Geelong Posts

September 2010 – A chance for redemption

One year ago, the St Kilda football club and its fans had just completed and witnessed their most successful home-and-away season since its establishment in 1873. Despite consecutive narrow losses to lesser opposition in Rounds 20 and 21, a solid win in the final match meant Saints fans’ could enter September with a renewed confidence.

It would be a September to remember for Saints fans, but one ultimately of heartbreak. Missed opportunities on Grand Final day saw Geelong run over the success-starved club in the final minutes of the epic encounter, and a premiership that had seemed so close throughout 2009 had been lost.

Fast forward one year, and the Saints have been shaken around quite a lot on their way to comfortably finishing in third place in a rearranged top four from the previous season.

It started with Luke Ball walking out on the club and the Andrew Lovett saga in a tumultuous off-season. A NAB Cup Final appearance was only able to yield another losing Final, and repeated the 1996/97/98 respective placings of pre-season premiers, minor premiers and losing Grand Finalists, and pre-season runners-up.

In Round 3, the season looked set to be a struggle when Nick Riewoldt went down with his serious hamstring injury, particularly when losses in three out of four matches soon after questioned the Saints’ worth as a team.

Another off-field distraction in the form of questions about a teenage schoolgirl’s past with two players, and some major splutterings after Riewoldt’s return were batted away by the Saints. The full-ground defence and pressure hasn’t been as consistent nor convincing. Teams have kicked higher scores against the Saints more regularly. The Saints arrive in September 2010 by no means favourites for the premiership, but they are definitely a realistic chance to break that drought.

It’s the unpredictability of finals that will bring such a range of emotions to all supporters involved over the next month. For St Kilda fans, last year’s heartbreak may be followed by a magical ride this time around, with moments to rival and maybe better Riewoldt’s heroics in the preliminary final against the Bulldogs, or it could all end in the shattering way that 1998 did – the last time St Kilda came off a runners-up season – in successive defeats.

Above all, however, September will be difficult. This whole season has been difficult. It wasn’t and it’s not going to be anything else after St Kilda lost a Grand Final in the way they did in 2009. But we’ve arrived at the finals again, and as Saints fans learnt so well last year, anything can happen.

ROUND 20 – Roo and his Saints bound ahead of the Roos

ROUND 20, 2010 – North Melbourne vs St Kilda
North Melbourne 3.3, 4.5, 8.7, 9.9 (63)
St Kilda 2.2, 9.4, 13.7, 17.13 (115)
Crowd: 23,318 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, August 15, 4.40pm

Firstly, St Kilda beat North by 52 points last night, exactly half of the 104 points they defeated the same opposition by in Round 2. In that game, skipper Nick Riewoldt kicked seven goals, likewise last night. Hopefully, the dramatic events that transpired in the Round after that early-season thumping aren’t repeated on Saturday afternoon.

And now, like the previous date with North Melbourne, St Kilda are again being touted as legitimate premiership contenders.

The difference is, of course, that in Round 2, the Saints had come off a relatively strong pre-season campaign and fresh in everyone’s minds was that they were several kicks away from an undefeated premiership season the year before

Now, it’s Round 20, and the Saints have been written off and overshadowed by Collingwood and Geelong as premiership hopefuls throughout the season. They’ve had to work hard to earn the respect of the football world and prove themselves all over again, and after Riewoldt’s dominant performance last night, they seem to have forced their way back into the limelight.

St Kilda’s methodical performance last night slowly strangled the Kangaroos to the point where they had just three goalkickers. After quarter-time, St Kilda 15 goals to North’s six, with a blazing second-quarter setting up the victory as the Saints turned a seven-point deficit into a 29-point lead at the main break.

The most telling play of the match came in that second term, and underlined St Kilda’s willingness to move the ball forward quickly and with confidence.

Jarryn Geary linked up with Stephen Milne in deep in defence, before the busy Jason Blake did likewise with the even busier Brendon Goddard; Goddard found Lenny Hayes in the middle of the ground, who showed class and poise in a sidestep before delivering to the ever-dangerous Riewoldt. The skipper found Brett Peake in space around the 50-metre arc, and the Docker import steadied to kick truly and complete a wonderful passage of play.

Four of Riewoldt’s seven goals – the four goals St Kilda kicked for the entire quarter – came through a mix of simple superiority, undisciplined North Melbourne acts and helpful umpiring decisions. But it was in this quarter that the Kangaroos pushed hard to really threaten the Saints, and every time Riewoldt had the ball in his hands, he delivered for his team.

Superb performances from Brendon Goddard, Jason Gram and Sam Gilbert down back gave the Saints every opportunity to play damaging football on the rebound, and those three assisting Sam Fisher down back, the St Kilda defence can still look hugely threatening without the injured Raphael Clarke and and suspended Steven Baker.

Adam Schneider backed up his strong performance across the ground last week with 20 touches and a goal, and with Stephen Milne gathering 24 touches and two goals, it seems the duo are on the way to playing the vital roles they did with such effect earlier in the season, particularly in Riewoldt’s absence.

The team looks as if it has regained its emphasis on a 22 player-strong performance, thrown out of whack when structures had to readjust to the presence of the skipper. For now, the skipper for now is a very sweet icing on the cake and hopefully, fortune permitting, he can stick around.

Media

“Saints back as flag contenders”
Martin Blake, The Age

“One Gram vital to heavyweight”
Bruce Matthews, Herald Sun

“Riewoldt stars as Saints roll Roos”
Adam McNicol, AFL.com.au

“Still plenty to work on, says Lyon”
Luke Holmesby, AFL.com.au

“Riewoldt times finals run to perfection”
Mark Stevens, Herald Sun

“It’s a three-horse race”
Mike Sheahan, Herald Sun

“Lovett case helped Saints focus”
Luke Holmesby, AFL.com.au

Multimedia

Watch Ross Lyon’s post-match press conference

Watch the AFL.com.au Match Summary

In This Round…Round 17

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.

In the lead-up to this week’s huge match against Hawthorn, we look at three memorable Round 17 games featuring the Saints.

St Kilda 12.20 (92) def. Brisbane Lions 5.14 (44), Round 17, 1997
Waverley Park

A typically cold and blustery day at Waverley was given a silver lining on two fronts – that of St Kilda’s continued good form and their rise up the ladder, and club favourite Nicky Winmar making history by becoming the first indigenous player to play 200 games at the highest level.

It was fitting that Winmar should be the first, as it was just a bit more than four years earlier that he became the subject of one of the great Australian sporting photos by lifting up his jumper, pointing to his bare chest and proclaiming proudness in his colour and heritage in response to constant racial abuse from Collingwood fans at Victoria Park.

Back to 1997, the Saints did Winmar proud on his big day with a commanding performance, keeping the Lions to just five goals. Winmar himself kicked three goals, as did full-forward Jason Heatley, and fellow stalwart Stewart Loewe helped himself to 14 marks and three Brownlow votes.

Continue reading

In This Round…Round 9

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.

Western Bulldogs vs St Kilda, Round 9, 2000
Western Bulldogs 3.5, 9.5, 10.7, 16.9 (105)
St Kilda 4.1, 7.5, 15.8, 16.8 (104)
Crowd: 35,505 at Colonial Stadium, Friday, May 5, 7.40pm

When St Kilda stormed over the top of Geelong to take out a soul-stirring win in Round 10 of 1999, they moved to third on the ladder with their seventh victory of the year, and near premiership favouritism.

Not a year later, the Saints, under now second-year coach Tim Watson, would be winless in Season 2000 by the time they met Bulldogs on a Friday night at Colonial Stadium in Round 9; going into that game they would have won just three of their last 20 matches.

This would be the game that gave St Kilda fans the unforgettable image of Max Hudghton walking off the ground in tears, after the Saints led by 31 points at three-quarter time, only to capitulate in the final term and lose by one point.

Continue reading