Will Minson gets a grip on Nick Riewoldt as the ball goes loose. Photo: Getty Images
WESTERN BULLDOGS 7.4 10.6 13.10 18.14 (122) ST KILDA 3.1 7.4 10.6 15.9 (99)
Goals: Western Bulldogs: J Stringer 4 A Cooney 3 S Crameri 3 J Macrae K Stevens L Picken M Bontempelli N Hrovat S Darley S Higgins T Campbell. St Kilda: J Gwilt 3 T Curren 2 A Schneider B Murdoch J Billings J Bruce J Newnes J Steven L Hayes M Weller N Riewoldt S Ross.
BEST Western Bulldogs: Cooney, Higgins, Stringer, Griffen, Crameri. St Kilda: Armitage, Gwilt, Steven, Ross, Montagna.
Injuries: St Kilda: J Billings (hamstring) J Bruce (shin).
Umpires: Matthew Leppard, David Harris, Craig Fleer.
Official Crowd: 30,095 at Etihad Stadium.
St Kilda had every reason to win. And a pretty important one not to.
Its champion Lenny Hayes deserved the result in his farewell home game. Yet if they won, they would climb off the bottom of the ladder and have no guarantee of getting back there to receive the prized No.1 draft pick that had in the past netted them Nick Riewoldt and Brendon Goddard.
AFL Round 20 St. Kilda v Western Bulldogs
Highlights of the match from Getty Images. Photo: Getty Images
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Gwilt (3.1), Curren (2.0), Riewoldt (1.1), Billings (1.0), Bruce (1.0), Hayes (1.0), Murdoch (1.0), Newnes (1.0), Ross (1.0), Schneider (1.0), Steven (1.0), Weller (1.0), Armitage (0.2), Stanley (0.2), Dempster (0.1)||Scorers||Stringer (4.1), Crameri (3.3), Cooney (3.0), Stevens (1.3), Bontempelli (1.1), Campbell (1.0), Darley (1.0), Higgins (1.0), Hrovat (1.0), Macrae (1.0), Picken (1.0), Dahlhaus (0.2), Hunter (0.1)|
In a team as deep into a rebuild as the Saints, the difference between No.1 and No. 2 could mean a generational leader.
So, what should they do? What would Lenny do?
Lenny Hayes would fight – and so that's what the Saints did.
The final scoreboard said the Dogs won by the four-goal margin they carried for nearly 95 per cent of the game.
But for that 5 per cent when it looked like the Saints would steal this match for their retiring great, this otherwise ho-hum battle between 14th and 18th was compelling viewing.
Walking into the ground there was certainly a sense that this was "Lenny's Day" and that the farewell game the Saints had planned for the 34-year-old might have the fairytale ending.
But Hayes, like the team, started slow. He had just one kick in the first half – a lace-out short pass to Riewoldt (who else?) and it seemed like all those "We love Lenny" T-shirts might be better kept as a souvenir of a career like few others, rather than one memorable day at Etihad Stadium.
But then a bit of luck fell his way. The umpire paid a holding-the-ball free kick that shouldn't have been awarded to anyone, but somehow ended up in the hands of you-know-who.
The crowd rose as Hayes lined up a set shot from 40 metres just before three-quarter-time that would bring the Saints to within striking distance.
He kicked it, because he is a big-occasion player and that's what big-occasion players do.
Then, early in the last quarter, another sign came that the kind of drama only our game can provide was about to unfold.
The man of the moment gathered a centre clearance and, as he has done perhaps better than any other player ever, lived up to his reputation as the "candy man" with a beautiful baulk and hit James Gwilt with a crisp short pass.
St Kilda never looked like winning this game. Yet the players fought on, seemingly for Hayes more than anything else, by kicking a flurry of goals at the end of the final quarter to close within 11 points with less than three minutes remaining.
It all happened so quickly. At one point, the rapid coast-to-coast ball movement that, at times, must have reminded Dogs supporters of the teams that challenged for flags under Rodney Eade, had put Brendan McCartney's team six goals up halfway through the final quarter. It was an unassailable position. Or so we thought.
The Saints kicked four straight goals from nowhere, the bounce of the ball seemingly on a remote control in the hands of Alan Richardson.
The last came from a snap from young gun Jack Billings that put St Kilda and Hayes within two kicks.
But in the end, it came down to the bounce of the ball – perhaps fittingly, as it did for Hayes in the 2009 grand final with Matthew Scarlett's toe poke and then a year later when the ball just would not sit for Stephen Milne in the dying stages of the 2010 grand final.
The ball landed near the Dogs' goal line, and had it taken the type of sharp turn that robbed Milne, it might well have landed into the hands of a St Kilda defender and the Saints would have been out with the chance to rush the ball on the turnover and cut the lead even further.
But instead it landed in the lap of Sam Darley, who waltzed in to land the killer blow.
Richardson had lost control of the remote.
It was no less than the Dogs deserved. But it would have been nice for Lenny.