In it’s 121 year history, the VFL/AFL has seen many, fantastic matches at its various grounds. From finals, to home and away thrillers, these matches are the best that we have seen, and these are the stadiums that hosted such events.
Melbourne Cricket Ground
The home of football has seen numerous great performances. Being the host of the Grand Final a vast majority of other marquee games, its natural that the MCG has seen the game’s best showcases. Undoubtedly, the best match seen at the MCG is still the 1989 Grand Final, between Geelong and Hawthorn, which many still consider to be the best Grand Final to date. The match had everything, from Dermott Brereton playing on despite broken ribs sustained at the opening bounce, a comeback from 5 goals down by the Cats, and a legendary 9-goal performance by one of the game’s greats, Gary Ablett Sr. In the end, the Hawks ran out victors, but the match lives on as the best match played at the MCG.
As the secondary stadium in Melbourne, the Etihad has seen played host to various, outstanding matches. However, the one that stands out the most is a more emotional match, Jason McCartney’s final match against Richmond for North Melbourne in 2003. It was his return to football following injuries sustained in the 2002 Bali Bombings, which forced his retirement. To commemorate the Australian, and total victims lost in the attacks, McCartney wore numbers 88 and 202 on his back. Competitive performances aside, this match reminded us that sports is all about coming together, and the way the AFL world responded during this time was inspirational. Some things are just bigger than footy.
It hasn’t been in use for very long, but the new Adelaide Oval has seen some classics, especially concerning the Showdown, between Adelaide and Port Adelaide. It hasn’t even been a week, but we are placing the most recent Showdown in Round 8 2018 as the best. The match had everything; Robbie Gray was stellar with 6 goals, as he helped lead his side to a 7-goal 3rd quarter, of which he kicked 5, to erase a 21-point deficit at half time. The climax was in the dying seconds, though, as new recruit Steven Motlop managed to slot home the winning goal with 20 seconds remaining, in his first Showdown as a member of the Power. It might be short-term memory, but at this new ground we can’t think of a better display.
Sydney Cricket Ground
There can only be one. Sydney vs. Geelong in the 2005 Semi-Final, in one of the most memorable finals ever played. Sydney was up against a budding dynasty in Geelong, in their quest for their first flag in seven decades. Geelong was dominant for three quarters, leading by as much as 22-points in the fourth quarter, in a hard fought contest. Enter Nick Davis. The man turned it on in the final 10 minutes, scoring the last 4 goals and dragging Sydney over the line, including a stunning snap in the last second of the game to put the Swans up by 3. Had it not been for this game, Sydney would not have gone on to win the flag that year. We still see it, and we still don’t believe it.
There’s a reason this match was called ‘The Miracle on Grass’. It was an important match for the Brisbane Lions, with club hero Ash McGrath celebrating his 200th game of AFL football, and the legendary Simon Black playing a record 320th game for the club. Unfortunately, they were up against a Geelong side that were still as great as ever, and proved so by amassing a massive lead as big as 52 points, before the Lions could cut it to 38 points at three-quarter time. Something clicked, and Geelong was unfortunately subject to another massive comeback late in a match, kicking goal after goal, before tying the game 97-apiece thanks to Daniel Rich. Tom Hawkins’ behind put the Cats up by 1, and they looked to hold on, before the Lions countered in the final 20 seconds, setting up Ash McGrath to kick the winner after the siren. What followed was pandemonium, and the game went in the history books as one of the biggest comeback wins of all time. You couldn’t script moments like this.
This has been a fortress for Geelong throughout its history, as many teams have struggled to come close to matching Geelong’s dominance in their home stadium. Fremantle nearly did, however, in 2017. What was most surprising of this narrow win by the Cats was the disparity between the two sides. Fremantle were going through a rebuild, and the Cats were contending for a flag, yet it was the Cats that had to complete a 3-goal comeback going into the final term. Although the Cats eventually took the lead late on, they nearly gave the Dockers the victory. Speared by Lachie Weller, the Dockers went from one end to the other in the final 10 seconds, and Michael Walters had a chance from directly in front as the ball fell to him, but his kick went wide and the siren immediately sounded, saving Geelong who had won by the scrape of their teeth.
Used sparingly as an interstate home ground throughout its time in the VFL/AFL, Carrara became the permanent home of the Gold Coast Suns, following their introduction in 2011. While the Suns have been struggling in their time, they have still played out some memorable games, including against the West Coast Eagles in 2017. While West Coast managed to kick 4 goals to Gold Coast’s 2 in the fourth, the Suns were able to pull through, with Peter Wright kicking a very late goal to put the Sun’s up, and win the match.
Sydney Showground Stadium
The 2017 season was one of the most hotly contested in recent history, with a number of close games and close finishes, defining a remarkable season in AFL. GWS played their part, as they rounded out a number of these close games, but one stands out in particular, their draw with Geelong. The game was a back-and-forth affair but GWS looked to be the winners, until Tom Hawkins marked it and had a shot after the siren to win the game. He only managed a minor score, and the first draw since 2015 was played. What’s more astonishing is the week later, GWS played out another draw with Hawthorn, becoming the first team to play in consecutive draws since Carlton in 1921. They even drew to St Kilda early in 2018, meaning in the span of a season and a half, they have played in three draws. Crazy stuff in the Western half of Sydney.
It’s cheating, but that draw GWS played in against Hawthorn? That was even more crazy than the one the week prior. GWS managed to be 13-points up with six minutes remaining, but Hawthorn rallied home to draw, and nearly pulled off the win, as Ryan Burton, knowing the clock was running down, attempted to punch a behind through, but the siren went before the ball crossed the line. Will Langford was the man for the Hawks who tied the game, kicking a miraculous, bouncing snap with just 14 seconds left, ensuring the spoils were shared following a frantic final quarter of footy.
We named Max Gawn’s battle against Todd Goldstein in 2016, as the best performance ever at Bellerive Oval, but the truth is the game itself was just as exciting as Maxy’s work in the ruck. North had managed to amass a 6-goal lead after the first quarter, but Melbourne fought back, even taking the lead going into half time. The Roos were able to restore their lead to 3 goals after the third quarter, but Melbourne pushed hard, kicking 6 goals in the last quarter and nearly scaring the Roos into their first loss of the season, but ultimately North held on by 5 points. All of this happened, while the league’s two best ruckmen were having a duel for the ages.
Always a reliable interstate home ground, the capital has shown us a few memorable matches in its time. In a major throwback, North Melbourne ran out 1-point victors over Fremantle in 2002, during their time as hosts of the ground when traveling interstate. The Dockers were up by 4 goals at half time, before the Roos came back hard, scoring 6 goals in the second half, to Fremantle’s 2 goals. Fremantle were held to only 3 behinds in the last quarter, as North managed to stage a 1-point win in Canberra.
Darwin hasn’t seen too much AFL footy, but that hasn’t stop some great matches played in its stadium, Marrara Oval. Melbourne and Port Adelaide played out a memorable game in 2010, as Melbourne rounded off as 1-point winners, even after having a lead of 33 points at three quarter time. Port Adelaide kicked 8 goals in the fourth to force a tight finish, but Melbourne held onto their lead, and claiming a hasty win up in the North.
Cairns hasn’t exactly seen the best footy played at its ground, perhaps due to the unpredictable weather, but one game stands out in infamy, especially among the Richmond faithful. Gold Coast were still a fledgling club, having secured rugby star, Karmichael Hunt, as part of the experiment to convert rugby players into footballers, alongside GWS’ experiment with Izzy Folau. While Hunt was ultimately a failure in the AFL, he has this moment to look back on. Gold Coast was down by 4 with 25 seconds remaining, and managed to force the ball forward. Matera was able to snap it around the body and into Hunt’s chest, with only 3 seconds left. The siren went, the former rugby star managed to put it through, in one of the most shocking finishes in recent AFL history.
It’s sad that this once great stadium is no longer in use, but it doesn’t mean we never saw spectacular matches at Subi. The ground’s time in use can be defined by the Western rivalry of West Coast and Fremantle, a rivalry itself which can be defined by one match, the ‘Demolition Derby’. The two teams beat the living daylights out of each other, with brawls en masse throughout the game. It got so violent that Dale Kickett was suspended for 9 weeks following his contributions to the game’s infamy. There was still a game to be played, though, and Fremantle came back from 4 goals down in the third quarter, before managing to win by a point. Clive Waterhouse kicked 7, but we remember this game for the ferocity that ensued, straight from the opening bounce.