5. 1979 first semi-final – Collingwood def Fitzroy

Fitzroy kicked off their 1979 season with an 80-point thrashing of Collingwood at Victoria Park, a ground they hadn’t won at for decades. Later that season, they kicked an astonishing 36.22 (238) to defeat Melbourne by 190 points out at Waverley. Helmeted rover Garry Wilson, who won the best and fairest by 151 votes, was a dominant figure.

Their cut-throat final against the Pies was a high standard affair, with Collingwood getting up by 22 points. But for fans of quality cinema, it is best known as providing the footage for the cult Australian film The Club. The film’s use of this vision really pushes its luck. At one stage, the commentator praises the 130,000 strong crowd. A suddenly sober Geoff Hayward, scarcely capable of kicking the ball over a jam tin in the preceding 90 minutes, suddenly morphs into a cross between Bernie Quinlan and Alex Jesuaulenko, booting a goal from the back pocket. And Rene Kink, who played very well in the first semi-final, doubles up in the film as Tank O’Donohue, a sneering, shark-elbowed, towel-dropping armoured vehicle.

4. 2003 grand final – Brisbane Lions def Collingwood

Collingwood had beaten Brisbane in the qualifying final. Nathan Buckley had just shared the Brownlow medal. And the Lions were the walking wounded. No player was more banged up than Nigel Lappin. Leigh Matthews later said that they had used 18 vials of local anaesthetic and most of those went on dulling the pain of Lappin’s broken ribs. Later, his lung was found to be punctured too. “Punctured lungs sound worse than they actually are,” Matthews said. Lappin’s best mate and potential replacement Chris Scott was stripped, strapped and, as was the Brisbane way, injected. But with seconds left to make a decision, Matthews tapped him on the shoulder. “Nige is playing,” he said.

But very quickly, it was the Pies who were anesthetised. They were comprehensively outplayed by Brisbane, with Simon Black playing one of the great individual grand finals, collecting 39 possessions. This was Brisbane at its apex – a swaggering, pitiless outfit with champions on every line. “It was easily my worst day in football,” Buckley later said.

3. 1991 – Collingwood defeat Brisbane Bears

Robert Walls walked into a football club that was in complete disarray. Christopher Skase had absconded. Reuben Pelerman had bought the club as a Valentine’s Day gift for his wife. The playing list was a mix of renegades and jobbers. But there were some real goers in there and one of those was Johnny Gastev. Who else were you going to play on Peter Daicos, who was coming off two successive eight-goal hauls? David Ogg? Shane Strempel? No, it had to be Gastev. He was strong, he was quick, and unlike some of his teammates, he wasn’t smoking half a pack a day.

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Daicos had turned Mark Zanotti inside out in the first half. By the main break, Daicos had slammed on six straight and Gastev was called up. The Macedonian Marvel’s seventh (of 13) and one of the best of his career came shortly after. Hemmed on the point post, Gastev slung him to ground, but the Marvel somehow defied geometry to trickle it through. “Don’t tell me he’s kicked that,” commentator Sandy Roberts cried. “I will not believe it!” “I actually apologised to Gastev,” Daicos later said. “That sort of thing shouldn’t happen to a backman.”

2. 1981 first semi-final – Collingwood def Fitzroy

I very nearly became a Fitzroy supporter as a little tacker. I idolised Bernie Quinlan. At the Junction Oval, he fired drop punts like artillery shells. They called him Superboot. The poet Barry Dickins called him “the winged Phar Lap.” But apparently I couldn’t pronounce his surname. Or perhaps I was put off by their one-point loss in the 1981 first semi-final.

This game was covered by Mike Coward and features in Russell Jackson’s Electrifying 80s book of the best football writing of that decade. The Roys were belted early, trailing by 45 points at one stage “The sentimental favourite of the entire football fraternity was diffident, hesitant, seemingly uncertain how to cope with match favouritism and the glare of publicity which surrounds any graduation from the chorus line to centre stage,” Coward wrote. But in one of the great hours of 1980s football, on an MCG caked in mud, the Lions rallied. Only last gasp goals to Daicos and Ross Brewer got the Pies across the line.

1. 2002 grand final – Brisbane def Collingwood

A rained soaked, nerve-shredding and still controversial grand final that had the lot. For reasons that were never really explained, Leigh Matthews agreed to be recorded in the box that day. Leigh wasn’t one for weasel words or coaching box histrionics. “They all know the way we play,” he would say. “But we know it better.”

The majority of the resultant documentary, From the Lips of Lethal, consists of him asking, “Where’s Mal?” and, “Are you there?” to his runner. But with the game in the balance, and Jason Akermanis all at sea with a groin injury and a close checking Paul Licuria, Leigh’s squeaky voice raised a few octaves. “Go and tell Aker, get to the FRONT of Lynchy! Get to the FRONT, not the back!”

Peroxided, preternaturally talented and completely impossible, Akermanis wasn’t always one to follow instructions. But when it mattered most, he listened, he executed, and the Lions had the second of their three flags.

 Jonathan Horn looks back at the best encounters between Collingwood and Brisbane/Fitzroy ahead of the 2023 AFL grand final  Read More