From The Notebook: My favourite 10 games of the 2023 home and away season

The end of the home and away season provides a perfect chance to reflect on the last 24 rounds.

Normally most people pick their All-Australian teams, Brownlow predictions, or other individual awards.

Once again I’ve completely forgot to track those until it’s too late (with an exception: Amiss should be top three in the Rising Star behind Sheezel and Ashcroft in that order, and Michalanney will be horrifically overlooked). But what I have done is kept a list of my favourite matches throughout the season.

So what we have here is my top 10 of the 2023 home and away season, all tailored to personal preference of course. Before the main list, three honourable mentions:

Round 2: Carlton v Geelong

Given it’s a personal list, what better way to start than listing a game which 95 percent of people probably forgot by the end of that weekend.

The part I love about early season games is the vibe of figuring out how much of what we’re seeing is real and sustainable, compared to teams just easing their way into the season.

There were so many moving parts in this game, a close, tense encounter for large parts, that I walked away with a laundry list of questions. Anytime I get to do that it’s a big tick in my book.

Round 3: Port Adelaide v Adelaide

If anything, Adelaide’s late flourish probably stopped this match from entering the top five. Up until halfway through the last quarter the match had everything you’d want. Quality from both sides, the usual 10/10 atmosphere and two teams looking to prove themselves.

Round 12: Essendon v North Melbourne

I’m surprised a North game is in here too, but this was sneakily fun. A free-flowing, end-to-end Sunday twilight match with plenty of momentum swings, quality performances from the best players on both teams and a wildly swinging final term. All the ingredients for an entertaining watch.

Other games that may have ended on this list if I had the chance to watch them start to finish: GWS v Hawthorn (Round 5, it sounded fun on radio), Gold Coast v Melbourne (Round 8), Carlton v Melbourne (Round 22).

#10: Round 10: Essendon v Richmond

The first of three Bombers games to make an appearance in this list, Dreamtime always has an inbuilt advantage given the significance of the night.

Add a tactical battle to the mix and it’s a game right in my wheelhouse. Essendon took a whopping 154 marks, the highest tally in any game this season as they prodded and poked their way around Richmond.

Cap it off with a last gasp goal for Sam Durham and it’s the first entry in my top 10.

#9: Round 12: GWS v Richmond

An old-fashioned shootout, there wasn’t much complicated about this as it built to a frantic last quarter.

Perhaps the novelty of Richmond scoring regularly from their inside 50s prompted me to rate this match so highly. Heading into this game, they ranked dead last for scores per inside 50 and then proceeded to kick 16.14 from just 47 entries against the Giants.

With that being said, it looked like the Giants had run over the Tigers with seven of the first ten goals in the final term.

Then, in the final minute, Marlion Pickett swooped at the front of a pack and nailed a shot on his left to seal a wild win.

#8: Round 16: Essendon v Port Adelaide

After 15 minutes it felt like Port were on their way to a triple figure win.

At half time it felt like we were in for a close game.

At three quarter time it felt like Essendon had the game completely on their terms.

Just before time on of the last quarter, it looked like the Power had sealed a win.

When the siren sounded, Essendon were in front.

Then Dan Houston ripped it away with one of the best after the siren goals of all time.

And I enjoyed seven more games than this!

#7: Round 7: Sydney v GWS

Perhaps the sleeper game of the year, where everyone who watched raves about it but didn’t have that wider cut-through.

Sydney had much the better of general play – a whopping 46-27 contested possession advantage in the first term for a five-point scoreboard deficit – while GWS’ accuracy kept them in touch.

The Swans still stretched their lead to 24 points early in the last, but the real fun was about to begin. Even with the home team enjoying plenty of territorial advantage – 20 to 10 inside 50s for the term – the Giants made the most of limited opportunities to kick the last four goals and escape with a famous victory.

That week’s Notebook highlighted the Giants’ late comeback from both teams’ perspectives. As the season rolled on it gained greater importance for being an early indicator of trends for both: GWS frequently finishing strongly, with the opposite for Sydney.

#6: Round 6: Collingwood v Essendon

Get ready for plenty of Collingwood from here on out. This is the first of four Magpies entries.

Essendon came into the game fresh off upsetting Melbourne and followed it with a clear plan on how to defend Collingwood’s rapid ball movement.

After a third quarter where the Bombers kicked six goals to one, they had a 28-point lead at the final change. Yet…

From the instant Billy Frampton kicked a goal to open the last quarter, there was a sense of inevitability. Even though Collingwood were still 22 points down at the time – and didn’t kick their next goal for another eight minutes – only the most diehard of diehard Bombers fans amongst the 95,179 at the MCG thought they would hold on.

So it proved as wave after wave of Collingwood attack overwhelmed Essendon’s defence, the Pies running out 13-point victors.

#5: Round 7: Adelaide v Collingwood

The only time Collingwood led was with 30 seconds to go. Up until then Adelaide had made the running, and when Chayce Jones kicked the first of the last term their lead was 22 points. But the score was 7.15 to 5.5, which indicated plenty of chances left on the table…

So when Collingwood kicked into gear a couple of minutes later, they had the chance to steal a game which should have been out of their grasp. From there it must have felt like the clock was ticking in slow motion for Adelaide.

Desperately trying to hold on, they had precious few opportunities to relieve the pressure – only five inside 50s for the whole term.

It was less Collingwood v Adelaide and more Collingwood v the clock as they piled pressure on the Crows, trying to get the home side to break.

Eventually pressure told as Collingwood inched past the Crows at the last gasp. Looking back at it now, it almost felt like a prelude to their second meeting of the season…

#4: Round 18: Melbourne v Brisbane

With about seven minutes to go I was compiling notes about how Brisbane had taken a step forward with their ball movement, that their defence still felt a touch shaky, but winning at the MCG against a fellow top four side was a major step forward.

Then Melbourne completed a comeback for the ages as Brisbane melted down. These types of moments usually follow a similar pattern:

‘At least they’re fighting it out’
‘They might still be in this’
‘Surely this isn’t happening’
‘Wait this is happening’
‘What just happened?!’

The air of disbelief at a ground as it unfolds is like few other things. Sadly as someone who sat through North Melbourne’s 2013 season I’m an expert in understanding this. Thankfully it’s a much more enjoyable experience as a neutral.

#3: Round 15: Collingwood v Adelaide

It turns out the sequel was even better than the original. After Adelaide’s early flurry resulted in point after point and Collingwood eased to a 27-point half-time lead, it felt like a bridge too far for the Crows – especially given their away record.

Instead their third quarter was arguably the best term of the season, as illustrated in that week’s Notebook…

And it was only the entrée for a manic last quarter. It felt like Collingwood were about to cruise past when Mason Cox cut it to a one-point game early on, but then Adelaide resisted while missing a couple more chances.

After two quick Pies goals gave them the lead, again it looked over. But there was one last Crows push before the game ended with a splash of controversy. To enjoy two games more than this in the same home and away season is a high bar.

#2: Round 10: Port Adelaide v Melbourne

Earlier in the piece I mentioned Essendon’s 154 marks against Richmond as the most in 2023.

Conversely, Melbourne’s 41 against Port Adelaide was the lowest and it spoke to the manic nature of the match.

It featured – in my opinion – the best individual game of the year as Zak Butters scythed through the Melbourne defence again and again. He was so good that a stat line of 41 disposals (18 contested possessions), 10 clearances, 8 inside 50s and 2 goals still doesn’t fully capture his influence.

Port jumped to an early lead and maintained it until the middle stages of the third quarter. Then Melbourne went on a rampage, piling on six consecutive goals. The rain came down in the last quarter, both sides looked like winners at certain stages, and it took an elite passage of play to win the game.

Yet for all that, there was still one game I enjoyed more.

#1: Round 19: Port Adelaide v Collingwood

After the Power-Demons game in Round 10, I was content with that as the best game of the home and away season.

Then Port Adelaide v Collingwood came along. It had been built up for weeks as 1 v 2 and the two best teams in it. More often than not a game falls flat after those proclamations.

Instead it was arguably even better than the hype. From start to finish it was flat out, both teams turning in a genuine finals-level performance with an atmosphere to match.

The final quarter – another Collingwood comeback – even got a standalone Notebook treatment. It was a game well worthy of being the top on my list.

A post-script for how much both teams invested in it: they were both flat as a tack the week after. It’s always a sure sign of having reached peak performance.

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