In This Round…Round 3

By Tom Briglia

On the Thursday of each week of St Kilda’s season, we take a stroll down memory lane and take a look at memorable clash in St Kilda history from the corresponding round.

St Kilda vs Collingwood, Round 3, 1997
St Kilda 6.4, 12.7, 13.9, 19.11 (125)
Collingwood 6.3, 8.8, 13.12, 17.16 (118)
Crowd: 54,699 at Waverley

The 1997 season had started poorly for the Saints, despite a competitive showing in the Ansett Australia Cup and expectations of stepping up from 10th position on the ladder at the end of 1996. However, a narrow loss to the Hawks in the opening game of the season was followed by a 97-point mauling at the hands of new team Brisbane Lions at the Gabba, and coach Stan Alves left his charges in the rooms after training days later to give them space to discuss whether they wanted him to continue coaching. Some self-searching led by co-captains Nathan Burke and Stewart Loewe saw the players take it on themselves to turn the season around, and the first challenge for the Saints languishing at the bottom of the ladder from then on was the team who had soared to the top after two demolitions to open the season – Collingwood, who had smashed Port Adelaide and Melbourne by 79 and 107 points respectively.

For the Saturday afternoon match, St Kilda for the first time called on West Coast recruit Jason Heatley, who had struggled for game time with the Eagles after joining them on the back of brilliant form for WAFL side Subiaco, and champion Nicky Winmar was to return after a week on the sidelines.

As expected, a free-flowing first term in perfect conditions yielded a number of goals Collingwood’s way. They bound out to a 17-point lead before the Saints hit back and kicked the final three goals of the quarter, with the ever-improving Peter Everitt putting them in front with his third goal on the siren after a strong mark coming across a pack in the goalsquare – a virtual replay of his second goal earlier in the term. Winmar would also make an immediate impact on his return with a superb running goal from 45 metres out.

A lovely snap goal from Everitt after crumbing his own marking duel in the second quarter was followed by some spiteful contests. Winmar would crunch Shane Watson front-on after the Magpie took a mark deep in the forward line, only for the ball to be put in Winmar’s hands after Alex McDonald remonstrated with Winmar after his hit; soon after Scott Burns would whack Stewart Loewe in the forehead with an elbow off the ball, for which he would receive a two-match suspension.

All of this was capped off by a welcome moment of true brilliance from Heatley, who out-bodied opponent Andrew Schauble deep in the forward pocket as both were chasing a bouncing ball, and pirouetted to checkside the ball through from hard against the boundary. The Saints would enter the long break with a 23-point lead after two six-goal quarters, and with a scoreline greater than their efforts to full-time from both previous rounds.

But the Magpies would hit back in the third term as their midfielders in the mercurial Nathan Buckley, Paul Williams, Chris Curran and Scott Russell began to take control; not only would they provide plenty of opportunities for spearhead Saverio Rocca up forward, but they would kick a number of their own goals. By three-quarter time they would lead by three points. St Kilda’s only goal for the term would come via Heatley, on his way to five for the match, after cutting across a marking contest going back with the flight of the ball and running into an open goal. The match was set for a thrilling finish.

The midfield battle turned back St Kilda’s way, with Nathan Burke gathering 11 touches and Robert Harvey nine in the final term alone. Winmar would produce another typical moment of brilliance in his 27-possession game, roving a pack deep in the forward line and side-stepping several Magpie opponents to snap a goal. Young half-forward Joel Smith, who provided a number of valuable deliveries into the forward line, chimed in with two goals of his own; the first from a clever contested mark 25 metres out to put the Saints in front, the second to give the Saints an eight-point buffer nearing time-on with a brilliant right-foot snap across his body after some clutch body work from Barry Hall and a sweeping handpass through the forward line from Robert Harvey.

Fittingly, it would be Jason Heatley to provide the final killer blow. After a strong overhead mark in the centre square, he played on and thrillingly kicked truly from 45 metres out for his fifth goal, and the Saints’ sixth of the term.

Heatley, an obvious stand-out, would form with Everitt a lethal twin tower combination up forward; the latter would finish with six goals for 11 between the two. Smith was invaluable in the last quarter, setting up, creating and finishing goals as part of his game-total 24 possessions, and Winmar’s two goals were pure skill on his way to three Brownlow votes. Barry Hall would also kick two, and Robert Harvey kicked one to go with his 34 possessions. Austinn Jones would work hard through the midfield for 22 possessions, and the backline was held together by Matthew Young and Glen Coghlan who amassed 24 and 20 possessions respectively.

For the losers, Scott Russell collected 26 possessions, kicked a goal and earned himself two Brownlow votes, Chris Curran got 31 touches, Paul Williams kicked three goals from his 23 possessions and Nathan Buckley two goals from his 21 touches.

This was the first glimpse of what the St Kilda side of 1997 would be remembered for – a wonderful mixture of youth and senior players combining silky skills, resilience, durability with killer instincts, all led by Loewe, Harvey, Everitt and Heatley . Though even three weeks after this game, the Saints would be meeting Melbourne in a match that pitted 15th against 16th in dreadful conditions on what must have seemed a lonely Sunday afternoon out at Waverley. But once the motor was restarted at Moorabbin, momentum would build throughout what seemed to be a fairytale season as the Saints flew to be top of the ladder themselves by season’s end, and it would take a blitzkrieg from Darren Jarman, Shane Ellen, Andrew McLeod and their Adelaide Crows to cruelly awaken the Saints from what seemed would be the living of the impossible dream on that last Saturday in September.

Links

Purchase The Mission: St Kilda’s 1997 Season from Sports Delivered

Purchase the game in full from Sports Delivered’s “Name A Game”

Other installments of “In This Round”:
Round 2 – St Kilda vs Carlton, Moorabbin, 1989
Round 1 – St Kilda vs Geelong, Telstra Dome, 2004
NAB Cup Grand Final – St Kilda vs Carlton, Waverley, 1996
NAB Cup Semi-Final – Essendon vs St Kilda, Telstra Dome, 2008
NAB Cup Round 2 – St Kilda vs Carlton, Waverley, 1995
NAB Cup Round 1 – Collingwood vs St Kilda, Telstra Dome, 2006