Few games can genuinely claim to be a turning point in a club’s season, but early in 1997 St Kilda faced Collingwood at Waverley six days after the Saints had disintegrated in the heat of a Brisbane game and the coach appeared to be facing the sack.
The week started with a white-hot spotlight focusing on Stan Alves who offered to quit as coach at a meeting with his players. The heart to heart discussion had the desired effect as St Kilda rebounded in stunning fashion from the previous week’s disaster to knock off Collingwood by seven points in an incident packed day at Waverley.
Fuelled by the return of star Nicky Winmar who had been dropped a week earlier over disciplinary matters, St Kilda turned on an electric brand of football early in the day.
Then they squandered a 37-point lead and looked like losing in the final term, but kicked again. Peter Everitt, who had made an ordinary start to the season, kicked six goals and rejected West Coast forward Jason Heatley bagged five in his debut for his new club.
Heatley had come into the side as one of five changes, having scored 15 goals in the reserves’ opening two rounds.
The pulsating game was played before a crowd of 54,699 people and the physical encounter saw two players stretchered off. The opening of the game looked like an extension of the previous week as St Kilda conceded the first three goals.
Winmar began by giving away a 50-metre penalty and serving up an uncharacteristically sloppy pass. But by the end of the quarter he had nine possessions to his name and kicked a goal as well as having a hand in two others. He was on the way to a three vote Brownlow performance.
The game waxed and waned all day. By late in the second term St Kilda had built a healthy lead, but goals by Anthony Rocca and Nathan Buckley just before the long break kept the Magpies in touch then they unleashed five unanswered goals at the start of the third term.
That wasn’t the end of the drama and with a quarter of an hour left Collingwood led by 15 points. A 50-metre goal by Everitt was a boon to the Saints then from the next attack Winmar grabbed a loose ball and added another. Then Joel Smith took a gutsy mark running the same way as the ball and put the Saints in front.
Smith had languished in the reserves for the first two weeks of the season after playing 42 successive games following his debut, but his flair helped lift the Saints in the dying stages.
Looking back he admits that as a 19-year-old the machinations surrounding the coach were all above the heads of he and his young mates.
"A lot of people ask me about that time, but we were only 17, 18 and 19. When you are that young you are naïve to it all. You don’t know about the politics and the moving and the shaking. The senior players were more aware," he said.
"From Round 5 we were down the bottom of the ladder, but turned it around. Even these days when I catch up with Matty Lappin, Tony Brown and Aussie Jones we say 'do you remember those first couple of years?'.
"We just thought this was the greatest place in the world and turned up, played and thought how good is this. There were five of us living in the house together but that only lasted nine months."
ST KILDA 6.4 12.7 13.9 19.11 (125)
COLLINGWOOD 6.3 8.8 13.12 17.16 (118)
Winmar, Everitt, Heatley, Smith, Harvey, Shanahan
|B||Justin Peckett||Jamie Shanahan||Glen Coghlan|
|HB||Jason Daniels||Troy Gray||Matthew Young|
|C||Nicky Winmar||Nathan Burke||Austinn Jones|
|HF||Barry Hall||Stewart Loewe||Jason Cripps|
|F||Peter Everitt||Jason Heatley||Matthew Lappin|
|R||Brett Cook||Steven Sziller|
|INT||Luke Beveridge||Tony Brown||Joel Smith|