250 games up for Sandringham skipper Sautner - A goalkicking great

By Paul Amy - Leader Newspaper

NICK Sautner has been in the news and enjoying it very much.

If there's anything the Sandringham spearhead likes as much as a goal, it's a spread in the newspapers.

After a late night at the Logies last month rare for him and, being a non-drinker, he was far less merry than many other guests he woke to receive a phone message from leading football writer Mike Sheahan.

They chatted a few days later and Sheahan dedicated a page in the Saturday Herald Sun to the prolific  full-forward.

``The best we've never seen?''  was the headline. 

``It was a nice story,'' Sautner said last week. ``But they could have used a better photo!'' he added,  referring to it showing him  before he went on a fitness regime three years ago that left him as muscled   as any AFL player.

The comment about the pic was said with a cheek that elicits a chuckle  rather than  disparagement  for big headedness. He can laugh at and is not afraid of being himself. He is most assuredly his own man.

The rise of James Podsiadly,  Michael Barlow and Alex Silvagni this season has created great interest in a competition that, publicity-wise, usually gets only a few crumbs of the football cake.

There have been stories and radio talkback about future prospects, such as Myles Sewell, Orren Stephenson and Michael Stockdale.

But there has also been recognition for another prolific goalkicker who, unlike Podsiadly, never made it to the highest standard. Taking a fresh look at the VFL, people wonder why.

The  mature-age rookie listings came a few years late for 32-year-old Sautner. It will always bug him that no AFL club deemed him worthy  of a run.

He's told the story many times of how  he had Andy Collins championing his cause at St Kilda in 2000. The Saints overlooked him, instead going for Brett Moyle.

``I would have loved the opportunity,'' Sautner said. ``You could train in a full-time environment  and work on your deficiencies and maybe contribute to a club. Without that opportunity you do die wondering.''

Lesser slights have played on his mind over the years  Shaun Smith being picked ahead of him for a state game, getting a  bad run at the  tribunal and failing to be protected by umpires when  thuggish  defenders  roughed him up.  It would not have escaped his attention that Matt Little won the medal as the VFL's best in the state game last week for kicking seven goals against the WAFL, when Sautner nailed  nine against the same opponent in 2007 and received no such gong. He has a fine-tuned sense of injustice.

But nothing has distracted him from kicking goals. His enduring excellence has made him a champion and given him a decent profile in Victorian football. Long gone are the days when scribes would spell his name Saunter.

He started playing  with Springvale reserves in 1996 and transferred to Sandringham in 1997, in time to  play in Collins' premiership team as a centre half back.

The move to full-forward came in 2000. He kicked 70 goals to win his first  Frosty Miller Medal as the league's leading goalkicker and every season since has  put through at least  60.

The absence of a century keeps him out of the company of  former VFA greats, such as Fred Cook and Bob Bonnett (at Frankston one year he kicked 93 goals and served  a two-week suspension for striking; it still burns him up).

But with 879 goals,  he's climbed to seventh  on  the goalkicking ladder, behind  only Cook (1336), Rino Pretto (1070), Bonnett (933), Mark Fotheringham (928), Frosty Miller (883) and Frank Seymour  (880).

Strong marking, his reading of the play and a fierce desire to succeed have made him a premium player.

His record  gleams  with achievement  five  premierships, nine Frosty  Miller medals,  nine  team-of-the-year selections, 11 club goalkicking trophies, Victorian representative,  club best and fairest, Sandringham games record holder, VFL life member.

This Saturday  brings another  accolade, his 250th senior match. He is by some distance the VFL's longest serving player.

That  Sautner juggles his football with an increasingly hectic job adds merit to his accomplishments.

After doing a double degree sports management and business he joined the AFL to help oversee the traineeship program.

Now he is general manager of commercial business at Etihad Stadium.

He keeps long hours and is sometimes required to go overseas. Sautner missed Round 6, for example,  because he and Etihad CEO Ian Collins were taking care of business  in London.

 It was mixed with pleasure the FA Cup final, concerts and dining at fine restaurants.

 ``I'm fortunate to have an understanding employer and an understanding football club,'' Sautner said.

``I know that to compete  against full-time AFL athletes you've got to make sacrifices. It means that at times I train at odd hours. But if I'm going to continue playing at this level I've got to do the work. I don't want to embarrass myself.''

How much longer can he go on?

``I evaluate it on a season-by-season basis,'' he said.

``I still feel that, physically, I can perform at the level. Now it relates more to the mental ability to get `up' every week and meet  the demands placed on VFL players, from training to meetings  and analysis.''

There's also the issue of completing an MBA that he was supposed to start last October.

Sandringham  followers can only hope the great spearhead again defers his studies and kicks enough goals to stay in the news.




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