Sav sinks the Dockers
By: Glenn McFarlane
Historically, Victoria Park was the home of Collingwood’s goal-kicking gluttons for more than a century, so it was appropriate that Magpies fans were treated to a blast from the past as the famous ground was in its final throes as an AFL venue.
In the fourth last match at the ground, 24-year-old Saverio Rocca turned in the most complete performance of his AFL career, bagging 11.1 from 16 kicks to help down Fremantle in Round 10, 1998.
A year earlier Rocca had kicked nine goals to help bury the Dockers by 100 points. But this time the visiting side had held sway for the majority of the match, leading at every change before the Magpie “man mountain” almost willed his team over the line by seven points.
Was it any wonder that Gerard Neesham, Fremantle’s coach of the time, lamented: “He (Rocca) must lick his lips when he sees us coming.”
Tony Shaw, Rocca’s coach that day, claimed: “It would have to be one of the best 11 goals from an individual in one game.”
The match was Collingwood’s last AFL win at Victoria Park (two losses to West Coast and one to the Brisbane Lions would follow); it would be the 25th time a Magpie would kick 10 goals or more at the venue; and the 40th time a Collingwood player would reach double figures.
No Magpie has achieved that feat since.
For those who had wished they had been around to see the freakish skills of Dick Lee, the strength and sharpshooting of Gordon Coventry or the comet that was Ron Todd; and even for those lucky enough to remember Peter McKenna-mania, it was a hint of what life must have been in the old days with the famous old grandstands humming and people cheering from the terraces.
Rocca took on and beat three opponents – Stephen O’Reilly, Trent Carroll and Daniel Parker – with the Herald Sun’s Trevor Grant saying the Magpie full-forward “made the Fremantle defence seem positively Lilliputian.”
When Carroll was shifted off Rocca late in the game, as the sky began to darken, Dwayne Russell, calling the game for ABC radio, made the classic comment: “It’s just as well they made the move, otherwise it could have been Carols by Candlelight.”
The Dockers (with soon-to-be Magpies James Clement and Brodie Holland in the side) gave the Magpies one hell of a scare. If it hadn’t been for Rocca, they would have well and truly won the day.
Collingwood had lost three games in succession to be 4-5 leading into the Fremantle match. Rocca had kicked 29 goals to that stage.
So the pressure was on the club and its big forward with one newspaper suggesting Rocca and his 20-year-old brother Anthony (in his second season with the Magpies) needed to lift. It said the Rocca brothers: “continue to frustrate everyone associated with Collingwood.”
Fremantle stunned the parochial black and white crowd with the first two goals of the game before the Magpies could even manage to get warm.
Enter Sav Rocca with four of Collingwood’s opening quarter goals – without a blemish – to have his team only two points behind at the first change.
His first goal came via a long centred ball from Richard Osborne in which he marked and kicked truly from just inside 50m. Then, after the Dockers had stretched the lead to 20 points five minutes before quarter-time, he produced a hat-trick of consecutive majors.
A wobbly pass from Gavin Crosisca set up his second goal; a long deliberate pass from Nathan Buckley provided the third; and the crowd rose to its feet after some teamwork from the Rocca brothers for the fourth.
That fourth goal was a classic. With just a tick over a minute left on the clock, Anthony boomed a ball in from well outside 50m towards the goal-square at the Lulie St end, and it was marked by his brother. It meant the margin was back to 10 points at the first change.
Channel Seven’s Kevin Bartlett declared: “He (Rocca) loves Victoria Park” and that much was evident within the first minute of the second term when Luke Godden kicked long to the point of the goal-square at the Yarra Falls end. Predictably, the ball landed in Rocca’s arm again. He slotted his fifth goal through without much trouble, prompting his former teammate Mick McGuane – then working for Channel Seven – to say: “… at this stage of the game, it is Fremantle versus Saverio Rocca, not Collingwood.”
He wasn’t far wrong.
The next major came from a Paul Williams pass that landed on Rocca’s ample chest and his seventh – after a nice over-the-top handball from Brad Fuller to the loose full-forward square – was his easiest for the game.
That gave Collingwood an 11-point lead during the second term. Rocca had kicked 7.1 of the club’s 9.1 to that stage. But the visitors, led by some great work in the ruck by Matthew Burton, who ended up with 54 hit-outs to Collingwood’s total of 31, had a 10-point half-time lead.
Fremantle ended up pushing out to a 27-point lead during the third term. Fortunately for Collingwood, Rocca’s dominance was far from over.
His eighth goal came from a long left-foot kick from Osborne deep in attack where Rocca bumped Daniel Parker out of the play, beating Trent Carroll in the process. Buckley’s tap onto Osborne might have been missed by some, but not by his teammates, who rushed to the Collingwood star to praise him for his undoubted footy smarts.
Clement, playing forward for the Dockers, overran the ball and lost out to Scott Burns at half-back with 13 minutes remaining in the third term, and it was enough to start a chain of play that ended up in Rocca’s arms again. Burns handballed to Buckley, who gave off to Ben Kinnear, whose long kick found Rocca. And he kicked his ninth goal.
Bartlett summed it up perfectly: “… too big, too strong, too tall, too good.”
With one minute and eight seconds left on the clock in the third term, Buckley willed the ball out of the middle and delivered to Rocca who was on the fringe of the goal-square. From 15 metres and a difficult angle not far from the front of the Social Club, his 10th goal cut the difference back to only six points at the last change.
When Rocca kicked his 11th – after a hurried pass from Scott Russell – the Magpies led by 17 points in the last term and seemed certain to run away with a strong win.
But three late goals to the Dockers brought the final difference back to only seven points in the Magpies’ favour. If it hadn’t been for Rocca, it would have almost certainly been a loss. Instead, it turned out to be a memorable win.
Buckley, who ended up with 36 touches, was ever the aspiring coach when interviewed after the game. Speaking of Rocca, he said: “He was sensational and we were able to get the ball down to him quickly and he was able to find space one-on-one.
“Today he wasn’t worried about where the contact was coming from, he was worried about the ball first and the body second. I think if Sav can take a lesson out of today that would definitely be it.”
Shaw praised Rocca, saying: “We really isolated him fairly well. We gave him plenty of room and he didn’t let us down. And he converted really well and it probably hurts opposition sides when he hits them (balls) from 45-50 metres and they go through posts high and dead centre.”
He even raised the prospect of Rocca becoming only the sixth player to reach the 1000-goal bracket, something that only one Magpie – Coventry – could manage. “I think he can … I think he’s still learning the game. There have been some inconsistencies, but if he can get his four or five a week … four’s a bare minimum.”
Rocca’s 11-goal haul took him to 426 from his 120 games. Sadly, he would only have 36 more games – and 88 goals – remaining in black and white.
A chronic knee injury ended his time at Collingwood, but he went onto to play 101 games and kick 234 goals for North Melbourne before taking his prodigious kicking skills to the NFL where he became a punter.
But no one who was there 14 years ago will ever forget Rocca’s feats at Victoria Park on that final day of May in 1998.
As the Herald Sun said: “It may be the last time any Collingwood full-forward will get a double figure bag at Victoria Park. If so, for the faithful, it was worth it to be there for that alone. Home Sweet Home.”