St Kilda’s loss to Fremantle in Round Nine 2007 was compounded by news that champion onballer Robert Harvey was expected to be sidelined for four weeks as a result of a hamstring strain. Sustained as it was in his 349th game, it meant celebrations for his long-awaited ascension to the 350 club would need to be put on hold.
Yet just as Saints fans made final preparations to descend upon Telstra Dome in huge numbers to celebrate the achievement in Round 13 against the Tigers, there was another change of plans. In a tribute to the veteran’s recuperative powers, instead of a week after the bye as planned, Harvey returned to football a week before when he was a shock inclusion in the Saints team to tackle the Eagles in Perth.
For airlines and intrepid Eagles fans, it proved a boon as desperate St Kilda supporters scurried to make their way west on three days notice. For this particular Saints fan, a combination of Qantas Frequent Flyer points and paying too much on eBay for a match ticket was required to get into Subiaco Oval for this famous day in St Kilda history.
And what a day it was!
Having lost their last four games, the Saints arrived in Perth with their season at a crossroads. In Ross Lyon’s first season in charge, coming off three successive finals campaigns under the sacked Grant Thomas, they found themselves four and seven after 11 rounds. It meant that anything less than victory against the defending premiers on their home turf would put paid to any hopes of extending their finals run into a fourth successive season.
Despite the urgency of the situation, it took some time for the visitors to find their rhythm. Falling behind by 15-points early, it would have been easy to succumb to the combined pressure of the Eagles and the baying crowd cheering them on. Instead, following settling goals from Justin
Koschitzke and Nick Riewoldt, the Saints responded with an onslaught of their own that the home team had no answer for.
In contrast to the month previous in which the butchered the ball with painful monotony, in the second quarter they cut through the Eagles with ruthless precision. With Harvey and Nick Dal Santo prominent in the midfield and Koschitzke marking everything in sight, the Saints kicked the last five goals of the quarter to blow the game wide open.
Koschitzke would finish the half with four goals and the visitors with a 37-point lead. Their efforts in the second quarter summed up by the final goal of the term kicked by Sam Gilbert. The hard-running halfback swooping upon an Eagle turnover caused by the relentless pressure of his teammates across half forward.
The lead would balloon out to 44-points early in the third quarter before the Saints were again called upon to withstand the best the premiers could throw at them. With Daniel Kerr shaking the tag of Luke Ball, the Eagles kicked six of the last seven goals of the quarter. The last coming from the boot of Mark Seaby after the siren to reduce the margin to 12 points.
When Quinten Lynch kicked truly inside the first minute of the final term, the task of becoming just the second team in 60 games to beat West Coast in Perth looked beyond the under siege Saints. Yet they refused to yield under the weight of the pressure and held grimly to their lead as the teams traded behinds into time on.
With the Saints lead just five points and four minutes to play, the tension was palpable as the Eagles drove the ball forward. Poetically in what would become the game breaking moment, Robert Harvey would begin the Saints counter attack from half-back. The 35-year-old champ would deliver a crisp handball to Jason Blake who stepped around Quinten Lynch before handing off to Leigh Fisher.
Aaron Fiora came to Fisher’s aid when the number six was set upon by a pair of Eagles, before taking a bounce and delivering the ball to Lenny Hayes. Calm and assured on the defensive side of the centre square, Hayes took a bounce and his time before finding Dal Santo in space sixty metres out from goal. Playing on quickly, Dal Santo ran towards forward fifty, took a bounce, stepped inside Matt Priddis and landed a hammer blow for his team.
Late goals to Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna would see the margin out to 23-points at the final siren to give Harvey the result he deserved in his milestone game. The 10th man to join the 350-game club, he was one of his teams best on the day with 30 touches he would receive one Brownlow vote for his performance.
When the siren sounded, he was enthusiastically swamped by each of his teammates as they celebrated the moment with the club champion. Interviewed post-match, an emotional Harvey suggested that milestone or not it was just a great win and that if he never played in a premiership at least he played in this match.
Unfortunately for the Saints, despite this result beginning a stretch in which they would win five of six, they would finish the season outside of the eight by two premiership points. More disappointingly though, when Harvey’s decorated career came to a close 18-months later it did so without a much-deserved Premiership. None of that mattered on this particular day though, with 39,401 fans standing as one to recognise the career of a champion as he was chaired off the ground. What a wonderful day it was.
AFL 2007 – ROUND 12
West Coast 3.4 4.5 10.7 11.10 (76)
St Kilda 3.3 10.6 12.7 15. 9 (99)
West Coast: Cox, Braun, Kerr.
St Kilda: Dal Santo, Harvey, Montagna, Koschitzke.
West Coast: Braun 2, Lynch 2, Cox, Graham, Hurn, Le Cras, Seaby, Staker.
St Kilda: Koschitzke 4, Baker 2, Milne 2, Dal Santo 2, Clarke, Gilbert, Montagna, Riewoldt, Rix.
Umpires: Head, Hendrie, Goldspink
Reports: Milne (Rough Conduct), Blake (Rough Conduct)
Crowd: 39,401 at Domain Stadium.