Robinson: The 20 greatest modern-day VFL-AFL footballers
It comes down to Ablett v Carey.
It's difficult to decide who was the better player, Gary Ablett Sr or Wayne Carey - at the same time, it has provided an amazingly joyful period of reflection.
To watch highlights of both players - and even some full games on Fox Footy's engrossing series of the best 50 games of the past 50 years - is to witness football being played in a far more pure form than today's over-coached era.
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Ablett and Carey were juggernauts.
Ablett gets the nod at No.1 because he was the most dynamic, explosive and breathtaking footballer I've seen play the game.
Carey might've been more consistent and had his own level of absolute dominance, but even he might tip his hat towards Ablett for what he was able to do on the field.
Ablett kicked 1031 goals from 258 games, but those numbers don't begin to describe him as a footballer.
He was a freak wingman/half-forward before becoming a permanent full-forward in 1993.
That year, he kicked 123 goals in 17 games.
He was 32.
The next season he kicked 129 goals and the following season 122 goals.
Arguably, Ablett was one of only two players in the history of the game who dragged fans through the gates simply because of the anticipation of seeing something special.
The other was Essendon great and AFL Legend John Coleman.
North Melbourne people would say the same about Carey, and St Kilda fans about Tony Lockett, and fans might flock to see Lance Franklin.
But Ablett was something else. Football is better for having both of them.
***ELIGIBILITY FOR TOP 20
Must have played the bulk of their footy in the national competition era, which started in 1987.
1 Gary Ablett Snr
Gazza is the best player I've seen play his entire career and just might be most dynamic player the game has ever seen. Buy the DVD called One Special Season (1993), or watch it on Youtube. What he did that season, kicking 123 goals in 17 games, was breathtaking. If not that, then watch his 1989 finals series, when he kicked three, seven, eight and nine goals across the four finals. In the air, on the ground, left and right, speed, agility and killer attitude all was bundled into Geelong's No.5.
2 Wayne Carey
It was Carey or Ablett at No.1 and you could easily argue Carey was more consistent than Ablett. But was Carey's best better than Ablett's? Nevertheless, he was a powerhouse., Carey, a swaggering, big-marking, long-kicking, inspirational powerhouse.
3 Tony Lockett
The game's all-time leading league goalkicker, who scared opponents with his size and strength - and then there was his want to hurt the opposition. It was a different environment back then and violence was expected. He was such a soft mark and beautiful caresser of the ball, yet possessed a brutality that few players have had.
4 Jason Dunstall
Lead, mark, goal. Repeat. Lead, mark, goal. That was Dunstall. It didn't make him boring, it made him reliable, predictable and the perfect full-forward. He kicked 1254 goals, many coming because of his ability to be a one-grabber on the lead. He had plenty of courage, too, with players jumping into him - from all directions.
5 Greg Williams
Named in the Team of the Century in 1996 in celebration of 100 years of the AFL and no one could deny his place in the team. It is said players can read the play, but this bloke was something else. He used handball as an attacking weapon, was a fabulously accurate kick left and right foot, and did it all when often he was the slowest player on the ground. He had a freak footy mind.
6 Gary Ablett Jnr
The Little Master
At one time when he was the best player in the competition, which he was for about seven years, it was asked if he was a better player than his dad. It was the highest of compliments. To think he achieved what he did when he was tagged every match. Phenomenal, disposal-winning midfielder.
7 Lance Franklin
Has there been a player of his size with the same athleticism and ability to kick goals on the run from 55m? If so, would love to meet him. Will finish with 1000-plus goals in an era when defences were flooded. A future Hall of Fame legend, surely.
8 Michael Voss
Tough, fearless, a three-time premiership captain. Wise football people say games are made up of moments and Voss was a moments player. Could play anywhere and, no matter where he played, it was underpinned by a fierce competitiveness.
9 James Hird
Similar to Voss, was a moments player, but Hird did it with a sublime sense of the moment. He floated around the ground and into contests and somehow was able to win the ball. When he did, the game seemed to slow around him. Big game player.
10 Chris Judd
When Judd was at his best at West Coast, it was electric football and devastating for opposition teams. When his groins packed in at the cross over to Carlton, he changed his game and became a contested ball winner. Could easily be a triple Brownlow Medallist.
11 Nathan Buckley
Didn't leave an inch of himself on the field across 280 games and just might be the most consistent elite player of his generation. Prolific ball-winner and his use got better with every season. Arguably Collingwood's greatest player.
12 Dustin Martin
Damaging midfielder who could be an 80-goal forward and is a player who gets maximum out of most of his possessions. He is a bull in the manner of Mark Ricciuto, but has the grace of Andrew McLeod. Two Normies speak of his big-game mentality.
13 Robert Harvey
Throughout the 1990s, Harvey rarely let his team down. People talk of toughness in terms of aggression but in Harvey there was a mental toughness few players possessed. He would break a tagger's spirit while racking up the disposals.
14 Andrew McLeod
Two-time Norm Smith Medal winner who toyed with opposition players. Seemingly couldn't be tackled as he swerved and darted out of defence and through the middle of the ground. He had a delightful and deadly right foot. Adelaide's best player.
15 Mark Ricciuto
Played for keeps and played at an astonishingly high level of consistency. Eight times All Australian - twice as captain - playing as a midfielder-forward. Crows people might argue he was even better than McLeod.
16 Stephen Kernahan
He rivals Big Nick (John Nicholls) as Carlton's most influential and inspirational player. Was captain at 22, played key forward and time and again was the matchwinner. The Blues loved him, hence he was named captain of their Team of the Century.
17 Luke Hodge
He might not have the attributes of others on this list, but some of them don't have the attributes of Luke Hodge. He was selfless and relentless, a warrior for the Hawks in the middle and across halfback. One of the great leaders of the past 30 years.
18 Adam Goodes
Played wing, full-forward, centre half-forward, ruck and midfield and his standing as a footballer was lost somewhat by the booing fiasco. Goodes was a champ when the game was changing.
19 Matthew Lloyd
Kicked 926 goals across 270 games and beat out Jonathan Brown, Matthew Richardson and Nick Riewoldt for this spot. Beautiful long kick, terrific pack mark and grew to be an aggressive combatant, hence the nickname 'the Velvet Sledgehammer'.
20 Stephen Silvagni
He took some beatings, but boy he held his own against the greatest array of full-forwards the sport has seen. Named in the AFL Team of the Century at fullback and could play forward as well. Athletic, strong and smart with the use of his body and arms.
Originally published as Robbo's 20 greatest modern-day footballers