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The Age

Gwilt edge has St Kilda set to shine

Date: 05/09/2005
Words: 501
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: Sport
Page: 2
YOU need a lot of things going your way to win a premiership. Form, injuries, the odd bit of luck, and even then, that little something out of left-field that will catch opponents off guard.

St Kilda has great recent form, has important players returning from injury and, on Saturday night, might just have found the sort of wildcard that could play a crucial role in the winning of just its second premiership.

His name is James Gwilt, and there can't have been too many better finals performances in the modern era by a player in his second game of AFL football than that by the 19-year-old, plucked out of Noble Park in the Southern Football League by St Kilda recruiting manager John Beveridge.

Gwilt didn't provide just a couple of fancy trimmings for the Saints. He played a critical role in their eight-point win, kicking two goals in the third quarter to give them their biggest lead of the evening. But his last quarter might have been even more valuable.

With every possession important, Gwilt not only picked up eight of his eventual 18 disposals after coming off the interchange bench as a late inclusion, but was continually under and inside the many packs in those desperate final moments - tapping the ball out, blocking opponents, and doing everything possible to ensure that his side came out on top.

St Kilda coach Grant Thomas would have been devastated to lose Matt Maguire before Saturday night's bounce, but Gwilt's performance has raised the question: can the Saints possibly afford to drop a player who has played such an integral part in their win? No, is the instinctive response.

The Crows' lack of respect, apparent in the space Adelaide allowed Gwilt for far too long, played right into the Saints' hands. As strong in the contest as he is obviously skilled, Gwilt could well be that one out of the box when it matters most - in the same way Port Adelaide's Toby Thurstans, Brisbane's Shaun Hart and Adelaide's five-goal hero Shane Ellen ultimately exerted their unexpected influence over their club's winning grand finals.

It's a similar dilemma to that faced by Geelong back in 1994, when youngsters Aaron Lord, Liam Pickering and Leigh Tudor were the low-profile late replacements for stars Mark Bairstow, Paul Couch and Garry Hocking in a memorable second semi-final win over hot favourite Carlton. Lord, close to best on ground that day, was unfortunate indeed to have to forfeit his spot the following week - the Cats thrashed in the grand final a fortnight later.

St Kilda has been daring often enough over the past two seasons, and it paid off again on Saturday night in the selection of a second-gamer who helped land the Saints one of their greatest finals wins. And so good was Gwilt that St Kilda simply can't afford to play safety-first on selection now.

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