Saints still sorting things out four years after last win over Collingwood

Last time St Kilda beat Collingwood was an occasion remembered far more for an injury and an altercation between a coach and a player than the actual result.

On a dramatic Friday evening in April four years ago, the Saints lost their inspirational skipper Nick Riewoldt for the next half a season with a hamstring tendon torn from the bone.

Before that happened, at the quarter-time huddle, St Kilda forward Stephen Milne and Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse had a fiery exchange which saw the Magpie boss fined $7500 by the AFL.

Almost lost in the wash was just how effectively the then Ross Lyon-coached Saints dealt with the Pies’ supposed attacking threat. In a dour scrap, the Pies led at half-time with just four goals on the board. They’d end up beaten by 28 points, still with just four goals on the board, St Kilda’s manic defensive pressure rendering them goalless for an entire half.

The two teams would go on to meet in an epic grand final draw, Collingwood winning the replay. And from that moment, their paths would diverge starkly. Well, to a point, anyway.

Collingwood has played off in another grand final since then, as well as in another two finals campaigns. St Kilda limped into the 2011 finals, was immediately dispatched, and in the subsequent two seasons finished ninth and 16th. Since that round four game in 2010, besides the grand final tie, they’ve met six times, the Magpies winning every one of them.

And yet, some things haven’t changed much. Of the line-ups that met that April evening, the Pies still have 10 players on their books, and the Saints even more with 11. The difference is the value each group is to their respective clubs not only now, but over the next couple of years.

The Magpies who played in that 2010 game were Luke Ball, Dayne Beams, Travis Cloke, Brent Macaffer, Nick Maxwell, Heritier Lumumba, Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom, Dane Swan and Alan Toovey. All are pivotal parts of the Collingwood machinery still.

Six of that group finished in the best and fairest top 10 last year. Of the rest, Beams and Toovey, who both missed most of last season through serious injury, remain a pivotal on-baller and running defender respectively, Ball’s midfield grunt is still important and former skipper Maxwell has had a renaissance.

St Kilda’s contingent from that game still on the list reads: David Armitage, Sam Fisher, Jarryn Geary, Sam Gilbert, James Gwilt, Lenny Hayes, Clint Jones, Leigh Montagna, Farren Ray, Nick Riewoldt and Adam Schneider.

Riewoldt, Montagna and Hayes have been great again this year, but while the first two have one and two years respectively left on contracts, Hayes is more likely than not to hang up the boots.

Armitage and Geary, meanwhile, are part of a new generation leadership group, while Ray, 28, is playing some of the best football of his career after looking shot a couple of seasons back.

Which leaves Fisher, Gilbert, Jones, Gwilt and Schneider in the “big decisions to make” category for coach Alan Richardson and list manager Chris Pelchen.

Fisher is about to turn 32, missed the second half of last year with a foot injury, and most of this season with hamstring injuries. He hasn’t played at senior level since round 10 of 2013. Gilbert is still only 27, but missed most of 2013 with a knee injury and has played only three games this campaign.

Jones has been in the mix but has been effectively replaced already by the likes of Tom Curren and Maverick Weller as a run-with player. Gwilt, now also injured, has been struggling to keep up with stronger and more mobile forwards, and Schneider, now 30, has managed through injury just 17 games in two-and-a-half-years.

St Kilda has already used 35 players this season, second only to GWS, and will churn through more yet before the season is done.

And the fact the Saints have even more players left from that win over Collingwood back in early 2010 than do the Pies, given each club’s respective standing in the pecking order now, merely confirms the necessity of doing so.

This story Saints still sorting things out four years after last win over Collingwood first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.