by Tom Briglia
Fremantle 1.2, 6.4, 9.7, 12.7 (79)
St Kilda 7.2, 8.5, 8.5, 11.7 (73)
Crowd: Very Few at Metricon Stadium, Saturday, July 12th at 12.35pm
St Kilda is the kind of club that would be troubled by Fremantle. The Dockers are truly the tacky 1990s aesthetic joke answer to The Traditionalist Losers, and naturally we’re the only team a club like that can mess around with. Matt had messaged me in the morning saying “This will be like the Gold Coast games last year”. Ratts had warned us several weeks ago (immediately after a win, no less) about inconsistency. After a blistering first half in prime time the week before, cautious mentions of St Kilda being “capable” of “doing it” this year were whispered. Coming into this week, the top four featured the same teams as 2004 (swap the Cats and the Saints and you’d get the same order). By the end of Saturday, that had turned into a Round 1 redux, allowing for “Comeback of the year”, according to AFL.com.au. “It was the greatest comeback of the year and then the great escape all rolled into one”. We’re a whole lot closer to being “that team” now. Two 36-point leads blown against what are broadly considered weaker opponents. Who else but St Kilda, Where Else But Queensland?
This week’s Fate Tempting By Media came in the form of “Destination St Kilda…via Noosa” on the front cover of the AFL Record and a double-page spread about the club finally being able to attract talent from elsewhere (how does Brad Hill and Dan Hannebery chewing up $1.6 million a year feel right now?), and a longform look on the ABC about what has changed on the field.
And now, the bottom two teams ahead of us. A 5-2 record beckoned. No Marvel, but we were fed pictures of a group post-match last week that look focused and maturing fast before heading interstate. Well, never mind the analytics. Club culture can follow you beyond state borders to a hub in Noosa during a once-in-a-century health, social and economic crisis.
Of course, Freo gets to make its history with and over St Kilda. Fox Footy hadn’t even waited for the game to finish – and for Freo to actually win – before they wheeled out the footage of Longmuir’s mark and goal after the siren against us late in 2005. What the fuck would it have looked like if they’d drawn or lost from that point? Welcome to the latest chapter of the Bizarro Rivalry (a few years ago I wrote about the parallels and curios the “rivalry” has been built on). This decade’s opening offering: Fremantle vs St Kilda on the Gold Coast, at the traditional time of 10.35am for the home team’s fans. In short St Kilda, blows a 7.2 to 1.2 lead at quarter time, not kick a goal from the 16-minute mark of the second quarter until trailing by 19 points and with six minutes left, kicking 3.1 to draw level, and then uhhhm losing. Add it to the list.
Saturday afternoon (EST) started with perhaps the best quarter of footy a St Kilda team has played in a decade. Walters kicked the wrong way from the first bounce and a sloppy 50-metre penalty gave Membrey the first goal in the opening moments. Two goals from score reviews gave you the feeling this would be the kind of day that goes your way. King was making big contests. Butler and Billings were consistently at the fall. Within a couple of hours bitterly turned into a waste of time. What to make of Hill running the length of the play for a slick centring ball to Membrey? Kent working off his opponent, bouncing off the goal post padding and kicking the goal whilst glaring at said opponent on the ground? Butler blasting through the forward line with repeat efforts for a casual snap that he didn’t even bother celebrating? Nothing. Blake Acres wins.
Lonie found a free kick in the final second of the first quarter and kicked straight, no matter the siren sounding as he wound up. We got use to St Kilda’s notoriously slow starts interstate under Richo, not to mention being able to back up decent wins or create extended periods of good form. This is where the inconsistency was supposed to bite. But were up, seven goals to one. Fucking hell!
Like the North Melbourne game, there was no wild shift in momentum. Slowly, slowly, slowly, forays forward became rarer. Kicks out of defence more rushed. They just weren’t being cleared as far. Moments and passages of genuine quality shown in the first quarter and seen multiple times since the resumption simply…didn’t happen. Slowly, Freo’s moments came. Big marks by Lobb and Fyfe bookended the run prior to half-time. They made it louder.
There were chances in the second quarter to snuff out a Freo comeback before it really started.. Gresham had a set shot in the opening moments of the term that was royally sliced, and would have given a scoreline of 8.2 to 1.2. Gresham out of the middle to Max King for a goal after Lobb’s turned the game back. Long barrelled through the middle and set up what should have been another goal to King, but he missed a snap around the corner he should have kicked. Hill turned over the footy a few moments later and hit King on the lead. He missed. He’d kicked 1.3 and that was the last score until the final quarter. By then, comments from Former St Kilda Supporter Gerard Healy and Johnno about Max King kicking six had dried up.
What are we going to do about it? North Melbourne had set the template, but even then the challenge had been laid down by half-time. They were two men down. That Round 1 problem could and should have been consigned to the pre-pandemic era, showing that the changes at St Kilda in 2020 also include learning lessons. We thought that had happened after half-time against the Bulldogs. But their no-names were moving the ball and their kids were running down Seb Ross and knocking over Rowan Marshall. Richo-era problems were back. Another performance missing interstate. King kicked 1.3; Membrey kicked three but his one behind came from his most important shot of the match. Butler and Hill were anonymous after quarter time. Downhill skiers, flat-track bullies. It looked a whole lot sillier when Wilkie lost the ball in the sun and Banfield took the mark and goaled. Desperate moves were made when there was a failure in leadership. Clark in the middle, Geary in attack, and the ultimate Richo-era white flag: Carlisle thrown forward in the last quarter. More than anything else, the failed comeback was an insult to St Kilda fans.
Ben Long’s hit on Sean Darcy will be used in headlines and Fremantle folklore as a turning point. Darcy was one of Freo’s best at that point and they were suddenly two down on the bench. Like we did with J. Longmuir, the St Kilda Football Club were there to help create Dockers heroes. A hamstrung Nat Fyfe kicked two important goals resting forward after the first break, when perhaps he shouldn’t have even played (and in the middle of a pandemic!). St Kilda was coming off a nine day break, and Fremantle six. (I’d vaguely complained about Collingwood getting choice time slots all year and that the only time they didn’t, they ended up playing us on a nine-day break against our six-day break. That obviously didn’t matter.) “Lachie Schultz from the Longmuir spot!”, with St Kilda opponents in an excellent clash jumper helplessly standing around him is a football memory and experience we all have now. Walters made the opening gaffe and gave away the 50 metre penalty in the final minutes that allowed the Saints to draw level, but he won the next two centre bounce clearances and helped set up the match-winning goal – that came from our captain panicking and bombing it long on the rebound with scores level and plenty of time left, and despite being in space with teammates around him.
Am I still afforded the same level of frustration and anger towards players and the club in a season like this, as I am fleeting dreams of the best-case scenario (Victorians not having to quarantine before an inevitable interstate game on Grand Final Day)? Call it one less worry. The siren sounds, and it’s back to being some guy on the couch on a wet and grey Saturday afternoon during a pandemic.