AFL Round 14: St Kilda v Geelong – the game of choice in Dublin

By Peter Lenaghan

The first game of the new AFL season was played while Emily and I waited at Tullamarine for our flight to London. Ben Cousins was the talk of the town and the Tigers were, once again, considered a genuine finals prospect. By the time we landed in the UK, the recovering drug addict was injured and Terry Wallace was a marked man. The previous year’s grand finalists resumed hostilities while we were in the air. Geelong won the re-match and it appeared certain the Cats and Hawks would meet again later in the year with much higher stakes to play for.

And so I left Australia behind for a while safe in the knowledge that Geelong should remain one of the competition’s top teams. The attacking and skillful football Mark Thompson’s players have produced has delighted the club’s long-suffering fans, including myself, and delivered a premiership 44 years in the making. However, I was recently struck by John Harms’ concern that maybe supporters were taking this Geelong side for granted and not sufficiently cherishing the success. Was I, living in Ireland, of all places, missing a once in a lifetime chance to watch the Catters dominate, week in, week out? Will I regret being away while Gary Ablett Junior’s genius is on display? The on-field power and poise of Little Gaz’s father made me a Geelong fan, and the elder son’s brilliance fills me with joy.

When departing drought and bushfire ravaged Victoria in March I also assumed that Hawthorn would again be a fixture at the top of the season’s AFL ladder. When the Hawks toppled the wasteful defending premiers last September, it appeared more success was sure to follow for Alastair Clarkson’s young team. The club possessed a pair of inspirational leaders in Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell, and a couple of big fellas up forward who would scare the hell out of opposition teams for a decade. From this distance, the Hawks’ injury-ruined season and horror premiership defence is a constant source of amazement. How could the Western Bulldogs hold that dominant side of last year goalless for an entire half? Clarkson now says his team is “fourth-rate”, which I guess makes the Hawks a decent Eastern Football League side.

Almost as surprising as Hawthorn’s decline, however temporary, is St Kilda’s transformation from able but limited team to powerhouse. Uncle Tony took me to my first AFL game – Saints versus West Coast, Moorabbin, 1989, the one where Plugger Lockett belted Bluey McKenna – and he has been declaring each year for as long as I can remember that his beloved Saints were on the verge of greatness. I have read the experts’ views that Ross Lyon has instilled a new toughness in the club, and that Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna have become regular match-winners. Perhaps, the whispers from home have suggested, the Saints are contenders. Maybe Uncle Tony will be right this year.

On a wet Dublin weekend, the meeting of the AFL’s two unbeaten teams was among the sporting highlights on offer to me; from provincial finals in the Gaelic games, to Wimbledon and Le Tour. Geelong versus St Kilda is certainly enough to get me out of bed before 6AM and logging on to the AFL website, for lack of a Setanta Sports connection at home. With the ABC’s broadcasters otherwise entertained, first choice for the Intertube stream is the 3AW team. Rex Hunt is sounding as deranged, volatile and entertaining as ever. Steve Johnson is out and Tony Shaw and Robert Walls are completing their pre-match analysis. The Collingwood premiership captain reckons Michael Gardiner’s performance could be decisive. I nearly choke on my cornflakes. “Gardiner,” I mutter to no-one, “he’ll injure himself in the warm up.” The tinny buzz of a big Docklands crowd is familiar, even from 17,000 kilometres away.

The Saints jump out of the blocks and Ablett plays a big hand in the first goal. For St Kilda. Geelong concedes majors again and again, and I am reminded of the last big defeat the Cats suffered to Collingwood. On that night last year at the MCG the ‘Pies harried and pressed and tackled fiercely. They won by 84 points. The Saints are following in Collingwood’s footsteps. Geelong slowly works its way into the game and an opening goal arrives just before quarter time. Joel Selwood’s pass to set up the score sounds like the first piece of skill and poise the Cats have produced in the match.

By half-time Geelong have steadied but St Kilda is a deserved leader. The game is tight and tough, and apparently too rugged for the AFL website. My line to the waterfront pitch breaks, beginning a frustrating 45 minutes of trawling the computer for a replacement webcast. The Age is updating the scores and the stats, but this will never do. And look, the Cats are coming back! When it seems all hope is lost, the line to the Docklands is inexplicably restored. Rex is screaming and the news is good. The Cats are within a kick. “You couldn’t kill them with a sledgehammer!” Hunt shrieks.  Then Stokes goals. Two minutes to go and the draw is a chance. I am yelling at the laptop and trying not to wake Emily, still sound asleep in the next room.

The game’s deciding moment is now well known, and Tony Shaw’s pre-match prediction proved prescient. Gardiner soars across a pack, Harry Taylor is decked and the Saints are home.

We will still be away when September rolls around. On this form, Uncle Tony will still be pronouncing his Saints unbeatable, and I will still be searching for a reliable internet connection.


  1. Peter,

    I always love your instalments from Dublin.

    In 1994, my brother Mark and I and a couple of others were living in Islington in north London. It was our practice then to pick up the TNT magazine for expats (no internet in those long-gone days) on Monday mornings and check out the AFL scores.

    After reading about yet another phenomenal performance from Gary Ablett, Mark wondered aloud whether we should be living in London while Ablett was still playing. The rest of us nodded. Our distance from Kardinia Park and all the AFL grounds made it even more clear to us that Gazz was a once-in-a-lifetime player.

    As it happened, I returned to Melbourne in late September 1994 for a mate’s wedding. On my first weekend home, the mate and I went to the grand final together. Geelong was again thrashed by West Coast. I’m not a Geelong fan but I felt let down. I wanted Gazz, especially, to play in a premiership team.

    I returned to London knowing all over again that it’s no good basing your life around the whims of Gary Ablett, Geelong, or any footy team. Just enjoy them when you can.

  2. uncle tony says

    Well can I remeber the day we ventured to Morabbin to witnees McKenna dog it and faint at the sight of Plugger shrugging his tenuous hold of his right arm .I saw the stetcher pass us with McKennas bruised body but still smiling face as he contemplated the ensuing 6 weeks that Plugger would be absent from the rampaging saints.That was the biggest “sooky la la” act I have ever seen on a footy field and the greatest injustice ever handed out to a totally innocent plugger.(no wonder he made no mistakes with Craven some years later)
    But Pete distance (and I suspect Rex Hunt ) has clouded you view of what really happened at Telstra or should read Ithihad.The saints totally dominated the pussies and without the decided interfernce of umpires the real margin would have been 30+ points.What has become now more obvious about this great season is not that the saints are certainties to win the cup but that the Cats are less likely to be represented past the third week of the finals.Age has caught up with them. Both Milburn and Harley are surely over the hill and played the cheats game of dropping of their men Scneider and Mc Qualter (5 goals between them and 4 assists) Scarlett the best full back in the comp(not)played on Kosi (for a little while).Kosi had 14 contested marks much to my delight and my continuing question to the belligernet cats supporter sitting in front of me “WHO’SE PLAYIN ON HIM” needless to say he was unable to answer my question and duly changed seats after the 10th posing of the question.Subsequent to the game need I say the Saints still remain unbeaten after taking all their side and resting none to the West whilst the cats after sending 7 of their players on long service leave were soundly beaten by the Voss mob from Queensland.Not only were the 4 points won by the Saints but I fear the cat phsyche irrepairably damaged,I read an article in the Geelong advertiser saying that Mooney has been booked for trying to pass other cars in geelongs main street,God knows he’s so fagile he’s been passing everthing he can for some time.Note any side that plays Geelong is a real chance while he plays and Geelong can be put under pressure. In reality the lanscape has changed much since you started your trip the Hawks are Doves,the Pies are still hot and cold and cant make up their mind about Malhouse or Buckley(but a genuine contender)the doggies are hovering and a chance (be better with Baz) but the real smokey is Adelaide,best coach in the comp,great list strong key forwards (young) and a real defensive unit.If they were a Melbourne team they would be second favourites after the Saints.Just tells you about the footy establishement of Melbourne (the Saints 2 games clear are still not bookies favourite)and Adelaide is 10/1 (not after this weekend)I’m in Paris for grand final day and need to know a good bar where I can watch and hopefully celebrate a saints victory(it is hard to see anyone beating them while they hold this form ) Go saints and all true believers!!!

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