After the darkness of the 1980s, the early 1990s were particularly bright for the Saints. A return to the finals was achieved in 1991 before a first September victory, in nearly two decades, was recorded 12 months later. Following in the footsteps of these two teams, the Saints of 1993 continued their hoodoo breaking ways. In Round Four at Victoria Park, the game now better remembered for Nicky Winmar’s iconic stance against racism, they recorded their first victory over the Magpies their for 17 years. They had their eyes on breaking an even longer drought though, one dating back nearly 30 years, when they travelled to Princes Park in Round 20 to take on the Blues.
When Danny Frawley led his team out Princes Park for Round 20, it had been a day short of 29-years since the club had last walked off victorious over the Blues at their home ground. Just he and Russell Morris from the team he led out, were alive the day Darrel Baldock led the 1964 Saints to victory there. In the intervening years, a member of the team would rise to become CEO of the AFL, the Saints would make 23 unsuccessful visits to Royal Parade, and Australia would be served by nine different Prime Ministers (back when we didn’t change PM’s every two minutes).
Despite this, and the fact the Blues sat second on the AFL ladder, Danny Frawley’s men had every reason to be confident of their chances. While a third consecutive finals appearance was beyond them, a price of a midseason slump, they entered the match in a rich vein of form. Three wins from their previous four matches, including victories over the high-flying Kangaroos and the in-form Cats, meant they were one of the form teams in one of the tightest seasons in history.
Under grey skies and on heavy ground, the kind of conditions today’s footballers would turn their nose up at, the two teams slugged it out. While the Saints entered the game without the services of Tony Lockett, who had suffered a season-ending injury a few weeks earlier, they were just as well served by him as the Blues were by their key tall Stephen Kernahan who had a stinker. With tall forwards having a difficult time, it was an afternoon for the smaller men with Craig O’Brien prominent for the Saints and Brent Heaver similarly potent for the Blues. At quarter time the teams would be separated by just four points with the home team left to rue a number of missed opportunities.
The second quarter would see the Saints return the favour and then some. Led by Robert Harvey, ‘Mick’ Dwyer and Darren Bourke in the middle, the visitors carved their hosts up. So dominant was the performance, if not for a sorry 2.9 for the term, the match should have been all wrapped up by the long break. Instead the difference was just three points when the half-time siren blew. They would again miss their chance to nail the contest shut in the third quarter when two late Carlton goals reduced the lead to just 15-points at the last change.
With a sniff of an unlikely victory in their nostrils, the Blues came out breathing fire to start the final term. With Steven Silvagni up forward, they had a more agile attack and they bombarded the Saints defence or as Peter Landy put it, “they hit them with everything but the grandstand.” Yet for their early dominance, they could manage just two behinds before Heaver kicked his fifth for the afternoon to reduce the margin to seven points.
It would be nearly 10 minutes before the Saints got the ball forward of centre but with the likes of Bourke, Harvey and Craig Davenport poised under pressure they continued to hold grimly to their lead. Two points to Damon Shaw either side of an entry for behind of the year by Mil Hanna, helped see the Saints hold an eight-point advantage at the halfway point of the term. The second of Shaw’s behind’s coming as a result of an out of bounds on the full free-kick given away by future Saints Coach Brett Ratten. With just 11 touches for the afternoon, it was perhaps his most telling impact on the contest.
Speaking of people having a negligible impact, at the 15-minute mark of the term, Kernahan kicked his first score of the afternoon. After taking a mark at half-forward, the Blues skipper missed to the left reducing the margin to seven points with 10 minutes to play. Only minutes later, home fans thought the margin was back to one point when Silvagni kicked the ball between the big sticks from close range. They were soon to be disappointed when the central field umpire came in to discuss the situation with the goal umpire and advise him to signal a behind. Unbeknown to the crowd and the goal umpire, before Silvagni had collected the ball it had hit the post to register the minor score. Rather than one kick to win, the Blues needed one kick to tie with the margin six points rather than one.
Somewhat fittingly given the nature of the term, the decisive play was set up from a rather innocuous long kick forward. Awarded a free kick backward of centre, a 19-year-old Peter Everitt playing his 12th game roosted the ball forward. His attempted torp sailed over the pack of players converging where they believed it would land and into the path of Tim Pekin all alone inside forward fifty. While he musn’t have believed his luck, the veteran took full advantage to kick the Saints 12-points clear.
Stewart Loewe and Gilbert McAdam missed opportunities to ice the contest but time was on their side. By the time Greg Williams kicked a late goal, there was just 27 seconds left in the match. Former Blue turned Saints Coach Ken Sheldon was buoyant about the significance of the win post-match. “There is now no venue we can’t win on, we’ve knocked off Collingwood at home and Carlton at home this season,” he said. “Our players are bitterly disappointed we won’t be in the finals but since the day we were no longer in contention, we’ve been building for the future.” Unfortunately for Sheldon, with his tenure as coach ended by the club at seasons end, he would not be on hand for the future they were building towards.
None of that mattered on this day with Sheldon effusive towards his team. “We just out-edged them in all aspects of the game and our players showed a lot of commitment all day.” He was especially proud to get one over his old club as he believed that Carlton would “present themselves well in the finals.” He would be proven right four weeks later when the Blues qualified for the Grand Final. For the Saints though, 1993 will remain a massive what-if. By season’s end, along with Geelong, they were unquestionably one of the form teams of the competition. In a season where the difference between first and 12th was just three and half games, a five-game losing streak between Rounds four and ten might have been all that stood between them and a genuine tilt at the flag.
AFL 1993 – ROUND 20
Carlton 4.6 6.8 8.11 10.17 (77)
St Kilda 4.2 6.11 10.14 11.18 (84)
Best: Carlton — Heaver, Sexton, Hanna, McKay, Alvin Bradley.
St Kilda — R. Harvey, Dwyer, O’Brien, Bourke, Loewe, Pekin.
Goals: Carlton — Heaver 5, Williams 2, De lulio, Bradley, Spalding.
St Kilda — O’Brien 4, Loewe 3, Burke, Grant, Hollow, Pekin.
Umpires: D. Howlett, G. Vernon.
Crowd: 22,244. At Princes Park.