Our Top 10 Greatest AFL/VFL Games From The Past 50 Years

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You either love or hate the AFL’s pre-finals bye, however, there are some positives no matter which way you side in this contentious issue.

Some may think it’s a chance to get some extra momentum, allow injured players to have more time to recover or for fans of competing clubs to have more time to be excited about featuring in finals football.

We found another positive – the chance to sit back and watch some classic footy from over the years on the footy-free weekend before the finals.

So we dusted off the old our old Name a Game VHS tapes, did a YouTube deep-dive and came up with a list of our top 10 favourites from the past 50 years (the television era)

(10) Round 4, 1995: Collingwood v Essendon: The ANZAC Day Draw

Back on ANZAC Day 1995, Collingwood and Essendon met for the first time these two clubs had this standalone fixture.

The MCG was jam-packed as thousands upon thousands of fans had to be turned away at the gates before the match even got started.

And the 94,825 people that did manage to get into the MCG that day got an absolute treat.

The game was a see-sawing affair, not only did Saverio Rocca kick nine goals in the match for the Pies but with Essendon six points up in the dying minutes of the game, Rocca kicked his ninth to level the scores.

When the final siren sounded, the scores were level.

The sold-out MCG left stunned but not disappointed with what they witnessed.

The game would be a draw and while other Pies-Dons ANZAC Day games have produced some beauties, this one remains the original and the best.

(9) 2006 Grand Final: West Coast v Sydney

“Who would have thought the sequel would be just as good as the original” – Anthony Hudson.

Actually Huddo, we prefer the sequel!

There’s no doubting that the 2005 encounter between the two teams is more iconic given Leo Barry’s epic mark in the dying minutes to end the Swans 72-year premiership drought, but in terms of a football contest, the 2006 version is far superior.

In fact, most of the Sydney Swans v West Coast Eagles matches from the mid-2000s were epic, thrillers in an era were defensive, low-scoring, flooding football was all the rage.

(It’s fair to say, that style of play has had a resurgence in season 2020 as well.)

While the West Coast Eagles off-field antics are highly documented from the time, it’s worth remembering just how good the actual football played in the Grand Final was.

The Eagles won by a point.

Beau Waters took as just an important mark as Leo Barry did the year before.

Andrew Embley kicked two memorable goals from down the MCG wing and went on to win the Norm Smith Medal.

As a spectacle and football game to watch, the 2006 Grand Final is superior to the one the year previous.

West Coast’s fast and dominant midfield were quick and ferocious at the start of the match and the likes of Adam Goodes and Brett Kirk got the Swans back in the game when it looked beyond doubt as Sydney trailed by 24 points at half-time.

The 2006 Grand Final saw more one on one contests, not that ugly pressing style that the Swans of that era were famous for and I would highly recommend it in your viewing list of Classic Footy replays.

Some even say the West Coast flag of 2006 is tainted, but it’s not.

It’s one of the best Grand Finals ever played and when it comes to what goes on the field, stays on the field – this one is worthy of being in the top 10 games of the past 50 years.

(8) 2010 Grand Final: St Kilda v Collingwood – The Draw

We will never see anything like it again.

The AFL has since changed the rules, but the 2010 Grand Final Draw was a moment in time you’ll never, ever forget.

The third and final draw in the history of the VFL/AFL, 100,016 people left the MCG stunned as the final siren sounded as the score read Collingwood 9-14 (68) – St.Kilda 10-8 (68), we would all have to come back and do it next week.

At the main break, Collingwood led by 24 points after dominating in the first-half.

The second half, the Saints lifted and at the 20-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Brendon Goddard took one of the greatest marks you’ll ever see, took a shot from 20 meters out and put St.Kilda in front for the first time of the day.

In the 26 minute mark, Travis Cloke put Collingwood back in front by one point.

The Saints had another chance to kick the sealer when Lenny Hayes took a long shot from outside 50 heading towards Steven Milne, an awkward bounce prevented Milne from kicking a goal – and the scores were tied at the 30-minute mark.

In the last 30 seconds of the game, both sides scramble for the ball until Collingwood clear it out of bounds for a throw-in on the members stand side.

The siren rings.

It’s a draw.

The MCG and everyone watching is in a state of shock.

They have to come back and play the following week.

(SPOILER ALERT: Collingwood thumps St.Kilda by 56 points in the replay)

(7) Round 14 2009: St. Kilda v Geelong

The Grand Final between these two teams in 2009 was pretty good, but the only home and away encounter of that season was phenomenal.

Heading into this game, both St. Kilda and Geelong started the 2009 season undefeated 13-0.

The two undefeated sides were scheduled to meet on Sunday afternoon at Etihad Stadium in Round 14 of that season.

Television still did delayed telecasts of games back then and contractual obligations required the game not be moved to the MCG, resulting in the match start time being moved from the traditional 2:10 pm to 3:10 pm to satisfy broadcaster Channel 7.

The game was epic from start to finish with Saint Micheal Gardiner’s mark in the final two minutes of the game saving the day for St. Kilda resulting in a famous 14-7 (91) one-goal win to Geelong 13-7 (85).

While some believe it to be the best game they’ve ever seen, we have it at number seven.

(6) Round 6 1989: Hawthorn v Geelong

The main course was the Grand Final of 1989, but the entrée served between Hawthorn and Geelong in Round Six at Princes Park of that season was pretty darn tasty.

In what was Gary Ablett Snr’s 100th game (against his former club no less), Geelong owned the first half with then Cats full-forward Gavin Exell kicking six goals resulting in a 49 point lead to the visiting side.

After half-time, Gary Ayres was moved from the backline to the midfield and dominated, which allowed Hawthorn to kick six unanswered goals in the third quarter.

What transpired in the last quarter saw Geelong try to seal the game but Hawthorn kept coming back kicking five goals in the space of eight minutes.

Both teams kicked a total of 16 goals in the last quarter alone.

Back in 1989, getting 30 disposals in a match was a rare thing – and Gary Ayres did just that.

Gary Ablett Senior also dominated with 28 disposals and three goals.

Gavin Exell ended up with nine goals for the match.

Hawthorn would come back from 49 points down and win the game 26-15 (171) to Geelong 25-13 (163)

Geelong’s score of 23-15 (163) would be the biggest losing score in league history, a total of 51 goals scored for the match – also the highest aggregate score in the history of the VFL/AFL.

This would only just be the beginning of the epic contests between Hawthorn and Geelong in 1989.

(5) Round 16 2001: Essendon v Kangaroos

It was during Channel 7’s coverage of the West Coast v Geelong game on the same day when Dennis Cometti did the old “If you don’t want to know the score, look away now” trick and came back with “If I told you the score, you wouldn’t believe me.”

The game he was referring to was the Essendon v (then known as) Kangaroos clash at the MCG.

The Roos, missing the likes of Wayne Carey, Mick Martyn and Anthony Stevens were sitting ninth on the ladder and went into the game massive underdogs against the reigning premier and top of the ladder Essendon.

What transpired was simply amazing.

The Kangaroos came out firing, kicking 12 goals in the first quarter to establish a lead of 57 points.

The likes of Sav Rocca, Shannon Grant and Jess Sinclair dominated as the all-conquering Bombers of the time were made to look like witches hats.

Midway in the second quarter, the Kangas extended their lead to 69 points and Essendon looked gone for all money.

That wasn’t until the second half when the likes of Matthew Lloyd who kicked nine goals and Jason Johnson with 31 disposals and four majors helped Essendon claw their way to one of their most famous victories and the biggest comeback in the history of the VFL/AFL.

The final score was Essendon 27-9 (171) def. Kangaroos 25. 9 (159)

The 51,878 people who were at the MCG and the very few who happened to have C7 Sport on Optus Vision back in the day witnessed one of the greatest games they’ll ever see.

(4) 1977 Grand Final: Collingwood v North Melbourne Draw

The drawn 1977 Grand Final is iconic in so many ways, not only was it a drawn match and the teams had to come back the following week but it was also the very first live telecast of a Grand Final in the state of Victoria.

Channel 7 got bang for their buck as one of the most dramatic games in the history of Australian Rules Football played out.

When the final siren sounded, both teams were left to ponder the coulda, shoulda and wouldas of the game.

North Melbourne started the match all guns blazing and led 4-4 (28) to Collingwood 1-5 (11) but the Kangaroos failed to capitalise on the scoreboard in the second quarter.

North kicked six behinds – four from Arnold Briedis whereas the Magpies were able to cut the Roos lead to just two points at half-time.

The North players copped an almighty spray from coach Ron Barassi at half-time, but it was to no avail.

Collingwood turned up the heat in the third quarter, kicking 5.4 and had a 27 point lead at three-quarter-time.

North Melbourne remained goalless from the first quarter and Magpie fans were starting to believe that 1977 would be their year.

However, North’s coach Ron Barassi had other ideas and previous experience in coaching Grand Final comebacks against Collingwood.

Darryl Sutton was moved to full forward and skipper David Dench was moved to centre half-forward for North in the last quarter.

North was able to kick three goals within the first seven minutes of the game and reduced the Magpies lead to just eight points.

Deep into the final quarter, North’s Phil Baker kicked a goal that almost won North the game.

However, the likes of Peter Moore and Ross “Twiggy” Dunne put the Pies equal with North, but it was too little – too late.

The siren had sounded.

Both teams collapsed on the MCG turf.

We’d be back to do it all over again the following week.

The following Saturday, North would beat Collingwood in the replay by 27 points.

The Collywobbles were at their peak.

(3) 1994 Preliminary Final: North Melbourne v Geelong

They say the ’90s was the decade that delivered and in terms of the ultimate 1990’s game of Australian Rules Football, this was the one that takes the cake.

The game is mostly remembered for Gary Ablett Senior kicking the winning goal after the siren to get the Cats in the Grand Final, but there’s so much more to it.

Both Geelong and North Melbourne were known for their high-scoring and attacking style of play at the time and this game was no exception.

The match saw end-to-end play at an incredibly skilled and fast pace.

North dominated in the first quarter with an 18 point lead but in the second quarter, the Cats piled on seven unanswered goals with 1989 Brownlow Medalist Paul Couch dominating and the likes of Gary Ablett Snr, Billy Brownless and David Mensch kicking five goals between them.

The Cats went into half-time with a 24 point lead.

Many regard Wayne Carey’s efforts in the third quarter as one of the greatest of his stellar on-field career.

Carey would kick four goals in the third quarter but the end-to-end goal-for-goal attack of the match would see North only reduce Geelong’s lead to 18 points at the final break.

The final quarter of the 1994 Preliminary Final was some of the tensest and dramatic football you will ever see.

While the match was high scoring, only four goals were kicked in the last quarter – three of them from North Melbourne one each from John Longmire, Adrian McAdam and Brett Alison.

Longmire’s goal allowed North to regain the lead with just under five minutes left in the game.

All of a sudden, a running shot at goal from Geelong’s Andrew Wills resulted in a behind. The scores were level with 1:40 left on the clock.

What transpired was the best 1:30 of football you will ever watch:

Spare a thought for Mick Martyn, he played one of his best games but couldn’t do anything about Leigh Tudor’s wobbly kick that resulted in Gary Ablett taking the mark and having a shot after the siren.

Yet again, it was Denis Commetti summed it up perfectly “There is no justice in Football.”

(2) 1989 Grand Final: Hawthorn v Geelong

The most talked about and celebrated Grand Final of the last 50 years, the 1989 encounter between the Hawks and the Cats comes in at number two.

This was Hawthorn’s seventh Grand Final appearance on the trot, but they were yet to achieve back-to-back premierships.

Geelong, under first-year coach Malcolm Blight, was the up and coming team and proved a serious challenger to the Hawks in their one and only previous meeting back in Round 6 of the ’89 season (number 6 in our list)

Arguably, the most iconic moment of the game happened in the very first minute when Geelong’s Mark Yeates gave Hawthorn’s Dermott Brereton an almighty shirtfront that has become as legendary as the game itself.

Geelong played the man and not the ball in the first quarter, whereas Hawthorn kicked eight goals and went into quarter time with a 40 point lead.

The next two quarters were even, but it was Geelong’s efforts in the last term that saw them stage an almighty comeback, mostly thanks to the efforts of Gary Ablett Snr who kicked nine goals in one the greatest individual performances you will ever see on the football field.

Hawthorn had a 36 point lead at three-quarter time but was battered and bruised.

Dermott Brereton had broken ribs, Robert Diperdomenico played with a punctured lung, John Platten suffered a concussion and the then two-man bench resembled a hospital emergency ward.

It allowed the Cats to stage a final quarter comeback, but it was a case of too little, too late as Hawthorn would win by six points and claim back-to-back premierships in one the toughest and high-scoring Grand Finals of all-time.

An iconic game to end the 1980’s and the Victorian Football League era.

(1) 1970 Grand Final: Carlton v Collingwood

No game or Grand Final has had more of an impact on the game of Australian Rules Football as we know it than the 1970 Grand Final between Carlton and Collingwood.

The game had everything – the record crowd the MCG (121,696 fans to be exact), arguably the most iconic mark of all time (Jezzalenko, you beauty!) and one of the biggest comebacks ever staged in a Grand Final.

Collingwood dominated in the first half with the likes of glamour full-forward Peter McKenna kicking five goals until half-time and the Pies going into the main break with a 44-point lead.

What transpired at half-time is the stuff of legend.

Carlton’s coach Ron Barassi urged his players to “handball at all costs”, back in an era when the handpass was a rare commodity.

He also made a rare change and brought in 19th man Ted Hopkins in place of Bert Thornley.

With the Magpie faithful cracking open the champagne at half-time to celebrate what they thought would be their 14th premiership, Carlton stunned them in the third quarter, kicking seven goals to Collingwood’s one behind.

Collingwood managed to get some breathing space kicking two goals late in the third quarter and leading by 21 points at the final break.

Carlton didn’t give up.

Their skipper John Nichols moved himself to the goalsquare and kicked the first two goals of the last quarter and had the Blues within striking distance trailing by eight points at the 11-minute mark.

21 minutes into the final term, the man brought in from the bench Ted Hopkins, kicked his fourth goal and the Blues trailed by a point.

Carlton’s Brent Croswell received a free-kick from 30 meters out from a high tackle and put Carlton in front for the first time all day, deep into time-on.

Alex Jesalenko would kick the goal in the dying minutes to seal the game for Carlton. Breaking Magpie hearts, yet again.

With the mixture of an iconic mark, record comeback, a 19th man dominating in the second half and kicking four goals along with the biggest ever attendance in Australian sporting history – the 1970 VFL Grand Final takes out the top gong for our best VFL/AFL games of the past 50 years.

Tips, recommendations and commentary are for entertainment only. We provide no warranty about accuracy or completeness. You should make your own assessment before placing a bet.