THE number three is synonymous with famous AFL footballers, with some of the games greatest opting to wear #3 during their careers. Names like Voss, Skilton, Judd, Leigh Matthews and Bartel immediately spring to mind when thinking of No. 3, but a pair of recent retirees are the ones Sydney and Hawthorn fans fondly remember. Both Jarrad McVeigh and Jordan Lewis ended their AFL journey at the conclusion of the 2019 season, with the pair featuring in 300+ games and making multiple appearances on the games biggest stage. It was a mighty task trying to split the duo when comparing their careers head-to-head but after digging through their renowned resumes there can only be one winner…
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ALL THE NUMBERS
LEWIS – 319 games, 15 seasons, 4 premierships, 26 finals, 161 goals, 71 Brownlow votes, 23.5 disposals per game
MCVEIGH – 325 games, 16 seasons, 1 premiership, 28 finals, 201 goals, 55 Brownlow votes, 19.3 disposals per game
DESPITE being drafted a year earlier Jarrad McVeigh only managed to play six more games than Jordan Lewis, with the infamous Hawk miraculously dodging the injury bullet through most of his footy journey. During his pro tenure, Lewis was a mainstay in one of the best midfields of the modern era, averaging 25+ touches on six different occasions while at Hawthorn and Melbourne. McVeigh wasn’t as much of an accumulator, posting just one season with a disposal average north of 25 and owning a career average under 20. The Swans star did spend the latter part of his career playing off the half-back line which hampered his disposal numbers, however, he did manage to chalk up more finals and more goals than his counterpart. McVeigh does lose out on career Brownlow votes and premierships to Lewis and although it’s tight, I’m giving the former Hawk the slight edge in this category.
Edge: Lewis. Just.
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ON the surface, four premierships to one should make Lewis the clear winner here, but it’s not that simple. Playing an integral part in Hawthorn’s dominant era helped boost Lewis’ resume with a 17-9 win-loss record in the finals compared to McVeigh’s 13-15 record. Both players saw their per-game averages dip slightly when the finals rolled around, but you could argue that McVeigh played a more prominent role, captaining the club to 16 finals in his career and three Grand Final appearances in a five-year window. Of course, they were only able to walk away with one premiership, with Lewis’ Hawks topping them in 2014 – exacting revenge for their loss to the Swans in 2012. There aren’t many captains that can lead their troops to three Grand Final berths, so despite their lack of success on the big stage, I’m rewarding McVeigh for his stellar leadership in the earlier part of the 10’s.
Edge: McVeigh. Just
LEWIS – 2014 Grand Final
SEASON 2014 was hands down the best of Lewis’ career, claiming his only All-Australian nod and the Peter Crimmins Medal as Hawthorn’s best and fairest. It’s no coincidence that the last match of 2014 was probably the best game of his career too, with Lewis chalking up 37 touches in the Hawks’ second consecutive premiership win. He narrowly lost out on claiming the Norm Smith Medal for his efforts with Luke Hodge earning one more vote than Lewis for his 35 touches and two goals against the Swans. To this day, Simon Black is the only player to have more disposals than Lewis on Grand Final day and his 2014 performance will be one he looks back on fondly.
MCVEIGH – 2012 Grand Final
SYDNEY’S captain managed to play every game in the 2012 season, with his final match of the year one of his shining accomplishments as a footballer. After 30 pivotal disposals in a preliminary final win over Collingwood, McVeigh led his troops into battle against Hawthorn eager to win the first flag of his career. Sydney’s skipper was yet to taste premiership glory, missing out on selection for the Swans’ 2005 triumph and heartbreakingly coming up short the following year against West Coast. He wasn’t about to let another opportunity slip through his fingers and while McVeigh didn’t have the greatest statistical game of his career, a crucial goal at the end of the third quarter helped the Swans take momentum into the final frame and eventually claim another premiership. Hawthorn is 4-1 in Grand Finals during the 21st century and McVeigh’s play in 2012 is a big reason why they don’t own a 5-0 record.
WHILE captaining your club to a flag is a mighty accomplishment, I can’t go past Lewis’ 2014 heroics here. Both players will be remembered for their efforts in a pair of Grand Finals, ironically against one another, but coming close to a Norm Smith winning effort in the middle of the Hawks’ dynasty makes Lewis an easy pick.
SOMEWHAT surprisingly, both McVeigh and Lewis finished their careers without a slew of individual trophies and accolades, with just three B&F wins between them and a pair of All-Aus nods. That makes it hard to split the two of them, with McVeigh’s two Bob Skilton Medals as Sydney’s fairest and best swinging the ledger slightly in his favour. Both players won their respective club honours in their lone All-Australian campaign, with McVeigh named on the half-back flank in 2013 and Lewis honoured with a berth on the interchange bench in 2014. A quartet of premiership medallions are on Lewis’ side, but it’s hard to include them as an ‘award’, especially when comparing two individuals. Further working against Lewis, when the New South Wales Greatest AFL Team of All Time was released last May, McVeigh was named on the half-back flank which all but cements his win here.
IT’S tough to measure the impact/legacy of both players given the fact they retired so recently. McVeigh carved out a niche as one of the best leaders in the game during his time, as highlighted in the categories above with only Adam Goodes playing more career games for the Swans. Lewis wasn’t given as many leadership opportunities at Hawthorn given the class of his teammates, but he did take his talents to the Demons for his final 55 games of his career. In a short time at Melbourne, he emerged as an incredible role model for the younger members of the group, contributing greatly to their climb up the ladder in 2018 – culminating in a preliminary final berth. Both No.3’s will go down as some of the finest from their generation, but McVeigh’s place amongst Sydney folklore makes him stand out from a legacy perspective. Again, it’s probably through no fault of Lewis’ who sacrificed his game allowing the likes of Luke Hodge, Brad Sewell and Sam Mitchell to star for the greater good of the team.
Image from afana.com
VERDICT – Jarrad McVeigh
THIS one came down to the wire and I can see the case for both Lewis and McVeigh as a winner when stacking their career accomplishments next to one another. During Hawthorn’s golden era, Lewis was a key contributor and one of the best players on their roster, but featuring on a team littered with star power made it hard for him to stand out as an individual. He found other ways to shine for the Hawks, playing multiple roles wherever the team needed, as an outside wingman, a defensive orientated forward or as a third-man up in ruck contests. During a six-year span stretching from 2011-2016, Lewis made a name for himself as one of the best ‘extras’ in ruck contests, which saw him amass nearly 400 hitouts going at an average of just under three a game before the rule was changed.
MCVEIGH won’t go down as the greatest statistical player to lace ’em up, but it’s hard to imagine the Swans excelling in the past decade without his guidance and leadership. Renowned for his elite endurance running ability and his disposal efficiency, McVeigh transitioned into the leader of Sydney’s defense and effectively became an on-field coach in the twilight of his career – leading to him being one of the most revered players of the 21st century. It’s a big call for someone with just one All-Aus selection and one premiership medallion, but no one in AFL history has played more games wearing the famous No. 3, which is a testament to McVeigh’s longevity and his place amongst the games great leaders.
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