April 25, 1995: Collingwood and Essendon play a thrilling draw – 17.9 (111) v 16.15 (111) – infront of nearly 95,000 at the MCG (with Collingwood’s Sav Rocca kicking nine goals) and a tradition is born.
While not the first VFL/AFL game on ANZAC Day, the popularity of the fixture – conceived by Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy – grew to be the second most important game outside the grand final. It doesn’t matter where the teams are on the ladder, it’s usually a spectacle supported by a huge crowd (between 70,000 and 90,000). The lowest crowds were between 2003 – 2005, when the MCG was being redeveloped for the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Overall, Collingwood have won 13 games to Essendon’s eight (and that one draw), including the last three games. Essendon won three straight from 2003 to 2005.
The latest thriller was 2012, with Collingwood winning by one point – 11.14 (80) to 11.13 (79). Collingwood were still riding the momentum of dual grand final appearances (three if you count the 2010 replay) and would finish fourth (losing the preliminary final to eventual premiers Sydney) while Essendon would miss the eight with an 11-11 record. Dane Swan was the ANZAC Medallist with 42 disposals and three goals. Trailing by five points late in the final quarter, a Jarryd Blair goal sealed victory.
Essendon won their own thriller in 2009, with a five-point win – 13.15 (93) to 12.16 (88) – with Paddy Ryder the ANZAC Medallist. David Zaharakis was the hero with the final goal.
Both teams have enjoyed big wins too: Collingwood by 73 in 2008, 65 in 2010 and 69 in 2016. Essendon won by 66 in 2003, 40 in 2000 (their almost flawless premiership year) and 46 in 2013.
Essendon veteran Dustin Fletcher has played 18 out of 21 ANZAC Day games, while current Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley was involved in the inaugural 1995 game.
What will the 2017 edition bring? Both teams have struggled so far: Essendon – coming back from their horror 2016 – are 2-2, while Collingwood have won one game.
It should be a special occasion regardless.