American Sniper

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2015 NAB Challenge, Round 2
Essendon 0.2.2   0.3.2   0.7.2   0.8.3    (51) 
St Kilda 0.2.3   0.6.5   0.9.6   0.15.11    (101)

The game today might’ve been one step closer to “glorified match-simulation” given that well, there was only one actual AFL team out there.

Essendon’s motley crew did compete hard though and play with a willingness to attack, somewhat quelling my pre-game assumption that the match was purely serving as another hitout and nothing else. The final stats breakdown was a tad flattering to St Kilda, given the lopsidedness of the final term (6.5 to 1.1).

This was one game where it felt almost justifiable to be having in-game chats between competing players and David King on the boundary line – though Jack Newnes could barely breathe when confronted by Kingy later in the first term. And with good reason, he’d been busy in the midfield alongside Armitage, Weller and Ross helping establish a lot of territorial domination for the Saints.

I, on the other hand, was feeling rough for altogether completely different reasons having spent the best part of Friday night enjoying the exploits of indie Texan quarter Parquet Courts at the Hi Fi Bar, and then recounting said performance at a few CBD watering holes thereafter until the wee hours. Some of the Saints kicking into the forward half was exacerbating that roughness, mind. Paddy alone had at least two or three “passes” sail straight over his head in that first term. This was a snapshot of the game to that point, with Richo’s boys completely dominating yet not being able to capitalize.

It would be remiss of me though not to give a flashing-lights kind of shout out to Jason Holmes who gave a pretty promising performance for the first half before being switched out for Tom Hickey. His first goal in the red, white and black was the undoubted highlight of the first quarter, hell the game too: floating like a gazelle into a near-vacant forward 50, assessing the surrounds and then confidently slotting through a running goal from about 40 metres straight over the goal umpire’s hat. Or for you Americans out there: scoring the go-ahead major from within the pain down the stretch of the first. @Tom_Briglia wisely noted that he is deserving of a sound byte being played over the PA when he does something good. And given the length of the Saints injury list already, the prospect of a Holmes debut on the horizon is not far-fetched.

Holmes on the run

Determining where pre-season rustiness ends and just plain bad footy ends can be difficult; yesterday being the first run around for a handful of our youngsters – Dunstan, rookie Jack Sinclair, Goddard and Nathan Wright. It is true that the current crop contains some bad kicks of the football – Cameron Shenton being at the forefront of that alongside Jarryn Geary, Seb Ross, Sean Dempster and even Lenny wannabee Luke Dunstan. And when you’ve got such a crop of bad kicks, you’re really setting yourself up for some perplexing footy.

One Saint who has been startling so far, kicking-wise and just all-round, is Jack Lonie. He wouldn’t have gotten leather poisoning yesterday but everytime he touched the ball something good came of it. Nimbleness, sharp disposal and vision hit you in the face with him, but what’s most encouraging about his play so far his how much conviction he plays with. He seems to be able to make decisions super quickly and invariably he executes very well. The comparison to Milne came out in the commentary already yesterday, but Lonie definitely seems like a more modern player: not as mercurial as Yapper, much more orthodox but devastatingly incisive. Four goal assists and a goal is a good day out in anyone’s language.

(more…)

Saints wear new clash jumper (and play meaningless game)

2015 NAB Challenge, Round 1
Brisbane Lions 0.2.5, 0.4.11, 0.7.15, 0.7.16 (58)
St Kilda 0.2.1, 0.4.1, 0.6.4, 0.8.7 (55)
Crowd: Dunno, 150? at Moreton Bay Central Sports Complex, Saturday, February 28th at 3.10pm EST

Right, so Australian Rules football is officially back, notwithstanding the bizarre and unexplained match I walked past in the backstreets of Ivanhoe on a couple of Wednesday evenings ago. (And of course the NTFL, but that operates strictly within its own calendar.)

Uh, yeah. So naturally it was off to Moreton Bay on Saturday to kick things off in a competition which really has been reduced from a legitimate cause for celebration to “glorified practice matches” and I think this year might have finally hit “glorified match simulation drills” (BUT WITH 9-POINTERS *FLASHING LIGHTS*).

I’m not going to do an entire off-season/pre-season wrap right here and now but before anything else it would be remiss of me to not say anything about Madeleine Riewoldt. The occasional Twitter comments exchanged were the most interaction I had with her – like probably a few you reading this did with her, in fact –  but for the one post I feel I actually did OK with amongst the bloated slop I write for this blog she said some really nice things. The point of me bringing this up is that the post centred around family and the context of following the club and having those closest to you around you. During the day of that particular match I was at a club function and was sat next to her and Nick’s father Joe Riewoldt (Nick was there and spoke briefly as he were playing that night) and I featured it in the match review – Joe was incredibly warm and personable, and sensing I was a perhaps a little uneasy made me feel included at the table and in conversation. Madeleine took an interest in the piece when I mentioned Joe’s name in the Twitter post; she also said to me passed the piece on to him and he “loved it” – although to be honest I could never tell if he actually did read it or she was simply just saying that to be nice. Either is lovely.

Short story long, my very, very brief interaction with the Riewoldt family came at a particularly momentous point for my own family. So my reaction to hearing of her passing ranged somewhere between awful sadness for her family, as well as the hopeless dismay you feel when terrible things happen to decent people. And then you might listlessly put your hands up and say “Fuck. That.” It’s crass, but how else to frame it?

* * *

To get the 2015 pre-season underway, convention dictates that everyone has to agree on what time the game actually starts. Twitterers, Facebook users, forum posters and football clubs all struggled with the concept of daylight savings time before figuring out that the first bounce was at 4.10pm AEDT (as opposed to the temporarily redundant hunk-of-junk AEST).

For the most part it didn’t seem as if it would matter because until the day before; this was one of the few ultra-dud pre-season games which Fox Footy wouldn’t bother with. In fact if you looked at this and then our broadcast schedule for 2015 you’d think we’d gone down the Falcons’ route and slapped a giant Channel 9 logo across the tri-panel and Candy Stripe #2.

The AFL broadcast agreement apparently decided that no one was allowed to see anything if Fox Footy (or Channel 7) weren’t gonna be there, but announced the day before the game that there would indeed be streamed video with Crocmedia’s AFL Live commentary on club sites for the non-broadcast games. Look, I’m being very cynical here, but did anyone think this was a nice little PR stunt the AFL executed so as to seem another empowerment-of-the-fans move on the eve of the game – once people have actually realised they won’t be able to see the game and cracked the shits – rather than several months ago when the Corporate Challenge draw is announced and no-one’s paying attention?

Either way, we were left with a single camera on the wing – that’s fine, that’s all you need for this – but no replays, and then anywhere between one and several small children and their parents wandering loudly around crowd microphones throughout the game, and in one of the more absurd broadcast in brief history AFL live stream history, “Do You Remember” by Phil Collins cutting through loud and clear for extended periods in the second quarter (bonus: the second time it cut through it was in higher quality than the first, and I’m sure it wasn’t the broadcast audio overall).

It was out to Oakleigh for the game (pre-relative’s 21st, which incidentally required driving past what’s left of Waverley to get to) to be bunkered down at dear cousin Evan’s and strap ourselves in for all the half-hearted thrills and spills that the NAB Challenge has to offer.

Sub-standard footy with sub-standard broadcasting with sub-standard picture quality (we had the stream up on the TV via HDMI) – it had all the making of a sub-standard teaser for the real thing. And so it was. Now, the only thing that was amazing about this was the new clash jumper. In short: I love it, and it’s one of the best jumpers this club has ever had. But I will save the usual extended drivel on that and this year’s other jumpers for my usual removal of pants re: St Kilda jumpers in St Kilda Jumper Talk Vol. One Billion.

It was great to see Jason Holmes in actual St Kilda jumper, and not blue, gold and black. He didn’t have much impact as one of the subs (and also in his first vaguely AFL game obviously). His awareness in terms of actually knowing where to be to get involved in the play will required some further development. He took he a nice mark near half-back; Roberton was aware that Holmes can’t really kick an Australian Rules football and looked for the give-off but Robinson was onto it, so Holmes had to kick the thing and hit the target, I guess.

Again, Bruce has flown under the radar in his potential to importantly shore up our structure. But it might be because he’s not that good at football. I hope he does, because right now he’s sitting at number two of My Favourite Hair at the St Kilda Football Club, and I want it out there. There were a couple of soft efforts early, and the one time he looked really excited was when he got goalside of his opponent on the wing against the line and took off, hoping the boundary umpire didn’t notice the ball was 10 rows back when he gathered it.

He actually took a really nice mark on the outer wing, but dropped a relatively easy one after Saad (welcome back) gave us a rare good kick forward. Off the ball, Bruce’s tackle on Paparone late was exactly the kind of aggression you’d want to see from him in his role up forward, but Saturday’s effort or not I still feel like he’d struggle to get a spot if Roo, Paddy, Spencer and Lee are all available.

Of course, with no Roo or Spencer it was a very new forward line overall. Spencer only signed a one-year deal and I dare say his manager’s picked him out as one he can get a massive commission from. Fine by me if Spencer can’t be arsed playing here but we don’t know that yet. Strangely he didn’t get a run at all in this one and isn’t playing this week.

We did get some Big Tommy Lee and Paddy action though. Paddy moved exactly as I thought he would – direct at all the ball and he looks physically solid enough to get going from Round 1 if he stays in the action. I’m quietly really excited about him, particularly owing to the seasonal good words about his attitude coming from the club and the players. He finished with the most casual goal known to science after a 50-metre penalty and five marks which is certainly a tick at this ridiculously early stage.

Tommy Lee again showed himself to be haphazard at times and, as always, an easy dropped mark punctuated his day as much as anything else. But a couple of well thought-out centering kicks (including to Paddy on the lead for his second shot at goal) showed a little bit of maturity on his part.

On a day when slick skills were as rare as St Kilda premierships (cheers), Jack Lonie provided some much needed spark. Otherwise it was all pretty dour – two teams with only 11 wins between them out of a combined 44 games last year probably weren’t going to dish up anything more palatable at this stage of the year, and probably not at this stage of their development.

As good as it was to see Armo, Steven and Geary get involved in some really tough contest, and Jack Newnes kick a real captain’s goal – OR SHOULD I SAY 2018-2028 PREMIERSHIP CAPTAIN’S GOAL? – even though he’s not the captain yet, everyone’s dream is to see their entire team walk off the ground after a pre-season match injury-free. But lo and behold, Andrew Wallis casually revealed to us that Farren’s out for 12 weeks (hamstring), Jimmy Webster for six, Sav for a monthish (another hamstring), as well Jack Billings (yet another hamstring) taking all of 30 seconds to ruin his next four weeks. Roberton’s  done something to his hamstring as well and is going to miss too (I can hear you all shrugging). We do potentially get to see St Kilda’s Own Stephen Merchant in Tom Hickey, Luke Dunstan and Hugh Goddard play this Saturday though, and Minchington, Wright and Sinclair have all been named in the squad.

Ultimately, what do we get out of this one? In reality, just another essentially meaningless Brisbane vs St Kilda match in Queensland in the first game of the pre-season, and another narrow win by the Lions – by seven points in 2007, nine in 2009 and three in 2015. But who remembers any of that?

No hot weather, but keep the kool-aid coming

Say what you will about the weight or the importance of a lot of the goals that Matt Finnis has helped St Kilda achieve early in his tenure as CEO at Seaford, but he is walking the walk so far. Boxes are getting ticked.

Is it really such a milestone achievement for the Club to reach 25K in members prior to Christmas? Debatable. Although, it’s a record for that time of the year, it will be of more import whether the tally come mid-year has actually pushed the needle much further into the positive realm than last year. Hats off though: they put their balls on the line (online, publicly) to get it done and they bought home the bacon.

Now a major sponsor is on board – that’s an achievement that cannot be disputed. Plus, whether you’re a fan of the idea or not the Junction Oval relocation plan is still relatively in play.

These pluses are on the back of the Saints festival of re-signings through September/October. Most of those players who were re-signed still have massive question marks over their ability and their futures in the AFL, mind you.

That snowballed nicely into the Club’s biggest National Draft in over a decade (since ’00 to be precise).

A month or so into the ’15 season proper and the snowball of momentum may well have been incinerated, but props to Finnis and everyone at Seaford for having made good on a lot of the promises that have been dished out. More fan and community engagement? Tick. More of a push and a strengthening of the membership? Tick. Sponsorship? Tick. Continued engagement and integration of the Club’s celebrated past players? Tick. Solidifying and securing some of the Club’s promising young talent? Tick.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, these things could easily be labeled as token or small fry relative to the competition and in the context of the entire situation on and off the field that the Saints find themselves in. Rome wasn’t built in a day though, and if nothing else these “achievements” are helping to bond and encourage the Saints faithful ahead of what is sure to be another difficult year on the field.

*Play on words involving “Dare”*

So following Tuesday morning’s announcement of the new Dare Iced Coffee TM Registered Trademark All Rights Reserved sponsorship announcement, I bought a Dare Double Espresso Iced Coffee TM Registered Trademark All Rights Reserved.

I like to think I’m a purist when it comes to footy and it’s relatively unabused culture when compared to the pathetic pandering to celebrities and dollars of the US major sports and, well, the even more pathetic pandering to celebrities and dollars of oligarchs, sheiks, etc. by European soccer clubs (worse still because it’s the only way you’ll be relevant).

Still, we do think the league and its clubs have hurtled down the shameless commercialisation path with club loyalty headed the same way. But this major announcement was done amongst a kick-to-kick on St Kilda beach, with the players and coaches more accessible to members and fans than they have been for a while – let alone couped up in the otherworldy hyper-celebrity lifestyle of their US and Euro counterparts. Not even a Linen House Centre (TM etc.) fence, no slack, low-lying rope on the Moorabbin surface post-intra club match.

Despite a wooden spoon finish the club had managed to generate just enough positivity through the tough season, with a clearer direction and more promising signs from youth as opposed to the far messier 2013 year. It felt like the start of the rebuild, after the preceding two seasons set the tone for a new, post GT/Ross era (f0r better or much, much worse). Post-season and things have really stepped up – McCartin, Goddard #2, Membrey et al made for an exciting outcome of the trade and draft period after a collective shitting of pants early in draft week when it was revealed we wouldn’t be taking the highly-fancied Christian Petracca; this was followed by the club remarkably hitting its target of 25,000 signed-up members by Christmas Day, a first in the club’s history. The clarification of just how bad the club’s current finances are have been quickly tempered by the Dare announcement.

The brief teaser campaign for the Dare announcement was well done, culminating in the event on St Kilda beach which predictably featured several plays on words from both journos and club personnel involving the word “Dare”. The promo poster broke things open with the coffee reference and the elimination of the Ledified logo from the included photos. In fact those who were piecing those bits and pieces together across Saintsational and BigFooty collectively did a pretty good job – and it had actually started late last year when the club’s proposals to Audi and Mitsubishi surfaced online. Those have gradually begun to disappear – the dregs of the Mitsubishi proposal, for instance, can be viewed from a link on this page, and other links to both the Audi and Mitsubishi proposals have now disappeared outright.

Following the release of the promo poster for the sponsorship announcement, a couple of well-connected posters began hinting at Dare as the sponsor to be announced. The curious part of this is that Dare is owned by Lion (as it Big M, which was also thrown around as a sponsorship candidate). Lion in turn is owned via Kirin Holdings by Mitstubishi.

I have no inside info on the way this deal came to fruition and I’d love to know how St Kilda may have approached Mitsubishi exactly. Was it with the actual name “Mitsubishi” in mind for the deal? Or was the club open to just about any part of their various associated brands – anything from their vehicles to a wine or beer or iced coffee owned by Lion (keeping in mind we’ve been sponsored by associated brands Tooheys and Pura within recent decades – they were back-to-back sponsors from 1993 until the end of 2001)?

Either way, it looks like we have a pretty good deal in a time of dire finances and the club’s event alone was given a big tick of approval by supporters. Matt Finnis is walking the talk and he’s proving to be every bit as valuable to this club as any of our better recent draftees. Given both the traditional attitude of those involved with the game and where this club has been in recent years, it’s hard to believe we’d ever be in a position in which a sponsorship deal and its promo event generates so much good will amongst a fan base. But here we are.

Don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again

“Arise, Rhys Stanley, and lead us to salvation.”

So I facetiously wrote three years ago after another blonde forward and messiah-to-be, Tommy Walsh, was traded out to Sydney in the final stages of the post-2011 season trade week. Barker, Lockett, Harvey, Riewoldt, Blight, Goddard, Ross the ex-Boss – was Big Rhys next in line after Tommy’s exit? When a club has such lean team success, it’s easy to put anyone on a pedestal too quickly.

Perhaps looking for a quick fix after the GT/Ross decade had drawn to a close, Tommy Walsh presented us with a potential get-out-of-jail-free card: some tantalising performances at VFL level – VFL, yes, but he couldn’t have done more without being picked at senior level – but coming from the strongest Gaelic background in his early career, and in a season in which we physically and psychologically looked ruined and couldn’t be farked, simply bombing it uselessly to My Favourite Hair when going forward. Needless to say, Roo was typically outnumbered and even though we won nine of our last 11, I think some sort of weight was lifted from our shoulders when the final siren sounded to end the Elimination Final. But St Kilda’s Messiah Complex was never more excruciatingly present.

It wasn’t quite Scott Watters who could fulfill the desires; however it’s hard to believe that should a few minor things have gone the other way in four of the five games St Kilda lost by 13 points or less in 2012, we’d have finished in the top four (reverse all five and it’s top three). Instead we endure seasons such as 2013 and 2014, where the worst fears of the 2010 Grand Final Replay post-mortem were realised.

This was the year we officially returned to our natural habitat, anchored at the bottom of the ladder. Nature’s order has been restored. As we watch Hawthorn and Geelong continue their long-term challenges – and with the luxury of recent premierships already banked and to still enjoy – we now have to work our way from the bottom up again as we did 14 years ago.

In fact, this year marked 10 years since the juggernaut-to-be awoke after multiple seasons of assembly. In those surreal days of early 2004, footy seemed timeless. Milne, Ball, Hayes, Maguire, Koschitzke, under the guidance of Riewoldt – they were kids and they were going to guide us to all kinds of glory for an indefinite period of time. St Kilda, at last, was going to be a genuine force.

That we are now back in this position and without a premiership to show for everything put in place for a long-term challenge is a classically St Kilda outcome. We were given the chance on a platter for the second premiership, as well as any and all of the establishment of long-term on-field success, membership and the improvement of facilities. And the club dropped the lot in the most heartbreaking and emphatic ways possible.

When all of a sudden you’re scrapping to win a quarter rather than a premiership as we did in 2014, it takes some time to getting used to the thought that what you’re witnessing doesn’t mean something potentially historic. That the players you’re watching might not go down in St Kilda history as remarkable cogs of the elusive second premiership, or at the least of the path towards it.

Which brings me back to Rhys. His fits and spurts of brilliant form in 2014 had us thinking that he might just be the next big thing for us; the one with the biggest presence on the ground; St Kilda fans anticipating his involvement from a kick ahead as we do with Roo. Rhys suffered a little from David Armitage Syndrome – poised for a breakout season every year, but he only made frustratingly incremental progress with a relatively anticlimactic ceiling becoming fast apparent.

But as the trade period is wont to do in the ultra-modern era, the Big Rhys Bandwagon had taken off down the Highway for the Cattery. Those glimpses mean nothing now (for us, anyway). The Herculean efforts in the wins against Essendon and Fremantle are purely to service what may or may not happen for him in blue and white hoops.

There’s a couple of points in all of this. The first is that others will also fall by the wayside as we endeavour to make it out of the homeland and find better territory, and this is what periods that 2014 represent are equally notable for. Shenton, Curren, Minchington; will they turn out to be the Begley, Beetham and Davis of this generation? How much of this year will we actually remember in a decade from now?

The other is itself two-fold. A key (and necessary) part of this period is the club selling that we will actually reach those better times. The best way to do that right now is to put on show and talk up the young guys and their potential, and that goes into turbo mode when you have the number one pick at the National Draft. Once that was clear, the St Kilda Messiah Complex was back in fashion in a big way.

By proxy, another crossroad in our meagre history was reached, with apparently a one-sided, two-horse race finishing against the majority’s . Once Sam McClure turned everyone’s opinions and predictions on their head on the Monday of trade week saying Patrick McCartin would be taken by us at pick one, it was easy to raise Ball-Judd comparisons from the 2001 Draft.

I get the feeling that people are pre-emptively disappointed in McCartin because he’s a number one draft pick and a key forward, but not one quite of Nick Riewoldt’s presence nor overall talent. They’re actually both 193cm, but Paddy won’t be affecting games in as many parts of the ground and as often as Roo. He also doesn’t have the blonde hair.

Hugh Goddard does have the blonde hair, but it’s his name alone gets people more excited. We’ve seen positive glimpses already from Billings, Dustan and Eli from the 2013 draft alone. Add to that Newnes, who is looking all of captaincy material without dominating games in the way a Selwood or a Hodge do. This feels like a much more evenly-spread rebuild – Spencer hype notwithstanding (watch blow right out if he brings back the topknot) – and speaks to the “champion team vs. team of champions” debate fought out with Geelong through the aughts, which the Cats comprehensively won over several years.

Late in the final public training session before the 2010 Grand Final, Ross Lyon was coming off the ground. Someone near the old Moorabbin wire race called out to enthusiastic cheers and applause, “Bring ‘em home, Ross”, which he gave a typically understated nod and wave to in response. Needless to say it was a poignant moment. But it also raised something that rarely as St Kilda supporters do we face. I’ve described finishing on the bottom of the ladder as being in our “natural habitat”, and as part of “nature’s order”. Of course it’s awful for us to have the entire club in this dire position after what we experienced over the past decade, and it’s something that’s very familiar to us. We understand it and can get by with it somehow. But it’s not home, and in this year more than any did we realise that. Home is somewhere we don’t know nearly well enough.

Once again, we are faced with the opportunity on and off the field to shake the St Kilda Messiah Complex once and for all, although we are a very, very long way from anywhere ideal. For now, nature’s order has us down and way out, where it’s merely about the hope that rather than just one hero lifting us off the canvas or kicking that one extra goal, that every representative of a strong St Kilda Football Club will take us home to the promised land.