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 continues the countdown of the year's top 50 football storylines with 10-6 below.

2019'S BIGGEST STORIES We count down the top 50 stories of the year - 50-41
2019'S BIGGEST STORIES We count down the top 50 stories of the year - 40-31
2019'S BIGGEST STORIES We count down the top 50 stories of the year - 30-21
2019'S BIGGEST STORIES We count down the top 50 stories of the year - 20-11

10. Emerging Magpies forward cops long ban in betting scandal

Collingwood young gun Jaidyn Stephenson's 10-match ban and $20,000 fine for betting a total of $36 on three separate Magpies matches kicked off a hailstorm of debate. The multi-bets were all successful but that, quite clearly, was not the point. "The multi-bets over the three legs included bets on Collingwood to win, Collingwood winning margin, Stephenson to kick a goal, Stephenson to kick multiple goals, Collingwood teammates to kick a goal, Collingwood teammates to kick multiple goals and Collingwood teammates to have in excess of a number of disposals," the AFL's general counsel Andrew Dillon said. The length of the ban – with 12 further games on top suspended for the rest of his career – enabled Stephenson to return in time for finals, which was a point of contention for some. The 20-year-old reportedly owned up to Collingwood football boss Geoff Walsh on May 19 to making the bets, which Dillon said helped mitigate his suspension, along with his age, cooperation, remorse and previous cases. The story again caused debate when the Pies discovered a loophole in the ban after playing the Friday night match in round 23. That meant Stephenson's suspension technically expired then, allowing him to gain valuable match fitness in the VFL the weekend before the AFL finals. He ended up being a solid contributor in both of Collingwood's finals. On a somewhat related note, Magpies president Eddie McGuire contacted the AFL in August to confirm rumours of the club's players being involved in a football betting syndicate were false. 

WATCH The best match-winning goals of the decade

Jaidyn Stephenson addresses the media after his ban for betting on AFL games. Picture: AFL Photos


9. Crows opt for cleanout after another failed season

Adelaide's extraordinary and tumultuous two-year unravelling since the 2017 Grand Final was complete this year. The Crows missed finals for the second straight season, and a limp round 23 display in Ballarat capped a poor end to 2019. Football boss Brett Burton and senior assistant Scott Camporeale were the high-profile victims of an extensive football review, while coach Don Pyke resigned before it even came to that. Pyke had two more years left on his contract at the time. Retired AFL champions Jason Dunstall and Matthew Pavlich were in charge of the independent review, which resulted in a series of recommendations, including to hire a head of leadership and culture. The problems are tracked to the infamous Collective Mind-driven camp after the Grand Final loss, with underwhelming results and a spate of hamstring injuries among the issues along the way. Co-captain Taylor Walker also stepped down post-season, while Adelaide's list management team decided the time was right to refresh the list and prioritise youth. The Crows will be a new-look squad in 2020, with Eddie Betts, Josh Jenkins, Sam Jacobs, Alex Keath, Hugh Greenwood, Cam Ellis-Yolmen and Richard Douglas headlining the player outs. Matthew Nicks is the man entrusted with filling Pyke's shoes, while former SANFL general manager of football Adam Kelly is Burton's replacement. Another fascinating year awaits at West Lakes but on-field expectations will certainly be lower since the cleanout.

WATCH The most incredible goals of the decade

Eddie Betts found it tough going during his final season in Adelaide. Picture: AFL Photos

8. Tale of two powerhouse clubs: injuries to stars result in contrasting fortunes

Two of the AFL's biggest clubs also happened to suffer the two biggest injuries for the year. Hawthorn's plans for 2020 went into a tailspin in mid-January, when reigning Brownlow medallist Tom Mitchell suffered breaks to the tibia and fibula bones in his left leg. It was as good as season over for Mitchell at that point, although there was always a glimmer of hope if everything went perfectly. The sight of him walking unaided up the Waverley Park steps, just 19 days post-surgery, proved a false source of hope as the Hawks' best midfielder sat out the entire season. Mitchell's absence placed a significant strain on Hawthorn's midfield stocks but James Worpel was among the beneficiaries and ended up winning the club's best and fairest. However, with key recruit Chad Wingard also struggling with injury, the Hawks failed to make the finals. There were also doomsday predictions for Richmond when five-time All-Australian defender Alex Rance ruptured the ACL in his right knee in round one against Carlton. Some even suggested the Tigers couldn't win the flag without him, especially with the club's mounting injuries in the weeks to come. After a period of difficulty, Richmond recovered to surge to flag glory, with Dylan Grimes transforming into arguably the game's best defender in Rance's absence. It wasn't just Grimes, even if he was the figurehead, with David Astbury, Nick Vlastuin, Bachar Houli, Jayden Short, Nathan Broad and co. combining to cover Rance. Even then, there was a sliver of hope Rance would make a remarkable return but he eventually aborted that plan.

01:02 Mins
Published on

Huge Tiger concern as Rance goes down with a knee

Star defender Alex Rance assisted off with a knee injury

Published on


7. Double trouble for flag-winning Eagle Rioli as Murray receives ban

This isn't the typical kind of September feat associated with the Rioli family. Willie Rioli became a premiership player a year ago but is now staring down the barrel of a four-year ban. Firstly, Rioli was provisionally suspended in relation to an adverse sample from an ASADA test two days after West Coast's round 22 clash with Richmond. Eagles football boss Craig Vozzo cleared it up soon after: "It's something other than urine that has been produced by Willie as part of the testing process." More was to come, with Rioli's urine sample after the elimination final returning a positive reading for cannabis. That reading came before he was notified of the original adverse finding, which means any potential punishment won't be served consecutively. That is to say, whichever possible penalty is greater will be what Rioli serves. Rioli sought refuge in Darwin and has received support from his West Coast brethren but is not able to train with them while the investigation takes place. The Rioli news followed the completion of the Sam Murray saga. The ex-Magpie eventually received an 18-month ban – after facing a maximum of four years – that would enable him to train with an AFL club from December 17 and play from February 17. Collingwood cut Murray loose and there was interest from other clubs, including him meeting with Melbourne and GWS. However, neither club pursued its interest in the dashing defender. Murray, who opened up about his mental health battle, is instead set to play for Williamstown in the VFL in 2020 in a bid to reignite his AFL career.

Willie Rioli faces an uncertain future after twice falling foul of anti-doping rules in 2019. Picture: AFL Photos


6. Frustrated Bomber wants out but wish doesn't come true

There was no bigger story in the Telstra AFL Trade Period than Joe Daniher, especially once the speculation about his in-season meeting with Swans CEO Tom Harley was followed by a trade request to Sydney. The fact Essendon list boss Adrian Dodoro – well known for his hardline negotiating – was again going to be front and centre in a potential deal also added to the theatre. Daniher was contracted for next year, when he will be a restricted free agent, but was frustrated with playing only 11 games across the past two years as he dealt with ongoing groin issues. The narrative included talk of him being unhappy at Tullamarine. It's rare that a trade fails to eventuate when a player requests a move but this one had the hallmarks of falling through right from the start. Daniher is the Bombers' 'franchise' player, Dodoro wanted young Swans players involved, and Sydney wasn't entertaining that demand. The fact Swan Tom Papley was keen to break his contract and join Carlton added further spice to the Daniher dealings. It meant the Blues' No.9 draft pick, which would likely be part of any Papley trade, became an imaginary chip to entice Essendon – but wasn't enough. Sydney's pick five was never on the table, in part because the Bombers were most interested in players. Any possible trade was dead in the water with more than an hour to go before the deadline, which also ruled out any chance of Papley wearing navy blue. Both Daniher and Papley now have to re-acclimatise before potentially trying to depart again next year. 

WATCH The most spectacular marks of the decade


Joe Daniher faces the media alongside Essendon coach John Worsfold in the wake of his failed bid to move to Sydney. Picture: AFL Photos

Listen to the AFL Fantasy Podcast with The Traders at Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.