No unexpected emergency

by Tom Briglia

Round 13, 2019
Gold Coast Suns 3.5, 5.6, 8.9, 11.10 (76)
St Kilda  0.2, 2.5, 7.8, 11.14 (80)
Crowd: 7,243 at Riverway Stadium, Saturday, June 15th at 1.45pm

In an era of many and considerably terrible decisions, the AFL rightfully recognised this a high-risk shocker and strategically buried it far from where anyone would expect such an awful event to take place. Maybe no-one would ever notice it was happening at all: dumped in the Fox Footy-designated Saturday afternoon timeslot that Brenton Speed is wasted in far too often (suspiciously both he and Jason Bennett are kept away from the limelight by their respective networks); and wedged in one of the three bye weekends (It remains a mystery why they aren’t put together over one split round. Adding to the excess is the fact that the AFL still runs with the extra round number, so Round 23 is in the uncanny valley in the run home when calculating what’s what and knowing that teams play 22 games).

Just like we’d been shipped off in China, we were booked in to disappoint another potential growth market with a no-star line up having trouble stringing together consecutive clean and effective possessions of an Australian Rules football. How many more times does Richo have to talk about butchering the footy in the post-match press conference before something happens? This wasn’t a team getting outbodied or getting undone by brash youthfulness and trying things that make perfect sense but just don’t come off because this whole AFL system and is new. Yet again, a slow start interstate, and the same weird, ineffective footy that have transcended different iterations of teams in different seasons and circumstances under this coach. The 2018-style hurried, anxious ball movement across all parts of the ground was peppered with an occasional break forward that makes it look like it’s worth sticking with, before being emphatically undone by Newnes slicing an easy kick forward to Bruce that all but would have completed one of our better end-to -nd transitions for the season, and Gresham’s set-shot kick from close range taken around the corner comprehensively hit the post.

Adding to the list of Richo’s Classic Hits was the slow start interstate. At quarter-time we’d become just the third team ever to have been kept goalless by the Gold Coast in the first term (their first quarter and first half against us in Round 9 of 2014 remain their best ever). We showed a specific disinterest in scoring. When we did look dangerous, please refer to the above paragraph.

It wasn’t the reason for the slow start, but seven changes – we’re running out of players to be injured, but not all of them were forced – meant novelty line-ups. You’d better believe Richo can still get his mate Dave down for a game. Brandon White? The coaches always had faith in him, send him in. Nick Hind? Of course he’s being rushed into the team after his excellent pre-season in which he effectively used specific skills that we as a team have really specifically lacked. At quarter time, Dave, Hind and Clark had one touch each. Clark was caught tracking the ball from the opening bounce of the second quarter next to Ross and a moment of hesitation from both – the captain and the 20 year-old – had the ball snatched by the Suns, and Clark was easily dismissed from an attempted tackle.

***

In the same way that last year’s Round 13 fixture between these sides marked the depths of the 2018 season for us, so did this. Guys who haven’t been infected by the 2018 Virus were responsible for the better moments: Wilkie running off the 50-metre penalty to hit up Bruce on the lead, duly dropped. Hind with the long set shot goal, and the speed and then balance to weight his kick to Membrey on his own, dropped again. Walking in to goal, Gresham ran out from his line and then sprayed it. Newnes kicked a banana on the run across the face that rivalled his pre-season, post-match miss in the Werribee pocket against North.

Hard work doesn’t make things easier, but it can make things better. It can also make things more fucking tedious to watch when they’re not working. We’d had plenty of the play either side of half-time but we’d only kicked two goals until there was 12 minutes left in the third quarter. Membrey should have taken a shot on goal but gave off a weird pass to Newnes, Newnes put in a weird forward 50 entry of his own and the Suns took it up the other end. The lead had stretched out to the auspicious margin of 31 points. The fanfare of Fox Footy showing Dal trying get something, anything out of media-indifferent Gresh about his winner 364 days earlier only served to show how far we might not have come in that time after all.

***

Somehow we again scraped enough competency together to fashion a crappy win, while keeping the opposition to an inoffensive enough score and living up to Seb’s early season warning that there would be close games throughout this year. Never mind that for the freewheeling identity the Gold Coast tried building on and off the field in their early years, they were basically us in our opening five weeks in the first five-eighths of the game: Completely deconstructing the opposition while shanking opportunities on goal across all levels of simplicity and intricacy. Dunstan and Battle’s goals, and any time Nick Hind touched the ball and a couple of tackles in particular were all acts that simply needed to be manifested by the player in those moments. They allowed Membrey’s three goals that emerged out of a game that was threatening to anchor the rest of the team in Trash Bay, as well as Dean Kent to remind us why he’s been selected every week.

The work of Billings, Gresham and Marshall was likewise given a chance to impact the game. In all honesty I didn’t quite think Billings was as busy as he was until the third quarter, perhaps because he’s aesthetically more laconic than Gresh (somewhere between Jack Steven Whirring and Blake Acres Floating). Their weapons hit when the rest of the team decides to make space in parts of the ground that aren’t exclusively further down the line, and players with ball consider kicking shorter and at different angles. Billings’ two goals in the final quarter – one of more than 50 metres off a couple of steps, and another that was earned by White, but Billings was smart enough to run on and present a set shot option closer to goal – put him in matchwinner territory.

One who appears to be consistently immune to a bad team day or a wayward system is Rowan Marshall. He’s at the neutral start of every passage of play. His ruckwork is clearly developing but against a very big body in Witts we saw that it is heading very much in the right direction, and in a team with a B-grade midfield he actually adds a point of difference. Two marks in defence in the final minutes showed the value of him above any other ruckman we’ve had for nearly a decade. He often sets up very deep in general play but he’s not always stationed there just for the long kick in. He’ll come up and meet the ball, too.

At the other end of several plays was Brandon White, who had been left out of the team all year (Richo said on SEN it was because of Wilkie’s form) and was rewarded with being injured and sent to full-forward. Set shot kicking aside, he genuinely looked more comfortable than most there. It’s not just my like for Novelty Bags.

***

We should be so lucky. We were treated to a ghastly fusing of our Saturday matches against the Gold Coast in Round 16, 2016 and last year’s Round 13. Echoing the former, we were playing to keep our finals chances alive against a team that hadn’t won a game in months (10 weeks in 2016, eight weeks this time), getting off to a slow start and kicking ourselves out of it (and eventually missing the eight on percentage); and last year’s having had a lean run, playing an anxious and/or bored style of football to little effect in the preceding weeks, and having our coach’s future questioned.

The numbers stacked up too. Round 13, the Suns’ biggest lead was 31 points and they had led by 31 points at the final change last year (it had been more during the third quarter); and the final score was almost identical: 11.14 (80) to 11.12 (78) last year; 11.14 (80) to 11.10 (76) this year.

(It also continued our run in which every game we kick more than 10 goals, we win…which is a royal total of three times this year, and we remain the only team to have not kicked 100 points in a game in 2019).

***

One thing I love about this game is that it’s the actual matches which determine our fate. The sound of the siren. The club song. It’s why finals matter; it’s why Grand Final Day being the final act of the season matters. Major leagues around the world are dominated by mega-celebrity trade reveals via social media posts, and leagues determined by results on TV broadcasts of other team’s matches. This year, we’ve had that metallic taste of sport as some 24-hour distraction vehicle constantly on our tonges. We’ve learned more about this club’s fate in 2019 through social media posts or Alan Richardson’s press conferences or Paddy McCartin’s Triple M interview. Geary twice, Lonie, Jack Steele dislocating his knee cap, Jimmy Webster quietly having a chunk of metal shoved in his hand. On Saturday morning it was Robbo’s article in the Herald Sun. Did that mean Richo was in trouble? Was he ever in trouble? A few weeks ago Jake Niall’s wording in The Age suggested that the board would be looking at whether Richo is the right person for the job in the future rather than if he just does well enough this year (assuming we don’t win a final), given he has a legitimate claim to make of extenuating circumstances. Richo had spent 10 minutes in the third quarter on the bench in China with the luxury of trying to think of what to say to our captain who’s just broken his leg after returning from emergency compartment syndrome surgery because we were losing so comprehensively, which is the St Kilda Football Club’s version of Mark Thompson eating a sandwich because he’s watching a team that will win three premierships in five years on their way to winning in Perth by 135 points.

On Sunday, it was back to living our lives through Twitter and BigFooty forum page refreshes. No sooner had I texted Matt about Hannebery to King from a centre bounce and a long set shot goal, I was frantically shitting out texts about King going down with a knee injury and how many people were or were not thinking it was a corkie. I thought I was being funny when I tweeted this after Jack Steele was hurt on Thursday, now I’m just the latest moron tempting the Footy Gods to fuck with the Saints.

As soon as the words “good news” and “Saints” were linked in a headline, not unlike The Age’s load-blowing “story of the year” in May, things went to shit. With that, the early week AFL.com.au article, “Changes are coming as the good news marches in for the Saints” now links to “Huge blow for Saints as gun mid dislocates kneecap at training”, and late on Saturday afternoon Hunter looked like he’d done something awful and Brandon White was our full-forward. We’re closing in on Brenton Speed calling Alabakis to Mayo.

***

That might have been the least nervous I’ve been for a close game. There’s been a lot of talk about “emotionally checking out” on certain bigger footy-related forums, and yet again I’m fully conscious of the existential crisis I have about why it is I pay several hundred dollars every year for a membership and write long-winded emails to the club asking why they changed the club song and didn’t ask or tell anyone, and why I write this stupid fucking blog. Last year’s inflection point had led us to a situation beckoning similarly dire consequences one year later, whether we’d done everything we could or not.

There was also the “everyone’s coming back” line about Carlisle, Hannebery, et al that is now being lived, rather than a singular gateway moment vaguely in the near future up our sleeve. As you get nearer the logistics of the week to week and day to day come into play and Webster’s gonna have to wait another week and Lonie’s still longer than we might have thought and Steele dislocated his knee at training and Geary now has a broken other leg.

This is the absolute depths of the season, the furthest from the start of the year and everything it represents, and the furthest from the end of the year and everything that represents. Josh Bruce said we had a “decent stretch” after the Collingwood game; it’s given us a 13-point win against Carlton, a 70-point loss to Port and a lucky four-point win against the Suns. Like in 2016 and to a lesser extent 2017 (but also very much 2007 and 2012 – we’re building a history here), percentage might again sap the viability of the season early, as well as any urgency that might have otherwise counted for something when it really counts.

This was a different kind of relief on the siren. Certainly something a bit quieter as opposed to last year’s temporary arrest of a club plummeting towards crisis and/or Tasmania. I don’t think we actually found out anything new about this team, other than that at the completion Round 13, the 2019 season isn’t mathematically over. Given the names to come back, it might not have really even started; maybe it never will get started.

Shitshow

by Tom Briglia

Round 11, 2019
St Kilda 3.4, 5.8, 7.10, 9.15 (69)
Port Adelaide 5.1, 12.3, 18.3, 22.7 (139)
Crowd: 9412 at Adelaide Arena at Jiangwan Stadium, Sunday June 2nd at 12.20pm China Standard Time

It’s wildly reductive to say we wouldn’t be in this current position if Adam Schneider, Stephen Milne, Andrew McQualter et al had kicked straight on Grand Final Day in 2009. Or if the board didn’t take on a dick measuring contest with Kingston City Council over several poker machines. But we did what St Kilda does best, i.e. not win premierships and make a general mess off the field, and here we are, trying to make a point about being the first club to play in three countries for premiership points. As if it’s something to be proud of. As if we haven’t been shopped around outside of national borders because we aren’t able sort out out shit from Portsea to Port Melbourne.

Captain of the St Kilda Football Club and Captain of Injury Curio Club Jarryn Geary said it was “something to be proud of”, which might have just been spur on the moment mid-week press conference guff, but by the time the club itself took that line on the socials it was apparent the line was from the PR and marketing department of consistently heartbroken and depressed entity trying to convince itself the last 10 years didn’t really happen. We’re now the first team to lose in three different countries, of course.

The New Zealand attempt – which the club has occasionally tried to portray as on hiatus purely because of Auckland City Council – reached its peak in its second season with prominent local coverage after a stirring win the week before on a Saturday night against the Bombers. I dared to think that after going all-out for a rebuild more than a decade earlier, and still on the way down following the Grand Finals, that we could cheat ourselves out completely giving in to the other side of the process. Instead, we shat directly into our pants, Shanghai 2019 style, and lost by three points. We lost to Hawthorn by 145 points one week later and we didn’t win a game for three months. The Road to 2018 was born, which included 10,000 members based in New Zealand. We didn’t play in front of 10,000 people in China on Sunday.

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***

In crowning nearly our most disastrous few days this year (behind a day in Ballarat that upended a couple of lives), we showed the bad kicking is bad footy, whether you’re at the MCG playing off in a Grand Final for your second premiership in 136 years after dominating a season, or playing in a different continent in front of Gil, Kochie, some bemused locals, and some fans who paid too much to go overseas and watch their team visibly struggle to piece together decent possessions in 33-degree heat because they have rampant diarrhoea.

I was struggling in the digestive system region myself due to a bumped up dose of Minocyclin for adult acne (not a drill), and I totally didn’t have to play a game of footy nor coach one. From the mobilisation and urgency early in the season we’ve slowly been ground down by injury and illness and misfortune and incompetence back to irrelevance. Somehow, we’re teetering between Richo being a poor performance away from being sacked and a win away from surging into finals, getting some momentum as a large chunk of our most important players return to the side. That urgency has gone until the injured guys come back, it seems, but we seem to keep throwing up new and wild additions to the list.

Time nor distance has changed our poor starts travelling under Richo. Whether it be Geelong, Adelaide or Wellington in 2014, or Perth, Sydney or Shanghai in 2019, we’ll guarantee that poor kicking and a bunch of other stuff will ensure we’re up against it early on. Again, the get out clause is that our injuries have actually been that bad, and that the team was swimming in turds and possibly sore throats. We haven’t been completely out of a game in any week this year, so this really was an outlier. What wasn’t an outlier given that past five weeks was our forward line and ball movement. I counted two genuinely slick passages of play. Again, though: poo.

Don’t known if it was just me but the ground looked smaller, complete with pre-2005 height goal posts (maybe closer to the Football Park-style taller behind posts), and with the foreign city backdrop was something straight out of Gil’s weird AFLX wet dreams. If he wants an idea of how fucking outdated and tacky that is, like the new version of the St Kilda club song or the post-game light shows at Optus Stadium, he should look at the Western Australia vs South Australia game in Vancouver in 1988 and think about how AFLX might seem in the future.

***

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Bad luck is bad luck of the combined six trips made by teams competing in this one, we’re the only to have pulled off such a royal illness. (Did we officially get it over there? Maybe Blake took it with him? I don’t think so though.). We also had a couple of guys go down in Grand Final week of 2009 with food poisoning. Ironically, Jarryn Geary was the one who almost got the call up in place of Zac Dawson, who’d spent the night in hospital on a drip. Geary has made my own stories of compartment syndrome surgery and the resulting scars sound and look like I slightly bumped my elbow on a doorway a little bit once.

Really this was more about St Kilda than Shanghai. Shanghai simply served as the setting for another true-to-character St Kilda Football Club performance. Robbo was at training but couldn’t play, Acres was an early out but seemed to be stuck there, D Mac, Savage and Billings and Richo and Ratten got sick, Marsh was a surprise illness, Robbie Young was sick according to mpfourhunnid’s account, and then suddenly Joyce and Geary are in, Geary’s doing photo shoots with a royal scar on his thigh not knowing he was going to have surgery on the other leg within days, and Hind and Paton get flown over in business class for ultimately no reason at all.

Meanwhile, at Piranha Park we had Brandon White (in the 1990s style sleeveless-jumper-over-long-sleeve jumper), putting in a raking left-foot kick to full forward and Max King looking unstoppable in the air, and Dan Hannebery collecting 19 touches in his first half of footy in nine months. I’d spent most of the day at the Whitten Oval minding my own blemished skin’s business watching my housemate run around for the Western Bulldogs’ VFLW team, and randomly appearing on the VFL/VFLW Instagram account (one of those, “I mentioned them in the story, but I’d never thought they’d actually repost” bullshit stories). Instagram stories proved to actually be instructive this week, given we’re usually looking at something posted by Jack Steele and definitely not written by Jack Steele, all in the name of Almighty #spon.

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This was the kind of day that too quickly devolves into fierce chip and M&Ms devouring through happy Sunday afternoon chat with Matt and Emma and Jess in the lounge room, punctuated by an occasional “FUUUUCK” or a more controlled “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Matthew Parker’s set shot reminded us that among the diarrhoea there was still some class ticking away, and Gresham followed up one of his better games with three goals. But what else to say? Rowan Marshall was yet again our best player, and looms as the type we’ll include in conversations later this century about “the great St Kilda players of the ‘20s”. He kicked a point in the last seconds of the game, otherwise we would have landed with the exact same scoreline as that unspeakable day in 2009. (A goal, which incidentally would have taken us to the same scoreline of a certain day in 1966, but the parallel stops there). His day looked very much like a 22nd-gamer rising out of the shit and assorted virus symptoms pile around him to play in a manner that isn’t dragged down by a bad day for a team, or St Kilda’s bemusing game plan. We’ve become much too used to using this as a marker of a decent player.

***

The clues to where this one was going weren’t subtle. Let’s quickly reel them off. Marshall dropped a mark in front of goal, Phillips missed, Sinclair missed, Membrey missed, Parker dropped an easy mark in front of goal. I went on a coffee run to John Gorilla at quarter time and by the time I’d come back, Port has managed to score 2.1 in the first four minutes. A Josh Bruce miss took the scoreline to 6.2 to 3.5 and the pattern had been established – we wouldn’t do anything except miss hurried shots at goal, and Port Adelaide would find themselves at 20.3 in the final term before diluting the novelty with some late misses to finish with 22.7, a scoreline we can’t even comprehend.

Time for a quick look at out our scores table for this year:
13.7 (85)
10.16 (76)
9.12 (66)
10.14 (74)
15.5 (95)
10.8 (68)
10.10 (70)
10.10 (70)
10.11 (71)
9.14 (68)
9.15 (69)

Cool.

***

Not only did the AFL take this game away to a different continent and play it in front of 9,000 freebies, as well as make it a St Kilda home game, but also give Port Adelaide the home game “experience” “rights”, they also shunted it to Fox Footy in the shadows of Essendon and Carlton, which also meant we got Dwayne Russell yelling a bit too much. As the game weakly stumbled towards an early conclusion Dwayne thought it was time to really get things going for the people watching at home, which probably equalled the number of people actually at the ground. Within moments of each other he pulled out “Shanghai shake and bake”, which is a thing that no one has ever said, and that he only said because of the alliteration in “Shanghai” and “shake”, and then he really went to the top shelf before everyone decided to switch over to a vaguely more competitive game of footy and pulled down the “Great Brawl of China” when Gray and Battle had a crack at each other and Josh Bruce got involved. Do we deserve better? Maybe we don’t.

While Kent and Sinclair racked up behinds, and Robbie Young ran out of bounds on his own and then scuffed a kick into the attack – all the while apparently doing something bad to his arm – Bonner pulled out two goals from outside 50.

***

This is the “decent stretch” of games that Josh Bruce dangerously talked about. Mercifully, we have the week off, but beyond that is the rest of the season that bears a softer draw the players obviously believe they can handle as we all expect a host of important players to come back from injury. The captain, for everything that had happened since running into Jaydn Hunt a few weeks ago, will probably only come back this year if we hold up our end of the deal. As a club, we couldn’t have more spectacularly blundered our way to $500,000. Not sure if there’s too much of a lesson in isolation given the more immediate circumstances. You’ll never be able to stop yourself and others from getting sick. But maybe kick accurately on Grand Final Day next time, otherwise who knows where you’ll end up?

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Everybody has them

by Tom Briglia

Round 10, 2019
St Kilda 2.2, 5.7, 8.10, 9.14 (68)
Carlton 3.4, 5.4, 6.6, 8.7 (55)
Crowd: 35,058 at Marvel Stadium, Sunday, May 26th at 3.20pm

A few weeks ago I opened with some sloppily-worded stuff about Bob Murphy’s rhythm of the season. That crappy Saturday night against the Eagles was a descent into that rhythm. It can be a terrifying plummet, or an autonomy-sapping submission to a phase or a period or way of life. There is movement and it’s taking you in one direction to a place you’re not quite sure you want to be, or if you’ll know what to do when you get there.

It’s another thing to have landed in that place, and to live that way of life. On Sunday we had said farewell to the weekend’s daylight as we entered the Concrete Disney Store at 3pm (1pm if like you wanted to catch a glimpse of Max King teasingly running around on an AFL-approved artificial stadium but in a Sandringham jumper). By the end we were glad to be out. So what exactly are we doing?

All we had to do was show up and vaguely win. That’s about as heavy as the burden of expectation has been for some time. The anticipation at the ground in the moments before the opening bounce of the Crows match was belted out of us with every long kick down the line, and all that is left from the roar of the crowd as Jack Billings’ shot went through after the siren against Melbourne is the Fox Footy broadcast rolling its way through the solar system.

***

By Friday night, Richo was playing a supporting fodder role in Brad Scott story line. Here I am, trying to pick the least offensive mid-range wine and a relatively cheap bag of crinkle-cut chips for a close friend’s birthday dinner, and Matt’s sending me screen shots of Channel 7’s Twitter account talking about North weighing up the future of Brad Scott with “St Kilda possibly being his next home”, and whether or not St Kilda should or would move on Richo soon to get to the front of the queue for Brad Scott was deemed worthy of an SEN on-air discussion. In a low-stakes Ross Lyon job, we might have been welcoming John Longmire to Moorabbin after all 13 years later.

Richo’s position seemed strangely secure, and I say strange as in, “Gee media, I think you’re the only ones thinking about this”, but again in the wash-up we’re needing to deal with the reality of what we’re explicitly trying to achieve. Break down the opposition, keep them to a low score, and we’ll vaguely kick a higher (but still low) score via questionable ball movement, questionable forward line activity, and questionable kicking for goal. Zero surprises when the final score comes in at 9.14 to 8.7. We’ve kicked 10 goals or less in every game except for two this season; and our scores have come in bizarrely similarly: 15.5, 10.16, 9.12, 10.14, 15.5, 10.8, 10.10, 10.10, 10.11, 9.14. Josh Bruce had dangerously said this was the beginning of a “decent stretch” of games, and we’re apparently the fittest team, so this shouldn’t have been a problem. But it kind of was. But we won. So this gets put in the “just…leave it for now” column.

Parker missed two set shots and then nailed two in huge moments in the third and fourth quarters, including what was our solitary goal in the last. Bruce on the siren at half time was huge, but these moments are magnified when you’re only kicking nine goals. How does that stack up against the defining moments of an AFL season? We’ve forgotten. But I’ll take those Parker moments every time. He and Gresham and Long brought the personality back to a team that retreated to its room for the weekend over the past month.

Some other things had returned. The celebrations were back. Dunstan showed off his gym work to the cheer squad and Parker let everyone know about both of his goals. When the game was really in the balance Ben Long made sure the opposition knew about it and hit Casboult very hard. It wasn’t just good to see that, but this wasn’t the early in the game, let them know you’re there stuff. This was the last quarter, and if it literally went arse up Casboult was away in space in the centre of the ground. Parker followed that up later with a wild block at half-back, even Dunstan’s calculatedly careless hit had a lot going for it. Rory Laird’s hit on Lonie was a marker in this season; he didn’t necessarily do anything wrong but in a team that had gone out of its way to celebrate goals harder and let the opposition know some shit’s not appreciated, no one went to Laird. It hadn’t been seen since. The Carlton players went to Parker on the three-quarter time siren for a whole lot less, so it was good to see Long and Parker return the favour in a big way when it really counted.

***

This game in isolation didn’t mean a huge amount. We win, and so we should have; we don’t and Richo may or may not be sacked but most probably not because of injuries (do we ignore the previous five years?). This was an exercise in physically running out onto the ground, doing stuff, and checking the box. That much was done, and we feel more relief than anything else of being on the winners’ list again. Richo hyping up the team’s progression and the return of Geary, Lonie, Webster, Carlisle, Hannebery et al is some fluffy PR stuff that forms a shadow in the periphery of our day-to-day. We’re neither here nor there, and this season at least has an asterisk until those guys are back. Richo gets an out, but maybe we’d all accepted a hard reset over the off season.

The footy itself bleeds into the rest of it. Games aren’t so much of an event. Certainly not in this moment; the optimism has subsided for now (we’re at least able to say “for now”, for now). We’re just happy to be out of the house because once again we’ve got sucked into the week-to-week vortex. It’s easy to see why the club holds out in not listening to fans about excessive noise or fan engagement or cover versions of club songs and self-fulfils its purpose of making our home ground a home TV set. The best part was hearing Carlton’s classic Fable Singers version of their theme song running back to back (given the logistics around the circumstance of the pre-game ceremony) into the St Kilda cover version that no one asked for, and showed up the the cover version again as tinny, tacky, instantly more outdated than the Fable Singers versions would ever be, and again shat all over the pathetic attempt by the AFL that the audio was of “diminishing quality”. The Fable Singers version is bold, it’s rich, it sounds magnificent, and it sounds like Carlton. It has the weight of the arrogant, successful Old Dark Navy Blues behind it. The full arrangement takes over the stadium because it both aurally sounds fantastic and it means something to the Carlton fans. In the same way Richmond could be strong and bold during their 37-year premiership drought, their song and the fans’ response to it reminded us of where the club had come from. It maintained something brash and bold and arrogant and aggressive about the club, even in its lower moments. In the whirlpool of the season those are moments and key elements of the club that do matter. Our song means nothing and represents nothing now. It feels like we don’t have a club song. The reception to it is noticeably muted since it was brought in, pre-game and post-game. It sounds weak, as if the club was told by the AFL they needed to listen to them when it wanted to test some “fan engagement” shit at the Concrete TV set, and we aren’t in a position to say no.

The club maybe should pay attention to these kinds of things that actually mean something to fans. Maybe it’s because Saints Magic exists, the live event spin-off of The Streak DVD. Worthy cause, absolutely. Worthy event to mark 10 years of? I don’t know about you, but that might be the second most upsetting match of 2009. It represents exactly what we couldn’t do when history really mattered, and that we’re marking something like that in this way is the club going out of one hell of their way to remind us that the season delivered fuck all. All we have of that season – because of Sports Delivered giving up – is a far-too-short, hastily put together DVD by the club (via Sports Delivered) that has Tony Jones calling Farren Ray “Farren Lay” and music inappropriately playing throughout the whole thing, and no sense of the idea that the season was a six-month fucking story a decade in the making. Lost to history in-fucking-deed.

***

A curio of the rhythm of the season is that that as winter sets it actually breaks down and blurs everything. In the moment, you get lost the rhythm, among the components. Instead of going over the highlights and Richo’s press conference ASAP, the 58 tram trip home was spent listening to Paddy’s interview on Triple M in the pre-match. That was difficult to listen to. I think the broader attitude amongst Saints fans, or any fans, or any humans, would just be hoping he is healthy enough to do day-to-day stuff as he did before.

In the depths of the season – the furthest away we are from the optimism and the let’s-watch-everything attitude of the early season to the optimism (but most probably reflection) and the let’s-watch-everything attitude of the business end of the season – this was another “every week” in the “we go to the footy every week”, but among other “every weeks”, each as regrettable as the last until you see Matthew Parker’s celebration of Ben Long’s hit pop up on a slickly-edited season highlights package in Grand Final week or on a YouTube video several years from now, and you wistfully think about that extra time you had on your side then.

The cold weather finally forced its way through. I burped on the tram accidentally on the way in, and I didn’t quite have enough layers on for the way home. Low to mid-range meats-as-comfort-food summon me, I get off the tram at Union Square Coles, I choose the pork sausages with Kakadu plum and lemon bullshit, I walk home, and whether I choose to or not, forget it ever happened.

Dizzy spells

by Tom Briglia

Round 9, 2019
Collingwood  3.1, 6.2, 11.4, 17.10 (112)
St Kilda 1.3, 4.9, 9.11, 10.11 (71)
Crowd: 60,702 at the MCG, Saturday, May 18th at 1.45pm

Version 2

I hadn’t watched Luke Beveridge’s press conference following the announcement of the Tom Boyd’s retirement until I was on the train to the game. I am unapologetic about my feelings towards the exceptionalism of Australian Rules, in how its history is respected, kept and acknowledged, and the magnificence of how it is played, and how that is far more conducive to a range of emotions and reflection. One my favourite things in life is a Saturday afternoon at the MCG. There wasn’t quite anything like stepping off the train and taking that walk from Jolimont Station to the ground in the natural air and the natural light. Not purely for how pleasant it was – I’d only just taken out my headphones and put my phone in my pocket after watching Luke Beveridge in tears talking about a 23 year old’s life being upended by mental illness – but for how human it was.

It’s why a day Grand Final makes everything feel that much more exposed. It’s a life event that takes place in natural light, at the mercy of the weather. Every Grand Final is literally viewed through the conditions it is played in. For St Kilda fans, the 1997 Grand Final isn’t as eerie without the context of it being so dark in the afternoon. The 2009 Grand Final isn’t the same game without the wild and harsh fluctuations in light and rain throughout the battle. The 2010 Grand Final and the Replay are distinguishable by the slightly-too-hot sun in the latter (as well as Collingwood playing us off the park for four quarters, as opposed to just two). It’s all real. The alternative is the Concrete Disney Dome; an office building and multinational corporation’s retail outlet nestled among other office buildings, where on winter weekends you say goodbye to the day (and perhaps the weekend) anywhere between 1.30pm and 3pm because for some reason you’re about to head inside to a glorified TV set to watch the footy, largely because people with hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal managed to botch one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the state’s history.

***

Well done to any of the players for not shitting directly into their pants because that was the biggest crowd I think anyone associated with the St Kilda football club would have seen since Nick Riewoldt’s last game. Quite literally more people turned up than could ever fit in our Concrete Dome home ground, and the stadium was still 40% empty (Was any official reason ever given as to why Docklands was built to a circa 55,000 capacity?). That doesn’t necessitate that a high-quality event will take place, but it’s strange and wonderful how 60,702 people will still congregate for something that really did threaten to be unmemorable given our recent form (and with no need for questionable crowd figures – the match day attendance against West Coast was given at barely one-third of that, at just over 20,000, but is listed as more than 24,000 on the AFL site).

While we might be feeling a little better about the broader direction of the club, there are moments when it’s hard to not take notice of Geelong, Hawthorn and Sydney’s sustained success having won premierships themselves during the GT and Ross eras. Right now, the Cats and Collingwood are now a decent chance of reprising the 2011 The Joke’s On St Kilda Grand Final match-up, and we’re still trying find salvation in individual VFL performances. It’s a little bit harder to not take notice of those narratives still when you’re sitting around at the MCG in 2019 before a match, minding your own business, and The Final Draw starts playing on the big screen.

The club as receded from “Story of the Year” back to the periphery of the competition. Where has the noise gone? I would have asked “Where has Lethlean gone?”, but he popped up on Saturday to tell everyone that we’re a destination club now with the best facilities in the league. Well, something has gotta start happening, as in, literally this week, because Hawthorn’s future home at Dingley is as commendable as it is suspiciously (threateningly?) located close to Moorabbin. Where is Slater? Was the opening period of the season just a freak prolonged event that coincided with some good early-season PR? Aren’t we the fittest team of the comp? Where was Parker or Steele or Gresham or Billings roughing up Varcoe after he smacked Ed Phillips in the head? Where did the goal celebrations go? We need to get hungry and and get angry. Tell the fans about it. Tell the opposition it’s not appreciated. We haven’t said much for over a month now. We’re squabbling with ourselves and our own 2018-echo game plan. The anxiety with the footy’s back, and it’s taken Jade Gresham and Jack Newnes and Blake Acres with it.

***

Not much movement around the ground in first quarter meant we were wheeling out the 2018 Special of long kicks down the line to nothing in particular. Rarely was a contest in the air being halved – certainly not won – so there weren’t even stoppages to reset for. Some of the more considered ball use we’ve seen in our better periods this year eventually returned, and some of the full ground defence was back, but something stinks with our forward line, and something stinks with how we move the ball. It’s hard to tell what or who or which is at fault when everything is slightly broken. Maybe it’s slightly everything. A ridiculous stretch of 15 consecutive inside 50s during the second quarter yielded fuck all; no other team could pull that kind of thing off. We added only three goals and six behinds for the entire quarter. Young deserved a goal (he at least created an opportunity out of nothing with relentless pace and chasing), and another week saw Seb Ross miss yet another chance for a captain’s goal. Collingwood couldn’t get the ball into their front half but we had no clue going forward how to provide nor find a decent target in a dangerous spot. Just because Marshall belted through a shot from 50 doesn’t mean the plan is working; it reflects on how he’s a lot better than a lot of our guys but that’s it. Otherwise it was too many shots were under pressure or from difficult positions.

Membrey kicked four goals straight but Bruce again got lost in the fog of confused Australian Rules football. His excellent marking display one week earlier needed to be a new normal, not a once-every-two-months event. When he led up and kicked the first goal it appeared as though Josh Bruce was back, but in actuality Josh Bruce was back, and by Josh Bruce I mean the Josh Bruce of vaguely recently; the futsal ring-in who we still haven’t really known what to make of since the start of 2015.

Robbie Young was one of the few things in attack that did work and marked yet another bizarre pick-up by our recruiters purely for the reason that they’re interesting to watch. His stats with the ball were pretty lean, but he kicked two goals, including an excellent raking left-foot goal from near the 50-metre arc, and set up Membrey for another all in the third quarter as we looked to make a move when the game opened up. His first kick that set up Bruce for the opening goal of the game might have been our best forward 50 entry of the day. Like Parker, he is never out of the play. Always hunting. Un-St Kilda like. His chase-down tackle in the second quarter deserved a goal, but he more than made up for it in the third.

Dean Kent played another curio game, not quite enough to have nailed his magnet to the coaches’ board and perhaps leaving himself at the mercy of Ben Long and Bailey Rice’s performances for Sandy. Matt Parker had a second quieter week with the ball but he’s still too dangerous when he’s in the general area. All we got from the final quarter was a Josh Battle mark with 90 seconds left. Josh Battle is quickly turning into this year’s Jake Carlisle – not only has he effectively taken his place in defence, but Richo and the coaches are also using him as the default “we tried something different” move, three goals to the opposition in the game too late. Battle will almost certainly return to the forward line (RIGHT?!) after his Riewoldt-style education is done, but why not give him the responsibility of needing to make an impact up forward while the game is still alive? He arguably showed more promise as a forward than anyone else did last year; do it for the team’s sake, as well as his own.

***

The Magpies got the inevitable easy goal before the final change as we placed our face firmly in the path of the psychological blow of having done all the hard work to not even have the lead. Through the third quarter we were hitting eerie 2009 Grand Final scoreline areas, and a scoreline at the final change of 9.11 to 11.4 would tell you that we’d blown it. There is plausible theory that the MCG brings out the best of this team. Two of our better performances last year – against Richmond, including Gresham kicking six, and a win against Melbourne – followed by a match last year that some of us dared believe was a landmark event for this team. The last quarter only confirmed what most suspected with a bigger 2019 sample size at our disposal; that for all the work St Kilda did in breaking down the opposition it didn’t actually know what to do with the game when it had it in its hands. Collingwood were never far away from lifting a small gear that would create a broad, ugly gulf between the two teams. This game was set up at the final change as a perfect test to see where our supposedly new system and being the fittest team in the comp would get us. It just showed us up for having a midfield that is severely beneath the better brigades in the competition. Dunstan was great for another week but neither him nor Seb Ross can be the headline act of a successful team’s midfield, and Blake Acres isn’t quite what we thought he would be this year.

There was some comfort in being prepared for a 0-3 result from the past three weeks. A string of three premiership fancies was itself a constant low-pressure release valve. Let’s see what we’ve got. The answer was not much. We didn’t have many players left. But things matter now. No more burners. This was a difficult period we just had to get through, and then the rest of the draw won’t be so tough. Right? Josh Bruce danced with the idea during the week, in the way Jack Steele danced with the idea of finals after Round 5. One month after that evening at the MCG, we left the same ground having not won since. Jack Billings’ post-siren goal seemed a long time ago; as if it was part of a different world line. Now we’re just ticking down to a vague time in the near future in which Carlisle, Steven, Hannebery, Webster, Geary and Lonie are all in the team. On Sunday, away from any cameras or Dwayne Russell’s yelling, Max King added his name to that list.

Capacity

by Tom Briglia

Round 8, 2019
St Kilda 2.1, 4.5, 6.8, 10.10 (70)
West Coast Eagles 3.3, 5.6, 11.8, 12.16 (88)
Crowd: The AFL site is lying, Saturday, May 11th at 7.25pm

Sometimes I just really can’t be fucked writing up this shit. For my personal whingebag reasons I write as a diary of following this club because I’m wired a bit oddly and St Kilda makes me feel too many things too extremely. More pragmatically, I know the blog stands up better (not necessarily as “good” – just better) as an entity if I keep this tight and have something every week, along with the St Kilda Jumper State of the Union (yesterday made it a whole lot more interesting), cracking the shits over the club song being changed, and end of year bullshit thrown in.

Usually it’s a lot easier to write things up when the club is in a shitty state. It’s more cathartic, particularly in its historical context. This club’s journey is more conducive to my whingebag brain – sad, anxious, depressed, drenched in nostalgia for what could have been, you get the idea. It’s also fucking exhausting whichever way. I don’t write efficiently, and I don’t write it efficiently.

The point of all of that is: the most difficult weeks to write something up are these. This game offered around the mark of fuck all. These aren’t the types of games that bring revelation, but they are just as much of Bob Murphy’s rhythm of the season as any other. They reinforce, they reaffirm, they drain, they exhaust, they steel. Among all the moments and the matches we recall or that shape our story as supporters – for better or worse – games and trips home and days and weeks like these are what happens in between. They sit around the periphery, they fill in the cracks, they inform the subconscious. These are the “every week” in the “every week” that we turn up.

Given the start we’d had to the season, this was the first real reminder of the week-to-week grind of a footy season, and I specifically do mean grind. The media cycle(s), the review, the mid-week faff chat, The Footy Show actually getting cancelled, the build up to match itself, and a slide into, for now, irrelevance. It’s a long way from The Age’s “story of the year”, but at least that’s on them.

***

As always, my brother Matt offered a more succinct, accurate take than anything you’ll get on here: “Nothing happened other than very bad umpiring.”

The loneliest place in winter is the Concrete Dome when you’re watching the Saints play an interstate team in front of seven other people, it’s a little bit too cold, this is your Saturday night, the players look kind of capable at most and the umpiring is going against you. Two first half goals to the Eagles from nothing free kicks equals Nathan Brown’s gif-conducive exasperation. That came with a string of soft frees against in general play, which was absurd enough before Tom Browne brought up a Shane Warne tweet as part of a question to Richo during a tepid post-match press conference.

This was the type of game in which the players just needed to physically appear on the ground, do whatever they had to do and we could all check it off and go home if we were bored enough to turn up in the first place. Yep, West Coast is better; yep, we’re still struggling with actually using an Australian Rules football correctly.

***

Something is wrong with our forward line, and in a Diet 2018 fashion our game was (mostly) littered with ill-directed or kicks down the line that had no purpose, manic pressure that left opposition players free for the next kick or handball, and absurd forward 50 entries and shots on goal. Our scores this year have come in at 13.7, 10.16, 9.12, 10.14, 15.5, 10.8, 10.10, and 10.10 again, i.e. we’ve kicked 10 goals or less in six out of eight games, and we haven’t hit 100 yet this year. All you need to do is kick more than the opposition, and we’ve been keeping the opposition to low scores for most of the year, which looks kind of cool and a little evil when it works. Somehow, we were still in this in the final term, despite apparently being played off the park by a clearly more skilled and successful football team. But at some point the weight of numbers suggests that while we’re sort of in the game a lot, or in a lot of games, we’re simply not winning them. In the same way that that’s ok if you win enough of those, it’s not ok if you don’t. While we restricted a team to a vaguely respectable number of goals, but like we rue our own chances, they had several in the opening minutes of the final quarter that should have made sure our faux-comeback wasn’t in any place to be conceived. But we didn’t kick those goals, and they’d kicked enough. We’re likely to go 4-5 this week.

Nice for Richo to acknowledge that execution is bad etc. etc. and there was weirdly plenty of time when Parker and Newnes scuffed their shots at goal. The Billings snap with around 90 seconds was an excellent example of him playing on instinct rather than having too much to think and scuffing a shot in time and space from 35 out. For all our ridiculous waste, as well as Billings’ goal we had Savage kick one of the better goals you’ll see this year with a classic running banana from the pocket, and Dean Kent seemed to secure another several weeks two goals including a set shot banana goal of his own. When we were making a charge in the third quarter Kent was wildly responsible for running into goal and cannoning the ball across the face of goal from close range, not dissimilar to Matthew Parker doing the best fan engagement work from the club in Round 1. What was worse for Kent is that he’s still shanking shots at goal and he had a teammate on their own directly in front of goal when said wayward cannon was launched.

***

This wasn’t the most the most classic-laden set-list of the 2018 Reunion Tour but we did get the associated stripping away of players’ individual qualities. Gresham signing a four-year deal during the week happened to land in the middle of his two career-worst performances with the ball. He twice had shots at goal from around 35 metres out while running perpendicular to the goal face and kicking across his body, rather than thinking for the second he had each time and using his balance and the space around him.

Parker had another important set shot at goal that he fluffed, but he’s allowed a quiet week I guess. In the “quiet several games category” is Ben Long, who like Parker and Gresham – and to a point Billings over the past couple of weeks – have lost their X-factor. Sinclair upped his, pulling out a ridiculous through the legs and deft handball move on the boundary line that US MAJOR LEAGUE SPORTS fetishists and Night Grand Final Enthusiasts would have creamed themselves over.

This year’s “Oh yeah, him” guy is Ed Phillips, taking D-Mac’s role from 2018 as the human who gets picked several weeks into the season without dominating at VFL level. He obviously didn’t need to – he was more energetic than most and popped up in a lot of places within passages. I never thought I’d say this, but in the same vein, where the hell is Jack Lonie when we need him?

Josh Battle is now vaguely our best player. He’s doing it all at the moment, and kind of because he just has to. No one else seems to be doing a whole lot of stuff. A huge tackle on Liam Ryan, being one of the few players to keep their shit together within 75 metres of goal, disposing of the ball with above-average skill and intelligence everywhere else. In the same way that Matthew Parker is un-St Kilda like for his aggression and X-factor, so is Josh Battle for his no-nonsense excellence.

Also in the incredibly slim, small, minute, tiny positives column was the bemusing return of Josh Bruce’s ability to take contested marks. The stranger thing was that it happened during the game after he’d dropped a couple of sitters, and not after an entire week of working himself up and managing to land in the zone on game day. Seven contested marks right across the front half, all the way up to the wing, in one of the best marking displays of someone wearing a St Kilda jumper for several years. If that happens every week then Josh Battle and his loud green car will just have to back up a little, but that would be a monumental shift for this club.

Worth noting that Membrey got a mention in Richo’s post-match press conference. Really? Happy to be corrected but I think it might have been Richo jumping to comfort us all that something is sort of working in the front half.

***

There’s been a push-pull as supporters over whether we consider the club to we reset over the off-season – and subsequently how much of an out we give the coaches and players – but there are still too many recurring themes popping up from last year. Maybe it’s working. Maybe it’s not. Maybe we just have to wait and see. We need to get hungry and and get angry. Tell the fans about it. Tell the opposition it’s not appreciated. We haven’t said much for a couple of weeks now. Instead we’re squabbling with our own heads. The anxiety with the footy’s back.

Have injuries taken the toll so much that we can’t play a certain way? Apparently so. This is a weird holding pattern in the season. Weathering the storm, whatever cliché you want to shit out, we’re basically ticking over until the the bye period and waiting for injured players to come back whilst Sandy goes and tempts fate with the “keepingupwithKing” hashtag.
We’re also waiting to get through this tough draw period of three back-to-back premiership fancies before the, uh, “easier” part of our draw, but time will tell. If you’re good enough, the draw’s not too tough. If you’d smattered these three weeks across the season and were told we’d lose them, you wouldn’t care. If you put them together then all of a sudden we’re at 4-4 and likely to go 4-5 unless the coaches can get the players to remember what was going on three weeks ago.
***
This is one of the very few times of the year when “there’s something going around” is actually applicable, and I’ve been hovering around the arse end of it. For those of us with rentals in Brunswick West that don’t boast central heating, the trips to the bathroom and the kitchen are a little colder. The energy bill jumps up because of my crappy heater in my room that I haven’t bothered upgrading in three years (when prospects were brighter and 2019 was part of what seemed to be a correctly-routed Road to 2018 that was actually a Road to 2020). The head hurts a little more, the muscles are a little slower, the nasal passage is a little more blocked, the throat sharper. Echinacea is flying off the shelves. The will is dwindling.

Saturday night are the nights that you really live it. That we really get a reminder of what we do and don’t get out of this. Our home ground is an office building that is also now a Concrete Disney Store, we’ve caught ourselves forgiving the club for five wasted years, and no amount of Association Football-style individual player introductions pre-match will genuinely enthuse anyone. Barely more than 20,000 showed up, and I don’t blame them. But also for fuck’s sake, someone’s got to make the first move, otherwise we’re gonna be the ones shipped off to Tasmania in 2026.