Rivalries in the Australian Football League

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Rivalries in the Australian Football League exist between many teams, most of which typically draw large crowds and interest regardless of both teams' positions on the ladder. The AFL encourages the building of such rivalries, as a method of increasing publicity for the league, to the point of designating one round each year as Rivalry Round where many of these match-ups are held on the one weekend.[1] Whilst some rivalries, such as between teams from adjacent areas, are still strong, the designation of an entire round of fixtures as Rivalry Round is often criticised due to some arbitrary match-ups, or ignoring stronger, more recent rivalries.[2]

With a 22 game season and 18 teams (16 teams from 1995 until 2010 with the introduction of the Gold Coast Football Club and the Greater Western Sydney Football Club in 2011 and 2012 respectively), the AFL fixtures are not equal with each team playing seven other teams twice and eight teams once. Choosing to play certain games twice, such as the local derbies and blockbusters (games between the Big 4 Victorian clubs of Collingwood, Carlton, Essendon and Richmond, are known as blockbuster games), results in a skewed fixture which is rarely evened out over time.

Victorian rivalries[edit]

Locations of AFL teams in Melbourne

Carlton v Collingwood[edit]

Argued by some to be the greatest and longest standing rivalry in the competition.[1] Two clubs in close proximity, fuelled by the rivalry between white (Carlton) and blue collar (Collingwood) suburbs; the rivalry is intensified because the teams have met in six memorable grand finals (Carlton winning five, Collingwood one), including Carlton's 44-point comeback in 1970, and the famous Harmes-Sheldon goal in 1979. Games between these two clubs regularly attract large crowds regardless of whether they are in finals contention or not.

Essendon v Carlton[edit]

As is the case with two successful sides in any competition, fans of each club love to defeat the other.[1] The two clubs share the record for the most premierships with 16. In recent times, Carlton famously upset the heavily favoured Essendon side by 1 point in the 1999 Preliminary Final. Essendon also led Carlton by 48 points deep into the second quarter of their Round 3 2007 match at the MCG, only to be overrun by Carlton in what would go down as their greatest ever come from behind victory; however, Essendon went on to defeat Carlton over the next 6 encounters, with Carlton finally breaking Essendon's winning streak with an emphatic 76 point win in Round 19, 2010.

Melbourne v Collingwood[edit]

A traditional white collar (Melbourne) v blue collar (Collingwood) rivalry, additionally fuelled by a narrow loss to Collingwood which stopped Melbourne from winning a fourth flag in a row in 1958. Half of Melbourne's twelve premierships came against Collingwood and the teams have met in seven grand finals, the most of any pairing. Since 2001, Melbourne has hosted Collingwood in an annual match at the MCG on the Queen's Birthday public holiday Monday in June.

Richmond v Collingwood[edit]

Arising from the fact that the two areas neighbour each other, Richmond and Collingwood were both highly successful in the late 1920s to the early 1930s; the clubs played against each other in five grand finals between 1919 and 1929 (Collingwood won in 1919, 1927, 1928 and 1929, while Richmond won in 1920). In the 1980 Grand Final, Richmond handed Collingwood an 81-point defeat, a record at the time.

Both clubs continue to draw large crowds to their meetings in each season, and the two were the subject of a 'recruiting war' throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with David Cloke, Geoff Raines, Brian Taylor, Wally Lovett, Phillip Walsh, Steven Roach, Gerald Betts, Neil Peart, Peter McCormack, Kevin Morris, Craig Stewart, Ross Brewer, Michael Lockman, Rod Oborne, Allan Edwards, John Annear, Noel Lovell and Bob Heard all exchanging clubs, as well as coach Tom Hafey (moving to Collingwood in 1977 following four flags at Punt Road).

Melees have been fought between the teams in two recent matches – Round 20, 2009, and Round 2, 2012 – with almost all players from both teams involved in the altercations.

Hawthorn v Essendon[edit]

Games between the Hawks and the Bombers have proved spectacular, due to wild brawls

The clubs contested the Grand Final in three consecutive seasons between 1983 and 1985, and the rough nature of these games and other between the clubs made them strong rivals during the 1980s. In the 1990's and right up until 2004 the rivalry became more quiet and uneventful with the exception of the 2001 preliminary final, which was the first time they met in a finals game since the 80's. More recently, the clubs have played two matches which saw bench-clearing brawls: the "Line in the Sand Match" in 2004, which resulted in four players being suspended and $70,700 in fines; and the final round of 2009, a match which would decide eighth place between the two teams, in which four players were suspended for a total of seven matches and $27,000 in fines being handed out. The latter brawl was famously sparked by Matthew Lloyd who applied a very hard bump, knocking out Brad Sewell, in what would be Lloyd's last game.

Richmond v Carlton[edit]

A rivalry based on geographical proximity and large supporter bases, the rivalry intensified as both clubs contested several grand finals between 1969 and 1982,[1] including the 1972 Grand Final where Richmond equalled the highest score ever in a grand final, only to be bettered by Carlton in the same match. The following year Richmond won the 1973 Grand Final in an even more physically bitter contest than in recent encounters between the two sides; Carlton got their revenge in 1982 by defeating Richmond in their last grand final appearance (as of 2013). In 2013, Carlton beat Richmond by 20 points in an elimination final, which was Richmond's first final since 2001, and third final since 1982.

Since 2008, the first game of each season played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground has been played between Carlton and Richmond on a Thursday night early in the season.

Essendon v Collingwood[edit]

See also: Anzac Day clash

Since 1995, the rivalry has been defined by the Anzac Day clash, a match generally draws a crowd in excess of 90,000. The inaugural Anzac Day Clash in 1995 was famously drawn, the 2009 match was won by Essendon in the final minute with a goal from youngster David Zaharakis, and the 2012 match was won by Collingwood by one point after Jarryd Blair's game-winning goal was reviewed by video replay before being awarded.[3]

Essendon v Richmond[edit]

A rivalry born out of the fact that the two clubs are both part of the "Big 4" clubs in Melbourne as the highly supported teams. Since 2004, Essendon and Richmond have played the annual Dreamtime at the 'G match, a celebration of Aboriginal players and their contribution to the league.

North Melbourne v Hawthorn[edit]

Both teams entered the VFL in the 1925 expansion, and were generally unsuccessful through the first few decades, but the two teams were both very strong through the 1970s, sparking a rivalry between the clubs. The clubs played three Grand Finals against each other in four years, with North Melbourne winning their first ever premiership in 1975 by 55 points, Hawthorn winning in 1976 by five goals, and Hawthorn winning in 1978 by three goals.

Hawthorn v Geelong[edit]

The rivalry between Hawthorn and Geelong is defined by two Grand Finals: those of 1989 and 2008. In the 1989 Grand Final, Geelong played the man, resulting in major injuries for several Hawks players, Mark Yeates knocking out Dermott Brereton at the opening bounce; Hawthorn controlled the game, leading by approximately 40 points for most of the match; in the last quarter, Geelong almost managed to come from behind to win, but fell short by six points. In 2008 Grand Final, Geelong was the heavily backed favourite and had lost only one match for the season, but Hawthorn upset Geelong by 26 points; Geelong won its next eleven matches against Hawthorn over the following five years, under a curse, which was dubbed the "Kennett curse" which was attributed to disrespectful comments made by Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett following the 2008 Grand Final. It was later revealed that after the 2008 grand final, Paul Chapman initiated a pact between other Geelong players to never lose to Hawthorn again. The curse was broken in a preliminary final in 2013, however Chapman would be absent for that game.[4]

Essendon v North Melbourne[edit]

Essendon and North Melbourne were both strong in the latter part of the 1990s and early 2000s, and built a rivalry during that time. The defining moment of this rivalry came in Round 16 of 2001, when Essendon, trailing by 69 points early in the second quarter, would recover and eventually win by 12 points. Essendon and North Melbourne have played in one Grand Final, in 1950, which Essendon won by 38 points.

Collingwood v Geelong[edit]

Geelong won their first flag in 1925 over Collingwood, in 1930 Collingwood defeated Geelong in the grand final making it four flags in-a-row for the Pies. Geelong would later deny Collingwood three successive premierships in 1937, winning a famous grand final by 32 points.

The two sides played against each other in 6 finals between 1951 and 1955, including the 1952 Grand Final when Geelong easily beat Collingwood by 46 points. In 1953, Collingwood ended Geelong's record 23-game winning streak in the home and away season, and later defeated them by 12 points in the grand final, denying the Cats a third successive premiership.

Since 2007, the clubs have again both been at the top of the ladder and have met regularly in finals. Geelong won a memorable preliminary final by five points on their way to their first flag in 44 years. In 2008, Collingwood inflicted Geelong's only home-and-away loss, by a massive 86 points, but the teams did not meet in the finals. They would meet in preliminary finals in 2009 and 2010, each winning one en route to a premiership. They finally met in a Grand Final in 2011, which Geelong won by 38 points; Geelong inflicted Collingwood's only three losses for the 2011 season.[5]

Collingwood v St Kilda[edit]

A rivalry originally built out of the fact that St Kilda's only premiership came against Collingwood in 1966, when the Saints prevailed by one point, kicked late in the match by Barry Breen. The clubs later met in the 2010 AFL Grand Final, which ended in a draw before Collingwood won the replay by 56 points.

In a match between the two clubs in 1993, St Kilda's Nicky Winmar famously lifted his shirt exposing his brown skin to drunk Collingwood fans at Victoria Park who had making racist taunts during the match. It became a defining moment in the history of race relations in the AFL.

Local derbies[edit]

There are four 'local derbies' in the AFL, with each of the clubs competing against their cross-town rivals at least twice every year.

West Coast Eagles v Fremantle Dockers[edit]

Main article: Western Derby

The two Western Australian-based teams contest the Western Derby. The West Coast Eagles won the first nine derbies, stretching from the inaugural derby in May 1995 until July 1999, but the Fremantle Dockers managed a seven match consecutive winning streak in derby matches, commencing in August 2007 and ending in May 2011. Of the 38 derbies played to the end of 2013, West Coast holds a 21–17 advantage. The best performed player in each Western Derby is awarded the Ross Glendinning Medal.

Adelaide Crows v Port Adelaide[edit]

Main article: Showdown (AFL)

The two Adelaide-based teams, the Adelaide Crows and the Port Adelaide, contest the Showdown. The first showdown occurred in April 1997, following the introduction of Port Adelaide into the league that year. Of the 36 Showdowns that have been contested, Port Adelaide leads the head-to-head win count 20-16. The best performed player in each showdown is awarded the Showdown Medal.

Brisbane Lions v Gold Coast Suns[edit]

Main article: QClash

The QClash is a derby between the only two Queensland clubs. The Gold Coast Suns won the first QClash, held in 2011, by 8 points, but the Brisbane Lions lead the head-to-head tally 5-2. The best performed player in each QClash is awarded the Marcus Ashcroft Medal.

Sydney Swans v Greater Western Sydney Giants[edit]

The Battle of the Bridge[6] is the newest local derby in the AFL, following the introduction of Greater Western Sydney in the 2012 AFL season. The best performed player in each derby is awarded the Brett Kirk Medal. The Sydney Swans has a 4-1 advantage over the G.W. Sydney Giants. Sydney dominated the first two seasons of the rivalry, winning every game by more than 30 points,[7] but the Giants' upset win over the Swans in Round 1 of 2014 means the intracity rivalry is no longer entirely one-sided.

Recent rivals[edit]

West Coast v Sydney[edit]

A rivalry between Sydney and West Coast developed during the first decade of the 2000s, due to an unusually high number of close games, many in finals. The teams met each other six times between September 2005 and March 2007, including both Grand Finals and two Qualifying Finals; the final margins of these games were: 4, 4, 2, 1, 1 and 1, with Sydney winning the 2005 Grand Final, and West Coast winning the 2006 Grand Final. The sum of margins of 13 points across six consecutive meetings is by far the narrowest in VFL/AFL history, with 28 points (South Melbourne vs Melbourne, 28 points, 1898–1900) the nearest challenger.

Brisbane v Sydney[edit]

A Brisbane-Sydney match

Two frontier states for the AFL, the AFL uses the Rugby League State of Origin rivalry between Queensland and New South Wales to draw crowds to games between these teams.[1]

West Coast v Essendon[edit]

The rivalry between West Coast and Essendon was defined by an incident in Round 16, 1993, when Kevin Sheedy celebrated his team's two point victory by running down from the coaches box to the ground waving his jacket around his head. For years afterwards, the fans of the victorious team in these clashes celebrate the victory by waving their jackets, scarves, or whatever other paraphernalia is handy. This tradition however, has become increasingly rare; after Kevin Sheedy's last game as Essendon's coach in 2008, which was against West Coast in the last round of 2007, Sheedy was presented with a framed jacket that was specially made for the occasion with one half made in the red and black of Essendon and the other half the blue and gold of West Coast.

In a match in 2000, Essendon's Mark Johnson was felled shortly before half-time (no video footage of the incident exists). This prompted Kevin Sheedy to march onto the field, yelling at West Coast's Mitchell White and making throat-slitting gestures. Sheedy later claimed that a "seagull" had flown into Johnson's eye, but was fined $7500 for his actions.

Another notable match occurred in 2004, which would see the two teams locked at 131 points deep in the last quarter. Shortly before the siren, James Hird famously snapped a goal from the pocket, winning the game for Essendon.

Past rivals[edit]

St Kilda v South Melbourne[edit]

These clubs shared the same geographical area until the Swans moved to Sydney. These teams played for the 'Lake Trophy'.

Collingwood v Fitzroy[edit]

As with St Kilda and South Melbourne, these clubs shared the same geographical area until Fitzroy and Brisbane merged and began a new rivalry with Collingwood from successive grand final encounters.

Essendon v Melbourne[edit]

Essendon and Melbourne were fierce rivals throughout the 1940s and 1950s. The sides played off in five Grand Finals during that time, with Melbourne winning all bar one. Most famously, the two sides played off to the first drawn VFL Grand Final, in 1948, with Essendon's poor goalkicking costing them the win (7.27 drew 10.9), and Melbourne winning the replay by 39 points. Essendon was the victim of many of Melbourne's premierships in the 1950s, when the team dominated the league under coach Norm Smith.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Lonergan, Dan; AFL arch rivals - a thing of the past; 2007-04-13
  2. ^ Baum, G;Footy's drowning in a sea of medals; The Age; 2008-04-12
  3. ^ Edmond, Sam (25 April 2012). "Collingwood defeats Essendon by one point in Anzac Day epic". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 26 April 2012. 
  4. ^ http://finalsiren.com/PreviousGames.asp?Team1ID=4&Team2ID=16&Go=Go
  5. ^ http://www.collingwoodfc.com.au/news/2013-05-14/an-epic-rivalry
  6. ^ http://www.gwsgiants.com.au/news/2013-03-13/battle-of-the-bridge
  7. ^ http://stats.rleague.com/afl/teams/gws/allgames_tm.html