The ANZAC Day clash in the Australian Football League (AFL) has become a cherished tradition, blending the intensity of the sport with the solemnity of the ANZAC Day commemoration.

The history of the ANZAC Day match in the Australian Football League (AFL) is deeply rooted in the commemoration of the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) legacy and the profound impact of war on the nations involved. ANZAC Day, observed annually on April 25th, marks the anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula during World War I in 1915. Over the years, the AFL has embraced this day as an opportunity to pay tribute to the servicemen and women who have served in various conflicts.

The concept of playing an AFL match on ANZAC Day originated in the mid-1990s, and it has since become one of the most anticipated fixtures on the league’s calendar. The first official ANZAC Day clash took place on April 25, 1995, between Essendon and Collingwood at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). The idea was initially proposed by then-Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy, who envisioned the match as a way to honour the ANZAC spirit and bring the community together.

Since its inception, the ANZAC Day game has grown into a significant and revered tradition in the AFL. The MCG has consistently hosted the event, drawing large crowds and capturing the attention of fans nationwide. The unique timing of the match, usually starting in the late morning, allows supporters to attend the game and then participate in ANZAC Day ceremonies and activities in the afternoon.

Overall, the ANZAC Day match has become a significant and cherished tradition in the AFL, blending the passion of Australian rules football with the reverence for the sacrifices made by those who served in the armed forces. The fixture stands as a powerful reminder of the ANZAC legacy and the role of sport in fostering national pride and unity.

Over the years, this special fixture has also witnessed some of the wildest and most unforgettable moments in AFL history. From thrilling comebacks to controversial incidents, here are five of the wildest moments that have unfolded during the ANZAC Day match.

David Zaharakis goal in the final seconds (2009)

The 2009 Anzac Day clash between Essendon and Collingwood etched itself into AFL folklore for its dramatic finish. A tight, seesawing contest throughout, the Bombers and Pies were deadlocked at half-time. Essendon took a slender lead into the final quarter, but with less than five minutes remaining, Collingwood surged ahead by 14 points. Defeat seemed certain for the Bombers.

Then, the tide turned. Essendon clawed their way back, with a series of crucial goals. With seconds remaining on the clock, a young David Zaharakis found himself in the perfect position and drilled home the winner. The MCG erupted in a cacophony of noise – jubilation for Essendon fans, despair for Collingwood. Tim Lane’s iconic commentary, “They’ve snatched victory from the jaws of defeat,” perfectly captured the drama of the comeback. This Anzac Day classic is remembered as a thrilling display of resilience and a reminder that the game isn’t over until the final siren.

Anthony Rocca’s Long-Range Bomb (1997)

The 1997 Anzac Day clash between Essendon and Collingwood might not be remembered for a Collingwood victory, but it’s etched in the memories of Magpie fans for a different reason – Anthony Rocca’s monstrous 70-metres torpedo punt goal.

A young Anthony, then in his first season with Collingwood, stole the show in the first quarter. He unleashed a booming kick, sailing through the air for an estimated 70 metres. The Sherrin seemed to hang in the air forever before splitting the Essendon goalposts. The crowd erupted, a mixture of awe and disbelief at the sheer distance and power of the kick.

This moment perfectly encapsulated the “Rocca brothers magic” that Collingwood fans craved. Anthony, known for his explosive pace and long-range kicking, had announced himself on the Anzac Day stage in spectacular fashion.

Inaugural Anzac Day draw (1995)

The inaugural Anzac Day clash in 1995 between Essendon and Collingwood  was a historic affair, not just for being the first, but also for ending in a thrilling draw. Played on a sunny autumn day, the MCG witnessed a see-sawing battle. Both teams came out firing, kicking six goals each in the opening quarter. Essendon edged ahead in the second, taking a 16-point lead into halftime.

Collingwood refused to be outdone. A dominant third quarter saw them pile on seven goals to just two from the Bombers, grabbing a 14-point advantage heading into the final term. But Essendon weren’t finished. They fought back fiercely, and with time running out, James Hird snapped a goal to put them back in front by six points.

The drama wasn’t over. Collingwood’s superstar forward, Saverio Rocca, floated across to mark straight in front just moments later. With nerves jangling, Rocca coolly slotted his 9th goal for the game to level the scores. The final siren sounded shortly after, leaving both sides with a share of the spoils. The 1995 draw set the tone for many exciting Anzac Day clashes to come.

Dane Swan’s Record-Breaking Performance (2012)

In the 2012 ANZAC Day clash, Collingwood’s Dane Swan put on a masterclass, accumulating a record-breaking 42 disposals. Swan’s dominant display in the midfield was instrumental in Collingwood’s victory and solidified his status as one of the game’s elite midfielders. Coming off a Brownlow Medal win in 2011, Swan’s ability to read the play and his tireless work rate allowed him to consistently be in the right position at the right time, contributing significantly to both the offensive and defensive aspects of the game. His disposals were not just numerous but also impactful, with a high percentage leading to advantageous situations for his team.

Magpies Miracle Comeback (2023)

Despair turned to delirium in a pulsating display of resilience for Collingwood in the 2023 Anzac Day clash against Essendon.  A record-breaking MCG crowd witnessed a seemingly insurmountable deficit morph into a glorious comeback. The Bombers dominated for much of the match, leading by a 28 points at the final change.

But the tide turned dramatically in the final term. Ignited by the roar of their passionate supporters, the Magpies emerged from the huddle a different team. Young gun Nick Daicos orchestrated the fightback, weaving through defenders and setting up teammates with pinpoint passes. Essendon wilted under the unrelenting pressure, their lead crumbling with each score.

The final siren blared with the Pies ahead by a narrow 13 points, etching their names in Anzac Day history. Daicos, with a dominant performance of 40 possessions and two crucial goals, was a deserving recipient of the Anzac Day Medal.

The ANZAC Day clash in the AFL has provided fans with countless unforgettable moments over the years and continues to draw record-breaking crowds every year. From last-second heroics to spectacular individual performances, these wild moments have contributed to the rich tapestry of Australian football history. As the tradition continues, football enthusiasts eagerly await the next chapter of excitement and drama that the ANZAC Day match is sure to deliver.