It’s that time of the year once again where the league’s best and brightest are rewarded for their excellent season with a guernsey in the All-Australian side. Achieving All-Australian status is a landmark occasion for many players, with the recognition instilling a sense of confidence that can transform them from consistent contributors to out and out stars. The squad of 40 will be reducing to a starting 22 on Tuesday night as the star-studded selection panel make the incredibly tough decision. Former premiership captains, Coleman Medallists and AFL MVPs are joined by Gillon McLachlan and Mark Evans as the men in charge.
There’s a wealth of experience at the helm and their knowledge of the squad as well as the attention they’ve paid to the 2015 season will allow a tremendous team to be chosen. Before the real group is announced, I’ve taken a punt at my own side and will explain each position and the unlucky few that miss out.
Rory Laird (24.4 disposals, 5.8 marks, 2.5 tackles, 3.4 rebound 50s)
He was the unsung hero in the Crows defence this year, having a breakout season and providing the perfect linkup option for some of the less mobile defenders. Laird was such a reliable player who could routinely switch from a lockdown job to the quarterback role. His disposal efficiency was quite admirable, going at almost 80% and ranking eighth in the league for effective disposals. Laird might not have the star power that many others boast in the squad, but you won’t find a better genuine small defender this year.
Michael Hurley (21.3 disposals, 6.9 marks, 5.6 rebound 50s, 5.4 one percenters)
Essendon’s rock in defence stood tall despite his team having a very disappointing season. Like an anti-Samson he seemed to play even better once he chopped off the unique locks for charity. Playing on some of the most dangerous and hulking key forwards, Hurley was superb and prevented the Bombers from being embarrassed on a regular occasion.
Jeremy McGovern (5.6 marks, 82.9% disposal efficiency, 6.2 one percenters)
In a defence that was torn apart by injury after injury, one man has held up against the massive pressure and that man is Jeremy McGovern. One of the most improved players in 2015, he has been incredibly consistent in a team that may very well be premiers. With Mitch Brown and Eric Mackenzie going down early in the season, it’s been up to McGovern and the Eagles’ makeshift backline to deter the opposition forwards. His intercept marking and dour one on one defending has been a highlight and he deserves to be rewarded.
Heath Shaw (23.5 disposals, 6.6 marks, 7.4 rebound 50s)
The Kevin Sheedy Medallist certainly earned his plaudits with a brilliant season in a relatively young Giants defence. Shaw was the glue that held the GWS backline together, taking charge and providing important rebounding ability and a get out option for his inexperienced teammates. Statistically it was his best year ever which at 29 years old is quite amazing and he would have to be a lock in the final 22. He topped the AFL in kicks, bounces and rebound 50s, displaying his worth in a side that craves leadership.
Alex Rance (17.4 disposals, 5.9 marks, 3 tackles, 8.8 one percenters)
Arguably the best key defender since Matthew Scarlett, it’s amazing to think Alex Rance was considering hanging up the boots part way through this season. For Richmond’s sake, it’s been an excellent decision to play on as he looks set to secure a second All-Australian jumper. Rance has been such a difficult opponent in 2015, combining his athleticism and footy smarts to dominate many matches. He was rarely beaten this season and it’s a testament to his ability that he was routinely considered Richmond’s best player each week despite playing in defence.
Bob Murphy (22.4 disposals, 4.6 marks, 4.1 rebound 50s)
The captain of the year was a regular in my team of the week and at the ripe old age of 33 should cap off a brilliant 2015 with a nod in the All-Australian defence. He was inspirational in his first year as the Dogs skipper, revitalizing his young squad and leading them into the top eight. Across half back he was lightning quick and elite by foot, utilizing his experience to foster the development of teammates like Jason Johannisen and Easton Wood.
Todd Goldstein (14.8 disposals, 4.2 marks, 3.6 clearances, 44.2 hitouts)
They say that big men take longer to come on in football, but Todd Goldstein was definitely worth the wait. A genuine Brownlow contender, he was sublime as North Melbourne’s most important player and overall clearance specialist. No other ruckman had the presence and impact that Goldstein possessed in 2015. There were a number of standout performances but none better than his record breaking 80 hitouts against the Giants in round 12.
Patrick Dangerfield (26.8 disposals, 5.5 tackles, 21 goals, 5 inside 50s, 7.2 clearances)
If he’s Geelong bound then Patrick Dangerfield gave it his all for the Crows on the way out. An incredibly consistent player, it could be argued that 2015 was when he reached the peak of his powers. An emotion-charged second half of the season saw him solidify his A-grade status and helped Adelaide ride a wave of momentum into finals.
Sam Mitchell (30.9 disposals, 4 marks, 3.9 tackles, 5.4 clearances)
The former Hawks captain has had another stellar year as his side attempts the magical three-peat to launch themselves into football history. His ability to find space in the contest is rivaled by few and in a champion side he manages to stand out in many games. Mitchell ranked first in effective disposals, second in uncontested possessions and ninth in kicks, showing how damaging he can be with the ball in his hands.
Dan Hannebery (30 disposals, 5.1 tackles, 4.7 inside 50s, 4.5 clearances, 15 goals)
Sydney’s star midfielder was Mr. Consistent in 2015, finishing with 14 games above 30 disposals. At 24, Hannebery has reached the point in his career where midfielders gain that extra shred of maturity and confidence in their own ability and this was on display for much of the year. Fourth for inside 50s and 10th in contested possessions, he was the perfectly balanced ball winner who can also break away from the pack and set up the forwards.
Josh P Kennedy (30.5 disposals, 6.2 tackles, 7.5 clearances)
Dan Hannebery’s partner in crime arguably had a superior season and continues to be a clearance and stoppage machine. JPK’s strength at the stoppages in far and away the best in the league and he complimented Hanners perfectly in 2015. There’s not many players who are untaggable but Kennedy might just fit the mold. He ranked first in contested possessions to the surprise of no one and despite a stacked midfield group he is a lock for the final team.
Nat Fyfe (29 disposals, 4.2 tackles, 8.6 clearances, 4.4 inside 50s)
What can be said about Nat Fyfe that hasn’t already been said? If he was healthy for the full year we could have engraved his name into Charlie before finals even began. The best player in the competition had an unbelievable season and is now the prototype for the perfect AFL player. He is elite on the inside and damaging on the outside, his marking ability is superb and he can go forward if needed. As Freo vie for premiership glory, they desperately need their champion midfielder to continue his blistering form deep into September and hopefully early October.
Robbie Gray (26.3 disposals, 4.3 marks, 25 goals, 7.7 clearances)
Port’s disappointing season didn’t prevent Robbie Gray from playing at his absolute best. The mercurial midfielder/forward took charge in a deflated and under-performing side, having a superb season. He finished second in the AFL for goal assists and went at just over a goal a game. His clearance work supported the Power’s breakneck speed through the middle and he provided a point of difference up forward.
Taylor Walker (14.2 disposals, 7.4 marks, 59 goals)
The tragic loss of coach Phil Walsh would have emotionally crippled most captains, but Taylor Walker isn’t a normal player. His leadership was almost superhuman in the second half of the season as he lifted the spirits and passion of his team and was the perfect role model. Kicking 59 goals as a centre half forward he was the Crows’ main target inside 50 and his presence made Adelaide’s attack so much more dangerous.
Chad Wingard (19.2 disposals, 3.9 marks, 53 goals, 3.6 inside 50s)
Wingard’s mixture of midfield brilliance and forward 50 dominance made him one of the most exciting players to watch in 2015. He not only kicked a large amount of goals, he also set them up, ranking 13th in goal assists. Averaging 19.2 disposals and hitting the scoreboard 53 times, it’s encouraging how superb he was in a team that failed to make finals.
Eddie Betts (13.6 disposals, 63 goals, 2.4 marks inside 50)
The dynamic Crows favourite produced a masterclass in 2015, finishing with a career best 63 goals and providing a highlight reel that no one can match. His forward pressure and goal sense was a catalyst in Adelaide’s finals charge and he owned the pockets at most home games. Opposition defenders had few answers for his agility and tricks this season, with the only lowlight being his peformance in the semi final loss to Hawthorn.
Josh Kennedy (78 goals, 6.6 marks)
The premier key forward in the league topped the AFL goalkicking table for the first time in his career. He was mercurial for the Eagles as they finished second on the ladder and look to win their fourth grand final. Kennedy’s consistency was brilliant, kicking at least one goal in every game including bags of 10 and seven.
Jake Stringer (14.2 disposals, 3.5 marks, 56 goals)
If the 2012 AFL draft was redone, Stringer would definitely be taken higher than his original placing at pick five. His emergence this year coincided with the Bulldogs’ dramatic ascent into the top eight and saw Stringer become an incredibly exciting spectacle. As an undersized key forward come midfielder, he kicked 56 goals in dominating fashion.
Dustin Martin (26 disposals, 4.5 marks, 24 goals, 4.4 inside 50s)
The controversial Tiger midfielder had an excellent season as his team finished fifth before bowing out in the first week of finals once again. Adding an extra dimension to Richmond’s attack, he kicked 24 goals and racked up the footy with regularity.
Easton Wood (17.8 disposals, 7.0 marks, 1.6 contested marks, 3.6 intercept marks)
The intercept king and a man who took his game to the next level in 2015. A vital cog in the Bulldogs’ defence, he played a plethora of roles for Luke Beveridge. Whether he was the spare man in defence or manning up on a key forward, he was terrific all year.
Nic Naitanui (34 hitouts, 3.6 tackles, 4 clearances, 17 goals)
Being the second best ruckman in 2015 certainly wasn’t anything to be disappointed about, as Naitanui was sublime. He was so important to West Coast’s success, giving silver service to midfielders like Priddis, Shuey and Gaff. Kicking 17 goals as a ruckman was also quite impressive.
Andrew Gaff (29.7 disposals, 4.6 marks, 4.4 inside 50s)
Gaff took a big step in his development as a midfielder this year, playing a huge part in the Eagles’ dominance through the centre. He worked in tandem with Matt Priddis, providing outside run and linking up with the half forward line superbly.
Unlucky to miss
Jeremy Cameron, Matt Priddis, Matthew Boyd, Cyril Rioli, Dane Swan, David Mundy
B: Rory Laird, Michael Hurley, Jeremy McGovern
HB: Heath Shaw, Alex Rance, Bob Murphy
C: Dan Hannebery, Josh P Kennedy, Nat Fyfe
HF: Robbie Gray, Taylor Walker, Chad Wingard
F: Eddie Betts, Josh J Kennedy, Jake Stringer
Foll: Todd Goldstein, Patrick Dangerfield, Sam Mitchell
Int: Dustin Martin, Easton Wood, Nic Naitanui, Andrew Gaff