Geelong's Alf Gough
During the VFL’s first decade the two clubs which tended to struggle more than any others were Geelong and St Kilda. The team from Corio Oval did manage to finish second in the league’s inaugural season, 1897, but thereafter they tended to struggle, and their only two finals appearances, in 1901 and 1903, both ended at the first hurdle. St Kilda did not even enjoy the satisfaction of competing in the finals, and indeed in 1897, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1902, and 1904 they endured the indignity of finishing last.
All of this made the clubs’ clash in round eleven of the 1907 season somewhat unusual, if not unique. St Kilda, with 7 wins and 3 losses, was behind top side Carlton only on percentage, while Geelong, with a 5-5 win-loss record, was also well in the race for finals participation. The previous Saturday had seen both sides winning well, the Saints by 28 points against Essendon at East Melbourne, and Geelong by 49 points at home against Fitzroy.
The ground was in first rate condition, and there was scarcely any breeze. Indeed, conditions for football could scarcely have been bettered, either from the point of view of players or of spectators. The Geelong contingent, including the team, as was their wont, had hired a special train to transport them to the match, but as was often the case it ran late, forcing the players to change swiftly and hit the track without the benefit of a good rub-down. Even so, the start was delayed, and as a result the match ended in extremely poor light. (St Kilda used the unexpected free time to hold an impromptu, but nevertheless remarkably impressive, practice session.) It was scarcely surprising therefore that St Kilda had much the better of the opening term. The Saints surged straight into attack from the initial bounce and some neat interplay involving Vic Barwick, Jim Cowell and Jimmy Matthews culminated in the last-named registering a behind. Shortly afterwards Bill Stewart kicked the first goal of the match for St Kilda, and for much of the remainder of the term the ball remained in the home side’s attacking territory. The Saints’ second goal was kicked by Cowell with a brilliant running shot. Then, following a succession of missed opportunities, Bill Stewart again scored full points for the Saints by means of a superbly executed drop kick which rounded off a characteristically sprightly dash.
At the first change St Kilda led by 20 points, 3.5 (23) to Geelong’s 0.3 (3). The home side had enjoyed dominance in the ruck through Dave McNamara and George Morrissey, with Barwick roving. Generally speaking, the Saints were quicker to the ball than their opponents and they also used it better. Moreover, their slick use of handball frequently bamboozled the opposition.
Within minutes of the resumption Tom Sherry procured Geelong’s first six pointer, but the next quarter of an hour or so saw the Saints back in the driving seat. Fortunately for Geelong, however, St Kilda’s deft and incisive approach play was not coupled with accuracy in front of goal, and all they managed was a succesion of behinds. Finally, at the midway point of the quarter McNamara elicited two flags from the goal umpire thanks to an excellent place kick following an equally impressive high mark. A bare minute later Sherry kicked his and his team’s second major and when Henry Young added a third goal shortly afterwards it looked as though the Saints were going to be significantly short-changed for their quarter and a half of dominance. This impression was magnified just before the long break when, following a fine mark, Tom Hardiman goaled from point blank range to reduce the deficit to just 8 points. Hopes were therefore high of a closely fought second half.
Early in the third term the Saints did their best to reassert their dominance. A goal to Cumberland from a long kick was followed by a behind to Barwick from a free. This made the margin 15 points, but this was reduced by one when Young registered a behind for the visitors. The remainder of the term was evenly contested in terms of general play, but Geelong had greater reason to be satisfied because their kicking for goal was superior. At the final change a barce of goals from place kicks to Bill Eason and Hardiman had reduced St Kilda’s advantage to just 4 points. Scores were St Kilda 5.14 (44) to Geelong 6.4 (40).
Following the resumption of hostilities in the final quarter the Saints’ lead was quickly overhauled when Alf Gough, in heavy traffic, snapped truly. To the ire of the home fans Geelong continued to attack, and within a few minutes they had stretched their lead to 14 points following goals to Sherry, from a place kick, and Eason via a snap.
The remainder of the match was played in rapidly gathering darkness rendering much of the play invisible to the onlookers. However, from the superior vantage point of the press box it was apparent that the Saints enjoyed almost continuous superiority but only once, through the agency of McNamara, did they manage a goal. This, coupled with a smattering of minor scores, brought the home side to within 5 points at the finish. Final scores were Geelong 9.5 (59) defeated St Kilda 6.18 (54).
Despite the fact that they had won the match it was difficult to identify Geelong’s most noteworthy performers. Rover Jack Hassett had been solid for much of the match, but was less eye-catching than his direct opponent, Vic Barwick. Alf Gough had held his own in the ruck, and Henry “Tracker” Young, although probably not quite at his best, procured a fair number of telling possessions. Given their effectiveness in front of goal Geelong’s forwards, notably Sherry, Eason, Joe Slater and Hardiman, would also warrant a mention in dispatches.
Best for the Saints and probably the most impressive player on view was West Australian centreman Jack Wells, a player who had the happy knack of repeatedly being able to anticipate the arrival of the ball, aand to use it effectively once he had procured it. Others to shine included Dave McNamara, who was invincible in the air, both in the ruck and in general play, Bert Renfrey, Chris and Horrie Bant, and Jack Julian.
Both teams endured horror runs following this fixture, losing all 3 of their respective remaining games for the season. Nevertheless, St Kilda still managed to sneak into the finals - for the first time in the club’s history - in fourth place with 7 wins and 7 losses, and a substantially superior percentage to fifth placed Melbourne (who also had a 7-7 record). Geelong came sixth, and would not again contest the finals until 1912. (In fact, they would finish a distant last in 1908.)
The principal sources for the above account were “The Australasian” 20/7/07 page 23, “The Argus” 15/7/07 page 6, and the “Geelong Advertiser” 15/7/07 page 4.
Henry "Tracker" Young (Geelong)
Geelong on Song - VFL round 11, Saturday 13th July 1907: St Kilda versus Geelong at the Junction Oval
St Kilda's Jim Cowell
Jack Wells (St Kilda)