February 9, 2020, was the beginning of a new and exciting era for the St Kilda Football Club. A lockout crowd was on hand for the twin celebrations of a long-awaited return of top-flight footy to Moorabbin and the club’s entry into the AFLW competition. There was a festival feel around the ground, aided by food trucks, amusement rides, and games of skill on offer for the 8,000 strong crowd. A festival of St Kilda if you will, somewhat appropriate given the town in which the club was born and formed in 1873, celebrated their annual St Kilda Festival a little further up the Nepean Highway at the same time.
Unfortunately for the Saints, it would be a club legend with long memories of Moorabbin who would help the Western Bulldogs play party pooper on this day. Former St Kilda Games Record Holder Nathan Burke, who played in the last Saints game at Moorabbin, returned to the ground in his new role as Western Bulldogs coach and had his team on fire early. Dominating the stoppages, they had jumped out to a three-goal lead before some fans had been able to make their way through the makeshift Linton Street gates.
With Coach Peta Searle reshuffling her midfield, the Saints were able to stifle the visitors and get their hands on the ball. Rosie Dillon and Nat Exon prominent with their defensive pressure combining for 12 tackles. The 23-year-old Dillon’s physicality prominent in a second-quarter contest that saw Bulldog’s Naomi Ferris needing to be helped from the field. Tarni White was an unfortunate casualty of the Saints increased intensity at the ball, the young Queenslander on the receiving end of friendly fire as she and a teammate aggressively tackled an opponent.
With a crosswind making life difficult for players and boundary umpires alike, Hannah Priest was a steadying influence across halfback. Calm and clean with the ball, her intercept marking was important in both thwarting the Bulldogs forward thrusts and setting up the Saints rebound. With the speed of Molly McDonald and Kate McCarthy at their disposal, the intention to slingshot the ball quickly from defence into attack was on full show.
Georgia Patrikios, the Saints first-round pick in this year’s draft, was a live wire for the team. Fearless and creative, there was a sense of expectation whenever she got her hands on the ball. She would finish with a game-high 18 possessions which, with her exciting use, meant her involvement in the Saints historic first goal was unsurprising
It would be a forward 50 entry from Patrikios that set up the moment the crowd had been waiting for. While the well-weighted pass found a loose Molly McDonald, there was still some work to do for the second player signed by St Kilda to an AFLW contract. Helped by a sneaky shepherd from Emma Mackie, the 18-year-old from the Mornington Peninsula barely broke stride upon marking the ball as she continued towards the South Road end goals and her date with history. Effortlessly she settled under pressure from a committed chase and kicked the goal an accurate left-foot strike. Undoubtedly the highlight of a tough first day at the office for the Saints, it was far from the last time McDonald had an impact on the contest as she covered an enormous amount of territory from a halfback flank.
Ultimately the slow start to the match would prove the difference in the match, with the Bulldogs 25-point first-quarter lead growing by just one point by the time the final siren sounded. Coach Peta Searle was keen to make mention of this arm-wrestle across the remainder of the match. “Ultimately, I was proud of the way of the way they fought it out,” she told http://www.saints.com.au post-match.” It was pride mixed with disappointment however as she expressed a belief it was a game she thought they could win.
Unfortunately, the result would not be the only disappointment to come from the afternoon. Although a clean bill of health was announced by the Saints, it was announced on Monday that Nadia Von Bertouch had suffered a season-ending ACL injury. It was a bitter end for the South Australian, but not before she showed the kind of toughness we can expect from her in 2021 when she brushed off a heavy bump from Hannah Scott in the third quarter.
In the end, it was not the result it was not the result the team was looking for but this day was about more than the four points on offer in the middle. This was but the first step on an exciting new journey for the St Kilda Football Club. While the success of the Saints venture into the AFLW will no doubt be quickly judged by the team’s win-loss tally, as the crowd filtered out of RSEA Park on February 9th, this Festival of St Kilda couldn’t be judged as anything other than a resounding triumph.
AFLW 2020 ROUND ONE
ST KILDA 1.0 1.1 1.1 2.1 (13)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 4.1 5.1 5.2 6.3 (39)
St Kilda: McDonald, Sedunary
Western Bulldogs: Toogood 2, Marshall, McCarthy, Hunt, Lamb
St Kilda: Patrikios, McDonald, Vesely, Priest
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Lamb, Toogood, Huntington, Scott, Rennie
St Kilda: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Moody (ankle), Huntington (concussion)
St Kilda: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Crowd: 8000 at RSEA Park