My five best indigenous Australian football players of all-time

Date: May 30, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

This weekend’s fixtures in the AFL will be played under the banner of the ‘Indigenous Round’.

It is a time to celebrate the incredible impact that indigenous Australians have had on our national game – both past and present.

So, with that in mind, I have chosen my top-five indigenous players of all-time. It is no easy task given around 180 have played in the AFL while dozens of others have had significant careers outside the AFL. But, here we go …

No 1: Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer

The nomination of Farmer at the top of the tree is the easiest choice given his outstanding record.

He was the only indigenous player chosen in the AFL Team of the Century in 1996 and in 2005 was named captain of the Indigenous Team of the Century, named both times as the starting ruckman. He was a foundation legend of the AFL Hall of Fame in 1996.

Farmer had played 176 games in the WAFL for East Perth – winning three Sandover medals, three Simpson medals, seven best and fairest awards, three premiership medallions and a Tassie medal in 1956 as the best player at that season’s National Carnival – before he arrived at Geelong at the age of 28.

He suffered a knee injury in his debut match for the Cats and missed the remainder of the 1962 season but it proved to be a temporary setback as he won the club’s best and fairest over the next two seasons and was runner-up in the 1963 Brownlow medal to Bob Skilton. His second B & F coincided with a premiership with Farmer being named best-on-ground.

His tap rucking ability off the back of a high leap often set his ground level teammates away from stoppages while his handball skills helped revolutionize the game.

Often playing with injury, he returned to the West after 101 games with Geelong and proceeded to captain coach East Perth to two premierships. He played a total of 393 games across the VFL and WAFL, including 31 State games for WA and six for Victoria.

No 2: Barry Cable

Cable is diminutive in size but was a giant on the field.

Like Farmer, he was a readymade player when he arrived in Victoria in 1970 having won five best and fairest awards with Perth in the WAFL and two Sandover medals.

Cable spent just the one season at North Melbourne, winning the best and fairest, before heading back to the Perth Football Club following a contractual dispute over the amount the Kangaroos needed to pay to his WAFL club in order to retain his services. He won another Sandover medal and two more best and fairest awards before he got another chance at VFL level, at age 30, in 1974.

He played in the ‘Roos inaugural premierships in 1975 and 1977 before returning to Western Australia where he captain-coached East Perth to the 1978 WAFL flag.

While Victorian fans may not have seen Cable at his absolute peak he nonetheless was elevated to Legend Status within the AFL Hall of Fame in 2012, only the second indigenous player to be accorded the honour after Farmer. He has always been bracketed with Farmer as the two best players to have been produced in WA.

He was renowned for being a big game exponent highlighted by his hat-trick of Simpson medals as best on ground in Perth’s three consecutive grand final wins in 1966-68 and the 1966 Tassie medal at the national carnival.

He was a highly skilled player who had a lethal left-foot as well as exquisite skills by hand and was one of the hardest trainers of his era.

Including his 21 state matches for WA and Victoria he notched up a career total of 403 games.

No 3: Adam Goodes

One of the most resilient players in the competition – he played 204 consecutive games at one point – Goodes won the Brownlow medal in 2003 and 2006. He was the recipient of the Rising Star award in his debut season in 1999.

Goodes’ versatility has been a hallmark of his game.

His first Brownlow came after a season played mainly in the ruck, his second was earned primarily off a wing, while he was named at centre-half-back in the Indigenous Team of the Century. In later years he has played more as a forward.

Goodes has won the Swans’ best and fairest three times, has been named an All-Australian on four occasions and won premiership medallions in 2005 and 2012. In 2006 he won the AFL Coaches’ Association Player of the Year award.

He will turn out in game number 336 tonight against Geelong at the SCG.

No 4: Andrew McLeod

With 340 AFL games alongside his name, McLeod is the most capped indigenous player in the game’s history and 15th overall. He was also one of the most gifted. Possessed of silky skills he won Adelaide’s best and fairest on three occasions – 1997, 2001 and 2007.

In the Crows’ premierships of 1997 and 1998 McLeod made history by becoming the first – and to date only – winner of the Norm Smith medal in consecutive grand finals.

McLeod won five All-Australian guernseys with his last, in 2007, seeing him named captain. He won the Leigh Matthews Trophy as the Players’ Association’s finest player in the competition for the 2001 season.

Initially a hard running on-baller he graduated in his later years to being an instrumental player off half-back as he launched many an Adelaide attacking sortie. He was runner-up in the 2001 Brownlow medal, two votes shy of Jason Akermanis.


No 5: Peter Matera

In full flight there have been few more exhilrating footballers than Matera. His pace and ball use off a wing was instrumental in the Eagles’ early finals campaigns.

After being named among West Coast’s best in their loss to Hawthorn in the 1991 grand final he led them to the flag the following year on the back of a five-goal haul that earned him the Norm Smith Medal.

Matera was named an All-Australian five times and won his club’s best and fairest award in 1997. He was twice runner-up in the Brownlow medal – in 1994 and 1997. His tally of 28 votes in 1994 – two short of the winner Greg Williams – would have been enough for him to win the medal in any of the preceding 19 years.

He was named on a wing in the Indigenous Team of the Century.

Matera retired in 2002 after 253 games with the Eagles and was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in 2006.

So there you have it.

As I said earlier, choosing the top five indigenous players of all-time is no easy task. I have left out the likes of Lance Franklin, Gavin Wanganeen, Nicky Winmar, Michael O’Loughlin and Maurice Rioli.

I should also make mention of one man who never played in the AFL but was a colossus in the WA.

Stephen Michael was a ruckman for South Fremantle who played like a ruck-rover around the ground, winning five best and fairest medals. He won consecutive Sandover Medals in 1980 and 1981, playing 243 games for the Bulldogs – 217 of them consecutively. He represented his state 17 times – three as captain – and was named the Tassie medallist and All-Australian captain in 1983. Had he moved to Victoria he would no doubt of become one of the finest players in the VFL.

There is no doubting that the sport of Australian football would be far the poorer had it not been for the sublime skills of so many indigenous players going back to the first of them – Fitzroy’s Joe Johnson – in 1904.

Long may they continue to dazzle us each weekend throughout winter.

First published on The Roar – – on 29 May 2014