After a disappointing 1910 season, the Saints turned to triple premiership player Eddie Drohan to help turn the club’s fortunes around in 1911. The owner of one of football’s greatest ever moustaches, complete with magnificently waxed ends, Drohan moved bayside with a bevy of new recruits at his disposal.
It was enough for some scribes to predict a sharp rise up the ladder for the club after its single victory on the way to the 1910 wooden spoon. Raggles in his ‘Football Gossip’ column in Punch the most bullish. ‘Eddy[sic] Drohan is now with St Kilda, and hopes with the materials at his disposal, to make the Saints game a long way more cheerful than last year’s burial at sea. Amongst their new players [Jack] Walker, from Beulah, should often be seen bounding from the centre down the avenue. [Sam] Mortimer, a crack Queensclifl player, [Reg] Gregson, [Alex] M’Kenzie (sic) and [Harold] Parker have already been joyfully hailed by the crowd, and altogether the Saints supporters can have full confidence in their heroes.’
It wasn’t surprising then that a big crowd flocked to the Junction Oval for the team’s first-round match against Geelong. The Argus described the scene to it’s readers the following Monday. “There was no lack of enthusiasm and excitement and onlookers at St. Kilda. The pretty ground, which has been considerably improved since last season, looked its best in the sunshine, and the 8000 spectators were treated to an invigorating game of football,” they wrote.
The big crowd was forced to wait to see their team take the field though, with the opening bounce delayed as a result of a late train out of Geelong preventing the Cats from arriving on time. When Gordon Dangerfield was finally able to lead the team out for the first time he did so with a number of first gamers behind him. Joe Stephens, Wally Graham, and Reg Gregson all made their VFL debuts this day while Percy Stainer played his first game for the club after transferring from the Tigers in the off-season. The Argus also mistakenly credited Bill O’Brien and Jack Walker with their first games, but with just four games between them they would have been fresh faces to many of the spectators in the grandstand.
It was an error-laden first quarter or, as The Age described it: ‘uninteresting from a footballing point of view, both sides being a little rough in handling the ball.’ The Argus described it as ‘mostly a scramble where the ruckmen of the visitors constantly beat their opponents.’ It meant that, while they might have turned up late to the ground, the Cats hit the ground full of running and took a seven-point lead into the main break.
Given Drohan spent the 1909 season as an umpire, we found The Age’s assessment of umpire Ernest Clark quite interesting. ‘Clark who umpired the match, was unnecessarily severe upon St. Kilda during the first quarter, penalising many slight breaches of the rule that were purely as a result of caginess,’ they declared.
With the exception of a lucky Geelong goal in the opening minutes of the term, that Len Martin kicked between Matt Outen’s legs, the second quarter was played almost entirely at St Kilda’s end. Defender Harry Lever would kick the Saints first goal after making a rare foray up forward, it would be the first of seven scored by the home team in a devastating display. Artie Thomas threaded one from an acute angle, Wels Eicke kicked the first of four for the afternoon after a sweeping play from half-back. Walker kicked his first goal for the club after a nice goal assist from Thomas, Tom Baird helped Eicke kick his second to give the Saints control of the contest. Eicke would add a third before the quarter was over, but only after Outen was able to get one of his own after being involved in the Cats freakish opener.
After being in total control at half-time, the Saints spent much of the third quarter hanging on for dear life. Gregson, with his first for the club, the only goal kicker for the term as the Cats peppered away at the other end. By the time the siren sounded for the final break, the visitors had drawn within three points but would rue their wastefulness having kicked 4.10 for the term.
With both sides out on their feet, the final quarter was an epic battle. The visitors pressed desperately for the go ahead goal but would be thwarted by staunch St Kilda defence. It would be Eicke who would kick the sealer after taking a strong mark late in the game. The final bell prompted emotional scenes in the grandstands. The Argus described the events. “St. Kilda supporters were jubilant at the victory. Hats, umbrellas, and handkerchiefs were waved around the ground, and men, women- and boys and girls cheered their loudest.”
Unfortunately, it would prove to be the highpoint of Drohan’s only season in charge of the team. The Saints would win just one more game for the year, against the wooden spoon bound University. He not be lost to football though, returning to umpiring in 1912 before spending many years in football administration.
For the Saints, while 1911 would prove to be a forgettable year, better times were not far away. Five players who took on the Cats this day at the Junction Oval, (Dangerfield, Eicke, Harrie Hattam, Lever, Bill Woodcock) would all be part of the club’s first Grand Final team two years later in 1913.