GREAT teams don't always get their just rewards.
AFL.com.au has traced through history in the AFL era – from 1987 to the present day – to rank the best seven teams that just couldn't quite taste premiership success.
The criteria was simple: the teams had to have been contenders or had near misses over more than one season, and to not have claimed a flag within that era.
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The Bombers of 1999 and 2001, for instance, were not eligible because of their 2000 flag in between the misses. The same for North Melbourne in 1998, or Port Adelaide in 2001-03, with both of those clubs clinching flags within their window.
Here are the seven best sides who got achingly close to the summit without experiencing the glory.
1 St Kilda, 2009-10
The Saints were the dominant side in the competition for two years, winning 39 out of 51 games across this period. Unfortunately, though, two of those losses and one of the draws were in Grand Finals. Ross Lyon's men were particularly strong in 2009, when they won the first 19 games of the home and away season. But Geelong's strength was too much to handle in the Grand Final in a gripping contest. St Kilda fronted up the next season and drew the first premiership decider against Collingwood before being overran in the replay. This era could even go back a few more years, with the Saints making the 2004, 2005 and 2008 preliminary finals as well. For all their success, the ultimate was out of reach.
2 Geelong, 1989-95
There was plenty of heartache in a condensed period for the Cats. Geelong lost four Grand Finals in seven seasons, starting with the classic 1989 encounter with Hawthorn. Three years later they weren't good enough against West Coast, who beat them again in the 1994 decider, before the final nail came when they weren't able to get over the dominant Carlton unit in the 1995 Grand Final. With Gary Ablett snr their star throughout this era, in 1991 the Cats also made the preliminary final (again losing to their nemesis the Eagles). Malcolm Blight, who had coached the Cats throughout their many near misses, departed the club after their '94 loss with Gary Ayres taking over in 1995.
3 Adelaide, 2005-06
Adelaide's strong chance at a flag didn't even result in a Grand Final appearance. The Crows had won 13 of its last 14 games in the 2005 home and away season, were on a 10-game winning streak leading into the finals and had finished top of the ladder, but St Kilda travelled to Football Park in Adelaide and won by eight points in the qualifying final. The Crows won the following week but the first round finals loss meant they had to travel to Perth for the preliminary final, where they lost to West Coast. The Neil Craig-led Crows looked set to bounce back in 2006 but stumbled late in the season, losing four of their last six home and away games. They beat Fremantle in the qualifying final to set up a home preliminary final, but the Eagles were once again too good, winning by 10 points on the road on their way to the flag.
4 Collingwood, 2002-03
Wooden-spooners in 1999, the Pies made a swift rise up the ladder under new coach Mick Malthouse, reaching the 2002 Grand Final in just his third season in charge. It was a fierce, brutal and memorable decider, with Brisbane edging out the Pies by nine points in wet conditions. Captain Nathan Buckley won the Norm Smith Medal in a losing side. Many believed the Pies' outfit was fighting above its weight that season, however they finished second on the ladder in 2003 and were considered favourites heading into the rematch with the Lions in the Grand Final. Brisbane had other ideas, smashing the Magpies by 50 points.
5 Fremantle, 2013-15
Lyon's second side that got close without triumphing. The Dockers made their first Grand Final in 2013, but were beaten by 15 points by the Hawks. Freo had its chances that day but the final margin is a little flattering to the Dockers. They made the top four the following season but bowed out with back-to-back losses. With Matthew Pavlich their captain and Nat Fyfe becoming a brilliant star, the Dockers had one more shot at success, reaching the 2015 preliminary final after finishing on top of the ladder that season. This shaped as a great chance as they hosted Hawthorn in Perth, but the Hawks were too strong as they eyed their three-peat premiership run.
6 Geelong 2016-19
The Patrick Dangerfield era at Geelong has reaped plenty of wins without the ultimate prize. Dangerfield crossed to the Cats from Adelaide at the end of 2015, and in his time at Geelong the club has played finals every year. In 2016 they hosted Sydney at the MCG in a preliminary final but were thrashed, before being again dominated in the following year's preliminary final, that time against Adelaide. There was a dip in 2018, when they lost the elimination final to Melbourne, but they bounced back to lead Richmond by 22 points at half-time of last year's preliminary final before squandering the advantage, despite finishing the home and away season in top spot. This window remains open, but the Cats are an ageing group.
7 Western Bulldogs 2008-10
The Bulldogs' push for success in the first decade of the century is often overlooked because of Geelong and St Kilda's dominance. But the Dogs kept fronting up. They played in three consecutive preliminary finals under coach Rodney Eade from 2008-10 having made the top four in all three seasons. Their best hope came in 2009, when they lost a thrilling preliminary final to the Saints by seven points. St Kilda again disposed of them the following season by 24 points, ending that Dogs' side's hopes of a breakthrough flag.