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Bloodied but not beaten, Saint Josh is winning the battle

Josh Battle has been rewarded for a consistent season at the Saints - AFL,Josh Battle,St Kilda Saints,Rising Star
Josh Battle has been rewarded for a consistent season at the Saints

IN THE dying seconds of St Kilda's thrilling three-point win over Fremantle at Marvel Stadium in round 21, Josh Battle performed the most heroic act of his embryonic AFL career – a courageous, match-saving mark.

But the 20-year-old's overwhelming feeling for the majority of the dramatic last quarter was one of sheer frustration.

Early in the term Battle copped a knock to his nose, which began to bleed, requiring him to leave the field for some patchwork.

The third-year forward-turned-defender was on the sidelines for about seven minutes, which seemed like an eternity for a determined youngster who "just wanted to be back out there". 

When he returned to the fray, complete with tape strapped across his face and wrapped around his head, he copped another knock to the nose, which by now was bleeding profusely. 

Saints medicos struggled for several more minutes to stem the flow, before sending him back into the action. By now Battle was desperate to impose himself on proceedings and help his mates in defence.

St Kilda clawed back the lead in the final minute before the Dockers made a last roll of the dice to keep their finals hopes alive, with skipper Nat Fyfe sending a high ball into the right forward pocket.

Battle showed true grit to run with the flight of the ball and cling to a match-saving chest mark with 12 seconds left. The siren sounded as he took his kick.

"I just wanted to get involved in the contest. I tried to make a bee-line for the footy and make sure no one else marked it. I was just lucky enough to end up with it," Battle told AFL.com.au after receiving the round 22 nomination for the NAB AFL Rising Star award. 

"It was an awesome feeling to play a part in a win like that."

BARRETT Two games of the season, one magical round

It was the biggest moment so far in a 25-game career that is beginning to gather momentum – at the opposite end of the ground to what been forecast for the former Dandenong Stingrays key forward when St Kilda snared him at pick No.39 in the 2016 NAB AFL Draft.

In his first season with the Saints, Battle had the added pressure of completing Year 12. It was a battle (pun intended) but one he's now glad he embarked upon. 

"At the time I just wanted to play footy and wasn't too keen on school, but I had good people in my corner who said it would be best to finish school because you don't know how long footy will last," he said. 

"It was difficult because I was only at footy one day a week and the rest of the time I'd train on my own with a couple of coaches, but I was lucky enough to make my debut on the school holidays – that was pretty cool." 

Battle celebrates his first AFL goal in 2017. Picture: AFL Photos

Battle followed up that one-off appearance in 2017 with six more last year, kicking goals in four of them. He would likely have played more AFL games had it not been for a fractured left eye socket and bouts of concussion that sidelined him for the last three rounds. 

It was a worrying time, particularly given the concussion struggles of teammate Paddy McCartin. 

"It was pretty frustrating because I really didn't know what was happening – I just kept having headaches and stuff. I just wanted to get back out there but I couldn't," Battle said. 

"But I got the all clear and attacked the pre-season and I've had a better run at it this year."

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Battle has been on the other side of hard knocks too – in the Saints' round three loss to Freo in Perth he had a sickening head clash with Fyfe that knocked out the Freo superstar. 

His move to defence this season has been a pleasant surprise, given he'd never previously played in the back half. A solid contributor in 18 games this season, Battle has averaged 14.7 possessions, six marks and three tackles. He missed three games with a minor knee problem.

In St Kilda's loss to Carlton at the MCG on Saturday, Battle gathered 16 possessions (seven contested), four marks (one contested) and a career-high 11 one-percenters. 

He first learned he was backline-bound when then-Saints coach Alan Richardson mentioned it to him on a pre-season camp for a group of third and fourth-year players in Darwin. 

"I didn't think much of it though," Battle said. 

Back in Melbourne a week later, Battle was having his ankles strapped for training when then-assistant and now interim coach Brett Ratten confirmed the youngster would be used in defence.

"I thought he was joking, but then he said, 'I want you to play a role a little bit like (James) Sicily does for the Hawks.' I was like, 'Oh yeah, sweet,'" he said.

"It's been awesome to learn more about my game. I've loved it. It's been a really good change and it's good to add some strings to my bow."

Hawthorn star Sicily, who also started his career in attack, is a brilliant playmaker, an astute reader of the play and an intercept specialist with superb marking and kicking skills – and Battle, who watches the Hawk with a hawk-eye, is developing similar traits.

"I've got some good players alongside me who are really good intercept players – Jake Carlisle has built his career on it and 'Wilks' (Callum Wilkie) is also good at it. It's great to train with those guys and try to help and guide each other," he said. 

Battle also boasts impressive running power, which enables him to play on a variety of opponents. 

"It helps when we come up against teams that have forwards like Jack Darling (West Coast) and Jack Gunston (Hawthorn), who are running types, because I get to play on them, which is awesome and really helps my development," he said. 

"I love playing on good players – they take you to the ball." 

For the record, Battle performed well on both premiership stars, keeping Gunston goalless and having 16 touches himself in a round four win at Marvel Stadium and conceding just one major to Darling while collecting a career-high 21 possessions in a three-goal loss at the same venue in round eight. 

He is neither sure nor "fussed" which end he will eventually play most of his footy, but is becoming increasingly comfortable in defence. 

"Whatever the coach wants. I'm just happy to be running out there," he said.

 

"We've got a pretty young group in the backline so if we can all develop together it'll be really good for the future."

A gun junior cricketer, the former Victorian under-17 squad member received a cricket scholarship to study at Haileybury College. Around the same time he was selected in the AIS/AFL Academy and was forced to make a decision between the two sports. He followed his father Tony's advice to choose the one he most enjoyed. 

"I made the right decision. And I still play plenty of backyard cricket!" he said. 

It was at Haileybury College that Battle forged a rewarding relationship with Essendon great Matthew Lloyd, who was assistant coach of the school's senior football team. 

"I've worked pretty closely with 'Lloydy' since year nine and I still keep in touch with him. We catch up once a month or so. He's a very supportive friend and he gives me great advice," he said.