Round 4 – Essendon v Geelong: The Country Game Preview

Footy followers everywhere it is time to recognise and celebrate the contribution of regional Australian communities to the AFL and the nation as a whole. The joint initiative of the Essendon and Geelong football clubs, together with the AFL and their sponsors, to stage a ‘Country Game’ each year at the MCG is a long overdue addition to the existing marquee series of matches. Kevin Sheedy, a driving force behind the initiative, wants the AFL football  community to “celebrate the great people who keep our country going”. The program is not just about football and farmers, as many others in rural communities will share in the spotlight of recognition. It is also about shining a light on the tough issues affecting rural communities.

The Footy Almanac already stands tall in its recognition of the country to football wherever it is played. The Almanac ‘Wool Teams’ remind us of the great players who started their football life in bush towns around Australia and made an impact on football in the cities.

Why is an annual marquee game between Essendon and Geelong appropriate?

As original clubs of the VFL which started in 1897, Essendon and Geelong have always maintained strong connections with regional areas. Geelong with it non-metropolitan location, has a long tradition of recruiting players from the bush. Similarly, Essendon has maintained close links with country football, particularly in the Wimmera District of western Victoria. Evidence of these connections can be seen in the long list of players from the Bombers and the Cats nominated in the Victorian and Riverina ‘Wool Teams’. Geelong has 8 and Essendon 5 players in the starting 18 for the Victorian ‘Wool Team’. The nominated coach, Reg Hickey, is a father figure of the Geelong Football Club. Venturing interstate, the Danihers and Hawkins, among others are first names picked in the Riverina ‘Wool Team’. There is also a sprinkling of former Bombers and Cats players in both the South Australian and Western Australian ‘Wool Teams’.

And what great clubs they have been! Together they have won 25 VFL/AFL premierships. In fact, the first VFL premiership team Essendon, won its title after defeating Geelong in the 1897 finals series. Only in one more Grand Final have the two clubs met, in 1951, and the Cats’ win that day balanced the ledger.

An extra chapter is being drafted into the book of connections between the two clubs with the recruitment by the Bombers of Geelong’s Paul Chapman (2014-15) and in 2016, James Kelly, Matthew Stokes and Mitch Brown. All eyes will be watching to see how Kel, Stokesy and Brownie go on Saturday against their former team mates.

After the wood chopping, hay bale sitting and country tucker tasting is done and dusted who should toss the coin at the start of the Country Game on Saturday afternoon at the MCG? Sheeds if you have a say, what about the boy from Cobram, John Barnes? His bookend-career with the Bombers filled with a long stint at Kardinia Park makes him eligible. Are there any other nominations?

So Almanackers, what are your favourite memories of the rivalry between these two combatants and who are some of the unforgettable players from the country to pull on the Geelong and Essendon jumpers?

For mine:

1. The 1989 Preliminary Final at VFL Park won by the Cats – what a reversal of fortunes and scores from the final two weeks before.

2. The 1993 ‘Shootout’ between Ablett (14 goals) and Salmon (10) at the MCG.

3. The 1968 Preliminary Final at the MCG – the only time I have attended a game between the two clubs.

Footnote: What is in a name? Consider Polly Farmer, Fred Wooller, James Hird and Shane Heard, among others! 


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