One of the most remarkable AFL seasons of all time ended in fairy-tale fashion for Richmond on September 30 as they ended a 37-year Premiership drought. The Tigers finished 13th the previous season and were tipped to struggle this time around, but they turned things around in style and the brilliance of Jack Riewolt, Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin drove them to an unlikely triumph. There were many examples of individual excellence throughout the season, but some stood out above all the rest and we have counted down the top five:
Adelaide played the most attractive football of any team over the course of the season and were rewarded with only their second ever McClelland Trophy as minor premiers. They flopped in the Grand Final as they were upset by underdogs Richmond, but they were magnificent throughout the campaign, particularly in finals victories over Greater Western Sydney and Geelong. The Crows had a record eight All-Australian nominees and chief among them was Sloane, their leading light throughout the season. He was the best player in the league as Adelaide remained undefeated in the first six rounds, but he faded when rivals began to heavily tag him. His performances dipped, but he battled back courageously and finished the season in strong form. Adelaide have a young and improving team and a fantastic leader in Sloane, so it is no surprise to see them named as favourites in the AFL odds to win the Premiership next season.
Franklin won the Coleman Medal for the fourth time in his career after kicking a stunning 10 goals to overtake Josh Kennedy in the final round. It took his total for the season to 69 and cemented his status as the best forward in the league. He became one of only nine players in history to score 50 or more goals in 10 separate seasons and climbed into the list of the top 10 goal scorers of all time. He was subdued in the semi-final defeat at the hands of Geelong, but enjoyed a magnificent season overall.
This was Kelly’s breakout season and he gave Greater Western Sydney a much-needed shot in the arm when he re-signed on a two-year contract last month. He was in high demand after wowing fans with a series of top notch performances and a number of teams in Victoria were circling for his signature, but he decided to turn down several lucrative offers and continue his development with the Giants, saying he loves the club and being a part of what they are trying to build. That will be music to the ears of the GSW fans as he was their star man in 2017. He put in a commanding performance to lead the team to a famous semi-final victory over West Coast, with 33 disposals, and dazzled throughout the season. The silky left-footer is just 22 years of age and the only way is up, which is a terrifying prospect for his opponents.
Dangerfield was bidding to become the first player to win back-to-back Brownlow Medals and was neck-and-neck with Martin going into round 19, but he was suspended for a dangerous tackle that left Carlton’s Matthew Kreuzer concussed. Teammates praised his selfless commitment to the team’s cause, but it left him ineligible for the Brownlow. Yet he still enjoyed another superb season, starting strong and improving as it went on. He revelled in the role of deep forward and was in devastating form after the bye, regularly dragging his team over the line with his individual brilliance. He then ramped it up again after his week 20 suspension to inspire Geelong to a second placed finish. However, they bowed out in the preliminary final stage for a second year running as even the titanic presence of Dangerfield could not save them.
The power, skill and poise under pressure displayed by Martin throughout the season was simply a joy to behold. He was the driving force behind Richmond’s unlikely Premiership win, performing to a ridiculously high standard week in, week out. He beat Dangerfield comfortably to win the Leigh Matthews trophy after being voted by his peers as the standout player of the season, and then became the first player in history to win the Brownlow and the Premiership in the same week. It all capped a marvellous season for Martin, as records toppled in his wake. He recorded 15 clearances in round 3 against West Coast, a club record, and in round 15 he set an AFL record with eight broken tackles in a commanding performance against Port Adelaide. He became the first ever player to win back-to-back Player of the Month awards when he seized the honour in June and July, and was devastating towards the end of the season.
He won the AFL Coaches Association’s Champion Player of the Year award by securing a record number of votes, and he also broke a record for receiving the most Brownlow votes in history. Martin received the Jack Dyer Medal for a second straight season and won the Gary Ayres Medal and the Norm Smith Medal to complete an unprecedented awards streak.
Matthews himself called it the greatest ever individual season the AFL has ever seen and it is hard to argue with that. Martin has just signed a seven-year contract tying him to Richmond until 2024 and that should mean that Richmond will be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.
Martin Green is an experienced sports writer and has covered the AFL for many years.