DAMIEN Hardwick's Richmond created a dynasty, while its superstar Dustin Martin cemented his own greatness. But there was one storyline that impacted the competition like never before and changed its course.
The COVID season will never be forgotten by those who lived through it for that reason, but that doesn't mean there weren't moments of brilliance to remember and the usual football controversies that colour a season.
In a six-part series, AFL.com.au will count down the top football storylines of 2020 and the year's most memorable moments, starting with 50-41.
50. Brad Ebert's final football act
The final moment of Port Adelaide warrior Brad Ebert's 260-game career typified the bravery he played with across 13 seasons. Late in the fourth quarter of a gripping preliminary final, and with Richmond pushing forward, Ebert went back with the flight and launched himself to spoil Jack Riewoldt's marking attempt. His head then hit the turf and he staggered from Adelaide Oval with the help of trainers, having given everything to the cause. The number of head knocks and concussions Ebert suffered with West Coast and then the Power meant he had little choice but to retire as a highly-respected, team-first player. He left nothing out there.
49. Fighting Giants send Haynes in for "peculiar" coin toss
The rivalry between Greater Western Sydney and the Western Bulldogs continued to bubble in 2020 and a strange chapter was added in round three. New GWS captain Stephen Coniglio sent Nick Haynes in for the coin toss against Marcus Bontempelli, who had fractured the defender's larynx late last season in an incident that left the Giants seething. The Giants explained it as a split-second decision from the new captain to share the job around, but a fiery encounter ensured nonetheless and the Giants were on the wrong side of the result. Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge described the coin toss as "peculiar" and "strange".
48. Steven retires after short stay with Cats
A four-time club champion at St Kilda, Jack Steven called time on a fine career that was marred in its final season when he was the victim of a stabbing. A high-profile recruit for Geelong, Steven was stabbed in the chest in May and spent two days in hospital. The AFL and the Cats both cleared the 30-year-old to return after the incident and a police investigation was closed in September with no charges laid. An explosive midfielder at his peak, Steven was the Saints' best player through a long rebuild and finished with 192 games, retiring with one year to run on his contract.
47. Longmuir's Dockers chart new path
After a period of tumult, Fremantle felt rock solid in 2020 and it was easy to believe in what they are building. They set a new direction under first-year coach Justin Longmuir and the young players who will take the club forward stepped up in a big way, with Adam Cerra and Andrew Brayshaw standouts and Caleb Serong winning the NAB AFL Rising Star award. The Dockers were hard to play against and they won admirers in a season that shapes as the foundation for future success.
46. 'He milks free kicks as good as anyone'
It was a heat-of-the-moment comment made by Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson that left Sydney counterpart John Longmire gobsmacked. Swans forward Tom Papley had been the match-winner between the clubs with four goals in round eight, and one of those had come after he was bowled over by James Frawley following his second goal. When asked about the incident, Clarkson delivered the memorable line, with Longmire gobsmacked when it was relayed to him minutes later. Clarkson also had interesting exchanges with via the media with Geelong and St Kilda.
45. Crows concede after Crouch compensation standoff
For a brief moment it looked possible Adelaide would land pick No.2 in the NAB AFL Draft courtesy of Brad Crouch's move to St Kilda as a free agent. The Crows even threatened to match the Saints' offer if they couldn't come up with a contract for Crouch that resulted in first-round compensation. In the end, Crouch was given free passage to his new club as a restricted free agent after 95 games with the Crows, and his former club received pick No.23 from the AFL, well short of pick No.2 but closer to a fair result.
44. Star Bulldog charged for drunken crash
Premiership midfielder Lachie Hunter had a challenging year off the field, most publicly when he crashed into four parked cars while over the legal blood alcohol limit. The club champion was fined $5000 by his club and suspended for four matches, handing in his vice-captaincy. Hunter responded by raising money for the Alfred Hospital road accident trauma program during 'Dry July', and his return on-field was positive after a period of unavailability for personal reasons. His fiancé, Maddison Sullivan-Thorpe, later announced the couple had decided not to continue their push to become parents after enduring five rounds of IVF, adding context to the 25-year-old's difficult season.
This is the damage to Western Bulldogs vice-captain Lachie Hunter’s car after he is alleged to have hit four parked cars while intoxicated last night.— Mitch Cleary (@cleary_mitch) April 16, 2020
FULL STORY: https://t.co/x0nXuZFlQ4 pic.twitter.com/p6v2iTJsB5
43. Stars shine in AFLW and set new standard
The top bracket of AFLW stars set a new standard for the competition in 2020. Adelaide's Anne Hatchard set the tone in round one with a new record of 35 disposals, while Collingwood's Jaimee Lambert quickly stamped her claims as the competition's best player with her class and ball-winning ability. Fremantle's Kiara Bowers lifted the physicality of the competition with a record 14.1 tackles a game, fearless second-year Carlton midfielder Maddy Prespakis won the League best and fairest, and North Melbourne's Jasmine Garner moved into the midfield and brought an attacking flair to the role. Teammate Emma Kearney and Melbourne's Karen Paxman were selected for a fourth-straight All Australian team and are the only players to feature every year.
42. Nic Nat returns and Ryan explodes
After two knee reconstructions, the odds were stacked against West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui reaching the standards her set earlier in his career in his first full season back. It made his thrilling performances through the middle of the season all the more impressive as he established himself as the AFL's premier ruckman and earned All-Australian selection for the first time since 2012, also winning his first club champion award. Teammate Liam Ryan was flying in 2020, pushing up the ground and still averaged 1.5 goals a game. His skills were breathtaking and he was among the most watchable players in the game, earning All Australian selection.
41. RIP Shane Tuck and Jacinda Barclay
Richmond and the wider Australian football community were hit hard in July when former Tigers midfielder Shane Tuck died tragically at the age of 38. The son of Hawthorn great Michael, Tuck had a wonderful 173-game career and was a much-loved warrior for his club, earning life membership. In October, Greater Western Sydney forward Jacinda Barclay tragically passed away aged 29. A highly talented athlete, football was the third sport Barclay played at the elite level and her loss was also mourned in the baseball and gridiron communities. Her spirit and infectious personality had made her an unforgettable member of the Giants family, the club said.
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