In This Round…Round 15, 2001 – Malcolm and mayhem at Moorabbin

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.

St Kilda vs Adelaide, Round 15, 2001
St Kilda 2.4, 6.4, 7.5, 9.5 (59)
Adelaide 6.6, 11.9, 16.14, 23.18 (156)
Crowd: 26,560 at Colonial Stadium, Friday, July 13, 7.40pm

An otherwise routine shellacking for a young team docked at the bottom end of the ladder would take on much larger proportions for different reasons in the fall out.

In a far more immediate sense, this match was about the return of Jason Cripps, playing his first game since Round 7 of 1998 – more than three years previous. A debilitating hamstring injury, in which he tore the muscle off the bone, had seen the respected clubman frustratingly sidelined as his club went from the heights of premiership contenders to wooden spooners in seemingly no time at all.

His comeback story was a rare highlight in yet another tumultuous season for the club, which had such high expectations after the signing of dual-premiership coach Malcolm Blight in the off-season, and a recruiting frenzy that saw Fraser Gehrig, Aaron Hamill, Stephen Lawrence, Matthew Capuano, Craig Callahan, Brett Voss and others come to club – not to mention National Draft Picks #1 and #2, the imposing Nick Riewoldt and Justin Koschitzke respectively.

After a stirring win in the opening round against the Bulldogs, the Saints capitulated, however, and coming into this game on a chilly Friday night in the middle of the Melbourne winter could only claim three wins and 14th position on the ladder. Though the Crows were just two places above, they were out of the eight on percentage alone, and would indeed claim a finals berth come season’s end.

As it was, Riewoldt, who had sat out for the season thus far injured, would make his debut, and would look on as Cripps would kick the first goal of the match, with his first kick back; a thirty-metre snap that gave some reminder to Saints fans of the good times – though lean in the club’s then 128-year history – the club could deliver them.

But in typical St Kilda fashion, that was really where the night would end. Though Cripps would actually finish with the most possessions for the Saints (28 in all), and the crowd caught a glimpse of the future in the blonde bombshell Riewoldt (who would be caught holding the ball in a fierce tackle as a fiery baptism to the game), Adelaide would run riot from then on as Simon Goodwin (32 possessions and two goals) and Mark Ricciuto (30 possessions, two goals) and Mark Bickley (25 possessions and the three Brownlow votes) completely dominated the midfield. By the game’s end, the Crowd has enjoyed 337 damaging possessions to the Saints’ paltry 256.

As the game and its fall-out unfolded, a sad irony would be cast over Saints fans.

Blight, who had broken St Kilda hearts on Grand Final Day of 1997 as Adelaide coach, would have his match-winner on that day lead the Crows to a thumping victory. Darren Jarman gave Saints fans a reminder of that painful chapter in the club’s story of struggle in the search for a second premiership, kicking six resounding goals that would stir up further ghosts of the struggles so familiar to those at Moorabbin.

In the post-match press-conference, a frustrated Blight described the ill-disciplined culture at the club as “500 per cent worse” than anywhere else he’d coached. The ire this raised in the football world was not the first instance of Blight exhibiting trademark eccentricity as coach of St Kilda – after a demoralising loss earlier in the season at Docklands, Blight sent his players back out on the ground for a team meeting and warm-down.

Either way, his comments on this particularly bleak night seemed to be enough for President Rod Butterss and his board to terminate Blight’s tenure.

The coach was called to the club’s home on the following Wednesday, and sacked immediately. The one million dollars he had signed for for the one year went with him. At the season’s beginning, Blight told St Kilda fans to get ready for the ride of their lives. It would certainly be a memorable ride.

“To all the St Kilda supporters, I am dreadfully sorry that the ride was so short, and ended this way”, Blight said after his sacking.

Butterss’ good mate Grant Thomas stepped in as caretaker, and after six losses, would finally break through for a maiden victory in last game of the season against a finals-bound Hawthorn, with Barry Hall kicking a goal after the siren at the MCG. Thomas was signed on at season’s end as coach, but would be just as brutally dismissed by Butterss three days after the Saints lost the 2006 second elimination final – and a massive chance to win at least one premiership in Thomas’s reign before then.

Saints fans wouldn’t have to wait long for Riewoldt’s rise to an elite player in the game. Improved showings during the rest of 2001 were backed up the Rising Star Award in 2002; he is now the sole claimant of the most Best and Fairest Awards in the club’s 136-year history and the club’s spiritual captain, but HE and all Saints fans are still after that second premiership – something that seemed more than just a dream when Blight came to Moorabbin.

Further

Purchase Heaven & Hell: The Saints from 1897 to 2003 at Sports Delivered

Read ABC Radio’s PM report transcript on Malcolm Blight’s sacking

Other installments of “In This Round”:
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