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 upcoming round.
Sydney Swans vs St Kilda, Round 7, 1994
Sydney Swans 5.1, 9.3, 15.6, 17.7 (109)
St Kilda 2.1, 4.8, 8.10, 16.14 (110)
Crowd: 9,295 at the SCG, Sunday, May 8, 1.15pm
After looking a serious chance in both 1991 and 1992 to take out the club’s second premiership under coach Ken Sheldon, St Kilda took a tumble in 1993.
Sheldon was out, and Stan Alves took over the job for the 1994 season, after spending time at the club as a skills coach.
The season would be rough, with glimpses of the bad old days of the 1980s – that seemed to have been left behind and forgotten just a couple of years before – creeping back into the club.
Financial woes of that dark period would be echoed post-season, as one Tony Lockett would seek bigger dollars – and perhaps a little less limelight in his day-to-day life – elsewhere, ending up harbourside at the Swans. The Saints had lost “Plugger”, their greatest goalkicker since establishment in 1873.
Ironically, his last truly enigmatic performance in the red, white and black would come against his future club at the SCG on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
It wasn’t a clash of the heavyweights by any means. The Saints were sitting on the bottom of the ladder, with a string of heavy defeats interrupted only by a shock win over reigning premiers Essendon at Waverley in Round 3, with the unheralded Gordon Fode kicking five goals. Meanwhile, Sydney were 15th, and at the tail-end of a woeful few seasons that saw the club on the brink of collapse, at times reminiscent of the Saints not a decade before.
And so by three-quarter time it appeared this match was condemned to be a forgotten, inconsequential battle, bar the looming suspension Lockett was sure to receive after crashing through Sydney defender Peter Caven’s face with his elbow earlier in the game. But with Lockett in or out, the Saints weren’t going to be troubling anyone at the business end of the season.
For at the final change, the Swans had channeled their anger at Lockett for his wreckless hit into a 38-point lead, 15.6 to 8.10. Lockett was needed to kick seven of those eight goals, as fellow tall forward Stewart Loewe and goalsneak Craig O’Brien were both being held to little influence. The Swans had Dale Lewis and Simon Minton-Connell scoring heavily in their forward line (they would finish the seven and four goals respectively), and with little to play for even so early in the season, it wouldn’t be likely the Saints could muster the motivation and resources to come back at this stage.
But Lockett, by the end of his career, would prove to be the greatest resource of all; it turned out to be that he was enough on this day. In this final quarter he turned from villain to hero; for Sydney fans, from villain to Hades – for now, anyway.
He had help, of course, as the Saints surged to the most unlikely of victories. Midfielder Dean Greig kicked two successive goals to keep the Saints moving. His first was from a banana-kick, slotted from hard on the boundary line as he worked his way through traffic; his second equally as good he kicked a monster goal from the line of the centre-square.
“Plugger” then took a mark in front of opponent Mark Hepburn, in the same pocket Greig had kicked his first goal minutes before. Lockett went back and coolly kicked the goal to continue the Saints’ run. Obviously in a vitriolic mood, he continued his war of words with opponents and the Swans fans behind the goals – a subcontext to the game running since Lockett ran through Caven – to give the game that much more heat.
But with only six and a half minutes left, the Saints would still need five goals to snatch the game when Wayne Thornborrow took a strong contested mark on the 50 metre line. He duly went back and kicked a lovely goal, but there was still plenty of work to be done.
Rodney Keogh then cleverly snapped a curling goal from a ruck contest in the pocket on his left boot to really keep the Saints in touch, and from there it was up to Lockett.
A scrambling kick from youngster Damen Shaw out of a pack found “Plugger” going back and taking the mark with outstretched arms deep in the pocket; he wheeled around and snapped the goal with ease, and the Saints were well and truly within striking distance.
Soon after, the ball spilled over a large pack at the Saints’ centre half-forward as Swans backman Derek Kickett’s attempt at a spoil went amiss, with Greig pouncing on the ball in the gulf that emerged between the pack and full-forward. Lockett was by himself in the goal square, and Greig handpassed the ball over the top of the last Swans defender, and “Plugger” booted the ball into the irate Sydney crowd.
Five points was now the margin, and the scene was now set.
With less than a minute remaining, Lockett landed the killer blow.
A quick kick out of another desperate pack on St Kilda’s 50-metre arc headed in Lockett’s direction; he was double-teamed by Hepburn and Kickett, but with his brute strength he forced himself into position and took a mark 20 metres out from goal, directly in front. As he had done all done all day – and throughout his entire career – he went back and calmly kicked the goal.
The Saints would hang on from there, completing one of the most remarkable comebacks of all time. They had kicked five goals in the last six and a half minutes of play to leave Swans players and supporters stunned, and St Kilda fans jubilant; many would run onto the field – as did reserves players – to share the moment with the team on the field.
The lasting image of this game will be Lockett’s salute to the Sydney crowd as the siren sounded; he had kicked eleven goals out of sixteen to land a dramatic victory for the Saints.
In the fall-out of the game, Lockett would be suspended for eight weeks for his hit on Caven. After returning, in his final seven games for the club, he kicked 37 goals; his last eight coming in a thrilling two point win over finals hopefuls Collingwood at Waverley in the penultimate game of the home-and-away season. Injury would keep him out of the last game of the year against Fitzroy, and after 898 goals for the Saints, Lockett would be on the move north.
Sydney would improve in 1995, and Lockett’s heroics would guide the resurgent Swans to a Grand Final in 1996, albeit a lost one. The Saints would find themselves in the same position, still under Alves, only a year later.
But the change that Lockett’s move bought to both clubs would be felt much longer at the Swans. From 1996, the Swans would embark on a brilliant run that saw them make the finals from 10 of 12 seasons, with three Grand Final appearances and a Premiership in 2005. For the Saints, the 1997 Grand Final loss would be the pinnacle before a heartbreaking fall from grace, and a massive rebuild still yet to deliver the ultimate prize.
Watch highlights of the incredible comeback.
A current affairs piece on “Plugger” (presumably from Channel 7’s Today/Tonight), aired the day after he received his eight-week suspension. Features highlights of Lockett in action, and from the Swans match, including the Caven hit.
Other installments of “In This Round”:
Round 6 – West Coast vs St Kilda, Subiaco, 1998
Round 5 – St Kilda vs North Melbourne, Junction Oval, 1933
Round 4 – Collingwood vs St Kilda, Victoria Park, 1993
Round 3 – St Kilda vs Collingwood, Waverley, 1997
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