No hot weather, but keep the kool-aid coming

Say what you will about the weight or the importance of a lot of the goals that Matt Finnis has helped St Kilda achieve early in his tenure as CEO at Seaford, but he is walking the walk so far. Boxes are getting ticked.

Is it really such a milestone achievement for the Club to reach 25K in members prior to Christmas? Debatable. Although, it’s a record for that time of the year, it will be of more import whether the tally come mid-year has actually pushed the needle much further into the positive realm than last year. Hats off though: they put their balls on the line (online, publicly) to get it done and they bought home the bacon.

Now a major sponsor is on board – that’s an achievement that cannot be disputed. Plus, whether you’re a fan of the idea or not the Junction Oval relocation plan is still relatively in play.

These pluses are on the back of the Saints festival of re-signings through September/October. Most of those players who were re-signed still have massive question marks over their ability and their futures in the AFL, mind you.

That snowballed nicely into the Club’s biggest National Draft in over a decade (since ’00 to be precise).

A month or so into the ’15 season proper and the snowball of momentum may well have been incinerated, but props to Finnis and everyone at Seaford for having made good on a lot of the promises that have been dished out. More fan and community engagement? Tick. More of a push and a strengthening of the membership? Tick. Sponsorship? Tick. Continued engagement and integration of the Club’s celebrated past players? Tick. Solidifying and securing some of the Club’s promising young talent? Tick.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, these things could easily be labeled as token or small fry relative to the competition and in the context of the entire situation on and off the field that the Saints find themselves in. Rome wasn’t built in a day though, and if nothing else these “achievements” are helping to bond and encourage the Saints faithful ahead of what is sure to be another difficult year on the field.

*Play on words involving “Dare”*

So following Tuesday morning’s announcement of the new Dare Iced Coffee TM Registered Trademark All Rights Reserved sponsorship announcement, I bought a Dare Double Espresso Iced Coffee TM Registered Trademark All Rights Reserved.

I like to think I’m a purist when it comes to footy and it’s relatively unabused culture when compared to the pathetic pandering to celebrities and dollars of the US major sports and, well, the even more pathetic pandering to celebrities and dollars of oligarchs, sheiks, etc. by European soccer clubs (worse still because it’s the only way you’ll be relevant).

Still, we do think the league and its clubs have hurtled down the shameless commercialisation path with club loyalty headed the same way. But this major announcement was done amongst a kick-to-kick on St Kilda beach, with the players and coaches more accessible to members and fans than they have been for a while – let alone couped up in the otherworldy hyper-celebrity lifestyle of their US and Euro counterparts. Not even a Linen House Centre (TM etc.) fence, no slack, low-lying rope on the Moorabbin surface post-intra club match.

Despite a wooden spoon finish the club had managed to generate just enough positivity through the tough season, with a clearer direction and more promising signs from youth as opposed to the far messier 2013 year. It felt like the start of the rebuild, after the preceding two seasons set the tone for a new, post GT/Ross era (f0r better or much, much worse). Post-season and things have really stepped up – McCartin, Goddard #2, Membrey et al made for an exciting outcome of the trade and draft period after a collective shitting of pants early in draft week when it was revealed we wouldn’t be taking the highly-fancied Christian Petracca; this was followed by the club remarkably hitting its target of 25,000 signed-up members by Christmas Day, a first in the club’s history. The clarification of just how bad the club’s current finances are have been quickly tempered by the Dare announcement.

The brief teaser campaign for the Dare announcement was well done, culminating in the event on St Kilda beach which predictably featured several plays on words from both journos and club personnel involving the word “Dare”. The promo poster broke things open with the coffee reference and the elimination of the Ledified logo from the included photos. In fact those who were piecing those bits and pieces together across Saintsational and BigFooty collectively did a pretty good job – and it had actually started late last year when the club’s proposals to Audi and Mitsubishi surfaced online. Those have gradually begun to disappear – the dregs of the Mitsubishi proposal, for instance, can be viewed from a link on this page, and other links to both the Audi and Mitsubishi proposals have now disappeared outright.

Following the release of the promo poster for the sponsorship announcement, a couple of well-connected posters began hinting at Dare as the sponsor to be announced. The curious part of this is that Dare is owned by Lion (as it Big M, which was also thrown around as a sponsorship candidate). Lion in turn is owned via Kirin Holdings by Mitstubishi.

I have no inside info on the way this deal came to fruition and I’d love to know how St Kilda may have approached Mitsubishi exactly. Was it with the actual name “Mitsubishi” in mind for the deal? Or was the club open to just about any part of their various associated brands – anything from their vehicles to a wine or beer or iced coffee owned by Lion (keeping in mind we’ve been sponsored by associated brands Tooheys and Pura within recent decades – they were back-to-back sponsors from 1993 until the end of 2001)?

Either way, it looks like we have a pretty good deal in a time of dire finances and the club’s event alone was given a big tick of approval by supporters. Matt Finnis is walking the talk and he’s proving to be every bit as valuable to this club as any of our better recent draftees. Given both the traditional attitude of those involved with the game and where this club has been in recent years, it’s hard to believe we’d ever be in a position in which a sponsorship deal and its promo event generates so much good will amongst a fan base. But here we are.

Don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again

“Arise, Rhys Stanley, and lead us to salvation.”

So I facetiously wrote three years ago after another blonde forward and messiah-to-be, Tommy Walsh, was traded out to Sydney in the final stages of the post-2011 season trade week. Barker, Lockett, Harvey, Riewoldt, Blight, Goddard, Ross the ex-Boss – was Big Rhys next in line after Tommy’s exit? When a club has such lean team success, it’s easy to put anyone on a pedestal too quickly.

Perhaps looking for a quick fix after the GT/Ross decade had drawn to a close, Tommy Walsh presented us with a potential get-out-of-jail-free card: some tantalising performances at VFL level – VFL, yes, but he couldn’t have done more without being picked at senior level – but coming from the strongest Gaelic background in his early career, and in a season in which we physically and psychologically looked ruined and couldn’t be farked, simply bombing it uselessly to My Favourite Hair when going forward. Needless to say, Roo was typically outnumbered and even though we won nine of our last 11, I think some sort of weight was lifted from our shoulders when the final siren sounded to end the Elimination Final. But St Kilda’s Messiah Complex was never more excruciatingly present.

It wasn’t quite Scott Watters who could fulfill the desires; however it’s hard to believe that should a few minor things have gone the other way in four of the five games St Kilda lost by 13 points or less in 2012, we’d have finished in the top four (reverse all five and it’s top three). Instead we endure seasons such as 2013 and 2014, where the worst fears of the 2010 Grand Final Replay post-mortem were realised.

This was the year we officially returned to our natural habitat, anchored at the bottom of the ladder. Nature’s order has been restored. As we watch Hawthorn and Geelong continue their long-term challenges – and with the luxury of recent premierships already banked and to still enjoy – we now have to work our way from the bottom up again as we did 14 years ago.

In fact, this year marked 10 years since the juggernaut-to-be awoke after multiple seasons of assembly. In those surreal days of early 2004, footy seemed timeless. Milne, Ball, Hayes, Maguire, Koschitzke, under the guidance of Riewoldt – they were kids and they were going to guide us to all kinds of glory for an indefinite period of time. St Kilda, at last, was going to be a genuine force.

That we are now back in this position and without a premiership to show for everything put in place for a long-term challenge is a classically St Kilda outcome. We were given the chance on a platter for the second premiership, as well as any and all of the establishment of long-term on-field success, membership and the improvement of facilities. And the club dropped the lot in the most heartbreaking and emphatic ways possible.

When all of a sudden you’re scrapping to win a quarter rather than a premiership as we did in 2014, it takes some time to getting used to the thought that what you’re witnessing doesn’t mean something potentially historic. That the players you’re watching might not go down in St Kilda history as remarkable cogs of the elusive second premiership, or at the least of the path towards it.

Which brings me back to Rhys. His fits and spurts of brilliant form in 2014 had us thinking that he might just be the next big thing for us; the one with the biggest presence on the ground; St Kilda fans anticipating his involvement from a kick ahead as we do with Roo. Rhys suffered a little from David Armitage Syndrome – poised for a breakout season every year, but he only made frustratingly incremental progress with a relatively anticlimactic ceiling becoming fast apparent.

But as the trade period is wont to do in the ultra-modern era, the Big Rhys Bandwagon had taken off down the Highway for the Cattery. Those glimpses mean nothing now (for us, anyway). The Herculean efforts in the wins against Essendon and Fremantle are purely to service what may or may not happen for him in blue and white hoops.

There’s a couple of points in all of this. The first is that others will also fall by the wayside as we endeavour to make it out of the homeland and find better territory, and this is what periods that 2014 represent are equally notable for. Shenton, Curren, Minchington; will they turn out to be the Begley, Beetham and Davis of this generation? How much of this year will we actually remember in a decade from now?

The other is itself two-fold. A key (and necessary) part of this period is the club selling that we will actually reach those better times. The best way to do that right now is to put on show and talk up the young guys and their potential, and that goes into turbo mode when you have the number one pick at the National Draft. Once that was clear, the St Kilda Messiah Complex was back in fashion in a big way.

By proxy, another crossroad in our meagre history was reached, with apparently a one-sided, two-horse race finishing against the majority’s . Once Sam McClure turned everyone’s opinions and predictions on their head on the Monday of trade week saying Patrick McCartin would be taken by us at pick one, it was easy to raise Ball-Judd comparisons from the 2001 Draft.

I get the feeling that people are pre-emptively disappointed in McCartin because he’s a number one draft pick and a key forward, but not one quite of Nick Riewoldt’s presence nor overall talent. They’re actually both 193cm, but Paddy won’t be affecting games in as many parts of the ground and as often as Roo. He also doesn’t have the blonde hair.

Hugh Goddard does have the blonde hair, but it’s his name alone gets people more excited. We’ve seen positive glimpses already from Billings, Dustan and Eli from the 2013 draft alone. Add to that Newnes, who is looking all of captaincy material without dominating games in the way a Selwood or a Hodge do. This feels like a much more evenly-spread rebuild – Spencer hype notwithstanding (watch blow right out if he brings back the topknot) – and speaks to the “champion team vs. team of champions” debate fought out with Geelong through the aughts, which the Cats comprehensively won over several years.

Late in the final public training session before the 2010 Grand Final, Ross Lyon was coming off the ground. Someone near the old Moorabbin wire race called out to enthusiastic cheers and applause, “Bring ‘em home, Ross”, which he gave a typically understated nod and wave to in response. Needless to say it was a poignant moment. But it also raised something that rarely as St Kilda supporters do we face. I’ve described finishing on the bottom of the ladder as being in our “natural habitat”, and as part of “nature’s order”. Of course it’s awful for us to have the entire club in this dire position after what we experienced over the past decade, and it’s something that’s very familiar to us. We understand it and can get by with it somehow. But it’s not home, and in this year more than any did we realise that. Home is somewhere we don’t know nearly well enough.

Once again, we are faced with the opportunity on and off the field to shake the St Kilda Messiah Complex once and for all, although we are a very, very long way from anywhere ideal. For now, nature’s order has us down and way out, where it’s merely about the hope that rather than just one hero lifting us off the canvas or kicking that one extra goal, that every representative of a strong St Kilda Football Club will take us home to the promised land.

The Red, White and Black 2014 Review Podcast

Rich and I recently bunkered down at our (his) RWB Richmond Headquarters with a couple of pizzas, a lot of Pepsi and some Moccona to chat about the 2014 year that was for the St Kilda Football Club.

We recorded three hours’ worth of material and there were no surprises that I was easily to cut out nearly half of our faffin’ about. What’s left is the RWB 2014 Review, in which we talk about Spencer White’s topknot, update the 2018-2028 Premiership Captain market, are momentarily joined by Jack Billings and, as always, break numerous copyright laws.

The fondest of farewells

Round 23, 2014
Adelaide Crows 4.2, 11.5, 15.5, 22.9 (141)
St Kilda 2.2, 3.3, 8.7, 9.8 (62)
Crowd: 44,969 at Adelaide Oval, Sunday, August 31st at 2.50pm CST

Ok right, so before I start there’s probably a couple of things to point out.

Firstly, as I touched on in last week’s review, it’s difficult to not make a post at this point in a season like this a de facto season review. That’s mostly for the questionable podcasts that Rich and I put together. We’ll have time to produce some faff in the coming weeks.

Secondly, I don’t want this to be entirely about Lenny, because really Rich and I can post whatever we want whenever we want and I’d rather give Lenny a devoted post but I might not, although this will probably end up revolving around him anyway.

Richmond was the feel-good story of the round (and potentially the year), but their win also rendered the rest of the weekend – i.e. this and the Suns-Eagles match on the Sunday as dead rubbers. Otherwise, given West Coast’s sizeable victory, we would have been set up somewhat for a revenge opportunity for Adelaide. It was in the final game of 2008 that we stormed to a 108-point win over Essendon – Robert Harvey’s final home-and-away match – to knock Adelaide from fourth spot and grab the double chance for ourselves, having been 5-7 after Round 12. Had the Tigers lost on Sunday and the Eagles won by the margin they did, the Crows would have needed to win by something in the order of 126 points to make the eight. Given their style of play, firepower up forward and St Kilda’s lowly state it wouldn’t have been utterly impossible. But ultimately, just like this entire paragraph, it was moot.

Indeed, it would have been reasonable to expect that Adelaide would come out a little flat now that their season was cooked, although they’d been pretty inconsistent even when their season was still alive. Probably the closest thing we were going to get to a win was Lenny taking the record for the most tackles by any player; he needed seven to equal and eight to break the all-time record set by Jude Bolton. Lenny’s ferocious start with six tackles in the first quarter made him a monty to break it, and by game’s end Bolton’s record had stood for less than 12 months. Given the tackle numbers of others currently playing the record will stand for at least a couple of years.

Otherwise the game eventually turned out as expected. One of the first passages of play forecast St Kilda’s day, really – Lenny knocked it out to Jack Steven, who kicked nicely to Rhys leading low just out from the 50-metre arc, and he kicked terribly to no-one. So many times throughout the day we would see Lenny on the inside, Jack running through the middle and then, uh, maybe Rhys on the lead too, sure, if he was around, but the point is that either the kick inside 50 would be off or there’d simply be not much on offer.

Indeed, within two minutes we’d resorted to Plan ZZ and were bombing it to Clint Jones inside 50. Whilst we actually had a fair amount of the play for much of the quarter it took a holding free to SPENCER WHITE ROADSHOW to get things going. Again, like last week, he had a touch of the G-Trains about him: the barely-there follow through with the kick, and the resulting floating and swinging drop punt kick. The ball barely crossed the line and had to go to a goal review, but the hype machine was gearing up early.

He would have another couple of shots – both coming from handsomely placed kicks from My Favourite Hair in the AFL to good leads – but both were hard against the boundary and on the wrong side for a left-footer. One went through but was touched off the boot, and the second didn’t score. Spencer didn’t trouble the scorers throughout the rest of the game (not many did) but I thought he moved alright across attack and the supply certainly wasn’t outstanding in either quality or quantity.

His co-young tall forward in Big Rhys Bandwagon (is it still a Bandwagon? I think Spencer is the Money Man right now) started well and took some strong marks (particularly pushing up high on the wing), but was still prone to spilling a simpler grab. I think the important thing was that he got to a lot of contest right around the ground, all the way up to half-back – his contest started off the chain that resulted in a really good coast-to-coast goal featuring Faz putting in some really hard running and a lovely finish.

From the couch one thing I noticed properly this week was Dylan Roberton’s new haircut. It’s rather disappointing; he began in Round 1 with the tight ponytail/bun, but now he’s just a questionable footballer. Matt texted me to point out that Josh Bruce had supplanted him as the club’s OK-but-not-great cool player.

As I said, quality going forward – indeed, quality anywhere – was in short supply for the most part. Sadly, wistfull, wonderfully it was Lenny that put in the most direct, slick hit up forward, and it was to his old mate Roo. That was the kick that went out to Spencer for touched kick, and curiously Channel 7 cut to Andrew Welsh on the boundary interviewing a heavily breathing Joey for about six seconds. Not sure if I’d seen that before and I’m completely against in-match interviews, but not doing them all year obviously didn’t help anyway.

The Crows looked very hesitant moving the ball but once Delaney slipped onto his arse and Tex ran away from him to kick the Crows’ first it was one-way traffic. Despite the best efforts of Newnes, Fisher and Dempster in defence, the Crows went from trailing at the 25.34 mark of the first quarter – the quarter went for 29 minutes and 51 seconds – to leading by six goals just 6.36 into the second.

Bruce and the team couldn’t stop talking about Lenny’s tackle count, nor hometown retiree Truck Rutten, and were officially counting down to a game that actually mattered when Bruce described Jack Steven as “all buzzy”.

Jack was really good – one of the very few Saints who had a presence throughout the entirety of the match, and who looked like getting things really moving the right way. His brilliant run through the middle with a few bounces was capped off with a brilliantly placed kick that turned Talia inside out more than Roo did, and he in turn capped that off with one of the worst set shots of his career. It was that kind of day; Wright went to ground as the ball came into defence and got collected by Delaney as Eddie mopped up and kicked a goal; Shenton was having an absolute cock of a game and twice turnovers goalside of the centre circle that should have led to scoring opportunities went awry purely through our own doing.

Things were so dire that we went back to Plan ZZ. Mav hit CJ’s lead and he leant back and actually kicked a really nice goal from the angle. What would turn out to be CJ’s final game had some up and down moments. Roo was getting increasingly frustrated – he pushed up twice out of attack to be met with a kick out on the full and then, for old times’ sake, another CJ special. CJ then kicked well to Rhys, who went to Lenny and another great kick of his to Roo pushing up on the wing saw Roo’s urge to kill fading, as for his sake we anxiously counted down towards the end of the season.

I actually liked Mav’s game. His numbers say 17 touches and six tackles, which aren’t world beating but reflect the kind of game he plays. He did some hard running and attacked the ball and the contest pretty well, and his six tackles were bettered only by You Know Who. He almost created play of the day, chasing after his own errant handball at half-back, pushing past his opponent in the process, fending off and then his good kick to Rhys subsequently fluffed.

Likewise, Seb Ross found the ball in all parts of the ground seemed to be a lot more settled with the ball (although many had better numbers). The commentary team were going ape droppings for him, but I think they wanted to be nice because it’s Tim’s nephew.

Billy Longer was subbed off at half-time for Brodie Murdoch. I’m not sure that it said too much about anything though. Brodie was probably stiff to not have actually started a game, but he took his chance and had a really impressive third quarter. It was the first time he really consistently used his size and his boot to take marks (he took six in half a game) and really gain some ground. Again, he looked most dangerous up forward but floated higher up. If he can improve his tank enough to do that repeatedly then that boot can be put to good use in a lot of parts of the ground.

Gwilt started forward in his final half for the club, and I was ready to advise the club to get a new name for the club’s irreverent player interview series because I thought Schneider might be joining him. But Roo combined with Spencer, who gave it off near the flank to Schneids and he expertly broke through two Crows for a goal.

It’s all about how many of these senior guys setting the example you can have. Schneider just doesn’t consistently have the same kind of output as guys like Roo, Joey or Dempster to outweight the opportunity that could be given to a younger guy. I have to admit, the difficult part about writing that sentence just then was that I couldn’t use Lenny’s name.

Fisher is another senior guy in the “may or may not be there” category for 2015, but he was just about our best player yesterday. The fact that he’s gone from seemingly semi-retired to one of our best and certainly most reliable says a lot about his ability and I wouldn’t hesitate giving him another year. He’s certainly not moving as if he’s hampered by any of those recent injuries, so if they’re not going to be chronic you’d back him in.

But not so for CJ and Gwilt. Their departure was a decision made for them on the preceding Tuesday, and the word is they wonderfully, admirably chose to not make it public so as not to take anything away from Lenny. Regardless of whether they find a home at an AFL club next year – CJ exited in the manner of someone retiring, and the news this week ironically has Gwilt tied to the Crows from next year – these are players integral to the 2009 and 2010 campaigns which, whether we like it or not, will remember throughout our lives. Neither was blessed with natural talent; CJ may well remain for many years the only AFL player who couldn’t kick an Australian Rules football. But they did what any person who describes themselves as both reasonable and ambitious yearns to do, and that is first and foremost get the absolute best out of themselves. In Ross they found the coach who could mould the team that allowed them to find a football home in, and against expectation they thrived and were deeply respected.

Seeing CJ in the arms of his partner was at once sad and touching, and there was something appropriate that CJ would go out with no fanfare outside of the club and those closest to him. Likewise Gwilt; the image of him carrying Lenny off with Roo is far more dynamic in hindsight, with the knowledge that he and the players around him knew it would be his last time in a St Kilda jumper.

Absurdly, had we kicked straight in the third term we might have gone into the last quarter with a very faint sniff. But by the end the arse had really fallen out and we essentially got given a taste of our own barnstorming send-off last year, with Eddie (Betts) giving off to Truck Rutten who kicked a goal on the run in the final minutes. It wasn’t great viewing from a St Kilda perspective but any Saints fan at the ground for last year’s day out will understand what a nice moment that was for the Adelaide players and fans.

And so, with that, the St Kilda Football Club finished a season on the bottom for the 27th time. No-one has done that half as many times, and the football world collectively sees us being back where we belong.

The heavy tone of reminiscing that comes with a retiring great of what Jake Niall called the “Riewoldt Generation” is different. The surreal party last year in which Kosi, Milne and Blake all retired was in the lingering shadows of the 2010 Grand Finals jsut three years previous, and (rather incredibly) had the Saints swept the string of close games they lost in 2012 they would have finished in the top four (it was also a year in which only a two-goal third quarter deprived the Saints from easily eclipsing the club’s all-time greatest winning margin).

But time and circumstance have changed the way we think about and understand those years, and indeed the entire decade of back-to-back five-year periods under GT and Ross respectively that form probably the most incredible (in the true sense of the word) and otherwise second most successful period in the club’s 141-year history.

This time last year we were looking back on the Grand Finals (and some other choice moments) as part of an era that was still raw in the memory, and the three retirees represented the club’s movement to deeper into a new time with new faces on and off the field. Lenny’s retirement has been a little different. Very quickly stalwarts such as Dal, BJ and (to a much lesser extent) Big Ben all moved home, and the faces of those who took the field in those Grand Finals are now few and far between. Now that period seems distant, and Lenny and co. have been swamped by new faces who ideally will forge incredible memories for the club and those invested in it. His retirement tour was a celebration of his career that was synonymous with those better times and bookended by the club’s 25th and 26th wooden spoons, beginning just before the initial trough of 2000 and ending with the subsequent 2014 crash.

Writing for this blog, and perhaps ironically for someone so enwrapped in the fortunes and trials and tribulations of the club, I spend far less time talking about the consistently good players than I do all others. I certainly like the idea of being irreverent or realistic and it’s an easier to be facetious and stay grounded that way; I don’t do it to muckrake or sensationalise or whinge. I also do it because, quite simply, it’s naturally more interesting week in, week out to write and read about in depth the talking points. Because we know that Joey is going to rack up a whole lot of possessions and show the younger guys how to go about things professionally. We know that Jack Steven can get plenty of the footy and give us some real pace. We know that Roo will ignore everything he hears from over the fence and will himself to another contest when he can’t. And we know Lenny is going to give his heart and soul no matter what the situation.

These are the things I’ve certainly taken for granted in writing any piece for this blog. I think it’s something I’ve taken for granted anyway. I will miss him terribly as a St Kilda player. We all will. The enduring image of Lenny Hayes is that of measured celebration and focus after his goal to bring the Saints within eight points in the final quarter of 2010 Grand Final Draw.  It sums him up well – that he knew there was always hard work to be done. Over the years it will probably prove to be the most enduring positive image of the club’s 2009 and 2010 campaigns; the slow motion, the face stern, the AFL Grand Final logo peeling off the clash jumper. That he’s a Norm Smith Medalist makes fans proud, but mournfully reminded that he, Riewoldt and co. never played in a premiership.

I don’t know Lenny personally so I can’t talk with any authority about what a great guy he is, or whatever. I’ll leave that to his teammates, his opponents and those closest to him. But I watched him play for St Kilda nearly every week for 16 years; long enough for younger fans to not know a St Kilda Football Club without Lenny Hayes. The way he played showed that he was always reliable and had a huge heart. In a footballer, or indeed in any person, what more could you want? How wonderful it was to have had him.