Lion Kings or Greatest Team Of All?

Whilst funnelling through YouTube during a cold, restless night recently, I happened upon some footage of one of my favourite Grand Finals; the 2002 playoff between the almighty Brisbane Lions outfit and the unheralded Collingwood side. Yes I’m a footy nerd and I know, I may have a problem. Of course it’s now history that the Lions held off the plucky Magpies on a cold, wet afternoon to make it the second of what would eventually be three flags in a row. It was, in my opinion, one of the great grand finals, tense and dramatic throughout, with many performances and plays that have since gone into legend. It was a nice reminder of how great that Brisbane side was.

With the recent success of Geelong (and non-success of Brisbane) it can sometimes be forgotten that these Lions were considered the greatest side of the modern era, and possibly the best ever. Since then the Cats have gone on to also win 3 premierships, establishing a record over a five year period that would challenge any team from any era. So in the interest of stirring up Cats and Lions supporters alike, my question is: who is the better team?

While it’s usually difficult to compare different teams from different eras, considering the relatively recent dominance of the clubs involved the points for and against shouldn’t be completely irrelevant. First of all I would like to state my appreciation of those great Brisbane sides. Emerging at a time when footy was starting to get ugly, the Lions stood out like a beacon of quality and, to borrow a line from their hypothetical opponents, played the game as it should be played.

In many ways they were the perfect team on paper. Anchored by a star studded midfield, they had champions on every line. And with Lynch and Brown up forward, Keating and Voss on the ball and Mal Michael, the Scott twins, Johnson and Leppitsch in the back half, they also had brutes all over the ground. Truly a physical and intimidating side that combined with its skill and game plan became one of the great outfits. And denying both Essendon and Collingwood premierships gives them extra points as well!

The Cats of more recent times meanwhile have, according to most pundits, usurped the Lions in both quality and achievement. If the Lions emerged when the game was getting ugly, the Cats came about when it resembled the Elephant Man. After years of dour, defensive, snooze-worthy football from the likes of Sydney, Adelaide and even Geelong, Mark Thompson finally let the Cats out of the bag in 2007, and we’re all the better for it.

The boys from Kardinia Park have since taken all before them, winning 3 premierships as well as the hearts and minds of the football loving public. Playing in the traditional Geelong style, the Cats have also had a champion midfield, being backed up by mercurial forwards and a miserly, yet attacking defence.

The midfield battle is interesting as both teams have Brownlow medalists and super ruckmen. I will call the ruck a tie as I can’t separate Keating and Ottens. Two giants who didn’t care much for the regular season but would invariably deliver when they had to at the business end. Voss, Black, Lappin and Akermanis vs Ablett, Bartel, Selwood and Ling is similarly hard to call. If it were purely 4 on 4 I would probably go with the Lions but throw in Chapman, Corey, Kelly and the like and I think Geelong wins for depth.

Down back and up forward it’s nearly impossible to pick a winner. The Lions have better tall forwards but the Cats have better smalls. In the back line I would say it’s the opposite, with Geelong having slightly better tall defenders but Brisbane’s small to mid size players appearing superior. Brisbane the more physical and aggressive team would throw their weight around and try to unsettle the Cats, while Geelong, slightly better skilled and more mercurial, would be too hard to stop when the ball is in their possession.

Not even Brisbane at its peak moved the ball like the Cats did. Brisbane supporters would point out that the Cats are yet to achieve consecutive premierships, let alone three in a row. However it could also be argued that Geelong has defeated better quality opposition during their years at the top. So with Chris Scott in the unfamiliar position of coaching against himself, I have to lean towards the Cats with a slight advantage of depth and speed. Just as long as Mooney or Hawkins aren’t attempting a game winner after the siren, it’s Geelong for me.


  1. Andrew Else says

    Lions for mine.

    If you were a forward pocket, would you rather be standing next to… Chris Johnson or one of the Scott boys….or Josh Hunt/Andrew Mackie…?

    And up forward…Lynch/Brown over Mooney, Pods, Hawkins etc

    Having said that, I think you’re overrating Keating a bit. Ottens is a class above.

    Agree also that the Cats had more midfield depth (Corey, Kelly over Shaun Hart etc)

    Cats win the midfield, Lions win everywhere else.

  2. Phil Hill says

    I think that Geelong were the greatest fundamentally flawed team of all time. A failed ruckman at full forward; goodness me One of my Laws of Footy is Ruckman at full forward you are being thrashed. No sign of a Brown, Lynch or Bradshaw(compare him to Pods) but this Geelong side were one of a kind.

  3. Michael Parker says

    Completely agree on the backs. Scott boys and Johnson easy. However I think Scarlett, Milburn, Taylor etc just shade Michael, Lepptisch and co in the tall defenders department. So about even down back I would say. And probably the Lions did have a better forward line. Very hard to seperate two very great and entertaining teams

  4. Graeme Rule says

    Having watched the threepeat many times I would say that Keating’s huge centre knock outs were exceptional. Black meanwhile had some 43 possessions and actions in the game he dominated. Three Charlies in the one line up also showed the class of the Lions talent scouts and coaching team. Yes, most fans have been pleased that Geelong have thrown off the handbag tag, if they win this year I will concede thay are a better act than the Lethal Lions.

  5. Both wonderful teams. Geelong have managed their successes without salary cap concessions.

  6. Port Adelaide beat Brisbane in a grand final, and Geelong beat Port Adelaide in a grand final, meaning Geelong are clearly the superior side.

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