Thrill rides and theme parks are a staple for visitors to the Gold Coast, but it was a roller coaster of a completely different variety that St Kilda and its fans experienced on Saturday night at Metricon Stadium. Put through the emotional wringer, they would have felt expectation, anger and despair as their team stuttered and spluttered their way to a 31-point three-quarter time defecit.
Yet, while many gleefully prepared Coach Alan Richardson’s obituary, a thrilling last quarter charge and a late wonder goal to Jade Gresham saw anger and despair replaced with anxiousness then elation as the final siren brought an end to the Saints 12 week wait for their second win.
That the last quarter fight back could take place must have seemed like pure fantasy at the last change when betting agencies were offering 15-1 on it taking place. It was a night for disbelief however, with the fact the Saints trailing by as much as 39-points despite dominating every single statistical measure equally difficult to comprehend.
The Saints season long woes going forward and defending on the turnover were again painfully evident as they out tackled the Suns, dominated clearances, contested ball and inside 50’s yet struggled to stay in the match. Time and again their forward thrusts seemed to find pockets of loose Suns defenders rather than attacking options. In fact by half time, the Saints were twice as likely to turn the ball over going inside fifty than they were to score and just as likely to see it result in an attack on goal at the other end of the ground.
In no way does what happened in the final term paper over these deficiencies but it was a reward for effort and persistence for both club and fan alike. Nor does it make any hard decisions at season’s end any easier but it does, at long last, provide something tangible to celebrate in a season that has tested the nerve of all who bleed red, black and white.
Josh Battle got the scoring going in the final term, kicking truly at the end of an eight possession chain that commenced with his dispossessing of Sun Shaun Lemmens. It was his third goal for the night in another strong performance after being one of the rare positives out of the Swans game a week earlier. He provided a presence up forward and his impact on the contest is not truly apparent in a glance at the stats sheet.
It was all Saints at this point as the Suns seemed content to cling grimly to the lead they had rather than attempt to extend it. Jack Steven and Seb Ross continued to extract the ball from the contest, both finishing the night with 12 and 10 clearances respectively. With the ball almost exclusively played in the St Kilda half of the ground it wasn’t long before the next opportunity to close the gap presented itself.
Paddy McCartin who had spent much of the quarter further up the ground found himself inside fifty and with the ball in hand after being infringed in a marking contest. Far from the easiest of shots, the youngster took the moment in his stride and with a curling effort scored his second goal and brought the game back within three goals. With thirteen of the last fourteen inside 50’s for the game, and the last seven scores, the Metricon Stadium crowd began to sense that the ‘steal’ was on.
For much of the season, the poster boy for St Kilda’s goal kicking difficulties has been Tim Membrey. These seem well behind him now though, with his 11th goal without miss at the midway point of the last quarter coming from a highly pressured set shot to continue the Saints charge. Daniel McKenzie snapped the next from a stoppage to move the sparse crowd to the edge of their seats.
There were a lot of guys, probably typified by Daniel McKenzie, that made sure they did something about it. McKenzie laid and stuck seven tackles for us up until half-time, but the way that he continued to push the ball forward, his goal and his contest work in the last quarter was just outstanding.
Alan Richardson – Post Game
McKenzie and the backline as a whole were put under immense pressure throughout the match as a result of a first quarter injury to Jimmy Webster. While the Suns may have scored a little too easily earlier in the match, McKenzie and co stood tall when the heat was on in the final term after losing the services of Bailey Rice to a head clash in the third quarter.
Jake Carlisle was a welcome inclusion after his two week suspension for striking. A giant presence down back he plucked another 11 marks against the Suns and helped turn defence into attack with 24 possessions. Hunter Clark impressed too, standing tall on a number of occasions in the tense final stages of the match.
Jack Billings was impressive in his return to the senior team after his 54 possession effort for Sandringham last week. Playing on a wing he popped up all over the ground and imposed himself on the game with eight final quarter possessions. Mav Weller fluffed his lines when presented with a set shot and the chance to take the lead and inflict some revenge on the club that delisted him in 2013. With time running out it might have seemed that the Saints hopes may have evaporated with Weller’s miss but they continued to press.
With just over a minute on the clock play was again restarted in St Kilda’s attacking zone. As the mass of players hustled and jostled for position, Jade Gresham was able to find some space on his opponent, and after Billy Longer’s heavy hitout, he also had the ball at his feet. With three steps away from goal he was able to settle and send the Sherrin accurately through the increasingly shrinking target.
There was some poetry in the winner coming from a Longer hitout, given this was one of the few areas that the Saints didn’t have a statistical advantage. That it came from a clearance, for a total of three of the last quarter’s five goals, was also a fair reward given the overwhelming dominance throughout the match.
Then just like that, one of the club’s longest run of outs since the 1950’s was at an end. Given the long and painful wait for the second win of the season, the emotional scenes at the final siren were no surprise. The reward for their great steal will be a week off spent, at least briefly, outside the harsh glare of the media spotlight. Then its the challenge of facing Melbourne at the MCG, but that is a problem for another week.
AFL 2018 – ROUND THIRTEEN
GOLD COAST 4.2 9.7 11.12 11.12 (78)
ST KILDA 3.2 4.6 6.11 11.14 (80)
Gold Coast: Lynch 3, Sexton 3, Holman 2, Ainsworth, Lemmens, Ah Chee
St Kilda: Battle 3, Membrey 2, McCartin 2, Gresham 2, Newnes, McKenzie
Gold Coast: Weller, Sexton, Lynch, Witts, Harbrow
St Kilda: Steven, Ross, Billings, Battle, Gresham
Gold Coast: Bowes (quad)
St Kilda: Webster (adductor), Rice (concussion)
Umpires: Haussen, Hosking, Ryan, Pannell
Official crowd: 10,181 at Metricon Stadium