In This Round…Round 8

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 upcoming round.

Essendon vs St Kilda, Round 8, 1997
Essendon 2.4, 9.11, 12.14, 14.16 (100)
St Kilda 6.8, 7.9, 11.13, 18.16 (124)
Crowd: 51,928 at the MCG, Sunday, May 18, 2.10pm

A Sunday afternoon at the MCG was the setting for one of the best wins of St Kilda’s continued recovery in 1997, as they paved a platform for a record-breaking run towards Grand Final Day.

Not only was it a great win for the club, but it was also a great match between the 5th-placed Essendon – a club with a hugely imposing all-time record head-to-head – and the daring Saints, who would finish the round in the top 8 for the first time in over a year.

It was the kind of match that ebbed and flowed both ways for sustained periods of time, with both sides playing free-flowing footy with flair that thrilled the big crowd.

St Kilda had disposed of new team Port Adelaide in the clubs’ first meeting a week earlier out on a cold Saturday night at Waverley by 65 points, to follow up an 86-point demolition of Melbourne in the wet; the Bombers had dropped two of their last three matches but were still well in touch with the top part of the ladder, and keen to atone for their lull.

It was the Saints who came out firing, kicking an incredible 6.8 for term to the Dons’ 2.4.

Ruckman Peter Everitt was having an impact across the ground, combining nicely with youngster Tony Brown, who was getting plenty of the ball; both were contributing to the scoreboard as well. Another kid, Barry Hall, was looking promising at full-forward.

But a massive change in the complexion of the game saw the Bombers’ 28-point deficit at the first change turned into a 14-point lead by the main break. The Dons continued the deluge at the City End and piled on 7.7 for the term, as Everitt’s second goal would prove to be the Saints’ only major that quarter. Some typical magic from reigning Brownlown Medalist James Hird had inspired the comeback, along with the speedy Smokin’ Joe Misiti turning things on in the middle; some high-flying from Michael Symons set up Mark Mercuri for nice goal on the run from half-forward to provide one of the highlights of the day.

Glen Coghlan moved to James Hird to quieten the champion’s output; Coghlan did as much, but not before Hird could extend the Bombers’ lead in the third term.

Matthew Young stepped up across the backline to not only help shut down Essendon’s supply to goal, but also to give the Saints some purpose on the rebound with his composure and precise ball use. He was assisted on that front by the increasingly reliable Justin Peckett. Speedsters Aussie Jones and Matthew Lappin became busy in the forward line and assisted Stewart Loewe in guiding the Saints back into the match; each kicking goals to bring the lead back to seven points by the final change. One sensed that, again, the game had turned.

Brown would continue his influence on the match by kicking another goal on the run early in the last to keep the Saints within striking distance. Soon after, Matthew Lappin weaved his way through traffic from a stoppage, plucking the ball out of the air, turning to face goalwards and somehow managed to get boot to ball for a bouncing goal from 25 metres out, and the Saints, suddenly, were in front.

As the shadows lengthened across the MCG, the Saints stood tall and swamped the attacking zone. Loewe somehow found himself on his own 35 metres out from goal, with a loose ball that had gone over the heads of Everitt and his opponent Scott Lucas; Loewe settled to kick his second, before Austinn Jones added to his third-quarter effort with a thrilling goal on a 45-degree angle from near the 50-metre arc; stopping and propping, he wheeled around on to his right boot and brought the Saints fans to their feet.

Daniel Healy would settle the match once and for all with a brilliant finish from 40 metres out after Joel Smith found the crumbs of a Barry Hall marking contest and forced a handball his way.

Everitt’s four goals for the match would be overshadowed by the emergence of racial vilification claim made against him by Bomber Michael Long, which was settled through a mediation process set up between the two clubs. The big ruckman found himself in the spotlight for a similar reason early in 1999 for racially abusing Melbourne’s Scott Chisolm; Everitt would impose a four-match ban on himself, as well as a $20,000 donation to an indigenous community project for the incident.

Matthew Young would earn three Brownlow votes with a commanding performance from half-back that yielded 29 possessions, and Tony Brown – 10 days away from turning 20 years old – finished with 25 touches and three very important goals.

Jones and Lappin finished with two goals each – all came in the second half, as did Loewe’s – to lead the Saints to a magnificent comeback in a performance that put the competition on notice.

Simply beating the Bombers was one of the many trends historically against the Saints that the boys from Moorabbin would break this season; beating Carlton, and Collingwood for a second time in the one season, wins at Subiaco, the SCG and Football Park and a record winning streak would all follow. But come season’s end – on the same stage as this sunny Sunday in May – the ultimate hoodoo remained just that.

Other installments of “In This Round”:
Round 7 – Sydney Swans vs St Kilda, SCG, 1994
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