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 continues the countdown of the year's top 50 football storylines with 20-11 below.
20. Daw defies doubters to return to football after serious injuries
There were doubts about Majak Daw playing football again after suffering serious hip and pelvic injuries in a fall from a Melbourne bridge this time last year. The incident rocked the AFL world, none more so than North Melbourne people, but Daw made incredible progress after learning to walk again. Every step in his recovery was warmly received, including when he ran over the ground for the first time in April. A day later, he and his partner, Emily McKay, announced on Instagram they were having a baby. Then, at the start of July, Daw joined coach Rhyce Shaw and the club's head of high performance Alex Moore to announce he planned to return in the VFL that weekend. A big attendance at Arden Street welcomed Daw back and he played the first quarter only. He steadily increased his playing time over the following weeks and was set to play a full game in his fourth outing, only for a hamstring injury to end his season. It will be a huge achievement when he plays in the AFL again.
19. Record crowd watches Adelaide cement status as AFLW's first superpower
The Crows' dominant Grand Final victory over Carlton made them the sole AFLW club with more than one premiership, and a record crowd of 53,034 at Adelaide Oval saw it happen. They were also the competition's inaugural flag-winners in 2017. The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for Daniel Harford's Blues but he described the attendance, which beat the previous highest AFLW turnout by more than 10,000, as "one of the most significant moments in Australian football history". Fans can still gain free entry to games but that will, and needs to, change if they keep turning up in such impressive numbers and for the AFLW to keep growing. Daisy Pearce remains one of the faces of the sport, even after a season out to have a baby, but there is no bigger name or better player than Erin Phillips, who won the League medal for the second time. Four new teams – Gold Coast, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast – will enter the competition in 2020.
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18. Swans great Goodes' documentary helps shine light on racism
Coinciding with the release of the confronting Adam Goodes documentary, which was watched by 500,000-plus viewers, was a concerted industry-wide decision this year to make a stand on racism. The AFL and all 18 clubs issued a joint statement apologising "unreservedly for our failures" in supporting Goodes in his final years. For all the progress made in this area, there is still a disappointing number of people engaging in racist behaviour. AFL games and related social media were not immune to this. What changed was how often clubs, the AFL and the AFL Players' Association, often via chief executive Paul Marsh, called it out. In one case, a Richmond fan was banned for two years from holding a membership after a racist online comment towards Eagle Liam Ryan. The AFL's general manager of inclusion and social policy, Tanya Hosch: "The AFL took action regarding on-field racism over 20 years ago, we take action at our stadiums and grounds, but we are now facing vicious commentary appearing on players' own accounts, and industry platforms."
17. Captain Coniglio turns back on rival interest to stay at GWS
Giant Stephen Coniglio was the AFL's most in-demand free agent this year, and interest in his decision only heightened as the process dragged out for most of the season. Like Gold Coast's Tom Lynch last year, Coniglio did not return from a mid-season knee setback, although he pushed hard to try and make it back for the Grand Final. The 26-year-old had suitors in Hawthorn, Carlton and even St Kilda – which reportedly made the biggest financial offer – although the Hawks and Blues were the major contenders. Industry sources suggested Carlton would be willing to put up $2 million for the first year of Coniglio's deal, while Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson got on the front foot to call the midfield star. None of it mattered, because Coniglio elected to sign a lucrative seven-year contract to remain at Greater Western Sydney. That followed the Giants also securing Josh Kelly and Nick Haynes. Coniglio's headline-grabbing year was complete when he was announced as the club's new captain in December.
16. Take II: Kelly's wish to become an Eagle comes true
There was an inevitability about Tim Kelly's trade from Geelong to West Coast, after his bid to do the same last year fell short. However, Fremantle was at least given an audience with the Kelly camp this time around, 12 months after being shutout out of the process. The story remained at the forefront for media organisations and there were updates seemingly weekly. AFL.com.au revealed in August that Kelly had met with both the Eagles and Dockers, after rebuffing the Cats' request for an early indication on his future. Kelly's form remained outstanding throughout it all, highlighted by a top-five Brownlow Medal finish and being runner-up in Geelong's best and fairest. After the Kelly negotiations went down to the wire and ultimately failed last year, this time the deal was done on just the third day of the Telstra AFL Trade Period. West Coast gave up two first-round picks and a second-round selection as part of the package to bring Kelly home.
15. Greene's Tribunal luck runs out as Giant sits out preliminary final
Toby Greene is used to playing the villain role but that status went to a whole new level in September. With Leon Cameron's men morphing into full 'unsociable' mode, Greene became involved in a series of highly scrutinised incidents. The first of them involved Bulldogs superstar Marcus Bontempelli and was sent directly to the AFL Tribunal. There was speculation Greene had eye-gouged Bontempelli but he didn't answer that charge, although he copped a $7500 fine for serious misconduct. There was outcry about Greene being able to play in Greater Western Sydney's semi-final against Brisbane. He not only played but starred with 30 disposals and two goals. However, every bit as notable was Greene's contact to Lachie Neale's 'eye region'. Match Review Officer Michael Christian offered Greene a one-week ban, which the Giants challenged unsuccessfully at the Tribunal and AFL Appeals Board. GWS was "stunned" and many thought the second incident wasn't as bad as the first. The Giants still won through to the Grand Final – and Greene again had his hands near the face of an opponent, this time Tiger Liam Baker. But the incident wasn't even assessed.
14. Much-hyped Melbourne's stunning fall from grace
Melbourne was supposed to be many things in 2019 but none of those involved finishing second-from-bottom on the ladder. Instead, the Demons – fresh from a preliminary final run and with an emerging list – endured a year from hell, impacted by 17 off-season surgeries. Only a few of the operations were minor, and many of them involved key members. They never recovered and the season lurched from one setback to another, including poor form and more injuries. Things derailed so badly that coach Simon Goodwin and football boss Josh Mahoney opted to change the roles of several assistant coaches in their mid-season break. That bold move pre-empted what was to come at season's end: Brendan McCartney and Craig Jennings departed, and Jade Rawlings jumped ship to join his brother Brady at the Roos. Melbourne ended the season with five wins and 17 losses (five by 40-plus points), meaning next year will determine whether 2018 or '19 was the exception.
13. The increased impact of mental health across the AFL
Mental health continues to be treated more seriously, with the AFL illustrating that with the key hirings of Dr Kate Hall and Dr Ranjit Menon, as well as a partnership with Lifeline Australia this year. Hall is the AFL's head of mental health and wellbeing, while Menon is the AFL's chief psychiatrist. Their appointments are designed to help improve the industry's approach towards and understanding of mental health. Magpie Dayne Beams and Saint Jack Steven were the latest footballers to take an indefinite break from the game to dedicate more time to their mental wellbeing. The late Danny Frawley – a champion full-back across 240 games for St Kilda – was a long-time mental health advocate, and his death in a car crash in September was felt industry-wide and beyond.
12. 'The kick' that represented so much more
AFL photographer Michael Willson's shot of Carlton footballer Tayla Harris' signature kicking style quickly represented so much more. Channel Seven ran the photo on its @7AFL Twitter account and it subsequently attracted a series of vile comments from online trolls. The media organisation's decision to delete the post – with the intention of removing the "inappropriate and offensive" comments – attracted significant criticism. Channel Seven opted to re-post the photo late that night, admitting deleting it had "sent the wrong message". Harris chimed in with a Twitter post of her own, describing those posting the abhorrent comments as "animals". There was enormous support for Harris after the initial adverse reaction and the topic became such a compelling social issue that the photo was immortalised in bronze. Even then, some on social media questioned why she received a statue over, say, Erin Phillips – failing to understand its purpose.
We start with the most liked Tweet of 2019, and that honour goes to none other than @taylaharriss..— Twitter Australia (@TwitterAU) December 9, 2019
With 62K likes and counting, Tayla's Tweet inspired people of all ages and genders to strive for equality throughout the sporting world:https://t.co/SQG6urRXOz
11. Giants make a big, big sound on way to inaugural Grand Final
It finally happened, sort of. Greater Western Sydney advanced to its maiden AFL Grand Final in 2019, after years of rivals declaring the expansion club would become an irrepressible force. Impressive finals triumphs over the Western Bulldogs, Brisbane and Collingwood set up a clash with 2017 premier Richmond. The week leading into the decider became a celebration of the Giants' achievements to date and a walk down memory lane to how the club started in 2012. The Grand Final appearance coincided with Gold Coast claiming its first wooden spoon and receiving significant draft concessions in a rescue package. But more than anything else, it became social media's chance to create hilarious #BigBigSound memes – and, boy, did they deliver. That's where the fun ended for GWS, with the Tigers thrashing them en route to a second flag in three seasons. But with Lachie Whitfield the most-recent Giant to commit for the long term, Leon Cameron's team is set to contend for many years to come.