The fans at Moorabbin for the Saints Round 21 clash with Collingwood in 1987 were treated to the unusual site of one of the four behind posts being held up by a number of the club’s trainers. The cause for this action was the post being broken in a collision with Magpie Peter Daicos early in the second quarter. When the home team trailed by 40-points soon afterward, it appeared that more than a behind post had been broken early in this contest.
Just two weeks earlier things had appeared so incredibly different, despite a stroke having ended the season of Coach Darrel Baldock, the Saints had rounded out a five-game winning streak with a thrilling three-point victory over the then fifth-placed Bulldogs. With Baldock’s Premiership teammate Allan Davis in the Coaches Box for the first time, the Saints were too strong for Footscray. On a day of celebration at Moorabbin, Tony Lockett brought up his century of goals for the year with his seventh for the afternoon, and kicked the match-winner with his eighth.
Five wins in a row was a foreign feeling for Saints fans in the 1980s, in fact winning at all was, with this streak matching the club’s total number of wins for the two previous seasons combined. Those fans old enough to remember this time don’t need any reminding of just how dark it was in the history of the football club. Each of the four seasons prior to 1987 ended with the Saints adding to their wooden spoon collection with a tenth place finish, in the 12 team 1981 season, the highest the club had been able to soar since missing the 1978 finals by half a game.
Yet their Round 19 victory over the Bulldogs gave the club claims to the title of the hottest team in the VFL, with their run of victories the longest active winning streak in the competition. There was even wishful thinking talk of a top-five finish and a return to the finals with the club still mathematically alive and with their next two matches against the last-placed Tigers and third-last Magpies. Even allowing for the inevitable comedown following the emotional performance for their ailing coach in Round 19, the standard the Saints produced in their following five quarters of football were well below what anybody would have expected.
Fanciful finals fantasies were humiliatingly quashed when the team was embarrassed by the Tigers at Waverley in Round 20. Conceding 16 of the last 20 goals of the match, the Saints fell to the last-placed Richmond by 76-points. Not sufficiently chastened by this performance they would follow this up by conceding the first seven goals of their encounter with the Magpies. Yet as fans expressed their displeasure at having watched their team outscored 23 goals to four against two of the competition’s worst-performing teams, Tony Lockett was about to deliver them one last afternoon of happiness for 1987.
Despite the normally reliable spearhead beginning the day with 0.4, his afternoon’s work would see him earn the last of his 20 Brownlow votes for the season, and ultimately a share of the prestigious medal at seasons end. None of this would have been front of mind for anybody though when his four goals in six minutes to end the second quarter brought the Saints back within two goals of the previously dominant Magpies.
The pivotal burst from the 21-year-old Plugger would be one lamented by Collingwood Coach Leigh Matthews afterward. “I felt we could have been six or seven goals ahead at halftime,” he told the assembled press post-match. “But Tony Lockett got quick goals which left us with only a two-goal lead,” he said. The Saints acting coach Davis felt the difference was his team’s desire to atone for the previous week’s performance, “Our commitment in the third quarter won the game,” he said.
A sometimes spiteful contest, three players would end up fronting the tribunal for their actions in this match. The Saints Mark Gamble would spend the following Tuesday at VFL House along with Collingwood’s Brian Taylor and Mark Perkins to answer striking charges. Gamble would ultimately be the only member of the trio to be found guilty but after receiving a severe reprimand was free to take on the Eagles in Round 22.
Undeterred by the fraying emotions, as their coach expressed post-match, the Saints ran riot in the third quarter. Aided a little by Collingwood’s inaccuracy they kicked six-goals to nil to take a 25-point lead and all the momentum into the final term. Plugger would finish the afternoon with eight majors, while Greg Burns and Frank Coughlan ended up with 31 and 26 possessions respectively to lead the Saints in this category.
The final quarter would be much the same as its predecessor with the Saints maintaining control to the final siren to claim a 49-point victory. It would ultimately prove to be the club’s last win of the season with a Round 22 defeat to the Eagles rounding out a season of great improvement for the club. From two wins in 1986, the Saints had claimed nine in 1987, and with a 21-year-old behemoth in their goalsquare and Coach Darrel Baldock set to return, there was cause for optimism at Moorabbin ahead of the 1988 season.
VFL 1987 ROUND 21
St. Kilda 0.4 5.6 11.10 15.17 (107)
Collingwood 5.4 7.5 7. 9 8.10 (58)
Best: St. Kilda — Lockett, Bums, Kourkoumelis, Coghlan, Loewe, Evans, Frawley. Collingwood — Daicos, Bradbury, Atkins, Fellowes, Millane, Perkins.
Goals: St. Kilda — Lockett 8, Gotch 3, Burns 2, Marcou, Kourkoumelis. Collingwood — Perkins 4, Bradbury 2, Taylor, Starcevic
Umpires: Rich, Carland.
Crowd: 24,355 at Moorabbin.