RICHMOND crushed Greater Western Sydney in the Grand Final to make it two flags in three years, while Adelaide and Erin Phillips reminded everyone of their AFLW greatness with a second premiership.
But from the opening weeks of 2019 until the year's dying days, there was controversy, brilliant highs and shattering lows. AFL.com.au will count down the year's top football storylines in order across the next two weeks, starting with 50-41.
50. A (love) match made in h̶e̶a̶v̶e̶n̶ football
There's been a fascination with Eleni Glouftsis since she became the first female field umpire to officiate an AFL game in 2017. But that went to a whole new level in July this year. Glouftsis' boundary umpire partner, Dillon Tee, bent his right knee after Carlton's round 19 win over Adelaide and asked her to marry him. That wouldn't typically make headlines but Tee did so in the MCG's centre circle after they officiated the match, with the Fox Footy cameras on hand to capture it all. Glouftsis, of course, said 'Yes', and fellow South Australian Tee triumphantly thrust the pair's arms into the air as they walked away, for the benefit of those watching. Social media subsequently went nuts. For all the nasty umpire bashing that goes on, this was a nice moment to illustrate the human side of the sport.
49. It's snowing … during an AFL game?
We're used to the sight of NFL games being played in snow but I'm not sure we ever thought AFL footballers would endure those conditions. Think again. History was made in the round 21 Greater Western Sydney-Hawthorn clash in Canberra, which is believed to be the first time snow fell during an AFL match. Some crowd members were spotted in ski goggles, and the pictures being beamed into lounge rooms were remarkable. There was some mockery of the response on social media – centred on people losing their minds as if it had never snowed in Australia before – but it was a highly unusual sight. It also just so happened to be Hawk Changkuoth Jiath's AFL debut. Coach Alastair Clarkson delights in the fact a teenager born in an Ethiopian refugee camp, to South Sudanese parents, played his first senior game in such circumstances.
48. Petracca passes out in pool exercise as illness strikes Saints in China
They might be unrelated but can both be filed under stories we never saw coming. Christian Petracca and his Melbourne teammates were tasked with carrying medicine balls under water in a professionally supervised hypoxic session. The Demon pushed himself so hard he became unconscious – and the session's coordinator had to jump in to rescue him. Fortunately, all was OK and he played against Hawthorn that weekend. From the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre to Jiangwan Stadium in China, where St Kilda's preparations for its match against Port Adelaide in Shanghai went seriously awry. Defenders Daniel McKenzie and Jonathon Marsh were withdrawn through an illness that also left coaches Alan Richardson and Brett Ratten temporarily bed-ridden. Jack Billings and Shane Savage were also impacted but recovered in time to play. Nick Hind, who had never left Australia before, and Ben Paton were flown in just in case there was further trouble but weren't required.
47. 'Fourteen people hit the deck' in Terrine-gate
It takes a fair bit to snatch the attention from the occasion and the football itself on Anzac Day. This year's match will forever be linked to the 37 guests and one staff member who fell sick after attending Essendon's president's lunch in the MCG's Olympic Room. Seven people were even transported to hospital. Collingwood chairman Eddie McGuire commented on radio that he saw 14 patrons "hit the deck" in extraordinary pre-match scenes. Many headlines, much amusement and a three-month investigation later, it was finally uncovered that it wasn't the rabbit's fault and was instead "most likely" the relish that caused the gastro outbreak. "The evidence gathered during the investigation … revealed that the most likely source of illness was the relish which was served with the entrée of rabbit, chicken and pork terrine," Victoria's chief health officer, Dr Brett Sutton, said.
46. Onya, 'Sonny': Docker's triple-treat of late-game heroics
Fremantle star Michael Walters was a deserved first-time All-Australian for his on-field feats in 2019 but there were, perhaps, three games – or moments – he'll be most remembered for. Firstly, there was his after-the-siren poster to break the deadlock against Brisbane in round 10 (which just so happened to coincide with Sir Doug Nicholls Round, in honour of Indigenous footballers). Then, a week later, Walters gave the Dockers the lead for good over Collingwood with a set-shot goal with 30 seconds remaining. Fremantle had a round 12 bye but the break didn't extinguish Walters' fire. The midfielder-forward kicked two of his six goals in the final term to lead the Dockers to a come-from-behind victory in round 13, after trailing Port Adelaide by one point at three-quarter time.
45. AFLW CBA rejected before deal is belatedly ticked off
Negotiating collective bargaining agreements is always tricky but it's particularly so at the AFLW's fledgling stage. Gold Coast, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast will make it a 14-team competition next year, and concerns about the short length of the season played a key role in so many players rejecting the initial proposal. The AFL Players' Association requires any CBA to receive a minimum of 75 per cent approval but only 70 per cent of AFLW footballers gave it the green light. AFL chief Gillon McLachlan then joined AFLPA CEO Paul Marsh, AFLW head Nicole Livingstone and AFL football operations boss Steve Hocking in a meeting with player delegates. They thrashed out crucial details pertaining to payment, an independent review committee and notice of key season dates – among other things – that eventually resulted in 98 per cent of players approving the CBA.
44. Stars put on their Superman capes
There were many herculean solo displays this year but two stand above all others for different reasons. Ben Brown in round 22 against Port Adelaide became the first Kangaroo to kick 10 goals in a match since Wayne Carey two decades earlier. The double-digit feat is rare these days after being a staple of the game in the 1990s.
Then there was Carlton co-captain Patrick Cripps' masterful performance in the Blues' upset round 12 defeat of Brisbane, after being 37 points down. The impressive numbers still don't do Cripps justice: 38 disposals (16 contested), four goals, nine score involvements, seven marks, eight clearances and five inside 50s. It came in David Teague's first appearance as caretaker coach, after Cripps won only 11 possessions in Brendon Bolton's final match in charge. "He's a great player. What I can say is today he probably went back to just being the best footballer he can be," Teague said.
43. The mid-season draft is back but is there a problem?
The re-introduction of the NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft, following the creation of the pre-season supplemental selection period in December last year, provided another pathway for players to achieve their dream. Not every club participated but seven of the 13 drafted played senior games: Josh Deluca (six games), Cam Sutcliffe (five), Kyle Dunkley and John Noble (both five), Will Snelling (four), Ryan Gardner (two) and Marlion Pickett (one). Pickett was the first VFL/AFL player since 1952 to make his debut in a Grand Final and subsequently finished third in Norm Smith Medal voting. However, there was a big talking point to emerge from it at season's end, with the first and last players selected – Deluca and Cody Hirst – the only ones not re-signed. Players and their agents would love to see mid-season draftees score 18-month rather than six-month contracts if the concept continues.
42. King twin silences talk to re-sign at Gold Coast
The talk almost ever since the Suns drafted Ben King last year was that he would be headed back to Victoria, at worst, once his initial two-year deal expired. That ramped up when St Kilda football boss Simon Lethlean discussed the possibility of luring King from the Gold Coast to play alongside his twin brother Max at Moorabbin. But in a big win for the Suns' player retention war, King added two more lucrative years to his contract and is now tied to the club through the 2022 season. Now, we know contracts can sometimes be meaningless but it was a great way for Gold Coast to stick it to their many critics, especially once another top-10 pick who'd been speculated about – Jack Lukosius – also re-signed for the same period. The Suns need to start winning more games but progress is being made behind the scenes.
41. Blues absorb criticism, nab ex-Sun for free
Gold Coast and Carlton were unable to strike a deal for wantaway Sun Jack Martin in the Telstra AFL Trade Period. Coupled with the Blues being unable to secure under-contract Swan Tom Papley, it was considered another failure. For the Suns, in list boss Craig Cameron's own words, they simply didn't need later picks – they wanted a first-round selection for him. The difference between Martin and Papley was the former was out of contract, so he was still able to figure out a way to become a Carlton footballer. The answer was a heavily front-ended contract that not only convinced Gold Coast not to pick him up again in the pre-season draft but also dissuaded Melbourne from nabbing him before the Blues could step in. Martin was relieved to find his way to Ikon Park but, after all the fuss, it's now up to him to prove he was worth it.
The next instalment of 2019's 50 biggest stories will be published on Wednesday morning.