AFL Round 23 – St.Kilda v Fremantle: Once again, Saints look to next year

By Brian Matthews

No strangers themselves to sensation, the St Kilda players found sensation overtaking them, like it or not, before they’d even pulled on a boot to meet Fremantle in Round 23. Fremantle arrived at Etihad having left half its team behind in the west. Ibbotson and Mayne joined the absentees as last minute changes and when Clancee Pearce was injured in the first few minutes the situation seemed to be verging on farce.

Ross Lyon had done this before of course. In Round 19, 2009, as St Kilda’s coach and with the finals looming, he ‘rested’ Riewoldt, Montagna, Goddard, Baker and Hayes, and took a severely slimmed down group to Aurora Stadium to play reigning premiers Hawthorn. Shocked pundits tipped an end to St Kilda’s unbeaten run but they won their 19th straight by 25 points. Lyon’s repeating of the ploy to ensure Fremantle’s healthy ride into a Qualifying Final was characteristically radical to begin with and began to come unstuck with the late changes and injuries.

For their part, the Saints were farewelling famous men – Justin Koschitze, Stephen Milne and Jason Blake. Milne and Blake played in their usual positions, Kosi began as the sub and came on to replace Roberton in the third quarter.

Despite the presence of experienced campaigners Pavlich, Mzungu, Crowley, Barlow and De Boer, Fremantle look bewildered in the first quarter and with the roof open and the sun shining, St Kilda make a brisk and efficient start. Hayes, Dal Santo, Curren and Lee are all prominent and scoring. Josh Simpson momentarily lights the Freo fire after an electrifying run the length of the ground to mark finally 30m out, but he fluffs the kick and Freo remain scoreless. St Kilda’s Jack Steven, who played his first game in that Aurora Stadium meeting in 2009, is getting more and more into the action as is Montagna.

The Saints begin the second quarter with a flurry of goals and the margin, 40-0, looks like a tennis score with a straight sets win imminent. But  the Dockers come to life through Pavlich, De Boer, Simpson and Taberner and while the half-time situation still looks fairly grim, it’s now short of a disaster.

The Saints win the first third quarter clearance and Milne scores a behind while Crozier matches it for the Dockers, a brilliant piece of work marred only by the final kick. With the Dockers showing much more fight and system, Pavlich marks beautifully 30 metres out. His dead straight kick reduces the margin to 27 points and it starts to look intriguing. But the Saints are in control and while the Dockers pick up a few behinds, Montagna, Milne – to huge applause – and McEvoy all goal. The atmosphere lightens even more when Kosi comes on to replace Roberton and is thunderously welcomed. Forty-six points in front at three-quarter time, the Saints gear up for a memorial last burst for 2013.

Kosi takes marks and misses as huge sighs of anguish accompany the ball through the wrong side of the goal but finally he nails it only for the goal umpire to request a review which shows the ball grazed the post. As one commentator remarked, ‘That bloke ought to take a good hard look at himself’. Like Colin McCool expertly dropping Bradman on 99 in the Don’s testimonial game, that umpy should have had a sense of history. A roar of approval greets Riewoldt’s signal to Blake to come into the forward line and immediately it’s Kosi who marks and finds him in space: Blake’s goal is not quite the first – there was one somewhere in his backman’s distant past – but certainly the last of his career.

The Dockers have fought on gamely but, in their artificially induced state of fragility, are overwhelmed by superior forces and by the growing and unfamiliar euphoria of the atmosphere. But they salute the occasion magnificently when the usual post siren handshakes are prolonged and heartfelt, and not only for the retiring threesome, and Ross Lyon moves among the players greeting and farewelling old friends. Pavlich caps it all off splendidly by keeping his team on the ground to form a guard of honour for Milne, Blake and Koschitzke as they make their last farewells.

Ross Lyon was, as ever, philosophical and in any case his stratagem bore brilliant fruit the following week when the real Fremantle stood up, dispatched Geelong, and rolled smoothly into a couple of weeks rest and the preliminary final.

The Saints meanwhile gear up to do what they have done more or less immemorially: look to NEXT YEAR.

St Kilda:     4-4   9-6   12-9   16-16 (112)

Fremantle:  0-0   4-3   5-5      6-5      (41)


St Kilda:    Lee 3, Riewoldt 2, Milne 2, Montagna 2, Hayes, Ledger, Ross, Steven, McEvoy, Curren, Blake

Fremantle:  Hannath, Simpson, Taberner, De Boer, Pavlich, Crozier


St Kilda:    Steven, Montagna, Dal Santo, Jones, Lee, Geary, Gilbert, Curren

Fremantle: Crowley, Barlow, Mzungu, Crozier

UMPIRES: Schmitt, Hay, Jeffery

OFFICIAL CROWD: 22,476 at Etihad Stadium

OUR VOTES: 3 Steven, 2 Montagna, 1 Curren


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