For half a decade, Saverio Rocca was one of the few players Collingwood supporters could turn to for hope during a time of need.
The mid-to-late 1990s was one of the club’s darkest eras, and it was so often Rocca who the Magpies turned to in the hope of a goal square miracle.
On his day, Rocca could take towering marks, score bundles of goals and take the game by the scruff of neck. He led Collingwood’s goalkicking tally on seven occasions and took home the Copeland Trophy after kicking a career-high 93 goals in 1995.
In his teens, Rocca’s first love was athletics, where he was the Australian discus champion at under-19 level.
He was spotted by Keith Burns, Collingwood’s famous under-19s coach, while playing junior football for North Reservoir Lakeside.
From the get go, Rocca showed great strength and pace off the mark, but, early in his career, his endurance levels sometimes counted against him.
Rocca made his senior debut in 1992 aged 18, playing 10 games for a return of 29 goals.
Season 1993 was when ‘big Sav’ demonstrated what he was capable of, kicking five goals in the first round against Footscray. He played the role of spearhead in round two, only to be shifted out of the limelight by veteran teammate Peter Daicos, who kicked eight goals to see the Pies to victory over a Gary Ablett-inspired Geelong at Victoria Park.
One week later, with Daicos out injured, Rocca kicked a match winning haul of five goals to sink Essendon before backing it up with six goals against Carlton’s Stephen Silvagni, the full back of the century.
He reached further heights when he met Richmond at the MCG, when he booted four goals in the opening term and ended with 10 for the day.
A fortnight later, he again registered double digits to annihilate the Bulldogs, snagging seven goals by half time. He ended his second season with 73 goals, placing him sixth in the Coleman Medal.
Rocca began 1994 well, his seven-goal bag against Essendon in round five presenting a season highlight. He finished the year with 49 goals, but managed only nine in his last six games. It was during this time that he played his only final for the club, scoring a behind with his only kick of the day against West Coast in the Qualifying Final loss at the WACA.
But his disappointing end to 1994 was quickly forgotten by the time 1995 rolled around.
Rocca announced himself as a force to be reckoned with, kicking 93 goals for the season as well as winning his only Copeland Trophy.
Although the Magpies were winless until round seven, it didn’t hinder Rocca, who benefited greatly from the presence of Dermott Brereton alongside him in the forward pocket. The Hawthorn legend been recruited from Sydney for one final fling at the AFL, and made his Collingwood debut in round three against Geelong.
Rocca immediately benefited from Brereton’s experience, and netted six goals in their first outing together.
His season caught fire in the famous ANZAC Day draw against Essendon when he kicked nine goals and two behinds against a young Dustin Fletcher.
When the Pies finally broke through for a win against Sydney three weeks later, Rocca was in the thick of the action, netting four majors before slotting another 11 goals in the fortnight that followed.
On a cold night at the MCG, Rocca was the catalyst behind Collingwood’s 96-point drubbing of the Crows, kicking 10 of his side’s 24 goals to earn the three Brownlow votes.
It sparked a seven week run in which he kicked 40 goals at an average of more than five per game, capped off with eight goals from 10 marks against Essendon, a side that was on the end of many a Rocca thrashing in the years that followed.
Rocca fell just short of the 100 goal barrier, slotting two in the final round of the home and away season as his side’s finals dream evaporated in the final quarter against Sydney.
He never quite hit the heights of ’95 in the years that followed, but remained one of the most potent full forwards in the country.
Rocca kicked 66 goals in 18 games in 1996, a year that was most memorable for his six goals on a Monday night against Geelong. Unfortunately he watched the next three games from the grandstand after dislocating his shoulder.
He hit hit back strongly in 1997, kicking 76 goals to finish second in the Coleman Medal behind Adelaide star Tony Modra.
He began the year well, kicking six majors against Port Adelaide in his first outing alongside his younger brother Anthony, who had been traded to Collingwood from Sydney over the summer.
Rocca’s hot start continued, kicking 10 goals against the lowly Demons on a Friday night in round two. He fired against eventual Preliminary Finalists North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, kicking nine goals in a two week period under the Friday night lights.
Unfortunately, that’s where the run ended, with Rocca and his teammates crashing to earth with a thud with heavy losses to Sydney and Hawthorn, with the full forward kicking just one goal in the two games.
He jagged four against Richmond but a goalless afternoon against West Coast at an ice-cold Victoria Park meant he was sentenced to the reserves for a week.
Rocca earned a reprieve against Geelong but didn’t take his opportunities, managing just three behinds on a day his side recorded its sixth loss in as many games.
He was again omitted for the round 15 meeting with Fremantle, only to earn a late call up to the seniors when Chad Liddell pulled out at the eleventh hour.
The drought broke, for both player and team, with Rocca kicking nine goals in a 100-point win in front of the adoring Victoria Park crowd.
Rocca’s form ebbed and flowed with his side’s as the year progressed, although he very nearly carried Collingwood into the finals when he kicked three goals from six scoring shots on a wet Monday night in Adelaide.
By 1998, Rocca was one of Collingwood’s most recognisable figures, but the team’s gradual decline made life difficult for the man in the goal square.
Rocca kicked 68 goals from 22 games, a haul highlighted by a career-high 11 goals against Fremantle at Victoria Park in round 10.
As was the norm, he tormented Essendon on ANZAC Day, kicking a bag of seven on third gamer Matthew Banks.
He also helped shelve talk of the team’s poor record at Waverley Park with five goals against the Hawks in a hefty 86-point win in round 16, but inaccurate kicking plagued him from there on, finishing the year with 11 goals and 10 behinds in his last six games.
With his side destined for the wooden spoon, Rocca found the going tough in the final year of the 20th Century. He kicked just 33 goals – his lowest return since his debut season.
Groin and knee injuries made life tough and eventually forced him out of the last six games of the year.
There were some bright moments, such as his seven goal effort against Geelong in a three-point loss at Kardinia Park. He also spent some time in the ruck during season as coach Tony Shaw, by now in his final season, began to prepare the club for life after Damian Monkhorst.
The year 2000 heralded the birth of the Mick Malthouse era, but by September, it marked the end of the road for Saverio Rocca and Victoria Park.
He began the year in fine form, kicking five in wet conditions to help roll Adelaide in round two before snagging six in a 73-point thrashing of Carlton a week later.
But as the season wore on, he tapered off, with injuries calling an early end to his campaign after the loss to the Crows in round 17.
Sadly, it was that 38-point loss at Football Park in which Rocca pulled on the jumper for the final time.
The time had come for player and club to part ways, but without a trade in the offing, Rocca took his chances in the National Draft.
Fortunately for Sav, it was North Melbourne to offered him a lifeline.
At the age of 27, Rocca made his debut as a Kangaroo. He would depart the scene on his own terms five years later, with an extra 101 games and 234 goals to his name.
Fittingly, Rocca signed off with three goals against his old club in his final match, on the last day of the 2006 home and away season.
Both Collingwood and North Melbourne afforded him a guard of honour as he left the MCG for one last time.
It was a lasting tribute to Rocca’s contribution to both clubs, and a reminder of the warm regard in which all Collingwood supporters hold him and his efforts in the Black and White.
Saverio Rocca will forever be a favourite son of the Collingwood supporters who stuck by the club during its bleakest decade, and his place in the Collingwood Hall of Fame ensures his legacy will live forever.
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