Anzac Day at the footy began with a handshake and a hug between Joe Daniher and Darcy Moore, scions and talismen at their respective clubs. Late in the first quarter, Collingwood winger Tom Phillips flung himself backwards at … well, he could not have know what, but as it happened, it was an airborne Mitch Brown, who with the sun in his eyes also was launching himself into the scary unknown. Phillips did not even spoil the mark, but at quarter-time every Collingwood player went to him.
These two acts encapsulated the day’s spirit, as an occasion and contest. It would trivialise the Anzacs to conflate footy and war, of course, but it honours them to acknowledge that respect, courage and good grace are universal and eternal qualities, evident in many spheres, elevated this day. There was only one bum note, but it fairly boomed: booing from Essendon fans throughout the post-match rituals. Later, Nathan Buckley refused to dwell on this exception to the royal rule.
A simple touch on Thursday underscored the otherwise generally noble spirit: at the singing of the national anthems, fans were asked to remove their caps. It is why Anzac Day, the original of the event fixtures, is after 25 years still the biggest and the best. It also put on the huge crowd a momentary but strange bare-headed aspect.
So Anzac Day 2019 had its theme: uncompromising footy, heroic acts, punctuated by the sort of good grace that often is hard to maintain when so much is at stake. At half-time, it was the Bombers mobbing Daniher, whose 60-metre, post-siren kick seemed to orbit for a while before splashing down over the goal line. It was one of a run of four goals that restored Essendon’s place in the contest after Collingwood had threatened a rout. There were periods when it seemed Daniher might win this match by himself, but Moore was no less a presence. He and Daniher were Van der Haar and Knights from yesteryear, reprised.