It was a match that turned out to be a crucial turning point in the journey of a young side.

St Kilda came into the second round of 2004 in tip-top form after winning the pre-season competition Grand Final against Geelong, then knocking over the Cats again in the opening round.

Essendon had hammered St Kilda physically and on the scoreboard in the previous four meetings with winning margins of 86, 42, 99 and 68 points, and even before the ball was bounced, it was clear the match would be a spiteful affair.

Mark Johnson and Stephen Milne were entangled, and when Aaron Hamill and Essendon’s Adam McPhee quickly intervened, it sparked a full-blooded melee.

At one stage there were three different wrestling battles at the same time. 

Aaron Hamill and Adam McPhee lock horns. Photo: AFL Photos.

The plan to bully St Kilda out of the game seemed to be working with the first two goals by James Hird giving them an early lead.

But as the match wore on, the rough stuff became less of an issue and the more composed Saints took charge. Leading the way were Lenny Hayes and Hamill, who was magnificent across half forward.

A savage hip and shoulder by Mark Johnson on Nick Riewoldt off the ball came under video scrutiny, and Essendon stars Matthew Lloyd and James Hird were both involved in heavy incidents.

If not for wayward kicking by Riewoldt and Fraser Gehrig, the Saints could have wrapped up the game by half-time.

Saints and Bombers come to blows. Photo: AFL Photos.

With four goals, Scott Lucas kept the Bombers in the race and it wasn’t until rapid-fire goals by Riewoldt, Hamill and Gehrig midway through the final term that the result was settled. In the end, the Saints ran out winners by 34 points.

Luke Ball was one of the young guns who excelled with 22 disposals. He remembers the game clearly.

“That was my second year and in the pre-season that year we worked hard in the gym to build up (physical strength) to match it with sides like Brisbane and Essendon who were very strong at the contest,” Ball said.

“I know I put on eight or nine kilos so I would be more physically prepared for what was coming.

“It was a point in time when we were a young team and Essendon had those strong bodies like the Johnsons.”

Luke Ball pumps the ball down the line. Ball played 142 matches for the Saints before moving to Collingwood in 2010. Photo: AFL Photos.

Ball says that seasoned players like Hamill and Andrew Thompson could match everything that was thrown at them and that gave confidence to younger teammates.

“We had brought in blokes like Fraser Gehrig and Aaron Hamill, but it was also lower profile people like Brett Voss who made a big difference. Essendon tested us out early in that game.”

The Saints walked away from the game with confidence that they could match the more established teams and built so much momentum that they won the first 10 matches and set up a return to the finals after five seasons on the outer.  

ST KILDA  3.5  5.10  7.15  13.16 (94)
ESSENDON  2.3 3.5  5.9   8.12 (60)

Gehrig 3, Peckett 2, Hamill 2, Clarke 2, Riewoldt 2, Thompson, Voss

Hamill, Riewoldt, Hayes, Ball, Maguire, Harvey, Koschitzke