The Advocate - Hepburn

Demons and Magpies prepare for annual King's Birthday match

Regardless of what's going on in the wider footballing world, certain games always deliver, and the Kings Birthday match is one of those. Picture Shutterstock
Regardless of what's going on in the wider footballing world, certain games always deliver, and the Kings Birthday match is one of those. Picture Shutterstock

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We're now well into the thick of the 2023 AFL season, and it's shaping up to be one of the most memorable recent times. Across most rounds, it feels like there are more upsets than expected results, and the ladder is looking a little different than what many may have predicted.

Regardless of what's going on in the wider footballing world, certain games always deliver, and the King's Birthday match is one of those. Few clubs boast a pedigree or fan base to match the Demons and Pies, and head-to-head encounters are always worth tuning in for - particularly since the two teams are flying high this season.

Plus, with FightMND's The Big Freeze back up and running again for the ninth consecutive year, football fans have more than one reason to grab tickets to the game.

The story so far

An annual encounter between the Demons and the Magpies, the King's Birthday match has produced its fair share of classic games over the years.

AFL has always been played on the King or Queen's birthday public holiday, a tradition dating all the way back to 1897. In years gone by, it was a rather stacked date, with up to three matches being scheduled simultaneously.

Back in 2001, the AFL made the executive decision to have the Demons face off against the Pies in the sole public holiday match, and as two of the biggest Victorian clubs, the game always attracts one of the largest crowds of the year.

Since 2015, the match has also played host to The Big Freeze. Demons legend Neale Daniher was diagnosed with motor neurone disease back in 2013, at which time he was only given two years to live. A decade later, he's still fighting hard, and his charity FightMND has raised millions of dollars for motor neurone disease research.

Head to head

Over the past handful of decades, Collingwood has definitely been the more successful club of the two, and this is reflected in head-to-head encounters.

Since 2001, the Pies have won 14 of the public holiday matches compared to the Demons' 6 victories, with a draw also occurring back in 2010.

The Pies are currently on a 4 match-winning streak, a trend the Demons will certainly be looking to reverse in just a few days' time.

Since 2015, the player judged best afield has also been awarded the Neale Daniher Trophy, the most recent recipient of which was Clayton Oliver in 2022, when the Demons went down to the Pies by 26 points.

What to expect

Collingwood has absolutely dominated the competition in 2023. Following Round 11, the Pies are virtually undefeated, having only gone down to the Lions back in Round 4. After a heart-breaking 2022 Preliminary Final loss to the Cats, the Pies will be looking to capitalise on their good results heading into the latter part of the season.

Demons fans have a fair bit to be happy about, too. The ladder this year is particularly tight, but the Demons are in a good position and will be hoping to secure a top 4 spot before the season's end.

In terms of players to look out for, you can't go past the Daicos duo. Brothers Nick and Josh have dominated the competition so far, with many pundits tipping Nick will join the ranks of exceedingly young Brownlow Medal winners by the season's end.

At the other end of the spectrum, senior stalwarts Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom - with over 600 games between them - may be reaching the end of their respective careers but still make for fierce competitors.

The Demons are not without stars, either, with top players all over the field. Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca and Jack Viney make for a formidable midfield trio, while Brodie Grundy continues to provide strong support for captain Max Gawn.

Beyond the game itself, the match will feature the annual Big Freeze, where footy icons don their best fancy-dress outfits before slipping and sliding their way into a pool of icy cold water - all in the name of defeating MND.

The eighth Big Freeze, held last year, raised a record-breaking $19.8 million for FightMND through fundraising and the sale of the iconic FightMND beanies. Melbourne legend Neale Daniher will be joined by family and friends on a day that is about so much more than football.