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The Sydney Morning Herald

SAINTS PROVE A POINT IN WAR OF WORDS

Date: 08/06/1992
Words: 802
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 42
MELBOURNE: An old-fashioned fairytale-cum-morality play unfolded before a packed house at the Melbourne Cricket Ground yesterday. Eventually, the good guys won-just-but not before a nerve-tingling final 15 minutes which suggested some involvement from Agatha Christie.

Collingwood, appropriately enough, wore black-initially just their shorts, socks and half of their guernseys-but later the rest of their bodies, the result of the sustained trench warfare on the centre wicket area and in its Merri Creek soil.

Their opponents, St Kilda, have Aboriginal players-Nicky Winmar, Dale Kickett and Gilbert McAdam-in their team, West Australians all and supremely talented.

Collingwood captain Tony Shaw went on the record last year to say that he was not above using racial insults to distract opponents and help his team. Shaw is many things: a leader, a trier and a winner; a man with a chronic back injury and no obvious physical talents who has risen above it all-or most of it.

As the teams left the ground at half-time, with St Kilda leading by two goals, it appears he kept talking. The Saints' Stewart Loewe asked him to desist, as it were. Shaw didn't, and one thing led to another.

The brawl that followed saw 34 of the 36 players on the ground involved. Order, of sorts, was eventually restored with both teams heading to their dressing-rooms under the Great Southern Stand. McAdam, one of the Saints' best in the first half, had to be ushered away from the Collingwood players' race by coach Ken Sheldon.

In their absence, the chant began: "Collingwood ... Collingwood ... Collingwood."

There have been grand finals of recent years that have been played and watched with less intensity than this particular game.

For all that, it would be unfortunate if this match is to be remembered only for those few minutes. What followed was hardly the stuff of individual highlights, but more of a sustained chorus in the way every player from both teams rose to the expectations of the 80,000-strong crowd at the game, and then somehow managed to exceed them.

The lasting impression of an unforgettable contest will not be of Craig Devonport gambling and winning all with the snapped left foot goal that put St Kilda back in front for the last time, 20 minutes and 20 seconds into the last quarter, but the sight of his teammate Russell Morris fumbling an impossibly heavy, slippery ball, and then scrambling after it on hands and knees, trying somehow to keep control of it or at least keep it away from the opposition in the last minute of the game. The siren sounded with the Saints in attack. They won by a point, 10-17 (77) to 11-10 (76).

Black and white are undoubtedly the most appropriate colours for the 'Pies, whose very existence fuels strong emotions. Typical was the comment, from an Essendon supporter, heard above the uproar after the siren: "I love it when Collingwood gets done."

An expatriate Sydneysider took all this in and laughed. They just don't understand up there.

Because St Kilda and Collingwood are traditional rivals-an enmity that goes back to the 1966 grand final, which the Saints also won by a point-anything else in Melbourne, especially a match at Waverley between Hawthorn and Adelaide, was always going to be an afterthought.

By the numbers, it probably was, with barely 21,000 venturing out to VFL Park. What they saw was no less than that which was savoured at the MCG, with the Hawks, the reigning premiers and 1-10 favourites in this match, upset by a point by the Crows, 15-13 (103) to 15-12 (102).

After trailing for most of the day, Adelaide closed to within five points at the start of time-on in the last quarter, and then hit the front three minutes later. The ball was on the Hawthorn forward line for the last 90 seconds of the match; that the Hawks made nothing of this opportunity speaks volumes for how far they've slipped in the past nine days.

 
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