A COLLINGWOOD sensation, who rose to such heights in his second season that he almost won the Brownlow Medal, features as we start to count down the top 10 in AFL.com.au's 50 biggest stories of 2023.
A new round spiced up the fixture and brought the League together in one state, while one of the greatest goalkickers we have ever seen said goodbye to the game.
In a six-part series, AFL.com.au is counting down the biggest football stories and most memorable on-field moments from 2023, continuing with 10-6.
PART ONE 50-41 Biggest stories of 2023
PART TWO 40-31 Biggest stories of 2023
PART THREE 30-21 Biggest stories of 2023
PART FOUR 20-11 Biggest stories of 2023
PART FIVE 10-6 Biggest stories of 2023
PART SIX 5-1 Biggest stories of 2023
10. Gather Round brings new life to fixture
Like anything new, Gather Round had its early critics as an extra set of games was added to the AFL fixture and every team was brought to South Australia in April for a four-day footy festival. By the last of the nine games, however, it was hailed as a resounding success and locked in for SA for the next three years, with Gillon McLachlan declaring it had produced some of the "best days and events the AFL has ever delivered". The passion of SA premier Peter Malinausakas became critical in driving the concept for his state, while travelling fans played their role in making it a success. There is potential for the event to become bigger and travel around the country, making this year's event and its success a significant development in the game.
9. Second-year star sparkles
So excellent was 20-year-old Magpie Nick Daicos in 2023, he emerged as a clear Brownlow Medal favourite before suffering a late-season knee injury and missing the final three matches of the season. Daicos has claims as the best second-year player the game has seen in the draft era, and possibly beyond that, possessing a mix of skill, ball-winning ability and football IQ that makes him lethal to opponents. It was hard to believe the levels he reached for such a young player this year, ending the season with a podium finish in the Brownlow Medal, All-Australian selection, the AFL coaches best young player award, second place in the Magpies' best and fairest, and a premiership medal. Ranking No.1 at Collingwood for disposals (31.0) and No.7 in the AFL, it's hard to imagine the levels he can reach from here.
8. Blues burst back after mid-season stumble
The drama that surrounded Carlton throughout 2023 made them one of the central teams in the overall story of the season. After a strong month to start, they went 8-1 over the next nine weeks and coach Michael Voss faced relentless calls to lose his job from frustrated fans. All connection and purpose looked to have deserted the group and hope was lost. The turnaround from there, however, providing a rollicking ride for fans as the Blues went 11-1 and became a premiership wildcard, pushing all the way to a preliminary final against Brisbane. Recruit Blake Acres was a big-moment player during the finals and Sam Walsh elevated himself with a stunning September. The Blues ultimately fell 16-points short of a Grand Final, but their 2024 possibilities are tantalising for fans.
7. Gill's goodbye ends as Dillon era starts
One of the biggest stories of 2022 was the announcement that Gillon McLachlan would step down from his role as AFL chief executive, but the League boss had unfinished business and his tenure extended well into 2023 as key objectives – including a record $4.5 billion broadcast deal – were met. It was not until May this year that Andrew Dillon, the AFL's general manager of football operations, legal, integrity, and general counsel, was confirmed as the CEO-elect, with McLachlan officially ending his successful tenure, which started in April 2014, after the Grand Final. In taking on the role, Dillon said football had been a defining part of his life and he wanted to ensure the game remained relevant, accessible and welcoming to all Australians.
6. Emotional farewell for AFL great
In the season following his 1000-goal milestone, the end of a glorious career came for Lance Franklin, one of the greatest players in the history of the game. While 2023 was expected to be Franklin's final season, the end hit hard for fans, who missed a chance to farewell 'Buddy' on-field after a calf injury in July prompted his sudden retirement mid-season. In a remarkable 354-game career with Hawthorn and Sydney, Franklin booted 1066 goals and finished as the most recent player to kick 100 goals in a season (113 in the Hawks' 2008 premiership year). He chose not to attend a farewell press conference, but a lap of honour at the SCG, with wife Jesinta and their two young children, provided one of the year's more memorable moments as a teary Franklin waved goodbye to his adoring fans to a standing ovation.