The red and black menace

By Tom Briglia

Every time I go to see the Saints take on Essendon, I feel apprehension running through me above anything else. And it’s not just that wonderfully attractive mix of aggression and arrogance found in Essendon supporters that makes me loathe the match-up*.

(*Disclaimer: I know for a fact that a) that’s a generalisation and b) it’s an unfair one – we all know that all teams enjoy the support of people who seem to love flaunting these qualities, and I personally know Essendon supporters who are anything but.)

The Bombers always seem to give the Saints some trouble. I feel slightly more nervous going to the game as a supporter, for I know that even if St Kilda get up, it won’t have been without a massive scare, and it will have been more than hard-earned (for players and supporters alike).

First bounce of the second quarterEven in the mid-noughties, when the Saints seemed on the verge of a premiership and the Bombers were grounded at the foot of the ladder, no St Kilda victory against Essendon was too straightforward; Essendon came away with several victories themselves. History always managed to flag down the Saints in the middle of their cruising to a nice win and ensure that the boys from Moorabbin remembered they were playing for a club that had won one premiership in its history, whilst Essendon enjoyed the convoluted bragging rights of 16 VFL/AFL premierships.

From a cheeky win in the middle of 2005 to a mere three-point loss in the wet a year later, since gradually rising up the ladder the Dons have continued their good form against the Saints, being the first team to knock them off in 2009 in Round 20 (which I was lucky enough to sit through on Level 1 of Etihad Stadium with the Essendon members), and the only team in the home-and-away season (and the only team aside from premiers Collingwood overall) to beat them twice in 2010.

Even after a frustrating loss in early 2007 – with plays like those coming off – and surviving a huge scare earlier in the season, when the Saints destroyed the Bombers in the final round of 2008 to snatch an unlikely top-four finish, it was the Essendon fans who still managed a standing ovation afterwards for the retiring trio of Adam Ramanauskas, Damien Peverill and Mal Michael.

It’s also been the way Essendon give the Saints trouble which is especially teasing. Their mix of youth and speed seems to conspire against the Saints and ensure that everything they try will come off – no matter the acrobatics required. Paddy Ryder, Alwyn Davey, Angus Monfries and of course Jobe Watson (not to mention Dustin Fletcher at both ends of the ground, as seen in the 2007 highlight from above) always seem to play above and beyond their regular output and make life for the Saints a living hell; Saints’ tackles just won’t stick, and Bombers will always find themselves in the right place at the right time.

Of course, throughout it all, the Essendon fans* chime in with comments praising their heroes as if no other player for any other team could ever manage to pull off the nice aerial mark or sidestep through traffic a Bomber has just executed; if it’s not that then the fans are making sure a St Kilda player (or the umpire) are aware of how unworthy of Windy Hill they are – as if their equal-record sixteen premierships takes them above and beyond any other club when it comes to success on the field…

(*See disclaimer near the top of the page…but it certainly does seem that way…)