After three weeks to forget, St Kilda produced a much-improved performance that saw them nearly pull off the upset of the 2018 season so far. Despite falling three goals down in the last quarter against the ladder leading GWS Giants, the Saints refused to yield and even had a last gasp chance to steal a famous win before the final siren saw the premiership points shared with both teams level on 73 points apiece.
What did we Learn, Like and Dislike from the Saints Round Five battle with the Giants?
SAINTS BEST CAN MIX IT WITH TOP TEAMS
After three straight defeats against North Melbourne, Adelaide and Geelong the general consensus amongst supporters and the press was that dark days lay in store for the Saints. Before the game on SEN, Dermott Brereton offered his view that St Kilda would not have a realistic chance to win a game until Round 13, while David King went so far as to suggest the next few rounds may be ‘career threatening’ for Coach Alan Richardson. Needless to say that opposed to the competition leading Giants, grave fears were held for the Saints in Round Five.
From opening bounce to final siren the Saints made a mockery of these fears as they took it right up to their more fancied opponents. For the first time in 2018 they rediscovered the maniacal pressure that was a trademark of their performances last year and went about harassing the Giants out of the contest and gave themselves a genuine opportunity to grab an upset victory.
Everywhere but on the scoreboard the Saints dominated the Giants in the second quarter. Enjoying a 79% territorial advantage and making 10 of the last 11 Inside 50’s of the quarter they created enough opportunities to win a number of games. While they were unable to take advantage of this dominance on this day it was a heartening display that showed that at their best the Saints can mix it with anybody in the AFL.
BEN LONG CAN PLAY
With his team down by 12 points in the last quarter, Ben Long found himself with the ball in his hands at the intersection of the fifty metre and boundary lines. With a goal desperately required by his team, Long audaciously played on and successfully torched the man on the mark before kicking a spectacular curling goal that kept the game alive.
While the spectacular goal would be what is most remembered from Long’s performance on Saturday afternoon it was only one moment in a strong performance by the 20-year-old playing just his ninth game. Clean with ball in hand, he completed his 15 possessions at 92% efficiency, he was not afraid to get his hands dirty either completing eight tackles as he desperately imposed himself on the contest. We are only in the very early stages of Long’s career but he has shown that he has the ability to strut his stuff on the AFL stage for some time to come.
HICKEY MAY REFIND HIS 2016 FORM
Tom Hickey was a major part of St Kilda’s rise up the ladder in 2016, that nearly saw them claim an unlikely finals berth, as was evident in his Top 10 finish in the Best & Fairest that year. Unfortunately for both him and the club, he was unable to rediscover this form in 2017 and ultimately lost his first ruck position to Billy Longer. On Saturday afternoon we saw that the former Sun’s 2016 may not have been a flash in the pan.
Against the Giants, Hickey didn’t just compete strongly in the ruck he also made his presence felt around the ground too. The 27-year-old was everywhere, laying shepherds for his teammates, tackling and while he may have only taken two marks he was an ever present target and brought the ball to ground for his more light-footed allies. Collecting 18-possessions, he led the team in contested ball and also sharked the ruck contests well too winning more contests than any other Saint too.
THE SAINTS REFUSED TO QUIT
St Kilda dominated the second quarter and the Inside 50 battle throughout the contest but despite this had lost the momentum in the match and found themselves three goals down midway through the final quarter. Noticeably tired and seemingly having fired all their shots it looked as though the Giants had gained a match-winning advantage. However the Saints came again and again erasing the 18-point deficit and even giving themselves a last second chance to steal the game. Ultimately coming up short, the fight they showed in drawing the game was a pleasing sign.
McCARTIN STANDS TALL
Paddy McCartin has been a much maligned figure in his short time as an AFL player. Taken with the number one pick in the 2014 Draft expectations for him have exceeded what he has been able to produce to date. While his three goal performance against the Giants on Saturday mightn’t be enough to silence all the critics, it was certainly an appetizing teaser of what the bullocking forward might be able to produce.
Presenting strongly all day, McCartin sprang to life in the second quarter kicking two important goals in a St Kilda run that saw them claim a half time lead. His most important impact on the contest came in the 26th minute of the last quarter when found himself on the end of a Sam Gilbert Inside Fifty. With his team down by seven points and time running down it was vital that the 22-year-old took full advantage of this opportunity. Despite the undoubted pressure on his shoulders he unleashed from fifty and split the middle to keep the Saints hopes of a last gasp victory alive. It was a clutch kick from a young player who has refused to let the criticism surrounding him prevent him from presenting strong and hard each and every time he takes the park.
DUNSTAN STAKES A CLAIM FOR GOAL OF THE YEAR
“He’s not going to kick the goal from there,” said me as Luke Dunstan lined up for goal hard on the boundary and outside fifty. What followed next saw the ball sail between the big sticks and this particular Saints supporter hurriedly attempting to remove his foot from his mouth to cheer on the magical piece of play.
WASTEFULLNESS CONTINUES TO HURT
It was a dominant last ten minutes of the second quarter for the men in red, black and white as they generated 10 of the last 11 Inside Fifties for the Quarter and spent 79% of the period inside their forward half. Unfortunately, the sum result for this dominance saw the Saints only outscore the Giants 1.2 to 1.0 in the period and it was perhaps the inability to take advantage of this ascendancy that may well have cost the team an upset victory when the final siren rang an hour later.
FANS STAY AWAY
Saints fans voted with their feet after the last three rounds and stayed well clear of Etihad Stadium on Saturday with just 14,956 fans in attendance. While the doom and gloom experienced after the poor showings against the Kangaroos, Crows and Cats is understandable, the club will not survive if they play in front of such meagre crowds for any extended period of time. For a long time Saints fans have claimed to be the most resilient in the competition, crowd numbers like this suggest that it is a hollow boast.
SAINTS FAIL TO EXECUTE HAIL MARY PLAY
With the final siren imminent the ball fell into the path of Jack Steven in space forward of centre wing. It was the perfect scenario for the Saints hopes to steal a last gasp victory that was only helped by the fact that when Steven closed within the fifty metre arc he had the owner of the most reliable hands in the team, Jake Carlisle, loose in front of him within scoring range. While it would be unfair to lay the blame for the draw on these two players, it is certain that both Carlisle and Steven would be devastated at their attempts to prosper from this golden opportunity.
The pass from Steven was down right horrible for a man of his ability and rather than delivered to Carlisle’s advantage it was instead a floater that the former Bomber had to wait impatiently underneath. Despite the poorly passed ball it was an opportunity that each of the 14,956 fans in attendance, and Carlisle himself, would have expected to be marked which meant when it bobbled out of the swing-man’s grasp there was a collective of gasp of disappointment released by all those with red, black and white, sympathies. That the Saints best player and their most reliable mark could not combine to create a shot on goal from this opportunity in a lot of ways summed up the wastefulness of the team throughout the day. As proud as Saints fans should be with the effort the team produced against the Giants, the draw was in reality two premiership points lost rather than two points gained.