The best to play the game: NAIDOC Week 2020 - Part 2

This is the second part of a three part series. Read the first part here, and stay tuned for the third part! Let’s get right back into it, and celebrate some extraordinary Indigenous footballers.

Leon Davis

Neon Leon was a glowing part of some truly great Collingwood sides. His accolades include a premiership, 2 All Australian selections, and a Goal of the Year win. While Davis was never kicking huge bags as a small forward, every single time he hit the scoreboard your jaw would drop.

Flashy by name and flashy by nature, Davis’ best season came in 2009 when he kicked 35 goals, and averaged 20 disposals, 4 tackles, 3 inside 50s and polled 10 Brownlow votes.

Whether it was running around multiple players, shaking off a tackle and slotting a goal from 40 metres out, or bending the ball from the boundary line at an impossible angle, Davis constantly one-upped himself goal after goal. He even managed to be named All Australian in his final year, playing in the half-back line, before retiring to return home to Perth and play in the WAFL.

Lance Franklin

You didn’t think I’d forget about Buddy, did you? The last player to kick 100 goals in a season, with a Coleman winning 102 back in 2008 (and 11 more in the finals), it’s truly unfortunate that we’ve been robbed of watching Franklin do his thing at the SCG for the past two years due to horrible injury issues. We’re here to celebrate his best, though.

Franklin is currently the 7th highest goalkicker in the VFL/AFL, barely trailing Richmond legend Jack Titus by just 26 goals. He’s polled over 20 Brownlow votes on four occasions, as recently as 2017, and has kicked over 70 goals in a season five times. If you’ve ever watched him play, this shouldn’t come as a shock.

Watching Buddy sprint full pace towards the 50 metre arc, move onto his left foot and launch the footy in his classic pinpoint style between the sticks is a feat of professionalism, entertainment and skill that we’re all privileged to witness in our lifetime. Franklin’s impact as one of the most athletic, powerful and accomplished tall forwards to play the game will never be forgotten.

His accolades include 8x All Australian appearances, 4x Coleman Medals, 6x Hawthorn leading goalkicker and 5x Sydney leading goalkicker and two premierships.

Ashley McGrath

Remembered perhaps most fondly for the famous ‘Miracle on Grass’ match in which he kicked a goal after the siren to cap off a phenomenal Brisbane comeback against Geelong after being 52 points down in the third quarter, McGrath’s career was so much more than just this one moment.

Debuting in 2001, he unfortunately missed out on two of the Lions’ three premierships in a row, but got his chance in the 2003 Grand Final, winning a premiership at just 20 years old. McGrath would go on to become a key figure in Brisbane’s forward group, kicking 35 goals in the 2005 season and 170 in total over a 214 game career.

While he may not have the accolades of some of the other players I’ve highlighted in this series, McGrath was a workman and a highly adaptable player. Moving into the midfield and the half-back flank later into his career, McGrath averaged 16 disposals, five marks and four rebound 50s across the 2009 and 2010 seasons, arguably some of the best of his journey.

Eddie Betts

Eddie Betts! EDDIE BETTS!

Betts has been a household name for the better part of the last decade. Do I even have to explain why? You’ve seen at least a few of his 613 career goals repeated ad nauseum in TV ads, highlights packages and sometimes even news reports. There are not many that can do it like Eddie can.

From Carlton to Adelaide and now back to the Blues, Betts works the forward pockets so well that I’d be just as confident if he was kicking at goal with his eyes close. He was all but unmatched as a small forward in the period of 2014 to 2017 at the Crows, kicking 244 goals and lighting up Adelaide Oval every other weekend.

It’s telling that Betts received barely a single boo or jeer from Carlton fans when they would match up against the Crows. Most would even applaud his mind-bending goals like he was still wearing the navy blue. And with the shoe on the other foot, you’d have to say Crows fans will be following suit come his likely final go-around in the 2021 season.

For the good of the game, we can only all hope that Betts sticks around post-retirement. A semi-coaching role looks up for grabs for him at Carlton, and there’s no doubt that he’ll continue his work as an Indigenous ambassador off field. Humble to the extreme, always entertaining and never without a grin, Eddie Betts is truly one-of-a-kind.

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