The 21st century has been described as the century of the elite midfielder. The likes of Michael Voss, Nathan Buckley, Mark Ricciuto, James Hird, Chris Judd and Gary Ablett represent the top bracket. However, that does not mean there haven’t been players that haven’t excelled in key positions either, the 21st century has seen some of the best players of all time like Matthew Scarlett and Adam Goodes. It is also important to note that there are four players from Brisbane and three from Geelong; this highlights the dominance of these two teams during the 2000’s.
Dustin Fletcher (Essendon): After making his debut in 1993 and playing on superstars such as Tony Lockett, Jason Dunstall and Stephen Kernahan, “the skinny red head”,to quote Kevin Sheedy, has evolved with the game and is still an important player in the Essendon line up in 2013. No longer used as a full back, Fletcher does the job as a third tall and his 60-metre drop punts are still seriously damaging.
Matthew Scarlett (Geelong): Some consider Scarlett to be the best full back of all time, and few have read the game better. He was rarely ever beaten in a one-on-one and was the rock in Geelong’s three premierships.
Corey Enright (Geelong): Enright has been underrated for years, taking players of all shapes and sizes and beating them. Whether it is Stephen Milne or David Hale he does what the team requires of him and still manages to provide rebound out of defence.
Luke Hodge (Hawthorn): Before injuries in the last few years, Hodge was an instrumental across half back for the Hawks. In 2008, the Hawks had the luxury of playing Hodge across half back and his ability to intercept mark and not allow opposition forwards a run at the ball was key to Hawthorn’s 2008 premiership win.
Simon Prestigiacomo (Collingwood): Never known for getting much of the ball, ‘Presti’ wore his opponents like a glove. He was the sort of player you could build a side around and know that week in week out he will get the job done.
Andrew McLeod (Adelaide): The dual Norm Smith Medallist is probably the best running half back of the 21st century and is considered one of the best Indigenous players the game has seen.
James Hird (Essendon): The former Essendon captain and pick number 79 in the 1990 national draft will go down as one of the best leaders and most reliable midfielders of all time. Hird had an unbelievable knack of winning games off his own back.
Nathan Buckley (Collingwood) (vice captain): The face of the biggest club in the country, Buckley was a brilliant player on the field and a textbook role model off field. The powerful midfielder was traded to Collingwood by the Brisbane Bears in 1994 and played 280 games.
Chris Judd (West Coast/Carlton): At his best, people were wondering if he was the best midfielder of all time. At West Coast he was an explosive outside midfielder who could kick goals. Since moving to Carlton he has reshaped himself into more of an inside midfielder, and there have been few better. Judd has won every award in the book including the 2005 premiership, All Australian captaincy, an AFLPA MVP, five best and fairests and of course two Brownlow Medals.
Adam Goodes (Sydney): 331 games in and still hasn’t lost his speed or strength. A dual premiership player and dual Brownlow Medallist, as far as careers go you can’t ask for much more from a career. Goodes was a genuine utility able to play in every position from ruck, midfield, forward or back.
Jonathan Brown (Brisbane): This team has plenty of players you wouldn’t want to anger, but the king of them is Jonathan Brown. Brown reached his peak between 2005 and 2009 and some wondered whether he was better than Carey.
Mark Ricciuto (Adelaide): The 2003 Brownlow Medalist and former Adelaide captain was one of the best bullocking midfielders of his era. He was an eight-time All Australian showing his consistency throughout his career.
Jason Akermanis (Brisbane/Western Bulldogs): With all his off-field drama people underrate just how good of a player he was. Akermanis was a freak of nature and was capable of just about anything, winning three premierships and a Brownlow Medal. Skills wise, the only player of the last ten years who comes close to him is Steve Johnson.
Matthew Lloyd (Essendon): If it wasn’t for injury the former Essendon captain probably could have made it to 300 games and 1000 goals, such was the career he had. Lloyd kicked over 100 goals in 2000 and 2001 and made most defenders look ordinary.
Brent Harvey (North Melbourne): The best goal sneak of his generation, never has a player craved a goal more than Harvey. ‘Boomer’ recently chalked up 350 games and is still the number one tagged player at North Melbourne.
Dean Cox (West Coast): The prototype of the modern ruckman, the six-time All Australian is known for his ability to rack up disposals as well as kick goals up forward kicking 159 in his 264 game career.
Gary Ablett (Geelong/Gold Coast): Arguably the greatest midfielder of all time. Ablett is the inaugural captain of the Gold Coast Suns and two time premiership player with Geelong. The bald genius consistently gathers over 30 disposals and is more than capable of winning games off his own boot.
Michael Voss (Brisbane) (captain): Captain of the Brisbane Lions side that won three consecutive premierships, Voss was another textbook midfielder who was impossible to tackle. Voss, with talented players such as Luke Power, Nigel Lappin, Simon Black and Akermanis around him commanded attention from other teams and even kicked seven goals in a game in 2004.
Ben Cousins (West Coast/Richmond): At one stage Cousins was described as the highest profile sportsman in Western Australia, the 2005 Brownlow Medallist and premiership player was unbelievably good at his best. He also played a vital teaching role at the Tigers helping the likes of Trent Cotchin and Brett Deledio develop.
Shane Crawford (Hawthorn): Known now as a TV personality, the 2008 premiership player and 1999 Brownlow Medallist played 305 games for Hawthorn, an endurance king in his day.
Matthew Pavlich (Fremantle): The Fremantle captain’s career can’t go unrewarded. Known as a forward but also a midfielder and defender, Pavlich is rated as one of the best players to don the purple guernsey.
Simon Black (Brisbane): The classy Lions midfielder is not out of place in this side. Black’s ability to put players in space with accurate handballs and precise kicking has been a hallmark of his game. Black dominated the competition from an early age and is one of the few in the bracket of elite midfielders to play through the entire 21st century thus far.
FB: Dustin Fletcher, Matthew Scarlett, Corey Enright
HB: Andrew McLeod, Simon Prestigiacomo, Luke Hodge
C: James Hird, Nathan Buckley, Chris Judd
HF: Mark Ricciuto, Jonathan Brown, Adam Goodes
FF: Jason Akermanis, Matthew Lloyd, Brent Harvey
Foll: Dean Cox, Gary Ablett, Michael Voss
Int: Ben Cousins, Shane Crawford, Matthew Pavlich, Simon Black