The selection of the AFL All-Australian team for 2023 has taken place – and it could possibly be the least disputed 22 chosen in recent years. With 12 new faces, the inclusion of popular captain Toby Greene from GWS, and a balanced representation of top and bottom teams, one standout being Nick Larkey’s exceptional 71-goal season despite North Melbourne’s three wins, there were only a few surprising choices and even fewer exclusions. The wingmen were finally recognized, with both Josh Daicos and Errol Gulden being named in their rightful positions. Let’s take a look at the winners and losers from the 2023 AFL All-Australian team.
Winners – Wingmen
A common critique of previous All-Australian teams has been the selectors’ tendency to place midfielders in the wing position without regard for their actual roles in their respective teams. For instance, in the 2022 team, Touk Miller and Callum Mills, who are primarily inside midfielders, were named on the wings, as well as Christian Petracca, who played as a half-forward throughout the season. The year before, Zach Merrett and Sam Walsh, both midfielders, occupied the wing positions, with Petracca and Marcus Bontempelli’s goal-scoring abilities securing their selection as half-forwards. However, in 2023, this trend changed. For the first time since 2018, when Andrew Gaff and Steele Sidebottom were selected, specialist wingmen were included in the team. In fact, not one but two wingmen broke through the glass ceiling this year. Josh Daicos and Errol Gulden had exceptional seasons for their teams, Collingwood and Sydney respectively, and their selection was not just based on their performance as wingers, but as two of the best midfielders in the game overall. Daicos, with 16 goals and an average of over 26 disposals per game, played a pivotal role on the outside for Collingwood. Gulden, on the other hand, topped the AFL in inside 50s with 143 and averaged nearly 27 disposals per match, including a season-best of 42 and two goals in Round 24 against Melbourne.
The 2023 season was a great one for the team captains: a remarkable six club captains were named in the All-Australian team, compared to four in the previous two years. Their selections were not controversial at all, considering the impact they had on their respective teams. Marcus Bontempelli, undoubtedly one of the best midfielders in the game, led the team as captain. Jordan Dawson and Zach Merrett played crucial roles in Adelaide and Essendon’s rise in the competition, while Darcy Moore and James Sicily were dominant intercept marking forces in defense. Additionally, Toby Greene’s 60 goals propelled GWS into an unexpected appearance in the finals. Although there could have been more captains selected, with Harris Andrews and Lachie Neale from Brisbane considered unlucky omissions, the presence of six captains made the decision of selecting a team captain more challenging than in previous years. This year, the role was not designated as a ‘legacy appointment,’ and Bontempelli, who was named the AFL Players Association MVP for the second time, was awarded the AFLPA’s Best Captain, while Greene received the top honor in the panel-voted team. Interestingly, this is the second time that Bontempelli has been named vice-captain, with Max Gawn, the captain of the 2021 premiership team, taking the captaincy in last year’s All-Australian team.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Taylor Walker’s selection in the 2023 All-Australian team is a testament to his exceptional season and remarkable career as a 33-year-old veteran. Walker had previously been considered for the team in 2012, 2015, 2017, and 2022, but narrowly missed out each time. It seemed unlikely that he would ever earn the prestigious blazer, especially considering his age. However, 2023 proved to be a career-defining year for the aging forward. He scored 76 goals, surpassing his previous personal best set back in 2012, and had an average of 3.45 goals per game, which was the highest in his career. He also had three standout games this season, scoring seven goals against Port Adelaide (and winning the Showdown Medal), and nine and ten goals in two games against West Coast. The latter almost saw him overtake Charlie Curnow for the Coleman Medal in the final days of the season. Walker’s selection is even more unique considering the large number of debutants in the team. Although he is the oldest among them, at 33, James Sicily being the next oldest at 28, there is no doubt that Walker has had an outstanding year and richly deserved this recognition.
In 2022, seven of the All-Australian 22 came from teams that did not qualify for the finals. This year, that number increased to nine, including the entire interchange bench. Only three teams, Gold Coast, Richmond, and wooden spooners West Coast, were not represented in the team of the year. This demonstrates the unprecedented level of competitiveness in the competition. One remarkable achievement was Nick Larkey’s inclusion in the team. Despite North Melbourne’s struggles, having only won three games and finishing just above West Coast at the bottom of the ladder, Larkey’s performance was exceptional. He scored 71 goals, averaging over three goals per game, and was a shining light for the team throughout the season. Twenty of those goals came in the final three weeks, including a haul of nine goals against Gold Coast in Round 24, solidifying his place in the All-Australian team. Larkey is the first North Melbourne player to make the team since Shaun Higgins in 2018 and the first to be included in the preliminary squad since 2019. Along with young gun Harry Sheezel, who won the AFL Rising Star Award, Larkey represents the promising future of North Melbourne. With these talented players leading the way, the Kangaroos have the potential to rise and compete in the finals in the coming years. This season’s awards night may not be the last time Larkey and Sheezel feature prominently.
Richmond (particularly Dusty)
Despite Richmond’s failure to make the finals, there was a late push for Dustin Martin to receive his fifth All-Australian blazer, acknowledging his spectacular form towards the end of the regular season. Playing both in the midfield and forward line, the triple Norm Smith Medallist scored 25 goals, averaging more than one per game, while also averaging 23.6 disposals, which increased to nearly 28 from Round 13 onwards. Martin’s exclusion from the team was one of the more controversial decisions, and former player and media pundit David King described it as a “blatant mistake” to not include the Tigers’ champion. King argued that Martin should be judged based on his performance in 2023 and not compared to his previous seasons. He believed that Martin’s outstanding performances as a half-forward this year were deserving of a place in the team. Richmond had already experienced disappointment in the All-Australian selection process, with star midfielder Tim Taranto controversially missing out on the 44-man squad despite his impressive first season at the club, averaging nearly 29 disposals and scoring 19 goals at Punt Road.
While it was a victory for the veteran player Taylor Walker to finally be selected in the All-Australian team, it was a rare triumph. Tom Liberatore and Jack Viney, two experienced players who had outstanding seasons, were controversially overlooked for the team. With Liberatore being 31 and Viney turning 30 in April next year, 2023 may have been their last opportunity to earn well-deserved blazers. Liberatore, considered one of the best clearance players in the AFL, averaged nearly eight clearances per game, the second-highest in the league after Lachie Neale, and had a career-high average of 27.33 disposals. Viney stepped up in the absence of Clayton Oliver, the star midfielder for Melbourne, averaging 25.6 disposals and more than six tackles per game. Both players showcased their skills and reaffirmed their status as tough competitors in the AFL. King, speaking on Fox Footy, questioned the exclusion of Liberatore in particular, highlighting his impact on games and his exceptional clearance ability. He expressed his disappointment that Liberatore’s style of play may not be favored by all the All-Australian selectors.
Darcy Moore, the captain of Collingwood, gave a cheeky response to Mark Howard from Fox Footy when asked about his post-football plans after being named at center-half back for the second time in his career. Moore initially joked about not being sure yet and analyzing his options before seizing the opportunity to get a laugh from the audience at Howard’s expense. He suggested that he might pursue a career in commentary and jokingly added that this would put Howard out of a job. Howard, however, had a swift comeback, suggesting that Moore was too educated to be a commentator and that he couldn’t afford the pay cut that would come with the job. This banter ended in a tie, with one point for Moore and one point for Howard.