At the conclusion of Adelaide’s Round 22 victory over the Western Bulldogs at Football Park, their players were congratulated on securing a double chance in the AFL finals. There was just one problem, as they would find out the next night, fourth spot had not been secured. While it would take a minor mathematical miracle, they would watch it wrenched from their grasp by St Kilda in the final home and away game of the season. The Saints almost doubling their previous greatest winning margin over Essendon to steal the double chance by 0.9 of a percent.
While the possibility was on offer to them, Nick Riewoldt told the AFL Record the following week that it hadn’t been a focus for the team pregame. “Not really. All we wanted to do was win, and we knew that Essendon had some really good young players” he told Dipper for the Out of Bounds feature. “We were playing good football, so we just wanted to continue that. But as the game went on, I kept looking at the scoreboard with the live ladder, and in the end we snuck in by under one per cent, which was a great feeling.
Their reticence to discuss it pre-game seemed well founded when it didn’t get off to the best of starts. Future Saint Paddy Ryder kicked the opening major of the game for the Bombers and, after answering goals from Adam Schneider and Stephen Milne, looked to have levelled the scores again after 13-minutes. Remarkably, despite a goal being awarded to the Bombers big man, it was stricken off moments later after intervention from the boundary umpire. To compound their fans despair, the Saints went coast to coast from the kick to score through Leigh Montagna.
While they dominated the contest, wayward kicking for goal was hampering their efforts. Nick Riewoldt the main offender with a pair of misses in the first quarter and five for the match. He would level his ledger though in the first term with goals either side of a Jason Johnson major for the Bombers. With the margin just 20 points at quarter time there was still a whole lot of work to do. Helping them in their efforts though was the defence keeping the Bombers to just two goals.
Despite dominating the second quarter and keeping the Bombers goalless, the lead was not as considerable as it should have been at the main break. Charlie Gardiner, Riewoldt, and Robert Eddy all kicked goals to help the margin out to 42-points. With these majors coming from 10 scoring shots, it was starting to appear as if the Saints would kick themselves out of a chance for fourth spot.
Needing to double the half-time margin and then some, the Saints jumped out of the blocks in the third quarter. Before many pundits had the chance to get back to their seats after buying their half-time refreshments, Stephen Milne added two goals to the tally. When Steven King added another after four minutes the margin was out to 10 goals. A long-range effort from Jason Gram restored this margin after Jobe Watson got one back for the home team. Fourth gamer Rhys Magin would kick another for the Bombers before Brendon Goddard and Milne, with his third for the quarter, again extended the Saints lead. Yet just as they seemed to be getting the task under control, Matthew Lloyd kicked his first for the night to raise serious questions about whether it was actually beyond the Saints reach.
With more mental arithmetic being attempted in the crowd than is ever seen at VCE exam time, the fourth quarter commenced with the Saints best chance seeming to hinge on keeping the Bombers scoreless. Jason Gram, with his second got the scoring under way after Brendon Goddard caused a turnover on centre wing. Gram would turn provider for the next after causing a turnover in the centre square and quickly moving the ball on to Robert Harvey. In game 380, Harvey kicked long to the square from where Milne would kick his fifth.
A Sam Gilbert intercept at half back would start a possession chain that would lead to a third goal for Jason Gram. When Milne kicked his sixth five minutes later, the percentage gap between St Kilda and Adelaide was infinitesimal. Far too close for those doing mental arithmetic to work out amidst all the excitement. Luckily for them when Milne kicked his seventh moments later, they need not perform any more sums in their head, the scoreboard told them what they needed to know. The Saints percentage was now better than Adelaide’s.
As exciting as the moment was, and it was greeted with an immense cheer, the job was far from complete. With the crowd and players alike knowing that an Essendon goal could bring it all undone the game inched towards the final siren. Adam Schneider’s second goal took the margin past 100 points and offered some breathing room before the final touch was delivered with a Nick Riewoldt goal after the siren.
Remarkably, after starting the round in seventh position they ended it in fourth. Where a week earlier their finals destiny was a sudden death contest interstate, they would now play for a place in the Preliminary Final with the luxury of the double chance. After winning eight of their last 10 games to put themselves in the position, Saints fans dared to dream what the next month what hold in store. After achieving the seemingly impossible, on this night, anything seemed possible.