This game was meant – in my quasi immature mind anyway – to be about (round 1 of) McCartin versus Hogan. But it turned out, in many ways, to be about Riewoldt versus Dawes.
Again, Riewoldt was what set the two teams apart. And he’s a repeat offender in this area: in both of our last two encounters against the Dees the Saints skipper has pretty much been the difference.
In round 11 he had 4 goals to go with 10 marks. And in round 1 of last year he was again the difference maker in a low scoring season opener.
It’s certainly not been a habit of mine to wax lyrical about some of the stalwarts that have come through the Club since the turn of the century, but more and more these days I find myself coming to really appreciate them and force myself to eek out every adjective on them where warranted. Perhaps that’s called “getting old”; perhaps it’s a nice dose of perspective. I’ve no doubt part of it is about having endured this phase where part of that early 00s group have moved on from the Club, mostly in somewhat sad or unwarranted circumstances. Luke Ball is still present in the AFL community, now on the radio (3AW) – Kosi has done his stint of special comments for Croc Media too. Brendon Goddard is still churning up games of AFL for the Club that shall not be named.
To have the leader of that pack, Nick Riewoldt, running around, let alone playing very well, still in the red, white and black is truly something special. Ditto Leigh Montagna and Sam Fisher. Riewoldt has been a great of the competition, and undoubtedly is one of the best players to have pulled on the St Kilda guernsey. So it was brilliant for some vintage Roo to be on show at the Home of Footy on Sunday.
We saw a classic, full-stretch park mark at the Punt Rd end in the second quarter; in the pivotal third quarter a Carey-esque chest mark against a couple of Dees defenders. And in somewhat anti-Riewoldt style, he went back and kicked the Captains goal (in the wet) that helped ignite the spurt of goals that effectively killed off the Dees.
We’ve become accustomed, particularly since the late 00s, to Riewoldts game more being about accumulation. He grinds opponents into the ground; his aerobic capacity is unparalleled for a key forward. Highlights packages need to be run over 5 minutes rather than 30 seconds to get the full sense of how he has such a big impact on games. On Sunday though, it was a very lean 13 marks. Every time Roo did something, it really stood out – there were no “padded stats”. 13 marks were well earned, even against a brittle Demons outfit.
The story of this game of course won’t quite be that. It will rather be the big forward that lined up alongside him. Patrick McCartin finished with 8 marks and a goal, producing far and away his most promising performance to date since being picked number 1 at the 2014 National Draft. Last week, I was just super chuffed to see him kick his first career goal, so you can imagine how rapt I was to see him legitimately play a good game of footy this time around.
And let’s not forget that it was on a wet, greasy MCG surface that Big Paddy made his debut earlier in the year. On that occasion, the Saints had their pants pulled down on Friday Night Footy and he barely had a sniff. That performance right now couldn’t be more tucked away in the mind. Come the fourth quarter yesterday, the big 32 was starting to make the centre-half forward line his own, even if it was junk time.
I’m not ready to call “breakout game” like Sam Gilbert did – I don’t think it’s quite possible to have one against the league’s worst club of the last 10 years – but it was an utterly pleasing baby step for Big Paddy.
What puts the cherry on top is that, his faux future generation nemesis, Jesse Hogan was effectively suppressed for the afternoon too. If you cast your mind back a few weeks (focus!), Hogan threatened to go Hulk on the Dome versus the Saints. He kicked five, monstered Delaney (and everyone) and did everything bar kick a potential dagger in the fourth quarter. His side came away with a loss on that afternoon, but it felt like a warning signal had been fired for the rest of the competition to take note of. Jesse’s comin’.
Throughout the first half though, the Saints seemed to “sag” onto Hogan wherever possible, effectively DARE-ing Chris Dawes to be used as the forward option on every entry. Dawes finished with 17 touches, but never made the Saints pay for letting him have that much airspace. He only registered 1 goal for the afternoon. Between he, Dawes and Garlett they got only 3 goals in total. Even in slippery conditions this wasn’t going to quite be enough.
And whilst Garlett is on my mind: Jimmy Webster. He had a great afternoon. You would never predict that the Tasmanian would have one of his best games in the greasy, wintry conditions on the ‘G but his shutdown role on Garlett was exemplary. Earlier in the year, Webster held his own against Cyril at the Dome, and Sunday was another good notch on his belt.
Speaking of defenders: another who played big for the Saints was Sean Dempster. As much as Roo’s 13 marks were pivotal in asserting the Saints on the scoreboard, it was Dempster’s marking at the other end (10 marks, 2 contested) that was a repeated thorn in Melbourne’s side. Shinner’s form was a little patchy in the early rounds of the year, but as the year has gone by he’s been our most reliable defender by far.
As assured as Shinner and our back six were, there was nothing certain about our prospects coming into the game. We played two good quarters, and two poor ones, against one of the competitions in form sides on the previous Sunday and we’ve entered the chapter of the season whereby teams agendas start to shift away from playing to win. On top of that, this was only our second game at the ‘G for the year – would Richo’s game plan be as effective on the wider expanses?
I thought Richo was outcoached to a degree, when these two sides last met. The Demons, effectively parked the bus in front of the Saints touted tall forwards on that occasion, and were effective enough in getting the ball forward to their own forward dynamos, with Jesse Hogan obviously the nexus of that setup. And that’s increasingly become a strategy to take the air out of the Saints over the last two months. The Doggies, the Giants, and the Tigers (to a lesser extent) slowed the Saints up in getting forward and nullified their ability to make use of their tall targets.
Again, yesterday the Dees got numbers back and looked to burst forward where possible beyond the Saints high defensive line. In the second term it felt like these tactics again were at least wearing the Saints down. The likes of Roberton, Geary, Dempster, and Fisher were continually poking and swinging kicks around in a bid to find a hole or a pocket of space to pick out up forward. It wasn’t a successful strategy. As much as those names have provided much stability, experience and consistency to the defense, with ball in hand they don’t possess the precision or the nous to slice through tightly packed defenses.
But that Riewoldt Carey-esque chest mark and goal was the spark that lit a fire under the side. Soon Newnes got in on the act from 60, and Paddy and Lonie chimed-in and before you could sense the collective slumping of the Melbourne faithful’s shoulders slump, the four points were virtually secured.
As much as those Dees fans started to find their voice in the second term, when they seemingly were arm-wrestling their way on top, they generally lacked a cutting edge.
The pivotal third term was actually absorbed from the cosy confines of the MCC’s Bullring bar. I had kindly been invited to sit with the esteemed Briglia family for the afternoon – including RWB’s own @Tom_Briglia. I soon realized that the last time I’d taken in a Saints game at The ‘G with this bunch was the 2010 Elimination Final win against the Cats. That night too was a slippery, wet, grinding affair and obviously a really memorable one – including my favourity Lenny Hayes moment.
It’s nights like those that reaffirm why you go to the Footy, and why you stick with one Football Club – in the face of logic. Luckily, I’ve had Saints people like the Briglias to experience several of these famous wins (and losses) with.
Whilst waiting for the #48 tram on Sunday afternoon, with the rain tumbling down and the chilly wind sweeping through, “could this game please be cancelled?” momentarily passed through my mind. These games in the latter rounds of the year take weirdly different angles given that several Club’s start to have one eye on next year. Pleasantly, as much as the game had stretches of “A show about ‘nothing’” as Hamish McLachlan put it on Channel 7, there were nuggets of something from a host of the younger players that warmed St Kilda hearts. Not just Paddy, but @newnesy, Jimmy, Maverick and Our Favourite Goddard, had all played their parts. And you just start Dare-ing to think towards our next Elimination Final, rather than playing “remember when”.