Stephen Milne – 2012 All-Australian

In September St Kilda small forward Stephen Milne was named in the forward pocket of the 2012 All-Australian team. Milne finished sixth in the Coleman Medal with 56 goals and was the leading goalkicker among small forwards.

Milne was one of seven players selected in the team for the second year in a row, 15 players made their first All-Australian team including Milne’s St Kilda teammate Sean Dempster who was named in the back pocket.

Milne polled three Brownlow Medal votes in 2012, comprised of the single vote three times, Round 15 vs Essendon, Round 17 vs Sydney and Round 22 vs Greater Western Sydney. Before the Round 15 match against Essendon Milne had kicked 27 goals from 13 matches in 2012 at an average of 2.08 per match, however from Round 15 onwards he dramatically increased his output, kicking 29 goals in his last nine matches of 2012 at an average of 3.22 goals per match.

During a 250th match to saviour against Essendon at Etihad Stadium Milne kicked five goals and had two goal assists, setting game-highs in both categories. In the second quarter Milne kicked a superb set-shot goal from 48 metres out on the non-preferred side for a right footer. St Kilda started the second half leading by 23 points, during an electrifying third quarter Milne kicked four goals, all in a different fashion to play a pivotal role in St Kilda increasing the lead to 46 points at three quarter time, by the final siren St Kilda’s winning margin had extended to 71 points. 

Against Sydney in Round 17 at the SCG Milne had eight kicks, two marks, laid five tackles and kicked five goals including several from outside 50 metres and a goal of the week nomination in the first quarter. During a marking contest Milne spoilt Marty Mattner in the left forward pocket, Stephen gained possession close to the boundary line, under pressure from three Sydney players Milne twisted, turned, evaded, then ran away from goal and kicked a magnificent right foot snap goal from 30 metres out.  

With five first half goals against GWS in Round 22 Milne was a catalyst in the Saints winning by 122 points to record St Kilda’s third largest victory of all time.  Milne had 13 kicks, seven marks including six inside 50, two handballs and two goal assists in the thrashing of the Giants.

During 2012 Milne reached two significant milestones, kicking his 500th goal in Round 5 against Melbourne and playing his 250th match in Round 15 against Essendon to become just the second St Kilda player after Stewart Loewe to reach both milestones. At the end of the 2012 season Milne was ranked seventh on the Saints all-time games list with 258 and fourth on the all-time goals list behind Tony Lockett, Bill Mohr and Stewart Loewe.

In 2012 Milne played all 22 matches, averaging 86% game-time, 9.9 kicks, 2.5 handballs, 3.7 marks and 2.5 goals a game with a disposal efficiency of 59.5%.  Milne led St Kilda in goals and goal assists, was ranked second for marks inside 50, and was ranked 17th in the AFL for marks on a lead.

Throughout his football career, even dating back to before he made his AFL debut Milne has had to fight hard to get the opportunities and recognition that have come much easier for many other players.  A couple of years after concluding his junior football career it appeared a distinct possibility that Stephen Milne would not be given the opportunity of playing one AFL game, so the chances of having an AFL career during which he would become one of the best small forwards of his generation appeared extremely slim.

Despite kicking 49 goals for the Dandenong Stingrays in the 1997 TAC Cup and being the leading goalkicker in the competition Milne had to wait several years to get onto an AFL list, being drafted  by St Kilda with selection 23 at the 2000 Rookie Draft.

Milne was promoted off the St Kilda rookie list and made his AFL debut at 21 years of age against Port Adelaide in Round 4 2001 at AAMI Stadium.  Milne played 17 games in 2001, only missing two games after his debut, Round 15 and 16 when he was dropped to the VFL.  Milne kicked 27 goals in his debut season to be ranked fourth at St Kilda.

In 2002 St Kilda didn’t have a dominant key forward and Stephen Milne was a revelation, proving to be equally adept as a leading target in his own right or playing the role of traditional small forward as a crumber. During 2002 Milne was outstanding, kicking 50 goals, 11 behinds to easily be St Kilda’s leading goalkicker with more than twice as many goals as the second ranked Saint, Aaron Hamill with 22 goals. Milne had phenomenal accuracy registering a goal with 82% of his scoring shots.

The opportunities for Milne to be a leading target reduced from 2003 onwards with the move of Fraser Gehrig to the St Kilda forward line from defense, together with Nick Riewoldt spending more time in the forward line than he had in his first two seasons.  In five consecutive seasons from 2003 to 2007 Gehrig, Riewoldt and Milne formed a formidable combination and were St Kilda’s three top ranked goalkickers.

During the 2004 home and away season Gehrig, Riewoldt and Milne were all ranked in the top 12 goalkickers in the AFL and the potency of the St Kilda forward line was a key factor in the Saints finishing in the top four in 2004 and making the finals for the first time in six seasons. Milne has gone on to play 16 finals during his career, one behind the St Kilda club record held jointly by Riewoldt, Robert Harvey and Nick Dal Santo.

In Round 22 2005 against Brisbane Milne kicked 11 goals straight at Docklands, the most goals in a match during 2005 and became just the eighth St Kilda player to kick 10 goals or more in a VFL/AFL match.   Milne had 15 kicks, one handball, took six marks and received the three Brownlow Medal votes in St Kilda’s 139 point victory against Brisbane, the greatest winning margin in club history.

Throughout his 12 years at St Kilda Milne has proven to be extremely durable, playing at least 21 games in 10 seasons, including all nine seasons from 2004 onwards. In all 12 seasons Milne has kicked at least 26 goals, including 50 goals or more six times, 2002-50, 2005-61, 2008-60, 2010-57, 2011-56 and 2012-56. During every season that Milne has kicked at least 50 goals he has finished in the top 10 of the Coleman Medal, with a career best finish of equal fourth in 2011.

Milne has played the second most games of all players recruited through the Rookie Draft, behind James MacDonald who retired at the end of the 2012 season after playing 264 AFL games, Stephen needs only seven more matches to overtake MacDonald.

Milne’s creativity and superb goal awareness have resulted in him regularly featuring in the goal of the week nominations throughout his career, including a phenomenal period during the first 12 rounds of 2010 in which he received four goal of the week nominations.

Milne holds the record for most goals kicked at Etihad Stadium with 337 goals from 136 matches at an average of 2.48 goals per game, having kicked his 300th goal at the ground in Round 21 2011 to break Matthew Lloyd’s record.

Throughout his 258 game career Milne has kicked 546 goals, 304 behinds for 64% accuracy at an average of 2.12 goals per goal. Milne ranks 43rd on the AFL’s all-time goalkicking list placing him in the top 0.4% of the 12,000 plus VFL/AFL Footballers from 1897 to 2012.  Milne’s goalkicking accuracy stacks up well against the leading goalkickers in VFL/AFL history, of the 42 players that have kicked more goals than him only 10 have an accuracy better than 64%.

Milne polarises opinion like few players in the AFL, St Kilda fans love him for his creativity, passion and great goal sense as well as the enthusiasm he shows, singing the St Kilda theme song and finding a way to get under the skin of his opponents. The Milne traits that St Kilda fans appreciate, opposition fans find annoying and throughout his career Milne has regularly featured on most hated player lists.

Milne has led St Kilda’s goalkicking four times, 2002 and three consecutive seasons from 2010-2012. In 2010 St Kilda captain and key forward Nick Riewoldt seriously injured his hamstring in Round 3 and missed half the home and away season. During Riewoldt’s absence Stephen Milne led the St Kilda forward line admirably to be St Kilda’s most effective marking option inside 50, returning to the role he had eight years prior as the go-to man in St Kilda’s forward line.

Over the course of his career Milne’s ability to provide goal assists for teammates has improved, and in 2011 and 2012 he set a new career high with 19 goal assists in each season to lead St Kilda in this category for both years.

In November 2011 St Kilda mindful that Stephen Milne was nearing the end of his career recruited mature-age small forwards Ahmed Saad and Terry Milera. Milne has played a key role in this planning for the future by mentoring Saad and Milera who each played at least 15 games in 2012 and averaged more than a goal a game.

Half-way through 2012 Milne was unsure if he would play on in 2013 however after an extremely strong finish to the season he signed a one-year deal late in August. When Stephen Milne made his  AFL debut back in 2001 not even his biggest fans would have envisaged what he would achieve during his career, providing countless highlights and being ranked in the top 10 for games and top five for goals  on St Kilda’s all-time list.     

Stephen Milne has spent the majority of his career playing as a small forward, a role that is generally considered to have a limited life span, however due to his resilience, adaptability and skills he has been able to not just survive, but thrive as a small forward during an outstanding career in which he has had six top ten finishes in the Coleman Medal and has been deservedly rewarded with All-Australian selection in the past two seasons.        

By Dean Andrews

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