This Friday night, traditional arch-rivals Carlton and Collingwood will run out under lights at the MCG. We will hear the usual commentary, but isn’t it time the idea that Carlton V Collingwood is the greatest rivalry of the game is challenged?
Certainly, it’s a rivalry, and a long one at that. The 1970 Grand Final between these clubs ushered in the birth of the modern game and solidified the famed ‘Colliwobbles’. The 1979 Grand Final will always be marked in football folklore. Was Wayne Harmes’ kick out of bounds? Magpies supporters will forever say it was. Indeed, for a long time these clubs symbolised the essence of true suburban rivalry, but can it really be touted as a great rivalry in the modern game?
You would be hard pressed to find the last time these two clubs staged a classic. They have not played each other in a final since the 1988 qualifying final, thirty long years ago. Granted, both clubs will regularly draw a bumper crowd, but that is by virtue of their respective supporter base rather than any genuine expectation about the game’s quality.
The Carlton and Collingwood rivalry is built on history alone, and largely VFL history at that. It is not the great rivalry of the modern game. Easter Monday showed the football world that, again, the honour goes to Geelong and Hawthorn. From 2008-2018, these two clubs have consistently staged genuine classics. Time and again they have produced bouts worthy of recognition as the game’s greatest matches, and we, the football public, are the winners.
Truthfully, this rivalry started as far back as 1989, the grand final many still claim as the best in the game’s history. You could even stretch back to the 1985 Leigh Matthews-Neville Bruns incident, but in recent years, the real rivalry began in 2008. When a precocious Hawthorn outfit left Geelong heartbroken after the Cats recorded the greatest home and away season of all time, Paul Chapman stood up and made a pact. That this Geelong team would never again lose to Hawthorn.
Another man, Jeff Kennett, then and now the Hawthorn president, gloated that Hawthorn had the mental edge over Geelong. The Chappy Pact and the Kennett Curse was born, and time and again Geelong would clutch victory from the jaws of defeat against an always gallant Hawks’ challenge. The Cats won 11 straight, with all but one match decided by 9 points or less.
Since 2008, these clubs have played in 13 games decided by less than 10 points. Four of these matches have literally been decided with the final kick of the game. In 2012, when Tom Hawkins sank a monster goal after the siren from 50 metres out, he signed off on what is quite possibly the greatest game of the modern era. I don’t know if I will ever see a better battle than that one.
Saying that, what both sides delivered on Easter Monday was something special. 73,000 fans were treated to a heavyweight battle where the eventual loser, the Cats, refused to lay down until the very end. Most games where the lead is 25 points with 10 minutes to play would be enough to pencil in, but not with these two clubs.
What is most impressive, though, is the mutual, begrudged respect both teams hold for each other. It’s tough and hard fought, but after the siren you can see the players’ shared acknowledgement for the spectacle they just performed. Disappointing as a Cats fan, sure, but we have also enjoyed being on the winning side more often than not.
When Geelong and Hawthorn play, the football world notices. There’s the story, the curse, the champions and the spectacle itself. On Friday night, when Carlton play Collingwood, there will be talk of great rivalries and shared history, but that is what it is, history. Geelong Vs. Hawthorn is for today, and it is great.