Five out of 10 The Age footy experts have nominated the 2000 Essendon side as the best premiership team of this century.
While clubs such as Hawthorn, Geelong and the Brisbane Lions created dynasties by winning multiple flags in a relatively short timeframe, the Bombers of 2000 still stand out as the best single-season side of the past 17 years.
Spurred on by the shock one-point preliminary final loss to arch rivals Carlton the year before, Essendon had the perfect mix of burning motivation and an incredibly talented playing list to create an unstoppable red-and-black juggernaut that swept all before them.
Ruthless, tough, uncompromising, classy, powerful and skilful – the 2000 Bombers had it all.
With superstars James Hird and Scott Lucas fit and available after each missed most of the 1999 season due to injury, Essendon were ready to strike and were blessed with very few injury concerns throughout 2000.
After starting the year with a huge statement of intent by winning all five pre-season games on the way to the Ansett Australia Cup, Essendon created history as they won their first 20 matches of the premiership season.
They would only lose one game, to the Bulldogs, out of 25 on the way to an emphatic premiership when they smashed Melbourne by 60 points on grand final day – 19.21.135 to 11.9.75. As the scoreline suggests the Demons were lucky to escape with just a 10-goal loss as the Bombers doubled their scoring shots 40-20.
Hird completed a fairytale by captaining his side to the flag and winning the Norm Smith Medal after serious foot injuries restricted him to just 22 games in the previous three years and threatened to cut short his glittering career.
Few seasons in VFL/AFL history have been so completely dominated by one team and when you pick apart the Essendon side of 2000, it becomes clear why this occurred.
To win 24 games by an average of 54 points, firstly you need firepower up forward and coach Kevin Sheedy had an abundance of that at his disposal.
Spearheading the awesome attack was the young superstar full-forward Matthew Lloyd who, at just 22, kicked 109 goals to win his first Coleman Medal.
Seven other Bombers kicked at least 20 goals that year with Lucas (57), Hird (36), Blake Caracella (35), Mark Mercuri (32), Justin Blumfield (27), Steven Alessio (24) and Gary Moorcroft (23) forming the nucleus of one of the most devastating and potent attacks in history.
The Essendon 2000 side is the highest scoring premiership team of all time with 3274 points at an average of 131 per game, and it ranks third all time for most points scored behind Geelong 1992 (3558) and Geelong 1989 (3452).
It’s all well and good kicking big scores, but you’ve also got to stop the opposition from kicking them and the brilliant Bombers backline conceded just 80 points a game.
Not only were Essendon’s defenders miserly, they were also ruthlessly tough with the uncompromising Dean Wallis, Damien Hardwick, Mark Johnson and Dean Solomon complementing defensive generals Sean Wellman and Dustin Fletcher who incredibly won the best-and-fairest that year despite his side’s mindblowing scoring feats.
And the Bombers’ midfield had it all – class, skill, pace and toughness. Hird, Joe Misiti, Caracella, Jason Johnson, Blumfield, Mercuri, John Barnes, Michael Long, Adam Ramanauskas and Chris Heffernan completed a formidable on-ball division that could not be stopped.
Not only did they make their backline’s job easier, but their silver service to the forwards was one of the main driving forces behind the team’s incredible scoring prowess.
The confirmation of this side’s greatness came on September 2 when they faced Neale Daniher’s up-and-coming Melbourne side in the premiership-decider.
After a sluggish finish to the home and away season, the Bombers headed into the grand final with a full head of steam having smashed North Melbourne by 125 points and cruised past Carlton by 45 points in their previous two finals.
Incidentally, Essendon’s score of 31.12.198 against the Kangaroos remains the highest finals score in VFL/AFL history.
In truth, no team was getting between Essendon and the premiership cup that year and Melbourne were very much like lambs to the slaughter.
The Demons’ youthful exuberance was no match for the battle-hardened and star-studded Essendon line-up which was just two hours away from righting the wrongs of 1999.
Melbourne started brightly and even led 11 minutes into the first quarter, but it didn’t take long for the red-and-black machine to get cranking. The Bombers booted eight of the next 11 goals to open up an unassailable 41-point lead at half-time.
From there, it was party time for the Essendon faithful as they watched their beloved side waltz to a record-equalling 16th premiership.
Hird, Caracella, Blumfield, Barnes, Wallis, Misiti, Lloyd and Barnard were Essendon’s best players on the day.
Highlighting the team’s depth was the fact that they got seven goals from their starting bench – Barnard (four), Alessio (one), Darren Bewick (one) and Moorcroft (one).
Plenty of brilliant teams have come and gone since 2000, but none of them have matched the 2000 Bombers who not only produced the most dominant season since the turn of the century but also arguably the most dominant season of all time.