Lions, Cats, Hawks or Tigers? Ranking the four great AFL dynasties since 2000

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Is arguably Richmond's greatest era finally at an end? It's feeling increasingly like it, the Tigers set to miss finals for the first time in five years, a stalwart in David Astbury announcing his retirement on Tuesday, and perhaps others to follow.

For what it's worth, I'm not yet convinced it's all over. The Tigers have done it tougher than most teams this year with a catalogue of injuries to key players. Their older players are by and large still producing the goods, and the brand of football they play when at their best is still difficult for opponents to counter.

But let's, for the sake of the exercise, presume that this version of Richmond as a force is done and dusted. Just how great a legacy would it leave in a historical context?

It's a curious thing that in the post-2000 era, when the competition has been more even across the board than ever before, several teams have put together consecutive years of excellence and dominance.

Brisbane won a hat-trick of premierships from 2001-03 and played in four consecutive Grand Finals. Hawthorn repeated that feat between 2012-15, winning three, after having come within a kick of another Grand Final spot the year previously. And Geelong also won three flags and played in four Grand Finals over a five-year span.

Richmond's tally is three premierships and a preliminary final appearance across four years. Where does that leave the Tigers relative to the Lions, Hawks and Cats. Which of those eras has been the greatest?

I've decided to have a crack at ranking them 1-4, taking into account not just those obvious numbers cited, but home and away performances, finals records and the way in which their triumphs were achieved.

Of course it's subjective, but as another AFL dynasty perhaps draws to a close, an appropriate testament to the history written by each in such grand style.

1. Hawthorn (2011-2015)

Premierships: 3
Grand Finals: 4
Preliminary Finals: 5
Home and away record: 87-23 (79%)
Finals record: 12-4 (75%)

It's a tough call, but I think the Hawks had fractionally the best spell of this "big four".

It tends to be overlooked, but Hawthorn's 2011, when it fell just three points short of Collingwood in the preliminary final, was in fact behind only 2013 as its most consistent year of football, with 18 wins from 22 home and away games. In other words, they were within a goal of playing in five straight Grand Finals.

Also, while the Hawks' hat-trick of premierships from 2013-15 speaks for itself, there's an argument they actually played their most compelling football in 2012, when they were famously upset by underdog Sydney in an epic Grand Final.

They, in turn, won the 2014 flag against the Swans as an even bigger outsider. And in 2015, did it the hard way, losing a qualifying final before avenging that defeat against the same team in the big one. Both 2014 and 2015 were thumping Grand Final wins, and even 2013, won by 15 points against Fremantle, a more comfortable win than scores indicate.

A little less consistent across the regular season than the Cats, but the flag hat-trick, and a narrow Grand Final and preliminary final loss gets them a lot closer to at least a shot at five premierships than the other teams here.

2. Geelong (2007-2011)

Premierships: 3
Grand Finals: 4
Preliminary Finals: 5
Home and away record: 93-17 (84.5%)
Finals record: 12-3 (80%)

A close thing, but the Cats, of course, never managed two flags in a row, let alone a hat-trick. Like Hawthorn, funnily enough, they did arguably play their very best football in the year they were upset on Grand Final day in 2008 by ... guess who?

That said, the first premiership of this dynasty saw Geelong ply a game style perhaps the most devastatingly good and destructive of any of these teams during any of the seasons in question. The Cats not only won that 2007 decider against a hapless Port Adelaide by a record 119 points, two of their three finals wins that year came by triple-figure margins.

I'd also have Geelong ahead of Hawthorn's era purely for individual talent. Just ponder for a moment the roll call of out-and-out champions - Ablett, Bartel, Chapman, Corey, Enright, Johnson, Kelly, Scarlett and Selwood.

Geelong's consistency over its heyday was also better than its rivals in this exercise - 93 wins from 110 home and away games is a remarkable record. In the end, it's only an infamous slip-up on the biggest stage of all, after having won 23 of 24 games, and a preliminary final belting in 2010, which robs the Cats of the No. 1 spot in this bill.

3. Brisbane (2001-2004)

Premierships: 3
Grand Finals: 4
Preliminary Finals: 4
Home and away record: 64-23-1 (73.3%)
Finals record: 8-2 (80%)

How does a team which managed a premiership hat-trick be considered less imposing than one which didn't managed more than one flag in a row? Well, there's a couple of reasons.

One is the relative brevity of Brisbane's dominance, really only an average-to-good side until, memorably, the midway point of the 2001 season, then fading dramatically after finishing runner-up to Port Adelaide in 2004, the Lions finishing only 11th in 2005 and remaining outside the top eight for another three years after that.

The other is the fact the Lions, while dominant when it counted most, weren't consistently a "super team" over that journey, never finishing one of the four seasons in which it made a Grand Final on top of the ladder.

But, and it's a considerable one, purely for talent, I'd take the Lions No. 1 in this group of teams. Why? Well, the names Akermanis, Black, Brown, Lappin, Leppitsch, Lynch and Voss for starters. An effective "second string" group of stars good enough to be the showpieces of just about any rival. And a brutal, efficient style which swept opponents off the park.

Brisbane's 2003 flag, when it overcame a truckload of injuries to key players to emphatically reverse its qualifying final loss to Collingwood, will remain one of the greatest Grand Final performances. And had it not been forced to play a "home" preliminary final against Geelong in 2004, hampering its Grand Final preparation, just maybe they might have won four in a row.

4. Richmond (2017-2020)

Premierships: 3
Grand Finals: 3
Preliminary Finals: 4
Home and away record: 61-21-1 (74%)
Finals record: 10-2 (83.3%)

It seems like Tiger fans have had to spend much of these past four years justifying their team's right to rank alongside these other latter-day greats. Silly, really. Because their record doesn't lose much at all by comparison.

The main reason I have them behind the other contenders is purely only that they reached three, not four Grand Finals. For a 100 per cent strike rate, mind you. And again, like others in this list, their most complete year of football might have been 2018, in which they were infamously knocked over by Collingwood in a preliminary final.

The ticks? Their finals record over their particular era at 10-2 is the best strike rate of any of these four teams. Their home and away winning percentage is better than Brisbane (2001-04).

And none of their rivals here won the biggest games as consistently convincingly as did Richmond. Eight of those 10 finals victories were by 31 points or more, including the 2019 Grand Final win over GWS by a whopping 89 points.

Perhaps the real win here, though, is for team over individuals. You can argue the toss over Richmond's "superstar" class compared to the other sides (and I still think it was sold short) but the Tigers' system of manic pressure and forward movement was perhaps the most perfectly suited to the game (and particularly finals) of its time.

And a final note on Richmond. Remember the considerable "if" about this era actually being at an end. If normal transmission is resumed in 2022, the Tigers certainly won't be No.4 on this list.

*You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY.com.au