The dawn of September 1st 2018 signalled more than the beginning of Spring, it also brought to a close the decade-long naming rights sponsorship by Etihad of Docklands Stadium. From this day forward it will be known as Marvel Stadium – a home for superheroes and villains alike. Given Ian Collins reign as CEO we would suggest that villains have long been at home at Docklands, but all quibbles aside we did think this momentous occasion warranted a countdown of the greatest games of the ‘Etihad era’.
Given that over 470 games were played since the Etihad livery was put in place and over 87,000 points scored there are plenty of nominees for our top five countdown. So many in fact that a number of outstanding games missed the cut. The quality of our list best highlighted by the honourable mentions list which includes Essendon ending St Kilda’s unbeaten start to 2009 after a post-siren miss from Nick Riewoldt; the Bulldogs and Geelong’s nailbiter from this year; St Kilda stealing a draw against Hawthorn via a Ben McEvoy goal 12 seconds from time; and a trio of North Melbourne classics – against Essendon this year, Geelong last year and Carlton in 2013
5. Essendon and Sydney in back to back classics
Essendon v Sydney: Round 20 – 2011 & Round 11 – 2012
The Bombers and Swans played a series of nailbiting encounters to begin this decade but none more thrilling than the back to back classics they put on at Etihad Stadium in 2011 & 2012. Both matches went down to the wire and will be remembered for their last plays. In 2011, with the Swans having squandered a two-goal lead late in the match they had an opportunity to pinch it when Adam Goodes lined up for goal after the siren.
Unfortunately for the dual-Brownlow Medalist, he would push his shot wide, handing victory to the Bombers. It was final siren heartbreak of a different kind for Courtenay Dempsey of Essendon in the 2012 match. With his team pushing to steal an unlikely victory he marked the ball just outside fifty and played on looking to drive the ball forward. Unfortunately, as he played on the siren sounded to end the match and see the Swans prevail this time in a one kick match.
4. LeCras’ Night
Essendon v West Coast: Round 16 – 2010
Not much was expected when West Coast arrived at Etihad Stadium in 2010 to take on the Bombers. Both sides were in the middle of forgettable years, especially so for the Eagles who were on the way to the first wooden spoon in the club’s history. That West Coast could upset the Bombers on this night, and drag this game onto the list, was all the result of an individual performance to remember from Mark LeCras.
The then 23-year-old LeCras was unstoppable from the outset booting four goals in the first term and three in the second to have seven goals at the long break. A further three in the third term saw him to ten and within one of the ground record of 11 for goals in a match. With his two clutch goals in the last he, twice ended mini Essendon runs and, claimed the individual Dockland game goal kicking record from Stephen Milne and Matthew Lloyd. His mark of 12 goals stands to this day and only Lance Franklin with 13, of current players, has a bigger single game haul at any ground.
3. The Great Escape
Western Bulldogs v St Kilda: Round 6 – 2015
As both teams left the field at halftime of their Round 6 encounter in 2015, the Bulldogs Jake Stringer and taunted and shoved Saint champion Nick Riewoldt to provoke a melee between most players on the ground. With the Bulldogs leading by 49-points it seemed to be misplaced aggression from the Saints. This fact was seemingly reinforced when the lead was extended to 55-points, a lead that no team had ever overcome in the second half of a VFL/AFL match.
Despite having kicked just two goals to this point of the afternoon, the Saints were inspired by David Armitage, Jack Billings and Leigh Montagna to kick the next seven goals of the game to go into three-quarter time just 12-points down. The Bulldogs looked to have settled when they opened the final term with two quick goals but the Saints weren’t to be denied. Kicking the last five goals of the game they would complete the largest successful second-half comeback in VFL/AFL history. It was fitting that the sealer was kicked by Billings whose four second-goals was the catalyst for the victory.
2. Crows leave it late
North Melbourne v Adelaide: Round 9 – 2013
When North Melbourne met Adelaide at Etihad Stadium in Round Nine 2013, they had already made a habit of grasping defeat from the jaws of victory. Three times they had suffered defeat by less than kick after having earlier found themselves in strong positions in the match. Despite this fact, when the Kangaroos extended their lead to 30-points at the 14th-minute mark of the final term against Adelaide, only the most optimistic of Crows fans could have imagined what happened next.
Two goals to Sam Kerridge gave the Crows some life but still trailing by three goals when the game entered time on, it appeared a forlorn hope. A Richard Douglas goal at the 24th-minute mark meant they were ‘close enough if they were good enough’. The margin was cut to a single goal when Kerridge kicked his sixth but time was running out. When Jared Petrenko missed from 40-metres out it looked as though the Crows would come up short but he was not done yet. With just 20-seconds left on the clock, the ball was driven long into the Adelaide forward fifty. Despite numerous players swarming to be at the fall of the ball it somehow evaded them all and continued towards goal. As desperate players set chase, Petrenko got to the ball first and soccered the ball through for the win.
1. Saints stay undefeated
St Kilda v Geelong: Round 14 – 2009
Could it be any other?
A highly anticipated heavyweight contest that lived up to its pregame hype, St Kilda and Geelong in 2009 is widely regarded as one of the greatest home and away games in history, and with good reason. In front of a ground record crowd of 54,444, the two undefeated teams went toe to toe in a game for the ages.
The Saints landed all the early blows in the contest and took an early five-goal lead to leave the Cats rattled. Still standing after the Saints ferocious opening, the Cats worked their way back into the match. Geelong’s fightback saw them draw level at the 24th minute of the final quarter to set up a grandstand finish.
With both teams frantically looking for the winner and the ground record crowd at fever pitch, the match moved towards an unforgettable conclusion. With the grandstands literally heaving under the weight of the excited fans, Michael Gardiner rose high to clutch a long, Luke Ball bomb forward. The carnage he left in his wake to take the pack mark meant a two-minute delay as Harry Taylor was helped from the field. The wait had no effect on Gardiner who kicked truly upon the resumption, the Cats would have one final thrust forward but the Saints would hang on for a six-point victory.