It is fair to say St Kilda’s 17-point victory over North Melbourne in Round 13 is unlikely to feature on many end of season highlight lists. Despite this, the four points St Kilda banked for their exertions may prove pivotal in the wash up of the Saints 2017 season. After 3 straight defeats, the result was more important than how it was achieved, no matter how painful it may have been for those in the stands to watch.
By the time the final siren rang out to end the encounter at Etihad Stadium, it was greeted with relief by the players and fans alike. Listlessly the match had meandered to its conclusion. Although tight for long stretches on the scoreboard, the four points had seemed safely within St Kilda’s keeping after a withering burst had blown the game open in the first quarter.
There may well have been some of the 26,107 spectators yet to take their seat when Jarrod Whaite kicked the first goal of the game for North Melbourne. It was a bright start for the Kangaroos, who retired AFL games record holder Brent Harvey’s number 29 pre-game, but it was a brief taste of the lead. Josh Bruce put the Saints in front in the 6th minute and when Jack Billings kicked truly for his second in the 19th minute, St Kilda had kicked five and with their lead at 23-points, they had taken a stranglehold on the match.
As he has been all season, Jake Carlisle was almost impassable in the Saints defensive end, his ability to read the play seeing him continually interrupt the Kangaroos attacking thrusts. With the Saints able to generate almost half their score from this end of the ground, Carlisle’s influence, along with the rebound of Dylan Roberton, Leigh Montagna, and Sam Gilbert, was telling.
Saints Summary’s boy Jack Billings was electrifying when the game was live, with his ability to hit the scoreboard wounding the Kangaroos badly. His impact did dim as the game progressed, but was also a smidge unlucky to have a third goal for the match overturned on review twice, after players and officials had returned to the middle for a ball up.
Billings’ change of fortune in front of the big sticks was shared by the entire team. After missing just once with their first five goals of the match, the Saints’ next five were accompanied by 14 behinds. This goalkicking inefficiency was emblematic of St Kilda’s inability to prosper fully from their dominance of the contest. For much of the game, the Saints completely suffocated the Kangaroos for options, and they were only able to manage 4 goals in the first three-quarters.
When the Saints’ lead ballooned out to 42 points in the last quarter, it appeared likely that they were headed for a percentage boosting victory reflective of their control of the match. That North was able to kick five of the last six goals of the match took much of the gloss off a dominant performance.
Gloss further removed by a decision by the Herald Sun’s choice to devote their match report to questioning whether Nick Riewoldt should retire rather than the contest itself. [i] This obsession the football media have with retiring our champions is bewildering at the best of times and doubly so after the performance of St Kilda’s six-time Best and Fairest last night. While not one of Riewoldt’s best games, after 328 AFL games it’s a hard list to break into, his class was apparent and if not for some wayward kicking for goal he may well have been one of the best on ground.
Rather than rush to be the first to call time on a future Hall of Famer’s career, perhaps Sam Edmund should spend his time appreciating it for as long as it continues. Rather than speculate about when Riewoldt should retire, maybe Edmund should have focussed at least some of his Match Report on the performance of the best man on the ground. Already one of the favourites to claim the Trevor Barker Medal as St Kilda’s Best and Fairest, Seb Ross produced yet another prodigious performance against the Kangaroos. The hard working midfielder was a driving force for the Saints all night picking up 32 touches, 5 clearances, and 4 inside 50s. There is a long list of elite midfielders in the AFL, but the season Ross is producing warrants serious consideration from All-Australian selectors.
With their season record squared up at 6 & 6, the Saints find themselves again in the log-jam of teams fighting for positions in the Eight. Coach Alan Richardson was happy with his charges efforts in the post game press conference.”It was positive that we played with a bit more dare and a bit more dash from the back and it definitely gave our forwards better looks,” Richardson said. “I think if we’d been able to convert some relatively easy shots we would have been in a healthier position”. Sitting just one game behind fourth place but with an inferior percentage, how costly will the Saints’ inability to drive home their dominance be at season’s end?
[i] Edmund, S 2017, ‘Yawn, so let’s talk Rooey’, Herald Sun, 17 June, p. 84. http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/afl/teams/st-kilda/st-kilda-must-confront-question-of-nick-riewoldts-future-after-win-against-north-melbourne/news-story/27a79fb965d988012b32ce7a5d9313b4