Father Time is a miserable, unsentimental, old fool!
He is not swayed by desire, he is not swayed by professionalism, nor is he swayed by the level of pain you are willing to endure. It is of no concern to him the esteem in which you are held or the single-minded focus you have on completing your mission. As he reminded us all yet again today, with the announcement of Nick Riewoldt’s intention to retire at season’s end, it matters not who you are, Father Time gets you in the end.
I don’t know why but I still remember clearly the first mark Nick Riewoldt took in St Kilda colours. Like 26,560 others I made my way to the venue then known as Colonial Stadium to see St Kilda’s Number 1 draft pick make his long awaited debut. It was Round 15, 2001 and the season had most definitely been every bit the ‘ride of our lives’ that Coach Malcolm Blight had promised Saints fans at the beginning of the season.
Much like the season as a whole, the Round 15 clash with the Crows was a roller-coaster for St Kilda. In the opening minute Jason Cripps nearly saw the Stadium roof blown off when he kicked the games opening goal with his first kick, in his first game back after a three year injury hiatus. From a St Kilda point of view there was not much else to cheer about that night, and there was no more than half the original crowd still in attendance when I relocated myself to a seat at ground level late in the match.
I have no real explanation as to why the mark stuck in my memory banks, I have not seen it again on replay but I would hazard the guess that it was not outwardly spectacular. Yet, in seats so close to the action that the smell of grass and sweat was overpowering and in a stadium so empty that the players exertions reverberated around it’s vast expanses, the action unfolded in front of me almost poetically. The flash of blonde hair and the fluidity of his motion was mesmerising, but perhaps most memorable was the timing with which he grasped the ball, so sweet that it made almost no sound at all.
It would prove to be his only mark of the night, in a sorry night for him and the team alike. His three-possession game would be the only time he would be coached by Malcolm Blight, with the two-times premiership coach sacked following the 97-point defeat. While his only mark on this night, it was the first of a career that would see him claim more than any other player since statisticians counted them.
I think the fact that this mark stood out is symbolic of the career that Riewoldt has produced. While his statistics are worthy of his admission to the Hall of Fame without question, the way he has accumulated these numbers is the reason he will live long in the hearts of St Kilda supporters.
Brave, professional and humble, from the moment he was drafted until the bitter end he has given Saints fans reason to dream of an end to their loooong Premiership drought. For the last 17-seasons he has done all that one man could do to bring this wait to an end, agonisingly close a number of times, his commitment, determination and relentlessness deserved better than to exit the game without its ultimate prize.
This season we began to see the toll that countless knocks and endless kilometres has taken on his body. A tireless and committed trainer, Riewoldt’s preparation and commitment to having his body in its best possible condition could never be faulted. Last year in an article for ESPN he gave the world a sneak peak into the lengths he would go to in ensuring this.
Despite suffering a knock to his knee that should have seen him leave the field, with the Saints down on rotations he decided to stay on the ground. It was a decision that caused a great deal of discomfort at games end, as you can see in his own photos above. The swelling was so great that his quad could not properly function, nor was he able to bend or straighten his leg. Below he details the extraordinary lengths he went to make himself available for the following round.
On the Monday, I had an MRI scan at a medical practice to ascertain the level of damage done, then had my knee drained. After I received some local anesthetic, a large syringe extracted fluid from the joint. Previously when I’ve had my knee drained, the fluid is yellowish from weeping inside the joint. But on this occasion (as you can see in the picture) it was a horrible-looking dark blue/red colour which suggested an acute type of injury. I know it’s not nice to look at but the feeling after that 140mls of fluid came out of the joint was one of instant relief.
Nick Riewoldt – ESPN, 2016.
It is because of this level of effort to overcome whatever roadblocks were put in front of him that many Saints fans believed he would find a way to drag his body into another season. The star Saint felt that way too, speaking at this morning’s press conference at Seaford, he told reporters that when thoughts of retirement came to him he implored himself “don’t be weak, don’t be weak, you’ve gotten yourself out of that many situations of adversity before that and this is no different.”
In the end though nobody, not even Nick Riewoldt, has enough fight to overcome Father Time. He, like the St Kilda supporters that he has captivated throughout the years, now come to the sad realisation that when the curtain closes on St Kilda’s 2017 season it will also be drawn on the glorious Riewoldt era.
Farewell, St Nick.