Sydney people like to take pot-shots at Melbourne about our weather. But when it rains in Sydney, it really rains.
The lead-up to this 2006 game was a week of almost incessant rain and during this Saturday night it only stopped for a brief 15-minute period.
For a St Kilda side which had been criticised for being unable to play outside the sealed confines of Telstra Dome, this game against the reigning Premiers on their home turf was considered to be a huge challenge as the Saints needed a win to hold on to a place in the eight.
The wettest conditions of the season forced a change of style upon the Saints, whose displays in recent weeks had been tarnished by indecisive short passing. By slamming the ball long into attack, they looked a far more menacing unit.
Sydney apparently believed that St Kilda’s forward line was too predictable, so the Saints used a different forward set-up with Fraser Gehrig starting further upfield than usual. It got the Saints away to a flying start to set up the eventual success.
Noted mud-runner Mark McGough was added to the Saints side in the hope that he could replicate some of his wet weather displays in Collingwood colours and it was McGough who found first-game ruckman Michael Rix with a good pass three minutes into the game. Despite the scepticism of commentator Luke Darcy – “I don’t like his chances from here” – Rix slotted the slippery ball through the big sticks from 30 metres on the angle with his first kick at League level.
From that moment St Kilda would lead all night, but in the final term had to hang on desperately as Sydney hammered away continually.
Apart from the slushy midfield area the ground stood up well, but the constant rain made life difficult. Overall, St Kilda adapted better than Sydney, which still tried to use pinpoint passing. No Swans were able to consistently emulate the accuracy of Amon Buchanan and it proved costly. By early in the second term, St Kilda held a 20-point advantage, but thanks to the cleverness of Swan small forward Adam Schneider, who produced three brilliant goals, Sydney stayed in touch.
The Swans staged their customary barnstorming finish, bombarding the goals with all manner of shots and at one stage had 16 forward-50 entries to St Kilda’s four in the final term.
Schneider’s third goal came at the 29-minute mark of the last term to cut the gap to two points, but due to Luke Ball being stretchered off with concussion, the game would still have five minutes to play. Ball had been accidentally knocked out by his future brother-in-law Matt Maguire, who says Luke reckons it was the cleanest hit he ever copped.
The Saints held firm and Nick Riewoldt produced a mark in defence that resembled his famous running-with-the-ball grab a couple of years earlier on the same ground.
Another hero of the game was Maguire, who completely silenced former teammate Barry Hall, earning a Brownlow vote for his efforts. At their previous meeting in the 2005 preliminary final, Hall’s clash with Maguire behind play had been one of the year’s biggest stories.
"It hurt a lot (losing the 2005 preliminary final) more so than getting winded for a couple of minutes," Maguire recalled.
"And then after the game I had my character questioned by Robert Walls in terms of staying down and playing for a free kick and you had people on the street saying I was weak.
"I was definitely up for it that night. In the next game Hally never said anything about it. At one stage he gave me a whack and I gave him one back.
"I relished the battles with Hally and I reckon in the times we played against each other we probably squared it.
"They had a very potent forward line with Micky O’Loughlin, and his goose-step, and Maxie Hudghton had to mind him."
Despite the conditions, the match was memorable for its ferocity and old-fashioned desperation.
Most importantly it signalled a turnaround in the Saints’ season as they lost only three of the next nine games and reached the finals.
SYDNEY 0.1 3.3 5.5 7.8 (50)
ST KILDA 2.3 5.5 7.6 7.10 (52)
Riewoldt, Maguire, Harvey, S.Fisher, Voss
Gehrig 3, Blake, Goddard, Rix, Montagna
|B||Steven Baker||Max Hudghton||Jason Blake|
|HB||Sam Fisher||Matt Maguire||Jason Gram|
|C||Leigh Fisher||Robert Harvey||Nick Dal Santo|
|HF||Leigh Montagna||Nick Riewoldt||Troy Schwarze|
|F||Brendon Goddard||Fraser Gehrig||Stephen Milne|
|R||Michael Rix||Mark McGough|
|INT||Cain Ackland||Aaron Fiora||Justin Peckett|