The 2016 AFL season in review
2016 began with a question: could Hawthorn do what no other side had managed for nearly 90 years - win a fourth consecutive premiership to match the efforts of Collingwood's 1927-30 'machine'? Pre-season betting suggested the answer was 'yes', with Hawthorn installed as favourites with the bookmakers. The Hawks were just ahead of the two West Australian sides - West Coast and Fremantle - in the betting, with Port Adelaide and Geelong not far behind.
Both Port and Geelong had missed the eight in 2015 but were expected to bounce back into finals calculations, the Power's 2015 season seen as an aberration after they had come within a kick of the 2014 Grand Final, and the Cats forecast to return as a powerhouse with gun midfielder Patrick Dangerfield on board, having crossed from Adelaide in the off-season.
The Western Bulldogs, who had made a surprise rise up the ladder in 2015 under new coach Luke Beveridge, were seen, along with Adelaide, as the teams most likely to slip out of the eight, while Essendon, which lost the better half of its best 22 to suspension as a result of the supplements scandal, were almost unbackable favourites to 'win' the wooden spoon.
The season kicked off with the traditional, time-honoured Richmond v Carlton clash on a late March Thursday evening at the MCG. The Tigers, looking to make the finals for a fourth consecutive season, took some time to shake off the Blues, who were playing under new coach Brendon Bolton for the first time, but kicked three of the last four goals of the match to sneak home by nine points. Despite ultimately losing, the Blues unearthed a potential new star in Jacob Weitering, the number one draft pick showing all the signs of becoming a star player, as he would go on to do throughout the season.
The thriller of the round also came at the MCG two days later with Melbourne scoring an upset two-point win over GWS. Two of the opening-round matches produced three-figure losing scores, flagging a potentially higher-scoring brand of football for the season, with Port Adelaide defeating St Kilda 133-100 and West Coast beating Brisbane 166-102.
Gold Coast had a big win over Essendon, North accounted for Adelaide and Sydney thrashed Collingwood, the Magpies losing Dane Swan during the match to a serious foot injury that sadly ended his season on day one. While that match would ultimately end Swan's career, it signalled the beginning of three other potentially brilliant ones, with Tom Papley, Callum Mills and George Hewett making fine debuts for the Swans.
Geelong lived up to its pre-season hype by taking down the reigning Hawks on Easter Monday, but the upset of the round was the Western Bulldogs' win over Fremantle. The Dogs made 2015's minor premiers look second-rate thrashing the Dockers by 65 points to take top place on the ladder.
Round 2 produced the first one-point match of 2016, Collingwood coming from behind to snatch victory against Richmond with the last kick of the match. The year's first Showdown saw Adelaide thrash Port, while Essendon - who many thought would go through the season without tasting victory - had a shock win over Melbourne at the MCG.
In Perth, Gold Coast recorded its first ever win at Subiaco, defeating Fremantle, while GWS broke through for its first win against Geelong to sound a warning to the rest of the competition. The other matches were all one-sided affairs, with Hawthorn repeating its Grand Final effort against West Coast to win by the same margin, 46 points, while North Melbourne, the Bulldogs and Sydney all had easy wins, the Dogs' victory over the Saints giving St Kilda legend Nick Riewoldt an unhappy 300th game to remember. By the end of the round only the Bulldogs, Sydney, Gold Coast and North Melbourne were undefeated.
Port bounced back from its poor effort against the Crows to thrash Essendon, while St Kilda opened its winning account and celebrated the 50th anniversary of its one and only premiership with an unexpectedly easy win over Collingwood. Richmond put up a poor showing at the MCG against Adelaide, going down by six goals. Two local derbies were played on the Saturday, with Sydney having a comfortable win over GWS and West Coast making short work of the Dockers to see Fremantle slip to 0-3. Gold Coast, meanwhile moved to a 3-0 record with a nine-goal thrashing of Carlton.
Sunday's games saw Geelong make very short work of Brisbane, but the other two matches were both thrillers. North and Melbourne played a good old-fashioned shoot-out in Hobart, the Roos sneaking home by five points despite Melbourne kicking 20 goals. At Docklands, the Bulldogs looked winners at the final change but a big final quarter from Hawthorn saw them pip the Dogs by three points, the game ending tragically for Bulldog skipper Bob Murphy, who ruptured his ACL in the dying seconds of the match. The injury ended his season.
North Melbourne remained the only undefeated side after just four weeks, the Kangaroos comfortably defeating Fremantle as the Dockers faced a crisis, with their own first four rounds producing no wins. Sydney and Gold Coast suffered their first defeats of the season, the Swans pipped by Adelaide while the Suns were upset by Brisbane, the Lions recording their first win of 2016.
Hawthorn played its second thriller in two weeks, the Hawks being very lucky to escape with a three-point win over a tenacious St Kilda. None of the other matches produced margins of under five goals, with West Coast, Geelong, the Bulldogs, GWS and Melbourne recording comfortable wins. North headed the ladder with its four wins, while every other side in the top eight was amazingly equal in three wins.
A Friday night thriller saw Hawthorn incredibly win by exactly three points for a third week running as it came from behind yet again to break opposition hearts, this time those of the Adelaide Crows. The round produced one other nail-biter, with the Subiaco match between the winless Fremantle and Carlton ending with the Blues ahead by four points and the Dockers the only team without a win in 2016.
Melbourne flagged a period of sustained improvement with a solid 33-point win over a disappointing Richmond, while Geelong overcame a slow start to defeat Port Adelaide on the Power's home turf. All other matches went as forecast, with Sydney, North Melbourne, GWS and Collingwood registering easy wins. North remained undefeated at the top of the ladder, a game clear of the Bulldogs, Sydney, Geelong and Hawthorn.
The Western Bulldogs took the Friday night stage for the first time in five years but fell short of the Kangaroos in a rather dour affair, North remaining undefeated at the head of the table. The round produced one thriller, surprisingly the Brisbane-Sydney match at the 'Gabba. The Swans were expected to make short work of the Lions but only just scraped home by three points. In its narrow win, Sydney unearthed another debutant who would go on to have a fine season, with Aliir Aliir, a former Kenyan refugee, making his first appearance.
GWS established itself as a genuine flag threat, thrashing the reigning premiers Hawthorn by 75 points, while Geelong had an even bigger win, trouncing the Suns by 120 points. The Demons continued to frustrate fans, following up their impressive win over Richmond with a shock loss to St Kilda, while Carlton made it two in a row with a 15-point win over Essendon.
In the other games, Adelaide, Port Adelaide and West Coast recorded easy victories over Fremantle, Richmond and Collingwood respectively. North remained a game clear on top, with the Dockers flagging at the bottom of the ladder, winless and a game behind Richmond, Brisbane and Essendon. Incredibly, with Adelaide moving in at the expense of Gold Coast, the final eight teams were to remain the same from this point until season's end.
Round 7 saw all favourites bar one salute. The closest game of the round came on Sunday at Docklands, with North Melbourne, celebrating veteran Drew Petrie's 300th match, eking out a lucky seven-point win over the Saints. However, the best match of the round came the night before at the same venue with the Western Bulldogs engaging in a shoot-out that saw the Dogs beat Adelaide by 15 points despite an eight-goal haul from Crow Josh Jenkins.
The upset came on Saturday at the MCG with the young Blues winning against Collingwood, also by 15 points, to make it three wins on the trot and move to within a game of the top eight. The other winners were Hawthorn, Geelong, Sydney, Melbourne and Port Adelaide, all by big margins, while GWS matched the Suns' effort of five weeks earlier, recording its first-ever win at Subiaco. North remained on top, a game clear of the Cats and Swans.
Geelong made its second trip to Adelaide in three weeks on Friday night and came away a winner for a second time, this time against Adelaide. The win catapulted the Cats to premiership favouritism. The match of the round, and indeed one of the games of the season, came on Saturday night when Richmond's Sam Lloyd lived out every kid's dream by kicking a goal after the final siren to give the Tigers a one-point win over Sydney to snap a six-game losing streak.
The next day at Docklands saw another thrilling finish with Carlton pinching a two-point win over Port Adelaide for its fourth win in a row. All other matches went more or less to script, the winners being North, Hawthorn, GWS, Collingwood, the Western Bulldogs and West Coast, with the Kangaroos still undefeated and on top, a game clear of Geelong and two clear of GWS, Sydney, the Bulldogs and Hawthorn.
The ninth week of the season saw one team remain undefeated and one still without a win. While North Melbourne's 9-0 record was a surprise to some, no one could have predicted that the 0-9 team would be Fremantle. The Dockers had finished the previous season at the top of the ladder and had incredibly had the reverse record, 9-0, at the same stage in 2015. The Dockers lost by 38 points at home to a resurgent Richmond, while the Roos had a huge 67-point win over Carlton to stay a game clear at the head of the pack.
One game behind North were Sydney, which had a Friday-night MCG win over Hawthorn, Geelong, an upset loser against Collingwood, and the Giants, whose 25-point win over the Bulldogs stamped them as a genuine top-four prospect. The other winners were Adelaide over Gold Coast, West Coast over Adelaide, Melbourne against Brisbane and St Kilda over Essendon.
North finally came a cropper in round 10, the Kangaroos succumbing to the very polished Sydney Swans at the SCG on Friday night. The biggest surprise of the round came at Docklands on Sunday, with Geelong, which had unexpectedly lost to Collingwood a week earlier, again losing to a team from outside of the eight, this time Carlton, the Blues' fifth win of the season keeping them within a game of the top eight.
All other matches panned out as predicted, with Fremantle's 10th consecutive loss, this time against St Kilda, leaving it firmly anchored at the base of the ladder. North remained a game clear on top of Sydney despite its loss to the Swans (who were now flag favourites) with a logjam of five teams - Geelong, GWS, West Coast, the Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn - occupying places three to seven on the ladder, all with seven wins to their names.
Bringing us to the half-way point of the home-and-away season, round 11 saw the Fremantle Dockers finally break their duck, with a 79-point win over Essendon lifting them immediately from the foot of the ladder, above the Bombers and Brisbane, the Lions going down to Carlton, a match which saw the Blues stay within a game of the top eight.
The two best matches of the round were between four top-four hopefuls, Geelong hosting GWS and the Bulldogs hosting West Coast. Both home sides had narrow wins, the Cats by 10 points and the Dogs by eight points, placing them both in the top four while leaving the Giants and Eagles a game out of it. With Bob Murphy and stand-in captain Easton Wood both injured, the Bulldogs' win saw Marcus Bontempelli becoming the youngest captain in history at just 20 years and 194 days of age.
North returned to the winners list with a thrashing of Richmond, while Hawthorn, Sydney, Port and Adelaide all recorded victories as the Kangaroos continued to hold a break of one game at the top of the ladder at the season's midpoint.
There was no Friday-night thriller in round 12 as Hawthorn put Essendon to the sword at Docklands in the weekend's opening match, thrashing the Dons by 108 points. Saturday's first match was a thriller, though, and easily the match of the round, with Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs going blow for blow, the Dogs in front by just three points when the final siren sounded.
Adelaide had a surprise win against West Coast at the Eagles' home ground, while Geelong inflicted North's second loss of the season and GWS turned the tables on Sydney to beat the Swans by 42 points, avenging their round-two loss to celebrate their 100th AFL match in style. Fremantle made it two wins in a row against Brisbane, while St Kilda, Richmond and Melbourne were the other victors, the Demons thrashing Collingwood by 46 points on the Queen's Birthday Monday. Despite their second loss, the Kangaroos were still a game clear on top as the season headed into the 'bye' rounds.
With Adelaide, Carlton, Collingwood, Gold Coast, Richmond and St Kilda taking a rest, round 13 saw five favourites get up in the six matches played. The upset came at Subiaco, where Fremantle made it three wins in a row against a very disappointing Port Adelaide outfit, the Power's poor performance leaving them two games adrift of the top eight.
Hawthorn defeated North Melbourne on Friday night, knocking the Kangas from the head of the ladder, leaving the top place open for the winner of Saturday night's Cats v Dogs clash. The Dogs failed to fire a shot, Geelong's 57-point win giving it top place ahead of Sydney, which had a big home win over Melbourne. West Coast and GWS has fairly routine wins over Brisbane and Essendon respectively.
The second bye round kicked off on a Thursday night, with the Adelaide Crows inflicting a fourth loss in five weeks on North Melbourne (despite kicking a horrendously inaccurate 12.28) to send the Roos crashing out of the top four. Collingwood, Richmond, GWS and Hawthorn had relatively comfortable wins over Fremantle, Brisbane, Carlton and Gold Coast but the stand-out match of the weekend came at Docklands on Saturday night where St Kilda jumped Geelong and then withstood several fightback attempts in the second half to win by three points.
At the end of the round, Hawthorn found itself in a somewhat familiar position at the top of the ladder, a game clear of Sydney, Geelong, GWS and North Melbourne.
The last of the three bye rounds produced one of the games of the season, with the Western Bulldogs repeating their thrilling win of 2015 at the SCG against Sydney, right down to the margin of four points. The match swung one way and then the other but a last-minute goal from Jason Johannisen, returning from a long injury lay-off, saw the Doggies home.
All other matches went more or less to script, with West Coast, Port Adelaide, Gold Coast, Collingwood and Adelaide recording solid wins, the results maintaining a two-game break between eighth-placed West Coast and Port in ninth place. Hawthorn remained on top, a game clear of six teams equal on 10 wins.
With rounds returning to a full nine matches each, the two closest games of the weekend were a surprise. The Western Bulldogs took most of Saturday night to shake of Richmond, defeating the Tigers by just 10 points at Docklands, while the next day at the same venue, Essendon looked like upsetting St Kilda before the Saints sneaked home by 11 points.
The upset of the round came at the Sydney Showground where Collingwood gave GWS a big start and then overhauled the Giants to win by 32 points. The Swans moved up to second place at the expense of Geelong, whom they defeated by 38 points at Kardinia Park, making skipper Kieran Jack's 200th match a happy one. The other winners were Hawthorn over Port, Gold Coast against Brisbane, Melbourne against Fremantle, Adelaide over Carlton and West Coast against North, the Kangas' fifth loss in six matches sending them tumbling to eighth.
Friday night in round 17 saw the Hawks play yet another thriller and record yet another win to make it four from four in games decided by under a goal in 2016. This time it was Sydney on the receiving end, the Swans having led by a point before a late long bomb from Cyril saw Hawthorn home by five. North Melbourne left the door to the eight open by losing a home game to Port Adelaide but Melbourne tripped as it tried to go through, losing by six goals to St Kilda in an upset.
Other results went to form with Geelong, Richmond, the Bulldogs, Adelaide, West Coast and GWS all victorious. The Tigers' win was set up by a 43-possession match from Dustin Martin, continuing a fine season that would see him ultimately finished third in the Brownlow Medal voting. The results left Hawthorn still on top, a game clear of Adelaide and the Dogs, who were in turn a game ahead of the Giants, Swans, Eagles and Cats. North was still eighth, but Port and St Kilda, two games adrift, were threatening.
More injury heartbreak struck the Bulldogs on Saturday night, with Jack Redpath rupturing an ACL and Mitch Wallis suffering an horrific double fracture of his leg. Both players' seasons were ended and it appeared that the Dogs' was just about done too as they went down to St Kilda by 15 points to slip from third to seventh.
Round 18 saw two matches decided by exactly a goal, with Sydney only just surviving against Carlton and West Coast doing the same against Melbourne. North finally found some form in a 40-point win over Collingwood, while the favourites - Gold Coast, Geelong, Brisbane, Hawthorn and GWS - won the other matches, the round ending with Hawthorn two games clear of an amazing seven teams from second to seventh all on 12 wins. The Hawks' thrashing of Richmond saw Sam Mitchell notch up his 300th AFL match in style.
As if the previous week's injuries weren't bad enough, the Western Bulldogs suffered two more crucial player losses against Geelong on Friday night, with Tom Liberatore suffering a serious foot injury and Jack Macrae doing a hamstring. The Dogs had been in touch with the Cats before losing those two but went down by 25 points as Geelong celebrated Corey Enright's new games record and Jimmy Bartel's 300th match.
North Melbourne had a comfortable win over St Kilda, with the focus of the match being Brent Harvey who, playing his 427th AFL match, broke Michael Tuck's games record, one many thought would never be beaten. The weekend saw yet another milestone, with Fremantle's loss to Sydney marking Matthew Pavlich's 350th game.
Melbourne and Gold Coast played a nail-biter at the MCG, the Demons scraping home by two points on Sunday. A day earlier at the same venue, Collingwood caused an upset win over West Coast. All other favourites won, with GWS and Adelaide scoring massive wins over Richmond and Essendon as Hawthorn remained two games clear with a month of home-and-away footy to go.
There was good news for Richmond on Friday night with the Tigers beating Collingwood by 15 points to return to the winners list. Saturday at the MCG saw Melbourne defeat Hawthorn for the first time since 2006, while the injury-stricken Bulldogs also managed to get back into winning mode with a hard-fought victory over North Melbourne.
GWS had a narrow eight-point win over Gold Coast but all other games were blow-outs, with Sydney, Adelaide, St Kilda, Geelong and West Coast all winning easily. That brought Sydney, Adelaide, GWS and Geelong to within a game of top-placed Hawthorn, with places in the eight continuing to change week to week. The Bombers remained at the foot of the table. North was still two games clear inside the eight, but vulnerable with three tough games to play.
The first game of round 21 was one of the games of the season, the Bulldogs and Collingwood playing out a high-quality affair with the Dogs getting the win by just three points. Incredibly, four more matches across the weekend were decided by a goal or less, with Brisbane pipping Carlton by four points, a late goal to Nic Naitanui giving West Coast a one-point away win over GWS, Essendon scraping home by six points against Gold Coast to give Jake Long (son of Bomber legend Michael) a dream debut, and Geelong coming from a long way behind to snatch a breathtaking four-point win over Richmond.
Meanwhile, Hawthorn easily beat North Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide thrashed St Kilda and Fremantle respectively, and Melbourne ended Port's finals chances and kept its own alive with a 40-point win over the Power. Hawthorn remained a game clear on top, while the Kangaroos were still two games clear inside the eight but not yet safe.
The penultimate home-and-away round saw West Coast have a four-goal win over Hawthorn on Friday night, a result which saw the Hawks tumble from first to fourth. But both sides suffered crucial injury losses in the game, with Eagle Nic Naitanui, just a week after his heroics against GWS, and Hawk Jonathon Ceglar both rupturing ACLs and facing 12 months on the sidelines.
Sydney beat North in a close game by nine points, setting the scene for Melbourne to make a move, but the Demons made a complete hash of their match against Carlton, losing by 20 points to end their finals hopes. All other games saw the favoured teams win, and at round's end an amazing ladder saw Sydney, Adelaide, Geelong and Hawthorn occupy the top four with 16 wins and GWS, West Coast and the Bulldogs only one game behind. North was a game clear of St Kilda in eighth place but with a 15% lead over the Saints on percentage.
Just as the season as a whole had, the final round held many twists and turns. The first twist came in the weekend's opening match, with West Coast upsetting Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval, the Eagles' 25-point win seeing the Crows slip out of the top four and miss the double chance. Saturday afternoon saw Geelong smash Melbourne and Sydney do the same to Richmond, while Essendon won its second match of the year against Carlton to give the Dons a chance of avoiding the wooden spoon.
Saturday night saw Port win comfortably over Gold Coast and GWS do likewise over North. That left St Kilda with a purely mathematical chance of making the eight, but the Saints were never going to beat Brisbane by the 220-odd points required. They defeated the Lions by 58 on Sunday, Brisbane making a high enough score to condemn the Bombers to their first wooden spoon since 1933. Brisbane may have avoided the wooden spoon but Lion coach Justin Leppitsch could not avoid the chop, the club board advising him he would not be at the helm in 2017.
A loss to Collingwood by Hawthorn would see a place in the top four up for grabs for the Bulldogs and it looked like the Pies would indeed win but once again, the Hawks found a way to snatch victory, this time by a solitary point. In any case, the Dogs put up a poor show against Fremantle, the Dockers winning at Subiaco to give the retiring Matthew Pavlich a winning send-off.
So, after 23 weeks off jostling for position, Sydney headed the ladder with 17 wins, ahead of Geelong and Hawthorn (also 17 wins), with GWS (16 wins) making up the top four. Adelaide and West Coast also finished on 16 wins to take fifth and sixth place on the ladder, with the Bulldogs (15 wins) and North Melbourne (12 wins) making up the eight.
A finals bye
In an unprecedented move, the AFL had decided that all clubs would have a week off after the home-and-away season, prior to the commencement of the finals. This was in response to the rising incidence in recent years of clubs participating in finals resting many players in the final round of the home-and-away season, which in turn created questions about the integrity of the game.
The move brought criticism from many quarters, in particular from coaches. Western Bulldogs' coach Luke Beveridge stated a preference for not having a bye, believing that a long, uninterrupted season rightly promotes a survival of the fittest. But Beveridge himself acknowledged that his Bulldogs would specifically benefit this season from the enforced week off. That fact was about to be spectacularly borne out in the month to come.
Finals Week 1
The Western Bulldogs travelled to Perth to play West Coast in an Elimination Final, the first ever final to be played on a Thursday. The Eagles were raging hot favourites, even more so when they kicked the first two goals of the match, but the Bulldogs left them for dead after that, their manic attack on the ball leaving West Coast in their wake, to the tune of 47 points.
Friday nighted pitted two old finals foes - Geelong and Hawthorn - against each other and these two warhorses once again played out a mighty battle. Each side looked a winner at various stages and the result came down to the last kick of the match, with Hawthorn's Isaac Smith pushing one wide to give the Cats a two-point win and a week off.
Another upset was in store at Stadium Australia, with GWS steamrolling Sydney to advance straight to the Preliminary Finals. The match was even until early in the third term but the Giants broke away late in the match to win by six goals and announce themselves as a genuine contender.
The last match of week one was somewhat of a letdown after the other three, with the Crows running away from North Melbourne in the second half at the Adelaide Oval to win by more than 10 goals and end the Kangaroos' finals campaign, along with the careers of club stalwarts Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie and Michael Firrito. Eddie Betts continued his scintillating form for Adelaide, snaring six goals.
The Western Bulldogs came in as underdogs once more when they took on Hawthorn in the Second Semi Final at the MCG on Friday night and, when the Hawks jumped out to a 23-point lead late in the second term, it appeared their brave season would come to a close. But the Dogs produced another withering burst of football late in the third term to turn the match on its head. The Dogs then powered away to a 43-point lead before surviving a late Hawks burst to win by 23, stunning the football world.
Saturday night's First Semi Final was also decided by a withering burst, this time an early one from Sydney against Adelaide at the SCG. The Swans had six goals on the board after just 17 minutes and the Crows were forced to try and play catch-up footy for the rest of the night. They never did catch up, Sydney comfortable winners by six goals.
The Preliminary Finals brought with them the almost unthinkable possibility (to Victorian fans at least) of an all-Sydney Grand Final to be played in Melbourne, with GWS and Sydney on opposite sides of the draw. That possibility came one step closer to reality when the Swans produced yet another opening quarter avalanche, this time against Geelong. They kicked seven goals to nil in the first term, and the Cats never managed to close the gap to under 30 points from there.
There was no such burst in the other Preliminary Final, with the Giants and Bulldogs playing out an epic encounter in which neither side led by more than 14 points at any stage. The Dogs held sway early but GWS looked like breaking the game open early in the final term with the first two goals of the quarter. The Dogs would not be denied, though, and kicked three of the last four goals to break their Preliminary Final curse and advance to their first Grand Final since 1961.
Having not shown any signs of stage-fright in the first three weeks of the finals, the Bulldogs - outsiders again - showed none in the Grand Final either. The match was one for the ages. The Bulldogs landed telling blows in the second term but the Swans hit back to lead narrowly at the long break. Neither side gave an inch as the Dogs edged ahead by eight points at the final change.
Sydney kicked two of the first three goals of the final term, twice closing the gap to a solitary point, but the Western Bulldogs would not wilt, and goals to Liam Picken, Tom Boyd and Picken again finally broke the Swans' resistance, the Dogs premiers for the first time in 62 long years. Jason Johannisen was awarded the Norm Smith Medal as best on ground as the western suburbs began a party that feels like it might last for years to come.
(For a full Grand Final match report, click here.)
2016 AFL season awards
Geelong's Patrick Dangerfield streeted the field to win the Brownlow Medal, polling a record 35 votes to finish nine clear of Sydney's Luke Parker. The Rising Star award went to Callum Mills of Sydney, who finished just ahead of second-year Bulldog Caleb Daniel.
Josh Kennedy of West Coast took home the Coleman Medal for the second year running, kicking 80 goals in the home and away season, while another Josh Kennedy, of the Sydney Swans variety, claimed the newly instituted Gary Ayres Medal, awarded to the best player in the finals series. Kennedy finished just ahead of Bulldog Liam Picken, who played a pivotal role in every match of the Dogs' month-long campaign to a flag.