I found myself for some unknown reason on a website declaring the 50 Things That Get Better with Age. Whilst no doubt a questionable site to find oneself on, I’m sure it is low on the list of sites your partner dreads finding in your search history. As I made my way through this hokey list of things like love, flannel sheets and cast iron pans, I discovered a glaring omission, Nick Riewoldt.
In football, like in life, time stands still for no man. The past week again showed us this as three walk up starts to be 2022 AFL Hall of Fame Inductees, either disappointedly yielded to injury, played their last game or were ruthlessly told their services weren’t required beyond this year. As the ‘Football Reaper’ claimed or began to circle Dane Swan, Matthew Pavlich and Brent Harvey, it was heartening to see another modern day great again remind the football world that he wasn’t a spent force.
In the Saints Round 23 demolition of the Lions, Nick Riewoldt was outstanding. In an effort that belied the fact his 34th Birthday is rapidly approaching, the Saints champ produced one of the individual performances of the season plucking 21 marks and booting 9 goals. Or as St Kilda’s Twitter account so aptly summed it up ‘When 3 votes just isn’t enough’.
Riewoldt is a beloved figure for the red, white and black faithful. From the moment he was drafted with the number 1 pick back in 2000, his presence has represented hope for Saints fans. While his performance might have been a reminder to many of what the Number 12 is capable of, to St Kilda supporters it was an exclamation point on another outstanding season from the six time Best & Fairest Winner.
As speculation abounds as to whether he will surrender the captaincy from 2017, it is instructive to see the relish with which he attacked his new positioning in 2016. Despite remaining the team’s most dominant forward, in an effort to fast track the future ‘post St. Nick’ forward line of Josh Bruce, Tim Membrey and Paddy McCartin, Riewoldt was deployed more as a classical winger or fifth on-baller with a license to roam.
Beyond the obvious advantages for Bruce, Membrey and McCartin, the redeployment of Riewoldt has a number of other benefits for the resurgent Saints. The Skipper’s surety and disposal efficiency has been a god send for a fast developing mid-field unit trying to establish itself. For the captain, although having to cover a few extra kms, the move has probably added a few years to his career as it has removed him from the constant buffeting from the League’s premier defenders. He also remains a pretty handy ace for Coach Alan Richardson to play if he requires goals late in a close one.
Richardson knows just how lucky he is to have Riewoldt to call upon, a once in generation player and leader that rookie coaches can usually only dream of. His professionalism and dedication in a league of its own still after 16 years in the AFL. It is rumoured that he won’t allow his home pool to be heated so that it can act as a recovery pool for him and his creaky knees.
“He’s an absolute pro; he’s a great example to his teammates the way he prepares, the way he challenges, the way that he inspires. If you work hard you get rewarded in our game and he certainly got that tonight”1 Richardson described his captain after the Lions game “He’s had a fair game. I’m not surprised because of the work he puts in, he’s probably not able to train as often as other players because of his age and he’s had a cranky knee, although he’s managing that really well now.”
Riewoldt himself, in an article for ESPN, detailed the extraordinary lengths he went through to get his ‘cranky knee’ right for St Kilda’s Round 12 clash with Carlton. In the previous game against Adelaide, Riewoldt had suffered a heavy knee on knee collision which caused swelling so severe that he couldn’t bend or straighten his leg at the completion of the game.
His race against time began on the Monday “I had an MRI scan at a medical practice to ascertain the level of damage done, then had my knee drained. After I received some local anaesthetic, a large syringe extracted fluid from the joint. Previously when I’ve had my knee drained, the fluid is yellowish from weeping inside the joint. But on this occasion (as you can see in the picture) it was a horrible-looking dark blue/red colour which suggested an acute type of injury. I know it’s not nice to look at but the feeling after that 140mls of fluid came out of the joint was one of instant relief.”2
Hard to believe after reading that and looking at the accompanying photos, that anybody in the outer could possibly cry “soft” at the efforts of the players on the park.
As chants of “Roo-ey, Roo-ey” echoed around the ‘intimately’ occupied Etihad Stadium, Brisbane triple-teamed Riewoldt. Despite this the Saints tried to manufacture an opportunity for their captain to kick his tenth. David Armitage in his 150th match, as Riewoldt jokingly referenced in an after-match interview, ignored this and the desperate crowd and had the final say kicking truly from 50 metres.
Number One Draft Pick, AFL Rising Star, Six Times Club Best & Fairest, Five Times All-Australian, All Australian Captain, AFLPA MVP, Future Hall of Famer, it is a resume befitting a champion. It has a gap that most likely won’t be filled. Rather than leave St Kilda to chase a deserved Premiership, he has remained and led the group that he, and the Saints long suffering fans, hope will end the drought he so very nearly single-handedly ended.
Like the champion he is though, he hasn’t given up hope. Each and every day he prepares himself the best he can to perform on the biggest stage. He does everything he can to drag the group he has with him to be the best they can be, and until the curtain is drawn on his storied career, he dreams.
Two years after winning the wooden spoon, the finals missed only by percentage, St Kilda fans dream with him.
Photo Credits: Getty Images, Nick Riewoldt
- Richardson: Roo rewarded for his dedication – Josh Gabelich, August 29th http://www.saints.com.au/news/2016-08-29/richardson-roo-performance-a-testament-to-his-dedication
- Pain and isolation: the physical and mental toll of injuries – Nick Riewoldt, July 1st http://www.espn.com.au/afl/story_/id/16650692/nick-riewoldt-unveils-physical-mental-toll-injuries-afl