Reliable and professional St Kilda defender Sean Dempster retires due to concerns about head knocks

Veteran St Kilda defender Sean Dempster announced his retirement on 6 April 2017, he played 222 AFL games comprised of 54 for Sydney from 2005 to 2007 and 168 for St Kilda from 2008 to 2016. Sean played in five Grand Finals including Sydney’s drought breaking 2005 premiership, was named an All-Australian in 2012 and finished third in St Kilda’s best and fairest four times – 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015.

During his 54 games at Sydney and his first four seasons at St Kilda with Ross Lyon as the head-coach from 2008 to 2011 Dempster predominantly played as a negating player in the midfield and defence. From 2011 to 2016 Dempster was a fixture in the St Kilda side, representing the club 126 times during these six seasons to be the number 1 ranked Saint in this period for games played ahead of high profile teammates Jack Steven (125 games), Leigh Montagna (123), Nick Riewoldt (122) and David Armitage (122). Whilst Dempster was a fixture in the Saints side he was required to perform several different roles from 2011 to 2016. After playing predominantly as a negating midfielder in 2011, he was encouraged to add an attacking side to his game by his St Kilda head coaches, Scott Watters (in 2012 and 2013) and Alan Richardson from 2014 onwards and spent more time in defense, resulting in a transformation from being primarily a lock-down player to one that provided drive from the St Kilda defense through his ability to read the play, gain intercept possessions, make good decisions, remain poised, and use the ball well.

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In an astute piece of trading St Kilda received Sean Dempster and Adam Schneider from Sydney for a mid-second round selection in the 2007 NAB AFL Draft. The duo both played in St Kilda’s three Grand Finals in 2009 and 2010, and between them played a total of 298 games for the Saints comprised of 168 for Dempster and 130 for Schneider.

In early October 2016 Dempster signed a one-year contract with St Kilda commenting “I’m really happy to have signed on for another season with the Saints after what’s been an exciting year on and off the field. We’re starting to see some reward for our efforts but we know that we’ll need to put in a lot of hard work if we want to take the next step in 2017. I’m enjoying football and my body feels good so I’m looking forward to being able to play at a high level next year.”1

With two key defenders – Nathan Brown and Jake Carlisle set to make their club debuts for the Saints in 2017 it was expected that Dempster would be freed up to spend more time as a third tall defender and less time playing on key forwards. The pre-season was going well for Dempster until  St Kilda’s opening JLT Community series game of 2017 against Port Adelaide at Etihad Stadium on Thursday 23 February, during which the left hip of Port Adelaide’s Nathan Krakouer made contact with Dempster’s head during the third quarter. Dempster received a free kick for high contact and was able to take his kick. Dempster left the field to take a concussion test which he passed, he returned to the field and played out the game against Port Adelaide. Krajouer received a one game suspension from the match review panel after being charged with rough conduct on Dempster.

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Dempster played in St Kilda’s second JLT game against Carlton at Ikon Park but didn’t play in the third JLT game against Sydney or in Round 1 of the AFL season against Melbourne. Between St Kilda’s Round 1 and Round 2 games there had been media speculation that Sean was unhappy with not being selected for Round 1 and was considering his future.

Dempster retired from AFL football between Round 2 and Round 3 and on 6 April 2017 commented in a video on saints.com.au “I copped a little head knock and given my history over my career of receiving quite a few head knocks I’ve decided that it’s a risk that’s too great for me. Especially now that I’ve got a young family, it’s more than just worrying about myself it’s what it means to my wife and my young daughter now. It wasn’t what’s been reported in the media that I was upset with the club about not being picked Round 1 and that there was all this angst and hate between me and the club, it was far from that, it was purely a decision for me and my family. It’s the way that I’ve decided to go and I’m pretty comfortable with my decision.” On his nine and a half years at the Saints Dempster commented “I’ll be forever grateful to St Kilda, as the fans would probably know I spent the first few years of my career at the Swans as very much I suppose a fringe player. The opportunity that St Kilda gave me to grow as a footballer has been enormous, I don’t think my career would have half as long if it wasn’t for my move down here. For the people around St Kilda and especially the coaches and the players for allowing me to grow as a footballer. During my speech to the players I mentioned all I’ve ever wanted to do is to contribute to something great and for the past fifteen years, my something great has been football.”

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Throughout his career Dempster received several serious head knocks with some of these resulting in him being knocked out and stretchered off the ground. In two interstate games during 2011, Dempster suffered from concussion, being knocked out during the Round 10 game against Fremantle and spent a night in hospital, and he suffered concussion late in the Round 22 game against Sydney. After both concussions in 2011 Dempster recovered to take his place in the St Kilda side the following week and on both occasions performed his role for the team well. In Round 18 2014 vs Fremantle Dempster was stretchered off with concussion in the opening minutes of the game and in Round 20, 2015 he suffered a broken nose when running back with the flight of the ball.

At the time of announcing his retirement Dempster commented to saints.com.au “For the last couple of weeks the club has given me some time to myself and some time to go and get some independent testing done, which I’m still going through at the moment and is an ongoing assessment.” Whilst Dempster received the all-clear with the initial tests he was very concerned about the impact another serious head knock could have on his life after football, especially given that he has a wife Abby and seven month old daughter Harper. Sean commented “The testing had nothing to do with my want to retire, I know it’s the best thing to do for me and my family.”

Dempster is 191 centimetres and tall and at the end of his career weighed 87 kilograms, given his height and weight he would have been best suited to playing as a third tall defender or in the midfield, however in his final five seasons from 2012 to 2016 he spent considerable time playing on the opposition’s key forwards. Despite giving away height and strength Dempster’s reading of the play and intercepting ability allowed him perform well tall forwards as well as small forwards and he finished in the top three of St Kilda’s best and fairest four times in five seasons from 2011 to 2015. Highlighting Dempster’s consistency and outstanding level of performance during this period he was ranked a clear number 1 at the Saints for most top three placings in the b & f between 2011 and 2015 – four St Kilda players ranked equal second with two top three placings being Nick Riewoldt, Jack Steven, Lenny Hayes and Leigh Montagna.

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In all nine seasons from 2008 to 2016 Dempster’s captain at St Kilda was six time best and fairest winner Nick Riewoldt. In the week after Dempster’s retirement Riewoldt commented on Dempster to saints.com.au “He was just the ultimate team man. He was a guy that you were just so confident running down the race with every week. Firstly you knew he’d done everything he could to prepare himself to play; he was just immaculate in his preparation. Secondly he was just going to get the job done; effort was never going to be a concern; if he got beaten or if something went awry it was not because of his effort. He’s been a champion player, All-Australian and just a wonderful teammate and person. Clearly the way he’s lived his life and the decision I guess is a reflection of his selflessness – he put his family first.”2

Junior career and AFL career with Sydney from 2003 to 2007

Sean Dempster was born on 20 January, 1984 and grew up in Mallacoota, a town in East Gippsland, Victoria, less than 50 kilometres from the New South Wales border. Whilst many young children play football for a club from a young age and dream of becoming AFL footballers, as a junior Dempster focused on playing soccer and he didn’t commence playing Australian Rules for a club until he was 15 years old. Making this even more unusual, Sean’s dad Graham played 64 games in the VFL (now AFL), for South Melbourne between 1972 and 1979, playing as a tall forward. When he started playing Australian Rules for a club Sean faced the added hurdle of needing to travel one and a half hours to training from his home town of Mallacoota to his club, the Snowy Rovers in Orbost.

Sean was a natural at Australian Rules and a few short years after he started playing football for a club he was selected by the Sydney Swans under the father-son rule with pick number 34 in the 2002 National Draft, he was 191 centimetres tall and weighed 82 kilograms when drafted as an 18 year old. Dempster was one of four players selected by Sydney at the 2002 National Draft, being joined by Jarrad McVeigh (pick 5), Josh Thewlis (50) and Nick Malceski (64), amazingly three of these four players would go on to make at least one All-Australian team during their career with the exception being Thewliss. Dempster was recruited from Snowy Rovers and his TAC Cup team, the Gippsland Under-18s. His profile in the AFL Record guide to season 2003 said Dempster “can play as a key forward but also possessed the mobility in junior ranks to play midfield.”3 Sydney had finished 2002 in 11th position on the ladder having had nine wins, 12 losses and a draw to finish six premiership points behind the eighth placed West Coast Eagles.

Dempster played one match for Sydney in the 2003 Wizard Home Loans Cup and played every game for the Swans reserves during the home and away season. Whilst he played primarily in defense Dempster’s height together with his athleticism enabled him to play on opposition forwards of varying sizes.

Dempster again played in Sydney’s only 2004 Wizard Cup match but was unable to break into the Sydney side during the regular season. Dempster had improved during his two seasons on Sydney’s list and was on the cusp of senior selection for a large part of the season, being named an emergency 12 times during 2004 including the elimination final, he spent time playing as a key defender in the AFL Canberra league during 2004.

Dempster was named an emergency for the first two rounds of the 2005 season and at 21 years of age he made his AFL debut in the six point Round 3 win against Brisbane at the Gabba, having five kicks, five handballs, one mark, laid two tackles and had three one percenters – ranked third for Sydney. Sean had at least 10 disposals in each of his first three games and played seven straight games before getting dropped for Rounds 10 and 11. Dempster was recalled for Round 12 and played the last 15 games of Sydney’s season. In a one point victory against Collingwood at Stadium Australia in Round 13 Dempster had 11 kicks, three handballs, eight marks, a game-high 12 rebound 50’s – seven more than the second ranked Swan, and a team-high seven one percenters.

Dempster exceeded expectations in his first season playing AFL matches and was given several important negating roles during 2005 opposed to opposition mid-sized forwards and in the midfield, his opponents during the 2005 finals included Andrew Embley, Nick Dal Santo and Ben Cousins. In 2005 Sydney won their first premiership in 72 years when they defeated the West Coast Eagles in the Grand Final by four points. Playing his customary negating role in the Grand Final Dempster had six disposals, six tackles – ranked equal third for the game behind teammates Brett Kirk and Nick Fosdike with seven, and five one percenters – ranked equal fourth for Sydney.

After spending 2003 and 2004 on Sydney’s list without playing a senior game and wondering if he would be able to breakthrough to make his AFL debut Dempster tasted the ultimate football success – playing in a premiership, in just his 22nd AFL match, playing in 16 wins and six losses during his debut season. On the eve of his 50th AFL game for Sydney in July 2007 Dempster reflected on being drafted by the club his dad Graham played for, commenting to sydneyswans.com.au “I was ecstatic to be drafted to a club, and to be drafted to the club my dad had played for. There’s a bit of history there, which was really good. I thought I was pretty lucky to get drafted. Didn’t really expect too much of it at all” Dempster also spoke about being part of Sydney’s 2005 premiership side, saying “It was pretty weird. I remember talking to Paul Williams and he’d played over 250 games and it was his first Grand Final. I’d played 22 games and was lucky enough to be part of a side that was playing really well. I think it’s something I’ll reflect on a lot more when I finish footy and realise how hard it is. It was an amazing experience.”4

During 2005 Dempster played 22 matches, averaging 97 minutes, 4.1 kicks, 2.6 handballs and 1.9 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 77.7%.  Sydney played a very defensive game style and few players typified this more than Dempster who had more than 10 possessions in only four of his matches. Dempster performed his role of restricting the impact that his opponent had on the game superbly during the 2005 season with his profile in the AFL Record Guide to Season 2006 saying “Sydney’s surprise packet of 2005, he showed considerable poise as a tall-run with player, he played in the Swans’ premiership side in his debut season and could develop into a key position defender.”5

After playing the first two rounds of the 2006 season Dempster was dropped, he played only one game for Sydney in the next seven rounds, in Round 6 as a late replacement for Ben Matthews who missed with a hamstring injury, Dempster was named an emergency for the other six games during this period. Dempster was again a late replacement in Round 10, this time for Paul Williams who withdrew with a calf injury. Sean retained his position for Round 11, was dropped for Round 12 and then finished the season strongly to play Sydney’s last 13 matches for the season including three finals. Sydney again met the West Coast Eagles in another gripping Grand Final, however the roles were reversed with West Coast winning the 2006 premiership by a solitary point.

In 2006 Dempster played 18 games, averaging 100 minutes, 4.6 kicks, 2.2 handballs and 2.3 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 77.7%. The profile for Dempster in the AFL Prospectus 2007 said “He doesn’t win much of the ball with his average of seven disposals in 2006 the second lowest of all players to play more than 15 games, but when he does get the ball he uses it well with an above average kicking efficiency of 81% last season. The value he adds to the side is in his defensive roles and last season he did good jobs on Brett Peake, Brent Stanton, Andrew Mackie and Brad Green and conceded an average of 14 disposals per game.”6

After playing the first three games of the 2007 season for Sydney Dempster missed the next four games with a knee injury. Dempster was brought straight back into the Swans side for Round 8 and played nine consecutive matches. In Round 14 Dempster played his 50th AFL game at 23 years of age against Fremantle at the SCG and shared his milestone with two teammates who had been named in the indigenous team of the century – Adam Goodes who was playing his 200th game and Michael O’Loughlin who was playing his 261st game, breaking John Rantall’s club record for most games played.

After setting a new career high for disposals in Round 16 against West Coast at Subiaco Oval with 12 kicks and10 handballs as well as laying four tackles and taking 11 marks Dempster was bizarrely dropped and did not return to the Sydney line-up until he came in as a late replacement in Round 22 for Barry Hall who missed with a hamstring injury. Dempster had 14 disposals and took five marks to retain his place for the elimination final against Collingwood which Sydney were convincingly outplayed in, losing by 38 points. During 2007 Dempster played 14 games, averaging 97 minutes, 6.5 kicks, 4.3 handballs and 3.7 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 74.8%.

St Kilda career with Sydney from 2008 to early 2007

Sydney were aggressive during trade week, having lost considerable ground in 2007 after making successive Grand Finals in 2005 and 2006 and also having very little room in their salary cap. Ross Lyon was appointed as St Kilda head coach at the end of the 2006 season and having been a Sydney assistant coach for three years he was keen to recruit one or two of Sydney’s players that had built a great rapport with during his time with the Swans.

Following Sydney’s best and fairest Dempster was holidaying on a tiny island in Fiji when he received a fax from his dad telling him to call his manager. In August 2010 Dempster recalled “When I called him they told me there was an offer (for the Saints) which I then discussed with Ross (Lyon). He explained why he wanted me to come down and what he thought I could offer to the Club so it seemed like a logical choice.”7 At the end of the 2007 season Sean Dempster and Sydney 2005 premiership teammate Adam Schneider were traded to St Kilda for the No. 26 selection at the 2007 National Draft which Sydney used to select Brett Meredith. Dempster spent five seasons on Sydney’s list, making his debut at the start of his third season on the list, 2005, predominantly playing a negating role either in the midfield or defense. Dempster played a total of 54 games for Sydney and averaged eight disposals per game. Playing for Sydney Dempster only had more than 14 disposals once – 22 disposals against West Coast in Round 16 2007.

When Dempster joined St Kilda at 23 years of age he lived with two of his new Saints team-mates, teenagers Jarryn Geary and David Armitage who each had their first year on the St Kilda list in 2007 with Armitage playing three AFL games and rookie listed Geary not playing an AFL game. Dempster missed the first three matches of the 2008 season with a knee injury but came straight into the St Kilda side for Round 4 and he played every game until he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during the Round 22 victory against Essendon, he required a knee reconstruction.

During 2008 Dempster settled in well at St Kilda playing in defense and getting some tagging roles in the midfield, he had two games with at least 20 disposals during the season with 13 kicks and eight handballs against Collingwood in Round 8 and 11 kicks and 9 handballs against North Melbourne in Round 14. During 2008 Dempster played 19 games, averaging 102 minutes, 6.9 kicks, 5.4 handballs and 3.8 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 77.4%. St Kilda finished fourth on the ladder and played in three finals, a 36 point semi final win against Collingwood but were convincingly beaten in their other two finals, a qualifying final against Geelong and a preliminary final against Hawthorn.

In Round 10 2009 Dempster returned from his knee injury through the VFL, after four games with the Casey Scorpions he made his AFL return in Round 15 against West Coast at Subiaco. Dempster played the last seven games of the 2009 home and away season but was then dropped, being named an emergency for St Kilda’s first two finals. St Kilda had one of the greatest home and away seasons in VFL/AFL history to record 20 wins and have just two losses – both by under a goal to be minor premiers, two games ahead of Geelong in second position and five games clear of the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood in third and fourth position respectively.

Dempster came into the Grand Final side for Robert Eddy and kicked a goal in the 12 point loss to Geelong. The experience of having played in the previous two Grand Finals for a  massive win in 2007 against Port Adelaide and a surprise loss against Hawthorn in 2008 proved critical for Geelong during an intense game that had a total of 214 tackles comprised of 118 for St Kilda and 96 for Geelong to for both clubs to easily break the record for most tackles laid in a Grand Final set by Collingwood with 73 in 2002 against Brisbane.

Dempster was predominantly used as a tagger throughout 2009 with his opponents including Luke Hodge and Jarrad McVeigh, however at times he played as a negating forward, including the Grand Final when he played on Andrew Mackie. During 2009 Dempster played nine games, averaging 99 minutes, 6.1 kicks, 4.8 handballs and 4.1 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 68.4%.

An achilles injury late in the 2010 pre-season severely hampered Dempster’s preparation for the home and away season, after he recovered from his injury he returned through the VFL in Round 10 with Sandringham. After three matches in the VFL Dempster was recalled to the St Kilda side in Round 13 2010 for the Grand Final rematch against Geelong and played all of St Kilda’s final 14 games of the season. Dempster had been dropped for Round 22 and the qualifying final however in Round 22 against Adelaide he was a late replacement for Stephen Milne and in the qualifying final against Geelong he was a late replacement for Steven Baker who hadn’t recovered from a toe injury.

Throughout the 2010 season Dempster primarily played as a defender performing tight checking roles across half-back and impressed during the finals with his performances on Daniel Giansiracusa, Steve Johnson and Alan Didak.

In the qualifying final against Geelong whilst Dempster had only seven possessions Johnson was restricted to 10 disposals and two goals, well below his 2010 averages of 18.6 disposals and 2.9 goals per game.

In the preliminary final against the Western Bulldogs Sean spent most of the night on Western Bulldogs vice-captain Daniel Giansiracusa and held him to only 12 possessions and one goal. Dempster himself had five kicks, nine handballs, took eight marks and had a disposal efficiency of 93%, playing a great game in defense during the Saints 34 point victory.

During the Grand Final draw against Collingwood Dempster restricted Alan Didak to 17 disposals and a goal whilst having 16 disposals, five marks and three rebound 50’s himself. The following week in the Grand Final replay St Kilda were comprehensively outplayed by Collingwood, being defeated by 56 points.

On occasions during 2010 including Round 22 against Adelaide when he had 17 possessions, took eight marks and kicked a goal Dempster played as a defensive forward. Demster’s profile in AFL Prospectus 2011 said ‘’He was used in a tagging role across half-back, conceding more than 20 disposals to his opponents in only one match. He didn’t find a lot of the ball himself, averaging 12 disposals per game but was effective, recording a career-high efficiency of 82%.”8 During 2010 Dempster played 14 matches, averaging 98 minutes per game, 6.5 kicks, 5.9 handballs and 5.2 marks per game with a new career high disposal efficiency of 81.5%.

In his previous three seasons at St Kilda injuries had disrupted Dempster’s pre-seasons and meant that he had started every season with the Saints on the sidelines, with his earliest AFL match during this time being Round 4 in 2008. It was a far different story in 2011, and with Dempster being fit and healthy at the start of the 2011 season he played in Round 1 against Geelong, and in the 13 point Round 5 victory against Brisbane at the Gabba Sean played his 100th AFL game at 27 years of age.

Against Hawthorn in Round 8 Dempster had 10 kicks, eight handballs, eight contested possessions, and was ranked third at St Kilda for one percenters with six, behind Brendon Goddard with eight. In the dying minutes of the game Dempster kicked a great goal on the run from 60 metres out.

In Round 10 against Fremantle Dempster did an outstanding job restricting dangerous small forward Hayden Ballantyne to 13 disposals, no goals and no score assists. Dempster himself had eight kicks, eight handballs, laid eight tackles and received the game ball from the St Kilda Football Club for his great performance during the Saints 46 point win that got the club’s season back on track. Before the win against Fremantle St Kilda recorded two wins, a draw and five losses during their first eight games of 2011 to be 13th on the ladder.

With only a few minutes remaining in the game against Fremantle Jason Blake going back with the flight of the ball collected Saints team-mate Dempster. Blake injured his knee and Dempster was knocked out which resulted in him being taken off the ground on a stretcher and then onto Charles Gairdner Hospital just like fellow Saint Brendon Goddard who was also a victim of friendly fire at the end of the first quarter, being knocked out in a collision with teammate Zac Dawson. Dempster and Goddard recovered well to be able to fly back to Melbourne with their St Kilda teammates late that night and both players recuperated during the week to take their positions in the Saints side against Collingwood in Round 11.

In a pivotal match against West Coast at Etihad Stadium in Round 17 Dempster was given the tight checking role on Andrew Embley who had been playing some of the best football of his career in 2011, averaging 23.7 disposals a game before the match against St Kilda. Dempster did a superb job in restricting Embley to 12 disposals and minimal influence on the game whilst Sean had 17 disposals himself. Dempster’s primary role in 2011 was to negate his direct opponents influence on the game, however he still provided the St Kilda coaching staff with flexibility due to being able to play as a defender, a defensive forward or a run with role in the midfield. Whilst Dempster was better known for his defensive work he could also be effective offensively, and he came to the fore half-way through the last quarter against West Coast, swooping on the ball at half-forward and kicking a classy snap goal to regain the lead for St Kilda. The Saints went on to win the critical match by 21 points with Dempster earning himself the match ball from St Kilda for his magnificent performance.

In Round 20 against Fremantle Dempster shut-down Hayden Ballantyne for the second time in 2011, keeping him scoreless and restricting him to 11 disposals, Sean had 11 kicks, six marks and six handballs in the 41 point victory.

Against Sydney in Round 22 Dempster had 16 kicks, four handpasses and used the ball superbly to have a disposal efficiency of 95%. Sydney dominated the inside 50s throughout the match and playing in defense Dempster kept Ryan O’Keefe to 16 possessions and one goal whilst also leading the charge in repelling the Swans attacking forays by having a game-high 10 rebound 50s. For the second time interstate in 2011 Dempster was left worse for wear after copping a knock to the head late in the game and suffering from concussion. Dempster’s injuries against Sydney weren’t as severe as in Round 10 against Fremantle at Paterson’s Stadium.

The courageous Dempster played the following week against North Melbourne on Saturday night at Etihad Stadium and showing no ill effects from his concussion the previous week, Sean continued his career best form to comprehensively beat North Melbourne captain Brent Harvey. Dempster kept Harvey scoreless and restricted him to 16 disposals including five clangers. Dempster had 12 disposals, took five marks and laid four tackles before being substituted early in the last quarter of St Kilda’s 65 point win. It was the second time in 2011 that Dempster soundly defeated Harvey as in Round 15 the North Melbourne captain was restricted to 17 disposals and minimal influence on a critical match between two sides attempting to bridge the gap to the top eight sides. Dempster had 13 disposals and laid four tackles in the nine point win.

In the elimination final against Sydney at Etihad Stadium Dempster continued his outstanding form to have 13 kicks and nine handballs and performed the roles that were asked of him well, starting the match in the forward line and later being moved to defence. Surprisingly Dempster spent little time opposed to O’Keefe in the elimination final, however he again featured in the best players for the Saints.

During 2011 Dempster played 23 matches predominantly as a midfield tagger, averaging 108 minutes per game, 7.9 kicks, 6.1 handballs and 4.0 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 76.0%. Dempster was one of seven St Kilda players to play all 23 games in 2011 along with Nick Dal Santo, Sam Gilbert, Brendon Goddard, Sam Fisher, Clinton Jones and Stephen Milne. Dempster was ranked fifth at St Kilda for one percenters with 88, he also set a career best with 321 disposals, the only time he had in excess of 200 disposals previously was in his first season at St Kilda, 2008 with 234.

Dempster exceeded everyone’s expectations during a superb 2011 season in which he played every game for the first time of his career and was a model of consistency, amazingly receiving votes in the St Kilda best and fairest for each and every one of his 23 games in 2011. After struggling to retain his position in the St Kilda side late in 2010 Dempster excelled during 2011 to become an integral member of the St Kilda team by performing his negating role week in and week out with distinction and arguably became the most effective tagger in the AFL. At the 2011 St Kilda best and fairest Dempster won the Robert Harvey Most Professional Player Award. The award is judged by the Club’s coaching and conditioning staff and considers a variety of factors including the player’s approach to training sessions, injuries and treatment and attitude to training, games and around the club.

In 2011 St Kilda awarded a match ball to one Saints player after each match of the home and away season apart from the Round 8 loss to Hawthorn when a match ball was not awarded. The match balls were awarded based on the player’s performance throughout the match, with players being assessed on the influence they had on the game and how well they performed their specific role for the St Kilda Football Club. During the 2011 home and away season Dempster was awarded the match ball on four occasions, the most of any player. To put Sean’s performance of being awarded four match balls into perspective only one other St Kilda player, Nick Dal Santo with three was awarded the match ball more than two times. Dempster was presented with the match ball for his performances against Fremantle in Round 10, North Melbourne in Round 15, West Coast in Round 17 and Sydney in Round 22.

In these four matches Dempster was opposed to Hayden Ballantyne, Brent Harvey, Andrew Embley and Ryan O’Keefe. Looking at the similarities and differences between these four players highlights two of Dempster’s greatest strengths, the ability to play on one opponent in a variety of positions and the capability to match up well against a variety of opponents with different strengths and weaknesses. All four players listed above could be very damaging playing in the midfield or the forward line. These types of players can cause many headaches for match committees as they determine whether to assign one player the negating role regardless of where the opposition star plays or to split the role between two players, a defender and a midfielder with the two players switching when the opposition player rotates between the forward line and the midfield. One of the problems with having two players share the duties is that the opposition gun can lose his opponent when he changes positions and a new opponent has the responsibility of marking him. If a club decides to have one player follow an opposition star in the midfield as well as the forward line it is difficult to find a player that has the skillset as a defender and midfielder to keep his opponent under control in both areas of the ground. With his speed, endurance, discipline and defensive skills Sean Dempster showed during 2011 that he could play tight checking roles whether he was opposed to an opposition forward or midfielder, however it was against opponents that could rotate between these two positions that Dempster came into his own. As Dempster was equally adept playing in the midfield or defense the St Kilda match committee were confident setting Sean the difficult tight checking role on an opposition match-winner who could play in a variety of positions. Dempster flourished with this responsibility in 2011 to consistently perform at a high standard.

Fremantle’s Hayden Ballantyne and North Melbourne’s Brent Harvey were among the shortest players in the AFL in 2011, both being under 175 centimetres and caused problems for their opponents due to their speed and goal-sense. Ryan O’Keefe and Andrew Embley at 188 and 189 centimetres respectively were able to play as big bodied midfielders and were more likely to win contested ball in the midfield or be used as marking targets in forward line then Ballantyne and Harvey. At 191 centimetres Dempster had the size and strength to take on Embley and O’Keefe, however he also had the speed and savvy to counter Ballantyne and Harvey and whilst many players were defeated by Dempster throughout 2011 the Fremantle and North Melbourne speedsters were unlucky enough to be opposed to Sean on more than one occasion in 2011 and found themselves being beaten by him twice in the one season.

Throughout 2011 Dempster received much deserved recognition from his teammates, the St Kilda match committee and Saints supporters. Dempster was recognised by his teammates for his outstanding performances during 2011 when he was one of three St Kilda players nominated for the AFL Most Valuable Player award along with Sam Fisher and Nick Dal Santo. The St Kilda match committee concurred with the assessment of Saints players as the same three players filled the placings at St Kilda’s 2011 best and fairest.

After re-signing with the Saints following the 2011 season Dempster commented “St Kilda have been very good to me over the last couple of years. I have had a few injury problems and some bad form. I was working hard … but I couldn’t really get out on the park and I wasn’t showing any real improvement, so it was good to have a year when you are improving and consistently getting a game. It’s always good that you feel like you can contribute to the team.”9 Dempster commented on his 2011 season “I suppose throughout this year I had a better year because I was given a role each and every week and that kind of played towards my strengths.”10 Dempster grew in confidence throughout the 2011 season and after being in eighth place at the St Kilda best and fairest after Round 8 he improved to be second after Round 15. The battle for first place and third place went right down to the wire with Dempster finishing third on 490 votes, narrowly ahead of midfielder Leigh Montagna in fourth place on 487 votes and behind Sam Fisher and Nick Dal Santo with 557 and 554 votes respectively.

Dempster started 2012 brilliantly, having 19 disposals in Round 1 against Port Adelaide, 20 disposals against Gold Coast in Round 2 and 23 disposals against the Western Bulldogs in Round 3. Against the Bulldogs Dempster had 18 kicks, five handballs, a game-high 14 marks, five tackles and an equal team-high eight one percenters in the Saints 63 point win whilst restricting Daniel Giansiracusa to just nine disposals and one goal. As he had finished 2011 superbly with 22 disposals against Sydney in the elimination final Dempster had more than 18 disposals in four consecutive games, before starting that sequence he had never had more than 18 disposals in back to back games.

In his 140th AFL game Dempster polled the first Brownlow medal votes of his career, polling two votes in the 128 point win against Greater Western Sydney at Etihad Stadium in Round 22, 2012, having a career-high 25 kicks, four handballs, a career-high 16 marks, five inside 50s and a goal assist. Dempster had a team-high and career-high 29 disposals and set game highs for kicks with five more than the second ranked player, and marks with six more than the second ranked player.

The following week against Carlton in Round 23 Dempster was St Kilda’s acting captain in the 15 point victory at Etihad Stadium. St Kilda captain Riewoldt injured his knee in Round 20 and during the last three games of the season St Kilda rotated the captaincy amongst other members of the St Kilda leadership group.

In 2012 Dempster played all 22 games, averaging 113 minutes, 12.5 kicks, 5.2 handballs and 7.0 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 80.5%. Dempster’s average of 17.7 disposals per game in 2012 was a new career best, being an increase of 26% on his previous best of 14.0 disposals per game in 2011 and more than double the 7.8 disposals per game he averaged in 54 games for Sydney from 2005 to 2007. During 2012 Dempster had at least 13 disposals per game in 20 of his 22 games with the exceptions being nine disposals in Round 6 against Hawthorn and 10 disposals against North Melbourne in Round 14. In 119 AFL games up until the end of the 2011 season Dempster had at least 18 disposals in a game nine times equating to 7.6% of his games. During 2012 Dempster had more than 18 disposals in a game more times than he had in his entire career before that season – 12 times from 22 games equating to 54.6% of his games in 2012. St Kilda finished the 2012 season in ninth place with 12 wins and 10 losses, two wins behind eighth placed North Melbourne. It was the first time in Dempster’s five seasons at St Kilda that the club had missed out on making the finals and the first time in 10 seasons on an AFL list that the club that he played for didn’t make the finals as Sydney made the finals in all five seasons Sean spent on their list from 2003 to 2007.

Dempster was one of only five Saints players to play every game for the club in 2012 along with Dal Santo, Lenny Hayes, Milne and Montagna. Dempster finished third in St Kilda’s 2012 best and fairest for the second year in a row, polling 112 votes, behind Lenny Hayes and Leigh Montagna on 124 and 121 votes respectively. Dempster also received the Robert Harvey Most Professional Player Award for the second year in a row. St Kilda head coach Scott Watters commented on Dempster’s outstanding 2012 season “Sean Dempster’s preparation is elite and his performances this year have mirrored his preparation. He has continued to develop his game with his marking becoming a feature. Sean’s ability to limit the impact of key opposition forwards and to contribute to our drive out of the back half has been a highlight this season. As well as some outstanding individual games, his leadership has driven the team and a number of emerging players within the Club” Scott Watters said.

Dempster’s profile in the AFL Record Season Guide 2013 said “After a breakout 2011, Dempster continued to improve with another top-three best and fairest placing and his first All-Australian selection. Dempster played roles on small and tall forwards and was easily the best player in St Kilda’s undersized defense. His ability to get to the contest and have an impact was crucial to the Saints’ campaign and he is expected to again be an important part of the back six.”11

Dempster was ranked first for marks, long kicks and rebound 50s at St Kilda, third for contested marks, and fifth for kicks and loose-ball gets. During the 2012 home and away season Dempster ranked fourth in the AFL for total marks, 17th for long kicks and 15th for effective kicks. Sean predominantly played in defense during 2012, being opposed to a wide range of opposition forwards with his 2012 opponents including key forwards Matthew Pavlich and Lance Franklin and small forwards Eddie Betts, Lewis Jetta and Brent Harvey. In his first 119 AFL games up until the end of the 2011 season Dempster had at least 20 disposals in a game five times, however relishing a more attacking role he surpassed this number in 2012, having at least 20 disposals seven times.

The profile for Dempster in AFL Prospectus 2013 said “Dempster was named back-pocket in the 2012 All-Australian side as he was an intercept and link player for the Saints. He ranked third in the AFL for intercept marks, fifth for uncontested marks, equal-fifth for long kicks to advantage and sixth for intercept possessions across the H&A rounds. The Saints were able to score from 21% of his intercept possessions – the highest percentage of the top 10 intercept players in the AFL. He conceded multiple goals to his opponents on just five occasions and conceded more than two goals just once, allowing Franklin to boot four against him in Round 6.”12

Dempster was one of two Saints in the All-Australian team, along with Stephen Milne who was selected at the opposite end of the ground in the forward pocket. Just two years earlier, in September 2010 a candid Dempster had commented “I’m never confident (of selection). I go into every Thursday crossing my fingers.”13 During 2011 and 2012 Dempster showed the benefits of being injury-free, being given a clearly defined role by the match committee and having the discipline and skill-set to perform these roles brilliantly for the St Kilda Football Club. Sean was the Saints standout defender in 2012 and his selection in the All-Australian team was great reward for his perseverance, outstanding performances and ability to transform himself into one of the best intercept defenders in the AFL.  On being selected in the 2012 All-Australian team Dempster commented “Where I’ve come from, I think making a team like this was more a dream rather than reality. I suppose to put a year together that was worthy of making the All-Australian team is something that I’ll be truly grateful for the rest of my life and something that I’ll really cherish. St Kilda’s been really good for me. The move down is something that has probably benefited my career and given it a bit of longevity.”14

In 2013 Dempster was one of three players elevated to the St Kilda leadership group along with his former housemates Jarryn Geary and David Armitage. The trio joined captain Riewoldt and four other players – Leigh Montagna, Nick Dal Santo, Ben McEvoy and James Gwilt in the club’s eight man leadership group.

Due to a hand injury Dempster missed three of St Kilda’s first four games of the 2013 season, only playing Round 2, after he returned to the Saints line-up in Round 5 he played the remaining 18 games of the season. In the 35 point Round 13 2013 win against Melbourne at the MCG Sean played his 150th AFL game at 29 years of age, just like with his 50th game he shared his milestone, however this time it was with two bigger milestones of St Kilda team-mates – Nick Riewoldt and Nick Dal Santo each playing their 250th games, becoming just the 10th and 11th players to reach this major milestone for the St Kilda Football Club. Even though Dempster had finished third in St Kilda’s best and fairest in the previous two seasons, 2011 and 2012 again he was able to sneak under the radar for a milestone with more focus going on Riewoldt who by that stage had already won five St Kilda best and fairest awards and would add a sixth in 2014 and Dal Santo who had twice finished in the top three of the Brownlow Medal.

In their first 20 games of the 2013 season the Saints had three wins and 17 losses, however they finished the season with back to back wins, starting with a 46 point win against Gold Coast at the Docklands. Against Gold Coast Dempster had 19 kicks – ranked equal second for the game, seven handballs, eight marks, and a game-high seven rebound 50’s.

In the final round of 2013 two St Kilda players, Justin Koschitzke and Adam Schneider played their 200th AFL game, it was also the final AFL game for Koschitzke and two players who were already members of the 200 game club, small forward Stephen Milne (275 games) and defender Jason Blake (219 games). The Saints provided a fitting send-off, playing their best football for the season to defeat Fremantle who finished the season third on the ladder by 71 points at Etihad Stadium. On the eve of the finals Fremantle took the opportunity to rest many of their star players. Against Fremantle Dempster had 18 kicks, 11 handballs, 11 marks, a team-high four rebound 50’s – no other Saint had more than two. Dempster’s 23 disposals for the game equalled his career-high set in Round 22, 2012 against GWS.

During the 2013 trade period Nick Dal Santo joined North Melbourne as a restricted free agent and ruckman Ben McEvoy was traded to Hawthorn in exchange for Shane Savage and pick 18 at the 2013 National Draft which the Saints used to select midfielder Luke Dunstan. The Round 23, 2013 victory against Fremantle ended up being the last game that Dal Santo and McEvoy played for the Saints as well as Koschitzke, Blake and Milne. St Kilda finished 2013 in 16th position on the ladder with five wins, three wins behind Gold Coast and the Western Bulldogs who finished 14th and 15th and three games ahead of Melbourne in 17th position, with GWS winning only one game for the season and finishing last. After making the finals seven times in eight seasons from 2004 to 2011 and only having three top 20 selections in total at eight National Drafts from 2005 to 2012 St Kilda were in a very different phase of list management in 2013. The Saints in the early stages of a long-term rebuild in 2013 had three selections in the top 20 at the 2013 National Draft, with Dunstan being joined by Jack Billings with pick 3 and Blake Acres with selection 19.

Dempster finished seventh in St Kilda’s 2013 best and fairest, was ranked second at the club for marks behind Riewoldt, third for contested marks, equal third for rebound 50s and fifth for long kicks. In 2013 Dempster played 19 games, averaging 106 minutes per game, 10.5 kicks, 5.4 handballs and 5.9 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 80.8%. Playing in defense Sean was opposed to a wide range of opponents in 2013 including small forwards Lindsay Thomas and Eddie Betts and key forwards Jack Darling, Matthew Pavlich and Jack Riewoldt as well as spending time on then Adelaide Crows midfielder/forward Patrick Dangerfield.

During the first six rounds of 2014 Dempster had more than 20 disposals four times. After winning a total of five games in 2013 St Kilda started 2014 well by winning their first two games. In St Kilda’s Round 1 win at Etihad Stadium by 17 points against Melbourne Dempster had 15 kicks, seven handballs, an equal team-high 12 marks with Riewoldt, a game-high five rebound 50s and took an equal game-high two contested marks. In St Kilda’s seven point win against GWS at Etihad Stadium in Round 2 Dempster had 16 kicks, five handballs, seven marks, a game-high eight rebound 50’s and kicked a rare and crucial goal on the run from 55 metres out at the 19 minute mark of the third quarter to reduce GWS’s lead to 14 points. The previous St Kilda goal had been kicked by Riewoldt at the 20 minute mark of the third quarter. Dempster’s goal was followed by three more Saints goals in five and a half minutes to give St Kilda the momentum and a five point lead at three-quarter time.

St Kilda registered their third win of the season in Round 5 over Essendon by 16 points at Etihad Stadium to be ninth on the ladder 1.5% behind the eighth placed Gold Coast, however it was a long and difficult year from that point on with the Saints winning only one more game for the rest of the season.

In the week leading up to St Kilda’s Round 18 home game against Fremantle three-time All-Australian Lenny Hayes announced his retirement, effective at the conclusion of the 2014 season. St Kilda on the bottom of the ladder and having lost 11 consecutive games hosted Fremantle, on an eight game winning streak and second on the ladder. St Kilda, inspired by Hayes turned expectations on their head to play skilful, intense football, limiting the time and space that Fremantle players had when in possession to totally outclass the Dockers and record a comprehensive 58 point victory. Dempster started the game in his customary position inside St Kilda’s defensive 50 however he only played 6% game-time due to be stretchered off the ground following a head clash with Fremantle key forward and captain Matthew Pavlich.

In Round 21 against Sydney, Dempster restricted Adam Goodes to 12 disposals, four marks and no score whilst having 14 kicks, seven handballs, six marks, a team-high seven one percenters and a game-high seven rebound 50s himself.

During 2014 Dempster played all 22 games, averaging 103 minutes per game, 11.6 kicks, 5.0 handballs and 6.2 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 76.5%. Dempster led St Kilda for rebound 50s with 90 – 33 ahead of the second ranked Saint – Montagna, ranked second for marks behind Riewoldt, third for contested marks and fourth for kicks. For the third time in four seasons Dempster finished third in St Kilda’s best and fairest, polling 101 votes to finish behind Riewoldt on 137 votes and Lenny Hayes on 126 votes. Dempster’s profile in AFL Prospectus 2015 said “Dempster continues to be an elite intercept player, ranking No. 1 in the competition for intercept marks and third for intercept possessions last year. He rated elite in both stats for a general defender and was also elite for rebound 50s and spoils per game. He is more of an intercept defender than a lock-down player, as he rated No. 1 in the AFL for disposals won in defensive 50 but rated poor for a general defender at applying pressure and tackles.”15

St Kilda finished last on the ladder in 2014 with four wins, 18 losses and a percentage of 60.8%, Melbourne had an identical win loss record but had a percentage of 68.4% to finish 17th, GWS finished 16th with six wins. As well as three-time St Kilda best and fairest winner Lenny Hayes retiring at the end of the 2014 season, Rhys Stanley was traded and experienced players James Gwilt and Clinton Jones weren’t offered contracts for 2015 as the St Kilda looked to fast-track their rebuild. The Saints had three selections in the first 22 picks at the 2014 National Draft and selected Paddy McCartin at one, Hugh Goddard at 21 and Daniel McKenzie at 22.

For the fifth season in a row Dempster was very durable and played at least 19 games in a season – playing 21 games in 2015. In St Kilda’s 110 point victory Round 14 victory against Essendon at Etihad Stadium Dempster had 15 kicks, 13 handballs, nine marks, four rebound 50s, two goal assists and an equal career-high 24 uncontested possessions.

In his 198th AFL game against Melbourne in Round 17, 2015 at the MCG Dempster polled Brownlow Medal votes for only the second time in his career, receiving two votes for his outstanding game in the 37 point victory. Sean had 14 kicks, an equal team-high nine handballs, 10 marks, four rebound 50’s, two contested marks, a team-high 16 uncontested possessions and an equal team-high five one percenters.

Dempster played his 200th game at 31 years of age in Round 19 against Fremantle at Etihad Stadium, and took just four years and four months to progress from 100 AFL games in April 2011 to 200 AFL games in August 2015. Earlier in 2015 Dempster completed a bio-medicine degree at Deakin University after seven years of part-time study.

At his press conference on Tuesday August 4 when asked “200 games, have you had a chance to reflect at all this week on the journey so far?” Dempster responded “Not too much, I probably haven’t been one for milestones in the past, I have kind of shared my milestones with bigger milestones over the years, my 150th was Rooey and Dal’s 250th, so along the way it has probably suited me more than anything to sit under the radar and get the focus off me a little bit.”

Dempster played the first 19 games of 2015, missed Round 21 with a broken nose and returned to the St Kilda side for the final two games of the season. Dempster sustained the broken nose when he ran back with the flight of the ball in Round 20 against North Melbourne.

Dempster played 21 games for St Kilda in 2015, averaging 112 minutes, 11.3 kicks, 6.4 handballs and 7.1 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 78.8%. Dempster ranked second at St Kilda for marks behind Riewoldt, second for contested marks behind Josh Bruce, second for rebound 50s behind Roberton and led the club for one percenters. During the 2015 home and away season Dempster ranked equal eighth in the AFL for marks, equal 15th for rebound 50s and 14th for one percenters. His profile in AFL Prospectus 2016 said “Dempster’s main strength continues to be his ability to cut off the opposition, ranking seventh in the competition for intercept possessions per game and fourth for intercept marks. He used the ball well by foot and was direct, kicking the ball long 38% of the time and recording a kick rating of +2.5%.”16 St Kilda showed signs of improvement during 2015 to record six wins, a draw and 15 losses to finish 14th on the ladder, two premiership points behind Melbourne in 13th place, but 14 premiership points behind the 12th placed Collingwood and 26 premiership points behind the eighth placed North Melbourne.

In Round 7, 2016 at Etihad Stadium Dempster predominantly played on North Melbourne key forward Jarrad Waite who had averaged 3.7 goals, 17.5 disposals and 7.3 marks per game during the first six rounds of the season. North Melbourne were undefeated on top of the ladder whereas St Kilda had recorded two wins and four losses to be 12th on the ladder. Dempster’s role in restricting Waite to one goal, 12 disposals and four marks was a key factor in keeping St Kilda within striking distance, however they fell narrowly short of causing a major upset, being defeated by seven points.

After playing the first 11 games of the 2016 season Dempster missed three games from Round 12 to Round 15 with a knee injury that required surgery, he returned to the Saints side in Round 16 and played the remaining eight games of the season.

In St Kilda’s upset 15 point win against the Western Bulldogs in Round 18 at Etihad Stadium Dempster was outstanding, having 12 kicks, 11 handballs, an equal team-high five one percenters, an equal game-high 10 marks with Riewoldt, three contested marks, four rebound 50’s and 12 contested possessions. Dempster polled two Brownlow Medal votes with Riewoldt and Steven polling three votes and one vote respectively.

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St Kilda finished the 2016 season in ninth position with 12 wins and 10 losses, an identical win-loss record and position as 2012. Whilst St Kilda made some difficult list management decisions which was a contributing factor in the Saints only recording 15 wins and a draw from 2013 to 2015 these difficult and in some cases unpopular decisions were vindicated with St Kilda’s rapid improvement in 2016.

During 2016 Dempster played 19 games, averaging 111 minutes per game, 7.8 kicks, 5.7 handballs and 5.7 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 76.1%. Dempster finished equal 10th in St Kilda’s 2016 best and fairest with David Armitage on 96 votes. Dempster ranked third at St Kilda for marks behind Riewoldt and Montagna and led St Kilda for intercept possessions.

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Dempster’s profile in AFL Prospectus 2017 said “Dempster has played deep in defense since 2014, winning 58% of his disposals in defensive 50 – the second-highest percentage of any player in the AFL. His ability to read the play is an obvious strength, averaging 2.6 intercept marks in the defensive 50, the equal third-most of any player in the competition.”17

In early February 2017 the club’s new leadership group was unveiled with Dempster being one of three St Kilda elder statesmen to step away from official leadership positions along with former captain Riewoldt and Montagna. Dempster had been a member of the St Kilda leadership group for four seasons from 2013 to 2016. Geary was appointed St Kilda’s captain in 2017 and Armitage is a key member of the eight man leadership group, other members of the group are Jack Steven, Maverick Weller, Jack Newnes, Josh Bruce, Dylan Roberton and Sebastian Ross.

After Dempster received a head knock during St Kilda’s opening  JLT game of the 2017 pre-season against Port Adelaide he took a couple of weeks to consider his options due to the concerns he had about the impact another head knock might have on his life after football. St Kilda didn’t provide much information in relation to Dempster’s non-selection for Round 1 of the 2017 AFL season against Melbourne. Dempster commented on Radio Station SEN “I think the way we handled it wasn’t the best. It allowed for a lot of speculation. I suppose the club knew where I stood and what I’m like as a (private) person, and thought (my health) wouldn’t gain any (media) traction if they just don’t talk about it. But I guess not talking about it caused more questions. I probably wasn’t going to be picked for round one anyway, so there was an element of form to it.” Also during the interview Dempster expressed his disappointment at having his character questioned, saying “Being a quiet person that stays away from the media as much as possible, to have your character questioned, for me, was upsetting. It was kind of the first time that I was questioned as a person and my character being questioned. I found that difficult given it was based on untruths. That was hard.”

It has become more common in recent years for players to retire from AFL due to concussions or concern over suffering more head knocks in the future with players in this category including Sean’s former Saints team-mate Matt ‘Goose’ Maguire who retired half way through the 2015 season at 31 years of age after 170 games comprised of 99 for St Kilda and 71 for Brisbane. A couple of players have been forced to retire in the early stages of their career due to concussion – Justin Clarke who retired at 22 years of age early in 2016 after playing 56 games for the Brisbane Lions and Sam Blease who retired at 24 years of age after playing 33 AFL games at Melbourne and one game for Geelong.

The advantage Dempster had over Blease and Clarke is that when he retired due to head knock concerns he was towards the end of his career and had achieved far more than he ever thought possible during the early years of his AFL career. Whilst it would have been great for Dempster to be part of a St Kilda team that is expected to challenge strongly for a finals berth in 2017 he doesn’t have the question in the back of his mind ‘What If I had of applied myself more, been more professional, could I have achieved more?’ In his retirement speech to his St Kilda teammates Dempster said “I have done my best and I can leave this club with my head held high knowing that I have given everything and there is nothing left in the tank for me. Thanks to everyone, especially the boys, loved every part of it, loved playing with you, walking down the race. My favourite time is the five minutes before we go out there and you look each other in the eye and you know that you have done the work, the look that I got from other players that they trusted me out on the field is something that I will always remember.”

During his first 13 seasons on an AFL list from 2003 to 2015 Dempster was team-mates with small forward/midfielder Adam Schneider who on the eve of Sean’s 150th game spoke to saints.com.au about the trade that resulted in the duo joining the Saints. Adam commented “It was just good knowing that I had a mate to come down with me. It definitely made it easier. It shouldn’t really contribute to your decision, but I knew Sean pretty well, plus having Ross and Dave Misson down there it definitely made it a lot easier for both of us. I know ‘Shinner’ thought the same as me: let’s go down there and put ourselves in an uncomfortable position and make ourselves better as a person and a player. I think it’s been better for both of ourselves the way it’s resulted.”16 Schneider also spoke about Dempster’s professionalism and the ability to get the most out of his ability, saying  “He’s one of the most professional players I’ve ever seen. At times he embarrassed other people with the way he goes about it. If you ever thought you were going about it well you only had to look at him to realise you still had a lot to improve in that area. You see a lot of his professionalism at the club, but it’s probably the stuff he does at home. Everything revolves around football and his body being well and that’s the reason why he is so durable. He ticks every single box. I don’t think there’s much more ‘Shinner’ could do.”17

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On his plans for life after football Dempster commented to saints.com.au “I will still continue my studies which is a Masters in Strength and Conditioning. I suppose over the journey over the past couple of years I have been able to do a little bit of work for the club in terms of writing a few programs and helping out, especially Josh Low in the Strength and Conditioning area. That will be something that I will probably be looking at in the future.”

Dempster’s fourth season at St Kilda, 2011 was the first in which injuries didn’t have a significant impact on him. In his first season as a Saint 2008, Dempster suffered a serious knee injury in the final round of the home and away season against Essendon, a knee reconstruction was required and Sean did not return to the St Kilda side until Round 15 2009. The following season an achilles injury resulted in him missing the first half of the 2010 home and away season and he didn’t return to the St Kilda side until Round 13. In six seasons at St Kilda from 2011 to 2016 Dempster flourished, remaining very durable during and performing a variety of roles at a high standard during this period to finish in the top 10 of the best and fairest in every season to be one of only three Saints to achieve this feat along with Riewoldt and Montagna.

In his 222 game AFL career Sean Dempster averaged 8.3 kicks, 4.9 handballs, 4.8 marks, and 2.4 rebound 50s per game. Dempster ranks 39th on St Kilda’s all-time games list and 385th on the VFL/AFL all-time games list.  He polled six Brownlow Medal votes in his career comprised of the two votes on three occasions and was the last player from Sydney’s drought-breaking 2005 premiership side to retire from AFL football.

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In his retirement video posted on saints.com.au Dempster commented “When I first moved down here I lived with Jarryn and David Armitage and their friendships I will forever cherish, I was able to see them grow from 18 year old boys to now one of them is the captain of the club and the other one is also in the leadership group and could easily lead this club just as well. They’re two players that I’ll forever cherish their friendships, they have been great friends to me and then there is a handful of other boys that I have played a lot of football with, Sam Gilbert, Nick, Joey, Jack Steven that I have played almost 10 years with, they will be forever friends and mates of mine.”

Throughout his career Dempster had four top three finishes in St Kilda’s best and fairest with his podium b & f finishes being under three different coaches – Ross Lyon in 2011, Scott Watters in 2012 and Alan Richardson in 2014 and 2015. Dempster’s achievement of having top three best and fairest finishes under three different coaches highlights his capacity to adapt his game to whatever his team needed most from him and perform his role at a high level.

From 2011 onwards Dempster thrived on being given a specific role to perform for the Saints, his confidence as a footballer grew and he performed his role with distinction and was an extremely reliable performer for the rest of his football career. Up until 2011 Dempster was primarily used as a negating player and amazingly progressed from averaging eight disposals per game during his three seasons at Sydney to being one of the best intercept players in the competition, making the most of his marking ability and superb reading of the play.

Appearing on Radio Station SEN program the ‘Coaches Box’ on Friday 7 April, 2017 St Kilda Senior Coach Alan Richardson paid tribute to Dempster’s contribution to the club, saying “Sean has been a fearless and selfless defender for our club for a long time now. He has been an excellent example of what a committed footballer looks like. His dedication to his craft and his leadership through action is something I know will leave a lasting impact on our club and all at the club sincerely thank him for that and wish him well.”

By Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

1 http://www.saints.com.au/news/2016-10-07/dempster-resigns-for-2017

2 http://www.saints.com.au/news/2017-04-10/riewoldt-shinner-was-the-ultimate-team-man

3 AFL, AFL Record guide to Season 2003, page 272

4 http://www.sydneyswans.com.au/news/2007-07-07/dempster-quietly-reaches-50

5 AFL, AFL Record Guide to Season 2006, page 279

6 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – The essential number cruncher for season 2007, 2nd edition, page 290

7 St Kilda Football Club, Dempster not one to shy away by Felicity George, August 20, 2010, Saints.com.au

8 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – The essential number cruncher for season 2011, 6th edition, page 248

9 The Age, Dempster fired up to go marching on by Jared Lynch, November 13, 2011, Sport page 13

10 The Age, Dempster fired up to go marching on by Jared Lynch, November 13, 2011, Sport page 13

11 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2013, page 296

12 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – The essential number cruncher for season 2013, 8th edition, page 290

13 Sydney Morning Herald, St Kilda’s Dempster vies for AFL GF spot by Greg Buckle, September 20, 2010

14 http://www.news.com.au/sport/afl/st-kilda-defender-sean-dempster-puts-his-all-australian-selection-down-to-confidence-in-his-ability/news-story/101e5abe0d0fb03404ad60c7d4541d16

15 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – The essential number cruncher for season 2015, 10th edition, page 314

16 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – The essential number cruncher for season 2016, 11th edition, page 314

17 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – The essential number cruncher for season 2017, 12th edition, page 316

One thought on “Reliable and professional St Kilda defender Sean Dempster retires due to concerns about head knocks

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