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Opening salvos: The most memorable Round 1 moments in AFL

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16th March, 2023

The AFL season kicks off this weekend and round one will likely throw up some memorable moments as fans and players return full of excitement for the season ahead.

Here are some of the best opening round moments we’ve seen.

1976: South Melbourne 23.15 153 def by Geelong 25.7 157

The 1976 season kicked off in early April, there were 12 teams from within Victoria, including Geelong. The ladder consisted of a top five and a bottom seven. South Melbourne, now the Sydney Swans, and Geelong desperately wanted to get their seasons off to good starts after finishing the 1975 season in bottom two spots on the ladder.

They definitely put on a show for the fans at Lake Oval in Albert Park. It was a shootout between the forwards at each end, with solid contributors from both teams. Robert Dean had a day out for South Melbourne kicking eight goals four behinds. Peter Bedford, who won the Brownlow medal for South Melbourne in 1970, had a good outing with 24 disposals and four goals.

Geelong made the running for most of the day. Larry Donohue, renowned as a sharpshooter, kicked seven goals, one behind. Donohue would go on to win the Coleman medal with 105 goals for the season, beating Hawthorn forward Michael Moncrieff who kicked 97. Geelong led by 26 points going into the final change.

Terry Bright with four goals and three for John Scarlett, father of future Geelong star Matthew, ably supported Donohue up forward. However, a late surge by South Melbourne, who kicked seven goals in the last quarter, meant it was a close and exciting finish. Geelong prevailed by just three points.


Geelong would go on to make finals going down to North Melbourne in the semi-final. South Melbourne had a better year than 1975, winning seven more games and finishing in 8th position

1982: Carlton 16.17 113 drew Fitzroy 17.11 113

The only draw of the 1982 season came in the first round when Carlton hosted Fitzroy at Princess Park. Carlton were coming off a dominate 1981 season, finishing on top of the ladder and beating arch rivals Collingwood in the grand final.

Fitzroy also had a promising 1981 season going down to Collingwood in a thrilling semi-final 133-132. Carlton looked set to continue where they’d left off, leading by 32 points at half time. Ken Sheldon with 34 touches and a goal, and Rodney Ashman, 32 touches and two goals, got Carlton going in the midfield. Peter McConville was the focal point in attack for the Blues with five goals.

Bruce Doull

Bruce Doull in the famous Carlton colours during the 1980’s. (Photo by Getty Images)

Fitzroy had reduced the margin to 18 points by three-quarter-time. Largely due to the impact of Gary Wilson who ended up with 29 disposals and four goals. Mick Conlan was also vital, winning plenty of the ball around the ground. A six goal to three last quarter in Fitzroy’s favour meant the points were shared. It didn’t deter from Carlton’s season as they would go on to win back-to-back premierships.

1983: Sydney 17.9 111 def Essendon 15.20 110


Sydney, who had been relocated to New South Wales at the start of 1982, missed the finals by two games. Essendon finished fourth although exited the finals in week one, losing to North Melbourne.

Sydney came out of the blocks hard, kicking the first eight goals of the game. Essendon responded by kicking seven of the next nine goals to only trail by 13 points at the halfway mark. Craig Braddy for Sydney did not get a lot of the footy but he made his possessions count kicking four goals. Tony Morwood, who would go on to play a total of 229 games for South Melbourne/Sydney had 19 disposals and scored three crucial goals.

Essendon’s Tony West recovered from a broken leg in 1982 to play again the following season. However, due to the strength in the Essendon team he would only play eight senior games. On this day against Sydney, it was one of his best, collecting 21 disposals and kicking four goals and four behinds.

It was a tight last quarter and both teams had their chances to win it. Morwood kicked his third goal to tie the scores at 109 apiece. As fatigue set in both teams failed to score, often kicking the ball out on the full. Eventually a chance fell to Sydney’s Greg Smith, who kicked a behind which gave the Swans the lead by a point. A last attempt from Essendon almost resulted in a Paul Salmon mark. The Swans held on in a thriller.

1987: New kids on the block

North Melbourne 15.14 104 def by Brisbane Bears 19.23 137
West Coast Eagles 20.13 133 def Richmond 16.23 119

1987 was a year of expansion for what was still the VFL. The West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Bears entered the competition. They both started off very well winning their opening games. Brisbane travelled down to Melbourne to play North Melbourne.


The Bears were untroubled throughout the entire game, leading at every interval, running out 34-point winners. Brad Hardie, 1975 Brownlow medalist with the Western Bulldogs and now at Brisbane, performed well kicking two goals and taking 17 touches. Brenton Phillips, not a noted goal kicker at Essendon or Brisbane kicked five goals on this occasion.

The Eagles played host to Richmond at Subiaco Oval. It looked certain that Richmond was going to rain on the Eagles parade. Richmond kicked seven goals to the Eagles’ three in the third quarter to lead by 33 points. Maurice Rioli finished up with 37 possessions and two goals. However, West Coast were not to be denied. With the support of the home ground, they kicked nine goals to one in the last quarter to win by 14 points.

1991: Adelaide 24.11 155 def Hawthorn 9.15 69

Four years later it was another introduction to the now AFL, in the form of the Adelaide Crows. The AFL now had 15 teams and implemented a top six to play finals. Adelaide welcomed Hawthorn to a packed Football Park on a Friday night. Adelaide sped out of the blocks leading by 51 points at half time. Four goals each from John Klug, Bruce Lindner and Peter McIntyre meant the Crows were never to look back.

Adelaide kept Hawthorn star forwards Jason Dunstall and Dermott Brereton quiet, with only two goals between them. However, Hawthorn would go on to win the premiership that year against West Coast by 53 points.


1994: Big bags of goals

The 1990s was the decade of the tall forwards and in 1994 they didn’t leave anyone wondering what they were capable of after Round 1.

Western Bulldogs hosted Richmond at Western Oval and were leading throughout. However, there was one thorn in their side in the form of Richmond star Matthew Richardson who kicked eight goals one behind. However, despite a late flurry from Richmond with six goals in the last quarter, they could not reel Footscray in, who won by two points.

Hawthorn, led by their full forward Jason Dunstall, easily accounted for St. Kilda in Round 1 at Waverley Park. Dunstall kicked nine goals three behinds and would go on to kick 101 goals for the year, the sixth time he reached that milestone.

Jason Dunstall and Gary Ayres

Jason Dunstall (left) and Gary Ayres enjoy one of their many premiership medals. (Photo by Getty Images)

Melbourne hosted Geelong at the MCG and a big last quarter from Melbourne meant they ran out 65 point winners. Allen Jakovich had a good day, though he could have had a great one had he kicked accurately. He ended up with eight goals and eight behinds. He didn’t get a single Brownlow vote.

The best was saved till last, on a Sunday evening in Adelaide. Carlton travelled over to face the Crows. After a pretty even first quarter the Crows put the foot down and kicked seven goals five behinds to Carlton’s 0.0 in the second quarter. Tony Modra was the star attraction kicking 13 goals three behinds. Adelaide won comfortably by eleven goals.


1998: North Melbourne 15.13 103 def West Coast 15.11 101

North Melbourne had made the preliminary final in 1997 after winning the premiership in 1996. They had knocked West Coast out in the process. Both teams hit 1998 with high expectations. North made the early running with Anthony Stevens getting plenty of the ball.

Star North forward Wayne Carey was well held by the Eagles defence only kicking one goal. West Coast had a dominant third quarter to lead by two goals. Ben Cousins with 27 disposals and two goals was one of Eagles’ best. The Eagles led by 15 points with seven minutes left.

However, North kicked the last three goals of the match, the last one by Adam Simpson, which put North in front with little time remaining. North held on for a memorable victory. They would later go on to lose the 1998 decider.

2000: First game at Colonial Stadium

Essendon 24.12 156 def Port Adelaide 8.14 62

The turn of the millennium saw the introduction of a new stadium, the first one with a retractable roof. Essendon welcomed it with a bang; still stinging after their preliminary final heartache in 1999, they hit 2000 with everything they had.


Matthew Lloyd starred with seven goals, Joe Misiti gathered 29 possessions, but it was Jason Johnson with 21 disposals and two goals that got the three Brownlow votes. There wasn’t much to shout about from Port Adelaide’s point of view, Josh Francou battled hard with 33 touches. Essendon ran out 94 point winners, which was a sign of things to come as they won the grand final, only losing one game throughout the year.

Brad Johnson kicked a crucial late goal for the Bulldogs in Round 1 2008. (Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

2008 Rd 1: Western Bulldogs 19.12 126 def Adelaide 18.15 123

Brad Johnson, one of the Bulldogs’ favourite sons, was celebrating his 300th game on a sunny afternoon at Docklands in 2008.

The game seemed to be following the perfect script. It had been a close battle throughout, Adelaide led by eight points with nine mins left. Johnson kicked three goals in a row for five for the game, the last seemed to seal the win for Bulldogs.

However, Adelaide kept on coming and a Scott Stevens goal brought the margin back to four points. With five seconds to go Adelaide’s Nathan Bock kicked a behind, which meant the Dogs prevailed and were able to chair off Johnson after a thrilling win.