Over the last month Stephen Milne’s name has been acknowledged to be amongst the great small forwards the AFL/VFL has ever seen.
It’s true, 476 goals from 230 games in anyone’s book is a very, very good career. Let alone the fact that he had to toil hard in the Essendon reserves prior to getting a chance with St Kilda, that he stands at only 176 centimeters and plays arguably the most thankless and precarious position on the football field. And who could forget the off-field (and on-field) misdemeanors that have transpired along the way?
On that basis, the boy they affectionately known as Yapper is deserving of the greatness tag. He has stood the test of time and prolonged his career every time you thought he was on the slide. But there has always been a counterargument that has worn the tip rat like a cheap suit: he does not perform in the big games.
Some investigation into the break down of Milne’s goal tally this year does not exactly disprove the doubters. Yapper has scored over 78% of his season tally (42) against opponents that are in the lower half of the competition.
It does not end there: Milne averages over twice as many scoring shots against inferior opponents (5 versus 2.14 shots per game) this year.
In isolation, those are damning stats, but in fairness to Yapper, the context surrounding them is needed to paint a well-rounded picture of his season. Firstly, his goal-scoring form has largely mirrored the team’s fortunes; his last five games have produced 20 goals – all games in which the Saints have been the victors. Whilst Milney is a miraculous player, he cannot turn water into wine. And let’s face it, the Saints’ ball movement and forward structure was dirty, gluggy, disgusting tap water.
This debate however, has polarised the footy community over several seasons now though, it is not confined to 2011. Obviously, the 2009 Grand Final is one game that is burnt into the memory of a lot of fans. Milne had his chances to cover himself in glory, but along with several of his teammates he failed to deliver. Last year, his finals series was solid without being great (nine goals over the four matches), although he did light up against the Cats briefly.
Phil Matera was masterful in his prime, but that was a relatively short period of time. Eddie Betts is a highlights reel when he is on, but lean patches haunt him. Jeff Farmer was very good – the closest comparison to Milne, as he was both dangerous at the foot of the pack as well as on the lead. Yapper on his day was good as or better than those that I’ve just mentioned on his day; I just wish his day occurred on the bigger stages.
Endlessly going back over the stats, the big games, the opportunities, the comparisons against other players will ultimately still have people divided. But I’m left wondering what people will remember when Milne brings his career to a close. The ’09 Grand Final misses? The Mick Malthouse spat? Kicking 11 against a helpless Brisbane in ’05? You decide.