St Kilda’s ruck future is in great hands with Ben McEvoy

St Kilda picked Ben McEvoy  with the No.9 selection in the 2007 National Draft, at the time of being drafted as an 18 year old he was  200 centimetres tall and weighed 95 kilograms.  McEvoy was recruited as a ruckman from his local club Dederang-Mt Beauty and the Murray Bushrangers Under-18s. The profile for McEvoy in the AFL Record Season Guide 2008 said “A strong mark with excellent endurance, he captained Vic Country at the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships and won All-Australian selection.”1

McEvoy grew up in Dederang, about 330km northeast of Melbourne and in close proximity to Mt Beauty. McEvoy’s transition from growing up in the country to being an AFL footballer living in Melbourne was made considerably easier by being mentored by Justin Koschitzke and Steven King who also moved from the country at the start of their AFL careers.

A sign of the high regard in which McEvoy was held in at St Kilda was that he was given the No. 5 jumper in his very first season, a number that had previously been worn by St Kilda team of the century members Ian Stewart  and Barry Lawrence. McEvoy on being offered the St Kilda No. 5 jumper said “They’re significant names — Brownlow medallists, club captains, 200-gamers, so it’s pretty special. I was pretty keen to snap it up, such a rare opportunity and very honoured to be able to wear it.”2

In 2008 McEvoy played 19 VFL matches including two finals with the Casey Scorpions.  In Round 13 against Fremantle, McEvoy, Robert Eddy and Jarryd Allen all made their AFL debuts in a new look St Kilda side without regulars Nick Dal Santo and Stephen Milne who were both dropped for this match. McEvoy came into the side to replace Michael Gardiner who was out due to  a hamstring injury he sustained  in the 35 point Round 12 loss to Sydney.  It was the only AFL match McEvoy played for the season, but at least he got a taste of AFL football and played 62 minutes having five kicks, one handball and four marks.

McEvoy only played one AFL match and was named an emergency eight times in the first 10 rounds of the 2009 season, he came into the Round 7 side against Collingwood as a late replacement for Robert Eddy who was ill. McEvoy played nine consecutive matches between Rounds 11 and 19 and was then dropped to the VFL for Round 20 and 21. McEvoy was recalled to the side for Round 22 but did not play in any of St Kilda’s three finals as St Kilda decided to go with the experienced ruck combination of Michael Gardiner and Steven King.

McEvoy was named an emergency for the Qualifying Final against Collingwood.  In 2009 McEvoy showed great mobility around the ground for a ruckman and played 11 matches averaging 59 minutes, 2.9 kicks, 4.5 handballs, 2.7 marks and 8.5 hit-outs per game with a disposal efficiency of 77.8%. 

McEvoy commenced the 2010 season in the St Kilda side and played the first two games however his performance didn’t meet the expectations of the match committee and he was dropped for Round 3 with Steven King taking his place. After King injured his hamstring McEvoy was recalled to the Saints side in Round 8 and played eight consecutive matches until Round 15. In Round 15 against Brisbane, McEvoy took 6 marks, kicked a goal and set a new career best with 16 possessions yet was then surprisingly dropped for the Round 16 match against Collingwood.

Early in the season it was common for St Kilda’s two ruckmen to play only 50% game time and to be on the bench if they weren’t playing in the ruck. As the season has progressed McEvoy and Gardiner have been given increased game time due to spending some time in the forward line when they are not playing in the ruck, this has allowed the St Kilda midfielders to be rotated through the bench more resulting in them being fresher in the concluding stages of games. This tactic has worked well with McEvoy and Gardiner stretching the opposition defense and providing an additional marking option in the forward line.

Since being recalled in Round 17  Ben has averaged 16.0 hit-outs, 10.0 possessions and 0.75 goals in his four matches.  With 20 seconds remaining in the Round 17 match at Etihad Stadium Hawthorn led by 6 points, McEvoy went up uncontested at a ball up 20 metres out from his own goal, took the ball out of the ruck and dribbled through a goal to level the scores. McEvoy’s work-rate throughout the match was fantastic and he set new career bests for both hit-outs (19) and tackles (8).

Michael Gardiner felt tightness in his hamstring during the Round 19 match against Port Adelaide, St Kilda took a cautious approach and kept him on the bench, giving McEvoy increased game time and responsibility. McEvoy responded by playing one of the best games of his 26 match AFL career and kicking two goals for the second time in his career and having his second most hit-outs with 18. McEvoy also had 11 possessions, took five marks and was named in St Kilda’s best players.

Yesterday in the 52 point victory against North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium Ben McEvoy played in a St Kilda side that did not include Michael Gardiner or Steven King for the first time.  McEvoy started the match in great style having eight possessions in the first quarter and finished the match with 15 hit-outs.

 The profile for McEvoy in the AFL Record Season Guide 2010 said “With Michael Gardiner and Steven King in the twilight of their careers, McEvoy is the great white hope of the Saints ruck division – and on the evidence of last season, the future is in good hands.”3 King and Gardiner are both 31 years of age and between them have played more than 400 AFL matches, the guidance and advice that they have provided  has proved invaluable and will continue to assist in the development of McEvoy.

King’s role in 2010 has included coaching St Kilda’s young ruckmen and he is expected to retire from AFL football at the end of the 2010 season and be officially appointed as St Kilda’s ruck coach for 2011. After battling injury problems in his first two seasons at St Kilda Gardiner has played 38 matches since the start of 2009 and is expected to play one or two more seasons for St Kilda.

In August last year McEvoy said “Steven and Michael are two very experienced ruckman and have been very supportive of me and helped me find my feet. I’ve been privileged to be part of such a special group and those guys have been a great support in my development.”4

After 26 games McEvoy has the remarkable record of 23 wins, two losses and a draw, with both losses being against Essendon in 2010.  McEvoy has played 14 matches in the first 20 Rounds of 2010 averaging 61% game time, 3.8 kicks, 5.9 handballs, 3.7 marks and 10.4 hit-outs per game with a disposal efficiency of 74.81%. Last month McEvoy re-signed with St Kilda.

Performances in his career to date together with the promise he has shown indicates that St Kilda’s ruck future is in great hands with Ben McEvoy who is expected to lead St Kilda’s ruck division for many years to come after Gardiner retires. Whilst it would have been a great experience for McEvoy to lead St Kilda’s ruck yesterday against North Melbourne he will welcome the return of Gardiner from injury.  The importance of ruckmen is amplified during the finals and the performance of the ruck combination of Gardiner and McEvoy  will be critical to St Kilda’s fortunes during September.

1 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide  2008 – The official statistical history of the AFL, page 262

2 Herald Sun, Family to travel 330km to watch Ben McEvoy debut by Amelia Harris, June 20 2008

3 AFL, AFL 2010 – The official statistical history of the AFL, page 267

4 AFL, Saints reap reward with minimum fuss by Luke Holmesby, 12 August 2010, AFL.com.au

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One Comment on “St Kilda’s ruck future is in great hands with Ben McEvoy”

  1. Kevinjw 17/08/2010 at 6:05 am #

    Thanks again Dean. Great article, keep them coming , I enjoy them all.

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