On a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon at the MCG, St Kilda bid farewell to season 2017 and to one of its greatest champions. A season that at times promised so much quietly petered out, and Nick Riewoldt’s career that reached such lofty heights ended with a 41-point defeat to Richmond.
Farewell, St. Nick
In a lot of ways the Saints two games with the Tigers seven weeks apart provide perfect microcosm of season 2017. In round 16, on the back of a best on field performance from Reiwoldt, the Saints provided their most withering performance of the season in a comprehensive 61-point victory. At 9 & 6, and with their champion in rare form, it seemed reasonable to imagine a deep finals run and a few more years of Riewoldt brilliance. Unfortunately it was a false dawn and St Kilda fans now reconcile themselves with the fact that both dreams are over. At times the Saints were too hot for even the best teams to handle then, at others, they were seemingly incapable of even competing with them at all.
In the two games against the Tigers we were treated to Riewoldt’s last great performance, in Round 16, and in Round 23 his final ever outing in the Red, Black and White. The final match saw the last of his 336 games, the second most in the history of the St Kilda Football Club, the last of his 718 goals, again the third most in the history of the club, and the last of his AFL Record 2944 marks. Impressive numbers, but his place in the hearts of Saints fans was due to more than the sum of his stats, from the moment he walked in the door at the St Kilda Football Club he gave Saints fans a reason to believe.
Recruited to the club amidst the fan fare of Malcolm Blight’s arrival as coach, his first season was played under the club motto ‘the ride of your life’. The reference a nod to what Malcolm Blight promised to deliver as Saints coach, it inadvertently predicted what a young man from the Gold Coast would provide the club’s fans over the next 17 seasons.
Nick has three primary qualities when meshed together provide an outstanding sportsperson.
Firstly he is a sponge for knowledge, information and development – he wants to get better, he wants to be the best he can be.
Secondly he is incredibly driven – hates failure and lack of effort.
Thirdly he is the pro’s pro and leaves nothing to chance.
When you have a very good learner, who is motivated to succeed and prepares themselves in an “elite” manner, you have a superstar.
Grant Thomas – Herald Sun July 31, 2017.
Poised, relentless and brave, St Kilda teams walked taller Riewoldt amongst them. A once in a generation player, his efforts gave hope to Saints fans that their long awaited second premiership was not far away. He never once shied away from this unspoken responsibility to bear this heavy expectation, giving every ounce of effort he could until the very end to achieve the ultimate prize. In the end he wasn’t able to deliver them their dream, but he went ever so painfully close.
This current group will need to work on their resilience if they are to take the club further than Riewoldt was able to. Entering the clash against the Tigers an unlikely finalist but still with the slightest of mathematical hope, the Saints had no answer to the pressure they were put under and wilted under it’s glare. Winning the ball at the contest and in clearances the Saints use of the ball was diabolical, with their disposal efficiency in the low 60%’s in the first quarter.
With the game effectively lost at half time, much like they did against the Demons a fortnight ago, the Saints rallied in the third quarter to give themselves the faintest of hope. Finally able to string possessions together St Kilda effectively camped themselves in their forward half throughout the third quarter. A trio of Jacks; Steele, Billings and Sinclair, were at the heart of most of what St Kilda created in this term. In what has been the story of the season, these efforts were undone in large part by wastefulness in front of goal. Josh Bruce and Koby Stevens both missed gettable chances but Jack Lonie will be the most haunted of the Saints, not just missing from 30 metres out but unable to make the distance.
Billy Longer produced another lion-hearted display, the much maligned ruckman has really grown into the role as the season progressed. Against the Tigers he toiled manfully, to shade Toby Nankervis in the ruck and getting on the scoreboard too with a second quarter goal. After being unable to crack into the team at all during 2016, Longer has well and truly earned his position as number one ruckman with his efforts this season.
Jade Gresham was an ever present danger for the Richmond backline. On this afternoon against the Tigers he kicked the bag he has threatened too all season. An incredibly skilful player, in his short time in the AFL he has made the impossible look simple. With players as highly skilled as Gresham it can be easy to forget he has only just completed his second AFL season. It is perhaps because of this undoubted class that he has caused some frustration amongst Saints fans as he has sometimes made the simple look difficult. While unlikely, here’s hoping that his five goals serves as to reassure Saints fans about where he is headed and help quell the frustrations of those in the outer.
Jake Carlisle was again figuratively and literally a huge presence in the St Kilda defensive setup. He is one of the best readers of the ball in the competition, and as he has all season he continually broke up Richmond attacking thrusts. While his strength and marking are well known, less heralded are his footy smarts and exquisite kicking skills. Both were highlighted in a passage of play early in the first quarter. A hurried kick by the Tigers from their defensive fifty was sent towards Jakob Townsend and Carlisle. Reading the flight better than his opponent, Carlisle was able to bring the ball to ground despite heavy contact from Townsend. Recovering first, Carlisle retrieved the ball near the boundary on the outer side wing and then handballed the Sherrin into the advancing Townsend’s feet to draw an out of bounds on the full free kick. Having earned the free kick he didn’t waste it, nailing Luke Dunstan perfectly for a shot at goal 35 metres out on a slight angle. Unfortunately, the pair of wonderful efforts from Carlisle resulted only in a behind as Dunstan drove his shot into the woodwork.
“We just weren’t able to cope with Richmond’s pressure,” St Kilda coach Alan Richardson said.
“That’s as much pressure as we’ve been under for a long time (and) I thought they were outstanding early … our inability compared to Richmond’s at the coalface to be really strong and aggressive (was telling).
“The third quarter was positive and we were able to flip that a bit. I thought we hunted much more aggressively. (But) their better players probably had too big an influence on the game.”
Alan Richardson – Post Game
At the end of the day the Saints best was good enough to cause Richmond real trouble, but they were unable to produce it for long enough. This is pretty much true of the season as a whole. Having defeated two teams in the top four during the season, the Saints best was certainly good enough, unfortunately an inability to reliably produce it meant that too often they fell short in the season’s big moments. If they are to end the club’s long finals drought in 2018 it is imperative they discover the magical formula for consistency.
RICHMOND 4.1 11.5 12.7 19.8 (122)
ST KILDA 1.2 4.3 9.9 12.9 (81)
Richmond: Townsend 5, Riewoldt 3, Grigg 3, Prestia 2, Martin 2, Butler 2, Graham, Cotchin
St Kilda: Gresham 5, Billings 2, Membrey 2, Bruce, Riewoldt, Longer
Richmond: Martin, Grigg, Prestia, Cotchin, Townsend, Vlastuin, Nankervis, Houli
St Kilda: Steele, Gresham, Billings, Sinclair, Ross, Dunstan
St Kilda: Geary (concussion)
Umpires: Donlon, Nicholls, Hosking
Official crowd: 69,104 at the MCG