EXCITEMENT in football means something different to everyone.
It could be a skyscraping mark, a ridiculously good goal, some individual brilliance, a huge hip and shoulder, an improbably long run – or maybe something else.
AFL.com.au has undertaken the difficult task of picking the game's most exciting players from season 2000.
The rules were simple: players could qualify for just one club, so decisions had to be made on stars such as Eddie Betts, Lance Franklin, Jeff Farmer and Byron Pickett.
There wasn't a set games criteria, and we tried to avoid simply selecting the best players (unless the case was too strong).
Without further ado, here are your club's biggest entertainers.
>> HAVE YOUR SAY on the who is the best in the poll at the bottom
The superstar forward kicked 51 goals or more in each of his first four seasons at the Crows, and many of them were stupendous. He made such an artform of checkside or snapped goals from the right pocket at Adelaide Oval that it's now affectionately named after him. Betts has all the tricks of a modern small forward – clean at ground level, the ability to rove packs at full speed, freakish skills and an insatiable appetite for chase-down tackles. The difference is he did almost all of them at a superior level to the rest in his prime.
Honourable mentions: Andrew McLeod and Brett Burton
'Aker' arguably had more confidence than any footballer to ever play the game. That borderline arrogance helped him become a Brownlow medallist, a champion and an integral member of three premiership sides – and produce some of the most memorable on-field moments of this century. Akermanis knew how quick he was and would regularly and audaciously zig-zag through traffic, before using his exquisite skills to set up others or kick brilliant (and often long) goals. A born entertainer whose post-match handstands after wins are part of his legacy.
Honourable mentions: Darryl White and Charlie Cameron
Fevola would have been a handful to coach and man manage off the field but there was no doubting his value on it. He was excellent overhead and a good mover who understood the AFL is not only sport but entertainment. You sometimes felt like Fevola cranked up the difficulty on his shots in order to slot more outrageous goals. What made him so good, and exciting, is he kicked more of those tough ones than he missed – often from 50m out while riding the boundary. Fevola's vigorous celebrations rounded out the package.
Honourable mentions: Anthony Koutoufides and Jeff Garlett
You couldn't help but enjoy watching Thomas play, whether he was blowing past opponents with speed, climbing on their back or chasing them down after a typically tenacious effort. He had just enough cheek, too, to attempt plays others weren't brave enough or skilful enough to. Thomas was a fan favourite from the time the skinny kid with shaggy blond hair from Gippsland arrived at the Holden Centre. His eye-catching talents led then-St Kilda coach Ross Lyon to ask whether he was the game's best player at one stage in the 2011 season.
Honourable mentions: Leon Davis and Jeremy Howe
This Bomber's captured the public's imagination to the extent he has a song named after him. That should say enough for McDonald-Tipungwuti's selection here. It's his nifty footwork, the explosion of speed off the mark, his nasty sidestep and catalogue of tremendous goals. Then throw in Tippa's physicality – you know you're hit when it's one of his, and he often catches rivals napping with his tackling – and it's an exhilarating combination. The dreadlocks just add to the fun with the popular Tiwi Islander.
Honourable mentions: Andrew Lovett and Adam Saad
A match-winner with extraordinary ability whose personality shines through. Just ask Robbie Gray about the mocking kisses Walters blew in his direction last year. In the same game, he shot an imaginary arrow into the crowd after one of his six goals. The Docker is a genuine star, and as of last year, an All-Australian. You feel like something is going to happen every time he's in the vicinity of the Sherrin – and opponents must feel the same danger. Walters is not only fleet of foot but makes quick decisions and his left-foot kicking is sublime.
Honourable mentions: Clive Waterhouse and Stephen Hill
Johnson oozed skill and made the insanely difficult look straightforward, although the gusto with which he celebrated made you quickly realise the brilliance we'd witnessed. He kicked goals from the boundary, from largely impossible angles, on both feet and even on his back. Part of the gun Cat's appeal was he did it his way, including creating the set snap, which was first picked up en masse by his teammates, then the rest of the competition. Johnson's peers and the fans on the other side of the fence watched him equally in awe.
Honourable mentions: Ronnie Burns and Patrick Dangerfield
Arguably the game's greatest player, and at the very least he's in the conversation. With the Ablett genes, he was capable of leaping for marks in his prime (when he wanted to) but his most breathtaking footy came at ground level. It all starts with the Little Master's nimble footwork, where he can change direction as many times as required to escape the unescapable and make his opponents look silly. Then there's his incredible goal nous, including often finding daylight on snaps from so deep in the pocket he could have paid for a ticket. A genius at work.
Honourable mentions: Harley Bennell and Jared Brennan
Having Steve Johnson as your mentor gives you a pretty good head start in the excitement stakes. Greene is a free spirit who's ultra-competitive, and his unpredictable nature is part of what makes him box-office viewing. He can be getting down and dirty one minute before blowing everyone away with his skills the next. Usually, it's one or the other for mere mortals. Greene's 'studs-up' marking style and propensity for a scrap make him a villain in some quarters but everyone would (eventually) concede this rare talent is great for the game.
Honourable mentions: Zac Williams and Lachie Whitfield
Rioli was as close to a football magician as they come, and his early retirement was a disappointment to fans and foes alike. As became the common refrain about him, he needed just a handful of touches to tear a team apart, such was his wizardry. Rioli could smoothly pick up a Sherrin on the move, clutch it in the air with one hand, kick goals from mid-air or dribble them from improbable angles, and dodge multiple opponents. His hang-time efforts and suffocating pressure were regular parts of his show, too. Put simply, Rioli was "delicious", hey, Bruce?
Honourable mentions: Paul Puopolo and Shaun Burgoyne
Farmer's nickname is literally 'The Wiz'. Like Cyril Rioli, he was a dual threat as a small forward; someone who was equally dangerous hunting the loose ball as he was soaring for a huge mark. Some of his grabs need to be seen to be believed – just ask Garry Lyon. Farmer was never better than in his 2000 campaign, when he kicked 76 goals and made the All-Australian team. Included in that season was the match where he booted nine second-half goals against Collingwood, after being dragged from the field in the second term without a touch. A remarkable footballer.
Honourable mentions: Liam Jurrah and Aaron Davey
Where others' highlights compilations are stuffed with goals and skilful acts, Pickett's must also find room for his bone-jarring hits. What made him great was he could also do the brilliant – and you couldn't catch him once the afterburners went on. Pickett's 75m set-shot goal in blue and white won't easily be forgotten, either. He ended his career with two premierships and a Norm Smith Medal but it's his bumps and menacing presence that he's remembered most for. Fans could never look away when Pickett was near the Sherrin and it was smart for his opponents to be aware of him, too.
Honourable mentions: Brent Harvey and Daniel Wells
Wingard was a dual All-Australian by the age of 22 and did so in spectacular fashion, as he has since. His early work was mostly as a forward, where his aerial prowess put many an opponent on a poster, but he is equally damaging with his evasiveness. A spin, a sidestep or Wingard's pure pace regularly leave his minders in his wake. Wingard's exquisite finishing ability is another impressive part of his arsenal, while he shares a trait with the biggest stars of being able to split a game open in a matter of minutes.
Honourable mentions: Daniel Motlop and Robbie Gray
The fend-off. The power. The brilliance. The speed. The explosiveness. The skill. The haircut. The tatts. Even the mystery. There are so many elements to this champion. 'Dusty' has become the premier player in the AFL for the best team, winning two Norm Smith medals in as many Grand Final triumphs since 2017. He can win matches as a midfielder or forward – and has he ever missed one of his trademark snaps from inside 50? The Tiger Army's voice is audibly louder any time their superstar is within the play.
Honourable mentions: Matthew Richardson and Dan Rioli
A ball of energy, Milne became one of the most prolific small forwards in VFL/AFL history, with his 574 goals placing him in the top 50 all-time. He was an underrated player in one-on-one marking contests and deadly if he had any space inside 50, even on the most difficult angles. If a snap wasn't an option, Milne would turn to a dribbling attempt that would regularly deliver six points. You also couldn't wipe the smile off Saints fans' faces whenever the cheeky goalsneak started yapping from close proximity at his hapless opponents.
Honourable mentions: Austinn Jones and Fraser Gehrig
Poor Cale Hooker. He will forever be part of AFL highlight reels with his exasperated look as then-Hawk Franklin burst away from him with three bounces from the wing before drilling a famous goal from the pocket in 2010. There was a similar 'Buddy' one seven years later – albeit with a fumble in between, and questions on how far he ran – when Adelaide's Daniel Talia substituted for Hooker but couldn't chase the Swan down. We've never seen a footballer with Franklin's combination of height, skill and athleticism. He will almost certainly become the next player to boot 1000 goals in what is undoubtedly a Hall of Fame career.
Honourable mentions: Lewis Jetta and Tom Papley
Of all the speccies Ryan's already reeled in during his two-and-a-bit-season AFL career, there's one that stands above all others. The lead-up demonstrated his work ethic but the final act was him charging in from the side before elevating onto Melbourne giant Max Gawn's shoulders for an incredible grab. Gawn was left on all fours, while fellow Eagle Nathan Vardy couldn't stop laughing. There was another beauty over Bulldog Jackson Trengove, too. When on land, Ryan is quick, daring and sharp in front of goal – but it's when he's airborne that he shines brightest.
Honourable mentions: Nic Naitanui and Chris Judd
There are few better sights than a footballer busting through a pack of players, and this is a Stringer staple. He was just a promising prospect before the 2015 season, but he exploded that year for a career-best 56 goals that saw him rewarded with All-Australian selection. Commentator Brian Taylor subsequently dubbed Stringer 'The Package'. It was apt: he'd become a walking highlight capable of the amazing who was never shy about swaggering across the field and feeding off the crowd's energy. Stringer remains an entertainer, now as a Bomber.
Honourable mentions: Jason Johannisen and Nathan Brown