x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Gardiner pays back faith with a timely goal

The 1996 premier draft pick Michael Gardiner earns St Kilda four points against Geelong.

For a couple of minutes it looked as if both teams at the top of the ladder were going to go into round 15 with no losses, splitting the points for the AFL's match of the year so far. In the end it was St Kilda, the team that salvaged the somewhat scandalous career of West Coast's 1996 premier draft pick Michael Gardiner, to take four points from the gallant Geelong. And Gardiner, who had his Eagles contract suspended indefinitely for his form on and off the field in 2006, paid them back handsomely on Sunday in front of a record crowd at Etihad Stadium.

With a minute and 25 seconds left on the clock and scores tied, he did precisely what big blokes on a football field should do. The ruck-forward hurled his considerable weight into a pack some 15 metres from the goals, with eyes only for the ball, and held the grab. Then it was just a matter of Gardiner waiting for the stretcher-bearers to drive what was left of the Cats defender Harry Taylor, caught in the middle of the contest, from the field.

His fourth goal for the afternoon allowed his teammates to play keepings-off while the final seconds ran down. A classy finish to a classic game. The end of round 14 leaves four Victorian teams in the top four, with Collingwood beating Essendon by 35 points to grab fourth spot on percentage. The Bulldogs ripped apart last year's premier side Hawthorn to consolidate third spot, four points and 12 per cent between them and the Pies. The Dogs scored 14 goals before the Hawks kicked their first in the third term.

Next Friday night, the Pies and Dogs meet in what should be a ripper. pstafford@thenational.ae