Contenders for the game of the year began on the opening night of the season when a Tom Lynch contested clunk and goal tied up the Richmond vs Carlton opener, setting the scene for one of the greatest home & away seasons in the AFL era.
Nearly every round after produced thrillers, comebacks, upsets and big crowds that make our game so special and have led us to yet another premiership race to not miss a second of.
Last season's Round 23 Carlton vs Collingwood clash saw the home & away season reach heights never before seen in our sport, as the grim reaper in Collingwood stormed home to secure a top four spot, eliminating the Blues in the clear-cut game of the year.
This season saw one side eliminated from contention in even more heartbreaking fashion, while others claimed statement wins throughout the season via comebacks, individual brilliance and close-game artistry.
With a plethora of thrilling battles to choose from, here is the list of the 10 best matches of the 2023 home & away season.
- Sydney (64 vs 66) Port Adelaide - Round 4, SCG
- GWS (77 vs 75) Hawthorn - Round 5, Norwood Oval
- Sydney (106 vs 107) GWS - Round 7, SCG
- Adelaide (58 vs 59) Collingwood - Round 7, Adelaide Oval
- GWS (104 VS 110) Richmond - Round 12, Sydney Showground Stadium
- Western Bulldogs (73 vs 78) GWS - Round 20, North Ballarat
- Gold Coast (87 vs 91) Carlton - Round 23, Gold Coast Stadium
10. Adelaide (73 vs 74) Sydney - Round 23
This match probably had the most extreme consequences of any game on this list despite featuring the eventual 8th and 10th-ranked sides. It was essentially an elimination game for both which sent ripples into into the finals propositions of four other contenders.
All season long, Adelaide had shown an ability to match it with the best, but could never claim the scalp to prove they belonged with the best. Last year's runner-up, Sydney, were plagued by injury devastation throughout the year but impressively had a chance to stake their finals claim with a win in hostile territory.
Shockingly, the first half produced a Swans avalanche. John Longmire's men ramped up the pressure whenever required and hit the scoreboard swiftly. Late in the second, they had established a whopping 44-point lead before the Crows hit back with two late ones.
Momentum was gradually shifting in Adelaide's favour, yet they could only break even with Sydney's third-quarter score; each side kicking 2.2 for the term as Sydney took a 32-point lead into the final break.
The fourth quarter saw Adelaide obliterate the Swans, booting three goals to cut the margin to 14 points in the blink of an eye.
The next eight scores of the match were all behinds; seven to Adelaide and one to Sydney in what proved to be the deciding point.
Anxious fans watched on in agony with two minutes remaining. Adelaide trailed by eight points when Josh Rachele crashed a pack inside 50, and skilfully snatched a late goal to give his side one last chance.
Up stepped Jordan Dawson with a crucial clearance from the final centre stoppage to send the Crows forward. With pressure firmly on the Swans, a hacked kick out of defensive 50 went out on the full, giving Ben Keays the chance to potentially snap the Crows into the finals.
Keays' set-shot preceded the most controversial moment in recent AFL history. His kick curled through the big sticks as the crowd erupted and players swarmed to celebrate. Not known to these players in the moment was the decision of the goal umpire, who decided this kick had hit the post and did not require a score review.
Sydney held on for the final minute to claim the great escape and a shock finals berth.
Post-match replays revealed a clear gap as the ball passed the goal-post, confirming the most dubious umpiring call of the season, if not AFL history.
"I want to say conclusively that if the decision had been reviewed, it would have been overturned...I want to acknowledge that it was a mistake".
- Gillon McLachlan on Ben Keays' shot at goal that was called a behind. pic.twitter.com/BQ8JnNdW19
— 7AFL (@7AFL) August 20, 2023