RICHMOND'S second premiership in three seasons was always going to take some beating for this year's biggest storyline.
Technically, nothing did, because a Tiger still took it out, albeit the last man added to the playing list this season.
They weren't the only significant story-generators, with the coaches, umpires and score reviewers providing plenty of fodder for the last edition of AFL.com.au's countdown for 2019.
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
2019'S BIGGEST STORIES We count down the top 50 stories of the year 10-6
5. The score review errors that kept on coming
There's no shying away from it: score review blunders were all too common in 2019 and a massive talking point. There were almost serious repercussions when Josh Thomas was incorrectly credited with a goal in Collingwood's stirring preliminary final comeback against Greater Western Sydney. Fortunately, the Giants hung on to make the Grand Final despite the final-quarter error. On that occasion, the officiating umpires didn't call for a score review, while the AFL's 'silent review' in the newly established ARC deemed there was insufficient evidence to overrule. However, the AFL sang a different tune the morning after, admitting Lachie Keeffe had touched Thomas' kick and it should have been a behind. The AFL flagged the introduction of a score-review bunker – which eventually became the ARC – after admitting a third such error within a week at the start of June. AFL general manager of football operations Steve Hocking summed the controversy up: "The score review system was introduced to correct obvious scoring errors. In the last fortnight, there have been significant errors made during score reviews that have undermined the confidence of our clubs and the football public in the system." Anger towards the system didn't change after Hocking's mid-season comments, with Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley fuming after a Josh Jenkins goal was approved. Jenkins conceded in a post-game interview that he thought his match-winning kick hit the post – but the AFL ticked it off and said there was "no clear evidence" to overrule it. Therein lies another issue: the technology is far from perfect, although Hocking twice stated in a November media appearance that the AFL was satisfied with it. There is now the possibility players will have the chance to call for score reviews.
4. Caretaker coaching trio win long-term jobs in surprising development
Being the caretaker coach is no longer a poisoned chalice. In what became a fascinating storyline, Rhyce Shaw (North Melbourne), David Teague (Carlton) then Brett Ratten (St Kilda) all won the top coaching job after mid-season appointments as caretakers. They replaced Brad Scott, Brendon Bolton and Alan Richardson, respectively, when their clubs were struggling but all three managed to lead their sides to instant victories and improved performances overall. In Shaw's case, his elevation capped a meteoric rise after switching from Sydney in the off-season. After ex-Roos players Adam Simpson, Alastair Clarkson and John Longmire all knocked back North's advances, Shaw became the red-hot favourite for the tough brand of football he implemented. He was locked in for the next three years with a month still to go in the 2019 season. Teague's ascension was arguably even more incredible, particularly after Blues football director Chris Judd's comment about them not wanting "someone with training wheels on". But Teague's case became irrepressible – with the #TeagueTrain phrase becoming popular among players and fans – as Carlton won six of his 11 games in charge, after claiming just one of Bolton's final 11 outings. Ratten completed the caretaker hat-trick to earn a deserving second chance at senior coaching. The Saints were victorious in their first two games under 'Ratts' and three from six overall. He didn't muck around at his media announcement, declaring from the outset his goal is to return St Kilda to the finals for the first time since 2011. The AFL community now waits to see whether their success was a trend or a mirage in a honeymoon period.
3. Is it a dynasty? The Tigers of old, too strong and too bold
Richmond continues to make a mockery of what is supposed to be the era of equality. A second premiership either side of the Tigers' preliminary final run in 2018 – when they were hot flag favourites – was enough to ignite talk of a dynasty. They not only defeated the Giants in the Grand Final but hammered them by 89 points. And there is no reason to doubt Richmond's ability to add to its haul next year, even with the shock retirement of champion defender Alex Rance, who missed all bar one game in 2019. In fact, not even a raft of injuries to key players – Rance, Jack Riewoldt, Trent Cotchin, David Astbury, Kane Lambert, Shane Edwards and Toby Nankervis, to name just a few – or a Dustin Martin suspension could derail the Tigers. They resumed from the bye in ninth place with a 7-6 record, then bucked general convention in bringing seven players back in one hit. Damien Hardwick's men never lost again, winning 12 straight matches, including three finals, to confirm their status as the best team since Hawthorn's 2013-15 flag three-peat. Part of why Richmond was so good was its ability to take educated risks, with 2017 premiership hero Jack Graham's preliminary final injury presenting another such opportunity. After Sydney Stack had already worked out. There were much safer options than Marlion Pickett but Hardwick took a punt on him and it paid off magnificently. Pickett narrowly fell short of the Norm Smith Medal, which instead went to superstar Martin for the second time in three years. At his best, there is arguably no finer player in the game right now than the 2017 Brownlow medallist but this club is going every bit as well.
2. Scott, Bolts, Richo, Ross and Don depart in year of the coach sacking
So much was made of there being no senior coaching changes last year and just one the season before. It was heralded as a new AFL age, where coaching stability – even during tumultuous times – was preferred to a fresh start. Damien Hardwick and Nathan Buckley were the faces of the revolution, after leading their teams to success not long after their jobs were on the line. That all changed this year, with Brad Scott (North Melbourne), Brendon Bolton (Carlton), Alan Richardson (St Kilda), Ross Lyon (Fremantle) and Don Pyke (Adelaide) being sacked or resigning (under duress). Each of them had at least a season to run on their contract, although Bolton's rolling arrangement was open-ended. Essendon's John Worsfold also faced adversity, and the Bombers announced shortly after their finals campaign ended that Ben Rutten would succeed 'Woosha' post-2020. There hadn't been such chaos since 2011, when five coaches finished up, including Lyon crossing from St Kilda to secretly unseat Mark Harvey at the Dockers. That year involved the Collingwood handover from Mick Malthouse to Buckley, as well as Rodney Eade (Western Bulldogs), Neil Craig (Adelaide) and the late Dean Bailey (Melbourne) departing. It will be interesting to see whether stability was just a fad, or if this year was an exception. Stuart Dew is set to re-sign at Gold Coast, while the Giants' Grand Final appearance should help Leon Cameron's cause for a new deal beyond 2020. That leaves Melbourne's Simon Goodwin and Port Adelaide's Ken Hinkley under the most pressure, although they are contracted until 2022 and 2021, respectively.
1. Pickett delivers unforgettable debut on the biggest stage of all
There are many factors when weighing up the year's top story but one important element is whether it will be remembered for decades to come. Marlion Pickett's extraordinary 2019 belongs in that category. No club was brave enough to draft Pickett a year ago and only one – Richmond – was willing to in this season's NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft, after he re-broke a finger the weekend prior. The 27-year-old, who spent two years in jail as a teenager for burglary, diligently completed his rehabilitation and returned for the Tigers' VFL side late in the season. Pickett quickly made an impression but it seemed he would miss out on Richmond's AFL finals run, at least until Jack Graham's untimely shoulder injury in the Tigers' preliminary final win over Geelong. Kamdyn McIntosh and Jack Ross were held out of the VFL Grand Final to be on standby for Graham but Pickett had other plans. He received the Norm Goss Medal as the best player afield in the state league decider and forced his way into Richmond's team for one of the unlikeliest of AFL debuts in history. Pickett became the first player since Collingwood's Keith Batchelor in 1952 to play his first senior game in a Grand Final. That was fascinating enough but then the tough, silky midfielder – from the same WAFL club, South Fremantle, as Tim Kelly – turned in a performance for the ages. Pickett won 22 composed touches and his third-quarter goal capped a truly great display. Only Dustin Martin and Bachar Houli polled more Norm Smith Medal votes than Pickett, who won a second flag in as many weekends and became a Tigers life member in the process. We can't wait to see what comes next.