Almanac Books: Champions All extract – Players on Players

Champions All

Champions All


Excerpt from Champions All – A History of AFL/VFL Football in the Players’ Own Words by Matt Zurbo, published by Echo Publishing.


Players on players 2010s


Heath Scotland on Luke Hodge: I look at Luke Hodge, who’s as old school as ever, he’s not going to show any pain. He’s not going to lay there for a bit, he’s going to get up and run it off. I admire that kind of character. That’s important in the great players. You don’t want to show any weakness. It’s the old boxer mentality.


Sean Dempster on Nick Riewoldt: His ability to outwork an opponent, to put his body on the line, go back with the fly, have no fear, is something that truly lifts the team. It’s been an absolute privilege to play with someone that’s going to go down as a legend of the game.


Matt Spangher on Isaac Smith: If I think hardness, I think Isaac Smith. I can’t even dream of being able to do what he does! To run so much, so hard, throwing his body on the line . . . People watching often miss that. They think of the biff . . .Isaac Smith is gut running and pain barriers. Izzy couldn’t be a better prototype player.


On Buddy Franklin: The thing that makes Buddy Franklin so great is his individual brilliance, that worked against team aspects sometimes. But overall, he is just a freak! 100 goals in a year, in modern football . . . incredible. Once he gets his momentum up he’s just impossible to stop! When he kicked that goal of the year, what was it, seven bounces along the wing, running away from Cale Hooker, kicking it from 50? I felt so sorry for Cale, he did the exact same thing I’d be doing!


On Sam Mitchell: I could not have more respect for anybody on an oval or off it, the way he goes about it, than Sam Mitchell . . . He’s not quick, he’s not tall, no leap. He’s just a footballer. What he does have, the things he’s worked so hard on, is great awareness.


Ben Johnson on Leon Davis: Leon Davis is the best small defender the game’s ever seen, I reckon. In one year. 2011. That man was a freak! When it came to the crunch he just did not lose one-on-ones! Not ever! And his kicking, it was amazing. He got dropped for the 2010 Grand Final replay. I mean, you’re never going to fully bounce back from that. The club took a gamble and budgeted accordingly, and he plays in defence and wins All-Australian. He wants what he’s worth and they don’t even offer him half that. So he goes. He was a freak of a player. He deserved better.


Kane Cornes on Chad Wingard: Chad Wingard is just a freak of nature, really. The marks, the goals, the way he runs . . . He’s as courageous a young player as I’ve ever seen.


On Ollie Wines: Another freak of nature. I think he’s had the best start to a career since Chris Judd. He’s going to be a scary player in two or three years’ time. Future Brownlow medallist, I reckon.


Sean Dempster on Zac Dawson: The paper, the telly, radio, I suppose a lot of fans, all they see is the stats. It seems to be all about that, not how you did on your opponent, what you provide, your ability to contribute; those things are rarely spoken about. That’s what he did really well. He’s not a big boy, but was playing on power forwards week in week out and getting the job done. The playing group were pumped with the way he was going about his football.


Ben Hudson on Dane Swan: He’s just a happy-go-lucky guy, relaxed in his own skin, very caring and passionate towards those in his own family. Played footy, was good at it, enjoyed it. He enjoyed life. If footy ends tomorrow for Swanny he’ll continue on and be happy, content, but I don’t think he’ll be too heavily involved in the footy side of it.


Nathan Foley on Ivan Maric: As a clubman, incredibly interested in everything that’s going on in everyone’s lives, like he’ll know what your brother’s name is. And then as a player, well, he’s so important, he’s just a workman that crashes and bashes and blocks the tag – he’ll be the first one to get in the way of a body.


On Jack Riewoldt: To win the Coleman twice, and go close pretty much every other year, is incredible . . . his ability to read the flight of the ball is phenomenal. Pre-Christmas, Jack and his girlfriend Carly organised a barbeque on the oval for everyone at the club – partners, kids, wives, you name it, an open invite. And got a jumping castle. Everyone sees the other stories, and sees him on The Footy Show, and knows he’s a prankster, but he’s a good bloke, a really good bloke. He gives a shit, yeah, that’s a perfect way of saying it.


Malcolm Blight on Leigh Matthews: Leigh Matthews was the best player I’ve seen. I said that when I retired. He said the same about me. He’s had 23 other best players since! (chuckles)


That’s footy, what happens. You remember the latest ones.



Champions All – A History of AFL/VFL Football in the Players’ Own Words by Matt Zurbo

Published by Echo Publishing


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You can purchase a copy online via this link. or at Angus & Robertson


  1. Some great insights here. I like what Sphanger says about Issac Smith – people don’t realise how hard it is to run like that all game, week in week out, year in year out – also nodding my head at what Ben Johnson says about Leon Davis in 2011: it was a phenomenal season, not just for his dash, run and carry but also because he went one-on-one with the best small forwards, was rarely beaten and more than often outmarked his opponents.
    PS Love the Neville Bruns interview in the book. Gripping stuff. Confirming that Lethal never apologised. Strange.

  2. Glad you liked it and yeah, I love the Bruns story, too. So honest. Came across as a ripper bloke.

  3. DBalassone says

    G’day Matt. Looks like the world is finally catching up with what you disclosed several years ago in your mighty book “Champions All” re the Bruns/Matthews incident. It’s hard to believe that 1) Lethal has never apologised for the incident, and that 2) the media haven’t picked up on this until now.

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