Round 24 is complete, and we are officially in the thick of retirement season.
There is no escaping it… it’s sad. If Lance Franklin can shed a tear as he farewells the SCG, then so can the rest of us.
His exit from the game, alongside Jack Riewoldt, Luke Shuey and Trent Cotchin, had me thinking: what is the best retirement class of all time?
I can’t answer that. Or, more accurately, it would take me too long to work it out.
But what I will give you is the best retirement classes of this century, ranked 24 to 1.
While I would have loved to compare players and come up with a list on a subjective whim, this would be doing a disservice to the stars you’re about to read about.
Instead, I developed a system to determine the rankings:
- Not all players who retired or were delisted were counted.
- Only players who achieved one of more of the following accolades were considered relevant to the ranking process:
– A Coleman Medal
– An All-Australian guernsey
– A club best and fairest award
– 200 or more games
- Premierships were not counted. Why? Because to determine the quality of any retirement class, it was first imperative to individualise each player as much as possible. Too many great players have never won flags, while many unheralded footballers have. Brownlow Medals are iconic, but reserved for midfielders these days. So they weren’t taken into account either.
- To assess a player’s quality rather than their pure CV, All-Australian gongs are the best measurement, followed by best and fairest awards and longevity. Nobody flukes an All-Australian spot. Example: Nick Riewoldt was All-Australian SIX times, won FIVE best and fairests… and played 200 games ONCE.
For his retirement year (2017), he collected 12 points (6-5-1). Had Riewoldt won a Coleman Medal, he would have picked up 13 points. By comparison, Mark Jamar was All-Australian once, never won a best and fairest or a Coleman Medal, and played 160 games. He collected one point for his retirement year (2016).
- One more example: Franklin was worth 14 points – eight for his All-Australians, four for his Coleman Medals, one for his 2008 Hawthorn best and fairest, and one for his career of well over 200 games.
Of course, there were unlucky players, but I had to draw the line somewhere. Craig McRae, Aaron Hamill and Phil Davis fit into this category. They were all very good players, but among the pantheon of 21st century greats they don’t shift the needle.
To determine my ranking order, I added up all the points for each year. There was only one tie, between the class of 2003 and the class of 2020. In this instance, 2020 had 16 players in the bracket, three more than 2020. So, the year 2000 got the nod on a countback, if only just.
This system is designed to reward quantity and quality in equal measure. Gary Ablett (15 points) equates to several players in other years. That’s about right, given Ablett is surely a walk-up Hall of Fame Legend in the future.
Please note: Players who retired twice, such as Luke Hodge, Brett Montgomery and Mal Michael were only counted when they retired for the last time.
Presenting the best retirement classes of the 21st century!
1. 2007 (99 total points)
No retirement class comes close to the 2007 edition. It was a smorgasbord of future Hall of Famers.
James Hird, Nathan Buckley and Mark Ricciuto are on the podium, but Anthony Koutoufides, Glenn Archer and Chris Grant are not far behind in overall status.
2007 was the year where the most players under the guidelines retired (28). Pretty awesome. This cohort also boasted James Clement, Byron Pickett, Luke Darcy, Scott Camporeale, Chris Scott and Chris Johnson.
Not bad, huh?
2. 2010 (85)
This was the year a trio of Adelaide greats all hung up the boots: Andrew McLeod, Tyson Edwards and Simon Goodwin. Between them, they won seven best and fairest awards and earned 10 All-Australian jumpers.
Ben Cousins, Warren Tredrea, Brett Kirk and Jason Akermanis weren’t too bad either; nor were former No.1 draft picks Travis Johnstone and Paul Hasleby.
3. 2008 (84)
The three best retirement classes this century came in a four-year block!
2008 was headlined by dual Brownlow Medallist Robert Harvey, with able help from Shane Crawford, seven-time Bulldogs B&F winner Scott West, and the great Fraser Gehrig.
Peter Bell, Nigel Lappin, Scott Burns and David Neitz were some of the other big names to call it quits.
4. 2017 (81)
When Nick Riewoldt, Steve Johnson, Sam Mitchell, Jobe Watson and Matt Priddis all leave the game at once, it is always going to leave a hole.
Geelong duo James Kelly and Andrew Mackie should also not be discounted for their influence as part of a dynasty, while Bob Murphy, Josh Gibson and Matthew Boyd were loyal servants for their respective clubs.
5. 2016 (73)
2016 doesn’t quite have the depth of the top four years on this list, but its top end is world class.
Dane Swan, Adam Cooney and Jimmy Bartel won Brownlow Medals; Matthew Pavlich was an All-Australian at either end of the ground; Brent Harvey is the games record holder; Corey Enright is probably in the AFL team of the 21st century. Plus Nick Malceski and Ted Richards were key planks at Sydney for more than a decade.
Oh, and Nick Dal Santo was pretty decent too.
6. 2002 (68)
Scott Cummings did not play 200 games, nor was he ever named All-Australian or won a best and fairest. But he won a Coleman Medal, which means he’s on this list.
Paul Salmon, Stewart Loewe, Tony Lockett (for the second time), Tony Liberatore, Paul Kelly and Andrew Dunkley are the best of the rest, though ageless duo John Blakey and Craig Bradley deserve a mention too.
7. 2022 (62)
This retirement class should still be fresh in your memory. Joel Selwood was the cream of the crop, but both Josh Kennedys, David Mundy and Robbie Gray were elite in their prime.
Dan Hannebery limped to the finish line (literally), but don’t forget how consistent he was between 2010 and 2016.
8. 2019 (60)
This was the year the core of Hawthorn’s dynasty called it quits.
Luke Hodge (then at Brisbane) and Jordan Lewis (at Melbourne) had departed, but they will always be remembered for their feats in brown and gold. Jarryd Roughead was the third.
This trio was joined in retirement by Alex Rance, Dale Thomas, Brett Deledio and Aaron Sandilands. It’s a really solid crop, this one.
9. 2009 (59)
Losing Matthew Lloyd and Scott Lucas in one fell swoop put a dent in Essendon’s forward line at the end of 2009, while Dean Solomon’s retirement officially drew the 2000 premiership era to an end.
Tom Harley, Peter Burgoyne and Adam Simpson also retired at the end of this season, while Stuart Dew said goodbye for the second (and final) time.
10. 2023 (57)
You could argue the top end of the 2023 class is as well-credentialed as any.
Between Lance Franklin, Luke Shuey, Shannon Hurn, Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt, Isaac Smith, Ben Cunnington, Jack Ziebell and Nic Naitanui, there are Hall of Fame candidates galore.
The fact Franklin is arguably the greatest player of the 21st century undoubtedly elevates this cohort even further.
11. 2006 (56)
The end of Brisbane’s era hit hard in 2006, with Michael Voss, Brad Scott and Justin Leppitsch retiring.
Port Adelaide premiership trio Adam Kingsley, Josh Francou and Gavin Wanganeen followed suit, as did Adelaide’s Ben Hart and Eagles duo Drew Banfield and Phil Matera.
A solid class, without being incredible.
12. 2014 (54)
One of the most underrated remarkable stats in footy is that Jonathan Brown was named in the All-Australian team just twice. But when he was on, he was the most damaging centre-half-forward in the game.
Nick Maxwell was a premiership captain, Lenny Hayes a much-loved Saint, and Dean Cox arguably the greatest rookie selection of all time.
13. 2015 (53)
2015 was a shallow intake, aside from Chris Judd and Adam Goodes – decent names, those two.
Brian Lake won a Norm Smith Medal, Kane Cornes played 300 games, and Dustin Fletcher is an all-time Essendon great. There’s Paul Chapman, too.
14. 2004 (47)
It’s no surprise Wayne Carey leads this cohort, followed by his not-so-close friend Anthony Stevens.
Alastair Lynch, Nigel Smart and Mark Mercuri also had great careers. 2004 was also the year Damien Hardwick’s underrated playing journey came to a close with a flag at Port Adelaide.
15. 2021 (46)
Aside from Eddie Betts, 2021 lacks the all-time greats of other years.
Yes, Marc Murphy, Grant Birchall, Bryce Gibbs, Easton Wood, Nathan Jones, and Shaun Burgoyne were fantastic footballers. But none of them were truly generational.
16. 2000 (44)
Lots of good solid players retired in 2000, but not much more than that.
Guy McKenna was a gun for West Coast in their 1992 and 1994 premierships; Scott Wynd won a Brownlow Medal as a ruckman at the Western Bulldogs, and Gavin Brown was terrific as a younger footballer before injuries took their toll. Michael Sexton deserves a nod here as well.
17. 2020 (43)
I’m surprised this cohort isn’t higher given it is led by the Little Master, Gary Ablett.
Jack Steven won four best and fairest awards at a weak St Kilda; Kade Simpson and Heath Shaw played forever; while Harry Taylor and James Frawley were important key position posts in premiership teams at their best. Dayne Beams was also a dual best and fairest at Collingwood and Brisbane.
18. 2003 (43)
I had no idea Mick Martyn was a dual best and fairest for North Melbourne until I began my research. By the time he retired (at Carlton), he was joined by teammate Andrew McKay, plus Leon Cameron, Peter Matera and another Blue in Brett Ratten.
Not a great class, but not terrible either.
19. 2013 (37)
Simon Black, Daniel Kerr, Steven Milne and Chad Cornes were all great players, but what defines this group of retirees is not ample awards, but their consistency.
How dependable was Joel Corey? And Andrew Embley? And what about Jude Bolton? This cohort doesn’t have the bells and whistles of some other retiring classes, but is excellent nonetheless.
20. 2001 (36)
The full-back of the century, Stephen Silvagni, called it quits at the end of 2001. So did mercurial forwards Darren Jarmen and Tony Modra, plus iconic Don Michael Long.
Garry Hocking and Dean Kemp deserve mentions too.
21. 2011 (35)
A spate of Geelong greats retired after their premiership in 2011. Cameron Ling, Cam Mooney, Brad Ottens and Darren Milburn said ciao to Cat-land, while Barry Hall and Brendan Fevola followed suit (the latter not by choice).
Daniel Bradshaw was a key plan of Brisbane’s three-peat and after a short spell at Sydney, retired with this crop as well.
22. 2012 (31)
The following year was similarly underwhelming from a retirement perspective (if there is such a thing, given we like our best players playing and not retiring!)
Chris Tarrant, Cameron Bruce and Lindsay Gilbee were the notable others to call it quits.
23. 2005 (28)
Shane Woewodin was never All-Australian, but he qualifies for this exercise because he won Melbourne’s best and fairest in his Brownlow year, and played exactly 200 games. His time at Collingwood came to an end in 2005, as did Martin Pike’s and Darryl White’s at the fading Brisbane Lions.
Corey McKernan, Wayne Campbell and Matthew Primus were more than solid servants.
24. 2018 (24)
Last and perhaps least is the 2018 retirement crop, which included just 11 players under the guidelines laid out above.
Cyril Rioli is probably the most decorated of this crew, followed by Brendon Goddard and Ryan Griffen. Jarrad Waite was great at his best, as were goalsneaks Mark LeCras and Lindsay Thomas.