THE 2001 national under-18 championships are considered the best since the existing format, with eight teams over two divisions, was devised in 1992.

One of the paradoxes of the 2001 titles is that the two players who are now considered the pick of the subsequent draft played little or no part in the carnival.

Injury prevented Luke Hodge from playing, while Chris Judd popped his “good” shoulder just as things were warming up.

The more telling fact about the 2001 under-18 championships is that 41 of those who played in it are still on AFL lists. The tally would be 42 if Hodge had played.

It’s not surprising that nine were in the Vic Metro team - but it’s extraordinary that nine were in the Northern Territory team.

Tasmania has the fewest, with only one player still on an AFL list, yet the Devils enjoyed great success in 2001, winning the Division Two title and fielding the winner of the Harrison Medal for the best player in that division, key forward Tom Davidson.

The 2001 Larke Medal for the best player in Division One was won jointly by Sam Power of Vic Metro and Steven Armstrong of Western Australia. Like Davidson, Power and Armstrong are no longer on AFL lists.

The player who cast the greatest shadow over the 2001 carnival was Vic Metro captain Chris Judd, who as a junior footballer had a national reputation as a midfielder with a strong will and feet like twin jets.

For his team’s first game against WA at the MCG Judd lined up in the uncustomary position of centre half-back.

Vic Metro coach David Dickson said the idea was that his captain would damage WA’s morale by running off its gun key forward, Graham Polak.

Judd streamed forward twice in the opening quarter, only to miss both shots from 20m out. Vic Metro won easily. When the team went back to its digs at Melbourne Grammar, Judd asked Dickson if he could go on to the oval to practise goal-kicking.

“I’d never had that before, a player wanting to practice after playing a game,” Dickson said.

In 2000, when Judd was a bottom-age player at under-18 level, he popped a shoulder and had an operation to tighten it up. In the first quarter of Vic Metro’s second game in 2001 against South Australia at Shell Stadium in Geelong, he went to ground in what seemed innocuous fashion and popped his other shoulder.

Dickson said Judd was held in such high esteem by his teammates that the sight of him in agonising pain at half time silenced the room. Vic Metro was eight points up.

Early in the third quarter, undersized wingman Leigh Montagna sliced through the middle to kick two early goals, while Luke Ball set a pattern of bulldozing into packs and emerging with the ball. Campbell Brown laid a shuddering bump on SA’s Jason Burgoyne.

Metro responded to Judd’s absence by going on a rampage, kicking eight goals for the quarter while SA kicked one behind.

After the match, Vic Metro players were delighted when Judd returned from a Geelong hospital to join them on the bus back to Melbourne. He didn’t play again for the season.

Vic Country captain in 2001 was Jimmy Bartel, who led a midfield that included three stars from the Bendigo Pioneers, Nick Dal Santo, Rick Ladson and Ash Watson, as well as Mark McGough, Brent Moloney and Gary Ablett.

Leon Harris, Vic Country coach in 2001, said Ablett at that stage was showing only glimpses of his freakish ball-getting ability. Moloney, however, was the best reader off a pack he had come across as a junior coach.

“His ability at stoppages was outstanding,” Harris said.

Midfielders filled the best players’ list when Vic Country soundly defeated SA at the MCG in the opening round. Half-forward Steve Johnson was a star in the win over WA at Shell Stadium in the second match, kicking three goals while beginning to reveal his range of tricks.

“He was just starting to come out of his shell,” Harris said.

With Vic Metro and Vic Country undefeated after two rounds, their match at the MCG in the third and final round was effectively a grand final. The winner would earn the Division One title.

Harris described Jarrad Waite as “all arms and legs” during those championships. He was also not as tight as he could have been.

Vic Country had the edge until late in the third quarter when Montagna, Waite’s opponent, cut through the middle to kick two goals. Harris said David Rodan ran riot for Vic Metro at half-back as the team went to the final break with an eight-point lead.

Harris was unable to remember many moments from his team’s games during those championships, but he had a vivid recollection of addressing his players at three-quarter time of that final match when Crackers Keenan walked up and stuck a Fox Sports microphone in his face.

Harris did not mind the microphone, but he was mortified when the distraction drew the eyes of every one of his players. The coach backed out, walked around the group and asked his players to turn around and face him. Crackers was left stranded behind them.

Early in the last quarter, the Country team was still getting its mind back on the job when Metro’s Sam Power streamed down from half-back to kick a trademark goal and push his team’s lead beyond two goals. Late in the quarter, Metro’s James Kelly had a set shot from 30m out on a 45-degree angle.

Kelly had been under the guard of opposition teams throughout the carnival, and showed his value when he nailed his difficult shot at the death.

In Division Two, NT was disadvantaged when a coaching change had to be made just a month before the carnival. Kevin Morris, a highly experienced AFL assistant, was appointed. 

Morris’s problem was that his most talented players had the worst attitudes. The half a dozen players who were based at SANFL clubs thought they were in Melbourne for a holiday.

NT struck bad luck when captain Joe Bray damaged his cruciate ligament, but Morris said the significant point was that his best players rarely featured in the best players’ lists after games.

NT team defeated Queensland, lost to NSW/ACT and lost to Tasmania by five points. Of the star players, only Trent Hentschel distinguished himself.

“His dedication was exceptional,” Morris said.

Vic Metro 15.13 (103) d Vic Country 11.6 (72)

Vic Metro: Sam Power, Luke Ball, Ben Finnin, Andrew Carrazzo, Charlie Gardiner, Tom Hooker, David Rodan, Leigh Montagna, Andrew Welsh, Rod Crowe
Vic Country: Simon Rosa, Luke Molan, Jacob Fraser, Mark McGough, Josh Rudd

Vic Metro:
Brent Reilly 3, Charlie Gardiner 2, James Kelly 2, Ben Finnin 2, Shane Harvey, Leigh Montagna, David Rodan, Kieren McGuinness, Luke Ball, Sam Power
Vic Country: Luke Molan 2, Steve Johnson 2, Rick Ladson 2, Mark McGough 2, Brent Moloney, Hugh Foott, Josh Dicketts