The best to play the game: NAIDOC Week 2020 - Part 3

This is the third and final part of a series. Read the first part here, and the second part here! They’re both worth the read, I promise.

Michael O’Loughlin

Incredible strength, marking prowess and the ability to turn on a dime all add up to creating the great Micky O. Starting his career as a genuine half-forward flanker, O’Loughlin found success both higher up the ground and deep in the 50, a prime marking target in the Swans forward line despite being only 189cm tall.

O’Loughlin has claimed, among other accolades, two All-Australian nominations, a Sydney best and fairest, a flag, an induction into the AFL Hall of Fame and was named at full-forward in the Indigenous Team of the Century. He also kicked 521 goals over 303 games, becoming the third Indigenous footballer to play over 300 games (at the time), and held the Swans games played record until he was passed by his teammate and uncle, Adam Goodes.

One of the all time great Swans, O’Loughlin’s best season came at the turn of the century, in 2000. Playing as a flanker, he averaged 18.3 disposals, 6.4 marks, 4.2 inside 50s and booted 53 goals and 24 behinds, at an incredible accuracy of 68%.

Byron Pickett

Much like the Riolis, the Pickett name seems to keep being drawn to the AFL. Current players Marlion and Kysaiah are directly related, while the family tree also extends to former players Leon Davis, Nicky Winmar and Dale Kickett. We can only dream of the scratch matches they play at their family reunions.

Byron Pickett was known for his devastating aggression, both at the ball and other players. Never scared to shy away from the contest, Pickett caused more than a few broken jaws. Playing for North Melbourne and Port Adelaide at just the right times, he became a dual-premiership player and Norm Smith Medallist after the 2004 Grand Final.

Playing as a small defender and half-back flanker for the first four years of his career, Pickett quickly made up ground after switching to the opposite 50 metre arc. He kicked 157 of his 177 goals in just five years! Retiring at just 30 years old, Pickett would certainly still be comfortable in the modern game.

Paddy Ryder

Paddy Ryder is a player who holds a special place in my heart, more than any of the other players on this list. Originally a Bomber, before a move to the Power following the supplements saga, and now a Saint, Ryder has been an important part of some great teams.

Starting his career as a swingman, Ryder made his name known in the famous 2009 ANZAC Day game, after the Bombers’ number one ruck David Hille went down early in the game with a knee injury. Ryder was dominant in the middle of the ground, the then 21 year-old amassing 16 disposals, 27 hit-outs, 13 (!) tackles, 11 contested possessions, and topped it off with a goal. Obviously, he won the ANZAC medal.

An 11 year-old mad Bombers fan watched that game from the stands in the pouring rain, and fell in love with Paddy. He was one of the bright spots in what had been a fairly miserable time to support Essendon, in a year where it finally looked like the team was building towards something. To say he broke my heart when he moved to South Australia would be grossly understating it.

In addition to his ANZAC Medal, Ryder was named as the All-Australian ruck in 2017, also winning Port’s best and fairest that year. He’s still chasing that elusive flag, though with the shape of St. Kilda’s list after the 2020 period, he may find it just yet.

Daniel Wells

A classy midfielder through and through, Wells at his peak was one of the best players in a star-studded North Melbourne midfield group. This was no easy feat, given that he played alongside guys like Nick Dal Santo, Andrew Swallow, Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington and Glenn Archer.

We were unfortunately robbed of watching Wells at his best for too long, as injuries ravaged the last five years of his career, managing only 36 games between 2015 and 2019. At that peak though, he averaged over 20 disposals, 4 tackles, 4 inside 50s and nearly a goal a game. He also received two North Melbourne best and fairest medal, in 2011 and 2013.

In a world where Wells’ body didn’t let him down, he’d a 300+ gamer and probably a multiple All-Australian. It’s a testament to his ability that he still managed to notch up 258 appearances, including multiple International Rules series.

If there were any players I missed and you’d like me to write about, feel free to either comment on here or send me through a message on Twitter (@acat493) or via email ( I’d be more than happy to write a bonus one!

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