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We knew what was on the line

The Anzac Day eve match is still establishing it’s place on the AFL calendar but the event’s first encounter was a memorable one for those involved. Former Demon Chris Dawes played in the inaugural Anzac eve clash and he shares his experiences in an exclusive column.

The Melbourne Football Club were craving a game on the big stage, they had been for years.

So when Anzac Day eve 2015 came around, Friday night, MCG, we knew what was on the line — a chance to show the industry what we deserved.

Unsure of what type of spectacle it would become, we were fighting for respect. Richmond usually get great crowds through the gate but we hadn’t featured in a finals series for close to a decade at the time – there was a lot of unknown about it all.

I remember the Last Post. I’d been involved in three Anzac Day games with Collingwood but this one was different.

It was dark, the stadium’s lights were turned off as the great Ron Barassi lit the flame and the mood was set.

It was different to the other Anzac Day themed matches I’ve played in. Mick Malthouse was always big on revealing that history in the lead up and there’s obviously a lot of tradition stooped in the Anzac Day clash but I think the preceding game does enough without overshadowing the main contest.

It was a big stage — the 2015 match was the first Friday night game the Demons had been a part of in three years — so there were many players who got their first chance to impress with all eyes on them.

One of those was a young forward by the name of Jesse Hogan.

Internally, we knew what Jesse was capable of. We’d seen him develop for two years, despite some injury woes, but the wider footy public were still becoming accustomed to him.

Jesse’s aggression and ability in the contest came to the fore and what made it even more impressive was that he did it while playing on one of the best key defenders in the game.

There were a few one-on-one contests where Jesse convincingly beat Alex Rance and that was exciting for the footy club and those alongside him. We were watching a young forward come to life in front of our eyes.

Jesse’s not an extroverted guy but, like all great footballers, he enjoys the big stage and performing against the best because he’s a competitor.

He kicked two goals and didn’t dominate but the night wasn’t overly conducive for a key forward — the heavens opened up after half-time and the rain bucketed down.

The contest was a fierce one and we set ourselves for that. I feel like we did the Anzac spirit justice.

The weather seemed to help us out and, after holding a two-point lead heading into the main break, we kicked six goals to one in the second half to record a great win.

Thankfully, we put on a show, which helped the AFL pencil in the Anzac Day eve match as a permanent fixture — a bit of reward for a club that’s desired an annual game on the big stage for a long time.