THE RIVALRY between Collingwood and Essendon goes to another level on ANZAC Day.

But of their generational stars since the tradition was started in 1995 – Nathan Buckley for the Magpies and James Hird for the Bombers – who has had the better playing career?

GREATEST TEAMS EVER Anzac Day ... who wins the game?

Hird might have stolen the show more often on ANZAC Day, winning three best on ground medals, but Buckley's career wasn't without its own series of individual accolades.

Riley Beveridge and Callum Twomey debate the issue. Have your say in the poll below.


When you're listing the greatest midfielders on either side of 2000 – and the greatest players to have ever played the game – Nathan Buckley's name is one of the first you immediately gravitate to.

In terms of his durability, consistency, work ethic and class, Buckley was the complete package.

His peaks saw him dominate the competition as the game's best player in a stunning stretch that dated back to 1998, culminating in the Collingwood skipper claiming the game's biggest accolade – the Brownlow Medal – in 2003.

It followed a second-place finish behind Robert Harvey in 1998 and successive top-five finishes in 1999 and 2000.


Meanwhile, his consistent output resulted in 14 consecutive years averaging more than 20 disposals per game. In fact, only his final season in 2007 – a campaign interrupted by hamstring injuries – was the only year in his career in which he didn't hit that mark.

His career didn't just feature incredible midfield numbers, either. In fact, Buckley kicked in excess of 20 goals in nine of his 15 seasons in senior football and finished with 284 goals from 280 games – not bad for a pure midfielder.

But if Buckley's endless quality and seemingly unswerving reliability isn't enough to win you over, let his overwhelming list of individual accolades do that for you.

The Brownlow Medal in 2003, seven All-Australian guernseys, six Copeland Trophies as Collingwood's best and fairest, nine years voted in as the club's captain, the NAB AFL Rising Star in his debut 1993 season and the AFL Coaches' Association Player of the Year in 2003.

Clearly, there's a glaring accolade that isn't on that list – a premiership. And yes, James Hird might have two of them. But it should be no negative on Buckley's career that he was unable to achieve the ultimate success on Grand Final day.

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Versus: Hird v Buckley

Who will come out on top?

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Buckley willed two Collingwood sides inarguably weaker than Hird's 1993 and 2000 Essendon teams to successive Grand Finals in 2002 and 2003. He also ran into one of the greatest teams of all time stopping him from claiming the premiership both times.

Hird should know a bit about that – his 2001 team also couldn't stop Brisbane.

But what Buckley did on Grand Final day in 2002 was remarkable, becoming one of just four players – alongside fellow greats of the game like Maurice Rioli, Gary Ablett Sr and Chris Judd – to claim the Norm Smith Medal for best on ground in a losing side.

It continued a big-game record that Buckley had demonstrated during his formative years, having claimed the Jack Oatley Medal for best on ground in the SANFL Grand Final at the age of just 20.

That came in the same season he won the Port Adelaide best and fairest, became a SANFL premiership player and claimed the Magarey Medal – the SANFL's Brownlow Medal equivalent.

Both are great players. There is no doubting that. However, we are voting for the greatest individual player – not the player who played on the greatest team. In that, there is no doubt of Buckley's status. – Riley Beveridge 

James Hird and Nathan Buckley fighting it out on Anzac Day, 2002. Picture: AFL Photos


Numbers are one thing in this debate, and Hird's stack up very well.

The Essendon champion's 253 games with Essendon reaped 343 goals.

He won five club best and fairests – his final coming in his last year in 2007 – and five All-Australian jumpers. Throw a Brownlow Medal, Norm Smith Medal and two premierships in too – one as skipper – and it's a glittering record.

Oh, and one more number to add: in 2002, Hird was voted the club's third best player of all time, behind legendary Bombers Dick Reynolds and John Coleman. The praise doesn't come any higher.


But beyond that, Hird's magic was seen on the field in intangible ways.

It was the stepping up in big games – three Anzac Medals, a Jim Stynes Medal as the best player in the International Rules Series (when it was in its pomp) and the best-afield honour in the 2000 Grand Final win highlights of that.

Whenever Essendon needed a lift, it was Hird, who was a traditional half-forward/midfielder, seeing him split time inside 50 and inside the centre square. He sensed moments better than any of his peers.

He was absurdly courageous. After hamstring and foot injuries threatened his career, Hird was able to return with brilliance.

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James Hird, you are a genius

Incredible moments across 20 years at Docklands

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After having his face fractured in a horrific collision with teammate Mark McVeigh in 2002, Hird returned eight weeks later and threw himself back with the flight of the ball without thinking twice.

Hird's aerial exploits were the ace up his sleeve. Gracefully, he would leap and hang over packs, making him another threat in the forward half and difficult to stop in the midfield. It's little wonder Nat Fyfe has been compared to Hird.

It is impossible to completely discount the premierships element when debating the players, too.

Hird was central to his team's success in 2000 – he returned from a debilitating foot injury that saw him miss 1999 – to come second in the best and fairest in their dominant season.

Would they have won without him? It could have been a repeat of their 1999 miss when he was sidelined with a foot fracture.

He was also a key cog in their surprise 1993 triumph, booting 31 goals in 16 games in just his second season at AFL level.

He may not have found as much of the ball as Buckley did, nor been as piercing a kick, but Hird was unmatched in his propensity to influence games. That never wavered from his first game through to his last. – Callum Twomey