Since the year 2000, we have seen a number of amazing football sides come and as fans, we've witnessed some sublime footy on the AFL's biggest stage of them all - The Grand Final. Since we've entered the 21st century, AFL fans have seen some really close Grand Finals and have seen others completely dominated by one club.
Today on Bulldogs Centre, I go through my top five premiership teams from the 21st century, and even though there are just nine of the 18 teams that have won flags, it's still pretty hard to determine exactly a top five.
So without further ado, let's get started.
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5. The 2016 Western Bulldogs
There's no doubt that the the Western Bulldogs should be on this list, simply because of what they had to do to get there. Before last year, the Western Bulldogs' only premiership was in 1954, and hadn't been in a Grand Final since 1961. It was only a couple of years before that when the club had lost their coach, their captain, a Brownlow medallist and their CEO and many expected a few more years of pain and suffering with a reasonably young list, however, this was not the case.
After making the finals in Luke Beveridge's first season in 2015, the Bulldogs had finished the 2016 home and away season in seventh place, however they only sat two games behind the first-placed Sydney Swans. However, several injuries to key players across the year, most notably the season-ending knee injury to Robert Murphy, caused many experts to write off the Western Bulldogs almost immediately when it was revealed they would go up to Western Australia to take on West Coast. The Dogs had not won an interstate final in the club's history and had not beaten the Eagles over at Subiaco since 2010.
However all of that was changed when the Dogs thumped the Eagles by 47 points and it would set up the Bulldogs' miracle month of September footy. Following their triumph against West Coast, the Dogs would have to end Hawthorn's quest for four premierships in a row, overcome a powerful Greater Western Sydney outfit and then put away the Sydney Swans, who were the minor premiers of 2016 to complete what was arguably one of the best finals stories we've seen in the modern era, winning their first flag in over 60 years and also being the first team in the history of the league to win the premiership from seventh place on the ladder.
Tom Boyd justified why the Bulldogs invested so many dollars in the former number one draft pick with a stellar game as the back-up ruck to Jordan Roughead, kicking three goals, with his last goal coming from a long bomb from inside the centre square a telling moment in the context of the game. Jason Johannisen became the first Norm Smith Medallist to come out of the Whitten Oval and Luke Beveridge was hailed as a hero in the suburb of Footscray, taking his team to the holy grail in just his second season, and whilst the Bulldogs were thoroughly disappointing this year, this premiership will go down in footy folklore for the rest of our days.
Western Bulldogs 13.11.89
Sydney Swans 10.7.67
4. The 2007 Geelong Cats
A year before the Cats claimed their first premiership since 1963, Geelong were considered a real threat to challenge for the flag after their pre-season triumph over Adelaide. The list was good enough, possessing quality stars on every line, but however the Cats were horrendously underwhelming, examples include blowing a nine-goal lead to West Coast in round 10 and a 10-goal loss to a rebuilding Hawthorn, they would finish the 2006 season in tenth place with 10 wins and a draw.
This would draw serious questions over Mark Thompson, who had been at the helm since 2000 and the club ordered a review of all aspects of the club, but at the end of it all, Thompson still kept his job. It was a great move in retrospect as Geelong won the 2007 premiership in such a convincing fashion. Despite a 2-3 start after round five threatening to derail Geelong's premiership campaign yet again, the club culture was questioned publicly and after a session of home truths and harsh assessments, the Cats never looked back and it started with a 157-point destruction of Richmond, to which Geelong kicked a massive 222 points on the Tigers, setting the tone for the rest of the season.
This win would start a run of 15 straight wins, which would be put to an end by Port Adelaide in round 21 by only five points, but it would be the only blemish that the Cats would make for the rest of the year as they finished the season with the minor premiership, three games ahead of the second-placed Power. To outline their dominance in the home and away season, Geelong had a percentage of 152.76, the next best was Sydney at 119.61 - they finished seventh. Joel Selwood would win the Rising Star award, Gary Ablett would be named as the AFLPA's MVP, Jimmy Bartel would be named as the Brownlow Medallist and a staggering nine Geelong players made the All-Australian team that year.
Their average winning margin in 2007 was 51 points. In the first week of the Finals, Geelong would continue to be head and shoulders above the rest, with a resounding 106-point win over North Melbourne in the qualifying final. Things weren't so easy when they got back from their week off, as they hosted Collingwood for a spot in the Grand Final. The Cats were made to earn their spot in the Grand Final by the Pies, who had just finished off West Coast at Subiaco in a thrilling contest decided by extra time just a week earlier, with the Cats getting through to the big dance by just five points.
Geelong would go on to make history in their first Grand Final triumph since 1963, thrashing Port Adelaide by 119 points to set the highest-ever winning margin in a Grand Final and the third-highest score in a Grand Final, but most importantly, set up a dynasty at Kardinia Park, with the Cats securing a further two premierships and multiple appearances in the Finals.
Port Adelaide 6.8.44
3. The 2000 Essendon Bombers
In the first season of the 21st century, AFL fans will always remember this season for the dominance that was put on display all season long by the Essendon Bombers. In the 1999 AFL season, Essendon had finished the home and away season on top of the ladder and along with North Melbourne, were the teams that looked likely to play off in the Grand Final. The Kangaroos got through the night before Essendon was scheduled to play old rivals Carlton, and whilst Essendon were expected to take care of the Blues, things failed to go according to script as Carlton overcame a seven-goal third quarter from the Bombers to hold on by a solitary point, giving them a spot in the Grand Final.
However, this would only fuel the fire that had been in the stomachs of each and every Essendon player and they set the tone of the 2000 season in the first round, stomping Port Adelaide by a staggering 94 points at the newly-established Colonial Stadium (Now better known as Etihad Stadium). The Bombers would continue to win games and on most weeks, breeze by their opposition. They would win their first 20 games by an average winning margin of 52 points. Their only loss of the year 2000 would come in round 21 against the Western Bulldogs in a game that would go down in Bulldogs' folklore.
But that loss, despite the fact that would be the only blemish in what was otherwise a perfect season, as Essendon would finish the season on top of the ladder with 21 wins, a stellar scoring average of 128 points per game and a ridiculous percentage of 159.1 percent. They would demolish all before them in the Finals, dispatching of the previous year's premiers in North Melbourne by a whopping 125 points in the first week, eventually setting up a rematch of the 1999 preliminary final with Carlton, however this time, it was the Bombers who proved to be too strong, beating the Blues by 45 points to set up a meeting with Melbourne in the Grand Final.
Any chances of the Demons denying Essendon a record-equaling 16th premiership were snuffed out after quarter-time, as the Bombers blew Melbourne away with a six-goal to two second term to lead by 41 points at half time, but with the Bombers kicking 6.8 in the second term and kicking 26 scoring shots to 10, could've been up by so much more. Essendon would go on to win by 60 points, capping off what was an unbelievably dominant year by the red and blacks. Essendon legend Matthew Lloyd kicked over 100 goals for the first time in his career, reaching the milestone in the qualifying final win over North Melbourne, whilst James Hird took home the Norm Smith Medal and coach Kevin Sheedy claimed his fourth VFL/AFL premiership as coach.
2. The 2013-15 Hawthorn Hawks
When Alastair Clarkson was appointed coach of the Hawks at the end of 2004, he instilled a youth policy and was poised to play young up and comers ahead of several club veterans, by 2008, Clarkson and the Hawks would claim an unlikely premiership, defeating Geelong by 28 points to win its 10th premiership in the history of the football club. However due to injuries and a lack of exposure to several other players, the Hawks went several steps backwards the following year and missed the finals altogether.
But since then, Clarkson had brought in a number of players from other clubs to help the Hawks climb back up to the top of the ladder, and it worked. The Hawks made finals once again in 2010, they made the final four in 2011 and then finished the 2012 season as the minor premiers and got to the Grand Final that year, only to be beaten by the Sydney Swans. Players such as Josh Gibson, Shaun Burgoyne, Brent Guerra and Jack Gunston have all played massive roles in Hawthorn's rise back to premiership contention. In 2013, the Hawks finished the season as the minor premiers again, only this time they were triumphant, defeating a Fremantle side that were by 15 points in a scrappy game. Another recruit who was brought in from their most recent off-season, former Bulldog Brian Lake, won the Norm Smith Medal for a stellar game in defence.
The following year, Hawthorn overcame a number of obstacles to win back-to-back flags. Following their premiership win, Lance Franklin left the Hawks to join Sydney via free agency on multimillion dollar deal spanning over nine year and midway through the season, Clarkson missed five matches after he was diagnosed with guillain-barre syndrome and was taken over by Brendon Bolton, who as we all know, has gone on to coach his own club at Carlton. There were a few other small issues, but none of it fazed the Hawks one bit as they finished only behind Sydney on the ladder. They would take care of old rivals Geelong in the first week and then held off a red-hot Port Adelaide in the third week to advance to the Grand Final, where they would match up against Buddy and the Swans. On paper, it looked like a mouth-watering match-up, but the Hawks dominated from the outset, eventually winning by 63 points.
However it would be the 2015 season that could arguably have been the Hawks' toughest premiership of the three. They would be 4-4 after eight games and hopes of going a rare three premierships in a row was in serious jeopardy. However they would win their next eight games and would finish the year 16-6 in third place. They were handed a lesson by the West Coast Eagles in the first qualifying final, making sure the Hawks were to do it the hard way this time, they then obliterated Adelaide in the semi-final and then vanquished the minor premiers in Fremantle in the preliminary final, setting up a rematch with the Eagles in the Grand Final. In what was the hottest Grand Final day in the history of the league, the temperature rising to 31 degrees Celsius, the Hawks scorched West Coast by 46 points, claiming their third flag in a row - an achievement very few teams have accomplished.
2013 Grand Final
2014 Grand Final
2015 Grand Final
West Coast 8.13.61
1. The 2001-03 Brisbane Lions
The Brisbane Lions came onto the AFL scene in 1997 after the Brisbane Bears and the Fitzroy Football Club and in the following year, the side finished the season dead last. But they wouldn't spend much time at the foot of the ladder as within a few years, this Brisbane Lions side would become an AFL dynasty. After winning the wooden spoon in 1998, the Lions coaxed football legend Leigh Matthews out of coaching retirement and the impact at Brisbane was immediate, guiding the side from 16th to fourth in 1999. They would make finals again in 2000 before the Lions tasted premiership success in 2001.
It wasn't all smooth sailing in 2001, by round nine, the Lions were outside the top eight, sitting ninth with just four wins from nine games. In the lead-up to their round 10 clash against Essendon, Matthews instilled the famous movie quote from Predator to his players:
"If it bleeds, we can kill it"
The Bombers were on top of the ladder after round nine with only just one loss from nine starts in 2001 after only losing one game all throughout the 2000 season. The Lions would defeat Essendon by 28 points, this victory sparking an incredible run of wins for Brisbane as they would win the final 13 matches of the home and away season to finish with a win-loss record of 17-5 and in second place, behind Essendon on just percentage. The Lions would win their qualifying final against Port Adelaide and their Preliminary Final against Richmond to book their place in the Grand Final against Essendon. Brisbane would replicate their performance from earlier in the season and defeat the Bombers by 26 points and started a new era of AFL footy.
Brisbane wouldn't finish either the 2002 or the 2003 home and away season as the minor premiers, but would still find ways to win in September, as great sides so often do. Finishing second in 2002, the Lions would demolish both Adelaide in the Qualifying Final and Port Adelaide in the Preliminary Final to advance to the Grand Final to take on Collingwood. The Lions staved off a Collingwood challenge with the scoreline close all throughout the match. What made Brisbane's win all the more sweeter was that they only had two fit men on the bench following injuries to Beau McDonald and Martin Pike throughout the contest, but the Lions still came out on top by nine points in what was a gritty affair.
A year later, the Lions found themselves matched up against Collingwood yet again, but were faced with a completely different scenario. The Lions lost to the Pies in the Qualifying Final, but then comfortably accounted for Adelaide in the Semi Final and then Sydney in the Preliminary Final, setting up the rematch of the 2002 Grand Final. Whilst the Pies were missing one of their key players in Anthony Rocca through suspension, the Lions had a number of key players in a bit of trouble, with captain Michael Voss (Knee), goal-kicker Alastair Lynch (Hamstring) and midfield guns Nigel Lappin (Ribs) and Martin Pike (Hamstring) all facing injury clouds. But all four were good to go on Grand Final day and the Lions were on from the first bounce and had the game sewn up by half-time, leading by 42 points. The Lions would lead by as much as 71 points in the last quarter, before Collingwood kicked a few junk-time goals to reduce the margin to a more flattering 50 points, giving Brisbane their third straight premiership in a row, which in any era of football is a thing to marvel at.
2001 Grand Final
2002 Grand Final
2003 Grand Final