233 players, coaches, umpires and media personalities have been honoured by the Australian Football Hall of Fame since 1996, including 23 of the games “Legends”, I dare say that the decision made on Wednesday night was probably one of the hardest. Four champions of the Modern Era, Four players that as a junior I looked up to and admired and four Brownlow medallists were recognized for their ability, talent and sportsmanship. In no particular order James Hird, Nathan Buckley, Michael Voss and Mark Ricciuto were all inducted into the Australian Football Hall Of Fame.
1138 Games, 1164 Goals, 4 Brownlow Medals and 19 Best and Fairest Awards. These players have become the champions of a modern game, the recognisable faces and names of the 1990s-00s. It is no surprise that these players all became captain of their respective clubs, nor that between them they represented in All Australian sides 24 times. Hird, Buckley, Voss and Ricciuto are the true greats of the modern game.
In a side that was almost proclaimed unstoppable heading into the 2004, Voss and his
Brisbane Lions dominated resulting in 3 back-to-back flags from 2001-2003. Captain of that side, Voss demonstrated true leadership not just through his ability to get his players ready for a big game (anyone could have achieved that with such a side) but through his actions on the field. As hard as they come Voss showed class and brutal strength in contests and the uncanny ability to boot match winning goals at pivotal times in games. James Hird sits, in the minds of Essendon supporters as one of the All-time greats of the club. Along with Coach Kevin Sheedy the two became a face of a club that bred success playing finals 7 straight years over the turn of the century. Hird playing an integral part of the Bombers line up that won 21 games in a row on their way to the 2000 premiership. Hird proved over the stretch his key attribute was his ability in front of goal. Nathan Buckley could very well have been a Lion after starting his career with the Brisbane Bears before moving to Collingwood, where admittedly he is now renowned as one of the best. He has the clubs 7th most games, over the stretch he won 6 Copeland trophies. All Australian 7 times Buckley managed almost every award over his career but on two occasions Buckley missed the opportunity to become another Collingwood Premiership captain. His strength and hard work became two of the keys to his game and proved to be influential in many big finals with the 2001 North Smith Medal.
From its inception Adelaide needed a figurehead, Mark Ricciuto became that figurehead, playing 312 games over a 14 year career “Roo” has been selected All Australian a record 8 times including his Brownlow medal year when he shared the Medal with Buckley and Adam Goodes. After missing the 1997 premiership side, the Adelaide hard man played in his first and only Crows flag in the their win in 1998. Ricciuto like his counterparts was a crowd favourite at AAMI Stadium and set the crowd in Adelaide alive through many a Showdown, taking home three Showdown Medals.
All three players cut from the same crop of tough, hard and contested footballers paved the way for a new breed of Football. Four players that could bring even the most neutral supporters through the gates. The battles these four players had from time to time demonstrated clearly how evenly matched all four players were. It is a credit to these players that all four were inducted into the Hall of Fame on the same night as to split them in anyway would be almost impossible.
Looking at the History, who ranks as the best player of the four inductees?
Michael Voss – 289 Games & 245 goals
5 x All Australian
Premiership Captain 2001-03
5 x Murray/Merett Medallist
Captain 1997-06 (Club record 210 Games)
Current Brisbane Lions Coach
Nathan Buckley – 280 Games & 284 Goals
7 x All Australian
6 x Copeland Trophy winner
Incumbent Collingwood Coach
James Hird – 253 Games & 343 Goals
4 x All Australian
Essendon Team of the Century
Premiership Captain 2000
5 x Crichton Medal Winner
Current Essendon Coach
Mark Ricciuto – 312 Games & 292 Goals
8x All Australian
Premiership Player 1998
Adelaide Player of the Decade
3 x Blight Medal Winner