Some games are destined to live up to expectations.
As the contenders were beginning to make their move during the 2009 season, there were two teams at the forefront.
It was the epitome of footy fate that St Kilda and Geelong would face each other while undefeated. The two sides became the only teams to not lose a game by the end of Round 4. Their Round 14 clash was already penciled in as one to watch and the two remarkably entered the game with 13 wins and zero losses.
Each week, Aflplayers.com.au will bring to light the perspective of someone at the heart of a memorable moment from a game played between two sides before their upcoming clash.
When July 5 rolled around, the Saints were the perennial side. Of their 13 wins, nine were by 28 points or more and 12 were by by double figured margins. With a percentage of 177.5, Ross Lyon’s men looked borderline unstoppable, but there was one more test that would confirm their status as 2009’s team to beat.
The Cats won their 13 games just as comfortably but weren’t as dominant. With a percentage of 149.7, their attack was the best in the competition but their defence was a bit leakier in comparison to their undefeated opposition.
Geelong were reeling from their shock 2008 Grand Final loss to the Hawks and were in the midst of their most successful era. Gary Ablett Jnr. was on his way to his first Brownlow Medal in 2009, while five players from each side went on to receive All-Australian selections.
Luke Ball, a St Kilda best and fairest winner and former captain, remembers a much-hyped build-up to their Sunday clash.
“Both sides were undefeated and it felt like there was a little bit of the rivalry that dialled back to around 2004 and 2005 when both teams were young sides on the up, so it did feel like a mini finals game and the crowd played a part in that,” Ball told Aflplayers.com.au.
“We were 13-0, so our confidence was pretty high going into the game. While it was only a game for four points, there were some bragging rights at stake to stay undefeated and get one up against an opponent we were pretty sure we would run into in September.”
“When there’s a full house at Etihad and the roof is shut, there’s almost this echoing ring where you really struggle to hear your teammates on the field,” Ball recalled.
The Saints started well, kicking the first five goals before the Cats registered their first. St Kilda led by 19 points at quarter-time and 17 points at the main break, but the Cats, as was the case for many matches during this golden era of theirs, were able to claw their way back into the contest and reduced the margin to 10 points at the final break.
The first two goals of the quarter went to the Saints, with Michael Gardiner kicking his third for the match in what was already turning out to be a best on ground performance.
Then the Cats struck, with five of the next six majors to tie the scores with Mathew Stokes steering through the leveler at the 24-minute mark. It was as close as Mark Thompson’s men had been to taking the lead since two minutes into the match.
“It all came down to those last two minutes,” Ball added.
“I remember getting the ball on the wing and having a bit of space. Knowing there wasn’t much time left, I wanted to get it as close to the goal line as possible to see if at the least we could force the ball through for a behind.
“Somehow ‘Gardy’ launched and plucked it, while unfortunately taking out Harry Taylor in the process. That meant he had to wait for a period of time while Taylor was taken from the ground but he kicked the goal and gave a nice celebration to a few of the Cats boys who were giving him a bit of lip at the time.”
“I’d be lying if I said I saw him drifting down into the forward 50 when I kicked the ball. Rooey had been in pretty good nick that so I knew if I kicked it into the vicinity he’s in he’d be a chance to snap it up.
“Fortunately for me the big fella drifted down and made the kick look a lot better than it actually was. At the time, you think ‘wow, what a great mark’, but when you see it on the replay you can see that he came from about 30 or 40 metres away.”
Gardiner received three Brownlow Medal votes for his efforts in his best game as a Saint and Ball said the former Eagle had been building towards a performance like the one that day after putting together his most consistent season since 2003.
The Saints would remain undefeated for a further five weeks and would lose only two matches for the entire home and away season and Ball said the game against the Cats was one that further instilled confidence within the group.
“Winning that game was positive reinforcement that we could beat the Cats and also that we could win a close game too, which is important. It was positive affirmation that we were on the right track but we knew we’d be running into them at some stage at the pointy end of the year.
“It was only Round 14 but it was a fantastic game to be a part of and it definitely lived up to the hype. It was the most memorable game I’ve played at Docklands.”
Unfortunately for Saints fans, after their side went into the 2009 finals series as the best team in the competition, they weren’t able to capitalise on Grand Final day and lost to Geelong by 12 points, but that’s a story for another day.