We’ll let you know

by Tom Briglia

Round 5, 2017
St Kilda 4.1, 8.5, 12.7, 13.10 (88)
Geelong Cats 6.1, 8.3, 11.8, 19.12 (126)
Crowd: 33,884 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, April 23rd at 3.20pm

The St Kilda website ran the video feature “Love the moment: R14 2009 vs Geelong” as part of the week’s lead-in to the game.

I don’t know how people can watch this without an overwhelming sense of sadness, or why the club would put this up (intentions of the campaign aside). Yes, I understand it was a great moment but post-Grand Final Day 2009 the memory has been shat on. It’s just a reminder of how good this team was and how in typical St Kilda fashion it failed to deliver a premiership. Posting it felt a little symptomatic of a club enamoured with individual moments, individual players, and indeed, individual premierships won by individual points.

The kicking for goal against the Cats in that Grand Final cost this club the best chance to heavily reinvent itself. Given our issues in front of goal this year, posting highlights from that match as part of the build-up was probably tempting fate. But given this club’s history, you could mention almost anything and there’s a chance the club has done something wrong related to it in some way.

Since that day, Geelong has remained competitive and become an entirely different club on and off the field. They won three premierships in that era and have remained a flag threat since, barring 2015. We kicked one away one and couldn’t snatch another (not to mentioned a few failed Preliminary Finals) and we still had to literally bottom out and work our way back up. Until we do get back up, we can’t say we actually did get back up.

The spectre of that era and that Grand Final still looms large for St Kilda fans, but for Geelong fans it gave way to bigger and better rivalries; rivalries that were more relevant to clubs that win premierships and create genuine success. As we tumbled down the ladder their victories against the Saints grew in size, and that gap narrowed as we trekked further on our development path. They are truly a club that has a hold on us, symbolically and on the field. It feels as though we need to do a whole lot more than any other day to beat the Cats. Again on Sunday it proved too much.

Selection this week was headlined by the inclusion of Billy Longer for Tom Hickey, who was officially “managed”, even though Richo went on to say he would have been dropped anyway. Billy appeared to have trained his way to front of the growing ruck queue by the start of the pre-season but Trickey played his way back against the Swans in the JLT. A pantsing by Max was followed with a huge effort against the Eagles and some big tackles against the Lions, but Martin and Grundy gave more head-to-head. I think of Billy as a Lazar Vidovic reincarnate – bash and crash-type who’s there to be an enforcer rather than Hickey’s relative agility for his size – but as Rich said after the game, Billy’s gonna need to be both officially managed and officially dropped after this.

On paper he got 29 hit-outs but Jesus Christ you wouldn’t have known he was out there otherwise. One kick, seven handballs and five tackles of which zero had the force of several of Hickey’s. He just looks…slow? It was his first game for 600-plus days so you can cut him some slack, sure, but would you keep him in the team for next week? Richo’s response is the post-match presser to what he thought of Longer’s game featured a lot of pauses and half-arsed phrases about physicality and contest, i.e. “he was a large human wearing a St Kilda jumper turned up on time”.

Surely Rowan Marshall has pushed himself ahead into second place in the ruck queue behind Trickey? He and Holmes were taking photos with fans outside the ground before the bounce and Lewis Pierce was being interviewed by Tom Morris in the whatever bar it is on Level 2 at half-time. Trickey had the ignominy of finding himself on the big screen at the main break flogging some bottled water. That was probably the flattest known collective of four ruckmen by day’s end.

Before Sunday, it looked like Marshall was a sneaky chance to bound in front of all comers anyway with a few more sausages for Sandy. He’d kicked 12 goals across the practice games and followed up two goals in Round 1 with another pair on Saturday. He might even be a threat to Paddy at the minute, although Paddy kicked 3.1 and collected 10 marks and 19 possessions. Marshall kicked 2.2 and 18 touches and took eight marks.

What’s published on the club website has often been a good guide to future selection moves and Paddy’s leading this week’s VFL wrap. It also has Lindsay Gilbee saying, “We really liked the way Paddy and Marshall played together. Rowan kicked a couple of goals and worked hard for his eight marks, and we may be getting a glimpse of our future in attack there from a St Kilda point of view.” Can we call it in?

Are we at the point where dropping Josh Bruce isn’t totally outrageous yet? A missed shot from outside 50 on his own, a missed set-shot from close-range for 1.2 to go with all of 11 possessions, three marks, and three tackles. Yes, he’s in the team for reasons you can’t boil down to easy numbers like those but is he only in the team at the moment because of his height? Or is the fact that he’s unable to get a rest in lieu of second ruck duties taking away from his ability to work around the forward half of the ground?

To be fair, whilst it wasn’t as bad as other weeks but he still isn’t getting the best quality supply from further up. Of all people it was Joey who was running forward with the ball on his own at a key stage in the last quarter and simply decided to send down a loopy Joey special on top of Bruce and two other Cats; if he’d held onto the ball for a second or two longer and given Bruce a chance to work himself into a better position. What hope has Bruce got there otherwise? And would bringing in Paddy or Rowan Marshall for him make a difference if the slightly-better delivery remained the same next week? Something was obviously up when Carlisle went forward though.

He and Brown looked really competitive down back again but had their work cut out for them when the Cats’ mids ran rampant in the last. There’s only so much you can do about precise entries forward and Dangerfield kicking goals over your head from outside 50 on his wrong foot.

Strangely enough, early in the last quarter we were the more accurate of the two teams, with the scoreline reading 12.7 to 11.9. That gap between 60 metres out from goal and 10 metres just looked to have been bridged a little. Billings found the ball in third quarter as well really looked to make a move, and waited patiently and lowered his eyes rather than blazing away to the goalsquare or to an outnumbered forward and delivered beautifully to Bruce, who had been given a second to find a space to lead into. Both Acres and Newnes threw in some curve balls for the Cats’ defenders and scored goals from passaged in which they played as lead-up forwards. Seb Ross missed from a similar spot to Josh Bruce in the last quarter, just outside 50 on the run, but throw in his fantastic early goal from a similar situation at the other end and now there are players finding space around the 50-metre arc. Jack Steven and Dunstan opened the third quarter with great long-range goals after Stuv has almost created something similar in the second. He didn’t even give himself the chance to miss the shot when communications went haywire and he got mowed down.

With My Favourite Hair in the AFL having his first really tempered influence for the year and neither Bruce nor Membrey having huge contributions, it was going to be the smaller forwards and others who had to take responsibility for hitting the scoreboard. Minchington nailed a very specific triple-triple, with his third three-goal effort against the Cats from three games against them. He was the only player on the ground to kick three and he showed a whole lote more composure around goal than most this season. The third goal particularly was a good example of what a player who kick four goals and gets 28 possessions at VFL level can do; taking the ball tight in the pocket and knowing exactly where to run from a standing start to give himself the most time and space for a kick around the corner.

Gresham had a bad day. His dropped mark on the 50-metre arc in the last quarter turned into a Geelong goal, he slipped over with the footy on the wing in front of the members, his ridiculous attempt at a huge mark didn’t affect anything in the vicinity cost Ben Long his first goal in footy. His solo attempt at goal from deep in the pocket would have been spectacular if he nailed, but when it bounced wide he was rightly given a spray by Membrey who was calling for the footy by himself 15 metres in front. It seemed like he was trying a little too hard to keep up with the pace of the game, or perhaps he was trying to fill the gap left by Lonie’s omission.

The difference here is you can forgive that. Gresh earned himself a bad day – it’s part of any inexperienced player’s development, but from the start he’s shown enough composure (that word matters) and class (likewise) often to suggest not just that he will be a very good player for us, but the type of player we’re particularly lacking in. We can let this one slide.

Ben Long will probably get dropped for Sinclair but as any of the coaches or recruiters would say, he’s here for a career, not just this season. He’ll be better for the run at this level and has shown he can match it each time he goes up in grade. Sinclair surely has earned a recall – Sandy’s stats will tell you he had 35 touches and a goal and he’s been tracking at so far above VFL level for too long now to not a game. Richo said in the Coach’s Message video, “Sinclair’s had another strong game and I think that he’ll certainly push hard for selection this week.” I think you can lock him in for Tassie.

Gilbert’s best contribution was cruelly annulled by one of the many awful umpiring calls. I’ll make a quick deviation to make a point – yes, whilst Selwood got a free for being pushed by his own player maybe next time Josh Bruce should actually make the most of the small good fortune of receiving a bizarre free kick close to goal and kick straight. Gilbert bulleted a pass to the hampered My Favourite Hair in the AFL on a lead in what was probably our last decent chance to get ourselves back in the game, but the advantage call was pathetically not given…I don’t know what the fuck happened; given there was no stop in play the umpire I am entirely unsure why the umpire brought the ball back. If it’s a late hit then it’s downfield. But of you’re a good enough side then the player with the ball now has the chance to size up a bunch of options, and the forwards have a chance to provide something at the time when they need to the most. Gilbert’s kick went straight to a Geelong defender.

Geelong simply had far too much class, composure and run, and again hammered an opponent into the ground in a final quarter. Selwood’s intercept mark and give-off to Guthrie for a running goal in the final 12 seconds was a fitting finish. There was simply no answer for him – collectively we lacked the speed and grunt that their midfield brought when it counted, and they were far more polished with the ball and worked to space more efficiently around the ground. If we were to win it would have taken us working at more than capacity, and that would have brought no guarantees.

I didn’t mind Gresham being thrown into the middle in the last quarter. He was probably down a little on himself for the aforementioned reasons and he got chance to reset his focus as well as see up close what a true matchwinner looks like when the heat’s on. Almost bemusingly, perhaps, Glibert was in there too. I understand the need to have put a fresher, bigger body in at that point because we looked cooked right across the ground and Ross and Steven were being saved at certain points. I don’t question Gilbert’s intent for a second but the free he gave away for holding the man from a centre bounce was very clumsy; as if he just couldn’t react quick enough for the pace of the game. Again, he managed to put down a couple of marks as he did last week, or simply not impact an aerial contest in the way you would want him to. I’d suspect he’s close to a game for the Zebras, both on form and the logistics of playing youth, whether it’s to bring in a tall forward or someone like D-Mac (26 touches), Brandon White (26 – 22 kicks, five inside 50s and seven rebound 50s) who returned handsome numbers for Sandy on Saturday, and some positive reviews (Bailey Rice included) from the people good enough to take time and do some write-ups on BigFooty forums everywhere. The profile of Shane Savage I feel like has fallen off the face of the planet in less than a week, but 27 touches and six rebounds from defensive 50 shows he’s obviously got enough talent to be dropped to the VFL and immediately know what’s what.

Dunstan followed up his 11-possession game last week with…12 possessions and two tackles. If he hadn’t of kicked that goal then I don’t know what. He may get another chance though because Koby Stevens got a heavy knock after being very busy for the Zebs – he’d had 11 touches and seven tackles in about half a game.

Right now though I feel like he’s just not having the influence he should. Richo mentioned in the Coach’s Message that fourth and fifth-year players need to be having a “stronger impact on the game when it is things are slipping”. That seemed particularly aimed at Dunstan, Acres and Billings. I feel like right now there’s a bit of an analogue between Lonie versus Minchington, and Dunstan versus what we assume Koby Stevens would bring to the team – that is, the defensive and pressure acts side of things, but the latter bringing in some more actual football. Mav Weller

Armo might well be done. As much as he clearly gives when he’s out there this is the unfortunate circumstance of a player’s body letting them down. A few of his troubles have come from knocks and collisions (e.g. the knee slice against Paddy Dangerfield of the Adelaide Crows early in 2014), but his form was clearly affected for most of last year. Steele, Dunstan and perhaps Stevens have a chance to really contribute to this team.

Stuv looked like a really good player who’d missed a couple of weeks and was being thrown back in against one of the most potent midfield combinations in the game. He racked up good numbers and the addition of his pace was noticeable enough that Freeman looms as an ace up our sleeve if he works out. Perhaps surprisingly Richo said he wouldn’t expect to see him in the senior side before the second half of the year, but I don’t think any of us were expecting to see him ever? Luke Penny and Aaron Hamill never quite got back as their injuries piled on; Markworth was always coming back from a freak knock directly to his ACL; Jesse Smith was already injured when recruited alongside Andrew Lovett to add class to defensive aggression for the 2010 campaign. We’re used to this thing not quite working out.

Seb Ross played probably the best footy of his career as his odds to be the 2018-2022 Premiership Captain shortened. For one of the first times he also displayed a little bit of pace, and on a day in which he collected 33 touches there were some far more damaging disposals in there, and in much more dangerous parts of the ground. Some pinpoint field kicks to go with shots at goal that a) easily covered the distance from outside 50 and b) he wouldn’t have backed himself to kick two years ago. Not to mention the Sam Mitchell-esque pause and perfectly weighted kick to Dunstan for Luke’s goal. I don’t think many saw this development coming from Seb before last year, and it’s players like him that really need to take these steps is we’re going to be successful in the coming years. Right now he’s done that and more, and is looking good to be this club’s next captain.

Steele again was a handy complement as someone who can play inside and out and be smart with the ball both ways, but needs to get more of the ball. The asterisk to that is that it was only his 22nd game and is looking like a great pick-up. Good hair, too. Speaking of arbitrary asterisks, Pick #3 in the 2013 National Draft was Jack Billings. I feel like he’s still just got a faint asterisk next to his name, because before this season he’d only played 42 games and hadn’t really had a decent run at a pre-season, let alone a decent run at a proper season, with some pretty difficult injuries really hampering his ability to get some momentum through seasons. That’s not just playing several weeks of footy in a row, it’s about playing a few months of footy without missing a game. He got close to that in his first season but even then finished early, and missed large chunks of the last two seasons. His two back-to-back goal assists reminded us of why he was picked so high, and as far as my silly internet opinion goes why he should be played in the front half more often. I’ve mentioned both – the perfect pass to Bruce after some actual consideration, and the nicely weighted handball to Minchington in the pocket, who did it justice with the finish. He doesn’t need to get 30 touches a game and for all of them to be like that, but he needs to do those things more often before we can even speak of him as vaguely worth pick #3 ahead of the Bont. I think I might have been a bit harsher on Dunstan, who is only 11 games ahead of him in the same period, but that’s by the by – both need to start lifting their output.

McKenzie, Rice and White all were named in Sandy’s best, but where do they all fit in? Maybe it’s Gilbert that comes out. The past week was Dylan Roberton week, named for the player who is somehow now actually convincing us he’s a genuinely good footballer, has a genuinely good football brain and belongs in the leadership group, and he put in another strong performance. Webster continued his improvement, despite his expert bullet pass to a Nakia Cockatoo at the top of their goal square in the first quarter. He’s tough and his disposal is (usually) pretty good. We need more of that.

Geary (C) was the last one standing, let alone running for us in this one. A desperate spoil and follow-up in an attempt to get some semblance of run off half-back in the last minutes, together with bandaged head, had him above all others at the point. To paraphrase Van Jones, who was possibly doped-up at the time of his original comment, “He became captain of the St Kilda Football Club in that moment”.

Despite the loss it was the type of game you’d leave having felt as though you’d watched a tough, entertaining contest that saw the best players and the best team perform well and rewarded. It was probably some of the best footy the Saints had played in terms of going head-to-head with a genuinely good team for the production of an uncompromising game of footy. We also got a lesson on where we’re at right now. Geelong has a habit of doing that.

Not-so-memorable moments

by Tom Briglia

Round 4, 2017
Collingwood 2.6, 3.7, 5.8, 7.13 (55)
St Kilda 1.3, 4.7, 8.12, 9.15 (69) 
Crowd: 36,650 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, April 16th at 3.20pm

docklandsstreisand

“You don’t introduce new products in August.”

Whilst the fate of 7.49 billion people was in the hands of a few narcissistic psychopaths and sociopaths, we had a questionable game of footy to go to.

Drawing Collingwood at 3.20pm under the Corporate Stadium roof on Easter Sunday surely had to be another trademark move from the AFL as part of its long-term plan to eliminate daytime football and crowds in general.

On the surface it might have looked like the AFL was giving Collingwood a quick breather from four out of five prime time slots – Friday night, Thursday night, Friday night and ANZAC Day, but all of a sudden they’ll be having a farkload of eyeballs on them on TV. The move of a Collingwood home game to Etihad clearly wasn’t to let a huge crowd in.

Only 36,650 showed up in the end, despite the regular announcements at stadium in the lead-up to the game for people to make sure there weren’t any spare single seats dotted throughout “so we can fit a huge crowd in”. I don’t know what management was planning for but, no, that’s ok, I’ll take the space thanks.

Looking around the ground at about 3pm It did appear that a decent crowd might eventuate – until you hit the prime four bays on the broadcast wing on level three that at its maximum were half-full. Collingwood’s wealth of membership numbers meant those bays are allocated as reserved seats for their home games, but that certainly didn’t get in the way of anyone turning up Medallion Club-style. Realistically this was never going to be about a huge crowd watching from the stands/concrete slopes, despite the stadium announcements and Jon Ralph proclaiming there would be 52,000 there.

Collingwood still managed to make it feel like a Collingwood home game more so than St Kilda ever does, but perhaps it was just as much about the presence and profile of the Magpies entity – the club, the team, its fans. The old MCG crowd-made fence signs in digital form – “Collingwood domination envy of the nation” looked great in front of the cheersquad and was ultimately just a reminder – if only for a brief period – of how tight the ground controls are to make sure nothing interferes with the visibility of the fence advertising (which fucking moves around during the game for fuck’s sake), and how much it has stripped away a really interesting and engaging aspect of the atmosphere at footy grounds. They really can’t save a few panels to keep something like that up for the game in front of the cheer squads? Or on part of the members’ wing? Really?

The Pies stayed true to stereotypes by going the American sports lowest-common denominator route at half-time with Kiss Cam, and then a thunder-clapper-fucking annoying blow-up stick “make the loudest noise” contest between Saints fans and Collingwood fans courtesy of precious lifeblood rebottlers Pump. Despite those, their ground announcer human did something I haven’t seen any other club do before (and if other clubs do it I’m assuming it’s rare) – a Welcome to Country and Acknowledge of Traditional Owners to the Wurundjeri Tribe.

St Kilda obviously got permission from the AFL to run out onto the ground after the home team in a break of typical proceedings before a match, in which the away team runs out first. Fortunately we made it out on time, taking us to three from four this year. Usually that kind of thing is a given, but when you’re talking about a club that’s won one premiership in its 144 years you’re operating to a different set of benchmarks.

The week had seen Ameet Bains go from likely next Hawthorn CEO to withdrawing from the process; probably a reasonable thing if only to save himself from the extra frost from new colleagues seeing he took their first-round draft pick this year and gave it to us. Officially he’s staying mostly so he could oversee things until the transition to Moorabbin was complete, and during the week I quietly threw in a “but also to secure further incredible trade deals and allow us waste more key picks come the National Draft”.

Paddy had been dropped from the team and if it wasn’t him we would have expected Billings to be next in line. Watching Bontempelli move sveltely through traffic on Friday and kicking a goal on the run from just inside 50 was one thing; watching Petracca bulldoze through traffic for his first goal and then take it on himself to find space and kick a goal from outside 50 late in a close game had me wanting to go the big vom: chocolate bunny edition. Another Billings seagull performance would surely complete the process. Somehow Mr February had stayed in the side after an indifferent start to the season; Paddy hadn’t after one quiet game in which the delivery forward remained garbage, and I thought Billings had to have been next in line.

Speaking to Dad on the phone during the week I suggested Billings might be best to play forward of the ball, if only to freshen him up or give him a more focused task. I also asked Dad whether anyone outside of a football club, in conversation with family, friends and/or acquaintances had ever suggested anything genuinely useful about their team that the coach and the assistants would actually say yes to. Billings ended up playing mostly in the front half, but I’d loathe to call it because a) I think anyone would have suggested this was a possible option and b) who gives a shit what I said on a phone call during the week.

Whichever way, it really got a result out of him albeit not until the second half. Three missed shots from gettable positions in the first half had me thinking it might have backfired and shot his already limp and pale confidence. Rich astutely noted Mav was getting political now that he’s in the leadership group and already moving to edge Billings back into trade talk calculations in the latest edition of “Mav’s World”. Turns out Mav is the one that right now is closer to the outer and maybe he knew it was looming, setting Billings up with the classic ambush question of “Easter eggs or hot cross buns?” . He knew it would be all too much for a shy Billings in front of camera. Billings could only squeak out a meek “…both?” and Mav dialled up his malcontent for a biting “Just choose one”. Billings chose chocolate hot cross buns.

But his pack mark and goal in the third tweaked something in his mind and he finished with 28 touches around the ground and 1.4 to be amongst our best. It’s not quite on the scale of the Easter resurrection, but fuck a duck it’s a nice surprise and a relief, and particularly encouraging that he was able to turn things in his favour during the match.

The composure aspect remains a problem but hopefully that will come back with time – he’s demonstrated it before. He often found himself not quite getting the balance right between hanging onto the ball and taking the player on; and disposing of the ball quickly and neatly. He was drafted at pick 3 to do both with class, but he had at least three kicks the were blasted into the player coming across him for the smother and your X-factor types are meant to navigate those situations kick goals from the quick snaps the set shots from the arc. Ideally it’s in the near future he’ll be kicking 4.1 from the kinds of shots he had. Nice of him to trade missed set shots with Dunstan following last week’s pass-off though.

Billings ended up floating up the ground a fair bit and collected disposals at will. The pressure was well up and we had a monopoly on territory and possession for nearly the entirety of the second half, and Billings ended up doing his bit sending the ball forward as well as being on the end of the work up the ground. His score return reflected the team’s inability to finish off a team, echoing what had happened in Perth a fortnight earlier and what they eventually had to work hard to rectify last week against the Lions.

As for his high draft pick stablemate, Paddy he took 10 marks and kicked two goals for Sandy but Richo didn’t seem very sure in his press conference that he’d be coming back in as soon as next week. Their time is slowly nearing but Billings and Paddy weren’t recruited to be key parts of our team in 2017. But as any St Kilda supporter would feel, FFS humour me.

It wasn’t until late in the second quarter that it felt as though we’d settled into what we needed to be doing and wrestled the game into our hands. Although the team looked solid once they could pressure Collingwood’s disposal coming off half-back, it was still only a 4.7 to 3.7 half-time lead.

At that point our half-back line had kept us right in it – for all the chances we’d created and wasted Collingwood had done similar. Roberton had chalked up 20 touches and seven marks at that point, and Geary seven marks likewise. Roberton’s reading of the play was one of the things players and Richo highlighted when talking about his (at the time bemusing) inclusion into the leadership group over summer, but his footy smarts are more evident, with his intercepting and rebounding taking his game to a new level. On top of that he’s consistently finding more of the ball, too – 32 possessions and 12 marks was his return by game’s end. He continued to stand out as the rest of the team lifted their own input, and in a wider context it’s important for the club for players like this to improve in this way.

Whilst we were waiting for some guys to click into gear Carlisle was providing a huge presence in the back half to allow Roberton to play his rebounding game to better effect, as well as Gilbert, Geary and Newnes. Carlisle took eight marks, including a couple of handy contested grabs, but his body work when the ball was in dispute, even low down, allowed time for support to arrive or simply for a clean win. Whilst the Collingwood forward line isn’t functioning all too well at the moment – I felt for Darcy Moore getting the Bronx cheers in the same way I felt for Paddy last week when he copped the same, because it wasn’t entirely either’s fault at all. Nathan Brown still had an important role to play and executed some very good one-on-one efforts. All of a sudden the growing synergy down back is the buzz around Seaford/St Kilda/Moorabbin.

Geary (C) looked a bit overwhelmed in the first couple of weeks by the situation he’d found himself in, but yesterday all of a sudden he became the Geary we thought he’d be this year. A couple of vital contested marks, even when outsized, and some daring decisions to leave his man to create a contest in the air against a bigger opponent had him looking more maniacal than ever. He and Roberton were complemented handsomely by stand-in club song leader Jimmy Webster. One of the more symbolic moments of the day came in the second quarter as we’d begun to take control – a Taylor Adams kick tumbling towards the top of the arc had Geary just subtly edge Travis Varcoe off balance, and allowed Webster to break through and pass the ball to Ben Long in the middle. Despite having watched his teammates blaze away into the 50 at every opportunity for Bruce, Membrey and Riewoldt to be outnumbered or not presenting a lead, or for the kick to simply be rubbish, he decided to lower his eyes in the short moment he had and found Mav. A quick give off to Blacres had him going long, but that extra second created by Long had allowed a deeper entry from Acres and time for Gresham to get to the fall of the ball and kick a textbook roving goal. It was the last time for the day we’d trail.

A lot to unpack out of that one. But I think that was the beauty for St Kilda fans to take of the ugly win – the team worked so well together to break Collingwood down and have the game played on our terms. It was the forwards that on paper were lacking at half-time: Gresham, Long, Lonie and Membrey had all had four touches. Each had made some contribution although there was obviously scope for a much bigger input from each (Or output? They kind of mean the same thing here). Membrey would end up responsible for probably the only two direct, low bullet passes into the forward line to hit up leads on the day, and I’m hard pressed to think of any others this year. He ended with two goals from 12 touches and eight marks, including standing up in the final minutes to take a contested grab in front of goal as Collingwood made a late charge and converting from a spot he’d made a habit of missing from lately.

I’m not sure if Ben Long will stay in due to the sustained excellent form of Minchington and Sinclair in the VFL, but Lonie is the one who’s had multiple chances to impress outside of pressure acts – whatever they are he and Long returned numbers second only to Jack Steele on Sunday. Lonie can’t be faulted for the pressure he puts on and he’s always busy in trying to create something from nothing, but he has to actually start getting more of the ball and not going the Suckling shanks, let alone hitting the scoreboard, otherwise we’ve just got a really fast McQualter or Robert Eddy. Just 11 touches and 0.1 has him on the outer, and he’s only kicked 3.5 from four games this year.

Long played an uncompromising pressure game in the forward half and higher up. Like Lonie, his numbers probably didn’t reflect the kind of presence he has around the ball and the opposition. Collingwood’s success in taking the ball from half-back to scoring opportunities gave a good reason to bring him in and lump the pressure on the Magpies’ disposal out of defence. He was part of the chain for first goal, working hard through traffic back of centre to force the ball forward. It took the 30-somethings Roo and Joey to team-up and finish the chain for our first goal with only a couple of minutes left in the opening quarter and we might have been thinking we’re treading water with the development side. That didn’t eventuate, but there’s always plenty of time to be disappointed with this club.

My Favourite Hair in the AFL had just six touches and no score at the main break, but like most others stepped up in the second half. He remains, uh, how to say this…incredibly good. Another 22 touches, 12 marks and a goal after being nearly unsighted for a half. It’s ok if he’s in your top couple of most important players a) because he’s a once in a generation player and not everyone we recruit will be Nick Riewoldt, even when he’s 34, b) if they’re really, really good then yes of course it’s good to have them, and c) if everyone else is on board. Mav had collected seven at half-time, but even his slim numbers probably oversold his contribution. At that point he’d had a shot at goal from close range smothered, completely missed a teammate with a handball, dropped an easy mark at half-forward and after waiting for options inside 50 casually kicking to a player all on their own. Unfortunately it was a Collingwood player. He looked to have almost traded spots a little with Billings by half-time, working to half-back more often as Billings became more prone to drifting deeper forward. His defensive side was a little more solid and he cracked in a little harder at contests in the second half, with his seven tackles alongside Dunstan second to Steele.

Steele “only” had 20 touches – 15 of them handballs – and nine tackles but he’s providing an incredibly important link between the inside and the outside. It’s only an alternative to the pace of Jack Steven and [insert  but it’s just as important when things get tight and it stood out. Seb Ross likewise – most people thought he opened with a stinker or two but he finished with 36 touches.

Conversely, I don’t know if Dunstan stays in right now when he’s only picked up 11 touches – albeit with seven tackles – when you’ve got Koby Stevens bashing down the door alongside Minchington and Sinclair, not to mention Jack Steven coming back next week. Richo gave Dunstan a brief mention in the post-match though so I’m not sure what’s going on there. The lack of pace in the midfield has been obvious over the past two weeks. Armitage was able to get the ball out of traffic but he’s not the one to look to for speed and going by how sore he was by game’s end according to Richo he might need another week or two off. All’s well that ends well if you can grind a team down with those kinds of players but you’re not going to be able to get away with it all the time and you’re going to need to be a bit more dynamic. Acres is more of a Goddard #1 type (“Utility”) and Newnes is more of a wing – they were both pretty impressive and Newnes might yet be our next premiership captain if everything goes right but we’re not looking to them to fill the gaps in our midfield.

What remains ridiculous and with no apparent change to method is the idea of players bombing the ball long going forward. What are they expecting to happen? Nice to be direct and put the opposition under pressure but if you’re putting players under the ball or the forwards aren’t leading then it’s a lot easier to defend. Bruce and Membrey combined for four out of nine goals but that kind of sentence won’t matter too much most weeks, and certainly not next week against the Cats. It’s great if Gresham can charge in for the drive-by goal but that doesn’t seem to be the most common occurrence either. Who’s at fault? Right now it’s a little bit of everyone, but I thought we looked best when Membrey punched those two kicks forward to Riewoldt and Bruce, and when Ben Long took in everything that was ahead of him and pulled the kick to Mav. It looked creative, flexible and smart. It ended well, too, despite Acres looking like he wanted to hit the roof and putting the Sherrin on top of Roo’s head rather than out in front of him. Again, who’s fault is that? A look at the vision would show no one between 15 metres out and the 50-metre arc – i.e. lots of space for everyone to lead into – so I don’t know what’s going on there. I would refer myself back to my conversation with Dad. Has anything I’ve said actually said been of any genuine worth to the coaches or players? Has anything you, or anyone else said been of any genuine worth to the coaches or players? Surely it’s not as easy as “they just need to lead into that space I saw on the replay”. Or “just kick straight when you’re having a shot at goal”. Or “just look for the lead instead of blazing away”. We’ve kicked 36.57 in the last three weeks. Never mind missing the finals by percentage last year, we threw away a Grand Final in 2009 with this kind of plan.

Perhaps because of Collingwood’s fast finish there was a lot of jubilation from the fans, on the siren, although the players looked pretty happy themselves. It was our lowest score of the year but it was probably the best team performance and what might prove to be a template of sorts for this group – it was evident that at least a large part of the plan had been executed well.

Only the people that were there would remember this one. So many of these games are played every week that are buried on the GWS/Gold Coast Saturday twilight specialty time slot, or that only deserve a progress score check from the bored neutral, and are never thought of again. Keep this one in the back of your mind if you’re a Saints supporter though. It might prove to be one of the more important development markers.

Succumb to the grind

by Richard Lee

To date, the most positive thing about the St Kilda Football Club’s 2017 has been that Hawthorn has yet to register a win. (If the National Draft were to be held tomorrow we would have the first pick). Fair to say that when the final siren rung throughout Corporate Stadium, that the overriding emotion was one of relief.

If I had succumbed to my rational self, I would have realised that the season is a marathon. 0-2? No problem. Premierships aren’t won in March/April. And so on, and so forth.

And yet, the prevailing feeling as I swanned down the damp Southern Cross station / Etihad / End of Bourke St bridge and witnessed the masses, was that this game was do-or-die as far as finals aspirations were concerned.

Lose, against the lowly Lions, and a 0-3 ledger suddenly opens the floodgates for supporters’ frustration to drench the airwaves and for the media’s cross hairs to lineup Richo – as well as the wider football department at the Club. Further, I genuinely believe that a lot of this angst had seeped into the psyche of the playing group too, particularly after they laid an egg in front of goal in Perth with the Eagles on the ropes.

Early doors on Sunday and it seemed like that inefficiency in front of the big sticks was again going to be a big factor. We had a monopoly on possession and field position; pinning the Lions in their back 60m for several minutes at a time, but time and again there was a lack of confidence and precision in the final kick.

This got to a tipping point midway through the second term, when Dunstan and Membrey both missed from 20 meters or so out – Skunk missed another from point-blank in the third too. The sighs through the stadium were palpable, and predictably, the Lions found some life on the back of this and had the momentum going into the main change.

Membrey actually still had a good game, as he did last week in Perth, but when you don’t get it done on the scoreboard everything falls by the way side. With the game being so physically demanding, so relentless, it’s near impossible to dominate a game from go to woe. And this makes those misses when you’re on top more deflating than ever.

Defensively everything was humming along nicely. Roberton, Carlisle, and Webster were busting a gut stiffen up the side’s last lines of defence, and Nathan Brown is still doing a good Sam Fisher impersonation. The midfield was working hard, and driving us forward at a constant rate – even if their disposal was sloppy. In short, the cogs in Richo’s machine were ticking over but on the scoreboard the door was well and truly still ajar.

So much of the hot air coming out of Richo’s mouth pre-Round 1 was about the team having double-down on it’s team defense. And when you see us control the territorial battle like we did for the first quarter; and when Tom Hickey is sticking tackles like there’s no tomorrow, you can’t help but rally behind it. Newcomer Jack Steele has really bought into that too – he had 9 tackles, to go with 18 disposals and a goal.

It’s the ball use and the poise; the polish and the nous around 50, the line-breaking from tight congested areas, which is what separates the good teams from the great ones though. Kicking 23 behinds isn’t going to cut the mustard against most teams.

From the small sample size of 2017 though, the idea that this is our bag is gaining traction in my mind. Sadly.

(Arguably) our best two players on the weekend were 34 and 33 years of age respectively. One running at half rat-power, one consistently trying to hit the Etihad roof with his kicking. (More on them later). Gilbert and Geary seem like cemented fixtures in the line up – neither gives the team anything with the ball in hand. Ross and Dunstan seem like the only two left footers on earth to not be able to hit the side of a barn with a drop punt. Even our 3-time B&F winner is a reasonable kick, at best.

There’s an overdose on grit, grind and blue-collar workmanship.

And while this sort of lineup continues to be selected, maybe Saints fans just have to embrace the grind. Maybe the coaching staff already have.

***

As much as round 3 is a time to be philosophical ahead of making bold statements about our season, there are some harsh realities that are becoming too prominent to let slide.

Like I already mentioned, Montagna were named as our best two players. Roo was great – more on that later – but, the fact these two are often in our best, even at 50-something years old, is more an indictment on the rest of the crop than it is an underscore of how good they themselves are, even in their twilight. Too much is still left to them, and it’s damn worrisome.

Another sore point at the moment, is where the The New Breed is at right now. None of them have been convincing. Billings has almost established himself as a Mr February guy – this being when his form peaks. Dunstan just doesn’t show enough or do enough for a guy who now has 56 games under his belt. To be generous his ceiling is that of a run-of-the-mill, blue collar midfielder. Acres is a Jekyll and hyde proposition right now; his highs are high but his clangers and timidity still are a fixture.

To be completely fair, Acres and McCartin have delivering more than enough flashes of brilliance to keep the wolves at bay. And when you’ve only chalked up less than 30 games in your career (19 in Paddy’s case), it’s mainly about than it is about iron-clad four quarter performances. Blacres has 28 to his name and nearly half of those would have been as a sub. On Sunday, his first quarter goal helped get us going, and he had at least two assists aside from that. Watch that space.

We’ve all seen how the likes of Ross (who was again omnipresent on Sunday), Hickey, and Bruce have come to the fore over the last year – those three have all just gone past the 60 game mark individually. With 45 games under his belt now, people are going to expect Hotline Billings to start to heat up and turn that corner. What Richo does with Billings through the course of this year is going to be a really intriguing subplot, because clearly Jack’s confidence is at a new low.

Like I told my Dad in the aftermath of the game: wins at this point in the year are almost worth 8 points. The fact that we now have our first win under the belt means we can at least shake that monkey off of our back. They say that good teams need to be able to win when they don’t play very well. The problem is that we can’t be sure we’re actually a good team, but we’ve still shown that we can take it up to teams – even if it is in a more gritty style than maybe everyone was hoping for.

Bits & Bobs

– Carlisle has quietly improved with every game so far this year.
– One of Dunstan’s faux trademarks in his relatively young career to date has been to snag a goal even if the rest of his game is off. He failed on that front on Sunday when he missed a gimee in the second term.
– Tom Hickey has to be the teams most efficient tackler right now. When he tackles they stayed tackled.
– Lonie followed up his solid showing in Perth, with a typically ineffective outing. The Dome should suit him, but he doesn’t seem to play that well there.

That felt both a lot better and a whole lot worse

by Tom Briglia

Round 2, 2017
West Coast Eagles 4.0, 8.3, 13.5, 18.8 (116)
St Kilda
6.7, 8.12, 12.17, 13.19 (97)
Crowd: 37,749 at Domain Stadium, Saturday, April 1st at 4.40pm WST

St Kilda have remained unmistakably St Kilda over 144 years. The highs are high, without quite hit the heights we’ve been searching for, and the lows are very low.

After the deflation and disappointment of last week, the team put in one of its more commendable efforts of the Richardson era, only to prove their own worst enemy. Whilst I was expecting West Coast to mop the floor with us, and this performance had me feeling a whole lot better than last week, it also felt a lot worse given the opportunities – and opportunity – wasted.

The fact that Richo, the coaching staff, and the players themselves were able to turn themselves around so much so quickly is a very good sign, regardless of the 0-2 start. Richo was facing some serious scrutiny probably for the first time in his coaching career as the typical rush to grand conclusions after Round 1 played itself out, and we’ve learnt a little bit more about where this team and the players were at.

Quick ball movement has been the order of the year but right now it looks like we’re just aimlessly banging it long and going too fast for ourselves, and it was our undoing when we weren’t queueing up to shank shots at goal . A frustrating 6.7 at quarter-time when we could easily have kicked 10 given our number of shots and domination of play, and an absurd 13.19 at the final siren.

Those long kicks forward were our favourite method of butchering the ball. Paddy, Bruce and Membrey were often asked to do too much from guys rushing to get the ball on their boot and not lowering their eyes. The balance was the smaller guys either not pushing hard enough to provide other options, which would mostly have been ignored anyway; or they weren’t given enough time to get forward, meaning there was little support at ground level if the ball hit the deck or if Yeo hadn’t plucked it out of the air himself.

There were a couple of times when Bruce and Paddy particularly looked to have had decent positioning but didn’t work themselves toward the ball; Paddy is best when he’s on the move and I’m not sure anymore if there’s any rhyme or reason to Josh Bruce’s game. As good as he was around the ground in Roo’s absence, Bruce was complicit in burning a great opportunity with Gresham one-out in the goal square; the ball went up the other end before some brief respite, only for Bruce, who had worked his way up to wing, to drop an easy mark on his own and the Eagles kicked a goal directly from the spill. It’s not fair to single that moment out – both of his goals were really nice – but it proved no one was immune.

To be fair, the three talls all worked pretty hard to present higher up and seemed to have a very good understanding of where each other was. They rarely got in each other’s way (Bruce did mess around with Hickey on the wing in the last though in one contest), and there was almost always at least one available for the next kick towards goal, although the way we used the ball in the front half that ultimately counted for not much.

Membrey and Paddy were particularly strong in the first half. Membrey took a couple of strong marks right up to the wing, and ended up with nine in total and a last quarter goal that we might have expected him to miss given recent efforts in key stages of games (see vs. Geelong, 2016). Bruce and Paddy’s returns of four and five marks respectively belied some their presence across the ground.

The proverbial large mammal in the room is the umpiring, yet again because of the the Perth hometown whistle classic. Today, The Age and Herald Sun were both running prominent (and easy) articles about Saints fans talking about the lopsided free kick count on social media. Free kick differentials shouldn’t matter if that’s where the genuine free kicks are. Last night I think it would be fair to say the Eagles got a lot more than they should have, and we didn’t get several; Josh Bruce’s tackle for holding the ball that was called in the back in the last quarter is a glaring example.

But last night, what were you expecting to happen if that free kick was paid to us? So Paddy can get the ball in heaps of space with the scores level, and then wheel around and tighten up and miss the crucial shot? So he can just blaze away and kick long to Paddy or Membrey in a two on one, ignoring the smaller guys who were presenting other options, if they had actually made it to that part of the ground by then?

Paddy did look incredibly disappointed after he missed that last shot, and it wasn’t just because he’d never kicked three goals in a match before. It would prove to be our final score as the opportunities dried up in the last quarter and our efficiency remained at around Rubbish%. He’d looked a lot more confident and comfortable out on the ground in general, doing a lot of talking with teammates and establishing himself as the go-to guy for the post-goal around-the-shoulder leadership move. Dad and I joked (well, you know) that once he’d kicked his second that was it for him – he’d never kicked three so with an entire half to go the only option was for him to receive a head knock. The inevitable seemed to have happened in the last quarter when his melon hit the turf but he came back on. His hair has also improved this year. and this game at the very least presented an opportunity for the three to play together without My Favourite Hair.

A scoreline of 13.18.96 to 15.6.96 late in the last quarter said more than any other facet of the game, encapsulated further when that scoreline changed to 13.19.97 to 15.6.96 as Paddy took his personal tally to 2.3. You can then say yes, the umpiring does matter, and can matter in a big way – what about Hawkins hitting the post and getting a goal in the 2009 Grand Final? I’ll redirect you to Schneider, Milne, McQualter, et al.’s efforts in front of goal that day, and even then if we were a better team we could have just won by whole lot anyway. Have a look at the several out-on-the-full kicks yesterday, or Jarryn Geary (C) becoming the first St Kilda player to score a try. A couple of the deliberate out of bounds calls were shonky when compared to the kick for touch in the third by the Eagles (was it Yeo?), but ironically the most deliberate out of bounds was Paddy’s kick over the top of Bruce at a crucial juncture in the last quarter to ensure the ball went out just inside the 50-metre arc. He understood that he couldn’t just blaze away in the way his teammates had throughout the game and gave them all a chance to get forward and set up – but we lost the clearance and totally shat on the idea. Unfortunately Paddy went a step further and missed the shot around the corner.

If you’re good enough then that’s not something you need to be relying on over the long-term to be a successful team and a successful club. The 2009 team could so easily have changed the course of St Kilda history on that day themselves with accurate goal kicking, more than the umpires could have with their decisions.

Haphazardly going back to large humans playing for the St Kilda, Tom Hickey’s personal performance was probably the best of the difference between the team’s effort and output and that of last night’s. With ruckmen now going truly head-to-head, it will give the genuinely gifted big guys a chance to ply their craft without My Favourite Hair in the AFL or Seb Ross getting involved. We saw Stephen Merchant get trounced by Big Max last week in what was probably the most pronounced defeat he’d suffered one-on-one. Whilst Nathan Vardy and Jonathan Giles don’t present the same sort of challenge that Max does, the fact that there were two of them saw Hickey drained by game’s end (Richo mentioned this in the post-match), and having to sit out several minutes late in the last quarter on the bench so he could be vaguely refreshed for final stages of the game and Josh Bruce be put forward of the ball. Until then, he’d played one of his better games overall, effectively playing as a (very) large midfielder in open play. His presence in traffic and his ability to get low to the ball were telling a number of times, and he was able to create a goal in open play in the third quarter by chopping off a West Coast kick across the ground. Not sure how vital it is that he drops forward given we have Paddy/Membrey/Bruce and Roo once he comes back, and either way it looks as though they want him used in open play in the middle section of the ground. Vardy managed to outrun him going forward and take a mark close to goal and convert so yes, he’ll need to make sure he holds up that end of his game from time to time but unlike other ruckmen it seems as though forward duties aren’t at the top of his list right now.

A quick shout-out to the magnificent new clash jumper, which looked even better when paired with West Coast’s navy wings design, and making its debut 20 years and two days after the original crusader jumper made its premiership season debut as our home design. You’ll be able to read my inconsequential thoughts on this year’s jumpers in the upcoming, entirely unanticipated annual St Kilda Jumper State of the Union.

Add Jack Steven to the injury list of Roo and Armo, and Koby Stevens in the, uh, significant diarrhoea list [citation needed]. Steven was ok, but his growing mullet had more of a presence. Not sure what the hell Ross did for 29 touches and Dunstan started really well but faded in and out. Steele and Steven were the ones to make more of an impression through the midfield as the game went out; Montagna was flying past from a centre bounce clearance and had a stretch of space ahead of him to run into but he just didn’t take the ball with him; Armo might not be back next week and Blake Acres didn’t look interested in driving up his trade value in front of his home town just yet. Whilst the team defence was great for three-and-a-bit quarters, once the Eagles’ mids got on top in the last the game changed heavily in their favour and we didn’t look like getting near it for the last 10 or 15 minutes. This is where star power can come into it – see Mitchell, Priddis, Kennedy – and it’s time for the weekly reminder [*SEGMENT!*] that we quite easily could have taken Bontempelli and Petracca in successive drafts. Paddy I’ve covered; Billings was again getting his touches from half back onwards and even for a player picked for their X-factor it was a rather indifferent impact made from 19 touches, one mark, three tackles and 0.1. Obviously this is just another small step in a hopefully a long career for both of them, but it’s going to be an agonising wait until we feel justified in picking them ahead of You-Know-Who and You-Know-Who.

Gresham was one of the few guys to demonstrate composure with the ball in the front half, but strangely ended up with 1.3. Lonie played himself ahead of Wright with one of his best games; his pressure was great but sometimes he just needs to fucking relax a little and have a think when he gets the footy. Two goals and some nice field kicking, as well as visibly annoying some of the Eagles players, had his better qualities on show. Mav kicked a couple of goals too but his start to the season has otherwise felt lukewarm, whereas I think we were expecting him to really take his game to a new level from the start.

Steven’s injury means someone will definitely need to come in. If it’s not Armo or Riewoldt Sandy had the week off and have a practice game at the same time as the game against the Brisbane Lions next week, so basically we’re down to Sinclair and Wright to come in if we’re going to go on a combination of form and/or having actually played recently.

It would have been incredibly frustrating for Nathan Brown to see all his good work on Kennedy go to dust in the last few minutes. Both had two possessions to half-time but importantly Kennedy had had little impact. It wasn’t until Savage gave up a sloppy ball close to goal that Kennedy was gifted a shot from close range, giving him a small confidence booster for when the Eagles perked up in the last. Until that very late point it was a rare time over the past few years in which we were able to judge a St Kilda defender more fairly on their one-on-one work, rather than having to guess what they might be capable of in a more even match situation as their opponent received ample and competent supply of Sherrins. Carlisle and Brown for the most part did a good combined job to quell Kennedy and Darling in their second game together. Roberton continued his climb, I’m not sure what Gilbert does and Webster contributed a bunch of clangers for someone who is meant to be one of the guys for us who can kick a bullet, namely his hack out of mid-air in the back pocket that went back over his head for a goal to go with an unforced kick out on the full and another kick off half-back in a similar spot that returned as a West Coast goal seconds later.

That inability to play out the game and play out quarters – Hill and Shuey both kicked goals in the last 30 seconds of the second and third terms – would really hurt. Again, if we’d kicked straight that would have taken that out of the equation. It was a lot of planning and a whole lot of hard work physically and psychologically to turn last week around and get everything up again after last year’s results interstate. I think any Saints fan would have felt some sort of quiet relief by the effort. Officially, by design, premierships for this club probably aren’t going to be won in 2017 (they aren’t most years anyway), and they’re definitely not won in April. But it was really disappointing to lose this one.

*Heaps of symbolism*

by Tom Briglia

Round 1, 2017
St Kilda 6.2, 7.8, 9.9, 13.12 (90)
Melbourne 2.3, 9.4, 15.7, 18.12 (120)
Crowd: 36,249 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, March 25th at 4.35pm

In short: it’s one game and there are other rounds and seasons. In long: Here is way too much ranting, featuring probably way too much symbolism.

Ok, so.

How did you feel late on the Saturday night of Round 1, 2004?

If you’re a St Kilda supporter and old enough to have been aware of what was going on, then the answer was probably “pretty fucking great”.

The Saints had trounced the Cats in the far more valuable sequel to the Wizard Cup Final a fortnight earlier, and had stamped themselves as the most fashionable new team with the brightest future in the league. After a few lean development years – with the 1997 Grand Final ensuring the hallmarks of the Saints were retained going into the new millennium – the St Kilda Football Club looked set to be transformed by one of the most exciting and damaging collection of players in the league. The future looked good, and it looked endless.

We look back now and note (and feel, of course) that the Cats added three premierships to their cabinet since and have only dipped out of the top eight twice. Meanwhile, we continue to build the mythology around 1966, and theoretically the club is only now barely coming out of the rebuild following the heartbreaks of the GT and Ross Lyon eras.

It’s worth noting that the idea of the Geelong-St Kilda rivalry seems to have been mostly shed by Geelong and its fans. They moved onto bigger and better things. The notion still exists for us, but mostly as a representation of what never was. The 2004 meetings in particular between the teams promised both a long-term rivalry between two burgeoning juggernauts, and the likely ending of two long premiership droughts. The 2009 Grand Final appeared written to deliver both the epic showdown that had been promised for so many years – it certainly did, and was a fitting end to the decade – and given what had transpired during the season, that second element also: a premiership for St Kilda to go with Geelong’s own drought-breaker two years before.

When the Saints turned the 2010 finals series on its head over Geelong in the 2nd Qualifying Final, it put the Cats on a collision course with the Magpies in a Preliminary Final. Their comprehensive loss and the departure of Mark Thompson looked certain to bring what was already an incredible era for their club to a close. Somehow, they backed the whole thing up and won a third premiership in five years, as we endured a painful, cold come down from coming so close over a long time – don’t discount the added wear and tear of 2004, 2005 and 2008 (not to mention the 2006 ride and its fallout). It was apparent that everyone from the fans through to the players had been heavily scarred.

Geelong’s story was ultimately written with a key but much reduced role from St Kilda compared to what was in the initial drafts of the script. Sydney ended their 72-year drought as the rivalry built; for the young St Kilda team that has been put together over the past several years the Bulldogs have delivered in similar time after 62 years (both the longest droughts in the game at the time). Melbourne has emerged as the Geelong rival equivalent to the team put together featuring Riewoldt, Hayes, Ball, Dal Santo, Koschitzke, et al. Again, two founding teams with similar premiership droughts, except the pairing of 1963 and 1966 is now 1964 and 1966.

In the time since that opening round of 2004, those Melbourne and St Kilda waits have become the longest in the game. Sydney, the Cats and the Bulldogs all had longer droughts at that point; all have saluted since. It’s worth mentioning alone for anyone who cares about historical coincidences and miscellany, but this is all an important reminder for the fall-out of Saturday evening.

I’m sitting here running through this shoddy exercise because we now know that we will see My Favourite Hair in the AFL take the field again. It wasn’t until after we’d left our new seats on Level 2 well after the siren that I checked Twitter for any updates that I found the first pieces of positive news starting to filter out of the club. Until that point we’d sweated in the humidity, been wowed briefly before being systematically overwhelmed, and then finally crushed when Riewoldt went down. Otherwise this would be mostly be a hastily cobbled requiem for not just the career of arguably the best Saint, but an era in itself.

Instead, it’s firmly about the future. The Geelong comparison matters when trying to process what the hell happened after quarter time on Saturday. I’m not saying there will be a period of time in the near future in which we’ll win three premierships in five years and watch Melbourne flounder. Likewise, I’m not saying Melbourne will miss out in the way we did over the last 13 seasons.

Of course, there was a huge build-up to this one, an opening match between the two most fashionable new kids with the brightest futures with what appeared to be clear demarcation points in their narratives – Melbourne with a new coach and about to step into the finals; St Kilda improving with a coach that had grown with them and about to step in the finals.

The fact that we hadn’t lost to Melbourne since the 2006 2nd Elimination Final – a very dirty night for us for a lot of reasons – is only an anomaly and one that will be quickly forgotten. It didn’t mean we won a premiership in that time, nor was it the reason Melbourne and its fans suffered so much in that decade. Their win right now symbolically says plenty and at this point in time might enhance a pending rivalry, but it isn’t what it will be ultimately remembered for (should that rivalry indeed emerge). What does Round 1, 2004 mean for Geelong fans? They wouldn’t particularly remember it, nor care for it if they did.

If we’re good enough then the players will learn from it and be better for it, and it will be a small step in much, much bigger journey. I joke that I have Melbourne and us pencilled in for the 2019 Grand Final, but for now that’s all it amounts to. There are no facts in the future.

***

What caused the turnaround after the first break? I was sweating profusely from the comfort of our level two seats; I have no idea how the players were feeling. But Melbourne ran out the three quarters incredibly well, all the more considering Joel Smith (as far as I know, no relation to Joel Smith) had his game ended in the first quarter, leaving the Dees a player short for the bulk of the match. To put it succinctly, it seemed there was simply little movement from our players after quarter time both with and without the ball; Richo’s post-match description of the players as “reactionary” is probably a more accurate way of putting it. But why did it happen? Surely you don’t train all pre-season and give the JLT a good shake to just run out of gas 40 minutes into Round 1? We were underdone for Round 1 last year and still managed to play 85 minutes of good footy interstate.

The midfield was smashed – Max had it all over Man’s Best Friend host Tom Hickey at the throw-ups courtesy of Adele, and Melbourne’s mids racked up ridiculous numbers as they worked in numbers together around just about every contest. Even when Hickey won a hit-out the Melbourne mids were first at the fall. In fact it took the otherwise-unseen Seb Ross in the final quarter to actually win a decent hit-out against Max from a stoppage, and from there the Dees still ran away with it and kicked a goal. Their pressure was good when we had the ball, their run and spread was good when they had it, at stoppages and in open play.

Hickey was a shadow of the player that found the ball 29 times in the final practice match, and a shadow of the ruckman that had been one of the few to handle Max decently in the past couple of years. Hickey wasn’t the only one in that category, and Max just might have taken another massive step in his career, but you can only write that kind of thing off so many times.

Melbourne’s approach in expanding their midfield numbers with their high draft picks is looking like it will pay off handsomely. Never mind Viney and Stretch being handy father-son picks; the input of Oliver, Lewis, Vince, Brayshaw, Petracca, Neal-Bullen, Jetta and Salem reflected shrewd drafting and recruiting. Steven needs someone else to breakaway from traffic, Steele had a good debut, Armitage might have peaked, Ross was nowhere, Dunstan likewise. It would have been nice to see Billings and Gresham at more stoppages, but Billings’ game in particular suffered once we were shut down in close.

Petracca got to enjoy a couple of goals (including one immediately after Riewoldt was taken off) and found the ball 23 touches, and his celebration in the third quarter of his goal was the first roar in this conflict proper. The comparisons between him and Paddy will be endless – do 21-possession, three-goal games from Hogan influence the debate at all? For all the rumours Petracca’s character issues had him fall behind Paddy, we might be waiting a longer to be feeling OK about our Billings/Bont and and Paddy/Petracca draft choices in successive years. The 2001 selection in hindsight is enough to make any Saint go the big vom, and not enough people are aware we chose McEvoy at number nine with Dangerfield going 10 in 2007.

Paddy was a late out this time; rumoured to be a hamstring. Richo described it as hamstring “awareness”, and introduced the “fit to play”/”fit to perform” debate into more public footy lexicon. Last year Paddy was a late withdrawal for our first game against the Dees as well all felt spooked by the debut of Petracca, and the inclusion Membrey kicked five. Acres won a Rising Star nomination with 28 touches and two goals, but Membrey’s disappeared since the first few minutes of the JLT series and Blacres apparently can’t hit targets and so suited up in the black, yellow and blue alongside Paddy yesterday. Lonie was the in for Paddy; obviously they wanted some pressure but Jesus Christ I don’t know if Lonie realistically passes the disposal accuracy test. He’s still somewhere between Milne and the worst of Schneider – tries to do a lot, has a wayward left foot when the goals beckon. He needs to spend more time with Gresham, who with three goals was one of our best. His solo effort from the Gresham pocket (with a cameo from Membrey) was all class and composure, something that was severely lacking for the balance of the match.

As for the draft concern in Billings, his race with the Bont is over. Marcus has already won a best and fairest in a premiership season. The external pressure and comparisons are over. Billings is now left to do what he was drafted to do and in the Corporate Name Community Series appeared to have stepped up, and he kicked a brilliant long-range goal to open our game and season’s account. As I said before, his game appeared to be reliant on the rest of the team’s, and he was drafted specifically because he is creative, not to compliment our inside mids in the event that they’re winning their battle against the opposition’s. Until Melbourne turned things around, he was very busy across the ground, but that’s not enough. Hindsight is the proverbial USC eyesight reference value, but we could have had Bontempelli and Petracca. If I’m going to listen to myself though, Billings hasn’t turned 22 and Paddy hasn’t turned 21.

Richo will be facing his own tests in the coming weeks, probably for the first time in his career. A trip to Perth will quickly shift the players’ focus over to rectifying whatever the hell it was that went on after they got on a plane last year. No Riewoldt for a week or two (after all that – lol), Paddy should come in after three goals in the first half as the Zebras coasted through a practice match against Port Melbourne; Rowan Marshall kicked five and My Future Favourite Player Josh Battle four but for varying reasons don’t expect to see them any time soon. Sinclair found the ball 27 times in three quarters and looks an obvious replacement for one of Wright or Lonie, although Lonie led our tackle count with six. Wright is more hardened than the other smaller forward-half players but did fark all and I feel as though the others (Lonie included) have a higher ceiling than he does.

Carlisle and Brown look cute wearing 2 and 22 respectively and watching them work together to cover off players when Melbourne’s mids charged forward again showed they’re already building an understanding. There’s obviously work to be done individually and from the perspective of settling into the team, and Dempster might well be required given the task at hand against the Eagles, but just give them a second. I’d also hope we’re in a position to not have to select players based on the likelihood of our mids getting towelled again. Both Brown and Wright had knocks to the head so there might be an easy reasoning to take them out for next week.

We got a small taste of games actually meaning something in the back half of last year, but this time we’re starting fresh and (almost) anything can happen. To strip away the symbolism this result may well bode as very important come the end of season, with both us and the Dees expected to be jostling for a top eight spot. The build-up to the game certainly was a welcome reminder of what it means to partake in a relevant game of Australian Rules football. Riewoldt’s four goals in the absence of Paddy and effective games from Bruce and Membrey was a stark reminder of how important he still is for us. We really felt we had to confront a post-Nick Riewoldt world for a time on Saturday, and I don’t think we were quite ready. Certainly not at the moment. Geary opened his captaincy by dropping a clean mark on his own. He got a bit of the ball but I’m not sure exactly what he did; although I’m not sure what anyone did really apart from a few.

Assuming we are actually stepping up from last year, I didn’t know if I was ready for us to be good again. But I won’t hold my breath. The 2010 Replay was seven years ago now, which is the same distance that 2004 is from 1997. But I really don’t think anyone was or should have been expecting a 2004 leap, despite us finishing on top of the JLT series ladder and going in against our up and coming rivals in Round 1 (to throw in a final 2004 comparison). It was an incredibly deflating experience being at the game, but now that Riewoldt is OK how do we feel? A lot happens in footy, and we can always read too much into it.