St Kilda inside midfielder David Armitage’s decade long journey to 150 AFL games

This afternoon in St Kilda’s Round 23 game against Brisbane at Etihad Stadium courageous St Kilda inside midfielder David Armtitage will play his 150th AFL game, becoming the 55th Saints player to reach 150 VFL/AFL games for the club, joining five current team-mates – Nick Riewoldt (318 games), Leigh Montagna (270), San Fisher (227), Sam Gilbert (178) & Sean Dempster (167). Armitage has finished in the top 10 of St Kilda’s best and fairest in four consecutive seasons from 2012 to 2015 with a highest finish of second in 2015.

Armitage grew up in the Queensland coastal city of Mackay and started his football career playing for junior club the Eastern Swans and progressed to make his debut in the seniors for Eastern Swans at just 14 years of age, he performed superbly on debut – kicking five goals against Bakers Creek. To increase his chances of making it onto an AFL list, Armitage at the age of 16 moved almost 1,000 kms south to Brisbane for the 2005 football season, with his parents Greg and Annette and his older brother Dylan and younger sister Sarah remaining in Mackay.

In 2005 and 2006 Armitage played for Morningside in the QAFL, winning the Rising Star Award in the seniors of the QAFL for a 2006 season in which he averaged 22.8 disposals and two goals per game.

Armitage was selected by St Kilda with pick 9 at the 2006 National Draft. In his first four seasons with St Kilda from 2007 to 2010 Armitage was unable to cement a permanent position in the St Kilda side, only playing 28 of a possible 98 games and was regularly demoted back to the VFL after playing a handful of games in a row at AFL level. During 2007 and 2008 a strong pattern emerged with Armitage’s best performances coming in the first week or two after being recalled to the St Kilda side, his output would then fall away after several consecutive games for the Saints in the AFL which led to him being dropped to the VFL several times in his first two seasons.

Whilst Armitage improved during his third and fourth seasons he only managed a total of 12 matches for St Kilda during 2009-2010, several times during this period Armitage after being named in the Saints best players in at least one of his previous two matches was dropped to make way for a star teammate returning from injury. St Kilda were one of the best teams in the AFL during 2009 and 2010, making the Grand Final in both seasons which resulted in fierce competition for spots in the Saints side.

At the conclusion of the 2010 season Armitage was ranked 40th of the 80 players selected at the 2006 National Draft with 28 matches, 17 of David’s peers from the 2006 National Draft had played 50 matches or more after the draft, headed by Joel Selwood with 94 matches, Bryce Gibbs (89) and David Rodan (85).

From Round 1, 2011 to Round 22, 2015 Armitage has been a fixture of the St Kilda line-up, playing 121 of a possible 132 games – missing seven games in 2014 due to suffering a lacerated left knee in Round 4 against Adelaide, complications arose when the knee became infected which resulted in Armitage spending eight days in hospital. In every other season from 2011 to 2016 Armitage has played at least 21 games.

Whilst it took until the start of his fifth season (2011) for left-footer Armitage to gain a permanent position in the St Kilda side, in the six years since he has been a key member of the side, leading by example with his physicality, ability to win the clearances and an uncompromising attack on the ball and the man. In all four seasons from 2013 to 2016 Armitage has been ranked in the top three at St Kilda for contested possessions for the season, even in 2014 when he missed seven games due to the knee injury.

During 2015 Armitage averaged 28.4 disposals per game, a phenomenal 29% increase on his previous best of 22.0 disposals per game in 2014 to elevate his game to a new stratosphere, setting personal bests for season totals in many categories including, kicks, handballs, disposals, contested possessions, uncontested possessions and clearances. Highlighting Armitage’s exceptional all-round performance, he was one of only three players to rank in the top 15 of the AFL in all five of the following categories; total handballs, disposals, clearances  contested possessions and tackles along with 2014 Brownlow Medallist Matt Priddis and two-time Sydney best and fairest winner Josh P Kennedy.

During 2016 Armitage has played all 21 games for St Kilda and is averaging 21.3 disposals per game with a disposal efficiency of 75.7%. It is the fifth consecutive season that 28 year old Armitage has averaged more than 20 disposals per game, in 2016 he leads St Kilda for tackles, ranks fifth for disposals and is ranked second for contested possessions and clearances – behind Steven in both categories.

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On reaching the milestone of playing 150 AFL games for the St Kilda Football Club Armitage told saints.com.au “At the start of the year I knew if I played every game I could play 150. For me, it was a goal in the back of my mind, but it’s pretty hard to play every game. But I’ve done that now and it’s something that’s popped up during the year in conversation with my parents and they couldn’t understand the significance of 150. It’s life membership, you get your ticket for the rest of your life which is pretty cool I think and you go down as a life member of the St Kilda Football Club. I’m that pumped with it. Even if I finished footy now and I was a life member I’d be grateful. It’s a huge honour.”1

David Armitage’s achievement of reaching 150 AFL games and becoming a life member of the St Kilda Football Club is summarised above, in the remainder of this article Milestones and misses comprehensively covers Armitage’s Australian rules career, from his time as a junior player growing up in Mackay, Queensland through to his early years at St Kilda as a fringe player and then onto becoming a pivotal player in the Saints side and a leadership group member.

Armitage was born on 16 June, 1988 in the Queensland coastal city of Mackay. Growing up in Queensland, a traditional Rugby state the influence of David’s dad Greg who is from Tasmania and loves Australian Rules proved critical in David’s development as an Australian Rules player and David’s preference to play Australian Rules rather than Rugby League.

Armitage represented Queensland at the 2004 under 16 National Championships, playing two games, averaging 9.5 kicks, 1.5 handballs and 2.5 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 72.7%. Whilst Mackay had a population of approximately 75,000 people at the start of 2005 it had never produced an AFL footballer. To increase his chances of making it onto an AFL list, Armitage moved almost 1,000kms south to Brisbane for the 2005 football season.

Armitage spent two seasons playing for Morningside in the QAFL and whilst he suffered from home sickness during this time David says “They had a great culture at Morningside. I got on really well with all the older blokes, but I was also there with Gavin Urquhart (drafted by North Melbourne) Courtney Dempsey (Essendon) and Lee Spurr (Fremantle).”2  Morningside is a suburb of Brisbane, 8km east of  the Brisbane CBD.

During 2005 left-footer Armitage played three games for Queensland in the TAC Cup, averaging 13.0 kicks, 3.0 handballs and 4.3 marks per game, with a disposal efficiency of 66.7%. As a bottom-age player David played two games for Queensland at the 2005 under 18 National Championships, averaging 11.0 kicks, 5.5 handballs and 4.5 marks per game and displayed tremendous composure to have a disposal efficiency of 81.8%.

In August 2005 Armitage was selected in the 2005 AIS/AFL academy squad of 30 players, joined by four fellow Queenslanders including Morningside teammate Gavin Urquhart. Being a member of the squad proved to be very beneficial to Armitage, contributing to significant improvement during his final year at junior level, 2006.

During a game in 2006 Armitage was involved in a horrific head clash which damaged his ear and required him to go straight to hospital for surgery. After the injury David was expected to miss the National Championships, however he displayed great courage and commitment to recover and play all three matches for Queensland at the 2006 under 18 National Championships, performing superbly to average 12.3 kicks, 7.7 handballs, 2.3 marks and 4.7 clearances per game with a disposal efficiency of 75.0%. Queensland won all games against the Northern Territory, NSW/ACT and Tasmania to convincingly win the Division two title with Armitage playing a key role to be in his state’s best two players in two of the wins. David’s strengths during these Championships were his clearance work, contested possessions and score assists. Armitage’s outstanding form at the 2006 under-18 Championships resulted in him being named at half back in the All-Australian Under-18 team, two future St Kilda team-mates, Jarryd Allen and Robert Eddy were both selected on the interchange.

In 2006 Armitage played in defence and the midfield for Morningside, averaging 22.8 disposals and two goals per game in the seniors to win the Rising Star Award in the AFL Queensland League, polling 60 votes to beat Ricky Petterd (41 votes), Kurt Tippett (26), Ben Warren (26) and Brent Renouf (21), all four of these players went on to play in the AFL. As a 17 year-old Armitage played for the Morningside seniors in their 2006 Grand Final loss to Southport.

During 2006 David played in the TAC Cup, under 18 National Championships and the QAFL, in all three competitions Armitage averaged at least 20 disposals, 4.5 clearances, and 9.0 contested possessions per game, in the two junior competitions at least 43% of his disposals were contested, and this dropped only slightly to 40% playing against more experienced players in the seniors of the QAFL. The profile for Armitage in AFL Prospectus 2007 said “His work at stoppages was elite and his average of five clearances per game in 2006 ranked second of all draftees behind No. 1 pick Bryce Gibbs. He ran the quickest time in the agility testing at the 2006 NAB AFL Draft Camp and was also in the top 15% in the 3 km time trial.”3

Throughout his two seasons at Morningside Armitage’s draft prospects improved dramatically. In June 2012 Armitage recalled “It sort of went from, in my first year, ‘You’re a chance to get drafted’, to, in my second year, ‘You’re a massive chance to go in the first round’, which I still didn’t really believe.”4 Great form in 2006 and strong testing results at the 2006 NAB AFL Draft Camp catapulted Armitage up the draft order and in the lead up to the draft he was widely expected to be selected in the first round and there had been speculation that David could be taken as high as pick four by his home state AFL club, the Brisbane Lions who Armitage had got to know well in the 12 months before the draft working as Sportsready trainee in the Lions’ merchandise shop at the Gabba.

With pick 4 the Brisbane Lions chose ruckman Matthew Leuenberger and David Armitage was selected by St Kilda with pick 9 at the 2006 National Draft. Armitage was recruited from Queensland club Morningside at 18 years of age, he was 183 centimetres tall and weighed 80 kilograms. Armitage attended the National Draft in Melbourne with his family and was relieved to be selected by St Kilda and achieve a goal of making it onto an AFL list. The experience of being drafted by the Saints had been made even better due to being able to share it with his family, especially after spent so much time during the past two years away from them.

During his two years living in Brisbane two families provided David with a place to live for a year each, in his first season playing for Morningside David lived with the Urquhart family, their son Gavin a team-mate at Morningside and Queensland representative teams was picked in the same AFL National Draft as David with selection 21 by North Melbourne. In his second season Armitage lived with Morningside football manager Jack Barry. David was the first player selected from the QAFL in 2006 and Gavin Urquhart was the third, with Shaun Hampson splitting them, being recruited from Mt Gravatt with selection 17 by Carlton.

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

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

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

Upon his arrival at St Kilda David Armitage was given the number 20 jumper and he has worn this number throughout his entire AFL career. When Armitage arrived at St Kilda in November 2006 the record for most games by a St Kilda player wearing number 20 was held by Jim Ross who played 139 games between 1946 and 1954, mainly rotating between centre half forward and the ruck. Ross was selected on the interchange of St Kilda’s Team of the Century and won three St Kilda best and fairests, 1949, 1951 and 1952, a total surpassed by only three players in the history of the St Kilda Football Club, Nick Riewoldt with six and Bill Cubbins and Robert Harvey with four each.

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

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

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

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

Armitage was named an emergency for Round 22 and the qualifying final against Geelong and then returned to the St Kilda side for the semi final, having 10 disposals against Collingwood. In the 54 point preliminary final loss to Hawthorn Armitage had a then equal career-low four disposals whilst setting a new personal best with seven tackles.

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

The profile for Armitage in the 2009 AFL Prospectus said Armitage “was dominant at VFL level, being named in the best players in eight of 11 games and averaging 24 disposals, which made it even more surprising that he struggled to get more opportunities at senior level.”6

Seven times during the 2008 season Armitage had at least 10 disposals, on four of these occasions David did not play in the AFL the previous week and in his first two seasons a strong pattern had emerged with Armitage’s best performances coming in the first week or two after being recalled to the St Kilda side, his output would then drop significantly after several consecutive games for the Saints in the AFL. The profile for Armitage in the AFL Record Guide to Season 2009 said “The former Queenslander knows how to win the ball at stoppages, but needs to develop his run and outside game.”7

Armitage had a set-back before the 2009 home and away season even commenced, after having a terrific pre-season he injured his hamstring in the last training session before Round 1 of the home and away season. After recovering from the injury Armitage regained form and fitness in the VFL with the Sandringham Zebras (2009 was the first year the Saints had been affiliated with Sandringham, having been affiliated with Casey in 2008) despite excelling with Sandringham in the VFL he found it extremely difficult to break into the St Kilda side. The Saints were the dominant side during the 2009 home and away season and Armitage was on the cusp of senior selection for much of the season, being named an emergency nine times in the first 18 rounds. Even with a host of stars including Lenny Hayes, Leigh Montagna, Nick Riewoldt, and Brendon Goddard missing the Round 19 match against Hawthorn at Aurora Stadium Armitage was still overlooked, being named as an emergency yet again. It was only when Nick Dal Santo was a late withdrawal with illness that Armitage was brought into the St Kilda side.

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

St Kilda’s star players returned for Round 20 against Essendon, yet the Saints suffered a shock two point loss, ending a club record 19 game winning streak for the Saints. Armitage kicked two goals and was kept to only seven possessions against Essendon, he was dropped for Round 21 against North Melbourne, being named as an emergency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Armitage was recalled to the St Kilda side for Round 21 he had only played two games at VFL level after missing six matches with his knee injury. Armitage commented “My goal was just to get back to play senior footy and it was pleasing to get a couple of games at the end of the season.” Armitage went on to say “However, there was no way I could have played in the finals because I wasn’t fit enough. I understand that completely. I’m a realist.”8

In 2010 Armitage played nine matches averaging 83 minutes, 7.1 kicks, 8.7 handballs, 3.2 marks and 5.6 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 71.8%. In the first six Rounds of the 2010 season Armitage was ranked sixth at St Kilda with 0.90 supercoach points per minute, however he played only 66% game time during this period.  During 2010 Armitage “averaged the least game time of any midfielder at the Saints, but had an impact when he was on the ground, leading the club for disposals-per-minute during Rounds 1-8.”9

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

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

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

During the Round 2 2011 Friday night draw against Richmond David Armitage set a new career high for disposals, having 10 kicks and 15 handballs, he also laid eight tackles. Armitage won a game-high 14 contested possessions and was great around the stoppages, having a game-high nine clearances. For his outstanding performance against Richmond Armitage received Brownlow Medal votes for the second time in his career, receiving the three votes just as he had in his first vote-getting game against Hawthorn in Round 19 2009.

Just after half-time of the Round 2 match against Richmond, Lenny Hayes suffered a knee injury that required a reconstruction. In May 2011 Armitage said about Lenny Hayes “I speak with him every day, before and after training. We talk about blokes I might likely play against and how to play against them. I try to feed off him and learn from him.” Armitage went on to say “If I can be half the player Lenny is I’d be going all right. I am learning so much from him, but I have a lot of things to work on.”10

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

Armitage was in the Saints best players in the Round 9 victory against Melbourne, having nine kicks, eight handballs, laying five tackles and one goal assist. Armitage had 10 contested possessions against Melbourne, taking his tally to 83 for the year to lead St Kilda in this category, seven ahead of second placed Dal Santo. Over the first half of the 2011 season Armitage played a similar role to the one Hayes usually plays, spending a lot of time in the midfield and being a fixture of the Saints centre square set-up, however in the second half of the season Armitage’s role changed and he was used more in the forward line than the midfield.

In the 65 point Round 23 victory against North Melbourne Armitage had 17 kicks, four handballs, laid eight tackles and kicked a goal, however he also received a one match suspension as a result of a rough conduct offence against North Melbourne’s Leigh Adams in the second quarter. The Round 24 match against Carlton was the only match David missed in 2011. In the 25 point elimination final loss to Sydney Armitage played his 50th AFL game at 23 years of age, he had seven disposals before being substituted off the ground and replaced by Jarryn Geary in the third quarter.

In 2011 Armitage played 22 matches, averaging 90 minutes, 8.2 kicks, 7.1 handballs, 2.9 marks and 4.5 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 69.0%. Armitage ranked third at St Kilda for tackles, equal third for hard-ball gets, fourth for clearances and sixth for contested possessions with 167, only 13 behind Leigh Montagna in second place. During 2011 Armitage “ranked second at the club for groundball-gets won inside 50 and fourth for disposals in the zone, also applying the fourth most forward-half pressure acts for the Saints.”11

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

Against Sydney at Etihad Stadium in Round 9 Armitage played superbly to lead St Kilda for disposals with 21 kicks and eight handballs.  David also had eight marks, five clearances and 76% disposal efficiency in the 28 point victory, receiving three Brownlow Medal votes, with team-mate Lenny Hayes receiving the two votes in his 250th game.

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

Armitage played 21 of St Kilda’s 22 matches in 2012, missing Round 22 through soreness, he kicked a career best 17 goals for the season, ranked equal sixth with Nick Dal Santo and Jack Steven, David kicked two goals in six games. Armitage recorded his first top-10 finish in the St Kilda best and fairest with a ninth place finish on 65 votes, three votes behind Sam Fisher in eighth place and one vote ahead of Jack Steven in tenth position.

In his first five seasons Armitage polled a total of seven Brownlow Medal votes, in 2012 he more than doubled his career tally by polling nine votes, ranked equal third at St Kilda with Riewoldt, behind Lenny Hayes on 19 and Nick Dal Santo with 10.

During 2012 Armitage played 21 matches, averaging 97 minutes, 13.1 kicks, 7.2 handballs, 4.8 marks  and 4.7 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 70.4%. David ranked fourth at St Kilda for kicks, long kicks and inside 50s, and fifth for disposals, marks, clearances, tackles and contested possessions.

St Kilda finished the 2012 home and away season in ninth position with 12 wins, two games behind North Melbourne in eighth place, it was the first time the Saints had missed the finals since Armitage’s debut season with the club in 2007 when they also finished ninth, two premiership points and percentage behind the Adelaide Crows in eighth pace.

An eight-man St Kilda leadership group was chosen during the 2013 pre-season with 24 year-olds David Armitage and Jarryn Geary both being selected. In March 2013 Armitage signed a three year extension with St Kilda until the end of 2016. After signing the deal with the Saints Armitage said “Long-term, it takes me to 10 years which is fantastic and I’m really looking forward to try and lead the club through more successful years.”12

During the 72 point Round 3 2013 victory against GWS at Manuka Oval Armitage had the greatest game of his AFL career to that point, having 31 disposals and kicking four goals, both career-highs, he also took eight marks, had five inside 50’s, five clearances and two goal assists in a dominant performance that earned him the three Brownlow Medal votes for the fourth time in his career. It was the first time that Armitage had 30 disposals in a game, with his previous best being 29 disposals against Sydney in Round 9, 2012.

Against the Brisbane Lions in Round 19 at the Gabba Armitage had 16 kicks and a team-high 14 handballs, an equal game-high seven clearances, a team-high 15 contested possessions, four tackles, four inside 50s and a goal assist. A fortnight later against the Sydney Swans in Round 21 at the SCG Armitage had 30 disposals comprised of 11 kicks and 19 handballs, he also had laid a game-high eight tackles – four more than the second ranked Saint, had an equal team-high six clearances 11 contested possessions, four rebound 50s and a goal assist.

In 2013 Armitage played 21 of a possible 22 matches, missing Round 9 with a calf injury, he averaged 91 minutes, 11.8 kicks, 10.0 handballs, 3.4 marks and 5.5 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 70.0%. Armitage ranked fourth at St Kilda for handballs, first for tackles with 115, 28 more than Jack Steven in second place, second for hard-ball gets and clearances, equal second for goal assists, third for inside 50s, equal third for long kicks, fifth for loose-ball gets and sixth for kicks. Armitage finished fifth in St Kilda’s best and fairest with 73 votes, three votes behind Geary in fourth place and three votes ahead of Dal Santo in sixth place, David polled four Brownlow Medal votes. ranked fourth at St Kilda.

The profile for Armitage in AFL Prospectus 2014 said “Armitage recorded above average numbers for disposals, metres gained, clearances, centre clearances, score involvements and pressure applied last season. His tackling was elite, ranking 14th for tackles in the AFL across the H&A rounds. He also posted the equal fourth-best tackle efficiency of any player in the league who played at least half of the season.”13

During the 2014 pre-season Armitage worked to improve his outside game and new St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson wanted him to develop into an elite runner. The hard work was paying off and during the pre-season some opposition clubs gave run-with players the role against Armitage.

In Round 2 2014 against GWS at Etihad Stadium Armitage took a spectacular mark 40 metres out from St Kilda’s goal, four players went for the mark, however Armitage got tremendous elevation and had superb judgement to elevate himself higher than the other players and on his ascent to the ball he jumped onto the back of GWS player Nick Haynes to take an exhilarating chest mark, Armitage’s momentum caused his legs to move forward, whilst falling and almost horizontal he made contact to Haynes back a second time whilst clutching the ball to his chest with his left hand, despite his back landing forcefully on the ground he held onto the mark. Armitage’s sensational mark won the Round 2 Mark of the Round, receiving 50% of the vote to finish ahead of other nominees Jarryd Roughhead (41%) and Lachie Hunter (9%).

Whilst Armitage’s highlight for the game was his spectacular mark, he also played a pivotal role in St Kilda’s seven point victory against the Giants, having a game-high 29 disposals comprised of 18 kicks and 11 handballs, a then equal career-high 17 contested possessions, six marks, four inside 50s, one goal and a phenomenal nine clearances, five more than the next ranked Saint to earn one Brownlow Medal vote.

Armitage suffered an injury in Round 4 against Adelaide, early in the third quarter he made a lunging tackle on Crows midfielder Patrick Dangerfield, after Dangerfield got away his handball Armitage’s legs both landed on the ground, in the stride after being tackled powerfully built 90 kilogram Dangerfield’s left boot landed on Armitage’s left knee rather than the Etihad playing surface. At the same time as the tackle team-mate James Gwilt made contact with Armitage’s head and Armitage was initially more concerned about possible concussion than his knee. David was cleared of concussion, had 12 stitches to the knee and returned to the field to courageously play out the game.

The injury was much worse than first expected with Armitage’s lacerated knee getting infected, the cut was so deep that he could even see his left knee-cap. Armitage spent eight days in hospital and required two operations to clear out his left knee that had been infected by bacteria from the Etihad Stadium playing surface. As a result of the lengthy stay in hospital and multiple operations the rugged midfielder lost six kilograms.

Armitage commented on the injury to his left knee “Sometimes I do some stupid stuff on the field, and just I lunged to lay a diving tackle on him and my knee just drove straight into the heel of his boot, which opened up a bit of a gash right on the point of my knee. Then as I landed on the ground that gash split right open. I looked down at it and I could see the patella and this white stuff, which wasn’t great. I went down into the rooms and got it stitched up (12 stitches) and came back on to the field later in the game. I felt OK, and had it checked by the doctors the next morning, but later that day I couldn’t even get off the couch or put any pressure on it. It blew right up, so I rang the doc. He came over and told me we needed to get straight to hospital.’’14

From Round 1 2011 to Round 4 2014 when he suffered the knee injury Armitage was a consistent performer for St Kilda and proved to be very durable, playing 68 of a possible 71 games, missing one game in each of the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons.

After recovering from the knee injury suffered against Adelaide in Round 4 2014 Armitage returned through the VFL to regain match conditioning, making his return playing a VFL match in Round 11 of the AFL season he had 21 disposals in Round 12 (Round 9 of the VFL season) against the Northern Blues.  Armitage wasn’t the only experienced AFL inside midfielder playing in the game, with Carlton veteran Chris Judd playing his first ever VFL game for the Blues, on the comeback trail from a hamstring injury.

The next week Armitage made his return to AFL level in Round 13 against Geelong at Simonds Stadium, Armitage didn’t miss a beat, having seven kicks, 14 handballs, five tackles, kicked a goal and had a team-high 12 contested disposals, he also used the ball superbly to have a disposal efficiency of 81% in his first AFL game for nine weeks. It had been Armitage’s longest period not playing for St Kilda since being out of the St Kilda side from Round 8 to Round 21 2010, due first of all to form and secondly due to injuring the medial ligament in his knee.

Armitage had at least 19 disposals in each of his next three games and played his 100th game against Carlton at Etihad Stadium, three weeks after his 26th birthday. Armtitage was one of St Kilda’s best players in his 100th AFL game with 14 kicks, 10 handballs, a team-high 12 contested possessions, five clearances, five marks, and used the ball brilliantly to have a disposal efficiency of 83.3% despite frequently being under pressure due to winning the contested ball. At the start of the 2014 season it was expected that Armitage would reach his milestone against Carlton, but in their Round 8 encounter, not the Round 16 game.

On the eve of his 100th game 26 year-old Armitage commented about the strengths and weaknesses of his game when he joined St Kilda “I was always good at attacking the ball and the man; it was the other side of things. I’d never really had to defend before”, he went on to say “It was something I had to grasp and I’m still learning now – it’s my eighth year and there’s still things I’m trying to get better at defensively.”15

Despite missing seven games with his left knee injury it took Armitage just over two and a half seasons to progress from 50 to 100 AFL games, a great achievement, especially considering that Armitage took a full five seasons to play his first 50 games, reaching the milestone in St Kilda’s final game of 2011.

Throughout his first 100 AFL games David Armitage played predominantly as an inside midfielder with his greatest strengths being his ability to win contested possessions, tackling and leadership. In 2012 and 2013 Armitage finished in the top 10 at St Kilda’s best and fairest, with his best result being fifth place in 2013. As recognition of his leadership skills Armitage was selected in St Kilda’s 2014 six-man leadership group along with Nick Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes, Leigh Montagna and Sean Dempster who were all in their 30’s, alongside Jarryn Geary who like Armitage turned 26 half-way through the 2014 season in June.

Despite being at St Kilda together for just under 10 years and the Saints playing 11 finals during this time Armitage and Geary have never been on the field together in a final for St Kilda, having played four finals between them comprised of three for Armitage and one for Geary. Whilst they both played in the 2011 Elimination final loss to Sydney Geary started as the substitute and came onto the ground in the third quarter, replacing Armitage who was handed the red vest. In 2009 and 2010 Armitage and Geary were frequently right on the verge of selection which resulted in the duo being named emergencies as highlighted by Geary and Armitage both being named emergencies for St Kilda Grand Final sides in 2009 and 2010.

Whilst Armitage and Geary both played their 100th AFL game in 2014 they have missed each others milestone game due to their infected knee and elbow injuries respectively. Having joined St Kilda at the same time as Armitage and having also spent three years living with him during this time Geary is ideally placed to comment on Armitage, telling Saints.com.au on the eve of Armitage’s 100th AFL game “His hardness is what separates him from the rest of the competition in terms of how hard he goes at the ball, it’s a feature of his game and something I wouldn’t like to be on the end of so I am glad he’s playing for us. He’s really good to have around and get’s a laugh out of everyone, it’s obviously a great effort to reach 100 games, it’s probably taken him a bit longer than he would have liked but he’s persisted and it’s a credit to him the way he’s gone about it.”

In the week before Armitage’s 100th AFL game St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson commented on Armitage “It’s been his leadership that has really impressed me, he’s ability to train and set a great example, what he does away from the footy club in terms of his own preparation is pretty impressive.” When asked what sort of leader he is Richardson responded “He’s still predominantly a leader by example, he inspires his team-mates with his attack on the footy and his attack on the opposition, he’s as good a tackler as there is at our club probably because of his rugby background given that he came from a rugby state.”

In his fifth AFL game back after his injury Armitage was clearly St Kilda’s best player in the 66 point loss to North Melbourne at Bellerive Oval. Armitage set team-highs for the Saints for kicks (21), disposals (29), tackles (11), inside 50s (8), clearances (10) and contested possessions (12). In a very disappointing day for the Saints they could only manage three goals and Armitage was involved in every one of them, kicking two himself and recording a goal assist for Nick Riewoldt’s goal at the 27 minute mark of the second term – the Saints first and only goal in the first half. Armitage’s performance since returning from injury but in particular in his outstanding performance against North Melbourne had Saints fans pondering what level Armitage would be able to elevate his game to in 2015 when fully fit given that his match conditioning had deteriorated after his lengthy time on the sidelines following the injury.

In Armitage’s final six games of 2014 from Round 18 to Round 23 he had at least 20 disposals in every game, kicked a total of six goals and averaged 10.3 contested possessions a game. Armitage had at least 19 disposals in 13 of his 15 games during 2014 including his last 13 games of the season from Round 4 onwards.

During 2014 Armitage played 15 games for St Kilda, averaging 90 minutes, 11.7 kicks, 10.3 handballs, 3.9 marks and 4.5 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 74.2%. Despite missing seven games in 2014 Armitage ranked ninth at St Kilda for total kicks, seventh for handballs, eighth for disposals, fourth for goals, seventh for tackles, eighth for inside 50s and third for contested possessions with 155 – only nine behind second ranked Leigh Montagna. Armitage ranked fourth at St Kilda for disposals per game with exactly 22. Armitage finished seventh in St Kilda’s 2014 best and fairest with 71 votes, all six players that finished ahead of played at least 20 games for the season.

Armitage won a career high 10.3 contested possessions a game in 2014, slightly up from 9.6 per game in 2013, however his uncontested possessions dropped slightly from 12.2 per game in 2013 to 11.9 per game in 2014, it is likely that if it wasn’t for his early season knee injury and the resulting loss of conditioning he would have improved his uncontested possessions per game as well.

The profile for Armitage in the AFL Prospectus 2015 said “Armitage finished the season as the Saints’ second-highest ranked player, averaging 93 Champion Data ranking points per game. He was a dominant stoppage player, ranking No. 1 at St Kilda for clearances per game and converting 8% of his stoppage first possessions into a clearance – the highest percentage of the top 150 players for first possessions won. He also pushed forward, ranking fourth at the club for scoreboard impact, and was involved in 28% of St Kilda’s scoring chains – ranked second behind Nick Riewoldt.”16

At the conclusion of the 2014 season left-footer Armitage had amassed more than 30 disposals in a game only once in his 107 AFL games, 31 vs the GWS Giants in Round 3 2013 and his personal best for disposals per game in a season was 22.0 in 2014.

During the 2014 trade period Richmond offered a first-round draft pick to St Kilda in exchange for Armitage, an offer that was knocked back by the Saints. Whilst Armitage was at Melbourne Airport and about to fly to the United States of America Armitage received a phone call from Alan Richardson, Armitage commented “I thought to myself, ‘This is a bit weird’. This was before the trade period and he just said, ‘Armo, you might hear a little bit of talk around the traps that you’re up for trade, but I’m telling you right now that you’re not going anywhere. He told me that Richmond had shown a bit of interest in me, but that he was being up front and honest in letting me know that I was definitely staying at the club.’’17

Whilst Armitage wasn’t able to gain the full benefits of his increased fitness and running capacity during 2014 due to the early season knee injury he again worked diligently to increase his running capacity during the 2014/15 pre-season which made a profound impact on his game during the 2015 season. Armitage commented in December 2014  “I ended up creeping up to about 89 or 90 kilograms towards the end of 2013. This year I’ve come back in the best possible shape that I could come in, my skinfolds are the lowest they’ve ever been and my weight’s down to about 84 – I’ve probably lost five kilos by eating well and working really hard over the break. The changes to my diet have been more specific to carbohydrates. It’s similar to the paleo stuff that the Melbourne guys are doing. I still eat pretty well, but I’m just strict with what I put in my body. I didn’t realise how hard that can be, but I’m getting it now.’’18

In Round 2, 2015 Armitage had a then career-high 36 disposals, five more than his previous best, comprised of 13 kicks and 23 handballs, he also had five marks, a game-high seven inside 50’s, a team-high seven clearances and a game-high 19 contested possessions in the Saints upset 28 point victory against the Gold Coast Suns at Metricon Stadium. Highlighting how influential Armitage was in the St Kilda upset victory, he had 10 more disposals and 10 more contested possessions than the St Kilda player ranked second in each category, whilst he also used the ball brilliantly to have a disposal efficiency of 83.3%. Armitage received two Brownlow Medal votes for his outstanding game against Gold Coast with fellow Saints midfielder Steven receiving the three votes.

Against Essendon in Round 5 Armitage started the game in blistering fashion to have 12 disposals and four clearances in the first quarter. Playing a brilliant game in the St Kilda midfield David finished the game with 13 kicks, 22 handballs and 35 disposals to have game-highs in the latter two categories, he led the way in terms of winning his own ball with 11 clearances, eight more than the second ranked St Kilda player, and a game-high 17 contested possessions. Despite just under half of his possessions being contested Armitage remained composed with ball in hand to record a disposal efficiency of 83.2% in St Kilda’s two point loss.

David Armitage starred in St Kilda’s comeback win against the Western Bulldogs in Round 6 with a career best 45 disposals comprised of 21 kicks and a game-high 24 handballs. St Kilda recorded the equal fifth biggest comeback in VFL/AFL history to defeat the Bulldogs by seven points after trailing by 55 points at the three minute mark of the third quarter and from that point kicking 12 of the last 14 goals of the game. Armitage played an inspirational game, having eight clearances, five tackles, four bounces, five inside 50’s, kicked a goal and won a game-high 16 contested possessions whilst operating at a disposal efficiency of 75.4%. Armitage finished the game superbly to provide plenty of run and drive for St Kilda in the final quarter including one passage of play where he received the ball 60 metres out from the Western Bulldogs goal, took two bounces, handballed to Leigh Montagna, kept on running to receive the handball back and then handballed to Jack Billings 55 metres out from goal to set up another inside 50 for the Saints. Armitage also worked hard when he didn’t have the ball and laid a critical tackle on Western Bulldogs emerging star Marcus Bontempelli 25 metres out from the Bulldogs goal with three and a half minutes remaining in the game and St Kilda leading by a point. Armitage received three Brownlow medal votes for his incredible game against the Western Bulldogs, it was the first time since Round 3, 2013 and the fifth time him in his career that the umpires had judged him to be best afield.

At the press conference after the win against the Western Bulldogs St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson commented on Armitage “Obviously one of our champions Lenny Hayes has moved on and he (Armitage) sensed the opportunity to be the man and he’s grabbed it, he led the team against the Maggies, a game where the broadcaster had the audio on, we had the benefit of listening to the way he led, he was really impressive, he’s matured as a footballer, he’s certainly matured as a young man, he’s a real pro now and he is reaping the rewards. He’s lost a significant amount of weight, he’s not only able to win the ball on the inside, he’s given us some good run on the outside, he’s had a great start to the year.”

At the Gabba in Round 9 Armitage played a pivotal role for the second time this year in St Kilda recording a fightback victory, recovering from trailing by 29 points at the 20 minute mark of the first quarter to defeat Brisbane by 22 points. In a game that earned him three Brownlow Medal votes Armitage performed superbly in the Saints midfield, having 16 kicks, a team-high 15 handballs, five tackles, four inside 50s, 11 clearances, five more than the second ranked Saint, three bounces and 17 contested possessions, seven more than the second ranked player in the game, and used the ball well to have a disposal efficiency of 77.4%.

During the first nine rounds of 2015 Armitage averaged 32.8 disposals per game and had at least 31 disposals in a game seven times, with his best of 45 disposals against the Western Bulldogs in Round 6 being the equal third most disposals recorded in a game by a St Kilda player ever, two behind the record held jointly by Jack Steven and Leigh Montagna set by the duo in Round 23, 2013 against Fremantle. In eight consecutive games from Round 2 to Round 9 Armitage had more than 10 contested possessions including six games with at least 15 contested possessions.

Against Essendon in Round 14 Armitage had an equal team-high 20 kicks, a game-high 18 handballs, a game-high four contested marks, an equal game-high seven clearances, two goals, four inside 50s, and kicked two goals in St Kilda’s 110 point victory at Etihad Stadium, St Kilda’s biggest ever win against Essendon and the first time since 2012 that the Saints had a win by at least 100 points. For the third and final time of 2015 Armitage received three Brownlow Medal votes, it was the first season that Armitage had been best afield in multiple games.

In 19 of his 21 games Armitage had at least 22 disposals, with the two exceptions both being against Melbourne, having 20 disposals in both wins in Rounds 11 and 17. In each of St Kilda’s four other wins for 2015 David had at least 31 disposals and was listed as St Kilda’s best player on AFL.com.au for three of these wins and the second best player behind key forward revelation Josh Bruce in the Saints Round 2 win against Gold Coast.

In 2015 Armitage played 21 games (missing Round 21 with a shoulder injury), he averaged 82.6% time on the ground, 13.6 kicks, 15.0 handballs, 4.1 marks and 5.9 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 72.7%. Armitage averaged 28.4 disposals per game in 2015, a phenomenal 29% increase on his previous best of 22.0 disposals per game in 2014 to elevate his game to a new stratosphere, setting personal bests for season totals in many categories including, kicks, handballs, disposals, contested possessions, uncontested possessions and clearances.

Armitage ranked fourth in the AFL for total handballs, ninth for disposals, 12th for clearances and contested possessions and 14th for tackles. Armitage led St Kilda in four of these categories, the exception being tackles, where he was ranked second behind Jack Steven. David also ranked second at St Kilda for kicks and uncontested possessions, behind Steven in both categories, third for inside 50s, fourth for bounces, seventh for goals and eighth for rebound 50s. One of the reasons for Armitage’s breakout 2015 season was an increased running capacity which enabled him to win more uncontested possessions. Armitage polled 159 votes at St Kilda’s 2015 best and fairest to be the runner-up – 16 votes behind fellow midfielder Jack Steven who won his second Trevor Barker Award.

Armitage’s profile in the AFL Record Season 2016 said “The strong midfielder had a career-best season, picking up the slack left by Lenny Hayes’ retirement after answering a pre-season challenge to shed muscle and improve his running capacity. Led the way through the midfield, particularly in the first half of the season, and topped the Saints for disposals, contested possessions and clearances.”19

Armitage’s tally of 315 handballs and 133 clearances in 2015 both rank fifth on St Kilda’s all-time list for the most in a season for that category, whilst his 261 contested possessions ranks third on the Saints all-time list, only six possessions behind the number one ranked season, Leigh Montagna in 2010 when he played 26 games, five more than Armitage in 2015. At the 2015 Brownlow Medal Armitage polled a career-best 12 votes to be ranked equal first at St Kilda along with Steven, six votes ahead of the third ranked Saint, Riewoldt.

Armitage’s profile in the AFL Prospectus 2016 said “He was clearly St Kilda’s best contested possession player, rating elite for both contested possessions and clearances. His defensive pressure improved, applying 49 pressure points per game, ranked 16th in the AFL after applying just 34 pressure points per match in 2014.”20

During 2015 Armitage averaged 109.8 Champion Data ranking points per game, ranked 16thoverall in the AFL and second at St Kilda, 1.2 points per game behind Montagna and 5.5 points per game ahead of Steven. Of the seasons that he has played at least five AFL games Armitage’s output in 2015 was 18% more than his previous best of 93 points per game in 2014.

During the 2016 pre-season Armitage’s workload was restricted by a back injury which restricted  him to training with the rehabilitation group for an extended time which was always going to make it difficult to replicate his outstanding 2015 season.

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In the first six rounds of 2016 Armitage had at least 10 contested possessions in every game, including 19 contested possessions against Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval in Round 1. Armitage’s 14 clearances against Port Adelaide equalled the St Kilda record for most clearances in a game held by Stewart Loewe – Round 8, 1999 against Essendon at the MCG and Robert Harvey the following week  – Round 9, 1999 against West Coast at Waverley Park. Against the Power Armitage also had 12 kicks, 16 handballs, laid seven tackles, kicked a goal and had a goal assist.

In St Kilda’s thee point loss at York Park Tasmania in Round 4 against reigning premiers Hawthorn Armitage was superb, having 15 kicks, 20 handballs, six tackles, five inside 50s, 14 clearances – six more than the second ranked player for the game, 12 contested possessions and kicked a goal.

During 2015 the St Kilda midfield was very reliant on Armitage and Steven whereas throughout 2016 the Saints have been intent on developing a deeper midfield. Seb Ross and Jack Newnes who are both 23 years-old have taken on more responsibility in the midfield this season which has reduced St Kilda’s reliance on the ball-winning ability of Armitage and Steven and in several times during 2016 David has had a run-with role in the midfield.

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Against Fremantle in Round 10 Armitage laid 17 tackles to break the record for most tackles in a game by a St Kilda player which had been set by Luke Ball with 15 against Geelong in Round 18, 2014 at Kardinia Park (now Skilled Stadium). After St Kilda trailed Fremantle by 13 points at three quarter-time the Saints played scintillating football in the final term, dominating with eight goals to nil to win by 34 points. In the win Armitage had 16 kicks, 12 handballs, an equal team-high 14 contested possessions, a team-high seven clearances, one goal assist and kicked a goal. In the post-game press conference St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson commented “We spoke after the game that instead of reviewing a performance that got away from us and identifying well what are we going to do next time when this happens we did it, led by Dave in many ways. Armitage’s last quarter on a guy (Lachie Neale) that had been killing us was just outstanding, I think he has laid 17 tackles for the game.”

In Round 12, 2016 against Carlton at Etihad Stadium Armitage broke Jim Ross’ St Kilda record of 139 games wearing number 20, at 28 years of age David is well placed to become the first Saint to play 200 VFL/AFL games wearing number 20.

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In a press conference on 22 August 2016 Armitage was asked “As a team you won six games last season, you have got a chance to double it on the weekend, did you see that kind of improvement coming?” Armitage responded “I think internally we did, a goal that I thought was passable was 10 games to probably win, we have already exceeded that… I think we can be extremely proud of the year we have had thus far.” During the press conference Armitage also said “At the start of the year we didn’t talk about how many wins would be a pass or anything like that, we clearly wanted to improve on last year, and clearly the win-loss ratio has proved that but it’s more the way we go about our footy, we’ve beaten two or three top eight teams this year and played some really good consistent footy against them, but then again we have had lapses especially against the interstate teams so that’s something we will be looking to improve on next year.”

When asked “What quality’s have you got as a leader of the footy club?” Armitage responded “I’m pretty approachable for all the young guys, and the man trait is to lead by example, the way I attack the footy and the man. You have got to look after your own backyard first in the way you play and play good consistent footy. Then it’s about challenging what you want to stand for, and that’s probably the area I need to improve on the most.”

During 2016 Armitage has played all 21 games for St Kilda and is averaging 78.1% time on the ground, 9.5 kicks, 11.9 handballs, 3.2 marks and 5.8 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 75.7% – his best since 76.7% in 2008 when he had less than 150 disposals for the season. It is the fifth consecutive season that 28 year old Armitage has averaged more than 20 disposals per game, in 2016 he leads St Kilda for tackles, ranks third for handballs, fifth for disposals and is ranked second for contested possessions, goal assists and clearances – behind Steven in all three categories.

If St Kilda defeat the Brisbane Lions today they will finish 2016 with 12 wins and 10 losses just like they did in 2012. Regardless of today’s result the Saints will finish ninth on the ladder for the third time during Armitage’s decade at the club, having also finished in this position in 2007 and 2012.

Today wont be the first time that Armitage plays a milestone game in St Kilda’s last game of the season, having played his 50th game in the 2011 Elimination Final against Sydney at Etihad Stadium. Whilst it took Armitage five seasons from 2007 to 2011 to play 50 games, in the following five seasons from 2012 to 2016 he has played 100 games to reach the milestone of 150 AFL games in the Saints final game of 2016. Whilst it was a slower start to Armitage’s career than he would have liked today he becomes the 19th player selected at the 2006 National Draft to play 150 AFL games and the seventh to reach this milestone in 2016, a massive improvement on his position at the conclusion of the 2010 season of being ranked 40th of the 80 players selected in his draft class.

During the 2009 and 2010 seasons there was very strong competition for spots in the St Kilda side, over these two seasons the Saints had 39 wins, 10 losses, and two draws to win a phenomenal 76.5% of their matches during this period. In 2009 St Kilda had the most dominant home and away season in their history with 20 wins and two losses, both by less than a goal, the Saints made the Grand Final in 2009 and 2010. A knee injury in 2010 prevented him from playing at either VFL or AFL level between Round 12 and Round 18 and whilst he returned to the Saints side late in the 2010 season Armitage was hampered by losing considerable match conditioning during his time on the sidelines which prevented him from keeping his place in the Saints team for the finals.

Throughout 2011 and 2012 left-footer Armitage benefited from remaining healthy and having much greater continuity with his football which led to his confidence and self-belief growing which in turn  resulted in his consistency improving, transforming from a fringe player, to not only cement his position in the St Kilda team but develop into a key player as highlighted by his selection in the St Kilda leadership group in the 2013 season. In the past four seasons Armitage has finished in the top 10 at St Kilda’s best and fairest, 2012 – 9th, 2013 – 5th, 2014 – 7th and 2015 – 2nd.

In his first 149 AFL games for St Kilda Armitage has averaged 10.35 kicks, 9.35 handballs, (19.7 disposals), 3.5 marks and 5.1 tackles per game.  During his first 50 games between 2007 and 2011 Armitage averaged 13.5 disposals per game and had at least 19 disposals in a game 11 times.  From game 51 to game 149 Armitage increased his disposals per game by 69% to an average of 22.8 disposals per game, and games with at least 19 disposals became the norm not the exception.

As well as improving his deficiencies, throughout his career Armitage has also focussed on enhancing his strengths, which he achieved with his contested possessions improving from being ranked sixth for contested disposals at St Kilda in 2011 to fifth in 2012 and he has been ranked in the top three in all four seasons from 2013 to 2016.

Nick Riewoldt appears certain to hand over the St Kilda captaincy in 2017 and David Armitage has been spoken about as a potential successor as captain. Whether Armitage is appointed as captain or not he appears set to maintain his status as one of St Kilda’s most important players and leaders for several years to come.

Armitage’s decade long journey with St Kilda has had several phases, when the Saints were playing deep into September from 2008 to 2010 he was a fringe player and then at the time Armitage developed into a key player from 2013 to 2016 the Saints weren’t making the finals. The St Kilda Football Club and David Armitage have been rewarded for their loyalty to one another with both club and player exceeding expectations with their improvement in the past two to three seasons and the next phase of Armitage’s career looks to be the one where he finally gets the opportunity to play finals football whilst being a key player for his beloved Saints.

By Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

1 http://www.saints.com.au/news/2016-08-27/from-the-gabba-to-150

2         Herald Sun, David Armitage rewarded for staying power by Matt Windley, 1 June 2012

  1. Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2007, page 248
  2. http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/afl/david-armitage-rewarded-for-staying-power/story-e6frf9jf-1226377796253

5.Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2007, page 6.Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2009, page 240

7. AFL, AFL Record Guide to Season 2009, page 262

8.Herald Sun, St Kilda onballer David Armitage poised to fill star Saint Lenny Hayes’s shoes by Rod Nicolson,  9 May 2011

  1. Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2011, page 245
  2. Herald Sun, St Kilda onballer David Armitage poised to fill star Saint Lenny Hayes’s shoes by Rod Nicolson,  9 May 2011
  3. Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2012, page 275

12 http://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/david-armitage-re-signs-with-st-kilda/story-e6frg7mf-1226602528449

  1. Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2014, page 308

14 http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/afl/teams/st-kilda/david-armitage-ready-to-repay-faith-after-st-kilda-knocked-back-appealing-trade-offer/news-story/5668f69f78ff97fef4e9f7965b219f12

  1. http://www.saints.com.au/news/2014-07-04/armitage-takes-the-long-road-to-the-century
  2. Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2016, 11th Edition page 231

17 http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/afl/teams/st-kilda/david-armitage-ready-to-repay-faith-after-st-kilda-knocked-back-appealing-trade-offer/news-story/5668f69f78ff97fef4e9f7965b219f12

18 http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/afl/teams/st-kilda/david-armitage-ready-to-repay-faith-after-st-kilda-knocked-back-appealing-trade-offer/news-story/5668f69f78ff97fef4e9f7965b219f12

19 AFL, AFL Record Season 2016, page 296

20 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2016, 11th Edition page 231

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