Bottle green and gold
The supporters of St Marys Football Club in Darwin must be among the most bored sporting aficionados in the world. Over the past three decades in particular they have watched their team achieve a level of supremacy arguably unrivalled by any senior football club anywhere in Australia.
Indeed the Saints were a power in the NTFL almost from the start. Formed in 1952 in order to enable Tiwi Islanders employed by the Armed Services in Darwin to play regular organised football the side won a premiership in only its third season in the competition in 1954/55. Another premiership came the following year and further back to back flags were gained in 1958/59 and 1959/60, making St Marys the most successful NTFL side of the 1950s.
Comparatively, the next decade proved slightly less prolific, with ‘only’ three premierships from nine grand final appearances.
Three further flags were won in the 1970s but the decade ended with what, by the Saints’ standards, was almost a calamity: in 1979/80 the club finished fifth to miss the major round for the first time in its history.
If the club had been successful so far its achievements in the ‘80s and ‘90s were truly breathtaking. After finishing third in 1980/81 and runners-up in each of the next two seasons the Saints embarked on a record-breaking sequence of five successive premierships between 1983/84 and 1987/88. After a temporary slump to third in 1988/89 there was a further run of three flags in a row followed by a rare losing grand final and then a sequence of another four consecutive premierships. Some of St Marys’ grand final victories have been by substantial margins.1
After an unusually long spell in the outer St Marys returned to the top of the tree in 2002/03 with a hard fought 15.4 (94) to 12.11 (83) grand final defeat of Palmerston Magpies. The match was still very much in the balance at three quarter time as the Magpies led by 4 points, but a last quarter burst of 5 goals to 2 secured the Saints their twenty-third senior flag. That tally rose to twenty-four the following year after another hard fought grand final win, this time against Nightcliff. In a match that was played in excellent spirit, and indeed was a superb advertisement for the game, the Tigers provided formidable opposition throughout, but the Saints were always that bit steadier, ultimately winning out by 19 points, 12.11 (83) to 9.10 (64).
Saints’ monopoly continued in 2004/5 as the club went three in a row courtesy of a 15.10 (100) to 10.12 (72) grand final win over a defiant Wanderers combination. The margin of victory probably flattered somewhat, but overall, taking into account the consistently superior form it had displayed all year, there could be few doubts that St Marys was, by some measure, the NTFL’s most accomplished side.
Strongly favoured to make it four premierships in succession in 2005/6, Saints qualified for the finals in pole position with a 13-5 record before cruising into the grand final by virtue of a 13.10 (88) to 7.4 (46) second semi final defeat of Nightcliff. In that grand final, however, underdogs Darwin scored an upset victory by 7 goals, and Saints fans were left ruing a season in which very little had gone wrong until it mattered most.
In stark contrast, 2006/7 was a season during which, by Saints’ lofty standards, very little went right, and fourth place was their worst finish for five years. Fans of other NTFL clubs will doubtless be bracing themselves for a backlash in 2007/8.
Having accumulated premierships like confetti almost since their inception the Saints’ claim to be Darwin’s leading club is difficult to refute. Moreover, their recent record of producing champion WAFL, SANFL and VFL/AFL players is unsurpassed, not only in terms of the NTFL, but probably in terms of any league of comparable status anywhere in Australia.
Among the St Marys players to have succeeded in the southern states have been David Kantilla (South Adelaide), Maurice Rioli (South Fremantle and Richmond), and Michael Long (West Torrens and Essendon). However, such names represent just the tip of the iceberg; if the popular pursuit of selecting an ‘all time best’ combination was carried out in respect of St Marys it is likely that the team which emerged would be capable of challenging even the crème de la crème of the AFL. Sadly, however, such speculation will have to remain in the realms of fantasy, and St Marys barrackers will probably have to satisfy themselves with continuing to watch their side dominate the NTFL for many years to come.
1 For example: 1985/86 - St Marys 32.19 (211) defeated Nightcliff 4.9 (33) by an all time record 178 points; 1986/87 - St Marys 26.14 (170) defeated Darwin 7.7 (49) by 121 points; 1989/90 - St Marys 28.15 (183) defeated Darwin 10.15 (75) by 108 points; and 1993/94 - St Marys 26.8 (164) defeated Darwin 7.7 (49) by 115 points.