It’s been a tough year for all of us.
Despite some of the loudest voices in the media endlessly droning on about the state of the game, it’s been a thrilling race through the AFL’s home-and-away campaign in 2018.
With just four rounds remaining just about every spot in the top eight is still up for grabs, and in the weeks to come we’re sure to see some nailbiters and highlight after highlight that will no doubt be used and abused to get us through those long summer days and nights between seasons.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the top four head-to-head encounters 2018 has gifted us so far.
4. Round 7 – Brisbane versus Collingwood, 6 May
Despite languishing at the back of the pack for another year, Brisbane has produced plenty of competitive and exhilarating footy this season, and no match has stood out more in the eyes of neutral spectators than that first clash against Collingwood.
Contested at the Gabba, Collingwood 19.7 (121) defeated Brisbane 18.6 (114) in the highest-scoring match of the season so far.
While Brisbane once again missed out on the four points, senior coach Chris Fagan was over the moon and said his side put in the most encouraging effort of the season – and he wasn’t wrong.
Quarter by quarter the sides rocked back and forth, with Collingwood building leads greater than three goals on three separate occasions before the Lions managed to beg them back to even again and again.
After an uncharacteristically slow start to the season, impeded by tagger after tagger, Brisbane’s Dayne Zorko was an absolute wrecking ball. Zorko picked up 34 touches with ten tackles, seven marks and four goals. What a performance.
At the other end of the ground Collingwood fans were given another show by Jordan de Goey, who collected 20 touches and booted five snags in a mercurial showcase.
In total the match had 37 goals scored from 47 shots on goal, a stunning 78 percent rate of efficiency.
3. Round 2 – Geelong versus Hawthorn, 2 April
When Geelong and Hawthorn, the old firms of the modern era, went up against one another in just the second round of the season, it was a match that really did have something for everyone.
Hawthorn got the job done 17.16 (118) over a furious Geelong 18.9 (117) at the MCG in front of a raging crowd.
While Geelong coach Chris Scott was happy to concede after the game that his boys would’ve been lucky to win, had they won, I doubt many would’ve said that they didn’t deserve it.
Hawthorn set up two huge leads – one shortly before half-time and another early in the fourth quarter – and both times the Cats managed to bring them back and square the ledger, grabbing a hold of the lead in the dying minutes before once again throwing up the momentum.
While they haven’t managed to get it quite right in 2018 overall, we got to see one of the best examples of why Gary Ablett Jr, Patrick Dangerwood and Joel Selwood are considered a finger-licking-good midfield combination.
The moment that seriously sticks in my mind is that opening bounce. It’s all engines go and Geelong’s Dangerfield wins the clearance moving backwards, flicks a handball to Ablett, who flicks it straight back for Dangerfield to send it forwards long and hard.
It’s one of those plays that hints at so much more being possible just bubbling beneath the surface.
Oh, and speaking of so much more to come, Tom Mitchell – I haven’t forgotten about you, buddy. The high-flying Hawk had 40 touches, four tackles and two goals.
2. Round 17 – Greater Western Sydney versus Richmond – 14, July
Considering their overall dominance of the ladder in 2018 it feels odd to put a Richmond loss on this list, but here it is.
The Giants and Tigers went at it hammer and tongs at Spotless Stadium in Round 17 in a match that may have serious repercussions come September. Greater Western Sydney 11.13 (79) got the job done 10.17 (77) against the oft-touted as impervious Tigers.
It was a stereotypical first half for Richmond, setting up a small advantage just before half-time and threatening to blow their opposition away in the second half just as they’ve done so many times before.
In the third quarter, however, Leon Cameron and his men were ready, booting three goals and holding the Tigers to just five behinds to march into the final quarter in a great position.
The Tigers came hard in the last quarter as they always do, slotting four goals and holding the Giants to just one, but it wasn’t enough, and Greater Western Sydney managed to hold on.
Playing without key forward Jeremy Cameron, Greater Western Sydney’s confidence exploded as a result of the win and they now appear poised to play an important role in finals after many expected them to miss finals altogether after shocking first half of the season.
And the Tigers? We learnt lessons aplenty about the premiership favourites. For one, playing on the road is still a haunting prospect.
Second, you can have the best system in the world when it comes to footy and still stumble at the final hurdles. Richmond does what it does better than anyone else and the results have followed, but you always have to account for human error and no human is perfect.
While a number of Tigers had down days, including but not limited to Trent Cotchin, Corey Ellis, Callum Moore, Shai Bolton, Josh Caddy and Shaun Grigg, the pick of the bunch was small forward.
Courageous Castagna managed to boot five behinds and failed to score a goal at all, and you can couple that with two shots that missed everything all together.
It was a nightmare day for the young forward that showed every team in the competition that when the Tigers don’t take their chances, they lose just like everyone else.
1. Round 8 – Port Adelaide versus Adelaide, 12 May
The Showdown very rarely lets us down, and in Round 8 Port Adelaide and Adelaide put on one hell of a show.
Port Adelaide got over the line at the end of a thrilling final quarter 14.11 (95) to 14.6 (90) in a match that is genuinely seared into my mind like the scarring and searing a white-hot cattle farmer’s poker.
It was all about the luckless Crows in the first half, surging ahead by more than five goals, and then in the second half the tables were flipped and the Power surged ahead by almost the same margin.
Adelaide squared things up deep in the last, and finally Port Adelaide extinguished the flame and grabbed the four points.
Robbie Gray did what Robbie Gray does in the second, sinking five goals in the third quarter on his own. While there was still plenty of footy left to be played, Gray stamped his name on the contest like no other.
Two and a half minutes left in the third term. Just seven points separating the sides. The ball is thrown in deep in Port Adelaide forward line. The ball takes forever to come down, and when it finally does, Port’s Patty Ryder is the one with his finger on the trigger.
Ryder flicks the ball backwards to the hard running Gray, who has broken free of his tag with the energy of an Olympic sprinter. Gray seizes the ball and keeps moving, never taking his eyes off the goal the entire time.
Sprinting into a line of Adelaide defenders like a Polish cavalry charge hellbent on breaking through a line of pikemen, Gray darts into the only space available in front of him, contorts his body sideways and bangs through an arcing snap from 30 metres out to take his side to within one point of the Crows. The enemy. The rival.
Footy is a special kind of magic, and the Round 8 Showdown was jam-packed with it.