I don’t miss the thrill

by Tom Briglia

JLT 2, 2019
Western Bulldogs 2.2, 5.4, 10.6, 12.7 (79)
St Kilda 4.3, 7.5, 10.6, 14.9 (93)
Crowd: 4,384 at Mars Stadium, Sunday, March 12th at 4.10pm

Above anything else, what you want from a pre-season is no injuries. Very quickly, the club has been presented three serious cases in which footy itself is outweighed by more important things. The causes read “concussion”, “heart” and “mental health”.

There was a feel-good element around the club after what happened in Werribee following the news around Jack Steven, Jake Carlisle and Dan Hannebery in the days prior. It wasn’t until much later on Sunday – after that Stuv made a very nice public return to the club, and the team had worked hard to wrestle a tough win – did it become apparent that Paddy and Dylan Roberton were again facing issues of a heavy magnitude.

Paddy had kicked his usual two early goals and showed off an enhanced motor across the ground and threatening to tear a game apart before chalking up what has become an almost expected concussion in a marking contest. More innocuously, Robbo has his own scare after feeling “wonky” on the siren, and both of them ended up in hospital overnight. No news is sometimes good news, but with these things there simply can’t be any news yet. The club – i.e. Richo and Ratten – played both down the cases within reason shortly after the events, but the club statement that came out on Monday afternoon was concerningly (but not inappropriately) vague. The statement had merit if only to keep the club lines open to the supporters, but also reaffirmed there is no quick or watertight prevention or safeguard for either issue. Stuv is no lock for anything right now, but even then it’s been publicly acknowledged this was something that had been present for some time, whether or not he was playing senior footy.

Hall of Famer and Premiership Assistant Coach

I’m sure there are logistics I’m not aware of (you’re not to know this, but I’m totally not an events manager at the St Kilda Football Club) but it felt strange having the Hall of Fame event during the week. Perhaps there was an element of getting the club and the players together ahead of the season to give them an understanding and appreciation of guys that came before them. Given Bassat’s comments about where that culture had ended up once by Lenny’s exit at the end of 2014, the club’s chance to harness whatever is left from it – the lessons passed down to the current leaders who played with those guys – has dwindled, and these are rare chances to bring these people together in the same room.

As always, it’s an occasion for the club tinged with sadness. We’re hitting a point now where enough distance is between us in and the careers of Lenny, Max, et al in which they really are a part of the past, and long enough ago to be acknowledged in this kind of way. The careers of Burke, Hudghton and Everitt span from the ill-fated 1997 push (Max even referred to Everitt’s injury in his speech) and through to Hayes, Milne and the left-out Hudghton in 2009. Max went on to be one of the assistant coaches of the Collingwood team – featuring Luke Ball – that we faced off in the Big Dance (s) of 2010. How much intel would they have taken directly to the club that we drew the following year’s Grand Final with? That kind of pain is always there as a St Kilda supporter, but it’s heightened when it comes time to publicly honour yet another generation of players that did so much for the club but weren’t able to deliver that second premiership. March is hardly the time for footy reflection whichever way you look at it.

The Barry Hall Project

In the confirmed long-term absence of Carlisle, Sunday was Take #2 to see what our defence might look like. Brown played in JLT 1, and given his suspension for Round 1, JLT 1 was therefore a rehearsal for the season proper (you could just about consider Brown a lock for the year). He didn’t play on Sunday, so JLT 2 became more of a practice for Round 1.

Carlisle’s absence alone has spilled right across to selection and position across the ground, being cause for shuffle in defence, up forward and in the ruck, and that’s before concerns over Roberton and Paddy. Last week forced some an in-game change when Pierce was concussed and Bruce was moved into the ruck, assisted by New Jason Blake Callum Wilkie pinch hitting in a position he would never have been near before.

Darragh Joyce just about locked himself in for Round 1 by taking on the ridiculous challenge of standing under the ball in the final minutes of a pre-season as half the field was bearing down on him to hit the drop of the ball. He’d done a lot more through that through the day, his defensive positioning and his disposal have clearly improved, and he’s quickly progressed beyond the Zac Dawson-style get-the-ball-and-handball-type full back (which certainly worked well for us then, mind you) that we might have expected from a project player.

The pre-season closed out with Josh Battle entrenched in defence. I’m still indifferent about the move, which appears to have been engineered more out of necessity with the coaches and medical staff clearly expecting for some time that Carlisle’s season was in trouble. A potential absence of Roberton, who was arguably the best player on the ground in the first half before he was rested for part of the third quarter, opens another spot for a taller player in defence. But it feels a bit aloof to be considering that right now.

Of course the move could help Battle’s game – Roo and Kosi both benefited from it, to take easy reference points – and hopefully he’s here for the long haul given that he’s shown so much up forward. Maybe he’s simply that much of a lock as a good forward that we can throw him around the ground and have him up our sleeve as someone to throw into the forward half when required? A string of early possessions outside of the defensive 50 across Mars® Stadium showed again that he’s most valuable when the ball is in his hands. Where’s the best place for that to happen? What if Paddy’s out for a while? (Again, I don’t feel comfortable pondering that.) I have a sneaking suspicion that over time the Josh Battle Project will end the same way as Malcolm Blight’s Barry Hall project of 2001, and to a lesser extent, Fraser Gehrig’s time spent in defence that same year, although that was a little more organic.

I got the impression Richo didn’t seem overly committed to Rowan Marshall playing in Round 1 but I’d suggest most Saints fans would have been pretty happy with his presence right across the ground. A look at any of the SuperCoach articles are making up the bulk of the Herald Sun’s general news section would show he had a good game, but that needs to fuck off a little bit as a metric. He still has more ability up forward than Pierce and Paddy’s availability might have a big say. Bruce was looking more comfortable around the ground and seems slightly wiser (because he’s a dad? but was still winding up for uncontested dropped marks and part of him may forever remain the unassuming futsal ring-in (see his snap goal in the last quarter from the pocket in which he didn’t actually look at the posts, but rather the ball the entire time he was stepping away from the goal).

February and Early-to-Mid March Heroes

Do Matt Parker and This Week’s Club Spokesperson Dean Kent join the pantheon of pre-season heroes that include Jason Traianidis, Sam Cranage, Dean Matthews, Brent Guerra and Eli Templeton? Guys whose highlights packages will heavily feature pre-season venues, pre-season jumpers and an obvious humidity in the air? Or will they go on to elevate themselves beyond the February and March heroics like Joel Smith, Peter Everitt and Aussie Jones?

Parker picked himself for Round 1 in the first minute, marking on the wing and kicking long to to Roma before taking the highest St Kilda mark since Josh Bruce in 2015 (if not, it was, uh, probably Callum Wilkie’s eight days earlier). He slammed it into the post and from that point slowly worked his way out of the team. Then he decided to rough up a few Bulldogs and with Ben Long in an effectively foul mood it’s hard to look past both of them for Round 1. We’re trying to move away from the painfully St Kilda-esque season of last year, and these un-St Kilda types of players are exactly what we need.

Kent is a lock, effectively a smaller, pacier Membrey given the way he leads up and covers so much ground, and both he and Membrey importantly popped up at key moments in the last quarter when goals were required. Of course it’s only the JLT, but it’s also the only real chance the players get to practice wrestling back a match and close it out when challenged.

One of the problems this club has had is no apparent Plan B other than “we are more manic than usual for the next several minutes”. The orders from the top have filtered through, but they’re made a whole lot more workable by the introduction of guys like Hind, Parker and Kent.

Footballers Get Paid Lots but Still Get Bored

Some occasional moments of waywardness – to go with the crowd of barely more than 4,000 at a venue located in Ballarat – suggested this was a cagey countdown until the real season more so than an accumulation of minutes before the real stuff starts.

I think the players were getting bored and restless as the time ticked down to the end of the pre-season, and it was deemed by many that spending those remaining minutes pushing and shoving were a safer option than hard, less-controlled collisions (unfortunately Paddy offered an immediate example).

That feeling had filtered through to the lounge room of RWB’s Elsternwick outpost. Roberton had vaguely attempted mark of the week in the second quarter and Lachie Hunter took the advantage from the spillage and breezed through an easy goal for the Dogs as they inched their way back into the contest. Matt and I were on the couch consuming wasabi-infused cheese courtesy of the good humans at ALDI, and as he eloquently put it; “I don’t mind that in the JLT because I can’t be fucked watching him line up”.

The slick movement across the ground, with an emphasis on tempo and control and movement by foot had started to break down in the third quarter. It was about the time that Gresham kicked several blades of grass further than ball and Lloyd wheeled around for a second goal in a few minutes that the Bulldogs looked far more interested in being there. Gresham was phoning this one again (and still managed to kick an incredibly classy goal on the run in the opening term). Dunstan was getting shitty with the umpires and looking frustrated with his own game in general. He finally got a free kick in the third quarter – taking the tally to 27 to the Dogs and 8 for the Saints – and promptly put the short pass over Gresham’s head and the ball bumbled its way over the line.

Irritable and possibly bored, Newnes dumped Ed Richards over the boundary and into a water bottle, and then Sav put a bit of body work into Richards himself. Parker went the late hit on Bailey Williams and then copped one off the ball; and Morris got smacked by a wayward Bruce leap up the other end, and then Parker got a little bit embarrassed being turned inside out by Caleb Daniel.

Animosity continued into the final term as the overcast conditions and lack of the Disney light show that we’ll be getting in Round 1 made this look like it was being played at an actual footy ground in a traditional afternoon time slot that people still actually quite like. A wayward ball in the St Kilda’s attack early in the last found Williams, and Sinclair jumped on him and tried toppling him over. The ball spilled out to Lonie as the free was paid and Caleb Daniel shoved Lonie into the turf; Bruce pushed Williams who had just got back up; Libba pushed Bruce from behind and Bruce reactively pushed Daniel, who was next to him.

Soon after, Sav tackled Dunkley with an errant open hand shaving his face on the way in and, as they say in the patriarchal classics, it was on. After all of that, Lonie managed to find himself in space running into attack with the footy but, instead of hitting up a subsequently visibly annoyed Bruce, blazed away and possibly gave up his own Round 1 spot.

The Guys We Usually look To (???)

We’re in the frustrating position of The Guys We Usually Talking About being our best performers, but not necessarily guys that actually impact the result or style of a game. That certainly had a lot to do with the way we actually played last year, and one JLT Series Match does not a season make, (although two JLT Series Matches does make a pre-season). The Bont loomed ominously next to Billings in the Foxtel graphic; a perennial benchmark for 2014 number 3 pick and someone who, along with Christian Petracca, might come to represent both the fortunes and foibles of the St Kilda Football Club in future years.

Billings backed up 20 touches and two goals with 25 touches and nine marks, and has also shown continued improvement in his media appearances since being the First Co-Poster Boy for the AFLX last year (before wisely not bothering to play, but the $ on offer from Paddy’s Bolts was too much to ignore in 2019). I’m feeling pretty good about his season at the moment, the obvious game plan changes and the injection of guys like Parker, Kent and Hind alone have already shown some benefit to him.

Newnes has been a quiet achiever as he takes the scenic route to being 2020-2022 Premiership Captain material. Ross had moments that looked more like Sam Mitchell and Robert Harvey, pivoting in space and giving off well-weighted short passes across the ground, Steele is angrier than his mostly kind face suggests, and Dunstan looks genuinely frustrated.

Still not sure who we’re looking to yet, and I hope the coaching changes and changes on the field give us something to care about in 2019 and beyond. Alienating moves in 2018 by the club without fan and member consultation, and rich guys at the executive level at AFL House assuming ownership of a game that means more than they could ever comprehend to people that aren’t millionaires have, for the first time, given an expiration date to my genuine emotional investment in the game.

Real

History will show that it was a dour St Kilda and Bulldogs match in the heat at Princes Park at the end of the pre-season 10 years ago in which the connection between Ross Lyon’s game plan and the players was solidified. And in a year in which we might be having to scrap for positives, the optimistic elements of a pre-season that indeed delivered on the pressing need for good results were joined by sickly negatives that shunt footy to the side. Footy’s about to get real, but it doesn’t take Round 1 for things to get a bit too real very quickly.

DMZ

by Tom Briglia

JLT 1, 2019
North Melbourne 4.1, 6.1, 9.7, 11.11 (77)
St Kilda 2.2, 10.4, 11.8, 15.12 (102)
Crowd: 1,596 at Chirnside Park, Saturday, March 2nd at 1.10pm

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I’ve become increasingly wary of the start of the pre-season, let alone the footy season proper. “Footy’s back” isn’t quite true right at this moment, but footy is kind of, sort of back, and after one pre-season game I would still take a year of recess if offered.

The information we have and recent history tell us it’s more likely that this club is back in its usual pit of incompetence, with visions of crushed dreams the closest we have to visions of the promised land that inspires any sort of hope among the beaten-down supporter base. It’s somewhere in between Nick Riewoldt’s “Take the emotional risk to be great” and Robert Browning’s well-worn “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”, but with more debt and poorer disposal.

I associate the pre-season with tentatively turning on the TV (now Foxtel-via-Mac-into-monitor-or-TV) and being reminded that Huddo and Dwayne Russell and Gerard Healy and Cam Mooney still exist, as they call players’ names I’ve slightly forgotten and in jumpers that may or may not be flagrant marketing exercises.

For those mourning the passing of footy and hating the faux-rugby league code it had been replaced with, the first 15 seconds of the pre-season opener on Thursday night would have been one of the better things you’ve seen in years. Essendon’s clean midfield clearance and Heppell’s perfect hit-up of Joe Daniher leading out from the goal square would have told you footy’s back in a more holistic, nostalgic sense.

But there’s nothing that screams footy’s back like a trip out to Chirnside Park in Werribee in 37-degree heat. The coffee on the way there was good, the air-conditioning in the car held up, and the chatter between Rich and Matt and I wasn’t jaded because we haven’t actually lived the season falling apart yet. Anything could still happen for Parker or Paddy or Billings or Blacres.

***

We got there right on the first bounce. Was I really doing this? Is this my life again? Apparently so, because during the week I was silly enough to take out my membership card and punch in the barcode for the Just-$5-plus-handling-fee ticket as if it was the cream on the wonderful cake that is experiencing the St Kilda Football Club.

There’s a lot to be said for the AFL scheduling games at grounds like this. There’s also a lot (or a lot less?) to be said for the AFL deciding to build a Concrete Dome with a ticketing system that far too heavily favours corporates and rarely encourages crowds of more than 48,000 despite its central location, and when presented with the chance of full ownership and rectifying the situation or bringing some sort of life to the place, turning it into a Disney store. At the very least, this was the chance to get in all the natural light and sunshine we’d could before heading into the entertainment giant’s new Docklands outlet for the winter. Congratulations to the AFL, Marvel and Disney’s multi-millionaire senior executives on the deal.

The luxury of free movement around Chirnside Park naturally meant following Paddy and Matthew Parker from end-to-end all day. It was an absurdly and wonderfully intimate way to watch two AFL teams playing: standing against the fence behind the goals, the small older grandstand at one end, the shorter goalposts putting a lot more pressure on the goal umpires’ judgement, and the players reacting to Matt’s wind-ups over the fence made for a the kind of footy experience that people seem to enjoy, even without the fireworks and Optus Stadium’s RAWK SHOW lighting. But for all the times the AFL and sycophantic journos would talk the community experience up, they’ll take the MAJOR LEAGUE SPORTS and faux-celebrity experience every time when push comes to an actual shove in the back.

Quick question for future traffic-on-the-way-back purposes: Did anyone at AFL House think about checking to see if there may or may not have been any international events on in the area for the very, very specific day of the year they were looking to schedule a match at a ground that due to sponsorship rights is named Avalon Airport Oval?

***

No premierships are won in March (nor are they won early in time-on of a Grand Final). But the St Kilda team I watched yesterday was inherently different to the one I saw play at any time last year. Yes, it’s the JLT, and yes, the AFL has again been successful in finding a sponsor whose name can easily become synonymous with a “Series”. I watched with a sinking feeling last year in the stands at Princes Park a team that looked lost and bored, and lose comfortably to the eventual wooden spooners. The following match against Melbourne was slightly more encouraging, but fuck me, when I think about that Wednesday night I really felt something was up.

Fast forward through torrid 12 months, right up the past week in which it was revealed arguably our best player might be out for the season, and arguably our best leader is slightly injured all the time, and the other guy who is arguably our best player is in a difficult mental space. I hope Jack is able to get through it and have access to any support he needs. This is a human issue, regardless of what club he plays for, and we should show care and empathy to anyone and everyone around us when it comes to this.

The first thing that was apparent in the game style was that there were options ahead of the ball at just about every juncture. How many times last year was the ball kicked to nothing, or to a negated option (often down the line), or were we held up waiting for said non-option? We were an Australian Rules football team that was quite bad at playing Australian Rules.

It took a quarter or two to get warmed up (pun not intended because it was hot as fuck to begin with), but that’s to be expected, and once things got going in the second quarter with some wind assistance that turn into 8.2 to 2.0, including a run of six goals between the 16 and 29-minute marks of the quarter. The ground’s scoreboard was struggling to keep up with the lift in intensity at AFL level, ticking up at two and three-second intervals until the 14.01-mark of the second quarter when it decided to take a breather for a bit.

Let’s put the better movement down to a much better structure and understanding between the players. It wasn’t reliant on guys working overtime, and dare I say it that the Ratten Effect has already arrived (Lade’s influence too perhaps, but that’s less of a hook than anything Ratten or Billy Slater would do).

North had the top eight ball winners outright, and finished with 461 disposals to 338. The purpose and outcome across the ground widely shared. Far more often than we’re used to did players knowingly turn to the middle going forward, and if not, the awareness was heightened and a switch was orchestrated with welcome haste, in contrasted to the long, bored kicks up the line that dominated 2018. In either scenario yesterday, far more often was someone actually in a productive position to receive the ball. There was more speed and intelligence off half-back – having Roberton back and Hind (already our quickest player?) introduced made an instant difference – and having Kent, Membrey, Billings, Newnes and later in the game Paddy providing able options high up and then deeper forward had a lot more purpose behind it.

Fatigue looked like it might have been setting in when North rallied in the third quarter, and the kicks up the line that dominated were back, but I don’t sit in on any team meetings and so there was every chance this was used deliberately to deflate the game a little, rather than out of boredom or confusion. The publicly stated aim to be the hardest running team in the competition held for one hot afternoon. North often looked a little cleaner coming out of traffic but the defensive pressure was enough to meet that, and while first options in close simply weren’t taken at times (right across the ground) Richo went out of his way post-match to say they didn’t want to rely purely on pressure so much. There was some tangible improvement.

***

After nearly ruining Aaron Hall’s knee, Pierce himself was out of the game early with a concussion. Sandy appears to have replaced #feelthezeal full-time with #daretodazzle, and Marshall was ordered to ruck for four quarters at Moorabbin so both big guys could get a full game in the role, and Marshall did very nicely. Pierce’s exit meant Bruce and Callum Wilkie (wtf) had to ruck for most of the day and so we played with a somewhat compromised structure all day, and we’re no nearer to knowing how Bruce fits in with Paddy and Membrey, or how Marshall would, or Battle even, or Carlisle as well as Brown but Carlisle possibly until next decade.

The spotlight is typically on the new guys at this time of year and fuck everyone, Matthew Parker was hot shit. Seven disposals and an equal team-high seven tackles is a severe underrepresentation of what his two goals and overall pressure brought to the team. “X-factor” usually describes what a player can bring to the game itself; Parker’s chasing and tackling and body hits – particularly in the second half – is the kind of stuff that lifts teammates, and is something that pleasingly un-St Kilda. Teammates made sure they got to him when he kicked his first goal, as well as following the chasedown and heavy tackle on Pittard in the final term that ended up with a Membrey goal.

Dean Kent, whose name was literally the most pronounced thing I knew about him, brought a more consistent, workmanlike presence to the forward line, but with the speed and goal sense too. He doesn’t necessarily have the X-factor that Billings, Gresham and Long (and, well, Parker) have, but he offered a quick and slick option up forward.

Hind also brought something not typically associated with St Kilda recently, which was genuine speed and an ability to break the lines coming off half-back. Special mention has to go to Wilkie, who in his first AFL game and at 191cm was asked to ruck for much more of the day then he thought he would in his entire career. Not sure if “Jason Blake” was on the list of the list management team’s needs but in a practice match we had a modern-day echo (plus an excellent high mark to go with it in lieu of Parker’s dropped chance).

***

Easy to get carried away at this time of year, more difficult to keep in mind that those newer and younger guys are playing for their spots. Gresham phoned this one in but he’s probably the only one we have that could do that and no one would particularly care. Billings for once looked like he utilised the pressure on him to perform for good instead of anxiety and brought a physical edge to his game, as well as goal kicking accuracy. Paddy worked hard until the end and spent much of the final term roaming high up the ground and looked at his most comfortable (even in the heat). Lonie was very busy but will have to keep up an incredible workrate to offset his still slight physique.

Gatorade Gamechanger® Tim Membrey dropped a couple of easy marks in the first quarter, replacing Bruce’s role in the forward line neatly after Bruce was moved, and then punched a couple of close set shots at goal wide in the third, but managed to run onto a few in the last quarter. Battle was kept in defence despite Bruce being moved out of the forward half. A leaner Nathan Brown was very impressive quelling Ben Brown and might yet be in for another season of being underrated. The match-up of Bailey Rice for Josh Battle in the intra-club match might not have been the most solid preparation, but Richo suggested Battle would stay there, as well as highlighted Darragh Joyce. I would hope the coaches remember that Josh Battle was one of the most promising things that happened in 2018, specifically when he was playing as a forward.

***

Yes, it’s the JLT Community Series for the players, although that didn’t stop Richo from asking Finnis to address the players following the tough week, and the players sang the song. The post-match interviews on the club site with Parker and Hind might have gone a bit too hard on the “first game” for St Kilda aspect.

It’s the JLT Community Series for supporters, too. The heat seems to prolong the length of the game as we get used to two hours; goals to the opposition in the final quarter set off that familiar feeling that a tight finish might be looming and all you can do is watch; the club is still running with the AFL-directed “updated” version of the club song that no-one asked for and weren’t consulted about; everyone’s perked up in the car trip there, but when combined with the traffic from the airshow on the way back you only hope the next time you’re met with a delay on the way home St Kilda has had a win. The time and effort it takes not just to watch these fairly wealthy guys run around, but to get there and to get back home is all of a sudden very, very real again. We need these days to steel ourselves for another fraught year. Or what’s a pre-season for?

Messrs February

by Matthew Briglia

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The intra-club is always an unusual exercise. If your forwards fire that could just highlight a gaping hole in your defence. If one midfield dominates it suggests a lack of depth, and if your defence play well then everyone would blame Paddy. But the weather was nice and I’m a poor student who couldn’t afford to do anything better, so I went anyway. And after AFLX (put it in the bin) what could actually be worse?

I parked my car out in the proverbial back paddock (a strange sign that people still support this club) and attempted to cast my most biased intra-club eye. My initial thoughts were that RSEA Park actually resembled an establishment where a professional sporting team might reside, however I feel as though a giant St Kilda shield should be plastered on the exterior to be seen from the playing deck (after listening to the Saints Insider Podcast this might still be on the way).

From inside, the set-up is fresh and clean. One of the large LED screens had a pixel issue but this was still a long way from the stale beer-carpet smell we all once enjoyed. With new people working inside the set-up, Ratten, Lade, Slater and Bassett (and still Lethlean to an extent), you could sense the optimism and the thirst from the fans for a fresh slate.

It was touted as a family fun day, however a few highly audible expletives starting with “f” and ending with “k” from a disgruntled ruckman put that to a quick and fast end. Already more passion shown for the entirety of 2018 (fist pump). The first-half appeared to be a St Kilda team taking on a Zebras team (plus Blake Acres). Billings, Gresham, Steele, Membrey, Hannebery, Steven, Webster, Carlisle and Long all sat out so some polish wasn’t quite there. Armitage didn’t play (for excellent reasons) and I couldn’t remember if he was still an AFL player (following a quick Google search it turns out he is).

Wearing last year’s light green training jumpers, the Zebras team (as we affectionately referred to them) didn’t do your eyes any favours. Trying to make out what number they had on their backs while competing with the sun glare was a tricky exercise, but pre-seasons aren’t meant to be easy or else everybody would be doing them, right?

VERY loud pop-music from 2016 played in between breaks, and this limited the capacity to express any thoughts to your counterparts.

Josh Battle has assumed cult status quickly and the Moorabbin faithful took a further liking to him, gushing over his seamless transition into the back half. He did look natural, however time playing on Bailey Rice probably helped his cause aerially. New recruit Matthew Parker was the other who had fans frothing. He kicked a few goals and immediately assumed “don’t mess with me” status with his tough-guy tatts, as opposed to AFLX winner and Gatorade Gamechanger® Tim Membrey’s skater-guy tatts. We want him to play Round 1.

I’m somewhat surprised (respectfully of course) Ben Dixon maintained his post as goalkicking guru post-2018. The goalkicking was still mediocre, both from the spot and in open play. In his defence I’m not sure how many of the players he is working closely with in his reduced role were actually playing. Good luck to Ben with his endeavours at the club.

Paddy was putting his head in dangerous places as he always does. He sprayed a few kicks around the ground but was fit and lively and found a lot of the footy, and break-out year may be written in the tea-leaves. He got angry in the final quarter; the entries into the forward 50 were sloppy and he was man-handled by Darragh Joyce and received no assistance from the umpires and made sure he had a word with them. Overall, he made a solid impact and looked as comfortable as we’ve seen him (minus the helmet, which does not look comfortable).

Bruce played a typical Bruce game, kicked a FEW goals, jagged a FEW marks but didn’t finish off quite a few of his marks after doing all the hard work. Blake Acres’ cause wasn’t helped by his selection on the Zebras team in the first half as the opposition won the majority of the clearances and controlled the play.

The ruck stocks are lean. Resident LARPer and former Pokémon GO enthusiast Billy Longer didn’t play, so he had a similar impact around the ground to when he does play. Rowan Marshall was at the contest but was a little slow getting rid of the ball and the opposition caught him out a few times. The Prospect strikes me as the 14-year-old kid in juniors who hasn’t fully grown into his body yet, and who has upside if he doesn’t pursue other interests. Lewis Pierce looked ok and showed emotion, while Equal-Tallest Player Ever Sam Alabakis is still learning.

Dean Kent assumed the Mav Weller role incredibly well by playing “okish”, we need to see more of him. We liked Hunter Clarke and we liked Luke Dunstan, Robbie Young had a turn of foot, no certainty to see him debut though.

Overall, an ok day. The biggest plot twist was the players doing run-throughs after the game that they didn’t know were going to happen. Let’s see what happens against actual opposition out at Chirnside Park next weekend.

Called upon

by Tom Briglia

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Just about everything is a PR exercise now. Every social media post (I’m talking about you and me, as well as the St Kilda Football Club), every line in a professional situation, every line in a social situation, and every membership ad (now I’m just talking about the St Kilda Football Club).

The 2019 membership ad (or “campaign”? The “TVC” suffix was never going to see the end of this decade) is one of the better ones the club has produced. Ultimately, it’s PR. They want the club to appear a certain way, and that it’s heading in a certain direction and as it empathises with us and the journey we’ve been on for the past 22 (146) years, so we buy memberships so they have more money. The club has $6 million more to pay back the AFL, and the same amount again to whoever else; they have players to pay exorbitant amounts of money to, likewise a whole lot of coaches, less so a bunch of staff. Most of them want to keep their jobs, and the more money that comes in means they can market the fineprint of the Road to 2018 (which says it was actually the Road to 2020), and then we keep turning up no matter how many times we’ve got guys kicking it forward to empty space and wasting another several years.

They need to pay marketing people to tell them to not just shit on the club song by using a bad cover version, but how about deep into a terrible season we tie in our major sponsors and have a marching band lead out the laughing-stock team while pretending to play a Dare-themed version of the club song? The club also needs to pay marketing people to tell them to play music after goals to enhance the experience of being at a Concrete Dome (which is now a Disney store, so I guess they can save some cash there) because the experience of being in the crowd and watching the Saints isn’t enough. They also need to pay someone to write about how great the crowd noise was, and then to pay the marketing people to tell them to keep the music going for a couple of months, and then to turf the idea later in the season.

The point is: all this shit costs money, and they need some more money from me this season, and they need some more from you.

Well, guess fucking what? Of course I had my membership on the auto-rollover thing. Would I have signed up again even if I didn’t have the money automatically taken out of my account in the four seconds we have left in the year in which we’re able to forget about footy? Of course I would have. I always do. Now let’s dissect some tripe, and I’ll start off with a stupid theory about how the ad was made. I thought about this because this actually was my experience of watching the ad for the first time:
Short version I think the way that this was made is supposed to leave you looking at your own face appearing on the screen after the faces of Long, Burke, Clark, Winmar et al.
Long version This theory assumes that whoever/whichever team of humans made this ad assumed that a lot of people would watch it on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, whatever; but importantly, they would most probably watch it on their phone. And if you do that holding the phone towards your face as you normally would, as it cycles through the faces of Long/Burke/Clark et al and then Winmar, it quickly fades an almost entirely-black screen at the end that will be showing the reflection of your own face as the narrator says “I will stand with St Kilda / When I am called upon”. Don’t fuck it up.

 The first thing that really stood out in this commercial – and was genuinely surprising – was a very, very brazen acknowledgement of the 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals. Given this ad came in the same week as a media blitz that has included Andrew Bassat’s rightfully and refreshingly harsh comments about the decision to move to Seaford and the player recruitment over recent years (that may well have been forced perhaps subconsciously with a PR element), as well as Richo’s “punch in the face” line about feedback that should have been given to him six months earlier, it suggests a couple of things.

(Before I get to those, Richo’s revelation about having feedback sent to him to open in the US rather than just said to his face quietly completed a full-circle over 20 years. Like the ad, the media blitz has seen the club look to show empathy and contrition, but has ended with the communications between key personnel at the club – namely the coach and captain – being publicly questioned by Tim Watson, who two decades ago was about to start a two-year reign as coach that arguably triggered the entire GT-into-Ross era and the Riewoldt generation.)

OK cool, so the club is publicly acknowledging not just the management mistakes but the lasting effect that the Grand Finals have had on the club and its supporters. It uses the word “landmark” for the Hayes and Goddard moments in 2010, and they were, but really they were in an awful sense. They effectively represented the end of an era that began with the drafting of Riewoldt and Koschitzke with picks 1 and 2 in the 2000 draft, and a what wasn’t achieved throughout it.

The acknowledgement itself quietly marks the passing of time and how those times are now a part of our history. It is 10 years since the club was about to embark on the 2009 and 2010 campaigns. They, and the several years that came before it are history. That’s what was written. And as a St Kilda supporter it’s been fucking shithouse living it then and since.

In a curious case of revisionism, the club made us all aware on the socials this week that it had put up a large image of Nick Riewoldt on a wall within the Moorabbin facilities. That in itself isn’t strange – if anything it would be strange if they didn’t – but there were some odd decisions made around exactly what they put up and how they promoted it. The thing is, the photo is of him just after kicking a goal in the third quarter of the 2011 2nd Elimination Final (a screenshot from the Channel 10 coverage of that celebration is at the top of this post – you can watch the goal and the celebration here). While the thick black collar and cuffs of the jumper that year are retained in the image (we had them in 2011 and 2012, and then again in 2016 with a slightly different ISC template), the Centrebet logo has been neatly photoshopped to be the white Jeld-Wen logo worn on the front of the jumper in both 2009 and 2010. I would suggest there are a couple of things at play, namely to remind us of better times (if photoshopping was the only possible course of action in this instance, and not finding an actual photo from 2009 or 2010, they could have photoshopped the black collar and cuffs into white as well as the Jeld-Wen logo, and you would have the 2010 home jumper); and it was also a convenient way to edit out the logo of a betting company.

That the club posted it on the social media channels with Dennis Commetti’s line from the 2009 Preliminary Final, “It’s only fitting” felt a little bit cynical – anyone who makes that connection is actively being led to think that the image is from one of the better moments of the Riewoldt era, rather than a trying moment of a losing Elimination Final that ended an awful come down of a year and one of the most remarkable eras in the club’s history.

Already, the relationship between the supporters and the club is revealed to be something peculiar. Bassat is saying everything right that he possibly could have said in his short time officially at the top. But we’ve just come out of an alienating year season when all the parts that make up going the footy were difficult – barely an attachment to the team or the game they were paying, the song was changed to a bad cover version, and the club itself sapped any genuine atmosphere the fans brought by playing music after goals. We didn’t get hundreds and thousands of dollars a year and media careers out of what the club wasn’t able to achieve since 2000. Indeed, to experience it all, we paid a lot of our money and gave up a lot of our time. And now a supporter base that is rightfully bored, pissed off, anxious and depressed as fuck is being called upon to do it again.

I thought that I could take it from here

by Tom Briglia

Round 23, 2018
St Kilda 3.3, 6.4, 11.6, 14.10 (94)
North Melbourne 6.7, 11.9, 14.11, 17.15 (117)
Crowd: 19,866 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, August 26th at 4.40pm

Version 2

At last, this shitbox of a season is over. It was a sickly, extended march through weekly public humiliation rituals that after two months had simply blurred into each other. We can now turn to watching the club raze the place and start again, again.

Maybe the whole thing went too fast, but given the club was supposedly in a different place this is the kind of season that feels like the six months we see and engage with more publicly as supporters and members was a waste; like it sIipped right through our hands and we’re not particularly sure why.

I was listening to Maggie Rogers on the 58 tram on the way in to the city and it registered that this was it. Sitting at home super sick with with bottles of Gatorade and large packets of Kettle chips watching the Geelong game in my giant dressing gown didn’t seem so long ago. Trying to arrest this slump and salvage something from this year doesn’t seem so long ago.

If the rumours about player departures are true then this club will be unrecognisable next year. Two years ago every one of our young guys was untouchable. This year I haven’t felt so alienated by and disconnected from the club. On the field it looked like the players that did care weren’t given a game plan that was able to let them show it. Off the field things have descended to the point where I sympathise profusely with Dunstan and Acres for (allegedly) wanting to get the fuck out of there. This decade will be synonymous with the fallout of the Grand Finals, which nearly spanned the end of the aughts and the start of this decade (the “Twenty Tens”? “Teens”?).

***

It was nice of the AFL to draw this out as long as possible; to really soak up a quintessentially St Kilda season and schedule this for Sunday twilight, literally the last game of the home and away season. Ben Brown needed seven to take out the Coleman alongside Jack Riewoldt, and who else better to come up against in the final round of the season?

The Roos got the jump (hehe), which wasn’t a surprise given the team probably squeezed any decent quality juice left in this year out of themselves against the Hawks. Gilbert’s early goal was followed by the celebration of a retiring player and his teammates. I was thinking during the game if this was the final time we’d see him – a lot of people must have, because when he found the ball couple of times, a small applause and cheer broke out in the members. For all the frustration I’ve had with him over the year(s), part of me really did think it would be a shame if he didn’t get a publicly acknowledged farewell match, and to enjoy the game with his teammates and fans, and being able to soak that up. It’s part of the hangover of the Riewoldt generation (to steal Jake Niall’s term), but he’s the last remaining player on our list that ran out in any of the 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals and probably represents more of our personal histories as supporters than we acknowledge.

There’s an uneasy feeling about the last game of the season. Last year was such a sad event. The pressure of the several weeks leading up to it, knowing that Roo would be retiring and our chance for a finals spot slipping away by the week was a dour time. In the moments afterwards we needed to come to terms with his career ending, and what he meant to the club and how he represented it, and what it meant for us to have watched that go by without a second premiership.

In the Concrete TV Set you don’t quite feel the changes of the season; you don’t see the sun set at a different angle, you don’t see the shadows fall in a different way, you don’t quite feel the air in the same way as you might as finals approach. In a few days’ time it becomes a Disney-owned shop where football is played. The ground announcer (he’s been there for a decade now and I don’t know his name) took it on himself to get in a last-minute audition before the changeover, taking it on himself to take control of Jarrad Waite’s final moments on a footy field as a player, talking over the North Melbourne song (The Fable Singers version, in all its excellence), and try and give a “three cheers” that wasn’t just unnecessary, but also complete fucking shit. That’s a moment for the player, their teammates and the fans.

***

The final siren sounded with ball in Waite’s hands, and the game safely in place of North’s. Any chance of being raised beyond a sleepy slump in the padded seats of level two, trying to hear myself hate everything through the kids going bonkers in the row behind us, was knocked out with Gresham’s kick from the pocket cannoning into the post to bring us within two goals in the third quarter, much in the same way his snap late last week to put us ahead cannoned into the crowd in the forward pocket.

The final game of 2016 belongs to a different era now. My Favourite Hair had kicked nine goals, had 26 touches and taken 21 marks on his own, and we’d kicked 25 goals in a barnstorming finish that had us just percentage out of the eight and only two ladder positions below the premiers. The formline was neatly similar to that of the GT era going into 2004. Every one of our kids was untouchable. Don’t touch Paddy, Membrey, Bruce, Gresham, Billings, Acres, Ross, Webster, Lonie, D-Mac, Sinclair. Newnes? Next captain. Dunstan? Next, uh, co-captain. Goddard? Maybe he could be a captain too.

To finish a year that might see him win a fourth best and fairest, Jack Steven was a clear stand-out and upped his trade value nicely, depending on which BigFooty and Saintsational posters you believe. I still think he’s overrated by St Kilda fans, AND NO THAT DOES NOT MEAN I THINK HE IS BAD. I think his disposal has never been as good as many people think –  it doesn’t make or break his career but the kick to Carlisle in the final seconds of the GWS match in Round 5 was a sadly excellent example. Which is why it stood out how many low, sharp drop punts he managed among his feverish skating across the Concrete TV Set’s concrete turf on Sunday. That wasn’t normal and shouldn’t be our reference point (much like the club pointed to the wins over GWS and Richmond in 2017 going into this year).

Nonetheless, his movement across the ground alone stood out particularly in a team that for a whole season has looked frustrated, sometimes forgetful, and often bored. If I point to Stuv’s GWS kick to talk down his skill, then I have to point to the final 30 seconds of the Melbourne win to talk up his work rate, and it’s safe to say he has given just about everything throughout this shitshow of a year.

Jack Steele joined Gresham, D-Mac and Webster among the very few players that could say they improved on last year (and perhaps earlier in the others’ case). His move to a tagging role didn’t represent an incredible shift in his game style – he was recruited for his tough inside work – but this role demands he be on a prime opposition ball winner and therefore around the ball all the time given he’s disciplined to stay with them. But it’s triggered something else for him, because he’s not just getting more of the ball but he’s using it better, perhaps more neatly, and he’s taking more marks and kicking more goals too. He doesn’t turn 23 until December.

***

One of the other 18 Jacks, Jack Lonie, didn’t quite have the same presence in a game that I don’t think cared too much for its own existence, but ended up proving one of the better surprises in a small field. His biggest impact on the game was actually when Majak Daw charging through from the opposite direction, and I’m sure everyone thought Lonie was about to evaporate, or combust, or explode into 1,000 tiny Jack Lonies. He’s not really the kind of player that’s going to have a massive pre-season and come back larger or overly fitter or whatever, but does he absolutely need to be? Yeah he actually kinda does. Part of this team’s problem is that rather than embracing what guys can bring to the team, i.e. Gresham, Billings, Long etc. (Long hasn’t been tainted by our system just yet), it’s tried to even everyone up a little too much while trying to effectively play a Richmond-style game, but without the smarts or work rate to actually have anyone in front of the ball. Otherwise we’re playing rugby poorly, so as well as playing it badly we’re ruining the game of Australian Rules as well.

Also through the forward half was the welcome presence of Ben Long, who looked a little more comfortable again at AFL level after coming back from the VFL possibly too quickly. He threatened to take mark of the year twice on either side of half-time, and a massive bump in the forward line that actually banged up a North defender was one of the best displays of aggression for the year; never mind in this two hours of forgettable curio. Should he have a decent pre-season he would be like a new player next year.

Jade Gresham had a strange game to end his season but thanks to some shanks from Tim Membrey finished on top of our goal kicking with 35. Membrey was just behind with 34, and while it’s not a Novelty Bag it’s a Novelty Goal Kicking Top Three Finish for Ol’ Four Tackles Jack Newnes, who took his banged-up shoulders to third on the list with 18 goals and 17 behinds. In a season that felt incredibly disappointing for him, he’d only played two-third of the season as a forward, something he hadn’t even done before.

***

There was quite understandably the risk that North would become too Ben Brown conscious in the second half, but they never really did. It says a lot about where they’re at at the moment, although I really was barracking for him to tie with Jack Riewoldt. At half-time it was looking more than likely; he had three and despite a couple of set shot misses he’d snagged a couple of very nice snaps. The borderline blow-out margin could afford the Roos to wait for the next lead from Benny when they were going forward, too. Instead it was Waite who had the bigger presence in the second half, and I don’t think anyone begrudged that. I hope Ben Brown does get another shot at it.

For a period, it looked like this could end up being a reverse scoreline of our win in the final round two years before. Ziebell had three in a freewheeling first quarter and North had 6.7, but there was the old “lack of interest” from the players and increasingly the crowd as the second quarter turned into something closer to the AFLX trash that opened the season. The official crowd total of 19,866 definitely had an incorrect, extra number in there.

Someone who seems to have gone under the radar in the past several weeks is Roma. He’s been taking marks around the ground, he’s kicking goals and he’s provided an option deep too. Hopefully he stays tracking towards becoming what he hoped Rhys Stanley would be for us, because Rhys turned into an enigma and then pick 21, which we turned into another enigma in Hugh Goddard. I will write about Goddard and Freeman over the next few months in more detail as their departures become clearer in context with other changes on the list, both in and out, but I am desperately disappointed that both are gone. It feels far too recent that Hugh was taking promo shots with Paddy on the Gold Coast beach. We’ve afforded Paddy – rightfully – every chance to get himself right and we feel like he hasn’t even started. Hugh was taken 20 picks later and has had a horrible run with injuries too. Freeman earned a reputation throughout the club, from the the playing group right up to the board, for all the right reasons. Maybe this is part of the club becoming more ruthless.

***

I should say something about Peter Summers. A lot of people have talked about wanting he and Finnis to go along with Richo through this year. He was clearly going to go anyway given the board guidelines at the club, but I thought those calls in isolation were unfounded. History will show that the club was returned to Moorabbin within a decade of moving in his tenure. As President of the club, I found he always had time for fans, and would always engage with them and take an interest in how they feeling about the club. As he said in his press conference today as he officially announced Andrew Bassat as the next President, next year will mark his 50th consecutive year as a member. I first met him in November of 2009. Someone said to him – very tongue-in-cheek – “Have you gotten over it yet?”, and he quickly said, “I’m still getting over ‘71”. He is very much a St Kilda person, and did what he did out of what he thought was best for the club.

***

The weight of history has been peeling away over so much of the competition. The Lions, the Swans, Geelong and of course the Bulldogs and Richmond have won premierships this century to break longstanding droughts. With those, so have quirks of history tied to those trends been erased. The Swans won their first final at the MCG in 61 years; the Bulldogs’ premiership came with their first Grand Final appearance in 55 years; Richmond’s with their first Grand Final appearance in 35; next weekend alone we will see Richmond and Hawthorn meet in a final for the first time ever, and Richmond and Melbourne – hideous messes on and off the field as we were challenging – will play in the same finals series for the first time since 1941. The myth of 1966 grows, and the myth of the Riewoldt generation is growing far too great too quickly.

Watching the Summers and Bassat press conference on the club site, with the link sitting below the “Initial list changes” story with a picture of Freeman, as well as the mechanic “Saints secure Lade” and “Saints thank departing coaches” headlines, something felt different. Like the site and the club were in sleep mode. No interview with Michael Ryan, just the straight press conference, and a quickly edited intro video from Bassat. No article about the slenderest sliver of positivity from another droll performance, no article based on one line of “we’re looking forward to this week” from a player’s interview on SEN.

This year I didn’t enjoy going to the footy for the first time; the club trashed its own song, and played music after goals for most of the year, managing to destroy any sense of actual atmosphere of going to the footy whenever the team threatened to play half-decently (the club had the guile to publish an article on its site about how great the crowd noise was following the GWS draw). This is the most disconnected I’ve felt to the club and I have the sense that the wider supporter base feels the same.

Now, there are changes across football department, the list itself and the board. We’re probably facing the biggest club overhaul in one hit since the end of 2000. That can be scary. It might not quite be cause for optimism given we’ve just watched a rebuild break down. But there is the opportunity to take relief in no longer being caught in the awful weekly cycle of this year, as well as this period in the club’s history. In our own space, we will start learning what our relationship with this club is all over again.