Round 13, 2015
St Kilda 1.5, 3.7, 5.9, 7.14 (56)
Western Bulldogs 1.3, 3.4, 7.7, 9.8 (62)
Crowd: 26,511 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, June 28th at 7.20pm
Sometimes you go to a game of footy and it becomes apparent a basic agreement must exist between the two teams – let’s just do a whole bunch of stuff and get this one out of the way ASAP. Or maybe not. But maybe? I don’t know.
Obviously that’s the viewpoint from the comfort of the Corporate Stadium stands, and one that belies all the planning that goes into a game of AFL footy. But tell me, what else we would have ended up with otherwise? We didn’t get a really good game of footy, we didn’t get any real highlights, and we definitely didn’t get the win.
In recent years we’ve been building to a point in which for the first time ever the supporter can’t know what’s really happening on the ground. It’s been a topic of some discussion in some media this year, but this was the kind of game that really drives it home. Of course you can still pick up the fundamentals, but you won’t get told that this game was by design, even though we’ll have Richo talking up how we won the tackle count 68-54, the inside-50 count 56-44 and had 21 scoring shots to 17, and how most things went to plan overall, and Sean Dempster can talk about how proud they were about the effort. Somehow the old trick of kicking the Australian Rules football undid us.
Whether it was Gilbert out of the defensive goalsquare or Lonie in our own, we both cost ourselves in defence and in attack throughout a match in which goalscoring opportunities simply needed to be made the most of if one team was going to win this.
There were a couple of strange echos of the 2009 Preliminary Final and subsequent Grand Final in the way this game played out and the scoreline. The final score was an echo of the 2009 Preliminary Final reversed – our 9.6 (60) to the Bulldogs’ 7.11 (53) of that remarkable night became 9.8 (62) to 7.14 (56) last night. As for the 2009 Grand Final, just add to two goals straight to each of last night’s totals and you have the score when the siren sounded with the ball in Max Rooke’s hands.
The difference was between last night and those games that I still regard that Preliminary Final as the most intense game of footy I’ve witnessed…until the game the following week. And whilst there was a reasonable amount of pressure around the ball and ball carrier last night, the 68 tackles we laid were nothing on the 118 we laid in that Grand Final, nor even the 99 a fortnight ago. There was a substantial amount of unforced errors – mostly by us – rather than two teams making it incredibly difficult for the other due to manic and purposeful pressure. And this isn’t to take anything away from the Dogs. Whilst we’re both a long way off the summit, they’re further developed than we are and a decent team will win these types of games.
Given the stage of development we’ve been in since the beginning of last year, the darkest days of these darker periods are when we’ve left the game wondering what all this is for. None of the young guys had a big day or gave us anything huge to look forward to. The difference is now we have several guys who have have had more game time and shown more than enough to have us reasonably excited about their future at the club. We don’t know that all of this will work until it works, really, but right now we’ve banked enough to feel simply flat more than anything else when a game like last night eventuates. No Billings or Sinclair, Lonie was good but has the Schneiders about him still around goal, Membrey really presented well in just his ninth game without really hitting the scoreboard or holding on to that many, Seb Ross racked up 11 touches in one quarter. When most people would agree that your best were the senior guys in Joey, My Favourite Hair in the AFL and Dempster with Armo and Steven in tow then you know you’ve had a night that will probably be forgotten by us all if we ever reach anywhere near the summit over the next few years.
The closest we got us Bruce kicking three and whilst it’s not a huge bag, it’s three straight out of 7.14 – leaving 4.14 kicked by the rest of the team – and if the delivery forward was executed more professionally or tactfully then that’s a whole lot more opportunity for him and Roo to have shots on goal from dangerous positions.
It’s perhaps worth tying that in with no Billings and Sinclair factor when it comes to discussion about how the forward line has functioned in their absence in the last fortnight. I tried with all the power of my amateurish insight into what it was in the Melbourne game and the way that the Demons set up that left Roo and Bruce with such little space to lead to, and that replayed itself in a big way last night. That Bruce could finish with those three goals and Roo could work himself into an almost match-winning performance – the passage of exchanges with Bruce over nearly the length of the ground late in the game that led to Bruce’s third a rare highlight on the night – said a lot about work ethics of the two. And they really were needed, otherwise we didn’t look like finishing with any more than five goals. The point ultimately being is it took a massive work rate from both to create some sort of tall target opportunities, but again what was by design, and what was because of the way the Dees and the Dogs set up? Obviously the woeful entries forward (and actual shots at goal) were not, and I get the feeling this might have stunted a lot of the more likely forward thrusts. The problem going forward was that countless times it was a ball far too high landing on the top of Riewoldt, Membrey or Bruce in a one-on-one or even when they were outnumbered, giving them no chance to work to space to the advantage of the drop of the ball which last night clearly wasn’t a concept that crossed the mind of most. It also allowed Easton Wood to clean up at will, and show off just how much he’s improved with some really tough intercept marks in big moments. Robert Murphy was curiously allowed far too much space out of defence throughout, and that’s even on a night in which he probably wasn’t as damaging as usual.
So where do Billings and Sinclair come in? Billings brings class that very few of our players either have naturally or, as far as the other younger guys go, have yet to develop. He’s also a great user of space, knows where to lead and had the ability to take strong marks. The fact he plays a little higher up in the forward line creates movement in attacks which we simply don’t have at the moment, and has forced the ball user kicking inside 50 to go to options that are far too stationary or just shank the kick anyway.
Sinclair looked a class above and then some in his performance for Sandy today as he belatedly began his rookie-listed status, but who knows? Maybe another mystery housekeeping injury might sideline someone for long enough to allow him back in this year, or Curren might have just gone and done it the traditional way this afternoon. But had Sinclair been there last night, with Billings in there as well, it’s a lot more help for Lonie when the ball hits the deck and the ball was hitting the deck a lot. Interestingly, the best piece of roving last night was Bruce off his spilled marking contest in the third quarter. Lonie could have made things very different but from the goal square managed to find the post instead of the large space between the two big ones. It would have brought us to within a kick and cranked up the momentum even further. As I said, Lonie’s taken several leaves from Schneider’s inaccuracy book, which is vaguely appropriate given Schneider’s mentoring role for him. Mini Schneider’s kicked 9.9 in his first 10 games, which is OK given at the core he’s a small forward but also not that great given that he’s a small forward. A lot of those shots have been quite gettable, so it’s been his pressure, poise and disposal higher up the ground that have punctuated his genuinely valuable contribution to the side to date as an 18 year-old.
Schneider himself was guilty of a couple of basic errors, but his return of 0.2 is the kind of think that will contribute to his legacy at the Saints being one of waste. The Essendon misses brought back his 2009 Grand Final howlers, with the clincher this time being that he’s actually there to finish those opportunities and show guys like Lonie, Sinclair, Minchington et al how to finish when the pressure is on. That’s why he’s on the list at all, and that’s why he was elevated ahead of Sinclair. Perversely, had he finished those opportunities this year alone we’d be saying he’s having close to a career-best season. But poor kicking is poor footy; it was true on Grand Final Day in 2009 and it remained so last night. More perversely, he’ll retire with the comfort of being a premiership player for Sydney in 2005, having gone bananas (and kicked straight) against us when it counted in the Preliminary Final.
Gilbert has found himself in Schneider territory for similar reasons. Yes, he has capable hands defensively, has missed a lot of footy and incredibly is only 28 years old. Like Schneider, however, he’s supposed to be the senior guy that shores things up, gets into the right spots and with his style of play run out of defence and set up a rebound or several. He tried those things but ended up kicking directly to the opposition and getting caught holding the ball, gifting the opposition goals on a night when the Bulldogs managed only nine in total. Stringer didn’t kick any, Delaney hadn’t done any washing so was available to keep Boyd to just one goal, Dickson only kicked one and Dahlhaus none.
Worth also mentioning that yet again we ran a close game out but were seriously hampered by inaccuracy. To be more a little contemporary with the historical analogies, the game closely paralleled the GWS tussle in Round 1, with us unable to find goals despite having an overwhelming amount of the play in the last quarter, and throw the Essendon game in there for the glaring misses at goal by a certain senior player starting with “A” and ending the “dam Schneider”. Including last night, in the last quarters of the respective three matches we’ve kicked 4.7, 1.4 and 2.5, which is a total of 7.16 in games three games we’ve lost by nine points or less, whilst the opposition has kicked 7.8. The same would be said of the Melbourne escape if we didn’t fall over the line in the last 19 seconds – we kicked 1.4 in the last term after having a monopoly on possession and territory for the nearly the entirety of the last quarter.
For some reason, let’s now talk about Billy Longer (I couldn’t think of a decent segue). The hit-outs finished pretty evenly, but I feel like he vaguely got to a few more contests and pulled in a decent grab or two – one late on the wing which exactly mirrored that of the one he took late in Round 6, but with the scores essentially reversed. I still don’t think there’s a enough evidence to see outright he’s better than Hickey or will be better than Hickey in the long run, particularly given Hickey was played as a forward. It allowed him to demonstrate just how mobile he is and particularly how good he is down low and at providing a presence immediately after a marking contest. Billy’s tapwork is superior for the time being, notwithstanding him inexplicably unable to make it to a centre bounce at one point.
Interestingly the St Kilda Facebook account hinted very strongly at something to do with “good news” about Jason Holmes to be announced soon, and I’m assuming it’s either a contract extension or perhaps an elevation onto the senior list at the end of the year. More interestingly it arose from the Club’s wonderful post celebrating the USA Supreme Court’s decision to legalise gay marriage in all 50 states. Footy is typically separate in my life from anything outside of my family – very, very few of the people I know and hang around with (barring, Richie and Lewis and a couple of others I’ve mentioned) are genuinely interested in the game – mostly because the things I’m involved with outside of the game are at odds with what you would typically experience within the culture of a footy club. That the Club did that was really incredible, given the overriding culture of the game has been dominated by masculine ideals and intimidation towards anything challenging those. Whilst last night’s on-field performance gave us little to take home, our club took a massive step that day of the type that no other has taken. Football clubs join people together because we are all chasing the same quantifiable achievement – to be in front on the scoreboard when the final siren sounds on Grand Final Day. Too often the idea that clubs bring people and communities together is mistaken for clubs bringing a very specific section of communities together. As a result of historical ties to particular regions, and by proxy class, a particular socio-political discourse is something that adds another thread through supporter bases above the aforementioned default culture, and those haven’t served to bring AFL clubs very far forward just yet. That the Saints have made the decision to openly support what’s happened in the US, given what the Club actually is, is bold and risks alienating some fans, but this is the kind of attitude that is necessary to move the Club and ourselves forward.