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. continues the countdown of the year's top 50 football storylines with 40-31 below.

TOP 50 STORIES Check out 50-41 

40. Daisy's big fine for umpire abuse, drinking ban and eventual retirement

It was a typically colourful finale to Dale Thomas' mostly excellent AFL career in 2019. The then-blond dasher burst onto the scene after being the No.2 draft pick in 2005 and became one of the game's best players as a Magpie. He won a premiership in black and white but his high-profile switch to Carlton wasn't as successful as he'd hoped. Thomas returned to form in recent years but reluctantly retired at the end of this past season, when the Blues chose not to offer him a new contract. The club line was it had younger options at half-back but a pair of controversies probably didn't help. Thomas firstly copped a $7500 fine for calling a boundary umpire a "f------ cheat" after misunderstanding the 6-6-6 rules. Then, barely a week later, he was dumped to the VFL after an ill-advised decision to drink alcohol two days before the round 10 game against St Kilda.

Dale Thomas farewells the crowd after his final AFL game. Picture: AFL Photos

39. Bennell, Fremantle part ways but ex-Docker and Sun set to join third AFL club

Harley Bennell's tumultuous, injury-marred, almost four-year stint at Fremantle came to an abrupt ending in July this year with a mutual parting of ways. Bennell played only two of his 83 senior games in that period because of a spate of calf and disciplinary issues. The 27-year-old made it clear at the time he was not retiring, and two more calf surgeries – one on each leg – have him primed for a third crack at the big time. Melbourne was the first club to inquire about Bennell after his Dockers exit, and it's the Demons he is training with this summer in a bid to revive his career. Getting through the pre-season unscathed, particularly once he ramps up his activity in late January, is a necessity for that goal to be achieved but this story has more (hopefully positive) chapters to come.

Harley Bennell is training with the Demons in a bid to restart his stalled AFL career. Picture: AFL Photos

38. No.1 draft pick McCartin presses pause on career as concussion issues linger

St Kilda key forward Paddy McCartin's been a walking headline ever since he was the dux of the 2014 draft class. McCartin has played only 35 AFL games, partly because of form but largely due to serious concussion-related problems. The 23-year-old's eighth and most recent concussion occurred in a pre-season match against the Western Bulldogs in March. McCartin subsequently told Triple M in a harrowing mid-year interview that he was "a shell of (the) person" he once was as he detailed his struggle to complete usually routine daily tasks. With that in mind, it was not surprising months later that the Saints announced he would sit out next season, with the goal of playing again in 2021. The AFL is also investigating McCartin's comments that he previously fudged his pre-season baseline tests, which are used later to gauge players' health in the case of a concussion.

Paddy McCartin's career is on hold as he deals with the ongoing effects of several concussions. Picture: AFL Photos

37. Coaches lament "extreme" new runner rules

Among nine new rules and interpretations the AFL announced in October last year was a runner restriction. Runners can now enter the field only after a goal and must be off it before the restart. AFL football boss Steve Hocking has prioritised decluttering the field, and this decision was part of that crusade. That led to a flirtation with LED digital boards in the pre-season series but that experiment was unsuccessful. While the 6-6-6 starting positions were constantly discussed, it was the runner rule that caused the most consternation. Coaches from Chris Fagan to Luke Beveridge and Alastair Clarkson were vocal in their annoyance at not being able to send more messages to their players. Hocking said there was a need to find a "middle ground" between the use of runners in 2018 and 2019, both of which he described as "extreme". But he declared the AFL would not revert to last year's runner rules.

Tigers coach Damien Hardwick speaks to his team's runner. Picture: AFL Photos

36. Lions' transformation from strugglers to flag contenders

The numbers and a competitive finish to last year suggested Brisbane was on the improve but few people tipped it would happen to such a degree in 2019. The Lions roared all the way to second spot entering the finals, winning almost as many games (16) this year as the previous four seasons combined (17). Third-year coach Chris Fagan was the face of Brisbane's climb but the likes of football boss David Noble, CEO Greg Swann, list manager Dom Ambrogio and recruiting manager Steve Conole deserve plenty of credit, too. The Lions' season ended in a disappointing straight-sets finals exit but Fagan was right to still call it "a brilliant season". They are set up to contend for an extended period, with Ambrogio and co. locking away most of the group for at least the medium term. 

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Watch the last two minutes: BL v Geel

A thrilling finish between the Lions and the Cats in round twenty-two

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35. Hawkins' latest indiscretion costs him a preliminary final spot

Gun Geelong forward Tom Hawkins was in the news for the wrong reasons in preliminary final week after his latest run-in with the Match Review Officer. Hawkins' off-the-ball strike on Eagle Will Schofield in the clubs' knockout semi-final was his sixth such charge since 2016, although technically this one was ruled as rough conduct. MRO Michael Christian assessed the incident as high contact, intentional conduct and low impact. The dual premiership player has now missed six matches because of suspension and received $7000 worth of fines in the past four years – but this was the most costly of all. The Cats unsuccessfully challenged Hawkins' one-game ban, meaning he missed the chance to help his side win another Grand Final berth. It's unclear whether he could have been the difference but Geelong fell 19 points short of eventual premier Richmond – after leading by 21 at half-time.

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Is Hawkins in trouble for this incident?

Could Tom Hawkins be in trouble for this incident with West Coast's Will Schofield?

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34. Struggling Suns receive extraordinary draft bounty

The industry accepted Gold Coast needed help after only seven wins in two years and 23 across the past five seasons. However, the extraordinary draft concessions the AFL handed the club certainly created a stir. The Suns already had the No.1 draft pick but ended up with the top two as part of a three-year rescue package. They also received the first selection of the second round, a 2020 mid-first round pick (currently No.11) and the top choice in the second round of the 2021 draft. Gold Coast sent that 2020 pick to Geelong in what seemed a lopsided trade to secure Jeremy Sharp in this year's draft. The Suns can also pre-list Darwin talent as part of an increased Academy zone and can have up to 10 players on their rookie list. Rival clubs questioned the value of trading into the future in the wake of the AFL's decision. The story was rounded out – at least for this year – when Gold Coast chairman Tony Cochrane rejected claims these concessions were his club's last chance to get it right. 

Suns draftee Jeremy Sharp in action at training. Picture: AFL Photos

33. Goalpost-climbing Swan's bizarre period

We learned a bit about Swans defender Dane Rampe during a season in which the 2016 All-Australian brought up his 150th game. The drama that kicked off a period of Rampe talking points was his decision to climb the goalpost as Bomber David Myers lined up from beyond the 50m arc for what could have been a match-winning goal. Umpire Andre Gianfagna ran towards Rampe and told him to get down as Myers' kick – which fell just short – sailed through the air. No free kick was paid despite there being a rule around deliberately shaking the post. Essendon lodged an official query with the AFL after League boss Gillon McLachlan said the umpire handled the situation with common sense. A fortnight later, Rampe gave away a costly late 50m penalty in Sydney's loss to Collingwood. He attracted attention again when he appeared not to try hard enough to stop Jack Gunston's goal, after the three-quarter time siren sounded shortly following the Sherrin leaving the Hawk's boot.

32. Jack Higgins' brain bleed

Tiger tyro Jack Higgins' emergence in his rookie season was one of the best stories of last year, with his skill and infectious personality attracting an army of fans. Higgins had a tougher time in 2019, being dropped to the VFL mid-season before a brain bleed – caused by an "abnormality" in his blood vessels that hadn't been diagnosed – ended his campaign. If that wasn't enough of a scare, then reported in September he was set to undergo brain surgery that threatened to see him miss most of next season as well. There's still a great unknown about Higgins' short-term recovery but Richmond is confident he will return to his usual self and be able to play football again at some stage. In fact, the latest update from Tigers football boss Neil Balme was hugely promising: "We're trying not to put any (expectations) on him but I'd be surprised if he doesn't play a hell of a lot of footy next year, if not all the season." 

Jack Higgins (r) with Tom Lynch after the Tigers' Grand Final win over GWS. Picture: AFL Photos

31. Rollercoaster ride ends for household names

Some of the sport's titans called it quits in 2019 – and some didn't even make it to the halfway point of the season. Sydney premiership player Heath Grundy was one of those, preceding the retirement announcements of decorated teammates Jarrad McVeigh, Nick Smith and Kieren Jack at year's end. Tom Boyd provided the biggest shock, when he retired at age 23 because of physical and mental health issues. Boyd's fellow Bulldogs Liam Picken and Dale Morris also ended their careers, in large part because of respective concussion and knee setbacks. Others to call time were Hawthorn champion Jarryd Roughead – who spent most of his final season in the VFL – and two of his star former teammates Luke Hodge (again) and Jordan Lewis. All-Australians Dale Thomas, Daniel Wells, Scott Thompson and Aaron Sandilands pulled the pin, too, although Essendon tried to convince the latter to play on. The most emotional exit belonged to Brett Deledio, who succumbed to yet another injury and finishes without the premiership he craved.

A despondent Brett Deledio is carried off after the Giants' elimination final win. Picture: AFL Photos