It’s always hard to pick the 'greatest' or 'deadliest' of anything. It’s so subjective (you might think Pizza Hut has the deadliest Pizza of all time, while I might prefer Dominos), its time changeable (the world’s deadliest invention might have been electricity, say 150 years ago, but in 2020, maybe it’s the world wide web?).
The nature and concept of 'The Deadliest' is very dependent on trends, culture and demographics, as well. For example - 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' is a teen angst track that has repeatedly gotten number 1 on Triple J’s Hottest 100 of all time polls. In comparison, 'Stairway To Heaven' by 70s rockers Led Zeppelin takes the top spot on the more, shall we say, blokey working class listenership on Triple M’s equivalent poll 'Best 1000 Rock Songs of All Time'. I’m sure there is a 'Greatest Song of all Time' poll/chart somewhere in the world that has put 90s bubblegum anthem Barbie Girl by Aqua as number 1. But I digress.
In sport, this is a conversation that has seemingly been around since the beginning. People everywhere like to debate these everyday topics. If you have an opinion and a mouth (or in the era of the Internet, the ability to type and send scathing gifs to troll others in various chatrooms and reddit threads) you can argue your point. Who is the best? To ever play a certain sport? Every sport has an ongoing argument.
In Basketball: Chamberlain, Jordan, or James? Cricket: Bradman, Richards or Tendulkar? Rugby League: Churchill, Beetson, or Thurston? AFL: Mathews, Carey, or Ablett Snr? (although there is a side argument to be had about which Gary Ablett gets to be included in this conversation. Great genes that family!). The beauty of opinion and democracy is that you might think of someone different than the sportspeople mentioned above, and why your guy is the best.
Yokayi Footy, which airs Wednesdays 8pm on NITV, poses the herculean question to fans – through a series of votes – Who is 'The Deadliest?' Who is the greatest Indigenous Australian Rules football player of all time? A bracket of 16 will face off in 1:1 matchups – the last remaining to be declared 'The Deadliest'.
The AFL approached a group of experts – including ex-players, the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Advisory Council, selectors and players of the Indigenous Team of The Century, current senior coaches, and AFL Commissioners – to consider every single Indigenous player who has ever played the game. The nominees were whittled down to a final 16 players, who are the below (in alphabetical order):
- Eddie Betts
- Shaun Burgoyne
- Barry Cable
- Graham 'Polly' Farmer
- Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin
- Adam Goodes
- Michael Long
- Peter Matera
- Andrew McLeod
- Stephen Michael
- Sir Doug Nicholls
- Michael O'Loughlin
- Cyril Rioli
- Maurice Rioli
- Gavin Wanganeen
- Nicky Winmar
A very strong field indeed. And depending on your specific taste, the era you grew up in, or other various demographic attributes, AFL fanatics might have a very different take on who is indeed 'The Deadliest' out of this brilliant bunch. Every single one of the men listed above where outstanding representatives for their various clubs and overcame adversity to even get to an VFL/AFL club (apart from Stephen Michael who refused to move to Victoria in the 1970s/80s, preferring to stay in Perth).
Is ‘The Deadliest’ Polly Farmer and how he changed the game forever with his ruckwork and use of the handball? Is it Nicky Winmar for his iconic and very important stand against racism at Victoria Park in 1993? Is it Adam Goodes for his 2 Brownlow Medals, 2 Premierships and overall brilliance and versatility on the field? The level of quality in the shortlisted 16 is very apparent to even the casual Aussie Rules fan.
However, one should look deeper to get the real story. When you take a look of the quality of players that didn’t even make it to the final 16, it’s really obvious how many Mob have been game changers and great representatives for their teams, sport, and culture while playing Australian Rules Football.
Let’s take a look at some Indigenous Australian Rules players that were unsuccessful in getting shortlisted, but are certainly Deadly nonetheless:
First and foremost, co host of Yokayi Footy, Daryl White: the guy won 3 premierships and was named in the Indigenous Team of the Century at fullback! With his high flying marks and his ability to play any position and play it well, he was a mainstay for the Brisbane Bears/Lions for more than a decade. He can be considered very unlucky to miss out here.
A Brisbane Lions premiership teammate of White was Chris Johnson. Johnson was also very unlucky to miss out on the final 16. The fact that this fulla could hold down a key defensive post under the very tough-love coaching of Leigh Matthews alone could be considered a testament to his ability and commitment to his teammates.
The Krakouer Brothers
And what about Jimmy Krakouer? The North Melbourne champion, who along with his brother Phil was the maestro of 'Krakouer Magic'. Krakouer, a Noongar football champion from Western Australia, is surely luckless to miss out on the round of 16.
Syd Jackson is another Western Australian who remains a Carlton dual premiership player. Jackson was a hard centreman, playing at a time of extreme racial prejudice in Victoria. He won 2 flags at the Blues during their era of dominance in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
David Wirrpanda is another inauspicious non entry to the final 16. Wirrapanda played 227 games for the West Coast Eagles, earned All Australian Honours, and participated in the 2005 premiership victory for the club, and is still the youngest player to ever pull on an Eagles guernsey (he was only 16 when he debuted in 1996). A rock for the Eagles in defence throughout his career, Wirrapanda played with Eagles superstars such as Ben Cousins, Chris Judd & Glenn Jackovich, and is often overlooked in terms of his very reliable brilliance, even among Eagles faithful. For example, he was named as just an emergency in the best Eagles team of their first 25 years in 2011 by newspaper, Perth Now – this writer would take him in the starting 22, please and thank you!
You could go on forever. Even early Indigenous pioneers that never made it to the VFL in eras long gone were very talented and would have certainly played AFL in the modern era. For example: Ted 'Square' Kilmurray: a champion from East Perth in the 1950s-1960s. In a similar era, but over on the other side of town, was West Perth legend Bill Dempsey, who played over 300 games and won 3 premierships for the Falcons in the WAFL. Over in crow-eater territory there was David 'Soapy' Kantilla - the first Tiwi Islander to play in SA- he won 2 best and fairests and won a premiership with South Adelaide in the SANFL in 1964.
There have been so many Indigenous champions that could be considered 'The Deadliest' over the many years Australian Rules Football has been played by blackfullas. When you make your vote, don’t take it lightly, and be prepared to back it up! (By the way, Its certainly Polly Farmer. Don’t @ me).