Seasons past

by Tom Briglia

Round 21, 2016
St Kilda 5.0, 7.5, 9.8, 11.10 (76)
Sydney Swans 4.1, 8.4, 16.7, 23.8 (146)
Crowd: 33,059 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, August 13th at 7.25pm

Between two wins from the first eight games and last night we swung between “mathematical chance” for a finals appearance and “part of the conversation” (as proxy for “better mathematical chance”). Ridiculously, we’re still a mathematical chance to make the eight, but more reasonably (and to the point) we’re no longer part of the conversation.

Saturday night marked the end of a few weeks in which we appeared to perhaps emerge from the depths of the last post-Grand Finals crash. This year will be noted for the big step taken by the club from the previous years, but certainly nothing more until we find out in the coming years what it actually led to.

Yet another late season drubbing against the Swans in hindsight was always on the cards. Our record against top eight sides hasn’t been awful – some of those encounters include our best footy for the year – but the Swans added to our 2016 pile of smashings at the hands of premiership fancies that have highlighted the gap still to be made between where we’re coming from, where we are and where we want to get to.

The AFL has enjoyed the comfort of recent years knowing that the Swans will be facing the lowly Saints late in the season in what surely looms as a key match for the Sydneysiders (#conspiracy). In Round 21 of 2013 the Swans doubled our score for a 59-point win; in Round 21 of 2014 Buddy went nuts and the Swans won by 71; last year we kicked only four goals in Sydney premiership hero Adam Schneider’s farewell match in Round 22 as the Swans shat in a 97-point thumping; and in Round 21 this year it was a 70-point margin.

Despite what was on the line for both team the atmosphere pre-match was one I haven’t quite experienced before. The Pride Match is a wonderful initiative by the club. Last night was the first time I ever saw two males holding hands at a game of footy. I saw one man get visibly emotional as he received his Pride scarf, which were sold out well before the game (I had to opt for the beanie after going to four different selling points inside and outside of the ground). There was a remarkably relaxed feeling walking through the crowd; people seemed to feel comfortable and there little of the bravado that often accompanies a boorish mass of people. People felt like they just be people.

The reception it received – judging by the media attention on the game, the atmosphere at the ground, and seeing how many people had purchased and were wearing the scarves and beanies – was incredibly heartening. As a straight, white male I’ve had the easiest of runs but to know this event was being planned and then actually attending was a relief. Some people will say it’s a PR stunt; others will click the “Angry” icon on Facebook posts from the club and the league; others will bemusingly leave flyers on windscreens around Trevor Barker Beach Oval on the day of Sandringham home games. Yes, free speech and all that, but the ideal of free speech is to have a serious conversation, and through that process weed out the excess and deadweight that gets in the way of growth and progress. It’s so great that the club I support engineered this event, but it’s so great that any club did.

Hey, remember that time we had pick #2 in the 2001 National Draft and we used it on Luke Ball and then Chris Judd got taken at #3 and the Eagles made back-to-back Grand Finals and won a premiership and Judd became one of the greatest players of all time? And then Luke Ball left after getting only 50 per cent game time in the 2009 Grand Final and won a premiership the following year for the club we played off against twice for the Cup? Anyway, three years ago we had the #3 pick and we used on this guy Jack Billings who I reckon will be pretty good, but the Bulldogs had pick #4 and they used it on Marcus Bontempelli who is exactly the kind of big-bodied, polished player who can kick goals that we’re chasing in a trade or via free agency to lead our midfield and is probably the best young guy in the comp at the moment? And albeit at this early stage Billings is giving us worrying signs that he might not be as good as thought he might be? He had five touches to three-quarter time last night. Yes, it’s not about this year; yes, he’s here for a career; but is anyone else slightly terrified about that situation? Here’s to a massive pre-season for Junior Burger.

Anyway, we’re looking thereabouts for the coveted #9 pick this year, having had it in 2006 and 2007, using it on Armo and Big Ben respectively. Armo’s a known quantity now – we know what his best is, and he was closer to it last night than he’s been all year. But he’s fallen well down in the pecking order of our prospective midfield through the anticipated climb up the ladder. Big Ben has turned into Shane Savage and Luke Dunstan (with pick #18 in 2013). I still think we finish ahead in that one (pick #19 in 2013 was Blake Acres which technically speaking we received from the Hawks in a separate deal for picks 24 and 59), although you’d have to ignore the fact that Patrick Dangerfield (yes) was taken with the pick immediately following Big Ben’s, and Cyril Rioli three picks later, and Harry Taylor at #17, and Alex Rance at #18, and Callan Ward at #19.

Blacres was really the only one that Richo highlighted in the post-match press conference. Again, he was just about everywhere. He started at centre bounces, and moved high up the ground and into defence, took on the opposition and moved smoothly through traffic, and played as a focal point up forward. It was his hard get-out from the middle that released Steven who ran and delivered to Mav for a goal in the first quarter, and twice in the second quarter after he was moved up forward pushed up a little to provide a link and delivered handsomely to Paddy on the lead.

He ended up with 1.3 amongst a couple of rushed shots and probably should have finished with two or three goals but in his turns up forward he covered for the glaring absence of Membrey and Bruce. Membrey looked likely early but after his early mark and goal neither really effected the game in any meaningful way. Paddy only finished with five disposals but he kicked two goals and presented very nicely when the guys further up the ground were holding up their end of the bargain.

The difference between the first and second halves was (obviously) profound. As someone who totally doesn’t play for the St Kilda Football Club I can’t actually tell you why, I can mostly just sit here at the keyboard and say I don’t think Billings was very good. Perhaps the enormity of getting through a season caught up with the group when faced with a genuine premiership prospect playing for a top-two spot; for whatever reason it might have been Richo pointed out that whilst the intent might have been there it simply wasn’t effective when a tackle was attempted or a turnover was on. The midfield was obliterated; Ross and Armo battled hard but Steven’s influence was quelled, Hickey couldn’t run after the first quarter and Gresham’s output was understandably down a little. Guys like Geary and Dunstan may well have been missed, but I don’t think their absence combined with a couple of umpiring howlers in the final quarter would have made much difference to this one. The Swans were controlled throughout and it felt as if we were playing above ourselves to stay in it until half-time; the short balls in to players in space in the forward 50 was our forté last week; this week it was the Swans who ran, spread and presented in numbers all across the ground.

Strangely, the best moment of the night might have been Eminem’s snap goal in the first quarter when he was low to ground and under pressure; at that point we were looking like we might really present a challenge to the Swans. However, he and Minchington are the most likely to come out on form next week as surely some novelty moves are made to make way for Shenton, Templeton, Holmes, Brandon White, et al. What might save Wright is what saved Minchington the week before – low possession numbers offset by a large tackle count; Wright had an equal game-high of eight (shared with Newnes and Tom Mitchell) whilst Minchington had 10 against the Blues. But the temptation to have a look at guys that have performed consistently well for the Zebras without reward surely becomes too great given the only thing on the line is exactly which top-10 pick we get that we might regret in hindsight. Shenton kicked another four goals for Sandy today, making it 10 in the last two weeks and 16 in his last five games for the Zebras. I don’t know how many possessions Eli needs to get and Holmes’ best chance comes this week with Hickey in doubt.

Who else but the Saints to play into form a premiership contender? Buddy roamed scarily across the ground in the second half and incredibly racked up the highest possession count of his career (28) to go with his six goals; at the other end Aliir Aliir continued to establish himself with his composure Fletcher-esque reach – his spoil on Paddy wide near the 50-metre arc was sublime. Their midfield showed off the best of their hardness and polish, and racked up huge numbers (and a few goals) en masse. To put it short, the Swans looked scary, and there’s every chance we’ll be looking back on Hawthorn vs. Sydney Grand Finals in the even-numbered years of 2012, 2014 and 2016.

The season effectively ended with potential future captain Jack Newnes’ flying shot at goal at the beginning of the third term. His shot cannoned into the post; had it gone through we would have been in front, but from then on Buddy alone collected 15 possessions and kicked three goals in the quarter as the Swans kicked 8.3 to 2.3 for the term; 15.5 to 4.5 for the half, and 17 of the last 20 goals for the match. The final siren marked a 141-point turnaround from the previous week, making it our 11th highest in history but only eight points from second on the list.

I don’t think any reasonable Saints fan would have set themselves for a season that ends immediately with the sounding of a siren – I talk of course about finding yourself in a final, or an effective elimination match near the end of the year. When you’ve been at our low level over the past few years the end of the season is literally just the end of the final home and away match, but you’re counting down to that from around the halfway point when it’s clear no dream run will emerge. We didn’t quite get that this year. Whilst the slow start to the season and costly losses to the Gold Coast and North Melbourne (at least one of the two to them) had us on or near the ropes for much of it, the emergence of several younger guys and some genuinely good wins on the back of some genuinely good football meant it would take a few serious shakes it took to bring the whole thing down.

In hindsight it was the 2003 season that was the link between the post-1997 Grand Final crash and rebuild and the heady 2004-2010 premiership-fancy era. I don’t think the improvement in 2017 will be as exponential as what the stunning 2004 season gave us, but with the addition of Carlisle, perhaps another big-name player in the off-season, and another season’s experience for the younger guys improvement has to be a non-negotiable. Amongst all the forgettable games, conjecture by amateur bloggers about our recruiting and the piercing draft and trade talk, time passes. Slowly but surely we’re approaching that point in the future we’ve been talking about for years; that point where what the club has been building towards materialises. Over the next couple of weeks we get to relax a bit, and then we get the chance to really take a break for a few months. These types of seasons can become quite laborious as a fan and it’s a welcome breather. The weather in Melbourne today was beautiful and in tandem with last night’s result compounded the feeling of another season going by; the unfamiliar weight of pressure, however small, of the last few weeks had been lifted. But as one Sydney premiership hero (and yes, ex-Saint too) once said, “Give me Grand Final nerves any day”.

Penultimate Candy Stripe Jumper #2 Match Review

by Tom Briglia

Round 20, 2016
Carlton 1.2, 3.5, 6.7, 7.9 (51)
St Kilda 4.3, 10.5, 14.6, 19.8 (122)  
Crowd: 37,797 at the MCG, Sunday, August 7th at 1.10pm

Welcome to the final period of the home and away season, in which the sun begins to shine with a little more purpose, the conversation and daydreaming during the week starts to drift away from your own team a little and your best chances for anything happening at a meaningful time from well into September is “mathematical”.

Whilst the Kangaroos lost the previous night the Bulldogs, the realistic damage had been done the previous weekend, and perhaps more pointedly, the first time we met them in letting them get out to a comfortable lead, leaving too much to do in the final charge.

There’s nothing quite like a sunny afternoon at the MCG with two Victorian sides playing (and it’s perfect example of why there shouldn’t be a roof at any footy ground). Whereas our first date there this year was a brilliant early season win with a lot of exciting input from Billings, Dunstan, Steven, et al. this time was more about the season itself moving to its natural end around us; the sun shines a little more brightly but ultimately it’s for others. We begin to be reflective of our own side’s season, perhaps with a glimmer of an eye to the future, but as we also begin to look forward to finals time. It’s not our time just yet, rather we sit back and take in the history made by others.

On Sunday the pressure was mostly off. Everything was nice and relaxed, perhaps more social outing than attendance-at-a-footy-match-that-means-something vibe, but when it happens at this stage of the season you’re watching the ghosts of the hopes we had for the year, and it’s more of a celebratory tour for what has been a largely positive season that, to date, bodes well for the future.

Incredibly, it was my first time at the footy with my uncle, dad’s brother Simon, who represents the Carlton sliver of our family tree. Like so many Italian migrants a century ago, the Briglias settled in Carlton and the Blues became my ancestors’ club of choice. It was my grandpa, living near the Junction Oval as a small boy, who began the St Kilda chapter of the family’s history, with Simon only one of his six children to follow the Blues. Despite my grandfather’s brother being the Carlton club chaplain for a long period and his uncle Bill being the Carlton club doctor, and the consistent access to the Carlton clubrooms that my aunts and uncles had, it was just Simon that stayed with them.

He’s the kind of opposition supporter that you can easily watch your teams play against each other with. I’ve always found it a good character guide – objectivity, humour, and reasonableness will rise above boorish, boring, overgrown-boy tendencies. Simon is laid-back, has a great sense of humour and overall has the better qualities of people in spades so having him there made the day very enjoyable.

But more important than family, than heritage, than humanity: it was our penultimate match in the Candy Stripe #2. The King is (almost) dead, long live the King – no doubt a hot-cross bun style jumper that will either look like two different jumpers on the front and the back or have just a bit too much going on will be introduced next year in its place. I’ll reserve my whinge for this for a different, even less-read post than this, but watching it in the sunshine at the MCG…shit, it’s a great fuckin’ jumper.

The day before had seen Paddy kick five as he settled back into match fitness at VFL level and Shenton kick six. Yes, that’s correct. Shenton kicked six. Goals. Even when he was playing ok footy in the seniors for a wooden spoon team two years ago Matt Finnis’s comment on SEN about “unearthing a Shenton” still seemed overs. He’s kicked multiple goals a few times this year as he’s spent more time in the forward half – including one of the best VFL goals you’ll see out at Casey the week – and has also kicked Alex Kidd-style small bags of behinds to go with it all. Finally, it all clicked and he’s kicked six. Expect Paddy to come straight back in next week, to be reunited with Bruce, Membrey and My Favourite Hair in the AFL in a line-up we didn’t think would work together earlier this year but quickly found out was much more beneficial than we thought. In the distance, in the way you see the planes lining up to come into a land, another set of lights has appeared and it’s either cheeky trade bait or a reprisal of the problem we thought we had earlier this year.

Well, he was named as an emergency this week and surely deserves a call up alongside Paddy. There’s been a few question marks over Josh Bruce, and I know Richo said it’s great how he competes until the end but I don’t know how much merit there is in scoring cheap goals in junk time of games that were lost long ago; perhaps like Armo in recent weeks the coach is simply going into bat after their players. However, after today you might have to be shuffling the dynamic of the team a little – Dunstan will have to go out with a shoulder and Eminem slightly hurt his back (Minchington had little of the ball but laid 10 tackles) – and how do you keep out a guy who’s been consistently impressive in the VFL and then kicks six goals? The only template for that so far is Eli, but Shenton offers a little more versatility. Bruce certainly won’t be going out – it was about time he beat up on weaker opposition and he did that, with the trademark late goals included, but it’s the spark in whatever form it took that he’s (we’ve) been waiting for.

This game was probably the most relaxed of the season from a St Kilda point of view, and that’s taking into the account the unabashed talk of a finals appearance being nearly muted over the past eight days or so. Really, it was just a nice day out with my dad, my brother, my uncle and Rich, although easier to say that for us St Kilda supporters.

Things started as you’d expect a dead rubber between vaguely competent but ultimately developing teams would – free-flowing but with more than enough errors to abuse to the privilege of having a kind amount of time and space to do whatever the hell it is you want to do with the footy.

About halfway through the quarter though the St Kilda pressure machine was switched on after a week AWOL. In a solid team performance seventeen smothers was probably my favourite stat to come out of it. They’re the kind of thing that can be camouflaged by traffic around rushed kicks but so many of these were clearly the result of aggressive harassment by guys taking responsibility on themselves to quell the opposition, even in one-on-one situations and without the weight of numbers that makes that thing far easier.

Indeed, there were a number of individuals who returned stand-out numbers that bode well for our future – Newnes had 32 touches and nine marks; Membrey five goals; Josh Bruce four and nine marks; Billings two goals, 19 touches and nine marks despite disappearing for a lot of the game; Acres likewise for 23 touches and a goal; Ross found the footy 27 times, and to a lesser extent Roberton 28 to go with a goal, his Mattingley-style haircut having had a Samson-esque effect. But between all of them and Minchington and Eminem – both who got some acclaim from Richo in the post-match – there was no deadwood.

But the best individual stats probably belonged wholly to Jade Gresham – 25 possessions, 6 clearances in the second quarter, 13 contested possessions. Matt was going off early about how this would be Junior Burger’s break-out game, but for all the highlights Gresh has given us so far this year this was his most complete offering.

It also adds something to a the prospects of a midfield that at the start of the year were looking significantly leaner. Seb Ross and was still just some guy, and Gresham hadn’t played a game; Ross is now one of our top few best and most consistent players, and rather than a creative forward-half player Gresham is quickly showing signs of his worth as a midfielder. It’s not a like-for-like but with Dunstan out for the last three matches that would open things up a little for Gresh to spend more time in the middle and closer in at stoppages. His deft movement and balance, on top of his slick decision making and execution (we’ve all seen and talked about that) has given him the X-factor that we’re still waiting to completely emerge from Billings, and perhaps we’ve got that now in the midfield as well as near goal.

You could perhaps add Acres to that, who moved very well through traffic a number of times and has the larger midfield body size we crave after going Junior Burger instead of Bont. He’s not a genuine mid; I see parts of Brendon Goddard and parts of Gary Rohan in his game – decent size, can play anywhere across the ground and can move forward and play as a tall or lead-up option.

That’s all probably a little hard on Billings; he spent a middle stretch of the year injured and his numbers yesterday weren’t bad at all – if you’re going raw data he was probably only a few possessions short of the what we drafted him to deliver week in, week out. He’s started games well since returning, pushing high up the ground to offer avenues forward – something we need from him given his disposal – so perhaps it’s partially an experience and partially a tank issue. Both of those can be rectified.

Jack Steven was tagged out of the game but some further analysis showed it wasn’t all bad, but we were up against a pretty flat team. Gresham is showing a more genuine and damaging midfield pedigree than anyone else on our list this early in their career, but he probably won’t be doing that every week just yet and the guys I just mentioned simply aren’t  midfielders that can turn the game and step up their involvement in the way Stuv can at will. Armo’s almost certainly past his brief peak, Ross just isn’t that kind of player and it’s a 16-gamer who looks most likely to get things moving when someone needs to step up in the engine room.

The classic, arrogant Blues supporter behind us couldn’t stand Matt’s very facetious banter (most of it shared with Simon to begin with) and began having regular cracks at Jack Steven, telling him to get his own ball. Ok, look. Sure, you’re getting hammered by historically the worst team in this game’s history, but out of all the players that have represented the club that has won just one premiership in 143 years, you choose that guy to pick on? Him? Jack Steven? He’s the one?

Yes, it’s definitely a huge tick to the coaching staff that this playing style is a weight-of-numbers, all-in style that doesn’t rely on individual brilliance as the GT era mostly did. But we still to find need that bona fide, A-grade-at-worst, specialist midfielder to help out Jack, Gresh, Seb, et al over the coming years. The jockeying for Hurley’s signature might turn into jockeying for Caleb Marchbank’s if that midfielder presents themselves sometime this year, but we might be happy to hold off and go for the former Saints supporter if that key mid isn’t available just yet.

It’s easy to see a lot of positives – particularly in the forward line – when you win by 71 points but the Blues were clearly cooked after three really good weeks against strong opposition. So let’s run with it anyway because this week against the Swans will probably be a lot different. I’ve gone over Josh Bruce a little already but it’s worth highlighting his nine marks to go with the four sausages. You can look silly if you keep committing yourself to contest after contest in all parts of the ground and don’t hold your marks, and he’s been borderline Maister over the last few weeks but finally things stuck on Sunday and he got some reward on the scoreboard too. There’s no use in that happening at VFL level at this stage – he, his teammates and the coaches just had to make sure it happened in a red, white and black jumper and hopefully he can finish the year with a little uptick in form.

Talking about Tim Membrey is easy enough now because I’m essentially copy-and-pasting the same paragraph – he’s not the tallest player, he’s not the most powerful, and he’s not the quickest, but fuck a duck he’s a smart footballer. He hasn’t been quite as damaging against top sides but that’s literally a part of a lower team on the ladder typically kicking less goals overall against higher-placed teams. Saturday night presents him with a chance to further enhance his credentials, and to redeem himself a little after his quiet performance in the crunch match against North – should the Kangaroos lose on Saturday afternoon then the Swans present that challenge to him. Perhaps Paddy might make his job easier; I hope he does because Roo will probably need to be up the ground taking another 16 marks for us.

We’re gonna need it all firing again on Saturday night either way. We’re playing merely for the chance to sneak into the eight, but the Swans will be playing for top spot, and at the very least a top-two spot with just seven percentage points separating them in second from Geelong in fifth.

Another drink in the Bull Ring post-match with everyone before it was time to walk back to the city on a beautiful Sunday afternoon for a relaxed tram ride home. Should North salute this coming Saturday afternoon expect plenty of Shenton and Holmes action that night, or whoever else might have been named as emergency on the Thursday night. It all counts, bit by bit, towards the future. This year or not, slowly, things are starting to really matter again. The sunshine over the MCG on Sunday represented the better days of looking ahead.

An oddly familiar feeling after all this time

by Richard Lee

Round 19, 2016
North Melbourne 2.4, 4.7, 7.8, 12.13 (85)
St Kilda 1.4, 2.7, 3.10, 8.14 (62)
Crowd: 44,287 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, July 30th at 7.25pm

The mid to late 00s for this Saints fan in particular was a wonderful rollercoaster, albeit punctuated (and bolded, underlined and highlighted) by heartbreak. One of the more poignant off-field moments I remember – among many – in the early phase of this ascension to contention was in the wake of the 2004 preliminary final. St Kilda had played, and lost to, Port Adelaide at Football Park by a kick or so. The side’s rapid rise that year had injected massive amounts of belief and excitement to all those who follow The Club; we were destined for great things, this was the start of something special. A close friend of mine in the hours after the game had assured me to no end, whilst we were downing some beverages at Loop Bar, that this was just the beginning. A learning that is part of the process and would be looked on as critical, invaluable in making us doubly strong in the coming finals series. He wasn’t happy that we lost, but he was pretty comfortable. Even then, at the tender age of 18, I rebuked that it’s not that simple; preliminary finals don’t come by every day. By that point I had been earnestly following the St Kilda Football club for a good 10 years give or take, and had witnessed more than my fair share of dreary, bleak afternoons at Moorabbin and then Waverley. I had seen the Cinderella run to the 1997 Grand Final; went to the parade too – of course, I was there for The Game itself too. And what I’m getting at is, even at that ripe age, I felt like saying losing a prelim was a good lesson was way too glib or facile.

In that particular Finals series, the race to the Grand Final had an open feeling about it seeing as the all conquering Lions were increasingly looking like a wounded beast. This only compounded the feeling of “missed opportunity” that I sensed at the time.

Now, I’m not saying that that loss made an indelible mark psychologically or otherwise on the group that went on to go deep in the finals for the rest of the decade. In all honesty, it probably was a good wake-up call to some of them – sometimes, Wanganeen is going to kick a goal from Row F to win the game. You can’t take anything for granted.

But it was an opportunity. In fact a golden one when you look back at how feeble the Lions were in the big dance. And those opportunities can be so, so rare. Our climbs back to that final day thereafter in the footy calendar ultimately, for the most part, had us on a collision course with one of the best sides of all time: Gary Ablett’s Geelong.

Saturday night’s 23 points loss to the Roos, of course doesn’t hold a candle to the enormity of the clashes I’ve just mentioned. It was an opportunity though.

Had we won that game then the door to a finals berth would have been well and truly flung open.

After a pressure packed first half, scoreboard wise the game was virtually still at square one; neither team had taken control. The Roos had a 12 point buffer, but the Saints had established that they were up for the fight both mentally and from a tactical point of view. Enter the premiership quarter and the intensity of the game, or at least amongst the crowd, seemed to go up a notch or two. Having secured reserve seats in the upper area behind the goals at the Saints cheer squad end, we had a prime view to see the side fritter away the opportunity to grab hold of the game. Membrey and Riewoldt were the prime culprits. Both had shots that were less than 4 out of 10 on the difficulty level scale, both from within 30 meters. Either shot would have brought the margin back towards 2 goals. Both missed and despite spending so much time camped in the Kangaroos’ back half, the Saints could not make it count. To rub salt in the wound, some contentious umpiring helped the Roos extend their lead to 22 points at the final change. In fact, Waite’s free-kick after Hickey dived on the ball near the goal mouth was a critical umpiring blue in such a low scoring affair. Sure, Waite’s knees were hit but this type of incident definitely would not have been on the demonstrational video that the Umpiring department sent out to the Clubs when this rule was brought in. It was incidental contact and unfortunately it served as a real sucker punch to the Saints on this occasion.

That 22 point margin didn’t seem unassailable to me seeing as St Kilda had not really made a run all night. I still felt they were a special goal, or a couple of quick ones, away from really stirring the faithful and making Brad Scott sweat some bullets.

It wasn’t to be though. Like they did all night, Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington and Sam Gibson got the better of their rival onballers at the start of the fourth. This resulted in a Drew Petrie major, followed by goals from Thomas and Brown. Game. Over.

Josh Bruce, Riewoldt, Jade Gresham and Mav Weller battled on – the side more ended up more than doubling it’s total courtesy of five goals in the final quarter. Too little, too late, unfortunately. It was to be the perfect celebration for Boomer and more importantly, the steadying win that Roos really needed.


*****

I’ve no doubt mentioned this before, but when you see younger players play in these sort of pressure cooker type atmosphere it’s really enlightening. Some players relish the opportunity, some don’t quite cut it. Blake Acres was one who stepped up to the plate. He started the game brilliantly in the first quarter, taking a great one-on-one mark and kicking truly. And that confidence flooded through in the way he played the rest of the game, in his ball winning ability and in the way he pressured the opposition. To date, we’ve seen a lot of games where Blake has cancelled out flashes of brilliance with some real dear-in-the-headlights mistakes, but on Saturday Night he played a lot more confidently and assertively.

Seb Ross, whilst not in vintage form, definitely was one of our best midfielders. He amassed 25 disposals – a team high – and generally toiled hard in and around the stoppages. Jack Steven was well and truly nullified, Armitage was having another mediocre 2016 outing, yet Ross was still plugging away. Dunstan had some nice moments too, but they were few and far between. Billings chimed in with 22 touches, including a nice mark on quarter time, but his kicking in front of goal is still off. Overall, the midfield was well and truly eclipsed. And aside from our shoddy goal kicking, the midfield is where the Roos had the better of the game. There exits from a stoppage were cleaner and more precise, and they generally dealt with the Saints pressure reasonably well.

Up forward we didn’t have too many winners either. Josh Bruce constantly got in dangerous areas only to fail to make the most of them, as well as being sucked into Scott Thompson’s provocations, resulting in giving away a few obvious free kicks. He’s becoming a bit of a dilemma, Josh. He’s continuing to work hard, but his lack of confidence right now is painful to watch. Tim Membrey hardly got a sniff, and Nick Riewoldt was quiet by his lofty standards.


*****

Now, whether it was indeed a wise thing, taking in the big picture, for the Saints to creep into the top eight this year is a debate worthy of it’s own write up entirely. Having already chalked up so many wins this season, there was no going back though. It would have been great to see the team have to play out the rest of the season with some serious heat on them to keep up the momentum in a bid to clinch eighth – let alone, see how they would have handled Week 1 in September.

That experience would no doubt have been invaluable, as well as giving the Club the added bonus of giving the team a bit more gloss when trying to woo potential free agent recruits.

It wasn’t to be. Sometimes these opportunities are so fleeting. And if one thing is for sure, you never know when they’re going to bob up again – nothing is guaranteed.

 

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 19
Blake Acres 2
Tom Hickey 2
Dylan Roberton 2
Seb Ross 2
Jack Billings 1
Jarryn Geary 1

Totals
Jack Steven – 32
Nick Riewoldt – 22
Seb Ross – 19
Tim Membrey – 15
Tom Hickey – 14
Leigh Montagna – 9
David Armitage – 8
Blake Acres – 7
Mav Weller – 7
Jade Gresham – 6
Jack Newnes – 6
Jack Billings – 5
Sam Fisher – 5
Jarryn Geary – 5
Josh Bruce – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Dylan Roberton – 3
Sean Dempster – 2
Paddy McCartin – 2
Luke Delaney – 1
Luke Dunstan – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1

All aboard the hype train

by Richard Lee

Round 18, 2016
Western Bulldogs 4.2, 6.4, 9.6, 9.6 (60)
St Kilda 3.3, 7.4, 10.5, 11.9 (75)
Crowd: 26,532 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, July 23rd at 7.25pm

As anytime long Saints fan can attest to: it’s in the DNA of us to not believe in lucky breaks, or in the (supposed) even-handedness of the Football Gods. Divine intervention? Nope. It’s just in our nature to dread that moment when we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory; self-sabotage. But things right now are just starting to click.

Seven wins out of nine is good in anyone’s language. The fact that it now contains two scalps – the first of which being the Cats – after Saturday night’s weird win over the Bulldogs, gives it a lot more weight. It has even stirred the wider Football Community enough for us to have gained some proper media coverage in this lull point in the season.

After our premature bubble was burst with a pitiful effort against the Suns, or if you saw our listless efforts against the Dons, you would be forgiven for ignoring our win-loss pattern. I certainly did. It is true though, that good teams find a way and again on Saturday night, it wasn’t exactly a performance laden with highlight reel plays, but one of strength and poise. It was one for the purists.

Whilst never hitting top gear as such, the Dogs did threaten to blow this one open on two separate occasions. Firstly, they had the better of the opening exchanges. This fits with the Saints tendency to start the game like they just rolled out of bed. Except Jack Newnes’ hair hasn’t changed one bit.

The Saints weren’t lacking in intensity, it’s just that the Dogs were moving the ball with a little bit more precision and speed. Jackson Macrae was zipping up and around, Caleb Daniel was bobbing up here and there and Liberatore was the instigator from the engine room. Tom Hickey was on though. His tap work from the get go was on point and then some. However the Dogs enjoyed the better of the territory side of things and were doing a good job at spooking the Saints into enough sloppy errors. I don’t need to remind you who were the main culprits.

Thankfully, the scoreboard wasn’t getting away from the Saints and unlike some previous slow starts (see Gold Coast) the team’s psyche as well as its structure wasn’t wavering in the face of some stern pressure. By and large the Dogs enjoyed the better territory and were more dangerous in the first term, but by the first break their momentum had been arrested enough. Enter the second term and Roo kicked his first with an opportunistic snap on the left, followed by set shot conversions courtesy of assists from Armo and Joey.

The mark Roo took for his second goal was a perfect illustration of what Josh Bruce can’t do right now. He barely had split on Fletcher Roberts, but perfectly timed a shove in the Roberts’ chest at the last minute to setup an easy chest mark for himself. Baroose take note.

Indeed, it could be argued by that by the final siren Riewoldt was essentially the difference between the two sides. Granted, the Dogs forward structure was left with a sizable hole in the shape of Jack Redpath for essentially the entire second half but even to that point it didn’t feel like the Saints lack of height in defence was going to be a thorn in its side. Boyd was rarely sighted, and as the Footscray fans around me pointed out several times, the Dogs were extremely reluctant to get the ball deep to the “hot spots” anyway.

This could be excused in some respects given that none of their bigs were on song, but perhaps what was even more confounding was how little impact the Dogs got from their roaming or more creative smaller types. Dickson kicked a great goal, but didn’t do a lot else. Caleb Daniel’s night progressively got less exciting – his botched mark going back with the flight unattended into the forward 50 in the last term, was perhaps the most poignant illustration of the Dogs being off. They miss Dalhaus.

This isn’t to take anything anyway from the Saints pressure though. It definitely made life difficult for their more fancied opponents. Pressure, after all, has been their MO for a good 18 months now, and it seems like it is only gaining momentum. And though he gets most of his plaudits for his running and carrying, it was Jack Steven who was leading the way on that front with 7 tackles (Dunstan and Armo had 6 each). Gosh, it is still weird to have the word leading and Steven in the same sentence.

And just on the whole pressure MO: the term Saints Footy seems to be back in. I heard Jack Newnes (of The Leadership Group) mention it in one of the post-game videos online. It speaks to the group consolidating an identity, and having a confidence in it. To say that “Saints Footy is back” would be premature and wrong but this current brand doesn’t feel much like Saints Footy 1.0 of the Ross Lyon era. It’s been rebooted and re-tooled into something new and something that seems to have a place in the modern game. Sure, it’s defense-first, but it’s defense that leans more towards fuelling scores and is inherently more proactive.

More evidence of this proactiveness is the positioning and the involvement of the likes of Roberton, Gilbert, Savage, Geary and Dempster. That contingent could be found near enough to the forward 50 arc throughout the game. Roberton in particular, seemed to be the one with the biggest license to roam to wherever he read that he was needed. His exact opponent I couldn’t point out to you. All that considered, he had another great game. He seemed to be at the right position at the right time for the large majority of the time. Geary too, was again very good, following on from a golden game against the Dees.

*****

I’m sure all Saints fans can draw upon times over the last two years when they’ve really been stretching and searching to picture what this time will look like when it’s playing in meaningful games and how it will go about doing so. It now feels safe to say that we’re seeing the first signs of the reality of this. Saturday night wasn’t exactly finals like, but it had an intensity (despite the disappointing crowd number) and an edge that was significant and which asked more of the players. The Seb Ross’, the Dunstans, the Newnes’, the Wrights, et al didn’t look out of place. They took the challenges head on, without getting overzealous or overwhelmed.

For all the positivity of the way in which the younger brigade were handling a hotter and bigger stage, the night’s main drawcard Marcus Bontempelli threatened to take game into one of his oversized hands and crush it. His 5-10 minute purple patch in third term was immense, culminating in a raking 50m goal which almost lifted the Etihad roof off. This all started with Tim Membrey missing a relatively easy shot, which would have extended the Saints lead to 24 points early in the third. From the kick out the Bulldogs went the length of the field to score, and then it was Bontempelli time. He went onto the ball and together with Liberatore, he got the ball going forward from the middle. This kind of game-breaking ability is a sight for sore eyes for Saints fans who have sat by patiently over the last 3 seasons of rubbish, in the hope that a Bontempelli-esque figure would be fished out from one (or all) of the subsequent National Draft campaigns.

I’m not yet to crossover into the camp of those who foresee a decade of regretting drafting Jack Billings instead of Bontempelli, however. Of course, right now, The Bont has the runs on the board. It must also be said though that, he has had the advantage of developing in a side that is more advanced in its development. Hunter, Liberatore, Macrae, Dalhaus – these are all young stars at the Dogs who are sharing the load in driving the side forward. Also, I’d still argue that Billings’ best footy so far has shown he can be Elite in the AFL. With that in mind, getting his body right and getting some continuity into his footy, is the most pressing challenge for him right now. He came into 2016 off of a seemingly delicate preparation, and seemed to be building some good form before being struck down with an ankle injury that has kept him out of the side until last week. It must be said Saturday Night was far from his best game. Both he and Sinclair (who only chalked up 3 disposals) have yet to have gotten back to AFL speed having spent time in the VFL. Perhaps this was best highlighted when Billings, gliding into fifty in the last term, virtually dead in front pushed his shot left. This is a situation we’ve already become accustomed to a fit Billings eating for breakfast.

One smallish forward who is excelling, however, is Maverick Weller. He is suddenly looking more and more like the next captain of St Kilda Football Club. 80-something games into his relatively young career, the former Gold Coast Sun has gone from strength-to-strength is his new role as a defensive forward. Outwardly too, he presents as a guy who looks and embodies the fresh image the Club has tried to espouse since the Finnis/Richardson has been in motion.

Saturday Night’s game at the Dome is probably one that has been coming over several weeks. Against both the Bombers and (particularly) the Dees he was not only good, but made pivotal plays in crunch time. Namely, he was kicking goals when the game was on the line to go along with his much hyped physical pressure. An oft overlooked element to his game also is his skill overheard. Last night he was able to provide a quasi target up the ground, by design or not, and he took one or two particularly strong contested grabs on the wing. All this, after being involved in a heavy, head-on clash early in the first term.

One thing that clearly defines this win over the others we’ve had this season is that it’s the first in which I’ve experienced it in the context of the here and now. I’m so used to reflecting on a win and toying with what it will mean when we look back at it in future seasons. What are the takeaways to build on; what it will mean for our accumulated win total for the year; what that win total will mean for our Draft ranking and so on. I’ve been so accustomed to zooming out, taking the helicopter view that it’s almost a bit jarring to slip back into the typical AFL weekly cycle.

With this four points it has directly informed what I’m feeling towards facing the Roos next week and what effect that will have on our 2016 when it’s all over. The team seems to be embracing the now and I think I’m good to roll with that too.

 

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 18
Jack Steven – 2
Mav Weller – 2
Tom Hickey – 2
Nick Riewoldt – 2
Dylan Roberton – 1
Sean Dempster – 1

Totals
Jack Steven – 32
Nick Riewoldt – 22
Seb Ross – 17
Tim Membrey – 15
Tom Hickey – 12
Leigh Montagna – 9
David Armitage – 8
Mav Weller – 7
Jade Gresham – 6
Jack Newnes – 6
Blake Acres – 5
Sam Fisher – 5
Jack Billings – 4
Josh Bruce – 4
Jarryn Geary – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Sean Dempster – 2
Paddy McCartin – 2
Luke Delaney – 1
Luke Dunstan – 1
Dylan Roberton – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1

But I know we’ll meet again, maybe a whole lot

by Tom Briglia

Round 17, 2016
St Kilda 3.3, 8.6, 10.12, 15.20 (110)
Melbourne 6.2, 6.5, 9.7, 11.8 (74)
Crowd: 25,322 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, July 17th at 3.20pm

This year I’ve found myself being a little (well, quite) fatalistic and cynical when it comes to how I think the rest of the season will pan out. I mentioned last week that I got it a little wrong, immediately anyway, with my dour summation of the Crows debacle, but it’s worth pointing out again that the win over the Cats being followed by Rubbish at Carrara – Election Day Special proved what we knew about the Saints as much as proved nothing at all; we already knew that we’re lower-to-middling, inconsistent developing team that will win some games it shouldn’t and lose some games it shouldn’t.

Whilst North’s collapse for now has opened up eighth spot a little, even after the win today we are still facing an uphill battle to overcome that gap and have to really be playing above ourselves for an extended period. Whilst some of our opponents, namely the Bulldogs, North and Sydney present the biggest roadblocks to a top-eight finish, we’ve proven to be our own worst enemy across periods of games, whole quarters, and whole matches.

The last time we lost to Melbourne I was in my final months of school and we suffered the ignominy of coming off blowing two Preliminary Finals and then losing as the sixth-placed home team in an Elimination Final, having narrowly missed out on a top-four finish. Luke Ball was our captain, Grant Thomas was our coach and Aaron Hamill was somehow still out there. The 10-year gap between losses to Melbourne doesn’t particularly represent anything – whilst the club experienced a wistful period of incredible, buoyant, ultimately sad moments in that time it’s really just a reflection of where these two sides specifically have been in a specific number of years.

It’s more relevant to look at recent and current form and make-up of the two lists, which Paul Roos almost blithely talked about during the week as perhaps being the foundation for the two sides playing off against each other in Grand Finals in the coming years. Should our development go as planned, as we had the Cats last time around looking to break a lengthy premiership drought we’ll probably have the Bulldogs and Demons this time to contend with (not to mention the GWS juggernaut, but no-one is a supporter of the AFL). A Melbourne vs. St Kilda Grand Final (for some reason when I picture the 2019 Grand Final it’s us in our clash jumper, hopefully what we have at the moment but probably not) will be a sad fucking day for the club and its supporters on the wrong end of the result. Maybe if our streak against the Dees was still going right up until a Grand Final date then St Kilda supporters would be puking at the prospect of playing off for a premiership with that as one of the key talking points of the week. You know we’re the kind of club to give it up when it counts the most.

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Matt on his way to catching ‘em all™

The 3.20pm Sunday timeslot necessitates that the AFL orders the roof to be closed at the Corporate Dome, which essentially means your weekend ends by 3pm (or whatever time you choose to walk into the ground), and earlier if the game begins in the early afternoon and the roof is closed anyway. Unfortunately it was a beautiful sunny winter’s afternoon but I guess in the 21st Century there’s no way at all we can embrace that . I described it the other week as being on the set of a TV show rather than at the footy, and I’ll stick by that. If the AFL is so keen to keep Etihad even though it won’t really actually revamp it or realign it so the sun isn’t awkwardly placed – which seems to be the reason of choice for people who don’t like the roof open – then we’re stuck with the TV studio rather than the footy ground.

For this week though it the augmented reality aspect was ramped up – even the club couldn’t resist embracing the Pokémon Go craze and starting its own hashtag for the game, encouraging the fans to “help us capture some Pokémon – both inside and outside the ground”, which had me worried that if things went south for one tam we’d have half the crowd trying to catch all the Oddishes, Venonats, Psyducks and Magikarp that were in and around the ground. Apparently the Snorlax hanging out around Crown didn’t make its way up Spencer Street.

There were two Melbourne supporters on the 55 tram into the ground, and as per usual just myself as the sole Saints representative (although there has been a Saints-supporting couple on my tram once or twice this season). I know I mentioned that the slight opening for eighth position before; right now I think it’s in a scuffle with that feeling we’ve had over the past couple of weeks that the season is in wind-down mode. The next few weeks will tell us more but the weight of probability is with the latter winning out. The tram ride in was appropriately subdued; more about looking out to the whatever was passing by bathed in very nice sunshine.

To the Savoy again for pre-match burgers and drinks, and for Evan and Matt a chance to go through their Pokemon strategy for the final time. We took in a bit of Carlton and West Coast (before it got interesting), which was taking pace under the eye of US VP Joe Biden and thousands of secret service agents, which I’m sure made up most of the 26,000-plus that were at the MCG. It looked like West Coast were going to sneak into fourth on percentage, even with the GWS barrage to come in Brisbane later in the day, but the Blues at least made things vaguely interesting for the VP, but not for anyone else as it shut out any chance of any other spots in the eight being available any time soon.

Matt caught an Oddish as we crossed Spencer Street, I got a free Dare Iced Coffee® and we were soon enough parked inside our Aisle 32 seats with relatively minimum fuss – neither of these teams’ fans like going to the opposing Melbourne grounds for away matches so the 25,000 crowd didn’t present any difficulties, apart from the club’s bottom line.

It was only seconds into the match when Hotline announced his return marking right near goal and then missing from the line. The Dees set the tone for the quarter by cutting through the middle in numbers and with space up forward Garlett marked and goaled. Billings looked set to at least partially atone for it with quick hands to Eminem in the next forward foray, but Marshall ran in and missed another easy shot. Membrey couldn’t complete a one-on-one mark when it came back in, and the Dees were again. Petracca, the man set to terrorise for the next 12-15 years, marked over Ross for their second. He’d have two goals himself by the end of the quarter and set up Jack Watts for another, and he could have had a third by half-time but hit the post from relatively close range. The 2014 draft decisions start to tick over in your head in these moments, just as the 2013 draft choices will on Saturday night as we pit a casual Billings against Brownlow winner-to-be Bont. For the time being, it was looking like just the perfect day to have a whole lot of Melbourne supporters around us in the St Kilda members.

Mav Weller had started strongly this week, involving himself up the ground and kicking our first. I say this because his game against the Cats and Essendon were punctuated more by periods in each that were small but had huge say in the outcome of the game. This week he looked as if he’d set himself to effect the play more consistently. Like last week, it was him and Membrey that were having a say in the front half despite the Demons’ mids having their way with our own. Skunk’s first goal came at the fall of the ball from Acres’, uh, soft hands, and swooped on it and bulleted a goal from 45 metres out.

Billings began pushing up and looking more purposeful across the back half, but still the ball movement was a little stagnant, just as the pressure placed on the Dees’ players across the ground was stilted; getting caught drawn to the player with the ball and allowing for their teammate in supporter too much space on the outside.

A short period saw Gilbert dribble a ball out of traffic on half-back to turn it over, then collect the ball from a sloppy Bruce handball amidst the resulting re-entry and send a slick pass to Hickey on the wing. In one of Hickey’s rare blunders for the night he waited too long the option presented further ahead by Roo had dried up. Shortly after that the ball landed in Hogan’s hands as he ominously outbodied Dempster and finished the polished work from further up. From the centre bounce Petracca took it out of the middle and found Hogan. Melbourne with a six-goal quarter and looking to be doing far too easily through the middle, and Hogan was set for a day with an undersized backline to follow the seven he kicked against it last time we played.

The possession count was clearly in Melbourne’s favour by game’s end and so that stat ultimately only said so much, but at quarter time a lot of individual players’ numbers were pertinent. Jack Viney had 14 touches, with Harmes and Jetta 12 apiece. Our engine room was looking incredibly lean meanwhile: Steven had four, Ross had four, Armo just three, and it showed. Hickey led our own count with seven then six each to Membrey and Billings, as well as Dunstan who in his 50th has looking like the most productive mid.

It looked like the Dees were just a goal or two away from breaking open the game for the first part of the last quarter. Gresham had been unsighted but made sure everyone saw him by slipping over in the middle with the ball before redeeming himself soon after, dancing around two opponents on the arc and slotting a deft left-foot pass to Hotline on the lead. Billings was continuing to push up the ground and a goal next to his name would have been well-deserved but he missed the set shot.

Not until later in the term, when Jack Steven was involved at two centre clearances did we look like the team that, well, should have run out much more comfortable winners than we did. The pressure began to lift throughout the quarter and a string of near-free kicks in two separate passages got us within touching distance; the first through the middle when Armo’s tackle on Brayshaw went unrewarded, but Steven was at the fall of the ball to get it off to Minchington who released the ball to Sinclair, and the nicely-haired inclusion sent a long ball perfectly weighted for Membrey to come over the top and take a mark in front of goal. The second came from the maniacal pressure we were hoping would appear in the front half that saw three tackles across the pockets that all could have been paid for holding the ball; in the end it was the third that was given to Joey in the pocket and his snap did the hard work in the minute prior justice.

Whilst the game had been wrested back in our favour it was still looking for someone to stamp it and make it official going into half-time. Seb had stepped up and Steven had had some moments but they alone weren’t going to do enough to put us in a position of dominance. Like last week at a critical point, sort-of-potential future captain Jarryn Geary again stepped up and again proved keyboard warriors like myself wrong about his worth to the team. They were his first goals of the year and they came in the last couple of minutes of the quarter, backing himself to recognise where an opportunity was to push up very high up from his usual position and make something of it. Billings would have to settle for a deft goal assist to the 0.3 he’d finish with, with incredibly quick hands to Geary for the second which he kicked in much the same fashion as his first – off a few steps from just beyond 40 metres out. The goals don’t cancel out all the shanks with the ball which we in the stands are more privy to noticing, and the praise he gets from Richo and the players are for acts that we probably wouldn’t immediately recognise without being privy to the game plan. For all the stick that Geary cops from the stands the reaction from the crowd (the players aside) I think said a lot more about what we really do think of him.

The back-to-back goals were out of Mav’s playbook from the Cats and Bombers games. Melbourne’s head start at the first change and comeback late in the third necessitated a big play though. Mav reprised those critical efforts of recent weeks with something similar in the last quarter and was part of two important goals after Melbourne got within a kick, more than atoning for the relatively easy miss that was one of many that let the Demons back in during the third quarter (although he did kick a great set shot goal in the same quarter). Following Big Max’s goal early in the last he charged at White, who had cut off a pass just forward of centre, to set the ball free and then came back to the contest and dived forward to thump the ball out to Acres on the way to Wright kicking a long ball to Gresham in the pocket. Gresham read the fall best off of his own marking contest, and smartly handballed it over his shoulder to My Favourite Hair in the goalsquare in the AFL for a steadier. Mav shortly after combined with Acres, with the latter playing a focal point role in attack in the last quarter and grabbed the ball out of a contest after he spilled a tough mark and and working it under pressure to Mav who, like his first goal last week, was coming past at the perfect time close to goal and slammed through this third goal for the day. (Mav also pushed up to be part of the slick hands work with Newnes out wide to set up Riewoldt for another set shot miss.)

Membrey was the one who was the lead-up forward that took the mark from Joey’s kick out of the middle and sent it long to Acres for that Mav goal. The players really did make a beeline to Acres in the celebration (Mav looked slightly confused when players were rushing past him to Blake but soon joined in). Acres’ game at the moment is perhaps along the lines of a Gary Rohan, and it means he offers some real versatility across the ground if needed when we have our full complement of tall forwards and some shuffling during the game is required.

All of this came after quite the scare. Richo said the third quarter was the best of the year, and he was just about right – the only thing that made it arguable was the 2.6 return and the final few minutes, which combined let Melbourne right back into the contest. Mav, Membrey and Riewoldt were all guilty of missing shots that should have blown the lead out well beyond five goals by the final change, and we missed a chance for a huge reprieve when Roo did his part for redemption with a herculean effort to touch Hogan’s kick on the goal line late in the third quarter as Melbourne charged, and Membrey hit the post on the siren to reward it and the efforts earlier in the quarter.

It was Membrey who for the second week in a row had been the anchor in the forward half when the rest of the team offered very few clear shining lights. Whilst he hasn’t really turned things on in the few games we’ve played against top opposition since he came into the side in Round 6 for the first Melbourne game – his three against the then-undefeated Kangaroos his best against real quality – his last couple of weeks have certainly been a step in that direction. It’s one thing to capitalise on the rest of your teammates’ good work, but it’s another to really dredge something out of what they do when by and large the team is up against it. Again, his input came from different avenues – his first swooping on a ball off Acres’ hands, the strong contested mark over the top of his opponent, his leading up outside of the arc to be link the back-half to the front for the Acres and Weller combination. He finished with 10 marks, a good reflection of that aspect of his game.

More than merely a special mention must go to our own Stephen Merchant, Tom Hickey for his performance around the ground. Big Max was quelled for much of the day and Hickey played his part in traffic when the ball was moving on his way to a career-best 21 possessions; Richo said that his game almost added another player out there for us in general play. For what it’s worth he ended up with the full compliment of 10 AFL Coaches’ Association Award votes, and this year he’s completely established himself as not just our number one ruckman, but one of our key players.

Like the key goals from half-backs in Geary and Joey in the second quarter, of all people it was Roberton who took it on themselves to hit the scoreboard in a key moment. It came from a simple enough mark just outside 60 metres, but everything around him (and including him) seemed to be going in slow motion and in his lackadaisical way he pounced on the opportunity, ran off and kicked a long goal to effectively seal the game. As my Dad (and Leigh Matthews) pointed out, that the pressure was that good across the entire team allowed those guys to push up, knowing that an opportunity would most likely be created. That’s a lot of trust to have in your teammates.

A quick look over the stats sheet would tell you Steven, Ross and Armo particularly ended up with relatively muted numbers; a reflection of how even the team performance was across the entire match. Of course there was Membrey, Mav and Geary who had moments or output that would be imprinted in our minds a little more than others, or that would be better fodder for the highlights reel. Luke Dunstan was probably our most consistently-involved midfielder for the first half when things were really tough, and his goal in the final seconds was a fitting finish to his 50th game. But just about every player made some contribution in some way; right down to D-Mac who threw in a few Geary shanks of his own but did well to temper our future nemesis Petracca in the second half.

The 14 wins in a row against Melbourne counts for nought, really. As Roos pointed to during the week, these are two teams that all going well will share a very strong and potentially historic rivalry in the coming years – and if so then most likely in a ménage à trois involving the Bulldogs; effectively a double-headed version of our Geelong rivalry of this decade (and perhaps into the next). Hogan only finished with the lone goal, Petracca went quiet, and Brayshaw will need to feel his way back at the top level, but these are the kinds of guys we’re probably going to have to get used to on the journey.

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 16
Tom Hickey – 2
Tim Membrey – 2
Mav Weller – 2
Luke Dunstan – 1
Jarryn Geary – 1
Leigh Montagna – 1
Jack Steven – 1

Totals
Jack Steven – 30
Nick Riewoldt – 20
Seb Ross – 17
Tim Membrey – 15
Tom Hickey – 10
Leigh Montagna – 9
David Armitage – 8
Jade Gresham – 6
Jack Newnes – 6
Blake Acres – 5
Sam Fisher – 5
Mav Weller – 5
Jack Billings – 4
Josh Bruce – 4
Jarryn Geary – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Paddy McCartin – 2
Luke Delaney – 1
Sean Dempster – 1
Luke Dunstan – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1