If there was ever a timely week for Jack Hayes to come back from injury, this was the one.
A day after the Saints lost Max King for the season with another shoulder injury and Zaine Cordy for at least 12 days through concussion, the SSP-listed sensation from last season returned to the fray for Sandringham in what was his first competitive hit-out in over a year.
Hayes (14 disposals, six tackles, four marks) accompanied Hunter Clark (26 disposals, four rebound-50s, four inside-50s)and Category B Rookie Angus McLennan (10 disposals, three rebound-50s) who similarly made their returns from respective knee and back injuries on Sunday afternoon, however it wasn’t enough to get over Casey in the 8.11 (59) to 13.15 (93) result at Wilson Storage Trevor Barker Beach Oval.
Look who’s back 😍— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) July 9, 2023
Jack Hayes played his first game in over a year today in the VFL! pic.twitter.com/DtIRb3MQO5
Although the Demons’ consistent three-goal buffer had them ahead for all of the afternoon’s proceedings - built off Josh Schache’s three-goal opening term before being quelled by Oscar Adams - the Zebras never looked out of it. But unlike the visitors who cashed in with momentum on-side, they were unable to fully convert their ascendancy onto the scoreboard.
Sandringham dominated extended periods of the second term, yet only had 1.4 to show for it before Casey responded with two goals in three minutes through Jacob van Rooyen and James Harmes to re-establish their lead. It was much the same for the third, with the 10-minute stalemate interrupted by three straight Casey majors towards the quarter’s latter stages.
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Campbell, Clark and Jack Bytel (30 disposals, 10 tackles) pushed their side to a +11 advantage at clearances as Tom Highmore (24 disposals, eight rebound-50s) and Ben Paton (21 disposals, seven tackles) acted as the glue of the back half, however the Demons, led by James Harmes (27 disposals, one goal) and Adam Tomlinson (27 disposals, nine marks) proved too strong.
Rolling with four recognised ruckmen in Hayes, Tom Campbell, Max Heath and Isaac Keeler, the Zebras were forced to spread their tall stocks across the ground. Campbell took the bulk of centre bounces to record a momentum-shifting 25 disposals, 12 clearances and 39 hit-outs to his name, Heath pushed into either end of the ground to finish with three majors, while Hayes took some stoppages through the middle with Keeler parked in the forward-50.
The 198cm Keeler’s deceptively agile skills were on full display with a jaw-dropping candy-sell and checkside finish to open the Zebras’ account, while Jack Peris also converted early following his two weeks as an emergency for St Kilda’s senior side.
Olli Hotton finished the game as a high half-forward with 13 disposals and a major in the last term, James Van Es returned to defence after spending last week as a full forward in order to fill last week’s void, while Tyson Milne and Darby Hipwell were sturdy in their respective domains.
Sandringham will have another bye allocated for this weekend, before coming up against Collingwood at the AIA Centre on Sunday 23 July.
SANDRINGHAM 2.0 3.4 4.7 8.11 (59)
CASEY 4.6 6.8 9.13 13.15 (93)
Sandringham: Heath 3, Keeler, Peris, Hotton, Hipwell
Casey: Schache 4, Moniz-Wakefield 2, Laurie 2, Edwards 2, White, Harmes, van Rooyen
Sandringham: Campbell, Clark, Bytel, Heath, Highmore, Paton, Hayes
Casey: Harms, Tomlinson, Freeman, Dunstan, Schache, Laurie