggling team like Gold Coast. A great player at ground level, he can rack up at least 40 possessions in game effortlessly.