In This Round…Preliminary Final – Red-hot Saints through to their first Grand Final in 26 years

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.

This week, we again go back to 1997 for a memorable night for all St Kilda fans.

1997 2nd Preliminary Final – St Kilda vs North Melbourne
St Kilda 6.3, 9.6, 13.12, 15.14 (104)
North Melbourne 4.0, 8.2, 8.4, 11.7 (73)
Crowd: 77,531 at the MCG, Friday, September 19, 7.45pm

In between winning a Qualifying Final and their memorable Preliminary Final a fortnight later, the Saints had the honour of coach Stan Alves given the 1997 Coach of the Year award, after taking the struggling club on an amazing run that saw them win 15 of their past 18 games.

The Preliminary Final against North Melbourne saw the minor premiers aiming to create a new club winning streak record of nine, and more importantly, get the club into its first Grand Final since the disappointment of 1971.

Although they had finished seventh after the home and away season, the Kangaroos had knocked off second-placed Geelong in the first week of the finals (all this in the days of McIntyre Final Eight system) and earned a home Semi Final against fifth-placed West Coast, who had lost comfortably to Adelaide the week before. Although the Eagles led by as much as 32 points during the third quarter, North turned the game on its head and fought their way back to a gutsy 13-point win.

St Kilda had taken the easy route, with a week off after accounting for eighth-placed Brisbane in the First Qualifying Final, but still met some cynicism from the footballing public heading into the game against North. St Kilda had little finals experience, whilst the Kangaroos had a number of players that were members of not just their premiership team from the previous season, but also the team that made Preliminary Finals in 1994 and 1995.

Starting the way he finished in the Qualifying Final, Stewart Loewe continued his imposing role across the ground in Peter Everitt’s absence. A mark in the goalsquare going back with the flight of the ball brought the pro-St Kilda crowd to their feet, and helped ease any nerves that the Saints might be overwhelmed by the occasion.

When Jason Heatley’s messy snap from long range bounced over Loewe and opponent Mick Martyn before rolling through for a goal, there was a sense that things were going the Saints’ way.

More so when a gang-tackle from Nathan Burke and stand-in ruckman Brett Cook took out North Melbourne superstar Corey McKernan, and the Saints had sent a warning with a blistering six-goal first term that whey were switched on.

But the Wayne Carey-led Kangaroos stayed in touch, with Darren Crocker and goalsneak Brett Allison providing much-needed efficiency around goal, winning the second quarter and going into half-time just ten points behind.

It was the third quarter that the Saints really stamped their authority on the game, keeping the Kangaroos goalless whilst posting 4.6 themselves. While Robert Harvey, Nicky Winmar, Austinn Jones and Matthew Lappin were busy around half-forward, and Barry Hall providing a number of contests in the forward 50, it was Jason Heatley that became the dominant figure in the match.

Heatley, St Kilda’s leading goal kicker in 1997, kicked three of his team’s four goals for the quarter. A deft movement drawing and then leaving his opponent on the ground 40 metres out was followed by a brilliant finish, and clever body use at the goalmouth saw him outmaneuver two North opponents to set up his sixth goal and have the Saints in prime position for a Grand Final appearance.

North weren’t quite done with yet and went down swinging, but the 38-point margin at the final change was just too much. A superb finish from Nicky Winmar on the run gave him his third goal and the Saints more than enough breathing space.

Fittingly, it was Jason Heatley who finished it once and for all. A long ball into attack from Rod Keogh was read best by Heatley, who sent Saints fans into raptures when he went back and calmly slotted his seventh goal.

While Heatley was the star this night, it was Robert Harvey’s tireless work through the midfield and across half-forward that spurred the Saints on from the start. He finished with 34 possessions and a goal, and would be awarded the Brownlow Medal in a thrilling count just three nights later. His usual “Fab Four” partners in crime – Nathan Burke, Nicky Winmar and Stewart Loewe – as expected gave brilliant support to Harvey. Burke gathered 29 possessions, whilst Winmar and Loewe kicked three goals each. Their previous experience of finals campaigns in 1991 and 1992 was evident.

The siren sounded with the Saints 31 points ahead, at the time perhaps a good omen as it was the same number of years that had passed since St Kilda had won that solitary premiership in 1966. Moorabbin had seemed swathed in destiny in 1997 as the Saints gathered momentum towards September, and they’d had a brilliant preparation for that second premiership by the time Harvey had the Brownlow Medal draped around his neck.

Grand Final week itself was different. Amidst an avalanche of support from the footballing public as sentimental favourites – they were playing the upstart Crows who had upset the Western Bulldogs – with the death of Nicky Winmar’s father during the week and rumours of Stewart Loewe suffering through family issues. The fourth-placed Crows would swoop and take the flag by 31 points, and this time the margin was a only stark reminder not only of how long Saints fans had been waiting for that premiership, that one day of glory, and that there would only be more waiting to come.

Other installments of “In This Round”:
Qualifying Final – St Kilda vs Brisbane Lions, 1997
Round 22 – Essendon vs St Kilda, Telstra Dome, 2008
Round 21 – St Kilda vs Adelaide Crows, Telstra Dome, 2008
Round 20 – Essendon vs St Kilda, Etihad Stadium, 2009
Round 19 – Sydney Swans vs St Kilda, SCG, 1997
Round 18 – Sydney Swans vs St Kilda, SCG, 2009
Round 17 – St Kilda vs Brisbane Lions, Waverley, 1997/St Kilda vs Geelong, Colonial Stadium, 2000/St Kilda vs Collingwood, Telstra Dome, 2005
Round 16 – St Kilda vs Kangaroos, Telstra Dome, 2003
Round 15 – St Kilda vs Adelaide Crows, Colonial Stadium, 2001
Round 14 – St Kilda vs Western Bulldogs, Waverley, 1998
Round 13 – St Kilda vs Fremantle, Telstra Dome, 2008
Round 12 – St Kilda vs Collingwood, MCG, 1992
Round 11 – St Kilda vs Richmond, Waverley, 1998
Round 10 – Carlton vs St Kilda, Telstra Dome, 2004
Round 9 – Western Bulldogs vs St Kilda, Colonial Stadium, 2000
Round 8 – Essendon vs St Kilda, MCG, 1997
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

  • Harry

    I cannot believe that the Saint’s have not selected Steven Baker for the Preliminary final. Is this another Max Hudgton mistake from last year; a decision that may have cost the Saints a flag.

    I’ve been waiting for 2 years for someone to tell me what Robert Eddy’s role is in the team; but no one seems able to tell me. Certainly, it is not to get and dispose of the football. All we can do is hope that Robert plays his best ever game for the Saints on Saturday.

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