My Best Ever Geelong team – part 1

Something I do in my head from time to time is pick my best ever Geelong team, that is, the best team I can put together from all the players I’ve seen play during my life time, both live and on television. I did this again quite recently; last week in fact while I was swimming laps at the Fitzroy pool.

It has been both an exhilarating week for Geelong with the victory over the only other serious contender for the 2011 premiership and a very sad few days with the passing of everyone’s favourite Geelong person, the great Bob Davis. I read John Harms’ wonderful tribute and countless personal tributes on twitter and decided that as a special offering to Bobby I would publish my current best ever team and explain my choices. I was born in November 1969 so my team spans from the late 1970s to the current day.













I chose James Kelly as the small running back responsible for the clever small forward because he is supremely skilled, very disciplined and very tough. He is the second best tackler we’ve had in the last 40 years which probably makes him the second best tackler we’ve ever had*; remember his wonderful tackle on Goddard in the 2009 GF. Some might argue that Kelly is more of a midfielder than a defender and while this is true, he did slot in down back for the 2009 premiership season when Hunt went down in with a knee in the pre-season. Furthermore, Kelly is a much more complete player than his main rival for this position, Andrew Bews. I also considered Geelong legend and the club’s games record holder, Ian Nankervis, but I was too young for the first half of his career and followed the second half mostly on radio station 3GL. I didn’t see many games live in the 1970s and Geelong, being a middling side for much of that time didn’t feature all that much on The Big League (Channel 7) or The Winners (ABC).

*Max Rooke is the best tackler I’ve seen at Geelong and Jimmy Bartel rounds out the top three.

The fullback is obviously five-time All-Australian, Matthew Scarlett. Recently touted as the third best Geelong footballer of all time (behind Ablett Snr and Polly Farmer). He has also been called ‘the best fullback in the history of the game’ and hailed as someone ‘who has revolutionised the game’. Fullbacks cannot just punch the ball away anymore; because of Matthew Scarlett they are now expected to win the ball and set up goal scoring opportunities. I have also named Scarlett captain of my team despite him never being captain or even part of the leadership group. Scarlett’s leadership qualities transcend official obligations and responsibilities and it is only fitting that the revolutionary gets to claim the top post.

The other back pocket is fellow All-Australian, Darren Milburn. There is nothing exceptional about Milburn. He’s of medium height; not particularly fast. He’s a reliable kick, often trusted with kick out duties and accurate in front of goal, but not particularly elegant. He’s a strong mark but I cannot recall him ever taking a speccy. His gifts are more difficult to detect: he combines an innate ability to read the game with a ruthless competitive drive. He knows what the opposition wants to do with the ball even when they do not. He can win it back and move it on with a minimum of fuss but always knowing which option has the most potential to result in a Geelong goal. At 34 years of age he is approaching 300 games and is still an important part of our team.

Corey Enright is a must on one halfback-flank. He’s a country lad who does his best work in heavy traffic. Enright has wonderful balance, he rarely gets pushed off the ball or loses is feet. He’s a hard runner and has great skills. However, the quality I most admire about Enright is his courage. It is his job in the Geelong defense to cut across the opposition’s power forward and make the spoil. What is most impressive is his ability to get to the front of packs and actually mark the ball. His judgment of the fall of the ball – particularly the awkward tumbling punt – is second to none. Having thwarted the opposition’s attack, his spread on the counter-attack is creative and damaging. Corey Enright is the complete player and his selection in the last three All-Australian teams, reflect this.

Unlike Scarlett at fullback, it was much more difficult to choose the centre-halfback. In the end I chose 2010 All-Australian, Harry Taylor, even though he is yet to play 100 games for the club. I chose Taylor because he is the most complete centre-halfback I have seen at Geelong. In the 1970s Jumping Jack Hawkins (father of Tom) thrilled us with his high leaping and spectacular marking, but like Nankervis, I didn’t see enough of him to give him the nod. More recently, captains, Ben Graham and Tom Harley have been wonderful servants of the club, Graham with his long kicking and Harley with his ability to float across packs and mark the opposition’s forward entries. Taylor combines these two strengths. Like Graham, he is a raking left-foot kick, although I’m yet to see him unload with a torpedo. And like Harley, Taylor has a great pair of hands; his height and reach probably make him a superior mark. Taylor’s performances in finals – most notably the qualifying final in 2008 and grand final in 2009, both against Nick Riewoldt – show a player who can perform on the highest stage. I just wish we had him, or someone like him to strengthen in the Malcolm Blight era.

Speaking of which, the other halfback-flank is filled by Ken Hinkley. The only one of the back six not currently playing at Geelong; although he played a significant role in our success as an assistant coach. Hinkley was a supremely talented player struggling to find consistency in a forward line dominated by Ablett, Stoneham and Brownless, so Blight moved him to defense and turned him into star. In 1992 he won the club best and fairest and finished second in the Brownlow. Hinkley could do everything. He could read the play as well as Milburn, but he could also run, jump, mark and kick with a rare elegance. He was one of the pioneers of the attacking half-back with opposition coaches sometimes setting a tag to curb his effectiveness; something rarely seen back in the early 90s. Strangely, Hinkley only played 121 games and seemed to retire prematurely at the end of 1995.


Brad Ottens is the ruckman; again a difficult choice. I remember Rod Blake (father of Mark) coming second in a Brownlow – and he lived in my hometown for a while when studying to be vet. Damien Bourke was tough and uncompromising, but also a very skillful tap ruckman, unfortunately, injuries curtailed his career. John Barnes played some wonderful final series and Stephen King won two best and fairest awards. However, I’ve chosen Ottens because he is the most complete ruckman I have seen play for Geelong. He is extremely strong and difficult to shift in a ruck contest, something that couldn’t be said of Blake or Barnes who both relied on their ability to jump. He is a very effective in and under player at stoppages where he is able to win his own ball and handball off to a runner. King was almost as good in this area, but Ottens is a much better mark, both contested and on the lead. This enables him to play forward where he is much more effective than any of the other nominated ruckmen.

Gary Ablett Jnr gets the nod as ruck rover: three time AFLPA Most Valuable Player, one Brownlow (twice runner-up) and two best and fairest awards. Ablett is a natural footballer; he can read the play, find the ball and burst from a pack with blistering speed. He can go forward and win matches off his own boot. He had 41 possessions and kicked four goals last week and scored a perfect 10 in the AFLCA Player of the Year award. Sadly he doesn’t play for us anymore. I say sadly because I think the Geelong Football Club nurtured a young man who had done poorly at school and only performed moderately well in junior football. The developmental role played by Mark Thompson in particular and the GFC as a whole was crucial in building the ‘marquee’ player we see today and I think one million dollars a year to play for the club that raised him and gave him the opportunity to play in premierships should enough.

Super tough, super courageous and super skilled, Gary Hocking is one of the fiercest competitors I have seen on a football field. With his shock of curly hair and a mouth like a ventriloquist’s doll, Buddha didn’t look like a classic footballer, but he was a supreme warrior. He was always in and under with his head over the ball, always emerging from packs and always leading the way. His performance in the 1994 preliminary final against North Melbourne was breathtaking. Carey was on fire, our defense was powerless to stop him, and North Melbourne were leading by 18 points at quarter time. Hocking simply decided that the only way to stop Carey was to make sure the ball didn’t get in his half of the ground and his second quarter stands out as one of the most determined and dominant efforts I’ve ever seen. He willed his team into the contest and Geelong responded by kicking seven goals to none for the quarter*. Hocking gave everything to the GFC and four best and fairest awards and half a dozen top-four Brownlow finishes reflect his quality.

*North hit back and Geelong finally won with a Gary Ablett Snr goal after the siren.

In choosing the centre line I have opted for players with inside and outside skills who can be rotated through the centre square rather than the traditional speedy wingmen. Joel Selwood is the centreman because ever since he arrived at Geelong he has been in the middle of everything. As tough and skillful as Hocking, Selwood can feel the play unfold a split second before everybody else, which allows him to hit packs at speed and charge away, breaking lines and opening up all sorts of scoring opportunities. To appreciate his genius, you need to go to a match and sit in the top tier of the grandstand behind the goal and just watch him. You won’t be disappointed and you won’t miss much of the game because like I said above, Selwood is always in the middle of the action. He has played 100 games, for 86 wins, two premierships; he has already made two All-Australian teams and won a best and fairest award. I have made Selwood the vice-captain of the side. He has only been stand-alone vice-captain for eight rounds, but already he is the best vice-captain we’ve ever had. I think CEO Brian Cook should already be working on a Kirribilli agreement so that Selwood can take over from Chris Scott in 15 years time.

On one wing I have opted for Brownlow medalist, Jimmy Bartel. Bartel can do everything. He can win contested ball, he can fly for pack marks against much taller opponents, he can kick long goals at critical times. One of the best players in the 2007 GF, he raised his game to another level in 2009 when forced to go on to a rampaging Lenny Hayes and managed to quell the influence of the St Kilda star. Bartel ended the game with 16 tackles and another premiership medallion. Bartel plays well in big games, more importantly, he steps up at critical moments in big games.

On the other wing is two-time best and fairest winner and two time All-Australian, Joel Corey. Corey is tall and strong and a fantastic gut runner. There is nothing remarkable about his game except for the fact that he just keeps getting the job done. I have lost count of the number of dominant last quarters he has played in crucial games. Like Macbeth, he has the ability to ‘doubly redouble… strokes upon the foe’ and carry the day. Witness his performance in the 2009 GF where he had 29 disposals and 6 tackles. Witness his last quarter last week against Collingwood where he had 11 possessions and a number of crucial clearances. Unlike Macbeth, Joel Corey is fiercely loyal and extremely team orientated.

* Part 2 tomorrow


  1. I’d probably have a Nankervis ahead of Harley – Ian or Bruce. Probably Ian. And David Clarke ahead of Mooney.

    Great side though – love the half forward line.

  2. lscacciante says

    I don’t think I saw the best of Bruce, my dad says he was a gun before he broke a bone in his neck in ’78. Clarke probably deserves a spot.

  3. Iscacciante,

    You should not post articles like this one.

    I am looking at like a hungry dog outside a butchers shop window.

    How will I be able to think of anything else.

    (First emergency M Rooke)

  4. Steve Castieau says

    I’d have Michael Turner on a wing

  5. lscacciante says

    I would have loved to fit Rooke in and Turner was my favourite player as a kid – I wore the number 9 on my back. The problem is who do you leave out Bartel, Corey, Riccardi?

  6. Mark Doyle says

    I disagree that Stoneham, Brownless, Riccardi, Ling and Harley are in a best Geelong team of the last 30 odd years. These exercises are always subjective and interesting. In my opinion, Gary Ablett snr. is the best full forward. Cameron Mooney is a better centre half forward than Barry Stoneham. Mark Bos is at least the equal of Hinkley, Milburn and Enright. Gary Malarkey was an excellent full back and would make a fantastic back line with Matthew Scarlett. In my 50 odd years of supporting and watching Geelong, the best players have been for each decade: the 1960’s – Polly Farmer, Bill Goggin, Denis Marshall, Peter Walker and Doug Wade; the 1970’s – David Clarke snr., Sam Newman, Ian Nankervis and Bruce Nankervis; the 1980’s – Gary Malarkey, Mark Bos, Paul Couch and Gary Ablett snr.; 1990’s – Gary Ablett snr., Garry Hocking, Paul Couch, Mark Bairstow and Ken Hinkley; the 2000’s – Gary Ablett jnr., Matthew Scarlett, Joel Corey, Jimmy Bartel, Paul Chapman, Corey Enright and Steven King .
    I also believe that Mark Thompson is the best coach of the last 50 years and the equal with Reg Hickey as our best ever coach.

  7. Born in 63 so I start from 1970. – mine would look like this.
    I.Nankervis, Scarlett, Enright.
    Bos, Hawkins, Hinkley.
    Bartel, Sellwood, Turner.
    Clarke, Stoneham, S.Johnson.
    Chapman, Ablett snr, Newman.
    Rucks, Ottens, Ablett and Hocking.

    I/C Couch, Malarkey, Corey, Bright, Mooney, Rooke (co he’s Max Rooke)

  8. I lov’em all.

  9. Whilst he might not get a guernsey, I have a lot of good memories of Brad Sholl. In an age where it was too easy to score against the Catters, he took the game on with what might be described as a reckless disregard for the fragility of his contemporary defence. I reckon he would fit in nicely alongside the current batch who refuse to concede a point. The Indian rubber man

  10. Peter Flynn says

    J Hawkins is the most underrated Geelong player of the last 40 years.

    G Malarkey is stiff.

    It’s interesing to ask where G Williams fits in?

  11. Flynny,

    watch the Tomahawk tonight. He will do well around the ground in the ruck. I would rather him at Geelong now rather than at another club.

    I suppose Greg Williams belongs with that long list of Cats players who moved on and played in premierships with other clubs.

    On the original topic I am going to be very radical and put G Abblett senior at full forward and Billy misses out. He used to duck the head a bit in big games.

    Mooney to centre half forward and Barry Stoneham out with Max Rooke as the other half forward. Mooney is the best centre half forward we have hade in decades. When he came to the club aparently he broke into all the players lockers and ate their handbags.

    Michael Turner onto the bench

  12. twothousandandeight says


    Pity about Cyril’s tackle of Max Rooke in 2008 GF. Shook Rooke’s credibility. Stewie Dew put the knife into it. 1999 – Dermie put a serious dent into Gary snrs. credibility through comparison.

    2008. That’s what I’m talking about.

  13. Clearisghted says

    You rushed that reply through, twothousandandeight.

  14. twothousandandeight,

    Did Dermie ever talk about why the last passengers disembarked from the ferry trip around Hong Kong harbour while the Hawks were on an end of season terror binge in the mid seventies. It was a lot worse than Cooney’s Kowloon car surfing.

    What was in the sugar bowls at HFC in the golden era. That’s what nobody is talking about.

    Phantoms hear many things (Old Jungle Saying)

  15. Richard Naco says

    I love these exercises in subjectivity.

    Having now read both articles (in reverse order), I have no heart to evaluate this player over another but the one player I would make room for in my dream team would be Max Rooke.

    When I used to coach basketball (for 25 years, in 4 states), as well as the obvious talents I would always be very much on the look-out for what I thought of as catalyst players. These were players who might only produce acceptable atatistics themselves, but their mere presence would somehow significantly raise the playing levels of all those around them.

    Max Rooke was exactly this sort of player, and the spirit that he generated within the playing squad – far from the public & media gaze – has since been acknowledged by all other involved as an integral ingredient in the dawn of our current golden age.

    I also totally endorse your selection of Harry Taylor, as I think that despite being a different sort of free spirit to Max, he too is now more than a mere playing talent. “Q9” to some/ “Drill Bit” to his mates, it’s very easy to get wild about the wondrously unassuming Harry (itself a good old fashioned name for a pulp fiction hero) and our #7 has now assumed the role of my personal fave Cat with the retirement of #33.

  16. Blll Ryan, Geoff Ainsworth, Ken Newland ; are they off the radar? Let me check part 2!

  17. I couldn’t leave out Ian Nankervis, Sam Newman, Paul Couch & Mark Bosform the players I’ve seen since dgoing as a 5 year olde in 1972.

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