If recent history was to be taken as evidence, signs weren’t promising for this contest. Despite both clubs’ recent success, Clarkson’s Hawks and Lyon’s Saints have fought out some of the more diabolical spectacles of the last few seasons; zone-obsessed snore fests where defensive ring-a-rosy took precedence over any intent to score.
Couple this with the venue- the zone friendly confines of Docklands – which lately has resembled an ice skating rink, and there was reason for apprehension about the looming contest.
So it was a relief and a pleasure that both sides gave us an open, attacking spectacle of the highest order. Sadly, they received no assistance from the venue they played on or the rules they were required to play under.
St Kilda fans would have been doubly relieved as the Hawk defence seemed intent on helping the struggling Kosi back into form. No matter how badly you’re travelling, if you’re left unopposed you have a fighting chance to prosper; which he did to the tune of three early goals. Just as hopes for the big guy might have been rising, the Hawks saw the error of their ways, manned him up, and he obliged by returning to the lumbering facsimile of himself he’s recently appeared.
Whilst Kosi was riding the rollercoaster, Roughead and Buddy got themselves involved to help balance matters on the scoreboard. The Saints edged ahead again when Riewoldt benefited from Brown losing his footing, but with seconds left in the first term, Goddard (of all people) drilled one onto Cyril’s chest and he nosed the Hawks in front, 4-1 to 4-0, in a thoroughly entertaining opening.
Players continued to find the surface unfriendly to the requirements of changing direction as the second term commenced. Montagna appeared to tweak something whilst slipping, and many others were spending far too much time eating the shifting turf as it ambushed their efforts.
Riewoldt looked improved in his movement, and Cyril and Young continued to shine for the Hawks.
But all events were overshadowed as the Buddy and Zac show claimed the spotlight. Buddy had appeared in ominous mood, but Zac was competing hard; hard enough to prompt Buddy to concede 100 metres from the wing, thus yielding a goal. Almost immediately, Zac appeared the unfortunate victim of an umpire’s guess, and Buddy had his reply. Despite this, coach Clarkson felt the need for an admirably restrained boundary line consultation with his star forward. This restraint seemed unrewarded, as Buddy promptly gave Zac another 50 metres on his return to play.
To reclaim attention, Milne achieved the significant feat of besting Cyril one-out to score his first. Osborne replied with the unusual combination of spekky mark and ill-advised left foot shot which sailed out on the full.
The Saints led narrowly at the main break by dint of maximising their chances, 7-0 to 6-5.
Goals to Whitecross and Buddy had given Hawthorn an early third term advantage when the game’s bureaucratic controllers seized the spotlight. As Goddard gave Kosi the prospect of a fourth goal, the umpire took the ball off the Saints because of the encroaching presence of a runner, who turned out to be the Saints’ runner. Whilst technically to the letter of the law, one is left pondering what real world advantage the Saints were gaining, but logic seems only incidental to the rules framework of the modern AFL.
Disregarding this misfortune, Goddard persisted and found Schneider, who managed a reply free of judicial interruption. Just as Roughead squandered a chance, Hawk anxieties rose as “Buddy Franchise” (© D. Cometti) left the field appearing to clutch his hammy.
Schneider celebrated by bagging his 2nd, Steven joined the scoring, then Schneider confirmed that he’d completely slipped Brown by snagging his 3rd for the quarter.
Just as they might have wavered, the Franchise returned to bolster Hawk faith. The Saints failed to clear the ball on their goal-line, allowing Roughead to level the scores at three quarter time, 67 apiece.
The Hawks asserted themselves in the final stanza with some telling early centre clearances. Hodge threatened to take control, as Osborne goaled and Buddy missed. When Montagna was deemed to have encroached on Buddy’s kicking arc, the 50 saw the Hawks lead by 14.
Milne marked on the lead to close the gap, and followed up with a snap that made it a 1 point game. Ellis gave-and-got twice in one passage for Roughead to goal, then Cyril joined in the spirit of give and receive to earn a chance to seal the game with a couple of minutes left.
As he slotted the chance, authority- in the form of the interchange steward- made its final telling intervention. A Hawk had prematurely snuck his toenail over the line, thus cancelling Cyril’s goal and returning the ball to the Saints in the centre. From this play, Riewoldt marked and missed, making the difference one straight kick.
Much debate has raged on the subject of whether this penalty was disproportionate, despite obeying the letter of the law as drafted. I would choose to ask a different question. If there is already an interchange steward, why does the onus remain on the players at all? Why couldn’t the steward be responsible for signalling players on at the appropriate moment, removing the chance of such errors occurring? What would be lost? If the steward was employed pro-actively, this issue could disappear entirely.
Aside from this debate, there is a matter that should have claimed greater precedence in the Hawk’s post mortem. With less than a minute remaining, what errors in concentration allowed Ben McEvoy free to grab the ball from a ruck bounce and kick the tying goal? It seemed an inconceivable end to such a hard fought contest. Perhaps it was simply a product of player fatigue?
A draw seemed fitting in many respects, although the Hawks will lament the 2 extra match points that seemed to be theirs for the taking. Those 2 points make it unlikely that a top four spot remains within their grasp, despite their ominous form. And without a top four spot, a realistic shot at the flag would seem equally unlikely.
The players and coaches of both teams deserve credit for providing a Friday night classic. By leaving their forward lines largely in position, space was created for a great spectacle to unfold. We will only subsequently discover if this signals any lasting philosophical change from either side.
Not much credit is due the AFL however. They continue to sign off on a venue who’s playing surface is unhelpful to the spectacle. When players can’t even plant their foot to kick with absolute confidence, it’s long past time to acknowledge the problem and seek answers.
Nor is credit due for the impact the rules of the game had on this contest. They continue to resemble a concoction of knee-jerk responses, rather than a unified body of law with a feel for its subject. As a result, trivial incidents continue to have disproportionate impact on results.
St Kilda 4.0 7.0 11.1 14.3 (87)
Hawthorn 4.1 6.5 10.7 13.9 (87)
St Kilda: Koschitzke 3, Milne 3, Schneider 3, Riewoldt 2, Dawson, Steven, McEvoy
Hawthorn: Franklin 5, Roughead 3, Osborne 2, Rioli, Whitecross, Young