Mark McGough’s name will be forever associated with the Anzac Day clash. During his 49-game career, McGough played in three Anzac Day games with Collingwood, the first being in his second AFL match as a 17-year-old, where he received the Anzac Medal. He shares his thoughts about the day in an exclusive column for Aflplayers.com.au.
Around this time 15 years ago, I was presented with my fondest AFL memory.
As a 17-year-old in my second AFL match, I played in my first Anzac Day match against the Bombers.
Being a green high-school student at the time, I didn’t fully understand the true significance of the day.
Mick Malthouse, being a military history aficionado, always stressed the importance of playing on Anzac Day and how big the occasion is, not only for Collingwood and Essendon but also for Australia.
Before one of the three Anzac Day clashes I was lucky enough to play in, Mick read quotes and stories about some VFL players who served during war and never came back, which reduced him to tears.
While it was a moment where a lot of the playing group were unsure how to react, the occasion wasn’t lost on us and that memory is something I’ll never forget.
The thing that really stands out from my Anzac Day experiences in comparison to the other 48 AFL games I played was the amount of people in the crowd.
There’s a larger microscope on those games. The amount of media interest and fans that turn up or tune into the game is extraordinary for a home and away match.
While it’s just another footy game when you’re out there, there’s a sense of extra significance because of the national holiday and everything that comes with it.
Enduring a minute silence out in the middle of the ground before the game is a very special moment.
With more than 80,000 people in attendance and for all of them to be so quiet and respectful in an environment such as a game of footy is quite a solemn experience.
Being a player who spent the majority of his AFL career on the fringes, winning the 2002 Anzac medal is the highlight of my time at the elite level.
While post-AFL, during my time at East Fremantle in the WAFL, holds my dearest footy memories overall, it’s no secret that the three games I played on Anzac Day were some of my best efforts at Collingwood.
A soggy 2002 clash suited me and I was going well during the 2003 match to three-quarter time but didn’t come back on the ground.
Just before the siren sounded, Essendon’s Paul Barnard had a shot at goal from around 30 metres out. Thinking he’d at least score a behind, I started heading towards the middle of ground.
Sure enough, he didn’t make the distance and the ball rebounded to centre half-back where Paul Licuria unsuccessfully defended three opponents and James Hird steered through an Essendon goal – all while I was halfway to the centre square. Mick then threw a whiteboard at me during the break – I won’t be forgetting that error anytime soon.
Although we lost the 2004 encounter a year later, I finished runner-up to Hird for the Anzac Medal in what would be my last game on the public holiday.
I’m not really too sure why I tended to play better during those games. It may have been due to match-ups with Essendon or the way the games happened to play out, but other than that, I can’t really put my finger on why my output increased on Anzac Day.
Because there was so much media exposure and the fact I was so young and ended up having such a short career, my lasting memory in the sport is attached to Anzac Day.
While I feel I played a couple of games that were better, the three Anzac Day clashes were some of my best games and I’m proud I was able to achieve something on such a significant event on the Australian calendar.
I’m a history teacher now and, in regards to the day itself, we look at Anzac Day and what it means to the country.
It’s not only the Australians who were sent overseas to fight in support of Britain that we celebrate during this public holiday, it’s about recognising all the people who have fought and given their lives for our nation.
For me, it’s important to recognise those who have fought and died for Australia but we also need to remember not to glorify the horrific event that is war.
Young men and women went into foreign countries in terrible conditions to fight and a lot of them lost their lives. It’s important to learn from those experiences and use them as reasons to avoid future conflict.
Footy has become synonymous with Anzac Day now but you can’t compare a game to war. The sacrifices these young men and women made, and continue to make to this day, to defend our Australian values and beliefs are unlike anything that’s capable out on the field of play.
But having a game to help commemorate the day is vital for creating an awareness of what Anzac Day is all about.