On Saturday night at the St Kilda Football Club’s Hall of Fame and 1966 Premiership Anniversary Celebration dinner at Crown Robert Harvey was elevated to Legend status in the St Kilda Football Club’s Hall of Fame. During an illustrious career over a then VFL/AFL record 21 seasons from 1988 to 2008 Harvey won back to back Brownlow Medals in 1997 and 1998, was selected in the All-Australian team eight times and won the St Kilda best and fairest four times.
Harvey was inducted into St Kilda’s Hall of Fame on 4 May 2013 at St Kilda’s 140th Birthday/Hall of Fame function. It was no surprise that at the first opportunity available St Kilda’s games record holder Harvey became the eighth person elevated to Legend status, joining Darrell Baldock, Ian Stewart, Alan Jeans, Tony Lockett, Neil Roberts, Ross Smith and Trevor Barker. On Saturday night former team-mate, full-forward Lockett announced that Harvey had been elevated to Legend status in St Kilda’s Hall of Fame, Lockett said “It’s a great honour and privilege to elevate the great Robert Harvey to Legend status, which is something he thoroughly deserves. Robert is one of, if not the greatest, players to ever play for this club. He is, quite simply, a phenomenal person and a great footballer.”1
During his acceptance speech Harvey said “I’m so grateful for the time I’ve had here. It goes by so fast. To the current players, make the most of it.” Harvey spoke fondly of his time at St Kilda and his experience of playing with several great footballers including Lockett, Nathan Burke, Lenny Hayes, Nicky Winmar, Stewart Loewe and Nick Riewoldt.
Ruck-rover Harvey’s greatest strengths were his relentless running, sublime evasive skills, brilliant ball winning ability and the capacity to perform at an exceptional level in the big games. Harvey played 17 finals for St Kilda and represented Victoria eight times, remarkably in 20 of these 25 matches Harvey was named in his side’s six best players, including winning three EJ Whitten medals for being Victoria’s best player and being named St Kilda’s best player in the official AFL records for five of the six finals that St Kilda won during Robert’s decorated career.
Robert’s magnificent career in football is comprehensively covered below, from his time as a junior footballer, his rapid progression from the St Kilda under 19s to the St Kilda seniors where he remained for a staggering 21 seasons, through to his time as an assistant coach once his playing career ended.
Football has changed dramatically since Robert Harvey made his debut as a 16 year old in 1988, then the league was known as the VFL and had only expanded from 12 clubs to 14 the previous year. St Kilda played their home games at Moorabbin, teams only had 20 players and the interchange bench was usually the domain of players who had been dragged or were injured during the match, there was no such thing as rotations, and most games were played on a Saturday afternoon.
It has been quite a journey for Harvey and was undertaken in a far different landscape to the one faced by current players who enter the AFL via the draft, even players recruited from Victoria, the state that easily has the most clubs in the AFL has little more than a 50% chance of being recruited by a Victorian AFL club. When Harvey entered the VFL system it was done through a zone rather than the draft, and Seaford was in St Kilda’s zone.
Robert first went to the St Kilda Football Club in November 1985 to train with the St Kilda under-15s squad for the 1986 Victorian under-15 schoolboy championships. During 1987 Harvey played in an under-17s premiership with his suburban club Seaford. Months later in early 1988 Harvey turned up to under-19s training with St Kilda and was daunted to find 100 other young blokes there also trying out. Not knowing anyone else Harvey found it a very different proposition to playing with his mates at Seaford. Once the practice matches started Harvey felt more comfortable. One of the other players trying out was Shane Warne who ended up playing under-19s football for St Kilda and one reserves game before getting cut at the start of the 1989 season. Warne is considerably more famous for playing cricket for Australia, developing into one of the best leg spinners the world has ever seen and taking over 700 test wickets.
In his first under-19s game for St Kilda Harvey played in the back pocket – a position he had never played in previously, and he was dragged before the end of the first quarter. Harvey was certain that he would be dropped for the following week’s game, however he survived – just, getting picked on the bench. Harvey was worried that if he didn’t perform well in this game he might get cut, looking back at this time Robert recalled “Our gun midfielder went down with a knee injury early in the game, so they threw me in the centre. Thankfully I grabbed my opportunity.”2 As humble as ever Harvey commented “If it wasn’t for someone else’s misfortune, I might never have made it at St Kilda.”3
Harvey was reluctant to try out for Victoria’s 1988 under-17 Teal Cup team as he didn’t want to step out of his comfort zone and was content playing football with his mates. After encouragement from his parents Robert finally agreed to try out.
Robert made the 1988 under-17 Victorian team, after impressive performances he was selected in the All-Australian team alongside future VFL/AFL players Wayne Carey and Jose Romero. Playing Teal Cup football for Victoria had been a great confidence building experience for Robert and he benefitted immensely from playing against the best junior footballers in the country and realising that he belonged out there with them.
Harvey was recruited by St Kilda from Seaford via the Saints VCFL zone in 1988. Encouraged by his exploits playing junior representative football for Victoria Harvey had a whirlwind year with St Kilda in 1988 and quickly progressed through the ranks with eight games for the under-19s and six games in the reserves before being promoted to the senior St Kilda side late in the 1988 VFL season.
Weeks before his 17th birthday Robert Harvey made his VFL debut for St Kilda in Round 19, 6 August 1988 against Footscray at the Western Oval (now Whitten Oval) in front of just 10,477 people. Harvey started the match on a half-forward flank and had the first kick of the game, he finished the match with seven kicks and five handballs. Harvey played the final four games of the season for St Kilda in the VFL, predominantly playing as a half-forward and was one of the Saints best players in Round 21 against Hawthorn with 19 disposals and two goals. During his debut season Harvey played four games, averaging 10.3 kicks, 3.8 handballs, and 1.8 marks per game.
St Kilda’s 1988 coach Darrel Baldock was a strong advocate in blooding new talent and had assured Harvey and fellow teenager Brett Bowey when they were promoted to the senior side in Round 19 that their positions were safe and that they would have the remainder of the season to settle into the senior team. By showing this confidence in his young players Baldock significantly reduced the pressure that they felt. Baldock commented about his early impression of Harvey “You could virtually see from the first minute that Robert Harvey was going to make a top footballer. He had the natural ability and the right temperament to make it. I’ve never seen someone so young just jump immediately into senior football.”4
St Kilda struggled during the 1988 season, eventually finishing on the bottom, however their focus on developing younger players paid long term dividends with six teenagers from the Round 22 1988 side each going on to play more than 50 VFL games, Harvey, Bowey, Nathan Burke, Jayson Daniels, Gordon Fode and Mick Dwyer. Burke and Harvey would each go onto play more than 300 VFL/AFL games and captain St Kilda whilst Daniels played more than 150 games including over 100 for St Kilda across two stints, spending a few years at Sydney in the middle of his career. So inexperienced was St Kilda’s side from the final round in 1988 that it contained only three players older than 26, 28 year old Ken Sheldon who would later coach the Saints, 29 year old Geoff Cunningham and the late Trevor Barker who was then 31.
After wearing number 52 in 1988 Harvey started to wear number 35 in 1989, he would retain this number for the rest of his career and in 2002 he broke the record for most games wearing number 35 which was held by Peter Daicos with 250.
Harvey retained his position in the St Kilda seniors and continued to play across half forward early in the 1989 season however in Round 5 Baldock moved Harvey into the midfield against Essendon. Harvey proved to be a revelation collecting 14 kicks and 15 handballs as one of the Saints best in the 54 point loss. The following week against Sydney at Moorabbin Harvey continued to take to the midfield like a duck to water, racking up an astronomical 27 possessions up until the 20 minute mark of the third quarter, however disaster then struck as Harvey broke his ankle. Whilst Harvey was frustrated with getting injured he now knew that he could compete at the highest level which made it easier to deal with the healing process and spending months on the sideline rehabilitating.
After missing nine games with the ankle injury from Round 7 to Round 15 Harvey played one game in the reserves to regain some match conditioning. In Round 17 1989 against Essendon Harvey returned to the St Kilda VFL side and didn’t miss a beat, getting the first Brownlow Medal votes of his career, receiving two votes for a performance in which he had a team-high 20 kicks, an equal game-high 13 handballs, six marks and kicked two goals. Harvey also received two votes in Round 21 against Melbourne, having 18 kicks, 12 handballs, five marks and again kicking two goals. In Round 20 against Carlton Harvey had his best game for the season with 15 kicks, 21 handballs, five marks and kicked four goals three behinds.
Harvey played 12 matches during 1989, averaging 11.3 kicks, 10.0 handballs, 3.5 marks and 1.1 goals per game. Robert won St Kilda’s best first year player award and was ranked sixth for total handballs at St Kilda even though he played just over half the season.
Harvey was 181 centimetres tall and after making his debut as a skinny 16 year-old in 1988 he needed to bulk up considerably, during the 1990 pre-season Harvey added considerable muscle to his frame allowing him to match the strength of opposition midfielders. From Round 3 to Round 11 1990 Harvey showed great consistency for a teenager to have at least 22 disposals in all nine games. In Round 11 against Geelong Harvey kicked four goals in a game (all in the final quarter) and failed to receive a Brownlow vote for the second time in his career after kicking four goals.
Despite missing the final four games of the 1990 season with glandular fever Harvey finished third in St Kilda’s best and fairest, with centre-half forward Stewart Loewe winning the award. In 1990 Harvey played 18 matches predominantly in the midfield, averaging 13.9 kicks, 10.7 handballs and 2.6 marks per game. Harvey ranked second at St Kilda for handballs and disposals, fourth for kicks, equal seventh for goals and equal fifth for Brownlow Medal votes.
During 1991 Harvey had an injury free year playing all of St Kilda’s games, from Round 3 to Round 8 Robert had a purple patch averaging 32.6 disposals a game and receiving a total of five Brownlow Medal votes during this five game period (St Kilda had the bye in Round 5). Against Adelaide in Round 8 Harvey had 23 kicks, 16 handballs, five marks and kicked two goals in St Kilda’s 131 point victory at Moorabbin. The winning margin set a new St Kilda record and 25 years later is the second biggest winning margin in the history of the St Kilda Football Club behind the Saints 139 point victory over Brisbane at Etihad Stadium in Round 22 2005.
Harvey was rewarded for his outstanding form with selection in Victoria’s State of Origin team for the game against South Australia. Harvey had no trouble stepping up to the higher level and kicked two goals in Victoria’s 16 point victory.
After two wins, a draw and two losses in their first five matches in 1991 St Kilda won seven of their next eight games to place themselves in a commanding position to make their first finals appearance in 18 years. The Saints then lost four of their next five games to fall back to a pack of teams fighting for the final three spots in the top six. St Kilda finished the season well, winning their final four games to finish the home and away season in fourth position with 14 wins, seven losses and a draw. West Coast had been the dominant side of the season and finished on top with 19 wins, three games clear of Hawthorn and Geelong.
Under coach Ken Sheldon St Kilda played an entertaining brand of football in 1991 and the side that played Geelong in the Second Elimination Final included four All-Australians from that season, Tony Lockett, Stewart Loewe, Nicky Winmar and David Grant, with other prominent players being captain Danny Frawley, and emerging stars Burke and Harvey. Harvey had a game-high 29 disposals against Geelong and along with Nicky Winmar and Gilbert McAdam provided great supply to full forward Tony Lockett who was superb kicking nine goals, five behinds. The Saints lost David Grant and Nathan Burke early in the game after they were both knocked unconscious by Gary Ablett in separate instances. St Kilda started the second half 19 points in front, however not being able to use their interchange bench at all due to the loss of Grant and Burke proved to be extremely telling as Geelong led by Billy Brownless with eight goals finished stronger to overrun the Saints and win by seven points.
In 1991 Harvey played all 23 games, averaging 13.8 kicks, 13.0 handballs and 2.9 marks per game. Harvey was developing into one of the top ball-winners in the VFL, being ranked equal fifth in the competition for most handballs during the 1991 home and away season with 285 to lead St Kilda in this category, he ranked second at St Kilda for kicks – five behind Nathan Burke, first for disposals and equal sixth for goals. Harvey polled nine Brownlow Medal votes, ranked equal third at St Kilda with Frank Coghlan, behind Tony Lockett (16 votes) and Nicky Winmar (11 votes).
Harvey elevated his game to an even higher level in 1992 with his strengths being his hard running, reading of the play and his evasiveness, on six occasions he had more than 35 possessions, five of these games were in a hot streak between Round 17 and Round 22. Against Hawthorn at Waverley Park in Round 19 St Kilda led by 10 points at half-time and then dominated the second half, kicking 1o goals to none to win the game by 75. Harvey played exhilarating football, making use of the wide open spaces of Waverley with his hard running to have 25 kicks, 16 handballs, six marks and kicked two goals to receive the 3 Brownlow Medal votes.
St Kilda scraped into the finals in 1992 – taking sixth position with 14 wins and were only percentage ahead of Carlton who thankfully for the Saints lost the final game of the home and away season to West Coast at Subiaco, enabling St Kilda to make the finals.
The sixth placed Saints faced third placed Collingwood in an Elimination Final at Waverley Park. St Kilda led narrowly at every change and won a thrilling contest by eight points to win their first final in 21 years, the previous finals victory was in the 1971 preliminary final against Richmond. Harvey was best afield with 24 kicks and 10 handballs to further enhance his reputation as a big match performer. The following week Footscray defeated St Kilda by 29 points in a Semi Final at Waverley Park, Harvey was again amongst the Saints best with 15 kicks, 12 handballs and a goal.
During 1992 Harvey played all 24 games, averaging 16.6 kicks, 12.0 handballs and 3.8 marks per game. Harvey was ranked first at St Kilda for handballs, kicks and disposals. Harvey made his first All-Australian team in 1992, being named at half-forward alongside his St Kilda teammate Loewe, Tony Lockett was named in a forward pocket resulting in half of the players in the six man forward line being from St Kilda for the second successive year. Harvey won St Kilda’s best and fairest with Lockett and Loewe finishing equal second. Robert also won the E.J. Whitten Medal during the season for being Victoria’s best player in the 13 point loss to South Australia. Harvey polled 12 Brownlow Medal votes to be ranked second at St Kilda behind Stewart Loewe with 16 votes, and ahead of Nathan Burke and Tony locket with 10 and Nicky Winmar with eight votes. Loewe and Harvey finished fourth and equal eighth overall in the Brownlow Medal respectively.
After playing the first four games of 1993 Harvey missed Rounds 5 and 7 (St Kilda had the bye in Round 6) with a quadricep injury, returned for Round 8 and missed Round 9, Harvey returned in Round 10 and played the Saints last 12 games of the season. In 1993 Harvey played 17 of a possible 20 matches and averaged 15.6 kicks, 12.5 handballs and 3.4 marks per game. Harvey finished third in St Kilda’s best and fairest and won the E.J. Whitten Medal as Victoria’s best player with 33 disposals in the 12 point loss to South Australia at the MCG. Harvey was ranked third at St Kilda for kicks behind Burke and Winmar, first for handballs and seventh in the AFL for average disposals per game. The 1994 AFL Media guide said “One of the game’s most gifted players. Harvey had a great year in 1993, despite playing with leg injuries for most of the season.”5
Robert finished equal 11th in the Brownlow Medal with 12 votes, although Harvey did not poll a vote in the first 12 Rounds he finished magnificently to poll best on grounds in Rounds 13, 16, 19 and 20. Harvey was the leading Saint and finished only six votes behind winner Gavin Wanganeen who excelled playing in the back pocket for Essendon. In a 71 point victory against Geelong in Round 16 at Waverley Park Harvey had 18 kicks, 10 marks a game-high 21 handballs and laid four tackles.
The Saints found it very difficult to cover for full-forward Tony Lockett who missed half of the 1993 season. St Kilda finished 12th only two wins behind the sixth placed West Coast Eagles, however the Saints had never looked like making the finals and restored some pride by winning five of their last six games of the season.
In Round 2 1994 at the MCG against North Melbourne Harvey played his 100th AFL game at 22 years of age. During 1994 Harvey played the Saints first four games but missed four games over the following two months due to a groin injury. Harvey played the last 12 games of the season to play 18 games in 1994, averaging 14.6 kicks, 12.5 handballs and 2.3 marks per game. In 11 games Harvey had at least 29 disposals. Harvey ranked led St Kilda for handballs, ranked equal second for kicks and second for disposals behind Burke. Harvey was named ruck-rover in the All-Australia team and won his second St Kilda best and fairest award. Robert’s younger brother Anthony, made his debut for St Kilda in Round 8 and played four games for St Kilda during 1994. Anthony later captained Norwood to the SANFL premiership in 1997. In nine seasons from 1991 to 1999 Harvey received at least nine Brownlow Medal votes in a season eight times, with 1994 being the only exception, receiving two votes comprised of the single vote in Rounds 22 and 24.
After playing the first two rounds of 1995 Harvey missed the next four games with a hamstring injury. After his return in Round 7 Harvey had at least 26 possessions in his next eight games and missed only one more match for the season, Round 19 with a shoulder injury. Robert had an outstanding season, finishing equal fourth in the Brownlow Medal with 16 votes, five votes behind the winner, Sydney midfielder Paul Kelly. Two of his three best afield performances for the season were against Footscray, having 18 kicks and 18 handballs – both game-highs in the 18 point Round 7 win and backed it up with 16 kicks and a game-high 24 handballs in St Kilda’s 54 point win. In 1995 Harvey played 17 matches, averaging 13.8 kicks, 12.8 handballs and 2.8 marks per game. Robert led St Kilda for handballs, ranked third at St Kilda for kicks and second for disposals behind Winmar. Harvey made his third All-Australian team, being named ruck-rover for the second year in a row, he was also selected to play State of Origin football for Victoria against South Australia. In 1994 and 1995 Harvey was ranked second in the AFL for average disposals per game.
Harvey was very consistent throughout 1996 playing in his customary ruck-rover position, being kept to under 22 possessions only once, Robert missed only one match, Round 16 with a strained hamstring and played his most games in a season since 1992. Harvey had 296 handballs for the season to lead the AFL, one ahead of Brisbane midfielder Craig Lambert. Harvey led the AFL in disposals per game with 28.4, ahead of teammate Burke on 26.4 and Lambert on 26.2.
Harvey polled 17 votes in the Brownlow Medal, finishing equal seventh overall in a very close count and equal second at St Kilda with key forward Stewart Loewe. Harvey did not poll a Brownlow Medal vote in the first nine rounds but finished the season very strongly to poll in nine of his last 13 games of the season. In Round 18 Harvey was instrumental in St Kilda defeating Collingwood by 10 points, having 20 kicks, an equal game-high 13 handballs and kicked a team-high three goals. Fellow St Kilda midfielder Nathan Burke played a career best season, polling 20 votes. Michael Voss and James Hird were joint winners of the Brownlow Medal with 21 votes, Corey McKernan also finished with 21 votes but was ineligible due to being suspended during the season, becoming the first ineligible player to poll the outright or equal most votes in a season.
During the 1996 season Harvey played 21 matches, averaging 14.3 kicks, 14.1 handballs and 3.3 marks per game. Harvey finished third in St Kilda’s best and fairest with 110 votes, Nathan Burke was a run-away winner with 192 votes and Stewart Loewe finished second with 125 votes. Harvey won his third E.J. Whitten Medal for his superb performance in Victoria’s 53 point victory against the Allies and he was also selected in the All-Australian team for the fourth time, again being selected as ruck-rover.
St Kilda started the 1997 season in disappointing fashion, losing four of their first five games with their only win being against Collingwood by seven points in Round 3. In Round 6 St Kilda played Melbourne who had also won only once in their first five games, the consequences for the loser could be dire. Harvey was one of St Kilda’s best players, having 14 kicks and 11 handballs playing on 1991 Brownlow Medallist, ruckman Jim Stynes except at the ruck contests, Robert did a superb job limiting Stynes to 16 possessions and received two Brownlow Medal votes, helping St Kilda dominate from start to finish and win by 86 points.
Melbourne lost their next three matches after playing St Kilda and sacked their coach Neil Balme after only nine rounds of the 1997 season. The Saints meanwhile were rapidly building momentum in the weeks following the match against Melbourne, winning their next three games. After nine rounds St Kilda had five wins, four losses and had recovered from their slow start to be right in finals contention.
From Round 10 to Round 15, St Kilda had three wins and three losses, with two of the losses being away to Geelong by 28 points at Kardinia Park and to Adelaide by 10 points at Football Park. The Western Bulldogs also defeated St Kilda by 17 points at Waverley in Round 13, Harvey was restricted to 18 disposals, one of only two games for the 1997 season that he had less than 20 disposals.
In the third quarter of the Round 11 match against West Coast at Subiaco Oval Harvey produced one of the goals of the season, lining up outside his range, 60 metres from goal Harvey ran in as though he was going to pass to a teammate but bulked at the last moment to get past the man on the mark, Paul Symons and proceeded to run closer to goal before kicking a goal in wet conditions from 40 metres out just inside the boundary line. With Harvey’s sublime goal St Kilda regained the ascendency and went on to win the match by 16 points.
The 1997 season was shaping as one of the closest in the history of the VFL/AFL, and after 13 rounds St Kilda were seventh on the ladder with seven wins, six losses and a percentage of 106.1%. In 1997 the top eight teams made the finals, amazingly only two games and percentage separated Geelong second on the ladder with eight wins and Fremantle who were 13th with six wins. St Kilda were one of seven teams from fourth to 10th with seven wins.
Sydney entered their Round 19 match against St Kilda at the SCG having not lost in their past 20 matches at the SCG and looked to be in complete control after they led St Kilda by 38 points during the second quarter. Harvey finished the match with 25 kicks, 10 handballs and two goals to play a pivotal role in St Kilda’s amazing comeback to record a 10 point victory over the Swans. With the Round 19 victory St Kilda were guaranteed of playing finals for the first time in five seasons.
Robert Harvey finished the 1997 home and away season in exceptional form, having more than 34 disposals in four of the last seven games of the season and being judged best on ground by the umpires in each of these four games. St Kilda finished the season in barnstorming fashion, winning their last seven games to finish on top of the ladder with 15 wins and seven losses.
St Kilda trailed Brisbane by five points at half time of their Qualifying Final at Waverley Park but the Saints clicked into top gear during the second half to outscore the Lions 15 goals to seven in the second half to run out 46 point winners. Harvey had 23 kicks, 10 handballs and kicked a goal to yet again be one of the Saints most influential players.
For the majority of the season St Kilda had a very good run with injury, however the injuries were starting to mount at the business end of the season. In Round 22 against Port Adelaide back-up ruckman Lazor Vidovic injured his knee and missed the rest of the season. Number one ruckman Peter Everitt fractured his collarbone in the win over Brisbane in the Qualifying Final and also missed the rest of the season. With his ability to play in the ruck and the forward line Everitt had provided the Saints with flexibility.
The Kangaroos were a very experienced outfit and despite only finishing seventh on the ladder had upset Geelong by 18 points in a qualifying final and then defeated West Coast by 13 points in a semi-final. North Melbourne were the reigning premiers, and were in their fourth consecutive preliminary final which had contributed to them being instilled as the premiership favourites before their preliminary final against St Kilda.
Due to the injuries to Vidovic and Everitt, Brett Cook came into the St Kilda side for only his seventh game of the season. During the first quarter Cook combined with rover Nathan Burke to lay a fierce tackle on Corey McKernan which resulted in the North Melbourne ruckman suffering a dislocated right shoulder. McKernan had been a match winner the previous week against West Coast with 15 disposals, 17 hit-outs and four goals but played no further part in the match against St Kilda after the tackle.
At half-time St Kilda led by 10 points and set up a winning break with four unanswered goals in the third quarter. Harvey had 25 kicks, five marks, nine handballs and kicked a goal to be one of St Kilda’s best in the 31 point victory along with full-forward Jason Heatley, Stewart Loewe, Nicky Winmar, Nathan Burke and Darryl Wakelin. With their victory over North Melbourne St Kilda extended their winning sequence to a club record nine matches and entered the Grand Final against the Adelaide Crows as raging favourites.
In the Grand Final against Adelaide, despite being met heavily in the opening minutes Harvey continued to give a determined, hard-running performance, having a game-high 23 kicks, an equal game-high 13 handballs and kicked a goal to be one of the Saints best. St Kilda started the second half with a 13 point lead but were over-run by the Adelaide Crows with Darren Jarman playing a key role up forward and finishing the match with six goals. Adelaide started the last quarter with a 10 point lead and kicked away to win the Grand Final by 31 points.
In Champions: Conversations with Great Players and Coaches of Australian Football Harvey commented: “We had the form – we’d won our previous nine games – and being favourites only made it worse because we weren’t ready for what we faced on the day. Also, I think Adelaide had a nothing-to-lose mentality because they were the underdogs. They handled the pressure of the occasion much better, especially in the second half when they ran all over us.”6
Harvey won the AFL Players Association MVP in 1997, playing 25 matches, averaging 18.1 kicks, 12.1 handballs and 3.6 marks per game. For the second year in a row Harvey led the AFL in disposals and Burke was ranked second, with 30.2 and 26.8 disposals per game respectively. Harvey won the Trevor Barker Award as St Kilda’s best and fairest with 120 votes, 12 ahead of Nathan Burke. Robert was ranked fifth in the AFL for kicks and first for handballs. Harvey won many awards as the best player in 1997 including one from his peers, being named the AFL Player’s Association Most Valuable Player. Harvey was named as ruck-rover the 1997 All-Australian team, being joined by three St Kilda teammates, Aussie Jones (wing), Peter Everitt (interchange) and Nathan Burke (rover) who was also named the team’s vice-captain.
In Grand Final week Robert Harvey won the Brownlow Medal with 26 votes, five ahead of fellow midfielders Peter Matera and Paul Kelly. Western Bulldogs key forward Chris Grant polled 27 votes, one more than Harvey but was ineligible for the Brownlow due to being suspended for one match for striking Hawthorn’s Nick Holland in Round 7. Harvey polled votes in 10 games and was best afield seven times including two games in a row in Round 15 and 16 with at least 40 disposals in each game. Against Adelaide in Round 15 Harvey had a game-high 29 kicks, 14 handballs and kicked an equal game-high two goals. In Round 16 Harvey had a game-high 27 kicks – 10 more than the second ranked player for the game and a game-high 13 handballs in the Saints 79 point win over Hawthorn.
During 1998 Harvey played football at a level that few players in the history of the VFL/AFL have been able to maintain for a season, however the season started in disappointing rather than spectacular fashion. After commencing the season with an injury concern, things got worse for Harvey when Geelong’s Michael Mansfield laid a forceful tackle on him early in the Round 1 encounter at Waverley Park which resulted in Harvey playing little part in the match and finishing with just one disposal.
Although still obviously well short of being 100% fit Harvey took his place in the Round 2 side having eight kicks and 11 handballs during the loss to Essendon. There was speculation that Harvey might be a late withdrawal from the Round 3 match against Adelaide at Waverley Park, not only did Harvey play, he ended up being one of the best players, racking up 24 kicks, seven handballs, five marks, kicking a goal and laying four tackles in the 22 point win which resulted in Harvey receiving two Brownlow Medal votes. After his injury troubles in first two rounds Harvey played extremely consistent football in 1998, having 30 or more disposals in 17 of the remaining 20 games of the home and away season including 11 games with at least 34 disposals.
Despite their best efforts taggers from opposition clubs were unable to minimise the impact Harvey was able to have on games. With his legendary hard running, superb change of direction and brilliant reading of the play Harvey was an extremely difficult player to contain throughout an entire match. During an interview in the twilight of his career on his battle with taggers Harvey said “I wanted a tagger to be dead on his feet by the end of the game. Win, lose or draw, without fail, I made sure he was completely exhausted. I tried to make it a battle of attrition, survival of the fittest. You’re both fit, but my attitude was: ‘I know I’m fitter because I’ve done more work than he has.’”7
St Kilda failed to live up to expectations in 1998, after finishing the home and away season in sixth position St Kilda lost a qualifying final against Sydney by two points at the SCG and were soundly beaten the following week by Melbourne to the tune of 51 points in a semi-final at the MCG. The Saints acted swiftly, sacking coach Stan Alves on the day of the 1998 Brownlow Medal count – only nine days after St Kilda’s season had finished.
Whilst the concluding stages of the 1997 Brownlow count had been unusual with Chris Grant polling one more vote but being ineligible due to suspension, in 1998 Harvey was a run-away winner with 32 votes, eight more than runner-up Nathan Buckley with third placed Scott West a further vote behind. In 1998 Harvey equalled the record for polling votes in the most games of a season with 14, including votes in seven consecutive matches from Round 8 to Round 14. During this sequence Harvey took the lead in Round 10 and did not relinquish it for the rest of the night. In Round 10 against Sydney at the SCG Harvey received 3 Brownlow Medal votes during the win, having a game-high 24 kicks, 14 handballs and 13 clearances to set game-highs in all three categories, he also had an equal game-high seven inside 50’s and kicked a goal.
Although Harvey won back to back Brownlow Medals in 1997 and 1998 the circumstances of each win and indeed the entire Brownlow Medal week were vastly different. On Brownlow Medal day in 1997 St Kilda had an afternoon training session in preparation for that week’s Grand Final. The next day Harvey attended the traditional Carbine Club luncheon but said no to the other functions that week as he had a Grand Final to focus on. Without a Grand Final to prepare for Harvey was able to celebrate his 1998 win more and attend all of the Grand Final week functions.
In comparing his two Brownlow Medal winning seasons Robert Harvey said “I always thought in ’98 I had a much better year than in ’97. Obviously there were controversial circumstances in ’97, so it was good to get recognised aside from everything that went on the year before.”8 Harvey’s former team-mate Danny Frawley spoke to saints.com.au saying “The mark of Robert Harvey the competitor was he won his first Brownlow in ’97 and Chris Grant actually got the most votes, but Chris Grant actually got a week’s suspension and was ineligible. So Rob, unbeknown to anybody else had a pre-season that he’s never had before after winning the Brownlow. You’d expect some people to sit back and smoke the cigar, but Rob wanted to go to a new level. ’98 was an unbelievable year – not only did he win the Brownlow but he won it quite easily because he just didn’t want the doubters to say Rob Harvey won a Brownlow but Chris Grant had more votes. The next year he had it blown away by Round 18 – that just says a lot about Rob Harvey. His actions have always spoken louder. He walked away from the game absolutely having spent every ounce of energy he had for the red, white and black.”9
In 1998 Harvey played all 24 matches, averaging 20.1 kicks, 9.8 handballs and 3.1 marks per game. Harvey led the AFL in kicks, disposals and loose-ball gets, was ranked first at St Kilda for handballs, inside 50s, hard-ball gets, handballs received and loose-ball gets, third for rebound 50s and equal fifth for marks. Harvey won his second successive Trevor Barker Award, his fourth best and fairest overall, equalling Bill Cubbins St Kilda record. Current St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt has since broken this record, winning six Trevor Barker awards. Harvey made the All-Australian team for the sixth time, being named as rover, one St Kilda teammate Peter Everitt also made the team being named in the ruck.
One of the adjustments Harvey made in 1997 and 1998 which led to him being a more damaging player was significantly increasing his kick to handball ratio and also increasing the distance of his kicks. In 1996 Harvey had 301 kicks and 296 handballs, which equates to 1.02 kicks per handball, in 1997 he had 453 kicks and 303 handballs for a kick to handball ratio of 1.50 and in 1998 the trend continued, having 501 kicks and 234 handballs which equates to 2.16 kicks per handball. A massive transformation in a two year period, from 1999 onwards Harvey’s kick to handball ratio was on average around 1.6 kicks for every handball.
Tim Watson was appointed as St Kilda’s new coach for the 1999 season, Harvey was a passionate Essendon supporter as a kid and had idolised Watson when he was growing up. One of Harvey’s trademarks was doubling over just before throw-ins which often gave the false impression that Robert was close to exhaustion, during his career when asked about this habit Harvey responded “It’s just something I do. As a kid I used to watch Tim Watson and he did it. Nowadays I’m not even aware that I’m doing it.”10
Harvey played the first 12 games of the 1999 season, in his first four games he averaged a respectable 23.3 possessions a game but had been unable to recapture his dominating form of the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Harvey then had four consecutive games with more than 32 possessions including back to back best on ground performances in Round 5 against the Kangaroos and Round 6 against Carlton.
After losing to Sydney by 29 points in Round 11 the Saints looked set to rejoin the winners list the following week when they led Hawthorn by 63 points in the second quarter at Waverley Park. The Saints then lost their way and were over-run by Hawthorn, eventually losing to the Hawks by 13 points. The loss to Hawthorn proved to be the season defining moment for the Saints, suffering such a heart breaking loss seemed to sap St Kilda of confidence and they were unable to recover for the rest of the season.
In Round 19 1999 against the Western Bulldogs Harvey played a scintillating game having a career high for disposals, he had 31 kicks, 14 handballs, took eight marks, had nine clearances and kicked a team-high three goals to earn himself another 3 Brownlow Medal votes. Despite Harvey’s outstanding performance the Western Bulldogs had a four goal victory.
With his 45 disposals against the Western Bulldogs Harvey set a new all-time St Kilda record for most disposals in a game, breaking his own record of 44 disposals against Footscray (now the Western Bulldogs) in 1992. After the Round 19 1999 game Harvey held the top three spots for most disposals in a game by a St Kilda player with Nicky Winmar fourth with 42 disposals against Footscray in 1995. In the past 17 years teams have placed a greater emphasis on retaining possession which has led to shorter disposals to a teammate in space and less kicking the ball long to a contest which has resulted in the disposals per game increasing significantly. Harvey’s 45 disposals in Round 19 1999 is now equal second on St Kilda’s all-time list with David Armitage, having been surpassed by current St Kilda midfielders Leigh Montagna and Jack Steven who each had 47 disposals against Fremantle in Round 23 2013.
Harvey missed four games in the second half of the 1999 season with a calf injury and St Kilda faded badly in the second half of the season to win only three of their last 12 games of the season to finish in 10th position with 10 wins, a game and percentage behind the eighth placed Sydney Swans.
Robert Harvey was selected as the ruck-rover in the 1999 All-Australian team, the third straight year that he had been selected as an on-baller in the team and his seventh selection overall. Fellow St Kilda midfield stalwart Burke also made the team, being selected on the interchange.
In 1999 Harvey played 17 matches, averaging 17.6 kicks, 11.0 handballs and 3.5 marks per game. Harvey finished third in St Kilda’s best and fairest on 200 votes, 27 votes behind the winner Nathan Burke and only 4 votes behind runner-up Matthew Young. Harvey polled 11 Brownlow Medal votes the equal most at St Kilda with Burke and in the top 20 overall. Harvey was ranked third in the AFL for average disposals per game, first at St Kilda for handballs received, second for handballs, hard-ball gets and loose-ball gets and third for kicks, inside 50s and rebound 50s.
After playing the first six games of the 2000 season Harvey was a late withdrawal in Round 7 due to a groin injury, he ended up missing the Round 8 match as well. Harvey returned in Round 9, having seven consecutive games with 28 or more disposals, however it was proving to be a very unsuccessful season for the Saints who didn’t record their first win of the season until Round 11 against Port Adelaide by 62 points at Colonial Stadium (Docklands).
Harvey missed Round 17 to Round 20 with a hamstring injury but returned to play the final two games of the season. St Kilda finished on the bottom of the ladder with only three wins and a draw. Harvey was runner-up in St Kilda’s 2000 best and fairest, finishing with 27 votes, one vote behind Andrew Thompson, and narrowly ahead of Nathan Burke on 26 votes and Max Hudghton in fourth position with 25 votes. Missing six games proved costly for Harvey as Thompson only missed one game, whilst Burke and Hudghton played all 22 games.
In 2000 Harvey played 16 matches, averaging 15.4 kicks, 12.1 handballs and 4.6 marks per game. Harvey was ranked third at St Kilda for kicks, second for handballs, handballs received and hard-ball gets, and fourth for loose-ball get. Harvey polled five Brownlow Medal votes, ranked third at St Kilda behind Stewart Loewe on seven votes, and Nathan Burke second on six votes.
Tim Watson resigned as coach during the 2000 season and was replaced by two-time premiership coach Malcolm Blight. St Kilda were aggressive in the off-season recruiting experienced AFL players, Aaron Hamill, Fraser Gehrig, Craig Callaghan, Matthew Capuano, Steven Lawrence and Brett Voss. St Kilda had the first two selections in the 2000 National Draft, picking Nick Riewoldt and Justin Koschitzke.
In late January 2001 Harvey was appointed St Kilda’s captain, replacing Nathan Burke, in his first 13 seasons Harvey had three captains, Danny Frawley from 1988 to 1995, Stewart Loewe and Burke were joint captains from 1996 to 1998 and Burke was the sole Saints skipper in 1999 and 2000. In his first game as captain Harvey had 22 kicks, 11 handballs, nine inside 50s and 13 contested possessions to set the game-high in all four categories, he also kicked a goal in the five point win against the Western Bulldogs at Colonial Stadium. Harvey received two Brownlow Medal votes against the Western Bulldogs, was judged best on ground in Round two against Geelong and received one vote in Round 3 against West Coast. Harvey was having a greater impact on the scoreboard and in both of the matches against Geelong and West Coast he kicked three goals.
Robert missed Rounds 5 to 7 with a hamstring injury, returning in Round 8, however in Round 12 after being slung to the ground in a tackle against Fremantle at Subiaco Oval he seriously injured his knee which required a knee reconstruction and caused him to miss the rest of the season.
Throughout the 2001 season Harvey was limited to nine matches, averaging 15.0 kicks, 9.4 handballs, and 4.0 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 79.1%. Robert averaged exactly a goal a game in 2001, the only time in his career that he bettered this was in 1989, kicking 13 goals from 12 games. Although Harvey played only nine of St Kilda’s 22 games he finished seventh in St Kilda’s best and fairest and was the leading Saint at the Brownlow, polling seven votes, one ahead of Barry Hall. Harvey was ranked fifth at St Kilda for hard ball gets with 42, 21 behind club leader Peter ‘Spider’ Everitt and only 11 behind Steven Baker, ranked third.
Malcolm Blight was sacked 15 rounds into the 2001 season with Grant Thomas taking over as caretaker coach for the remainder of the season and later on being appointed as the head coach for the 2002 season.
St Kilda’s team of the century was announced during 2001, Harvey was selected as the ruck-rover and five players that had been team-mates of his at the Saints were also included in the team, being: Trevor Barker (half-back), Nicky Winmar (wing), Stewart Loewe (half-forward), Tony Lockett (full-forward) and Nathan Burke (forward pocket).
After recovering from his knee injury Harvey took his place in the Round 1 2002 side against Carlton and made an immediate impact, being judged best on ground in the 24 point victory at Colonial Stadium. A calf injury forced Harvey to miss four matches from Round 3 to Round 6.
Harvey returned in Round 7 and played his 250th AFL game in Round 9 against Richmond, becoming just the sixth person to play 250 games for St Kilda. A vintage Harvey display, with 19 kicks and 10 handballs was the catalyst for St Kilda to record a nine point victory, Robert was judged best on ground for the second time of the season in only his fifth game. Harvey was building an unbelievable record in his milestone games, having been best afield in his 150th and 200th matches and inspiring the Saints to narrow victories in both of these matches.
The following week against West Coast, Harvey injured his calf early in the game which caused him to miss Round 11 against Brisbane. Harvey returned in Round 12 and yet again put in a dominant performance against the Western Bulldogs, having 21 kicks, 15 handballs, taking six marks and kicking two goals. A shoulder injury which required a reconstruction forced Harvey to miss the final seven games of the season.
In 2002 Harvey played 10 matches, averaging 12.2 kicks, 7.2 handballs, and 2.8 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 80.9%. Harvey polled seven Brownlow Medal votes, ranked second at St Kilda behind 2002 Rising Star winner and St Kilda best and fairest Nick Riewoldt (11 votes) who was just 19 years old at the time.
During 2001 and 2002 whilst he was injured, Harvey spent some time in the St Kilda coaches box which provided him with a new perspective and enabled Robert to identify ways in which he could provide more assistance to his younger teammates out on the ground when he returned from injury in 2003.
From the 2003 season onwards St Kilda coach Grant Thomas implemented a rotational captaincy policy which resulted in the captain being changed each season. This resulted in Robert Harvey relinquishing the captaincy at the end of the 2002 season. In two seasons as captain injuries had restricted Harvey to only 19 of a possible 44 matches. From 2000 to 2002 St Kilda had only 11 wins, two draws and finished in the bottom two teams on the ladder in all three seasons.
From 1996 to 1998 Harvey had been remarkably durable, playing 70 of a possible 71 games however from 1999 to 2002 he had only managed 52 of a possible 88 games for St Kilda and entering the 2003 season he knew that if he had another serious injury it could signal the end of his career. At the commencement of the 2003 season Harvey had played 255 VFL/AFL games ranked sixth on St Kilda’s all-time games list behind Loewe, Burke, Barry Breen, Gary Colling and Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale.
In a remarkable transformation Harvey was able to remain injury-free during 2003 and played every game, the fortunes of the club were also rapidly improving with the development of younger players playing a key role in this. Although the Saints missed the finals for the fifth year in succession they had finished the season with a flurry, winning four of their last five games of the season, with each win being by at least 10 goals.
In one of the best finishes of the 2003 season St Kilda trailed the Kangaroos by a points in their Round 16 match at Docklands, with just under a minute to go Harvey ran through the centre of the ground and received a handball from captain Aaron Hamill, Harvey took a bounce, sprinted to 65 metres out and kicked the ball perfectly to allow Fraser Gehrig to run on to it and take a chest mark on the lead 15 metres out from goal. Gehrig registered the final score of the match – a goal, to give the Saints a memorable victory. The match against the Kangaroos was one of the nine games throughout 2003 that Harvey received Brownlow Medal votes.
Harvey and Lenny Hayes proved to be a formidable midfield combination for St Kilda and were both ranked in the top five of the AFL for total disposals during the 2003 home and away season. Harvey was selected in the 2003 All Australian team on the bench whilst team-mate Hayes made his first All-Australian team, being named on the wing. In the week that Harvey was officially elevated to legend status in the St Kilda Hall of Fame Hayes spokes to saints.com.au about playing alongside Harvey and what he learnt from this experience, saying “I think he taught a lot of guys how to train and how to prepare at an AFL level. I think we were lucky that he wasn’t just our best player; he was our hardest worker. He really set the scene and gave us a recipe for success – if you wanted to be successful you’ve got to work hard. A lot of guys that played with him would have learnt that from ‘Harvs’, I certainly did. I think also in the later stages he continued to evolve and that’s something that he always did. He always used to say to me you’re never too old to learn something in this game. That’s something that I always held on to in the latter stages of my career.”11
It was fitting that Hayes was selected in his first All-Australian team in the same year that Harvey was selected for the eighth and final time as Hayes drew inspiration from the commitment, determination and work ethic of Harvey in a similar fashion that Hayes inspired his St Kilda teammates. In the past 30 years few players in the AFL have been as universally admired as Robert Harvey and Lenny Hayes.
In 2003 Harvey played all 22 matches, averaging 109 minutes, 16.4 kicks, 10.0 handballs, and 5.2 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 81.6%. Harvey was ranked first at St Kilda for kicks and handballs received, second for handballs, loose ball gets, inside 50s and rebound 50s, third for hard-ball gets and fourth for marks and tackles Harvey was second in St Kilda’s best and fairest with 137 votes, 13 votes behind Lenny Hayes who won his first Trevor Barker Award. Harvey polled a club-high 18 votes in the Brownlow Medal to finish equal 10th, four votes behind joint winners, Nathan Buckley, Mark Ricciuto and Adam Goodes.
In its profile of Harvey, AFL 2004 – The official statistical history of the AFL commended Harvey on his 2003 season, saying “The second-highest ball-winner in the competition over 22 rounds (580 at an average of more than 26 per game) was just part of the story as he added a defensive element to his game that saw him also shut down many big names.”12
During 2004 Harvey only missed two games, Round 9 with a calf injury and Round 22 when he was a late withdrawal with a hamstring injury. Whilst the Saints midfield in 2003 had been very reliant on Harvey and Hayes, in 2004 the workload was spread more evenly with several Saints taking on more responsibility, young midfielders Nick Dal Santo & Luke Ball showed considerable improvement and both finished in the top five of St Kilda’s best and fairest.
St Kilda had a superb start to 2004 winning the pre-season competition – the Wizard Cup and the first 10 games of the home and away season – setting a new record for the longest winning sequence in St Kilda’s VFL/AFL history. Harvey won the Michael Tuck medal for being best afield in the Wizard Cup Grand Final victory against Geelong. Harvey’s best performance for the 2004 season was in Round 19 against Adelaide at York Park, Tasmania when he was best afield with 21 kicks, 16 handballs and 12 contested possessions to set game-highs in all three categories, he also had six marks and kicked two goals and had an equal game-high three goal assists.
St Kilda had a form slump between Round 11 and Round 15, winning just one of their five games during this period. The Saints finished strongly winning five of their last seven games of the home and away season to finish in third position with 16 wins and six losses, only percentage behind the second placed Brisbane Lions and a game and percentage behind minor premiers Port Adelaide.
In their first final for six years St Kilda travelled to the Gabba and were comprehensively outplayed by Brisbane, trailing by 46 points at half-time and losing the match by 80 points. The young Saints responded brilliantly the following week to defeat Sydney by 51 points at the MCG, Harvey was one of the Saints best with 18 kicks, eight handballs and 26 disposals, setting game-highs in the latter two categories, he also had an equal team-high 11 contested possessions and one goal assist.
The preliminary final against Port Adelaide at AAMI Stadium was Robert Harvey’s 300th game, making him just the fourth Saint to reach this milestone after 1966 Grand Final hero Barry Breen and two of Robert’s peers, Stewart Loewe and Nathan Burke.
In a high standard, close game Port Adelaide prevailed by six points and would win the Premiership the following week when they defeated Brisbane. One of the lasting images of the 2004 season was Harvey hunched over, moments after the siren coming to terms with narrowly missing out on making the Grand Final. St Kilda had made remarkable improvement to go from 15th in 2002 to become a premiership contender during 2004 and get tantalisingly close to a Grand Final berth.
In 2004 Harvey played 23 matches, averaging 96 minutes, 13.1 kicks, 8.6 handballs and 4.3 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 74.9%. Harvey finished seventh in St Kilda’s best and fairest, was ranked third for kicks, handballs and handballs received, fifth for marks, fifth for rebound 50s, fourth for hard-ball gets and second for loose-ball gets.
Hamstring injuries hampered Harvey during the 2005 season, causing him to miss seven matches in the first 17 rounds. Harvey still had some fine performances during this time, however it was after returning from injury late in the season that Harvey wound the clock back and reinforced that he remained a match-winner. After returning from his hamstring injury in Round 18 Harvey had at least 22 possessions in all seven of his games and polled five Brownlow Medal votes including a best afield performance against the Kangaroos in Round 20 at Docklands, having 15 kicks, an equal game-high 10 marks, six inside 50s and a game-high two goal assists in the 23 point win.
St Kilda had 14 wins and eight losses during the 2005 home and away season to finish fourth on the ladder, for their second final in a row the Saints travelled to AAMI Stadium to play the minor premiers, this time it was a qualifying final against the Adelaide Crows. Harvey was sublime with his evasiveness, hard-running and brilliant ball use to rack up 17 kicks, 14 handballs, 11 marks and seven inside 50s to set game-highs in the latter three categories and produce numbers any elite midfielder would be proud to have, however Harvey also proved to be very damaging around goal to have a goal assist and kick a team-high three goals in a low scoring game that had a total of only 18 goals kicked. Harvey’s best afield performance proved to be the difference between the two sides with the Saints winning by eight points. Despite being the oldest player in the AFL Robert Harvey was able to play arguably his greatest ever game in an extremely illustrious career and inspire the Saints to a memorable finals victory.
In the preliminary final against Sydney at the MCG the Saints fought back from a two goal deficit at quarter time to lead Sydney by 13 points late in the third quarter, however the Swans completely outplayed St Kilda from this point on to kick the final six goals of the match and win by 31 points. After the euphoria at the end of the previous match it was an extremely disappointing manner for a season that had promised so much to end.
In 2005 Harvey became only the second player in VFL/AFL history to have been the youngest player in the VFL/AFL at the start of their career and then become the oldest player in the VFL/AFL late in their career. The first player to do so was Fitzroy’s Kevin Murray who began his VFL career in 1955 aged 16 and retired at the age of 36 in 1974, having won the Brownlow Medal in 1969 and in the same year equalled the record set by Bob Skilton a year earlier for most VFL club best and fairests won with nine.
Harvey played 17 matches in 2005, averaging 91 minutes, 12.2 kicks, 9.4 handballs, and 5.3 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 82.3%. Robert was ranked fifth at St Kilda for kicks, inside 50s and hard-ball gets and first for score assists with 28. Harvey’s profile in AFL Prospectus 2006 said “Heading towards the twilight of his career and averaging only 91 minutes game-time in 2005, Harvey’s ability to find the ball was still elite. Harvey not only won plenty of the ball averaging a disposal every four minutes and 15 seconds played – ranked fifth in the competition, but also had a higher efficiency rate (82%) than any season since 1999.”13
In 2006 for the first time since his debut season in 1988, Harvey did not have a 30 disposal game, however he was being used in a different fashion. Whilst Harvey wasn’t having the huge disposal games of seasons past, he adapted very well to a changed role, spending more time playing at half-forward and his damaging ball-use contributed to him being one of St Kilda’s most influential players during the 2006 season. Playing this role eased the workload on Harvey’s body which reduced the risk of being injured and contributed to Harvey remaining very effective when he played in the midfield. There is no question that Harvey was also benefitting due to opposition teams focusing more defensive energy on Harvey’s team-mates, including Hayes, Dal Santo, and Ball.
Harvey kicked 18 goals in 2006, an equal career-high with his 1997 Brownlow Medal winning season, and he kicked three goals in a game three times for the season, being in the Brownlow Medal votes on each occasion including two best afield performances. In St Kilda’s 70 point Round 13 victory against Hawthorn at the Docklands Harvey had 16 kicks, 12 marks, eight handballs, four inside 50s, kicked three goals, received three Brownlow Medal votes and took four marks inside 50, the highest tally recorded in his career, however records of this stat were only kept from 1999 onwards. With his three votes against Hawthorn Harvey achieved the milestone of 200 career Brownlow Medal votes becoming only the third player in VFL/AFL history to reach this landmark, after Footscray and North Melbourne ruckman Gary Dempsey and Hawthorn rover Leigh Matthews.
Despite being the oldest player in the AFL Harvey showed great durability to be one of six St Kilda players to play all 23 matches during 2006 along with Nick Dal Santo, Brett Voss, Nick Riewoldt, Jason Gram and Sam Fisher.
St Kilda finished the home and away season in sixth position and were in a strong position leading Melbourne by 20 points at half-time of their elimination final at the MCG. Melbourne outclassed the Saints in the second half, kicking 10 goals to four to defeat the Saints by 18 points. After making two consecutive Preliminary Finals St Kilda reacted quickly to the elimination final loss to Melbourne, sacking head coach Grant Thomas and replacing him with Ross Lyon.
In 2006 Harvey played 23 matches, averaging 13.0 kicks, 7.7 handballs, and 6.3 marks per game in 90 minutes game time with a disposal efficiency of 81.1%. Harvey was ranked fifth at St Kilda for kicks and hard-ball gets, fourth for marks, handballs, goals, handballs received, inside 50s and tackles, and third for loose-ball gets. Harvey finished fourth in the Trevor Barker Award for St Kilda’s best and fairest behind winner Nick Riewoldt, Jason Gram and Sam Fisher. Harvey was the highest polling St Kilda player at the 2006 Brownlow Medal with 12 votes including three best on ground performances, he finished equal 14th overall.
Harvey played the first nine games of the 2007 season before missing Rounds 10 and 11 with a hamstring injury and Round 21 with a thigh injury. Harvey polled seven Brownlow Medal votes including three votes in Round 3 against the Western Bulldogs with 16 kicks, eight handballs, seven marks, a goal and a goal assist during the 50 point victory.
Without question the highlight of St Kilda’s 2007 season occurred in Round 12 against West Coast at Subiaco when Robert Harvey became just the 10th player in VFL/AFL history to play 350 games. St Kilda entered the game languishing in 14th position with only four wins, had lost their last four matches and were given little chance of defeating West Coast who were second on the ladder, level with the top team Geelong on eight wins. St Kilda played inspired football to go into the half-time break with a 37 point lead. After West Coast had fought back to reduce the margin to five points in the last quarter, the Saints retained their composure to kick away and win by 23 points. Harvey played a superb game, having 15 kicks, 15 handballs and receiving a Brownlow Medal vote. In the post-match interview on Subiaco Oval Harvey said “I’d love to play in another Grand Final, but if I don’t play in another premiership, you’re not going to get much better than today.”
The fighting win kick-started St Kilda’s season, with the resurgent Saints having seven wins and a draw in the second half of the season to rise up the ladder. However it was not quite enough and the Saints paid the price for their poor first half of the season, finishing ninth in 2007, only two premiership points and percentage behind the eighth placed Adelaide Crows.
In 2007 Harvey played 19 matches, averaging 86 minutes, 12.2 kicks, 8.5 handballs, and 5.5 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 76.8%. Harvey finished seventh in St Kilda’s best and fairest and was ranked fourth at St Kilda for handballs, and handballs received, second for disposals per minute and equal third for loose-ball gets.
In the first 18 rounds of the 2008 season Harvey continued to be a valuable contributor for the Saints, missing only one game – Round 11 with a calf injury. In the eight point Round 13 victory against Fremantle Harvey had 21 kicks, 10 handballs, 12 marks and received three Brownlow medal votes, the final votes of his career.
On 6 August 2008 Robert held a press conference saying at the start of it “I’m sure it’s no surprise to many but I’d like to announce my retirement effective at the end of the season, whenever that may be for us. I’m very happy and honoured to have stretched my career out as long as I did.” Later in his press conference Harvey said “It has never become a chore. Pre-season is something I have always been able to tick off as something that I enjoy. I might still actually do a pre-season and not play! I do enjoy keeping fit, I love playing, that hasn’t wavered. I think as the game has modernised I have been able to roughly adjust to it in my own way.”
After 18 rounds of the 2008 season St Kilda were in seventh position, a win and percentage clear of ninth and only half a game behind Sydney in fourth position. The following week St Kilda lost to Collingwood by 14 points at the MCG making the likelihood of a top four position appear remote at best. St Kilda responded well the next week to defeat Fremantle by 43 points at Subiaco.
Round 21 against Adelaide at the Telstra Dome (Docklands) was the Robert Harvey tribute match. Perhaps overawed by the occasion St Kilda got off to a slow start and trailed the Crows by two goals at quarter time, however the Saints dominated for the remainder of the match, outscoring Adelaide 13 goals to three after quarter time to win by 52 points and sew up a finals berth.
St Kilda played their Round 22 game on the final day of the home and away season and knew that a win would see them finish no lower than fifth and a win by about 100 points would see the Saints displace Adelaide from fourth position. Amazingly St Kilda achieved just this, defeating Essendon by 108 points and finishing in fourth position with a percentage of 110.56 compared to Adelaide’s 109.74. Adelaide commenced the Round 21 match against St Kilda in fifth position with a percentage of 113.01 – 10.45% ahead of St Kilda on 102.56% a game behind in eighth place. Rarely has the importance of percentage been made as clear as it was in the final fortnight of the 2008 season.
In his final game for St Kilda, the 54 point preliminary final loss to Hawthorn, Robert Harvey broke yet another record – the club record for most finals played for St Kilda, with 17, one ahead of 1966 premiership player Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale. Nick Dal Santo and Nick Riewoldt have since equalled Harvey’s club record of 17 finals.
In 2008 Harvey played 23 matches, averaging 79 minutes, 12.1 kicks, 9.0 handballs and 5.4 marks per game. Harvey ranked second at St Kilda for score assists, equal first for loose-ball gets, fourth for handballs and hard-ball gets, fifth for average clearances, marks and handballs received. Harvey started on the bench 13 times for the season and was on the bench a total of 153 times during the 2008 season, the most of any St Kilda player. Harvey predominantly played at half-forward and also had some stints on the ball. In his final AFL season Harvey finished fifth in St Kilda’s best and fairest behind, Sam Fisher, Nick Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes and Max Hudghton.
Over his 383 game VFL/AFL career Harvey averaged 14.7 kicks, 10.5 handballs, 4.0 marks, 0.56 goals and 0.59 Brownlow votes per game. In 11 of his 21 seasons Harvey was ranked in the top 10 of the AFL for disposals per game including 10 consecutive seasons from 1992 to 2001, in 1996, 1997 and 1998 Harvey led the AFL in disposals. Averaging 25 disposals per game places you firmly in the AFL’s elite for this category, during Harvey’s 21 season career the average number of players to have at least 25 disposals in a season was 8.5. Robert Harvey’s ability to win possession was phenomenal as highlighted by his career average of 25.2 disposals a game, a mark that the vast majority of players would be extremely happy to achieve in one season let alone for a career spanning over two decades.
In his profile the Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers says Harvey was a “remorseless individual on the training track and often coach Stan Alves would tell him to go inside for a rest only to find out that Harvey went for a long run around the streets.”14 Harvey commented “I went through a stage in my early 20s where I was a bit out of control with the amount of training and running I did. For a while there, neither I nor anyone else could rein me in. It was an obsession. I thought more was better. But I got injuries because of it – shin splints and soft-tissue stuff. I was my own worst enemy. Outside normal training, I’d do all the extra work. I couldn’t stop myself.”15
As he got older Harvey learnt that doing extra training sessions could be detrimental rather than helpful and in his last six AFL seasons from 2003 to 2008 he proved to be remarkably durable, playing 128 of St Kilda’s 141 games representing 90.8% of all their matches during this time. There is no doubt that he benefitted greatly from managing his body better than he had earlier in his career. In early 2007 Harvey said “I just didn’t listen and I’d keep training. But in the end no-one remembers if you trained, it’s about playing games. I’m better now at knowing when I’m tight in an area and leaving it alone and telling the fitness staff.”16
Harvey joined Carlton as a development and fitness coach late in 2008 and predominantly worked with Carlton’s younger players during the 2009 season. Harvey was excited about working with and assisting in the development of Carlton’s younger brigade.
St Kilda had offered Harvey a full-time position at the club for 2009 however Robert felt that he would be able to develop more by going to another club, working with new people and learning different systems and game-plans.
For the 2010 season Harvey was promoted to an Assistant coach, and together with Mark Riley he was responsible for the midfield. In 2008 Carlton had finished 11th two games and percentage behind Collingwood in eighth place. During his time at Carlton Harvey played a crucial role developing Carlton’s younger players and then coaching the midfield. In both 2009 & 2010 Carlton made the finals only to suffer narrow losses in elimination finals during the first week of the finals on both occasions.
Just over a week after Carlton’s 2010 finals campaign ended it was announced that Harvey would be returning to St Kilda as an assistant coach of the midfield. On his two years spent at Carlton Harvey said “It has been greatly beneficial for me. I’m obviously not a senior coach but what I learnt from the early days at Carlton to take into this period at St Kilda has been great. It’s something you can’t pick up (otherwise). I’ve learnt a lot and it was important for me to be able to get away and learn that.”17
During his two years at Carlton Harvey stayed in regular contact with St Kilda head coach Ross Lyon, during the 2010 season several of St Kilda’s assistant coaches left, which coincided with Harvey being out of contract at the end of the 2010 season, so it fitted in well and the timing seemed right for Harvey to return to the Saints.
In the two seasons that Harvey had been away from the club St Kilda made the Grand Final in each season, and both years fell agonisingly short of winning the club’s second Premiership. Whilst there had been changes to the playing list most of the players on the St Kilda list for 2011 had been teammates of Robert’s in his final AFL season in 2008. Being coach of the midfield Harvey had the opportunity of working with teammates he had played with for years including Hayes, Dal Santo and Leigh Montanga, as well as the emerging David Armitage and Jack Steven.
St Kilda finished sixth on the ladder in 2011 with 12 wins, nine losses and a draw. The Saints hosted Sydney in an Elimination Final at Etihad Stadium however Sydney comfortably accounted for St Kilda, winning by 26 points. After five years in the job Head Coach Ross Lyon left St Kilda in sensational circumstances to join rival Fremantle in the same role.
Despite not playing their next AFL match for several months St Kilda appointed Robert Harvey as interim head coach. Harvey applied for the full-time position as St Kilda head coach but Scott Watters won the role. During the 2010 and 2011 seasons Watters had been an assistant coach at Collingwood.
At the end of the 2011 season Harvey joined Collingwood as an assistant coach (midfield), working with players including Scott Pendlebury, Dane Swan and ex-teammate Luke Ball as well as the club’s younger midfielders. In 2013 Harvey has continued in his role as assistant coach (midfield), working closely with Head Coach Nathan Buckley. At the time of Harvey’s appointment as Collingwood assistant coach Buckley said “There is no doubt that Robert’s character and work ethic will help drive our young midfield group.”18
When Lenny Hayes announced that his former teammate Robert Harvey had been inducted into St Kilda’s Hall of Fame on 4 May 2013 he commented “Harvey’s record stands supreme… He is the only player in league history to receive Brownlow votes in more than 100 games.”
In the same manner that Lenny Hayes and Nick Dal Santo looked up to Robert Harvey when they started their AFL careers Harvey looked up to Trevor Barker. On the night that Harvey was inducted into the St Kilda Football Club Hall of Fame Trevor Barker was elevated to Legend of the St Kilda Football Club. During his acceptance speech Harvey said “Trevor Barker took me aside as a 16 year old and showed me the passion and pride of the club, he really loved the club and its supporters.” Harvey went on to say “I would like to thank all the players I played with” but he made special mention of several of his ex-teammates including Danny Frawley, Nathan Burke, Stewart Loewe, Barker, Nick Riewoldt and Lenny Hayes.
In 2013 Harvey was assistant coach at Collingwood, being responsible for the midfield, on 24 September 2013 Harvey was named the AFL Coaches Association’s Assistant Coach of the Year. In 2014 Collingwood elevated Harvey to the role of senior assistant coach. During 2015 Harvey was one of nine coaches who were accepted to undertake their level four coaching accreditation which was newly introduced to help prepare assistant coaches for the role as a potential head-coach. All candidates had to go through a rigorous selection process to be admitted to the course, other coaches that undertook the course include St Kilda Assistant Coach Adam Kingsley, Sydney Assistant Coach Stewart Dew and Brendon Bolton who was a Hawthorn Assistant Coach in 2015 and was appointed as Carlton’s head-coach later that year.
On Saturday 9 April 2016 Harvey performed his role as Collingwood Assistant coach in their game against Collingwood at the MCG in an early afternoon game against St Kilda. Despite losing Nick Riewoldt and Paddy McCartin to concussion late in the first half to concussion and Dylan Roberton to a knee injury in the third quarter an undermanned St Kilda played brilliantly to record an upset 29 point victory. Later that night Harvey was elevated to legend status in St Kilda’s Hall of Fame on a night that was also the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Saints only premiership in 1966. On Saturday night two more St Kilda players were also inducted into the club’s hall of fame, Glenn Elliot and Stuart Trott.
On Thursday 7 April 2016 current Saint Leigh Montagna commented to Radio Station Triple M about training alongside Harvey early in his career “He was an inspiration to learn off. He was the one of those guys that when you first started training you thought you were working hard as a kid and then you looked at Robert Harvey and you went ‘ooh jeepers’. You were on the bike and you thought you were working hard and then you looked at the sweat coming off Robert Harvey. It was an eye opener into the level you had to get to to become a professional. And he was the best of the best, so we were lucky to have someone like him to learn off.”19
The book Heroes with Halos by Russell Holmesby looking at St Kilda’s One Hundred Greatest was published in 1995, although Robert Harvey had only played 116 games and was about a third of the way into his VFL/AFL career he was ranked 17th. The top three players in order were Ian Stewart, Tony Lockett and Darrel Baldock. These three players together with St Kilda’s only premiership coach, Allan Jeans were the first four people elevated to Legend status in the St Kilda Football Club Hall of Fame. In January 2015 Holmesby revisited his ranking of St Kilda’s greatest players, publishing a list of St Kilda’s greatest 25 players on saints.com.au. The top three from his 1995 list of Stewart, Baldock and Lockett remained unchanged, however Harvey was elevated to number four on the list and there were several new additions including Nick Riewoldt at five and Lenny Hayes at six.
Harvey’s dedication, passion, commitment and work-ethic enabled him to get the most out of himself, he clearly had all of these traits from when he was very young as at 13 years of age Harvey completed the Melbourne Marathon, running from Frankston to Melbourne despite not having trained for it, he simply dug deep and found a way to finish. Harvey later competed in state championships at Olympic Park for middle distances but didn’t consider himself an outstanding runner at that level.
Sporting prowess runs in the Harvey family, Robert is the grand nephew of cricketer Neil Harvey the great left handed batsman who played 79 tests for Australia between 1948 and 1963, and the grandson of Merv Harvey who played one test for Australia. Robert was a very good cricketer himself, playing district cricket and was selected for in a Victorian under-19 team.
Robert had incredible endurance enabling him to run just as hard in the last quarter as he did in the first, the ability to weave through packs mesmerising his opponents and evading their attempts to tackle him leaving spectators spellbound. Harvey was a superb reader of the play and ball-winner amassing more disposals (9656) from 1981-2015 than any other player in the VFL/AFL. In June 2012 Harvey was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame.
Early in 2008 midfielder Nick Dal Santo said “When I first arrived at the Saints (in 2001) I looked up to the likes of Harves, who picked me up for the first 2-3 weeks of my football life as I wasn’t able to drive. This was a great introduction to football, as to a degree, Harves took me under his wing. I also looked up to other players like Lenny Hayes and to have those sorts of guys as role models was extremely beneficial.”20
It is an amazing achievement to play an the VFL/AFL for 21 years, to survive for that long Harvey needed to be able to adapt and use the circumstances he faced at a particular point in time to his advantage. Harvey had no trouble doing this and was able to perform several different roles with distinction throughout his career. Throughout much of his career Harvey was able to break the spirit of his opponents with his incredible endurance, however towards the end of his career the interchange had expanded to four players and Harvey was able to make use of this change by becoming more of a burst player with his game-time dropping significantly.
Over the course of his career an astronomical 211 players were St Kilda teammates of Harvey’s for at least one game. Fellow 300 game players Burke and Loewe played the most games with him, Harvey and Burke were teammates for 253 games, whilst Harvey, Burke and Loewe were all in the same St Kilda team on 212 occasions with the trio playing their first game together in Harvey’s Round 19 1988 debut and their last game together in Round 2, 2002. Some of Harvey’s teammates in latter seasons hadn’t even been born when Harvey made his VFL debut on 6 August 1988, including Jack Steven and Ben McEvoy.
Harvey finished in the top three of St Kilda’s best and fairest 10 times, comprised of four wins in 1992, 1994, 1997 and 1998, two second places in 2000 and 2003 and four third places in 1990, 1993, 1996 and 1999.
It might seem a strange comment to make about a two-time Brownlow Medallist but a case could be put forward that despite all his achievement’s many members of the wider football community still underrate Robert Harvey. Frequently when people talk about the greatest midfielders of Harvey’s generation the names mentioned first are James Hird, Michael Voss and Nathan Buckley, for some reason Harvey is generally considered to be a step behind these three players.
I’m unsure what else Harvey had to achieve to be considered at least the equal of the three aforementioned players. Harvey had an outstanding career, performing at a high standard right up to the end and finished his career third on the VFL/AFL all-times games list with 383, behind only Michael Tuck (426) and Kevin Bartlett (403). Robert Harvey is now fifth on the VFL/AFL all-time games list having been overtaken by Dustin Fletcher (400 games) and Brent Harvey (412 and counting). Robert Harvey is also a two-time Brownlow Medallist, four-time St Kilda best and fairest winner and eight-time All-Australian, however he also gave exceptional performances in the big games which seems to get understated, possibly because he didn’t play in a premiership.
In the official AFL records Harvey was named in St Kilda’s half-dozen best players an astronomical 14 times from his 17 finals, in 11 of these games Harvey is listed in the top three Saints including five matches as St Kilda’s best player. Throughout Harvey’s illustrious 21 year career with St Kilda the Saints won six finals, in the first five of these victories Harvey was named as St Kilda’s best player every single time.
Harvey also had the remarkable record of playing eight State of Origin matches for Victoria, winning three E.J Whitten Medals for being best afield for Victoria, he was in Victoria’s best half a dozen players another three times. Few players in VFL/AFL history have been able to produce their best football in the biggest matches throughout their career as consistently as champion midfielder Robert Harvey did.
Whilst fans of the St Kilda Football Club and indeed the wider football community have known that Robert Harvey is a legend for quite some time his elevation to this status officially by the Saints on Saturday night provides thoroughly deserved recognition for Harvey’s brilliant 21 season career during which he thrilled St Kilda fans with his ball-winning ability, sublime evasiveness and exceptional big game performances, and earned the respect and admiration of the entire football community.
By Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777
2 The Slattery Media Group, Harves St Kilda legend, page 28,
3 The Slattery Media Group, Harves St Kilda legend, page 28,
4 Playright Publishing Pty Ltd, Heroes with Halos – St Kilda’s One Hundred Greatest by Russell Holmesby, page 122
5 AFL, 1994 AFL Media Guide, page M175
6 The Slattery Media Group, Champions: Conversations with Great Players and Coaches of Australian Football, 1998
7 The Slattery Media Group, Harves St Kilda legend, page 31,
8 Geoff Slattery Publishing Pty Ltd, The Brownlow –A tribute to the greats of Australian Football, page 321
10 Playright Publishing Pty Ltd, Heroes with Halos – St Kilda’s One Hundred Greatest by Russell Holmesby, page 121
12 AFL, AFL 2004 – The official statistical history of the AFL, page 255
13 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – the essential number cruncher for season 2006, 1st edition, page 234.
14 Bas Publishing, The Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers by Russell Holmesby & Jim Main, page 306
15 The Slattery Media Group, Harves St Kilda legend, page 30
16 St Kilda Football Club, The Saint 2007 Season Guide, In for the long run by Russell Holmesby, page 17, March 2007
17 St Kilda.com.au, Harvs adjusts to outsider status by Luke Holmesby, 8 December 2010
18 HeraldSun.com.au, Harvey joins Buckley at Pies for 2012 by Matt Windley, 26 October 2011
20 St Kilda Football Club, The Saint 2008 Season Guide, Nick Dal Santo Player feature interview by Vanessa Gigliotti, page 9, March 2008