by Tom Briglia
Armitage, Steven, Geary.
I’ve always subconsciously had them in the same bunch, although Armitage was picked up a year earlier than the other two. For immediate impact, they weren’t quite the Smith, Brown and Jones trio; all who who were picked up in the 1994 draft and would play a huge role in the 1997 Grand Final season. This modern group at best formed part of the bottom 6 of the 2009/2010 campaign. Indeed, none of them would play in any of those three Grand Finals (it still feels bizarre writing that), although Robert Eddy – the only semi-regular at the time to possibly have a lower profile than Geary – would play in the both of the 2010 editions. Collectively though, the current pack have had far more longevity together than their circa-1990s counterparts.
They all made differing impressions throughout the 2008 pre-season premiership-winning competition, the first time Geary and Steven would play in St Kilda jumpers. Steven would dribble through the winner in the second round, with a minute to go against the Cats in the in Canberra, and Armo would do the same with less time left on the clock a week later against the Bombers to secure a berth in the Final.
Geary would play in the Final win alongside Armo, but I remembered him more for the strapping on his wrist in the first round against the Tigers, which I thought made him look like he was wearing a watch out on the field. Being the first hit-out for both teams for the year meant the game was unsurprisingly flat, but I seemed to remember him and Eddy, also playing his first game, as being relatively busy as Ross Lyon began to make his mark on the team and the Saints shut down the Tigers repeatedly from half-back and through the middle. The game was also memorable (well, not really) for Charlie Gardiner having a massive impact as a roaming half-forward, but he would be gone at year’s end.
The only photo from that match I can find with Geary in is this one. Perhaps fitting, because he’s remained in the background ever since. Only in the last couple of years did it become gradually apparent how highly rated he is amongst his teammates, coaches and staff. It was what was going on behind the scenes the whole time brought us to where we are today.
Armo played a little more regularly from 2008, Geary contributed to the highlights reel in the early 2009 with some handy goals (winning a NAB Rising Star Nomination in Round 8) and Jack Steven showed several moments of nous as a small forward in 2010 (see the three-goal burst at the MCG against the Cats in Round 13).
Perhaps typical for Ross, it was the far more unfashionable Eddy that got the nod at the pointy end of the season. He missed out on the 2009 Grand Final but played ahead of all three others the week before, despite Robert Eddy Awareness Week threatening to out him to the wider football public as a little more than a bit player.
As Roo’s extended his hand with the captaincy baton over the last couple of seasons, it seemed over the past couple of years Armo and Steven were the most likely candidates to take over. But from the rookie list and a shaky grip on a spot in the 22 for so long, Jarryn Geary is the St Kilda captain.
So here we are. A world in which – officially – Roo won’t be one to lead us to that second premiership cup we thought he’d be holding aloft, something we thought he and the club were destined for from early last decade. A world in which he is the one chosen to be mic’d up for Channel 7 during a match. A world in which “Signed Geary poster giveaway” is a thing.
Never mind Clint Jones being chaired off after his 100th game early in 2012. Relatively speaking, this is a more absurdly wonderful achievement than that; higher and further than anyone thought Geary could go.
It remains too high for some supporters. Early last season I thought he might not be in the best 22 by the end of the year, although I felt I’d been proved very wrong by the end of the season. The coaches more than confirmed their view of his worth to the team by voting him to second in the best and fairest. To outsiders he’s a more bemusing pick than Saints fans would see him; to AFL.com.au he’s Jarryd Geary probably trying to secure his spot in the 22 in the final JLT Community Series match last week against Sydney.
So what does he bring to the team? Nothing that’s obvious, but often such is the lot of smaller backman. “Geary” in the goals column remains a novelty, although his back-to-back snags late in the second half against Melbourne in a must-win match as finals came into the equation showed an ability to step up and make a marked impact on a game. His best moment would come against the Bombers in the final minutes as the Saints struggled to squeak home in the same stretch of the season. A horizontal dive to chop off an Essendon forward entry saved a shot on goal, and we’d immediately go straight up the other end and kick one of our own. “Geary” in the best likewise if it’s from someone outside the club, but the high-pressure game he plays on his direct opponent and the situation around him is an example for everyone else to follow across the ground. Sometimes they have to, because he’s the one out on the ground telling where they need to be or what they need to be doing; he’s always aware of what needs to be happening for the team to be in its best position for the next play. As Caro said in her article confirming his appointment, he’s been seen for a long time by Roo as his heir-apparent. Again, a lot of this we need to be told, because it’s not apparent from the comfort of our seats or in the lounge room.
The question of his place in the team based on talent alone might not loom so much for 2017 but more for beyond: what happens as Brandon White, Jimmy Webster, D-Mac and to a lesser extent Ben Long, Bailey Rice and Ed Phillips develop? And perhaps even Nathan Wright? The back half is already pretty full – there’s already Newnes, somehow-in-the-leadership-group Roberton and Savage running around there already, and then you have to throw in the taller guys Carlisle, Dempster, Brown, Gilbert and eventually Goddard.
Apparently no-one works harder than Geary off the track. His acts on the field aren’t always obvious, but as well as being perhaps quietly effective they demonstrate something intangible. In a time where team culture and team attitude can reign supreme over a team of champions and perhaps almost anything else, Jarryn Geary may have emerged as the best example of what’s required for this team to reach the final frontier; what’s required for this club to deliver its second premiership.