Saturday night against the Blues at Ikon Park was always going to be a difficult assignment but it was one the Saints were up for in Round Five. While the final result would be a 21-point defeat, the margin was not a true reflection of how close the contest actually was. Despite winning the clearance and territory battle, waywardness in front of goal would prove critical.
While it ended painfully, the game couldn’t have started any better for the Saints. Caitlin Greiser opening the scoring with a pearler after intercepting a pass inside forward fifty. Skipper Rhi Watt would break a run of Carlton goals to restore parity with her first AFLW goal for St Kilda. Seen as the spiritual leader of the team, it was wonderful to see her celebrations afterward showing exactly what it meant for this lifetime Saints fan.
It was a special night too for the player whose locker is next to Watt’s too. Sammie Johnson, one of 11 children in a particularly one-eyed St Kilda household, made her debut for the club to the great delight of her family. It was all the more poignant with her father Ron on hand to present her with her jumper pregame. The bond the two share was something Johnson acknowledged during the week. “The fact that we’re both pretty passionate Saints fans definitely gets us going a bit, and I suppose it’s been pretty surreal from the start for us.”
With the lights at Ikon Park beginning to take over, the Blues regained the lead in the shadows of quarter time. It is at this moment that we feel it necessary to make comment on the standard of umpiring in the AFLW this year. As fine a finish Grace Egan’s effort might have been in this instance, how the throw from Alison Downie to her was missed is a question that has flummoxed us each time we have watched the replay of the goal. We can’t rationally suggest that the decision making of the officials had a bearing on the result but it is fair to say that their performance was not anywhere near the standard of the two teams playing. After the publicity surrounding the AFL listed umpires involvement in Round One it has been a season to forget for the umpires.
While the umpires had a night to forget there were a number of Saints who had reasons to be satisfied with their efforts. Georgia Patrikios continued her ball-winning ways, the same number as her midfield partner in crime, Olivia Veseley. Kate Shierlaw took some big grabs up forward and created a number of scoring opportunities. Nat Exon may not have had high possession numbers but, in laying eight tackles, her pressure work was elite.
The Second Quarter was another arm wrestle but it would take Greiser’s second goal of the game to keep the margin just seven points at the long break. The third quarter would be a different story though unfortunately, with the Blues kicking three goals to take a stranglehold on the match. As has been the case all season, the Saints spirit wasn’t dimmed and they came out for the final term determined to overturn the 24-point deficit.
“We were down four goals and had the first four shots in the last quarter … they were all gettable. We should have won the game. It’s the little things that don’t go our way that hurt us because our brand of footy is good enough to win games.”St Kilda Coach Peta Searle
Searle’s lament was well-founded with her team’s dominance around the contest seeing them play the final term almost exclusively forward of centre. With the ball at their end of the ground the opportunities came quickly. Greiser missed a long-range effort on the run after beautiful work from Patrikios. After a strong mark, co-captain Kate Shierlaw kicked her first goal for the Saints to bring the margin back to 19 points before Georgia Gee answered almost immediately for the Blues.
Undeterred, the Saints continued to press. Darcy Guttridge missed on the run from 30 before a slingshot from halfback and some strong work from Nat Exon found Shierlaw on her own 30 out. The resultant shot for goal was touched on the line. Still they attacked. Kelly O’Neill missed on the run from 30, Shierlaw from 25 after a fierce Nicola Xenos tackle before Guttridge missed again on the run.
The final siren brought a sad end to the spirited last quarter challenge. Despite coming up short, the young Saints once again proved they could mix it with the more established teams. While the defeat effectively brought an end to any finals hopes in 2020, it illustrated that the future is bright for the AFLW Saints.
AFLW ROUND FIVE
CARLTON 3.0 4.1 7.2 8.2 (50)
ST KILDA 2.0 3.0 3.2 4.5 (29)
Carlton: S.Hosking 2, Egan, Harris, Walker, McEvoy, Stevens, Gee
St Kilda: Greiser 2, Watt, Shierlaw
Carlton: Prespakis, Harrington, Vescio, Wilson, Laloifi, S.Hosking
St Kilda: Patrikios, Vesely, Shierlaw, Exon, Dillon
St Kilda: Nil
St Kilda: Nil
Crowd: 3,871 at Ikon Park