I know he hasn’t left yet, but a nice memory (and one I had forgotten)
Jobe Watson was never better than the day he single-handedly ended St Kilda’s unbeaten season
MOST will point to Jobe Watson’s 2012 Brownlow Medal-winning-then-losing season as the finest of his career.
But his arrival as an AFL superstar — and arguably the best five minutes of his 14 seasons in an Essendon guernsey — came three years earlier.
The setting was Etihad Stadium. The opponent, a St Kilda powerhouse that entered the round 20 clash just three wins away from completing the perfect minor round.
The Bombers were missing forward pillars Matthew Lloyd and Scott Lucas and entered the game outside the top eight.
Who knows if they took extra motivation into the game as the last team to come closest to a perfect season in 2000.
But with Watson playing like a man possessed in the midfield, Essendon put a Saints team that had famously edged Geelong in a battle of the unbeaten teams a few rounds earlier to the sword. For three quarters at least.
James Hird, then a commentator, had ominously declared, “I don’t think St Kilda can win if he kicks it,” seconds before Brent Prismall gave the Bombers a 41-point lead late in the third with a set shot goal.
But then the expected St Kilda resurgence came. And it came hard. Seven consecutive goals pulled Ross Lyon’s side within a point with four and a half minutes remaining on the clock.
Essendon appeared to have run its race. But Watson wasn’t finished.
He’d only have three touches in the remaining minutes — none that would lead to a goal — but each showed the traits that were the hallmarks of his game.
The first came at the ensuing centre bounce after Adam Schneider’s third major appeared to have set the Saints on a path to victory.
Watson dropped a hand down to smother Lenny Hayes’ attempted clearing kick before gathering the ball and sailing a handball 15m to Andrew Lovett in stride. Lovett mis-hit his running attempt from 50m but the point would prove crucial.
In the next phase, the Bombers forced a long high kick from Sam Gilbert out of the Saints’ defensive 50m as they looked to whittle time off the clock.
Andrew Welsh gathered the crumb but his handball to Watson was high and behind the then 24-year-old. As he’d been all day, Watson was up to the task.
He threw up his left mitt and grasped the ball before firing off a handball to ruckman Tom Bellchambers as Saints defender Zac Dawson delivered a flooring bump.
Again Watson’s work went unrewarded as Adam McPhee blazed away and kicked the ball long inside 50 back into the arms of Gilbert. But the seconds continued to wind down.
Watson was again required to get a teammate out of jail a minute later as inexperienced defender Michael Hurley, who would later be rewarded with a Rising Star nomination for his role in the triumph, sat a short pass out of the backline on Watson’s head.
In between Saints’ bookends Nick Riewoldt and Sam Fisher, Watson reached high above his head to bring the ball to ground and kept the footy in Essendon’s keeping with a quick give to McPhee.
Of course it would have all counted for nothing if Riewoldt had been accurate with his shot at goal after the siren. But it’s these moments that shouldn’t be forgotten as the retiring Bomber completes his career.
This was an exceptional footballer, capable of acts of immense skill and courage under the greatest pressure.
“Watson can take the biggest share of the credit,” The Age’s Martin Blake wrote in his summary of the game. “Treacle slow in the legs, he took years to convince even Essendon that he is worthy of a spot in the middle, and to find the level of fitness he needed. Yet yesterday it was St Kilda who made the mistake of not paying him enough respect; Luke Ball could not contain him and the Essendon midfielder’s 37 disposals was the game-high by 10 touches. More to the point, his 15 contested balls and four centre clearances set the tone for his team. He was easily best afield.”
Like most of Watson’s career — which has seen him lose four of five finals — the upset win didn’t lead to September success.
The Bombers were pumped by the Crows by 96 points but a month later Watson would be crowned his club’s best and fairest. A star had arrived.
With the dulcet tones of James Hird