AFL paper games – Premiers v Team of Champions

The ‘premiers’

Writing about Aaron Keating a couple of months back got me to thinking and researching. Had any player got near Keating’s interesting record of winning a premiership in just six career AFL games? Having scanned the first 20 or so years of the AFL (1990-2010) the answer is a fairly emphatic no. The closest anyone gets is Nathan Ablett with 34 AFL games under his belt. Presented below is the ‘premiers’ – the 22 retired AFL premiership players with the lowest number of career games, shoe-horned onto a team sheet:

Richard Hadley (66, 2003)*   David Hynes (86, 1994)*   Steven Armstrong (79, 2006)*

Shane Ellen (65, 1997-98)   Beau McDonald (91, 2001-02)  Shane Bond (91, 1994)*

James Thiessen (51, 1998)  Rick Olarenshaw (83, 1993)  Paul Hills (63, 1993)

Clay Sampson (65, 1997)  Ashley Hansen (78, 2006)  Matt Clape (87, 1995)

Brad Pearce (79, 1995)  Nathan Ablett (34, 2007)  Chad Rintoul (76, 1997)

Aaron Keating (6, 1997) Aaron Shattock (68, 2002*) Stuart Anderson (70, 1996)

Ben Marsh (55, 1998), Andrew Eccles (54, 1998), Adrian Whitehead (63, 1995)  Shannon Motlop (65, 1999)

*player not in position as selected in GF team

Some observations:

  • One third of the squad are Crows. Shane Ellen has the distinction of being the only player that was listed in the back six on grand final day (in 1998 anyway – in 1997 he played at full forward following Modra’s injury the week before) and one of two to have won two premierships.
  • The squad lacks defenders and ruck rovers. By contrast small forwards, ruckmen and wingmen are plentiful.
  • There is a lot of pain on this list – players of substantial ability whose careers were cut short by injury.

The ‘team of champions’

Conversely, here’s a crack at a team fielded from the other end of the spectrum – the 22 players that have played the most games without an AFL premiership. Again we will draw only from players that have played AFL (with pre-1990 VFL, SANFL and WAFL games included in the count). Ironically this team could probably walk in a premiership even if a bit overloaded with key forwards (six to be precise).

Matthew Pavlich (305*)  David Neitz (306) Richard Osborne (283)

Rohan Smith (300)  Paul Roos (356)  Andrew Bews (282)

Doug Hawkins (350)  Nathan Burke (323)  Matthew Richardson (282)

Stuart Maxfield (289)  Chris Grant (341)  Wayne Campbell (297)

Brad Johnson (364)  Tony Lockett (281)  Stewart Loewe (321)

Peter Everitt (291)  Robert Harvey (383) Scott West (324)

Lenny Hayes (290*) Peter Riccardi (288)  Tony Liberatore (283)  Nathan Buckley (280)

The pain on this list is of a different nature. Not surprisingly it is dominated by Bulldogs and Saints with six players each. They are the two teams over that stretch that had periods of sustained success without winning a flag.

Some questions for you to ponder:

  • Who else from any competition or time should be slotted into either of these teams? If they can fill a position, all the better.
  • Why are there so many Crows in the ‘premiers’ team? Malcolm Blight’s genius is my answer.
  • Why are there so few defenders in the ‘premiers’ team and to a lesser extent the ‘team of champions’?
  • Any names in either team stir great emotions / memories?
  • Despite my reservations about Ross Lyon, am I the only one that hopes Pav can remove himself from selection for the ‘team of champions’ before career’s end?

About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"


  1. Rabid Dog says

    Again shows that a champion team will beat a team of champions.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Skilton (Rover) and Flower (Wing) might get a run in the “Team of Champions”, although I was surprised that TBM only played 237 games (excl State games)

  3. Skip of Skipton says

    Pretty sure the names Ben Marsh, James Theissen and Andrew Eccles would never have entered my consciousness again if I didn’t read this article. Bad kicking is bad football, eh North Melbourne?

  4. Peter Fuller says

    While I had to confirm, I was confident that I knew the ultimate VFL example of the lucky premiership player. Bill James played a single game, in Richmond’s 1920 GF win. The “Fewest Completed Career Games Including a Premiership” players are listed in the AFL Record Season Guide p.782, with a range 1-16. Only four of the 27 players were more recent than 1950. Aaron Keating’s immediate predecessors were Bill Bennett (Carlton, 1968, 11 matches) and John Bingley (St. Kilda, 1966, 8 matches).
    There isn’t a corresponding list of the players with most matches without playing in a Premier team.
    I would expect that Bernard Whimpress would be across the SANFL details.

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    SANFL Bulldog Peter ‘Milky’ Vivian played 308 games without a flag

  6. Peter Fuller says

    VFL 300 game players who didn’t win a flag (excluded from your consideration by your focus on the AFL era):
    John Newman
    Len Thompson
    Paul Williams
    Stewart Loewe
    Ian Nankervis
    Barry Round
    Garry Dempsey
    Kevin Murray
    Bernie Quinlan
    A couple of those blokes could play a bit.

  7. Skip of Skipton says

    Paul Williams played in the Swans ’05 premiership. Gave him the record for most games played before winning a flag. Record now held by Shane Crawford.

  8. Peter Fuller says

    Thanks Skip for correcting that mistake; I’d run down the list and essentially left it to my memory of great length but considerable unreliability, with predictable results.

  9. Ralphie Sewer – 394 games in the SANFL mainly for the Woodpeckers. Went to Glenelg for 4 years 1981-84. He then went back to Woodville for another 7 seasons to 1990. Glenelg won the premiership in 85 and 86 as soon as Ralph left!!
    Was a rare player to have played across 4 decades; 1969 to 1990. A dynamic left footed small forward.

  10. Dave Brown says

    Nice work all. While we’re in SA, Stuart Palmer from South Adelaide played 337 games from 69-85. A utility – perfect for this topic.

    Swish – looking at TBM’s injury list you can see why – 4 broken noses, 3 broken wrists, 12 black eyes, snapped achilles tendon. Why he had so many noses and wrists is anyone’s guess. Add Milky’s 308 to Norwood’s Peter Vivian’s 140 games and you have 448 games across 30 years.

    Skip – James Thiessen is often seen at Norwood home games (Redlegs premiership player in 97), so pretty regularly and pleasantly in my mind. And yes, that game should have been over at half time.

    Peter F – thanks for the names, I knew there’d be the mother load of numbers people out there. Any idea where on the ground Bill James played? Stewie Loewe crept into the forward pocket on the team of champions.

    Peter B – Zip Zap – what a cracking player with incredibly poor timing. That he makes Blight’s best 22 is a reasonable testament.

  11. Skip of Skipton says

    Bill James is listed as being 165cm and 60kg. Kicked one of Richmonds seven goals that day.

  12. Peter Fuller says

    I didn’t know so consulted the authority Holmesby & Main, The Encyclopedia of VFL/AFL Footballers. It’s not error-free, but it is a serious research-based book.

    “A forward from Kyabram who came into the 1920 Grand Final team when star full-forward Bayliss was ill. James played in a flag team for Kyabram the same week. He kicked the goal that sealed the VFL flag, but never played again as during a shooting trip at Kyabram the following summer his companion’s gun shot him in the foot. An old pair of footy boots absorbed the impact.”
    He’s listed in that same source as 165 cm., 60 kgs, which I expect was sufficient to play either key forward post in 1920.

  13. Not sure how many ME Jones played at FF for Sturt but career was cut short in a game against the Vics when Matthews dealt with his knee.

    Another Sturt great was Malcolm Hill who would not have played that many as he lived and played in the riverland and jack Oatey used to bring him down for the finals in the early part of the Sturt dominance in the 60s.

  14. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says


    It wasn’t Leigh Matthews (his was B Robran), was there another Matthews?

  15. Dave Brown says

    Thanks for those Nank – thankfully Mr Internet knows everything.

    Malcolm ‘Emmy’ Jones played 58 games for Sturt and played in two premierships. Recruited from the Blacks too, apparently, which should excite some. A full forward that was a relatively early favourer of the drop punt.

    Malcolm Hill certainly could slot in to the premiers. 22 VFL games for one premeiership and 40 SANFL games for 3 premierships. A ruckman too, definitely an antecedent for Aaron Keating – love it!

  16. David- excellent research; thanks for this. Blight certainly produced something special in those two years. After the misery of 1996, the last season of the “Great Shark Hunter,” I thought that it would be a long wait until the Crows again played finals.

    Sport can be cruel and history shows that Ricky Ponting, amazing Test batsman, has an utterly miserable Ashes captaincy record. But he also won 5-0 against them too.

  17. Brent Renouf (Haw 2008)?

  18. Dave Brown says

    Thanks Mickey. I suppose the cruelty of sport is inextricably tied to its beauty.

    Rick – Renouf is still on Port Adelaide’s list, which removes him from consideration for the premiers. He is on 67 career games and has a season ending injury (Lobbe is the only fit ruckman on the Power’s list for the rest of the season). So he would qualify should he not add to his games tally before career’s end.

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