Breathing space

by lethal

Round 13, 2018
Gold Coast 4.2, 9.7, 11.12, 11.12 (78)
St Kilda 3.2, 4.6, 6.11, 11.14 (80)
Crowd: 10,181 at Metricon Stadium, Saturday, June 16th at 4.25pm

Thanks to the likes of the Dees, Bombers and Carlton’s own demise, the hounds of the media had not been as frenzied as you would have expected when it came to a team that some pundits (I’m looking at you RoCo) had tipped to be finish as high as the top 5.

That said, the spotlight had been ratcheted up; anxious, cautious, loyal Saints fans usually reserved to ciggie breaks in the parking lot had suddenly found their voice even in the public spheres of talkback radio and such.

It must be said that, despite carrying along several fresh newbies, the side had at least – aside from the Swans game – stemmed the bleeding in a performance sense. Against the Pies, Tigers, and Eagles (in Perth), there were definite takeaways however vague.

And despite the debacle that was the Swans game, you felt that the side – and the Coaching team/Match Committee – had found a new course for this season. Ed Phillips? Yes. Hunter Clark? Yup. Throw in Josh Battle, Bailey Rice, Coffield, presumably Brandon White pending health and an un-concussed Paddy McCartin. There were suddenly some green buds from which could be nurtured, to give this side a whole new complexion. There was a sense of a small silver lining.

And it’s with that in mind that so many loyal fans were baffled beyond belief when the team sheet was handed in for the now critical Suns game. In some ways, it should have seemed predictable. With the wolves at the door, out goes Phillips and Coffield; and some of Richo’s faves slide back in.

In my mind at least, the significance of this game had been dulled down in previous weeks as I had mentally resolved that this was essentially, if not a “rebuild” year, then definitely a “rethink” and a shift of course. The W-L columns had receded into the background. It’s about finding players and, more importantly, developing them. Great, get a McCartin, get a Billings, but once they are there you have to do right by them; they’re not sea monkeys.

Granted, of course, the looming prospect of the issue of the coach coming to a head did amp up the hype leading into this game. My thoughts on Richo? Generally speaking, I don’t think he comes across with the conviction or the strength that the figurehead of an AFL club needs to exude. For the most part this year he has reflected the fans – a lot of head scratching. And to top it off, it would be easier to swallow or empathise with if not were it for the incessant positivity and hot air that was coming out his mouth (amongst others) about our Finals chances and the five year plan and bla bla, in the lead up to Round 1.

Three quarter-time. Staring down at a 31 point deficit. Somewhere between evacuating the homemade rosemary and mozzarella pizza out of the oven, and finishing off the sriracha honey sauce for the chicken nuggets, I overhear the gleeful cries that Daniel McKenzie has got us back within a kick of hitting the front.

A remarkable turnaround. And despite anything and everything, this was a marvellous display of character from a group who have been stamped accused of a lack of maturity, leadership, resilience, et al. Of course, whether this is a flash in the pan in that regard, only time will tell. And it has been well documented how insipid the Suns have been in last quarters this year.

This is a pocket of air, of much needed breathing space whilst the likes of Richo, Finnis, Hammill and the rest of the lackies around the football department flounder and grasp for life jackets whilst the Club is being turned upside by Lethlean (and god knows who else at City Hall etc). And for me, that’s that. As I mentioned before, in Phillips, Clark, Coffield, White, Battle (who again stood out on Saturday night) and to a lesser extent Rice, the Club has stumbled upon (not by design) some of the tonic or the pathway by which we can navigate out of this mess that we’ve created ourselves.

That works both ways too. The relative success of that shiny new bunch has only further underlined the shortcomings of the likes of Mav, Sav, Geary, Newnes, Dunstan, Lonie and the rest of the deadwood that I can’t even stomach conjuring up from the depths of my memory. With all due respect, it was damn telling (and plain nice) that it was Gresh and not Mav, who was able to kick the game clinching goal. For those playing along – Mav actually had a set shot from about 50 to put the Saints in front with about 1:45 left on the clock.

 

Just a loser who likes it again and again

by Tom Briglia

Round 12, 2018
St Kilda 1.1, 3.8, 4.10, 7.13 (55)
Sydney Swans 9.1, 14.3, 17.7, 19.12 (126)
Crowd: 27,569 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, June 9th at 7.25pm

stk syd 2018

The appetite for a change of key personnel at the club – coaches or board members, or at least dropping a bunch of players – has grown into something louder and more desperate since Saturday night. For all of the poor performances this year, Saturday night was different. There was a meekness that wasn’t really there before. Sydney’s a great team, no shit, but the idea that the players were still having a crack and playing for the coach despite kicking ourselves out of relevance was no longer something apparent. We’re just going to have to take their word for it at the moment, and the club has moved to get a few comments out there already.

The disarming ease of the Swans’ movement of the ball from half-back that ended up with Zak Jones’ goal late in the first quarter was incredible to watch live. Kennedy (?) could afford himself a fumble on the rebound after our botched entry forward, McCartin (T), Kennedy (again?) and Lloyd walked and scrubbed it up into the forward line, before it was poked back out to Jones who was by himself just inside the 50-metre arc. I don’t think he could quite believe that he was in so much space and he actually paused for a second before slamming through a goal from a step. I don’t think the members’ section could quite believe it, and on the quarter time siren there were a few Saints fans who booed, but it felt like most were either too exhausted or shocked to conjure up any sort of active response. What could we really actively do anyway, apart from throwing away our Saturday night and turning up to the concrete TV set, and hand over our banking details to the club and allow them to take the monthly membership payment instalment?

***

Sydney kicked 9.1 from 12 entries in the first quarter, and we’d finished with 1.1. We’d gone from seven goals to one in the last quarter the week before to being on the wrong side of nine to goals to one. For all of the fap material one quarter of footy gave us through the week – we’ve somehow downgraded from talking about two wins that happened sometime during last season to single quarters – it ultimately showed up that final term in Perth for what it was: a premiership contender not bothering to waste its time or energy on a dysfunctional mess, after toying with it for three quarters when the game was actually on the line.

In the same extraneous way that statistically we have the highest disposal efficiency in the competition, we ended up with more inside 50s than the Swans (including in that first quarter). While they glided across the ground and made it seem as vast as the MCG – with BigFooty’s Callum Sinclair Cup on its way to being retained as sub-plot – we decided to throw away our entires by continuing Old Four Tackles’ trick from last week of the faux long-bomb from just outside 50. It failed so spectacularly that first time around but at least added some variety to how we butcher our opportunities. Newnes repeated it this week, and was followed by Clark and Sinclair; a set-shot from just beyond the player’s range that turns into a 40-ish metre kick to zero genuine leads but plenty of defenders.

For what it’s worth (which to many people right now is very little), Richo said that he pointed out Gresham and Battle as the only ones “at the level” during his quarter time, spray. Our first goal came in the last couple of minutes of the first quarter courtesy of a handball from Gresham over this shoulder hard up against the boundary in the forward pocket, which went via Weller to Membrey, for a composed centring kick to the top of the goalsquare, and Battle reached out to take it with his right hand. Players have dropped much simpler marks this year in the forward line, and have missed simpler goals.

Battle proved to be the only positive, really, now that we’ve regressed back the “exciting game by a young player” as the reason we go to footy stage. He was the one that was in the right place for the first, and he motored up the ground and without hesitation put his head over the footy under pressure in an act that ultimately ended up with Sinclair’s goal from the pocket.

He followed that up with a mark at centre half-back and a bullet to Newnes, which ended with Paddy on the lead and a goal in what was one of the better passages of play this season. A few minutes later Battle ran down Callum Sinclair on the defensive side of the wing with a tackle rare in its aggression for the Saints this season, let alone this night. His kick down the line ended up with Dunstan, who delivered to Paddy and the opportunity was there to not just stamp himself on the game, but to generate some sort of momentum. Paddy missed, taking his tally to 1.2 – all from set shots – and the Swans took the ball wide from the kick-out, Callum Sinclair galloped away from a throw-in on the wing and Buddy took a stupidly easy mark one-on-one against Brown, and goaled.

Richo use the word “sacrifice” in talking about the way Battle used his body throughout the game. The club’s certainly gone out of its way to do that to him, throwing him into the side for its weakest performances two years in a row. But he was talented enough and worked hard enough to be among our best on a night we returned to our circa-7.13 scoring average. I was glad Battle he kicked a second goal. Membrey had cost him a gimme by kicking into the oncoming when all he had to do was get it past to Battle by himself 30 metres out. He narrowly missed one during the last quarter, but in the final minutes managed to kick one on the run from 50 metres and on his wrong foot.

***

Webster was again our best, offering solid defence and actually direct and purposeful kicking, but it was a blight on our team that something we consider to be a key trait of one of the two most likely best and fairest winners is commonplace throughout the Sydney team.

Outside of Battle and Webster, for any positives amongst this steaming hot pile of rubbish you’d need to grab moments from Phillips, Rice, Clark, and yes, Paddy, who I think still qualifies in this group because it’s only his 32nd game. Paddy’s performance could have looked a lot different; it wouldn’t have taken much to change the outcome of the calamity with Gresham in the goalsquare in the final quarter, and a couple of missed set shots. My secret wish for a 2005 Captain Kosi-style appointment as captain in Geary’s absence was scuppered by the much more expected appointment of Seb Ross. Maybe one day.

Phillips again ran hard across the ground off half-back and Bailey Rice showed come nice composure; Hunter Clark pulled off a spin out of trouble and handball and hit some contests really hard. But there wasn’t that much else.

David King’s about players not creating “space for team mates through unrewarded running or positioning”, being “selfish”, that we “didn’t play team first footy”, including “senior core types”. I don’t know if it was specifically what he was talking about, but one of the first things I noticed watching the highlights back for the first time was Newnes covering off space wide in defence for fuck-knows-what as the Swans went forward again the first quarter, and then he didn’t work hard enough to get in the way anyway when Buddy ran off Nathan Brown to the obvious space in line between the kick and the goals. Brown is one of the few guys that has shown demonstrable leadership on the field this year and immediately told Four Tackles off.

***

I left the ground wearing my Pride scarf, covered in shame and dandruff, thinking we’d just seen the kind of match we look back on in the future as a turning point for this team, or this era. Those can be good or bad (see Brisbane 2004 for the positive version); this was felt like confirmation (not that we particularly needed it by now) that the past half-decade was lost. The guys we drafted up to five years ago that we said would be “awesome” and “could be the next captain” were supposed to be those now, but we’re still saying the same things about them. Billings was dropped in a Dal and Milne-style statement that came after the Round 12 loss to Sydney in 2008; the comparison ends there, because that was a side that was on its way to a Preliminary Final, having been considered premiership fancies for the previous four seasons, in effectively a mirror image to this situation.

How do we differentiate a loss that is simply going to happen when you play a young team like that, coming off two decent showings against the top two teams and a trip to Perth, with a loss that is simply…shit? It’s a two-step process; first, we have to acknowledge we’re in a second rebuild, which is a failure on the part of everyone at the club, and then through that lens we consider how to view this match, which would a bunch of kids in a rebuilding team getting pantsed by a perennial premiership threat. It makes Saturday night make a lot more sense, and it becomes just part of what happens when you play kids.

But of course, be angry. Be disappointed and shattered about the state the club is in. We’ve won three games out of 19 since the Richmond win last year. What does the board see in Richo, in his fifth year as coach, that makes him the person above anyone else to oversee a rebuild again, having already overseen a failed attempt over an extended period? You could further that and say that sticking with the coach brought Geelong and Richmond great things, but again, they were teams that had come close to Grand Finals or had played finals and were reasonably expected to give their premiership droughts a good shake. For all the good work the club has done off the field – specifically on Saturday with the Pride Match, and then more broadly things like getting back to Moorabbin and securing the Good Friday time slot – there are footy-related reasons why no-one wants to turn up to watch the Saints at the moment, and why we’re probably no chance of getting that free agency “big fish” the club spent so much time telling us we’d get while it tried to quell our anxieties as we plummeted from Grand Final Days to irrelevancy.

***

Billings embraced #feelthezeal on Sunday and collected 53 disposals and three goals through the midfield and across the wing, in a win against our ruck coach’s team and VFLW partner club. Freeman eased himself back in with 26 touches (just play him FFS, who gives a shit anymore) and Richo would have pleased that his mate Dave got 37, although I think I might collected 15 or 20 myself from sitting around in the RWB Brunswick West HQ. Bruce kicked four, but there’s no reason to bring him in just yet, both for his own sake and that Battle and Paddy just have to play at the moment. Maybe Billings comes in and plays in the midfield or something or rather.

While Richo sounded pretty lost in his 3AW interview with Tim Lane et al on Sunday, Luke Dunstan was picked out by Channel 9 at Trevor Barker for a quick interview and came out with the rather emphatic statement, “We trust him and love him as a coach. We’ve got to start holding up our end of the bargain and playing some better footy”. Not sure if he was able to get onto the media manager between the time he was asked for a few words and that being recorded. It was at least consistent with what the board has said through the year, but notable for it being the first real public comment on Richo from someone at the club after that match. Then today, Seb Ross today said players “feel sorry for Richo”, and we’ve got Jake Carlisle as the bemusing special guest for tonight’s Talking Footy, and Richo may or may not be going head-to-head with My Favourite Hair in the Fox Footy Commentary Box on AFL360 tonight, and after going down the slide as Robbo at the MCG today for the Freeze MND cause I think he would have got a pretty soft run from the panel either way. I don’t think he’s going anywhere anytime too soon. Until it becomes apparent either way we need to reconcile with being in a second consecutive rebuild at the moment. It would have been an incredible piece of trivia if Richo’s last act as St Kilda coach was sliding into a pool of ice wearing a bald cap and fake goatee. There’s form, though. The last guy phoned up SEN as a talkback caller to tell everyone his job was safe.

When there’s nothing to do

by Tom Briglia

Round 11, 2018
West Coast 5.0, 10.1, 15.3, 16.5 (101)
St Kilda 2.1, 5.3, 7.3, 14.4 (88)
Crowd: 54,188 at Optus Stadium, Saturday, June 2nd at 6.10pm WST

Untitled copy
For the second time this year I’d been arrogant with my amount of sleep during the week and was subsequently struck down with a whingey cold/faux-flu. Like the last one striking for the Geelong match, I was again settled in front of my large bedroom monitor with Foxtel Go showing a non-Melbourne match, wearing my giant pink dressing gown next to the heater and waiting for St Kilda to lose so I could go to bed.

Another week away from the concrete TV set at least added up to a welcome break from being actively shitty about how unenjoyable our home games have become thanks to the club’s “fan initiatives”. Aside from this week’s Pride Match – the first of which I really felt was an excellent, excellent occasion – we get an extended rest from the noisy post-goal, sterilised club song, no-one-asked-for-this home game experience, and a chance to see if the club bothers to do anything about the mess it shat out in that time.

Having watched Sandy get pantsed on Saturday afternoon, you’d be forgiven for thinking we were heading for our own 186. Would West Coast eat us? Would Mav Weller not quite get up from his concussion and be a late withdrawal and be replaced by Ben Paton, before Jack Darling would literally rip off his head and feast on his torso?

Instead, with a few minutes to go the chance of snatching a draw was bordering on realistic. The final quarter – that for all intents and purposes should have gone seven-goals-to-one the other way – ended up with me throwing my phone face-down across the room and onto my bed, so as to avoid receiving forewarning messages due to the several second delay my broadcast was on. There was still another goal or two in us after that point, too.

Until that point we’d been travelling pretty comfortably amid the “new normal” regime of simply being outclassed by a team, despite for two weeks the inaccuracy bug having been alleviated. Who would have been specifically upset about being 48 points down at three-year time? What would have surprised you otherwise? For all the endeavour, and indeed, actual promise shown by guys that maybe should have been playing before this year, the Eagles were simply too slick and the gulf in class was reflected on the scoreboard. Their movement across the ground was better, the leading from their forwards (i.e. Josh Kennedy) was better, their passing to their forwards was better. More spirited performance or not, the lack of anguish as the Eagles kicked away in the third was the launch party for the official arrival of winter, after the club had delivered advance copies directly into our hearts early in Autumn.

***

All three of Jack Billings, Paddy and Ben Dixon would have been breathing a sigh of relief once we finally decided to show up – Billings with the early effective kick from higher up the ground, Paddy (still with helmet) with the early set shot goal, and Ben Dixon timing the Fox Footy boundary riding vs St Kilda goalkicking coach duties to perfection, coming off our most accurate game for the year before actually being there for the sequel.

Membrey followed on his return to his Field of 1.5 but for confidence and movement shown when we actually got the ball it still felt like we were long way off it. Or out of it? It seemed like there was bruise-free footy going on.

There were also the token, borderline-comical calamities going forward. Newnes lined up from outside 50 and went the disguised chip kick, only the chip was about 45 metres long and went to zero St Kilda players. Seb Ross, the man who is almost but not quite the next captain, used our numbers advantage while Jack Darling lay on the ground after hurting his ankle by kicking straight to a West Coast player with a shorter kick inside 50.

It didn’t take much for the game to just slip away from that point. Ah Chee managed to outmark Tom Hickey on the wing and break open the play that set up Waterman for a goal, but even when we had the ball we were still doing our best to mess it up. Newnes grabbed the bouncing ball on the boundary from haphazard kick out of our defence, but I think he was more surprised than anyone that he’d pulled it off and had his kick comprehensively smothered, wasting a real chance even to just get some territory when we shouldn’t have – having someone snatch the ball out of a ruckman’s hands on the wing and set up a goal for a first-year father-son recruit who’s playing great is what team do against us; we’re five years into this coach’s reign and are still impressed by a little bit of a spin. Needless to say, the Eagles went straight up from the throw-in for a Willy Rioli goal

Newnes was busy in the quarter. He followed that up with a run along the wing that ignored three players on their own inside that could work it up, and instead went long to, uh, Shannon Hurn instead. His goal on the half-time siren was a Bizarro St Kilda moment indeed, and he stood up again in our last quarter run with a set shot goal when there was no margin for error. For the silly things he’s capable of doing I’m liking the idea of him in the forward half more than anywhere else.

We also got a gift in the middle from a Rowan Marshall-esque West Coast centreing ball, and Sinclair came through and gave it off to Mav Weller, 40 metres out by himself, who didn’t pass it off or go for the traditional-style drop punt, but ran around the non-existent corner and shanked the shot. Sinclair had provided the highlights of the half, setting up Membrey with a Robert Harvey-esque shimmy to move past an opponent and kick to Membrey in attack, while Membrey had reciprocated with a strong contest against two defenders to punch it down to Gresham who bodylined the ball, and got it out to Sinclair who pulled off a similar move for a goal.

Kennedy had been threatening all night, even with Jack Darling off, and busted the game open in the third. The 48-point margin at the final change could easily have become 90. Membrey’s sixth goal brought the margin back to just 18 points with 4.53 left. Two Jack Lonie shanks – one out on the full, the other straight to Andrew Gaff – brought us back to reality, but that was far more normal and familiar than anything that had happened in the previous 15 minutes. We take everything that happened in final quarter as much as we take what happened in the first three.

***

One thing immediately noticeable in Richo’s press conference was that he didn’t talk about it like we’d come away with an incredible honourable loss. Overall, he still seemed as straight-up as he had after most games this year, although I’m sure he might have been quietly pleased that he saw some more positives to work with than usual. He was certainly keen to praise Bailey Rise, but when it came to Logan Austin is was about how playing on Kennedy would be great experience and a lesson for him. Keeping in mind this is a guy who on the surface was one of our best, playing in probably the most difficult position on the ground in the competition at the moment – i.e. a tall in defence, playing against the Eagles. On separate occasions Kennedy took marks against Gresham, Geary and Phillips, and I’m not sure how much of that Austin was responsible for, but he (I think Richo called him “Lausty” the other week?) ended up with the handsome numbers of 26 possessions and 14 marks, and our backline looks a whole lot more mobile with him there.
Rowan Marshall was supposed to be our answer in defence. AFL.com.au was running with “Saints find solutions for big problem down back” upon Prospect being named in the side, which was fantastic news, because for a minute there I was getting worried about this club and this season and this rebuild and the past 52 years. He had some good and some very bad in his game. Twice in the first quarter and once in the third (with Lecras) he was involved in marking contests and failed to impact on them, and each either directly led to or eventuated in an Eagles goal. Through the periods we were able to keep the game flowing he actually looked quite good in his follow-up work and in traffic across the ground, and has evidently pretty slick hands for what should be a forward/ruckman. Somehow, he ended up with 22 disposals, and whether or not he keeps his place next week aside, I hope his game isn’t graded too heavily on his work as a defender.

I remember in the 2013 pre-season when we strangely beat Sydney (and more inexplicably, wore our clash jumper) and Rhys Stanley, having trained in defence, had blanketed Sam Reid before getting injured. I don’t think he really spent any meaningful time in defence from then on, and has never really found his place in the game (when his body would allow him the chance). Part of me was hoping Marshall would prove within 30 seconds he was somehow an incredible, untapped key backman but Lycett took a mark on him 33 seconds in and set the standard. Fortunately, Roma didn’t get injured and we still have him available, although Carlisle coming back into the team probably means he comes out anyway. Safe to say our Rhys Attempt #2 looks a lot more comfortable elsewhere.

Making way for your team’s best player aside, Roma’s the kind of player we need to keep getting minutes into. You could argue we’ve discovered more about who will be there in the more meaningful part of the Road to 2018-2028 by playing young guys over the past month or two than we actually did over the past two years.

We’re much more mobile out of the backline with Webster and Austin roaming around, and more fluid with Phillips, Rice, White running off half-back. Both because of their own performances and of the team around them, Gresham, Billings and Sinclair are now able to show more of their class in decision making and execution around the ground, the lack of which had gone a long way to making us toothless and slapstick professionals. Clark played in the middle and still looked more composed and physical than most guys.

***

The club gave up a chance of furthering development over the past couple of years after being seduced by its own Road to 2018 charm offensive. White, Clark, Austin, Rice, Marshall, Phillips, and Coffield – even Paddy has only played 31 games (and a lot less have actually been full games) – rather than Gilbert, Richo’s mate Dave, Nathan Brown, and realistically where would you see Geary next year? I don’t like saying any of these things about those guys, and I don’t like where this club is at right now.

Playing youth en masse is fine, but even when we had a senior core through the early aughts there were clear leaders in waiting – Riewoldt, Hayes, Ball, Maguire, Kosi. We have Weller? Newnes? Ross? Steven?

Right now, I would say that Paddy is still the only one on our team that actually plays like a captain. Geary’s out for a couple of weeks and you would assume it’s either of Ross, Steven or Dunstan, or perhaps one each week, that will take the role. It simply wouldn’t be fair on him, but a small part of secretly hopes Richo does a GT after Round 14, 2005 when Kosi became our captain and spurred him to arguably among the best several consecutive performances by any Saint.

There were a few things that stuck out in his game on Saturday night that don’t really come through in the others that you would assume are next in line to be captain. Perhaps wearing the helmet makes him seem like he’s doing all this under more duress, and certainly his size helps when it comes to presence, but I thought he really looked like a warrior at times; the guy who kept presenting and kept competing knowing that he probably wasn’t going to be the one that gets the direct kudos or much on the stats sheet. Billings gave him a one-on-three ball in the second quarter and he still went and crashed a pack and try and create some sort of opportunity for the smalls, only to come off heavily winded as the ball went down the other end for former Saint and our first pick in the 2011 draft Jamie Cripps to pop through a goal.
The diving smother at centre half-back just before the final break – not only when the game was done, but in the final seconds of the third-quarter – is the kind of thing that should be held as a gold standard. It’s the kind of stuff that says to your teammates “let’s go, come with me”. He had the presence of mind to give Sinclair as much acknowledgement as Membrey after he set up Membrey’s goal with that run through the middle.

His follow-up work extended from single actions to what the game more broadly demanded. He took a great mark on the wing only for Membrey to fluff the entry inside 50, but by the time the ball had landed from its shoddy trajectory Paddy was the closest one to it. Rice didn’t quite hit Paddy in the last after an excellent mark, but Paddy still tracked the ricochet into the middle before it got tied and immediately turned to run back to head deep into the forward line. Body language experts might be overrated but there was something about the sense of purpose he did with it that stuck out on the broadcast, coming from a continent away. And possibly for the first time, he made an impact at centre half-back, drifting down for a strong mark and was still presenting there in the final two minutes.

***

Maybe perversely – and this has been mentioned publicly – but Membrey has actually played quite well in games where struggled in front of goal, and yes, namely the Freo match at this same stadium. There’s something about the performances that reminded me of the Port Adelaide heartbreaker last year, in which he seemed to have willed the team over the line in key moments and in tough conditions for a forward, only to be the one on the Power goal line as Robbie Gray’s winner sailed through, just over his fingertips. He seemed destined to be the matchwinner in a dominant role across the forward half against a susceptible Freo, but it was his own kicking that let him – and the side – well and truly down. On Saturday night he carried the team back to within three goals with just under five minutes left and all the momentum. He’s someone I really do wish has a moment, a match, in which their presence cuts through and he gets the reward for his effort and can quite reasonably say to himself that he was the difference in a St Kilda victory. He’s been here for a few seasons, but he’s still only 24, and these fighting performances are what get the fans attached to the new guys, and also reveals the guys who over time are taking on more responsibility in their game for the team.

***

We’ve been stuck in this layer of sediment between purgatory and hell to the point where the timing of it might not matter anymore. I don’t know if it’s because we’re into the eighth season wearing a necklace of shame, or if its that the rage of earlier this year that has subsided. Maybe we’re somewhere in the middle – even that might be being optimistic – but it’s been long enough that you were a different person at the beginning of this, and we’re far away enough from anywhere near the endgame of the rebuild that that doesn’t matter either. Snatching a draw on Saturday night would have been incredible, no shit, and it would be the kind of thing you might occasionally run over on YouTube in the coming years and think, “this is when [insert human] started to do things he’s good at” or whatever you say when you watch any Saints things on YouTube. Otherwise it wasn’t going to directly effect our win/loss record in a season in which we could reasonably dare to dream. Winning and losing, again, doesn’t quite seem to matter anymore. We’ve been sedated after the anger of earlier this year, and the puddle of clumsy comments from the the board and management and coaches trying to explain what the Road to 2018 was, and if it was ever intended to exist in practice. Somehow, it’s easy to forget that we haven’t won a game since March.

How I want to be somewhere else

by Tom Briglia

Round 10, 2018
Richmond  3.3, 6.4, 10.9, 15.15 (105)
St Kilda 2.0, 4.3, 9.5, 12.5 (77)
Crowd: 48,850 at the MCG, Saturday, May 26th at 1.45pm

IMG_2399

This has been the first year I haven’t overly enjoyed going to the footy. That is almost entirely to do with the “fan engagement” “initiatives” at the concrete TV set that is our home ground, which were introduced by the club without consulting anyone – certainly not fans or members – and sucking out the atmosphere during the game by playing music after goals (and comically for too long and too loudly). The club still had the fucking guile to post an article to its website talking about the atmosphere created by the fans during the GWS match. All of that came on top of trashing of the team’s song (again, without asking anyone) into something far more outdated than the Fable Singers will ever be, and which has sapped the moment of the team running out or, after Round 1 anyway, enjoying the win in quite the same way afterwards.

I don’t like writing about this, and I hate feeling it, and that dismay I feel around it has zero things to do with how the team is going, otherwise I would have turfed this blog and said I specifically don’t like going to the footy at some point in the depths of winter in 2014. But, despite being the most toothless team in the competition coming up against the reigning premier, this was a Saturday afternoon game at an actual football ground that doesn’t have a roof, with actual weather, and it’s not a TV set or a Disney store – I hadn’t been so keen to go to a game footy this year. I remember a May Saturday afternoon in Richo’s first season when Hawthorn beat us 175 to 30 in the fucking wet, and even if a similar result wouldn’t be so surprising I could at least walk away having been at the footy, at a footy ground, and had taken in the atmosphere and experience of going to the footy.

I’ll quickly get this one out of the way, too. I’m not sure how else to say this about the Richmond song, and I bring this up with extra dismay because St Kilda was one of only three clubs to take on the AFL’s re-recorded versions of the songs alongside Richmond and Sydney – keeping in mind the rest, including ours, were redone as an afterthought after Richmond wanted theirs changed. This was the first time I’d heard the Tigers’ new version at the ground, and…what a fuck-up. It sounds flat, and it actually dragged down the crowd reaction and atmosphere after a game with it. The Tigers’ song, for all their low points over the recent decades, has retained an element of the club’s historic arrogance and Us vs Them mentality that has brought some sense of threat in going to their games. I went to each of their Victorian finals (last year’s Grand Final aside) in the past several years, and the team running out to the song was incredible, particularly for last year’s Preliminary Final. Watching the broadcast, it sounds so dramatic after the siren of last year’s Grand Final, it marks the re-emergence of a club that had been the laughing stock of the league for so long, but had barrelled its way to a premiership with the echo of its 20th Century arrogance and toughness . The argument for the change has been that it was re-recorded to make sure the “shin”/”skin” wording error was corrected, but I would happily bet any of my few material possessions that the difference between those words – either of which retain the intent of the line – means nothing compared the nostalgia, the brashness, the threat, or the celebration that Fable Singers’ version not just represents, but reflects before and after a match. After the game, it felt dull. It dragged the crowd’s reaction and atmosphere down with it. The competition is better when Richmond is a power, and their song has been synonymous with not just the prospect but the reality of that.

***

The week saw AFL journos with MH370 theories, and Etihad Stadium being renamed by Disney and effectively becoming a tiny Disney Land. The St Kilda Football Club is a strange place anyway, and we saluted by taking D Mac and his new hair out of the Moorabbin cryogenic freezer, while Darragh Joyce was named emergency and was Logan Austin being concussed during his jumper presentation away from making his debut. Now that Carlisle’s out for as much as two weeks, if we’re not careful then Freeman will be playing whether he’s injured or not. We found out by Richo’s own admission at the Friday press conference that his love affair with “Dave” Armitage saw Armo being played with an hamstring tendon injury for a month. What did we learn from playing Mav with an ankle injury through all of last year? Fuck all, apparently. Yes, Richo also said it’s something rest wouldn’t fix, but if he’s unable to get from contest to contest or get to a low ball (Richo’s words) at AFL level then I don’t know if his physicality/seniority on the field at AFL level offsets that. Given he collected 40 touches for Sandy I’m sure Dave will be rushed back into the side, but that no-fucking-shit gulf is the reason why in back-to-back weeks he couldn’t get down to the footy and than ate up 40-plus touches. All of this ended with pre-match team meeting out on the ground, with all the staff, and I’m sure it was after Round 10 of 2001 that Malcolm Blight brought the players back onto the ground for a warm down and odd chat. The Demons cropped up a few times this weekend.

***

By the time Gresham had snuck out the back and put us in front in the third quarter I was pleasantly reminded what shitting myself at the footy felt like. I don’t think I genuinely felt at any point we were run away with it, but things looked far more purposeful and – I shit you not – were occasionally working. Newnes’ miss kind of sits as a sliding doors moment on reflection, but it wouldn’t have made much different to our season given Richmond ran away quite comfortably with the game, and with 30 to 17 scoring shots, despite only really playing a quarter and a half anywhere close to their better footy and being down to two rotations for most of the game.

How much is it the “vast expanses” of the MCG? How much is it 10 weeks we’ve not had to sort our shit out? How much is it that we’re playing new, young guys that are following up their work and showing a bit more skill and composure? Perched up in the MCC by myself, the movement across the ground certainly looked like the dimensions of the ground were a factor, but that alone doesn’t make them work harder, and it certainly doesn’t make them faster individually, or able to get some sort of separation on their opponent.

Either way, let’s deal with what happened – the pressure really was up for the first two and a bit quarters, and it allowed far more purposeful movement ahead of the ball, which meant options in space to kick to. Once we were able to force turnovers, I still do think there was harder and smarter work ahead of the ball.

One thing that has stuck out so often through this pretty terrible year – whatever we’re doing across the ground, however we’re setting up, however we’re presenting, however we’re shanking kicks, it has sterilised the games of Billings and Gresham in particular – the two guys who have offered the most class and creativity.

Gresham was obviously the headline human of the day for the Saints. I remember watching his fifth goal go through after the siren of the last game last year, as Nick Riewoldt made it his final act on the field to be near the line for the kick. What I hoped it represented in that moment certainly hasn’t materialised yet, but on Saturday we got the echo we’d been looking for on an individual level. He kicked six goals; the class, awareness and composure we haven’t been able to look to an individual for this year, really, with Carlisle probably the only exception – the pairing we got from that infamous trade. Carlisle was the accidental enforcer at the other end, an apologetic Lazar Vidovic.He was booed by the 40,000 Richmond fans (8,000 or so St Kilda fans still seems like a cheeky stretch) every time he got the ball but he and Webster, who was busy and dangerous and creative off half-back, and helped by the constant follow-up of Phillips, Rice and Clark made this team look more dynamic than it has all year.

Gresh’s career trajectory, for slightly differing reasons, is still following that of Jack Steven’s – thrown into the front half of the ground before an inevitable migration into the middle, where he played the footy that got him drafted. A rare day this year that we could snatch a few moments to feel good about a player’s future.

Billings returned to his role as an option across high-half forward, and it probably confirmed that he’s the type of player that required the rest of the team to be doing the right thing to bring the best out of him. I’m not sure how other people saw but despite his 18 touches and 1.1, I thought it was his best game of the year. My first reaction typing that is, “what the fuck has happened this year”, but here for the role he played and the way he played it, this is his best use. He was back to providing a target across half-forward and higher, and the role allowed him to use the ball in the manner that we used pick 3 on him for. Typically, the best and worst of his game were shots at goal, outside of two excellent passes from high up the ground to Gresham and Membrey to set up goals. His own third-quarter goal represented what should be by now almost vintage Billings, but right now stands for what we’ve missed out on so far – on the run inside 50, on an awkward angle and off-balance with pressure coming from the side, in a big moment in the game and the finish was silk. That was more than undone in the opening seconds of the final term, though. The margin was still just 10 points and a circuit-breaker was needed as Richmond were charging, and in between Dusty’s two excellent finishes Paddy’s contest and handball released Billings. By himself, 30 metres out, and perhaps a bit too confident on the right foot after last week’s goal, he shat himself royally kicked it out on the full. It wasn’t even a slice, it was just a fuckin’ fuck up in a big moment.

***

Paddy’s game was another one of those holding pattern types, but let’s address the helmet. Perhaps instructive that the last St Kilda player to wear a helmet was Kosi, and I say that as a sadly terrified St Kilda supporter. I think just about every time I mention him I go out of my way to point out how few games he’s played, and this was just number 30 (I’m acutely aware Petracca and helmet-ally Brayshaw played very, very handy games in a 91-point win the following day for the team that is currently sitting third on the ladder).

Like the GWS game, Paddy looked his best close to goal. His competing and leading from within 50 set up Newnes for our first, and then in the third had an impact on several goal chains; he rewarded an excellent Logan Austin effort low on half-back by presenting up the ground, took the Rowan Marshall centring option, and D Mac and his hair avoided got it forward for the Jack Lonie crumb; he brought the ball to ground in for Gresham to put us in front and earned the free kick that Gresh ran onto the spillage of and bumbled it through.

Unfortunately for him, he was the one who let his own efforts down – a handy mark in front of goal in the second quarter was sliced to the right, as all of our shots at goal are now (see Membrey; Hickey; Newnes), and then from a totally not impossible spot soon after, maybe 40 out and slightly more acute than a 45-degree angle, instead of kicking a normal drop-punt he went the Cora Staunton but got nowhere near it.

By half-time the numbers looked OK. We were up in disposals 230 to 192, 31 to 27 inside 50s, clearances 20 to 7, tackles 30 to 19. But for all the pressure that was allowing such nicer movement with the ball, we still had Paddy missing from in front and clearly bereft of confidence in his set shot routine, Savage kicking it long to nothing, Lonie blazing away from 50 to fuck knows what, Hickey not making the distance (ironically by backing his set shot routine), and Hunter Clark getting excited and having a shot from nearly 50 out when he had Billings on his own closer to goal over the top. That all culminated in St Kilda Football Club Captain, Jarryn Geary delivering arguably the worst post-siren long-range shot at goal. Of course no-one, including himself, was expecting to kick it. But this is the captain. I laughed loudly.

***

Caddy kicked six in a role that Jack Newnes was hoping he’d play today after last week Newnes could have made an impact after apparently finding a suitable role for him over the past six quarter, but borderline-bizarrely went missing. He kicked the first goal and in a shallow field this year was all of a sudden looking a chance to bring a late charge for the goalkicking award in a role that had suited him for the past six quarter. The miss was the clear demarcation point for the game, and began a key period that was bookended by Dusty’s two goals either side of three-quarter time, which themselves sandwiched the worst of salamis from Billings.

Richmond immediately lifted the several gears they’d been purring around with up their sleeve all day when Newnes missed. The free-kick he got was dodgy to begin with – he’d already dropped the ball in the tackle before being landed on – but if you’re good enough those things don’t matter by the end of the day. You take the opportunities you earn or are spuriously gifted, or individual moments that might go against you are swallowed en masse by class and hard work. He missed the set shot, and head knock in the last or not he finished with 1.1 and eight touches.

They had stars in Cotchin and Martin lift when the game required it, while Martin’s goal came when our possible next captain Seb Ross dropped an easy mark 35 metres in front of Richmond’s goal, in the path of minimal pressure, and Dusty mopped it up. Just before the Tigers began their run, Hickey (yes, Hickey) was leading the clearances with six, and then several players, Cotchin among them, were next in line with three. By the time Richmond had well and truly taken the game back, Cotchin was up to nine, and Hickey was second, still with six. And that ran down right through their team – Vlastuin was moved forward and kicked three goals from set shots (looking at Newnes) after kicking 7.4 in his past 71 games.

As the momentum shifted, and under the more heated pressure from the Tigers, we lost our composure, the presentation dropped off, the skill errors returned and silly mistakes were made. I didn’t mind the fact that it looked like we were trying to not become too conservative with ball movement, something that made us look really bad in 2016 and 2017 particularly. A dropped intercept mark in defence from Webster coming third-up – something that had been shut down all day – ended with one of Vlastuin’s goals; a poor kick-out looking for Billings out the back of two Tigers opponents outside 50 fell short and ended up with a strong Caddy mark and his fourth goal, and Dunstan played for the high tackle free kick near Richmond’s goal and got rightly punished for holding the ball.

None of this is to say that Newnes missing cost us the game, it’s more to say this was an excellent demonstration of what we’re lacking and what other teams have. It’s once you start adding things like that the 12.5 seems just as Richo described it – “a step in the right direction” – and not much more. After the Billings shank early in the last, Seb dropped an easy mark in front of the Richmond’s goal and that’s what led to Dusty kicking his second. That was the gulf in class. But I liked that Bailey Rice went inboard to Billings to set up Membrey’s goal late in the game having earlier in the quarter done something very similar, but which went straight to a Richmond player for a goal. I like that Hunter Clark and Ed Phillips kept following up their work; Phillips has already shown a lot, Clark is more prone a few scuffs and is taking a suspiciously large amount of cues from the Blake Acres Guide to Leaning Back Slightly When You’re Kicking on the Run.

Similarly to Round 1 – the last time we kicked more goals than points, and the last time we kicked more than 10 goals – a lot of our shots came from close to goal. But even those included chances and opportunities to maximise the shots we were having (see the second quarter cluster). Again, the trend that was momentarily turfed last week is back up this week. The opposition slowly get away as was burn some opportunities and work too hard for little reward, we get a run-on through the third quarter, and then the opposition gets away from us. Richmond finished the game with 63 to 48 inside 50s, despite the possession count being 440 to 365 in our favour. We laid just one tackle inside 50.

***

This was by far my favourite day at the footy all year. But it reinforced just how much our “home” ground – more specifically, the club’s use and abuse of it – is testing my love of going to the footy. Not even love; I’ve just turned 30 and it’s something instinctive and that has a so much tradition and heritage and shared experience and personal experience. It’s something that had never been threatened before, and I will argue with anyone who says there is anything necessary behind the moves the club has made regards to that. There was a reason I was there by myself on Saturday – the TV set atmosphere of Etihad/Marvel had worn down my Dad and my brother and Rich. It’s been trashed. But the MCG is a place to go watch the footy. There are people kicking the footy around outside the ground, not office buildings, and the names and statues outside and throughout the ground’s interior mean something to us, not to Marvel fans exclusively. The MCG is where so much has happened, and it’s where we want to be when, if, the Saints go marching in. There is a dignity to not just the MCG itself, but the space around it.

Yes, of course winning or losing or where we are in our development perspective matters, but that is part of supporting your team – feeling hurt, and feeling hopeful. It’s not about having it tainted by music that demands you feel a certain way after a goal is scored, no matter where the team is that quarter, that day, that year or indeed that decade (or that rebuild). Richmond song aside (and our loose association with its machinations), this was the first time I didn’t have to personally battle with whether I wanted to be at the footy or not. I could afford myself to step back into those worries about win and loss and development. And after the unthinkable premierships of the Bulldogs and Richmond over the past two seasons, the spectre of the Demons, too, getting there ahead of us became harder to ignore.

Troubling use of the air conveyance

by lethal

Round 9, 2018
St Kilda  3.5, 7.7, 9.9, 10.12 (72)
Collingwood 3.3, 7.6, 14.7, 15.10 (100)
Crowd: 33,994 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, May 19th at 7.20pm

Script writers couldn’t have done it any better: one Rex Hunt was calling his final game on 3AW on Saturday night for St Kilda versus Collingwood. Rex has always been one to embellish and underline the weird, wonderful and pitiful in the game, and boy did he have some material to work with on Saturday night.

I believe he described people “playing chess at Pentridge” as having more fun than watching this game.

Having been there myself, yes it was darn ugly at times; and again highlighted the Saints plight. St Kilda continues to self sabotage it’s season via a thousand cuts in the form of woeful skills, spurned opportunities and half-baked contests.

Yet this was all set in motion at the selection table. Carlisle would be missing (concussion), McCartin wouldn’t be returning yet, Acres groin was worse than the original soreness diagnosis and so on, and so forth. So, to recap: that’s the runaway leader in the Trevor Barker Medal right now, the other bookend of the side and the Media’s selected darling all consigned to the medical room. And the injury list already had some noteworthy names mind you: Long, Gilbert, Bruce and medical room Gold Platinum Ultimate Elite member Nathan Freeman. In a nutshell, this was to be the weakest, most vulnerable Saints 22 put on the park in probably 3 years. 5 players with 10 games or less in experience, including newly minted debutant Bailey Rice.

And yet that didn’t stop them being ahead at the main break at Corporate Stadium.

Lonie and Newnes were spearheading a re-jigged, makeshift forward line – alongside Rohan Marshall. Little Jack kicked the first two – yet was a missing person thereafter – whilst Newnes finished the night with 7 shots on goal (4 converted).

Let me repeat that: Lonie and Newnes – alongside Marshall in his 6th game – spearheaded a the forward line. Lonie and Newnes. Welcome to 2018. Welcome to the End of The Road to 2018.

That’s not to give the players an out as such, and to be fair Newnes took the forward challenge head on. He was sharp in front of goal and made the most of a lot of one-on-one opportunities to notch up 4 majors. Up the other end Jimmy Webster was at his swashbuckling, decisive best and had ample help from the slick Hunter Clark and the zealous – yet naive – Coffield and debutant Bailey Rice. Dare I say it, the rearguard looked fluid and precise for stretches, particularly through the first half; even Nathan Brown was having a throwback performance, showing a steeliness that seemed to have pass him by. Yes they were aided by the fact that the Pies were sticking to their one tall forward structure, but for long periods they not only stood firm but also initiated a lot of great transition play for the side.

In the first half in particular, the makeshift nature of St Kilda’s forward setup seemed to almost force the players to lower their eyes and attempt to pick out realistic options, rather than blaze away to points on the oval that had been burnt into their retinas via numerous whiteboard sessions. Marshall epitomized this when he picked out Newnes with a lovely 20 meter pass in the first quarter; a complete departure from the panicked, crazed nature of our typical forays forward. And to go with this, Gresham and the reinstated Sinclair had the midfield humming with a bit more pizazz and verve. A team that was coming off of totals of 9.13 and 8.11 in it’s last two games, all of a sudden was chirping along with 7.7 at half time.

Unfortunately, the list of games in 2018 when the Saints had been able to sustain four quarters of effort and intensity is this: . And so when the game was opened up, and was played on more one-on-one terms in the second half, Collingwood seemed so much more at home. The Pies seemed to relish the extra running required; it cajoled them to life. The likes of Varcoe, Wells, Stephenson, Phillips et al had clear air to run into more often and they lapped it up like a dog hanging it’s head out the window. Suddenly, the Saints defenders were on the their heels on the regular.

To make matters much worse, Nathan Brown went off with a knee injury in the third term and subsequent the shuffling of the deck only accentuated the frayed nature with which the Saints tried to move the ball. With Marshall having been deployed to defence, the much needed escape valve ‘down the line’ was not there for the defenders, and so the Saints kept trying to play that bit faster, which seemed to buoy the Pies further.

That third term proved to be decisive. Frayed structure or not, Jordan De Goey was the biggest thorn in Richo’s side. The power, straight line speed and incisiveness was all on display and he again underscored what hot property he will be this off-season. He was pivotal in the Pies’ surging seven goal third quarter – to go with the 3 snags he snagged in the second term. Despite nimble backs in the ranks, Richo’s men had no answer for him. All of Coffield, Rice, Geary, and Webster only succeeded in providing life size training cones for him.

*****

Like I mentioned earlier, the state of the 22 is vulnerable to put it nicely right now. Granted, this is accentuated by the team’s collective confidence being lower than a snakes belly. Nine rounds in, and blind Freddy can tell you that the anointed Next Generation aren’t ready to shoulder the weight of leading The Club forward. The plight of the side has been deepened and accelerated though by the amount of inexperienced players that are a regular part of the team this year too.

Funnily enough, those newbies were have provided some of our brighter moments in the last couple of weeks. Hunter Clark played his best game for the Club, whilst second gamer Ed Phillips continued where he left off against the Dockers the week before. Bailey Rice certainly looked confident enough; Coffield had a tough night defensively yet still was a clear thinker with ball in hand. The youngest bunch are doing their bit; Clark and Coffield in particular allow us to dare to believe that we’re not a Bermuda Triangle for budding stars.

At the other end of the spectrum, the side continues to be plagued by a raft of players that are non-contributing zeroes right now. Billings, Armo, and Savage are the ones that immediately come to mind. Mav too had a stinker. Lonie only cemented his burgeoning reputation as a player almost too good for the VFL and nothing more. In this day and age of footy, it’s very difficult to carry such a number of these players.

Billings has been a repeat offender this year. The coaching staff’s latest ploy was to have him sit slightly behind the ball as a loose man for most of the first half. 21 disposals was his final tally for the day, yet it’s the stuff in between all his touches that seems to irk me most. Firstly, he looks completely off the pace fitness and intensity wise. It’s one thing to be out of form, but intensity, desire, supreme competitiveness – these are things that can’t waiver; they’re must haves. And they’re something that should have been pummeled into Billings by now.

As I may have mentioned before, I believe it’s oh so wrong for the coaching staff to repeatedly try and massage the structure of the side to get Billings some cheap touches. Nine games in and he’s played in every part of the ground. This proclivity to throw him around seems like a cop-out; Billings’ lack of work rate and intensity is going to undermine him wherever he’s plonked.

The boy they call Latte, of course, isn’t the only one who should be in the gun. One thing that’s quite common amongst all our Next Generation players is that generally speaking they’re soft. Acres, Billings and Gresham don’t strike fear into any opponent. All like to get on the end of the play rather than generate it themselves. And most would agree that they would look a million bucks in a well-coached, well-oiled system. That’s all well and good, but it speaks to the type of players and personalities that they’re not.

One player who over the journey has indeed carried himself as an alpha-dog is David Armitage. Armo had 8 disposals, five of which were clangers. Enough said. Sav too had 5 clangers – and he’s meant to be our version of Silk.

*****

What’s more worrying to me than the on-field results right now, is the kind of comments that are coming out of from the people that matter within the Club’s hierarchy right now. President Peter Summers and Simon Lethlean, have both in their own roundabout ways come out in the recent days to say that The Club:

  • Did not overestimate the list
  • Thinks the list is more than capable but is underperforming
  • Wholeheartedly believes that Alan Richardson is the man for the coaching job
  • Believes that the beginning to this season on-field has been completely unacceptable

Now. At least two of these points are completely wrong and/or at odds with the other points. I’ll let you connect those dots for yourself.

Though, while I’m at it, let me hone in on one thing. Why did the Club’s hierarchy believe we were so capable of reaching the finals this year? Apparently, it’s largely because of our victories over Richmond and GWS in 2017. Don’t get me wrong, they were enjoyable results. The Giants one did carry some weight, as not only was it a scalp, but it was under the bright lights of Friday night and it helped propel us forward towards the halfway point of the year. The Richmond result, was not a glitch, but anyone who saw the game objectively would acknowledge that the Tigers were not themselves that day. Indeed, Richo mentioned it clearly in the post-match press conference.

All that aside, it is utterly baffling and worrying that The Club can isolate two games and base their whole opinion of a list’s maturity, capabilities and readiness off of two games in a vacuum. That’s utterly absurd and speaks to a complete lack of insight and preparedness to judge the list as a whole. Were they not there to see the team get bent over by the other Grand Finalist again? Did they have memory loss regarding another systematic thumping at the hands of the Swans? Did they completely ignore the way the team folded like a pack of cards when the season was on the line against the Demons?

The examples of when the side has wilted in the face of any noteworthy pressure and intensity is extensive. We’ve seen the Saints lack of skill under pressure all through 2018. Yet it’s not a cold that the team just caught this winter; those symptoms have been at the surface for a good couple of years prior.