by Tom Briglia
Round 23, 2019
Sydney Swans 6.2, 6.3, 11.4, 17.7 (109)
St Kilda 2.5, 5.9, 7.12, 8.16 (64)
Crowd: 33,722 at the SCG, Saturday, 24th August at 1.45pm
What do we remember from dead rubber games to close out the season in the past? A comfortable last round win over Fitzroy at a drenched Western Oval in 1994. Spider Everitt forewarning the competition of what was to come with 7.7 out of 20.24 against Adelaide in 1996 (Adelaide didn’t need to provide any warning, it turned out). Geelong edging us at Kardinia Park in 2003, as that rivalry really emerged. A sunny day at the MCG against the Tigers with Fraser – retiring for the first time – kicking a goal after the siren to ice a 10-point win (Andrew Thompson retired for the first, and, to date, only time also on that day). A tight and entertaining win against the Blues on a sunny day with the Concrete Dome roof open in 2012 that was Brett Ratten’s last as Carlton coach. Lenny’s, and CJ’s and Gwilt’s, last games against the Crows in 2014. Roo kicking nine against the Lions at the end of 2016, where we appeared to be racing down the Road to 2018. Our kids were untradeable, our senior players still high performers. Fast forward two years to an echoing concrete dome, with the club beaten down and the North Melbourne end having their own party as they willed Ben Brown to the Coleman Medal sent off Jarrad Waite.
By quirk or by quark, or whatever, Sam Rowe played his first game for St Kilda, and his 100th and last. In an era of high production values for social media content, this was a story that told itself, and never needed to be plumped-up filler for fans in the cold June cage of a faltering season. The video made by the club during the week was neatly respectful.
He joins Mark Dwyer, Fergus Watts and Colm Begley as players in recent decades that came to St Kilda to play just one match, and adds to a longer list of players that came to St Kilda for brief and perhaps curious finishes to storied careers built elsewhere: Matthew Clarke, Sean Charles, Damian Monkhorst, Tony Francis, Brian Wilson, Jim Krakouer, Geoff Ablett.
Rowe tossed the coin. He had a couple of chances to kick a goal late in the last quarter, but hooked them both. In the final minutes he put in the hardest chase of possibly his entire career. No goal that he was so deserving of, but his presence on the ground was celebration enough of his journey.
Sydney’s own retirees saluted in the last quarter. There was a sense of inevitability once the Swans kicked the first couple of goals of the final term. On the St Kilda side, there was simply not enough to play for, apart from very unsuccessfully trying to spot up Rowe on the lead. Until that point we weren’t interested in using the ball effectively anyway, be it under pressure or not, long or short, forward or back. Like we were the opposition jumpers perched in the background of Carlton’s homecoming last week, so we were for Sydney’s big day on Saturday.
A final exhibition match, a final showcase, a final celebration of whatever this past year was. Long to kick a quality snap goal and celebrate like the season was still on the line. Lonie to squirt a set shot and fail to make the distance via his pokey set-shot kicking style, and scuff a short pass to Rowe in the final quarter. Ross twice giving off a bad handball sideways to Wilkie who was stationary. Lonie missed Hannebery on his own, the bounce missed him and then Bruce, who slipped over. This was looking like a lot of park footballers, but everyone is a park footballer on the last day of the home and away season. The umpires let go Hunter Clark getting slung after getting the footy, and then Stuv throwing Parker to the ground off the ball. It’s been a long season for them, too.
The things that made the season; they all get another run around to remind us of the dirt and gravel and dust and dried grass and the weeds that make up the bulk of a footy season, among the few things that did flower in 2019. Inaccuracy made another timely appearance. At one stage we were 4.12. Let’s take one last look at the big board:
The fists are down now, if we weren’t exhausted on the ropes three months ago, or on the canvas two months ago. While the pre-season matches are exhibition shrouded in all sorts of messed up fantasies and storyline, the last round is exhibition shrouded in relief and reflection. Reflections of reflections. What happened to running teams off their feet at Marvel Stadium? What happened to Billy Slater? To the loud goal celebrations? To Jack Steele going out of his way to hit Jake Stringer and give away 50 metres after he clocked Jimmy Webster? One more time. Let’s go out and kick the footy, let’s go out and watch the footy.
It is a lifestyle. It frames the day, it frames the week, and the season frames the year. Footy is a way of marking time. The season is a story, tied in with the calendar year. The depths of winter are framed by it. Saturday saw the completion of another season in the story of this club, and the stories of our own in supporting it. All of that goes away now – from a St Kilda perspective – and that leaves us to our own day-to-day. Something goes away. Time to sit on the grass in the sunshine and not need to think nor worry where or when we need to be this weekend.
What fucking relief. To finish off this season, we were afforded the vague luxury of not actually having to go anywhere, certainly not to outright surrender a sunny late August Saturday afternoon to the confines of the Concrete Disney Store, which on the weekend added “terrible basketball venue” to its CV. Consistently it tries to be a futuristic SPORTSBALL AND COLDPLAY stadium but has dated fucking terribly, to go with being built the wrong way. It won’t take long for the basketball court configuration alone to be looked back on as a quirk of overzealous salesmanship. Last week at the MCG was a sad reminder of what the experience of going to the footy has become with the Concrete Dome being St Kilda’s home ground. Watching the team play in the elements again on Saturday felt awfully foreign and fleeting.
Being inside all footy season is exhausting. Writing this blog is exhausting (although that one’s entirely on me). A second season of emailing the club and social media posts asking about the club for a single fucking answer about the club song that have been really weirdly dodged take their toll. Something – anything – would be nice; surely the Ultimate Membership gets me something? No? Oh, ok.
All the highlights of St Kilda games past don’t really mean anything over the off-season. Or for anything now. Marking the 15-year anniversary of Stephen Milne kicking 11 against the Lions on the club site and social media channels three days after the close of this season – and this decade – is sad. What the fuck is the point of that? “Remember those times, when we were good and there was a future?? Now it’s a Tuesday night three eras later and Jake Carlisle and Josh Bruce all of a sudden are on the trade table. Stuv is probably gone, Bruce was either very unconvincing or very hungover talking about his own situation on Channel 7. Is anyone that fussed? We’re going nowhere fast – certainly not because of those individuals; but from a supporter’s view a chasm lies between the heart of the club and the players on this team.
After several years of slow and staggered disconnection, the prospect of a new season is more exhausting, and the end of the footy season an increasingly bigger relief. A time to revel in the wildest, most frivolous thoughts. The knowledge that another season will inevitably come around gives us a cushion for any brazen self-dares. They’re getting wilder by the year, though. What would it be like if we followed the game but not have to deal with the Saints? What would it be like to not follow the game at all? What if we don’t need this?