In celebration of the upcoming first round of AFL Football, I decided to rank the top 10 players to ever to wear no.1 on the back of their jumpers. I hope this raises debate about who should be on this list that didn’t get selected, but most of all, these are the players, I remember, who dominated no.1.
Without over complicating it, I ranked each player loosely based on a combination of four categories that I thought contributed to their individual legacies as AFL footballers, irrespective of the positions they played or the teams they played for. These categories ranged from premiership success and Grand Final appearances, personal accolades (Brownlow medal, best and fairest, All Australian), wow factor (significant moments or trademark styles that are basically unforgettable) and longevity.
With guys like Hayden Ballantyne, Phil Davis and Jesse Hogan all currently wearing the number, the list could eventually evolve but for romanticism’s sake I took a dive into the past. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Andrew Walker: After being handed the jumper of Blues legend Stephen Silvagni in 2004, Walker emerged as a half-back running tagger in 2006 and then really revealed his potential when he became a run-and-carry midfielder in 2007. Walker looked to me like he could take over the game but was eventually chopped down with a nagging shoulder injury. He returned in ’11 as a forward, impressively booting 56 goals and showing the blues and the Footy world he wasn’t done yet, which I absolutely love in a player. Despite the infamous 2011 Casino scandal, he did take this mark that only just earns him a spot on this list.
Justin Peckett: Peckett wore 53, 29, 8 and eventually the no. 1 in his incredibly loyal 252 game career for the Saints. Peckett was that small midfielder and running half back type who was rarely beaten in a one-on-one contest. He was often referred to as a brilliant on field leader due to his calm and leveling nature. Peckett was a huge part of St.Kilda’s success in 1997 and played a huge role in keeping the Saints’ premiership window open in 2005 and 2006.
Leon Davis: Who can forget the energetic small forward ‘Neon’ Leon Davis. He had a supremely accurate banana kick, genuinely loved booting the odd sausage roll from the boundary and had a talent for getting the crowd pumping with his electric athletic displays. Despite kicking 270 goals in more than 10 years he also played in three brutally unsuccessful Grand Finals. After being dropped for the Grand Final replay in 2010 he was reborn in 2011 as a successful rebounding defender that earned him an All Australian selection. That’s a great testament to his persistence and ability to turn it on when needed.
Brett Heady: ‘Prince Charles’ will be remembered as a handy half-forward and sneaky opportunist who absolutely loved a chest mark. While he didn’t play many games, I appreciate Heady as he was an intrinsic part of the Eagles success in 1992 and particularly 1994 when he slotted six goals against the Demons in a Preliminary Final. He then kicked another two in the Grand Final, which was his second premiership. He played 156 games in 10 seasons and was eventually named in West Coast’s Team of the Decade.
Keith Forbes: One of the most famous Bombers to play the game and the only former VFA player on this list. The speedy forward played during the war era and was a complete dead-eye shot at goals and was one of the hardest men to tackle in the game’s history. While I doubt there’s many left who saw Forbes play, and if you didn’t catch him on the field, here’s all you need to know: he’s a slightly smaller Dustin Martin’s with his strength and talent crossed with Gary Ablett Jnr.’s undeniable silkiness and class.
Sergio Silvagni: Serge has and always will bleed navy blue. After 239 games as an incredibly tough and reliable player with steadfast hands and a knack for lightning quick hand passes, Mr. Carlton also captained the club in 1964, leading the blues through two premierships in 1968 and 1970. Despite lures from other clubs during the peak of his career, Serge showed us all he was a man of integrity and loyalty by staying at Carton. Like a castle built into the side of a mountain, he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I rate that incredibly highly in any player considering how rare loyalty has become in the AFL today.
Stephen Silvagni: It wasn’t easy to rank Stephen above his champion father and it was as equally hard to ignore his amazing career. Renowned for his incredibly strong blanketing style of play at full back, high flying marks and dangerous ability to float forward, Silvagni was selected as full back over other greats of the position such as David Dench and Chris Langford in the 1996 Team of the Century. Many saw this selection as controversial, but, remember, he did keep Gary Ablett Sr. goalless in the 1995 Grand Final and eventually played 312 games. Good enough for me.
Perce Bentley: Not many of us today will remember watching this great ruckman or experiencing his brilliant football mind. The former Tigers captain-coach led Richmond to flags in 1932 and 1934 after 263 games and 275 Goals. Widely renowned as a genius for his era, he was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in 1996, making it very hard to overlook him on this list as one of the best no.1’s to exist.
Barry Hall: Despite starting at St. Kilda and finishing at the Bulldogs, the 289 game and 746 goal All-Australian pulled on the no.1 as a Swans captain where he did most of his damage: both on the scoreboard and to his opponents faces. Regarded as one of the best forwards of the modern era, Big Bad Bustling Barry was also known as one of the most terrifying blokes to play against. The ‘wild man’ is remembered for a mean combination of on-field aggression, ridiculous size, brute strength and explosiveness at the ball. Successful and memorable, you can’t deny his lasting impact on the game, even if it isn’t all positive (sorry, Brent Staker).
Paul Roos: Truly the most decorated no.1 to exist in my view. Most will know Paul Roos as the highly successful coach that reinvented the Swans through the “Leading Teams” culture and guided them to that 2005 premiership and 2006 Grand Final. Before that he made his name as one of the best key position players to exist. Roos’ bread and butter was being robust and an almost unbeatable half-backman. His ability to switch gears contributed to the way multi-positioned utilities are taking over our game today. Alongside a cabinet full of Best and Fairest Awards (five for Fitzroy) and All Australian Selections (seven), he finished a close second in the 1986 Brownlow Medal count, just one vote behind both Robert DiPierdomenico and Greg Williams.