David Armitage has developed into an integral member of St Kilda’s team

Over the first half of the 2012 season David Armitage has played the best football of his AFL career and has improved his consistency to frequently feature in St Kilda’s best players, this has resulted in David polling True Sainters votes six times in the first 12 rounds, the equal most with fellow inside midfielder Lenny Hayes.

After St Kilda selected him in the first round of the 2006 National Draft it took Armitage longer than expected to cement his position in the St Kilda side, however over the past season and a half he has been a fixture in the Saints line-up having played 34 of the Saints 35 matches from Round 1 2011 onwards.

Over his first two seasons in 2007 and 2008 Armitage played a total of 16 matches, during this period Armitage frequently played his best games at AFL level in his first or second week back in the Saints side however his form would then start to drop off which resulted in him being dropped several times in his first two seasons.

Whilst Armitage improved during his third and fourth seasons he only managed a total of 12 matches for St Kilda during 2009-2010, four games less than the combined total of his first two seasons. During the 2009 and 2010 seasons there was very strong competition for spots in the St Kilda side, over these two seasons the Saints had 39 wins, 10 losses, and two draws to win a phenomenal 76.5% of their matches during this period. In 2009 St Kilda had the most dominant home and away season in their history and the Saints made the Grand Final in 2009 and 2010.

Several times during his third and fourth seasons Armitage after being named in the Saints best players in at least one of his previous two matches was dropped to make way for a star teammate returning from injury. A knee injury in 2010 prevented him from playing at either VFL or AFL level between Round 12 and Round 18 and whilst he returned to the Saints side late in the 2010 season Armitage was hampered by losing considerable match conditioning during his time on the sidelines which prevented him from keeping his place in the Saints team for the finals.

At the conclusion of the 2010 season Armitage was ranked 40th of the 80 players selected at the 2006 National Draft with 28 matches, 17 of David’s peers from the 2006 National Draft had played 50 matches or more, headed by Joel Selwood with 94 matches.

Armitage started the 2011 season in outstanding fashion to average 20.5 possessions in St Kilda’s first six games of the season and he polled four Brownlow Medal votes during this time.  In his fifth season of AFL football David Armitage cemented his position in the St Kilda side playing 22 of the Saints 23 matches, missing Round 24 against Carlton with suspension.

During the first 12 rounds of the 2012 season the left-footed Armitage has played every game for the Saints and is currently in career best form, averaging 22.5 possessions a game over his last six games.

Armitage grew up in the Queensland coastal city of Mackay and played for junior club the Eastern Swans, whilst Mackay had a population of approximately 75,000 people at the start of 2005 it had never produced an AFL footballer. To increase his chances of making it onto an AFL list, Armitage at the age of 16 moved almost 1,000kms south to Brisbane for the 2005 football season, with his parents and two siblings remaining in Mackay.

Armitage spent two seasons playing for Morningside in the QAFL and whilst he suffered from home sickness during this time David says “They had a great culture at Morningside. I got on really well with all the older blokes, but I was also there with Gavin Urquhart (now at North Melbourne) Courtney Dempsey (Essendon) and Lee Spurr (Fremantle).” 1

David represented Queensland at the National Championships in 2004 for the under 16 side and in 2005 and 2006 for the under 18 side. David’s strengths during these Championships were his clearance work, contested possessions and score assists.  In three matches for Queensland at the Under 18 Championships in 2006 Armitage averaged 12.3 kicks, 7.7 handballs, 2.3 marks and 4.7 clearances per game with a disposal efficiency of 75.0%. David’s superb form at the 2006 Under-18 Championships resulted in him being named at half back in the All-Australian Under-18 Team.

Armitage was a member of the 2006 AIS/AFL academy, joined by four fellow Queenslanders including Morningside teammate Gavin Urquhart. Before moving to Brisbane in 2005 David had already played senior football, making his senior debut for the Eastern Swans in Mackay when he was just 14 and David performed superbly to kick five goals on debut at senior level.

In 2006 Armitage played in defence and the midfield for Morningside in the seniors and he won the Rising Star Award in the AFL Queensland League, polling 60 votes to beat Ricky Petterd (41), Kurt Tippett (26), Ben Warren (26) and Brent Renouf (21), all four of these players have gone on to play in the AFL.  The profile for Armitage in the AFL Prospectus 2007 said “He ran the quickest time in the agility testing at the 2006 NAB AFL Draft Camp and was also in the top 15% in the 3 km time trial.”2

During his two seasons at Morningside David’s draft prospects improved dramatically, in his first season he was considered a chance to be drafted, however after great form in 2006 and strong testing results at the 2006 NAB AFL Draft Camp, on the eve of the 2006 National Draft Armitage  was widely expected to be selected in the first round and there had been speculation that David could be taken as high as pick four by his home state AFL club, the Brisbane Lions.

The Lions picked ruckman Matthew Leunberger at number 4 and David Armitage was picked by St Kilda with selection 9 at the 2006 National Draft. Armitage was recruited from Queensland club Morningside at 18 years of age, he was 183 centimetres tall and weighed 80 kilograms.

During his two years living in Brisbane two families provided David with a place to live for a year each, one of these families was the Urquharts, and their son Gavin was selected in the same year as David with selection 21 by North Melbourne. David was the first player selected from the QAFL in 2006 and Gavin Urquhart was the third, with Shaun Hampson splitting them, being recruited from Mt Gravatt with selection 17 by Carlton.

At the start of the 2006 season David Armitage was not included in Champion Data’s list of Potential Top 25 selections at the 2006 National Draft, he was one of three players selected in the top 12 that weren’t included on the 25 player list with the other two being Travis Boak and James Frawley, selected with picks 5 and 12 respectively. In the AFL Prospectus 2007 when looking at the top 25 selections missed by Champion Data in the previous year Adrian Caruso and Glenn Luff wrote “Boak was in the mix and stiff to miss out, however we believed that Armitage’s form to that date did not warrant his inclusion and it was his significant improvement in 2006 that boosted his stocks.”3

After starting the 2007 season with St Kilda’s VFL affiliate club, the Casey Scorpians and being named an emergency for Rounds 6 and 7 David Armitage made his AFL debut at 18 years of age in the  Round 8 28 point loss against Hawthorn at the MCG. On debut Armitage had five kicks, four handballs, took three marks and laid four tackles.

Armitage retained his position in the St Kilda side for the next two games but had less than 10 disposals in each of these games and was dropped for Round 11. Armitage spent the rest of the season playing for Casey and was frequently in the Scorpians best players. In 2007 Armitage played three AFL matches averaging 48 minutes, 3.7 kicks, 3.0 handballs, 2.3 marks and 2.3 tackles per game with an exceptional disposal efficiency of 90.0%. Armitage played 17 games for Casey in the VFL during 2007 and averaged just under a goal per match with a total of 16 goals for the season.

Armitage played all four 2008 pre-season games for St Kilda including the Wizard Cup Grand Final win against the Adelaide Crows at AAMI Stadium, David kicked four goals during the pre-season competition, ranked equal fourth at St Kilda.

St Kilda overlooked Armitage for the Round 1 2008 side, the VFL season started a week later and in his first game for the season David received a one match suspension. After serving his suspension Armitage played one game in the VFL and was selected in the St Kilda side for Round 5 against Essendon. Armitage was impressive against the Bombers with 13 kicks, seven handballs, four marks, three tackles and two goals.

Armitage played the next three matches for St Kilda, kicking four goals during this period but failing to have more than 10 possessions in any of these games and was dropped for Round 9, being named an emergency.  Armitage was recalled for Round 10 against Melbourne, having 16 possessions and laying four tackles but after having 10 possessions and laying one tackle in the 27 point loss to the Western Bulldogs the following week David was again dropped.

For the second time in a month Armitage spent just one week in the VFL before being brought back into the St Kilda side and he played five consecutive games from Round 13 to Round 17. In his first two games back David had at least 11 possessions but after having less than 10 possessions in each of his next three games he was dropped back to the VFL for the third time in 2008.

Armitage was named an emergency for Round 22 and the Qualifying Final against Geelong and then returned to the St Kilda side for the Semi Final, having 10 possessions against Collingwood.  In the 54 point Preliminary Final loss to Hawthorn Armitage had a then equal career low four possessions whilst setting a new personal best with seven tackles.

The profile for Armitage in the 2009 AFL Prospectus said Armitage “was dominant at VFL level, being named in the best players in eight of 11 games and averaging 24 disposals, which made it even more surprising that he struggled to get more opportunities at senior level.”4

Seven times during the 2008 season Armitage had at least 10 possessions, on four of these occasions David did not play in the AFL the previous week and in his first two seasons a strong pattern had emerged with Armitage’s best performances coming in the first week or two after being recalled to the St Kilda side and then his output would drop significantly after several consecutive games for the Saints in the AFL.

In 2008 Armitage played 13 matches averaging 74 minutes, 5.9 kicks, 4.3 handballs, 3.0 marks and 3.3 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 76.7%.  During 2008 Armitage averaged 0.77 goals per game, ranked sixth at St Kilda behind Nick Riewoldt (2.71 goals per game), Stephen Milne (2.5),  Adam Schneider (1.47), Justin Koshitzke (1.36) and Jason Gram (0.8).

The profile for Armitage in the AFL Record Guide to Season 2009 said “The former Queenslander knows how to win the ball at stoppages, but needs to develop his run and outside game.”5

St Kilda were the dominant side during the 2009 home and away season and Armitage was on the cusp of senior selection for much of the season having been named an emergency nine times in the first 18 rounds. Even with a host of stars including Lenny Hayes, Leigh Montagna, Nick Riewoldt and Brendon Goddard missing the Round 19 match against Hawthorn at Aurora Stadium Armitage was still overlooked, being named as an emergency yet again. It was only when Nick Dal Santo was a late withdrawal with illness that Armitage was brought into the St Kilda side.

Armitage made the most of his late call-up and was outstanding with 17 kicks, five handballs, five marks, a goal and 10 tackles. The Saints applied immense defensive pressure, laying 115 tackles to Hawthorn’s 68 during the 25 point victory. Armitage received the first Brownlow Medal votes of his career, being judged best afield even though he spent most of the final quarter off the ground due to an injury concern.

St Kilda’s star players returned for Round 20 against Essendon, yet the Saints suffered a shock two point loss. Armitage kicked two goals and was kept to only seven possessions against Essendon, he was dropped for the Round 21 match against North Melbourne, being named as an emergency.

Lenny Hayes was a late withdrawal for the match against the Kangaroos which resulted in Armitage being a late inclusion to the St Kilda side for the second time in three weeks. David had nine kicks, nine handballs and laid 13 tackles against North Melbourne to be named in St Kilda’s best players in the official AFL records. St Kilda lost to North Melbourne by five points to make it two losses in a row after starting the season with a club record 19 straight wins.

St Kilda vice-captain Lenny Hayes returned to the St Kilda line-up for Round 22 against Melbourne at the MCG. David Armitage was the one who lost his spot and could be considered very unlucky after being named in St Kilda’s best players in two of his three matches.

Armitage was unable to get back into the St Kilda side during the 2009 season, being named an emergency for the Preliminary Final against the Western Bulldogs and the 12 point Grand Final loss to Geelong.

In 2009 Armitage played three matches averaging 83 minutes, 10.0 kicks, 5.7 handballs, 3.0 marks and 8.7 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 68.1%. Armitage continued to excel in the VFL, finishing second in Sandringham’s best and fairest.

Armitage had a strong pre-season and played all four of St Kilda’s 2010 NAB Cup matches with the highlight being 26 disposals and seven tackles in the opening round of the NAB Cup against Collingwood.

David commenced his fourth AFL season in the St Kilda side and played the first six matches of the 2010 season setting a new personal best for consecutive matches at AFL level. David played with greater consistency than in previous seasons and had at least 10 possessions in all six games with the highlight being 12 kicks, 12 handballs, five marks and five tackles  in the 15 point Round 4 victory against Fremantle at Etihad Stadium.

Although Armitage had only 10 possessions in Round 6 against the Western Bulldogs he was influential in the Saints great fightback, kicking two of the last four goals of the match allowing St Kilda to remain within striking distance of the Western Bulldogs, the Saints kicked three goals to nil after the 18 minute mark of the last quarter to gain a hard fought three point victory, 49 points to 46 in a dour contest.

In Round 7 Jason Gram returned after two weeks on the sidelines with a groin injury and Armitage was the player who lost his spot in the team.  Armitage returned to the St Kilda side in Round 8, having 13 possessions and laying six tackles against Essendon.

Armitage was dropped from the St Kilda side, Sandringham had the bye in Round 9, he played  in the VFL in Round 10 was named an emergency by St Kilda for Round 11, he then suffered a set-back with a knee injury that  forced him to miss six VFL matches. After returning through the VFL in Round 19 Armitage was named in St Kilda’s side for Round 21 against Richmond.  Armitage had 13 possessions against the Tigers followed by 21 disposals and seven tackles against Adelaide in Round 22.

Stephen Milne returned from an ankle injury for the Qualifying Final against Geelong, David was dropped and he didn’t play in any of St Kilda’s four finals in 2010 however he was named an emergency for the Qualifying Final as well as Grand Final Replay against Collingwood.

When Armitage was recalled to the St Kilda side for Round 21 he had only played two games at VFL level after missing six matches with his knee injury. Armitage commented “My goal was just to get back to play senior footy and it was pleasing to get a couple of games at the end of the season.” Armitage goes on to say “However, there was no way I could have played in the finals because I wasn’t fit enough. I understand that completely. I’m a realist.”6

In 2010 Armitage played nine matches averaging 83 minutes, 7.1 kicks, 8.7 handballs, 3.2 marks and 5.6 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 71.8%. In the first six Rounds of the 2010 season Armitage was ranked sixth at St Kilda with 0.90 supercoach points per minute, however he played only 66% game time during this period.  During 2010 Armitage “averaged the least game time of any midfielder at the Saints, but had an impact when he was on the ground, leading the club for disposals-per-minute during Rounds 1-8.” 7

Many people had expected that with the departure of Luke Ball after the 2009 season Armitage would be able to cement his position in the St Kilda side during the 2010 season by taking Ball’s spot as an inside midfielder.  Although Armitage again showed throughout the 2010 season that he was capable of playing some very good football for St Kilda he was unable to do so consistently enough to the satisfaction of the match committee to hold a permanent position in the St Kilda side.

Armitage fans could argue that he wasn’t given enough opportunities in terms of playing games for St Kilda and then getting enough game-time when he was in the side.   Due to a variety of factors Armitage received increased opportunities to play for St Kilda during the 2011 season.

St Kilda placed a greater emphasis on playing their younger players and due to the introduction of the substitute player during 2011 the ability of clubs to rotate players diminished. The season ending knee injury to champion midfielder Lenny Hayes also created more opportunities for other inside midfielders to step up and take on more responsibility for the Saints.

During the Round 2 2011 Friday night draw against Richmond David Armitage set a new career high for possessions having 10 kicks and 15 handballs, he also laid eight tackles. Armitage won a game-high 14 contested possessions and was great around the stoppages having a game-high nine clearances. Armitage received three votes in the True Sainters Player of the Year award for his performance against Richmond and was also one of St Kilda’s best players in Round 3 against Essendon.

It was just after half-time of the Round 2 match against Richmond that Lenny Hayes suffered a knee injury that required a reconstruction. In May 2011 Armitage said about Lenny Hayes “I speak with him every day, before and after training. We talk about blokes I might likely play against and how to play against them. I try to feed off him and learn from him.”Armitage went on to say “If I can be half the player Lenny is I’d be going all right. I am learning so much from him, but I have a lot of things to work on.”8

At Football Park in Round 6 against the Crows Armitage was great around the stoppages, winning a game-high 17 contested possessions and 11 clearances. David finished the game with 14 kicks, 12 handballs and through his work-rate he was able to win six free kicks whilst conceding only one. Armitage received one Brownlow Medal vote for his outstanding match against Adelaide.

Armitage polled one vote from True Sainters members for his performance in the Round 9 victory against Melbourne, having nine kicks, eight handballs, laying five tackles and one goal assist. Over the first nine rounds Armitage developed into a fixture of St Kilda’s centre clearance set-up and with 10 contested possessions against Melbourne he moved to 83 for the year to lead St Kilda in this category, seven ahead of second placed Dal Santo.

Over the first half of the 2011 season played a similar role to the one Hayes usually plays, spending  a lot of time in the midfield and being a fixture of the Saints centre clearance set-up however in the second half of the season Armitage’s role changed and he was used more in the forward line than the midfield.

In the 65 point Round 23 victory against North Melbourne Armitage had 17 kicks, four handballs, laid eight tackles and kicked a goal however he also received a one match suspension as a result of a rough conduct offence against North Melbourne’s Leigh Adams in the second quarter. The Round 24 match against Carlton was the only match David missed in 2011.

During 2011 Armitage “ranked second at the club for groundball-gets won inside 50 and fourth for disposals in the zone, also applying the fourth most forward-half pressure acts for the Saints.”9

In 2011 Armitage played 22 matches averaging 90 minutes, 8.2 kicks, 7.1 handballs, 2.9 marks and 4.5 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 69.0%. Armitage ranked third at St Kilda for tackles, equal third for hard-ball gets, fourth for clearances and sixth for contested possessions with 167, only 13 behind Leigh Montagna in second place.

In the 63 point victory against the Western Bulldogs in Round 3 2012 Armitage laid an equal game-high eight tackles, kicked one goal, had three goal assists, nine kicks, 10 handballs and used the ball well to have a disposal efficiency of 79%.

Against Sydney in Round 9 Armitage received two votes from True Sainters members for a superb performance in which he led St Kilda for disposals with 21 kicks and eight handballs.  David also had eight marks, five clearances and 76% disposal efficiency in the 28 point victory.

In Round 10 against Richmond Armitage was impressive with two goals, 15 kicks, seven handballs and six marks. Armitage led St Kilda in clearances and contested possessions with seven and 12 respectively.

Up to the Round 13 2012 bye  Armitage has played all 12 matches averaging 78% game time, 12.1 kicks, 8.0 handballs, 4.0 marks and 5.2 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 73.9%. Armitage ranks sixth at St Kilda for kicks and disposals, third for tackles and centre clearances and fourth for contested possessions, he is also in the top 10 for handballs, marks, goals and goal assists.

In every season from 2009 onwards more than 40% of David Armitage’s possessions have been contested, and from 2009 to 2012 Armitage has had a higher proportion of contested possessions than any other midfielder on St Kilda’s 2012 list.

David’s proportion of contested possessions has dropped from 47.9% in 2011 to 41.5% in 2012, however this has been as a result of improving his reading of the play which has led to winning more uncontested possessions, improving dramatically from 8.3 per game in 2011, ranked 18th at St Kilda to 12.0 per game in 2012, ranked equal sixth at St Kilda.  Armitage has also slightly improved his contested possessions per game from 7.6 in 2011 to 8.3 in 2012 to be ranked in the top six Saints for both seasons.

In 11 of his first 50 matches Armitage had 19 disposals or more, in 2012 Armitage has had 19 or more disposals in eight of his 12 matches including at least 22 disposals in each of his past four games. From 2009 to 2011 Armitage averaged between 15.3 possessions and 15.8 possessions per game in each season, this has increased by more than 25% to 20.1 disposals per game in 2012.

Throughout 2011 and 2012 Armitage has benefited from remaining healthy and having much greater continuity with his football which has resulted in his confidence and self-belief growing which in turn has resulted in his consistency improving.

In his sixth season of AFL David Armitage is equal third in the 2012 True Sainters Player of the Year Award, having polled nine votes after 12 rounds to be level with Brendon Goddard, four votes behind leader Lenny Hayes with captain Nick Riewoldt second on 10 votes. Nick Dal Santo and Jack Steven are equal fifth on eight votes and no player outside the top six has polled more than three votes.

The improvement over the past 18 months of David Armitage who turned 24 earlier this month on June 16 and 22 year old Jack Steven has led to the Saints having increased depth in the midfield and not being as reliant on Hayes, Dal Santo, and Montagna.

After being a fringe player at the end of the 2010 season David Armitage has made the much awaited progression over the last season and a half to become an integral member of the St Kilda team.

By Dean Andrews

  1. Herald Sun, David Armitage rewarded for staying power by Matt Windley, 1 June 2012
  2. Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2007, page 248
  3. Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2007, page 12
  4. Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2009, page 240
  5.  AFL, AFL Record Guide to Season 2009, page 262
  6. Herald Sun, St Kilda onballer David Armitage poised to fill star Saint Lenny Hayes’s shoes by Rod Nicolson,  9 May 2011
  7. Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2011, page 245
  8. Herald Sun, St Kilda onballer David Armitage poised to fill star Saint Lenny Hayes’s shoes by Rod Nicolson,  9 May 2011
  9. Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2012, page 275
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