An energetic and committed St Kilda has stayed the course to force a drawn game against Geelong in Round 21. While players say they never enjoy a tied game, this one had enormous ramifications with the Cats’ Finals chances dealt a heavy blow. For American fans, the most newsworthy facet of the game was the impressive debut of James Holmes from Chicago and the first American-born and raised AFL player. (Read more about Holmes at http://www.afana.com/drupal5/news/2015/08/21/chicago_native_set_debut_saints-7811).
In an entertaining first quarter, St Kilda threw down the gauntlet and ran all over Geelong for the first ten minutes, kicking the first four goals before the Cats could take a breath. Darren Minchington was a star with two while Josh Bruce and Tim Membrey piped in with opportunistic goals. Jason Holmes was making his presence felt with his agility and athleticism at the ruck taps. Every time he soared over the top of opposition ruck man Nathan Vardy (a good news story himself, returning after an injury-riddled few years at the Cats), fans cheered loudly in acknowledgement. The Cats were well beaten in contested possession early and seemed rattled by the Saints’ intensity and high pressure football. Geelong players finally rallied and played kick to kick for a few minutes, controlling the ball and settling their jangled nerves. A free kick and goal to Vardy broke the drought and minutes later the old firm of Steve Johnson, Harry Taylor and Tom Hawkins combined to produce another goal to reduce the Saints’ lead. Bruce marked and kicked a tidy goal for the Saints but Cam Guthrie and Steven Motlop were leading the way for the Cats and late goals to Hawkins, Andrew Mackie and Taylor (after the quarter time siren) saw the Cats only three points in arrears after the most disastrous of starts.
Saint Tom Hickey made a fast start to the second term when he marked in the goal square and scored a much-needed goal. While the Cats were still prone to fumbling and poor decision making under pressure, they broke through when Hawkins spotted Vardy sprinting off the interchange bench towards goal. Vardy barely broke step when he slammed the football through the goal posts and scores were close again. Although Bruce and Gilbert goaled for the Saints, Johnson bagged two and Hawkins one to give the Cats a one point lead at half time.
Shane Savage scored the first goal of the second half and it was St Kilda in the lead. A great tackle by Holmes got the fans excited before the brilliance of Johnson struck again as he slotted another two goals. A Cory Gregson major gave Geelong their biggest lead of the game and a 13 point buffer and it looked like this might be the turning point. Not for the Saints though as Nick Riewoldt - who had run himself ragged all game - found himself miraculously unattended in the forward area and pounced on the chance to goal. Hickey was the recipient of a free kick and goaled to bring the scores to level pegging. A late goal to Guthrie put Geelong in the lead by a goal at the final break.
With the Cats needing this win to keep their Finals’ campaign alive, a tense and tough last quarter was expected and it did not disappoint. Minchington and Gilbert kicked massive goals for the Saints and they took the lead. Motlop was on fire and kicked one goal before storming towards goal and kicking another. Controversially the second goal was disallowed as the umpire declared he had run too far without bouncing the ball. A Jimmy Bartel kick out from the back line went straight into the arms of Saint Jack Newnes and he kicked a fantastic goal to give St Kilda a five point lead. The Cats attacked ferociously only to see Saints' captain Riewoldt take a saving mark in defense. At the other end it was Cats’ veteran Johnson holding down the fort and taking the saving grab. Holmes was glued to his opponent Vardy at every ruck and field contest as the two biggest men on the ground tried their hearts out to give their team an advantage in the dying minutes. Geelong substitute Nakia Cockatoo kicked an outstanding goal with only two and a half minutes remaining to put the Cats out by five points. With 45 seconds to go the ball was deep in St Kilda’s forward zone and Savage was able to scramble a shot on goal which he missed. However the resultant point was enough to draw the game and devastate Geelong fans whose road to Finals’ glory is now all but over.
It was a stunning performance by St Kilda who have battled hard all year and been very competitive in spite of their youth and inexperience. They were in the game all day and did not deserve to be beaten. The arrival of Holmes is a high point for the Saints going forward. He finished the game with seven disposals (2 kicks, 5 handballs, one mark, three tackles and 34 ruck hit outs) - 14 more than his opponent Vardy -a very creditable first performance. There is much for fans to look forward to as he learns his craft.
Geelong will rue their missed opportunity and perhaps their mindset was not quite right coming in to what was predicted to be an easy game for them. They will miss Finals unless a miracle occurs and a team higher on the Ladder has a spectacular fall from grace in the last two rounds. They face Collingwood at the MCG in Round 22 and St Kilda will meet Sydney at Etihad Stadium.
Scoreboard St Kilda: 5.4 8.7 9.2 14.13 (97) Geelong: 5.1 9.2 13.4 15.7 (97) Best players St Kilda: Steven, Gilbert, Bruce, Minchington, Riewoldt, Ross Geelong: Guthrie, Motlop, Johnson, Taylor, HawkinsSource: http://www.afl.com.au/stats#stats-player-stats
Article last changed on Monday, August 24, 2015 - 5:22 PM EDT