AFL Round 22: Everyone’s a winner when Saints squeeze past Dees

By Margaret Duncan

It is the last match for Melbourne in the 2009 season, a team with the dubious honour of being on the bottom of the league ladder.  St Kilda are on top. But after two losses in the previous two weeks, and after 19 straight wins before that, they are a bit rattled.  They have something to prove today – that they have not peaked yet or lost their momentum.  But even so, the outcome of the match is not critical for them.   Me?  I’m an Optimist.  I’m hoping for the upset of the season, not the massacre that so many are predicting!

Melbourne make a great start to the game.  Their newest star, Liam Jurrah, a non-English speaking Aboriginal kid from the Tanami Desert, kicks an amazing goal in the first 30 seconds of the match – a kick backwards, with his back to the goals. Inspirational stuff!    St Kilda answers back straight away with a goal to Sean Dempster at the two and a half minute mark.  Melbourne are looking strong in this first quarter – passing well, and defending brilliantly.  Colin Sylvia goals from 50m out at the 21 min mark, again followed almost immediately by a goal from Sam Gilbert (19) for the Saints. St Kilda are going through the motions, but not a lot is happening to draw attention to their current prowess.  They are staying in there, matching goal for goal, but it can hardly be said that they are dominating.  At the end of the first quarter Jurrah again cuts through the pack like he is parting the Red Sea and kicks a low, straight goal. What a find he is!  At the end of the first quarter Melbourne leads by 12 points.

It’s a great day for footy at the ‘G: brilliant sunshine, soft breeze, and mild temperatures.  A few white sea gulls arrive early and begin their ritual circling high above the field, diving and looping in the thermals, and giving the impression of stirring a large cauldron.

Second quarter starts as the first did, with Melbourne meaning business and kicking a goal in the first 35 seconds.  But by the third minute St Kilda have begin to up the pressure and emerge as the force that we have come to know this season.  Del Santo goals, and then Jamar for the Dees, and then Stephen Milne for the Saints all by the 8 min mark.  The teams are going goal for goal.  But what is missing here?  There are no altercations, bumps, biffs or outbursts of naked aggression.  Both teams are being remarkably well behaved. What’s going on?

For Melbourne this is a match that is not about winning!  If they lose this game they guarantee themselves two draft picks for next year, not one. Beneficial consequences can flow from loses as well as wins it would seem, which gives rise to a somewhat ethical dilemma on the part of the weaker teams in a given season.  How low will a team go to get the players next year?  As for St Kilda, they have a finals series to play, so this is a match about conserving energy and not risking injury.

Melbourne begin making more errors and fumbling the ball.  Russell Robertson gets his first chance for a goal and hits the post for a point.  It is his last game, and every Melbourne supporter in the crowd secretly wishes for him to get that last goal in his last match, and thus end on a high.  Not to be this time.

The umpires make the first controversial decision for the day and, to the boos from the crowd, Nick Riewoldt is given his first goal of the day.  Melbourne’s form is starting to fray, and St Kilda is catching up.  At the 24 minute mark, Riewoldt marks again and kicks a goal from 50 metres out.  St Kilda takes the lead by a point.  The Dees even with a point at the 26 minute mark, but just as the siren sounds Riewoldt takes a mark.  He goals for his third and the Saints lead by 6 points at the end of the first half.  The tide is turning.

In the third quarter Riewoldt really begins to shine.  The blond giant kicks his fourth goal in the opening minute, followed closely by a goal from Koschitzke, and suddenly the Saints are 3 goals up.  Melbourne are just hanging in there.  It is looking like serious footy now.  Jason Gram for the Saints goals at the 9 minute mark.  Melbourne keeps giving away possession of the ball in front of their goal.  Russell Robertson gets his second chance to score with a tough angle.  It is through for a point, that last goal of his career eluding him. And then, at the 21 minute mark it is Jurrah again.  He is kicking at a difficult angle but he puts it through for the six, and the Dees are staying in the game.  They are 21 points down.  Back up the field to St Kilda’s goal square and Jurrah’s success is answered immediately by a goal from Milne.  He’s a class act, deftly dodging two Melbourne players to put the ball straight through the posts.  By the siren St Kilda lead the Dees by 16 points.  “Still anyone’s match,” I say to myself.

The final quarter begins.  The numbers of gulls churning up the atmosphere has swelled exponentially, and they are circling lower and lower, mixing with the players, weaving their magic, stitching and sewing, up and over, in and out.  It is like they are casting a spell of sorts.  But which team are they conspiring for?  It’s the all or nothing quarter, and the Dees are slipping.  Montagna goals for the Saints at the 9 minute mark.  Has this sealed the match?  No.  Russell Robertson  answers and gets his third opportunity at goal.  This time he gets it –  and what a ripper!  He is so elated, he engulfs a supporter on the fence line in his arms. Melbourne supporters are so stoked they give him a standing ovation. Now he can retire with dignity in his 228th game.

Riewoldt takes his fifth.  Answered by Paul Wheatley for Melbourne, who takes the final goal of his 135 game career also. The Dees manage to maintain the same 16 point margin in St Kilda’s favour until about the 17 minute mark.  But then the massacre begins.  For the Saints, Milne goals, then Riewoldt with his sixth, then Koschitzke, and then McQualter.  Melbourne are being closed in by the Saints at every turn.  At 30 min, 40 sec, the siren finally sounds, and the Saint go marching in to the finals, winning by 47 points.

But at the end of the day, everyone has what they want.  St Kilda have had a relatively tame match with no injuries and a win.  Melbourne have scored themselves two draft picks next season.  And the ever patient “rats with wings”, after circling in anticipation for hours, finally land and begin feasting on the left over pickings in the stands.

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