Tolerance

by Tom Briglia

Round 4, 2018
Geelong Cats 4.3, 8.6, 13.8, 15.13 (103)
St Kilda
1.4, 3.7, 5.8, 7.14 (56)
Crowd: 27,338 at GMHBA Stadium, Sunday, April 16 at 4.40pm

Flu Royale 2018 came a little earlier than usual. The Geelong trip has never counted as the non-negotiable must-attend that all of St Kilda’s Melbourne games are considered, but either way I was shacked up at home in my oversized dressing gown watching on TV with two one-litre bottles of Gatorade, a lot of Nurofen and two bags of jalapeno-flavoured Farmhouse Culture sauerkraut chips in a bid to force some sort of head cold drainage ASAP.

Not all of the olive leaf extract, echinacea, and zinc + C capsules in the world were going to change anything on either side of the screen. Throw in the multitude of Nick Riewoldt groans and sighs from the Fox Footy box setting new standards for partisan commentating and we still would have come back down the highway with the same overall result, probably with the same scoreline, and certainly having earned it via the same bemusing method.

It should be noted straight up that Dylan Roberton’s collapse was a very scary moment and stripped away the more decadent of rages and depressions we allow (afford?) ourselves as St Kilda fans. As Gerard Whateley has said (and Bob Murphy reaffirmed the other week in Open Mike), sport is the “dessert tray of life”. The cut on the broadcast from pre-ball up to a quite visibly concerned Newnes, Gilbert and Carlisle running over to Roberton was a very abrupt, raw reminder of where our priorities really are, compounded when the footage showing players from both teams trying to grab the attention of staff on the bench and the umpire. That Roberton got up quickly and came off looking quite fine was as much of a relief as you could get in the moment, but quelled some of the emotional energy we would have repeatedly tried to summon as another long ball forward landed into the comfortable hands of Tom Stewart.

In more pragmatic terms for that moment, and the rest of the evening, it brought the viewing experience back to what it was – watching a poorly skilled and apparently poorly coached football team playing Australian Rules football against a much better team representing a much more competent club.

***

If you’d watched the first several minutes then you’d watched them all, and even Sandy Roberts calling Esava Ratugolea “Ratagalouie” came back later in the game. As a seasoned Saints fan, Sandy had probably given up on the whole thing like the rest of us early in the third, but Roo and to a lesser extent Nicky Dal took on a more flustered tone, although Nicky Dal saved some of his ammo for the Monday.

Billings collected what may have been the most meaningless 23 touches possible, as well as two behinds, but it was his first involvement that should have had any Saint watching turn off the TV or legging it out of the ground to South Geelong station to try and salvage what was left of the weekend. He tempered his attack on a low ball forward of centre as a Geelong opponent was coming the other way, and instead of picking up the ball and barging through, or bracing and freeing his arms, he leaned back awkwardly to avoid contact that wasn’t really coming, and dished out a handball along the ground between two Saints. Needless to say, the Cats were away, and went straight up the other end for their first goal.

The numbers didn’t reflect a “soft” game, but numbers don’t reflect that kind of stuff to begin with, and fair to say Geelong outworked us pretty comprehensively everywhere. Starting extra players back because – by Richo’s own admission – we weren’t overly confident in the midfield getting it done suggested we’re also not overly confident in the blue-collar, pressure-heavy style that supposedly defines our better footy. You also end up with Robbo saying right at your head on television the next night that you’re messing with young forwards because they’re left without the support they should otherwise get from players that are be closer to them, as long, useless ball after long, useless ball is driven forward like a post-apocalyptic Dead Hand system sending out missiles into a nuclear wasteland.

I don’t know how I felt on balance about the 360 grilling and the clear discomfort of the situation on the set and for Richo, but part of me secretly enjoyed it. It was embarrassing for the club, and I don’t know how much more money the club it on top of my Ultimate Social Club and Southern Saints memberships before really basic stuff is covered five seasons into a rebuild.

Simon Lethlean might come across as a no-bullshit sort of operator but during the week he’d tried slipping in the supposed deviation from the Road to 2018 plan as if we were stupid for having believed any of in the first place. If it was always going to be malleable then what’s the fucking point of having it? And making big deal of it? And producing these videos for it? And charging supporters $150 to give presentations about it? To shut the fans up through a darker period with an official, documented plan the club could refer us to. Selling St Kilda-style hope, but having dressed that hope in a suit and tie.

***

“Basic stuff” includes basic stuff like handling the old Australian Rules football. Just like the JLT games (except this was an actual game that counts for stuff), really simply skill and decision errors started popping up immediately. Gilbert dropped an easy mark, St Kilda Football Club Captain Jarryn Geary made his contribution with a small, pokey kick out of defence to flat footed Jake Carlisle that was quickly turned over, Gresham and Newnes royally messed a clean break from defence along the wing, Marshall was outmsucled in a one-on-one with Bews, and Gresham kicked off the back of the centre square to an outnumbered Tom Hickey instead of lowering the eyes.

All this to go with 1.4 for the quarter, with all four misses coming from set shots that were hung out to the right. Never mind that Dan Menzel in the next quarter slotted one from the boundary line. Our set shot kicking coach is better known for being a CentreBet spruiker and one of the many hosts on one of the more confusing footy shows on TV, and right now any images of him at a St Kilda training session will be looked at similarly to any image of Nathan Carroll.

Back to Gresham’s kick – I’m picking him out because it was one of the early occurrences of what would define the day. Regardless of a player’s talent, skill or composure, there was incessant kicking long to an outnumbered player with little to no support on the ground, and no real sign that there was an order for anyone to be doing anything else. Let’s hope the kick was at least to the player’s advantage to begin with (it wasn’t). I don’t know how many times I’m going to say this during the year, but I don’t know what else to say – it was so comprehensive and broadbrushed. That’s what happened. It was talked about non-stop in the commentary box, as I said, Nicky Dal ran with it afterwards, and it was broadcast nationally and is all available in excellent quality, right now, digitally.

No half-time spray or measured talking to or shake of the head – whatever the hell went on in those 20 minutes – made any change. Once they came back out, Paddy had either caught the bug or decided to dish out what he’d been receiving, and bombed one deep into attack himself. Blacres joined the sad party and undid some neat work from Long (that one went straight back up the other end for a goal), and by the time Steele kicked to a one on three Roo gave up on the commentary box diplomacy and let out a heavy-hearted “it’s becoming ridiculous now”.

Paddy toiled admirably, which I think comes across as a bit of a patronising cliche to use, but following a week that he came under the most intense scrutiny of his career, competed repeatedly in a way that was hard to ignore in the circumstances. Tell me it’s his fault his career’s this way after watching any of the last three games. And then he gets his car stolen and house broken into that night? You’ve got to be shitting me.

***

Moments of class are perhaps being misread or overrated by Saints fans at the moment, but there were a few hints of above-average competence. Among it all Ben Long, on his way to playing the best game of his short career, cleverly soccered his way past a Geelong player wide on the forward flank, but Lonie couldn’t read the second deft kick inboard. Instead, he’d run on as if Long had already picked up the ball and started the action of handpassing over the top of the Geelong player.

In the few minutes late in the second half that we threatened to be vaguely competitive, Rowan Marshall was at his busiest rucking and actually looking threatening in the forward line, and as much as it said about him it said about the mystery en masse ebbs and flows the team experiences throughout the game. A strong mark on the 50 metre line, and flushed the set shot right through the middle. We didn’t actually know until after half time that the goal would just about be it for him, because the only impact Billings had for the day was on his face.

Dunstan again played like one of the few guys who visibly cared,. Carlisle is our best backman, possibly our best forward if we actually played him there when the game was still up for grabs, and possibly our best ruckman too, but the Hickey and Marshall pairing seemed to work a lot more effectively across the ground in the half that it was operating. Marshall again showed what a dynamic player in a Saints jumper can look like, and Blacres had moments but for fuck’s sake, is that what we’re back to looking for now? Really? It’s nice that Clark and Coffield – who genuinely have shown class and composure beyond most in their short time at the club – have had their contracts extended, but the club is hitting the Poster Boy button on the pairing a little too early.

Long was probably the only real news out of the game. The game had been over for some time when he read the ball skipping over a pack in the forward pocked, turned his opponent inside-out near the point post and snapped a goal over his shoulder, but he also worked hard up the ground in what showed one of the first real expansions on the creative moments that have carried his reputation into the AFL system.

Right now, there is nothing apparent in our game plan that allows for Billings to do what he does best, or Gresham, or even Acres, which is what made Long’s game so noticeable. Our sharpest and most damaging players have looked blunted since Good Friday afternoon. Roo derided the “metres gained” stat at least twice, specifically after separate Shane Savage long kicks to not much in particular. Premiums are too high for too little, but probably on parity with what the Saints have worked with for too long.

***

A flustered Roo spoke for almost all Saints fans watching the tripe (and anyone who’d given up their Sunday evening for it) when he was finally given licence to really snap late in the game, teeing off on Newnes who sliced one from outside 50 when Paddy was one-out in the goal square. It was a rare occasion where there was a player not just one-out, but one-out close to the actual posts. Garry Lyon pressed him over whether it was personnel or system and his breathless response was emphatic – it was the system; as they had all day from the opening bounce when there were extra numbers camped in defence, and time after time after time after time players would look to kick long to a one-on-two if basic skill errors hadn’t stopped progress up the ground already. Maybe our structures are that flawed

Where a comment like that, or putting blame the structures and systems becomes really  damning is that he had been there throughout Richo’s entire career to this point, and captain (officially and unofficially) during that time. He would have known every single move trying to pulled from the coaches box on the ground. Shortly afterwards, Geary kicked a short ball in the defensive 50 to Jordan Cunico, who went back and kicked a goal.

***

I’m in the very, very large camp-turned-metropolis that broadly dislikes Dwayne Russell as a football commentator (if he’s paired with someone for games he’s actually tempered and not too bad), but he wrote a suspiciously positive article about Saints fans for the Geelong Advertiser on Sunday. It closed with, “You might see a handful in Saints colours during the broadcast today. Don’t feel sorry for them. Salute them. As far as AFL fans go, these are the elite of the elite. The diamonds that can’t be crushed.”

Now, I’m not saying let’s go to the game this Saturday because it make us feel good about ourselves, and “Fortius Quo Fidelius” doesn’t mean “no matter what, this club is great”. This club is not successful on or off the field, not historically and certainly not now, and we might be seeing the 21st century equivalent of what those that endured the awful 1980s saw, and for fuck’s sake I’ll be sending another letter to the club if there’s music playing after the goals and ruining the moment again and The Fable Singers aren’t brought back because the club won’t shrug at anything the AFL tells them to do, even if it simply destroys the experience of being at the footy because someone who can afford to not worry about it gets the feedback on an easy-to-read one-pager later on, and they can use that for planning the night Grand Final. The club didn’t ask anyone about anything like that in the first place, and they certainly didn’t respond to the letter. I said last week that we as fans would be asking again “What do we get?” out of the relationship between this club and the supporters. Right now, I don’t know what realistically the best outcome of any of this is, or what that would actually look like on a day-to-day basis, but the longer it goes – whether it’s within a season or over years – I don’t know if I should bother waiting for a response.

[Placeholder post for review of garbage]

by Tom Briglia

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Ah, the same mistakes again and again and again and again. There is comfort in the familiar, etc. etc.

This week’s review might not be up until Wednesday, so please try to calm yourselves as you wait to relive yet more garbage courtesy of season 2018/the St Kilda Football Club.

Bad behaviour

by Tom Briglia

Round 3, 2018
St Kilda 2.6, 3.9, 4.12, 7.13 (55)
Adelaide Crows 3.2. 5.7, 11.10, 15.14 (104)
Crowd: 19,324 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, April 8th at 7.25pm

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For the first time in this rebuild the club had been genuinely and publicly challenged about its direction. The high draft picks, the clean slate of the new coach, the Road to 2018. Last week looked like we’d hit the brakes and floored it in reverse. Or maybe things never really got going at all.

A terse Richo looked a bit taken aback during the week by the public scrutiny. We’d lost our last seven against the Crows going back to 2012 by margins of 4, 40, 86, 79, 46, 88, and 57 points. Those last five came in the Richo era (beginning with the wooden spoon season of 2014) at an average 71.2 points, and they’d just beaten the team they’d fallen to in last year’s Grand Final. Time to make a statement, time to show exactly what “Saints Footy” means since it started being used by anyone at the club after the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Was this going to be a Round 5, 2002 type performance? Round 14, 2005? Round 13, 2008? Somewhere in between? It would be none of them, and had turned to be a memorable game for whatever reason there was going to be more seagulls that could say they were there than actual humans.

***

White was taken out of the Moorabbin cryogenic freezer and brought in with Coffield for his debut. Long stayed in, Rowan Marshall was in for Billy, and Steele and Stevens were dropped and all of a sudden this was a more dynamic team. Well, it was until Membrey became the late withdrawal for Nathan Wright. Membrey had apparently hurt his knee at training and the BigFooty mail was that he was somewhere between “in doubt” for Saturday night to “6-8 weeks”. That grew to SEN and Daniel Cherny Tweets by the Saturday, and for some reason Wright was the replacement.

Broadly speaking, this was the kind of line-up we should have been playing last year – and perhaps to a point the year before, although there were senior guys obviously still having a pretty positive impact. But the club was seduced by the back half of 2016 and had a bet each-way last year, and we finished where we deserved to be if we’re playing an injured Mav Weller throughout the season.

It echoed the approach by North Melbourne through last decade that got it within a loud meeting of being shipped to the Gold Coast; we’re steaming at the very least towards a Southern Saints rebranding if the AFL continues to have its way with us and we remain so incompetent. Obviously we have the VFLW connection with Frankston and our ruck coach and ruckman are bizarrely their coach and ruckman, and it’s great that the Dolphins were able to get back into the VFL, but Matt Finnis tweeting from their return game while Sandy was playing at Small Beachside Windbowl added an extra layer of tinfoil to my hat.

***

A bit like last week, it’s hard to pick out specific guys for specific errors because there was just that fucking many, and Bruce, Paddy and whoever else was forward of the ball – apart from Billings, maybe, who just didn’t want to lead – really can’t be blamed for too much. This week’s winner is probably Armo for his last quarter kick out on the full in front of the members, which would have spent 90% of its trajectory on the wrong side of the boundary line. It was a fitting climax for a feature-length presentation of highly trained, professional stuntmen offering quality slapstick and non-stop laughs. Right from the opening bounce Gresham, Sinclair and Stuv scrubbed basic passes with the old Australian Rules football, there was weird handball from Billings, another Gresham scrub kick to Acres in the pocket, a probably injured Seb Ross floating a kick vaguely forward I’m not sure who, and Paddy returned the favour by kicking out of bounds to Seb’s lead.

Sinclair had a weight of numbers and a clear endeavour that stood out for the positive. He’d had nine touches and a goal within the first nine minutes, but aside from the aforementioned clownery his opening quarter also saw a passage had him running forward and kick directly into the Adelaide player in front of him, get it back so he could kick it poorly to Paddy in the pocket, and then chased after the resulting spill and Wright somehow ended up with it and quickly snapped a behind.

He was probably reflective of where the team was for the first half. A more manic version of last week, both with and without the ball, and that faded after half-time. It still only had us with 3.9 at half-time, with 29 forward 50 entries, as opposed to the previous week’s 2.10. That should tell you plenty about the skills and structure that we don’t have.

That faltered to 4.12 at three-quarter time as the Crows cut things open and kicked our entire score and sundries (we ended up at a one shot inverse to the previous week at the final change too, but somehow on the lower 5.11).

Sinclair was one of our best on the night, it must be said; for all the uh, errors, his running game and smarts were back to what they were last year when he was being played in a position that clearly benefited him. The flame beneath the vat of hot oil that Richo has been slowly lowered into simply due to turning up at the St Kilda Football Club in the first place was fanned further by people realising that as well some poor results, there had been questionable positioning of players under Richo’s watch.

It’s hard to tell exactly what kind of gameplan is going on beyond the faltering pressure en masse, random-setting disposal and curious decision making, other than the occasional changing of angles or opening up the ground (or at least the intention to). But all of a sudden Sinclair looked like the “Elite” player Champion Data ordained him as because he was back on the wing, with a licence to roam around much more than the opening two rounds. We saw the inverse last week with Steele being played forward too often instead of on the ball, and then Carlisle going forward in the second half and allowing Ben Brown to kick five goals, even though the forward targets themselves weren’t letting us down, and to that point Carlisle was our best player while nullifying the opposition’s most potent. It didn’t happen this week because he was cracking the shits at guys while the play was next to him instead (he’s still arguably our best player).

You could perhaps say Blacres’ had his own turn on Saturday night when he should have stayed on the ball. He’d rucked, he’d defended, and yes, he’d been put forward for occasional spell, but perhaps too much later on in the game. We were watching his every contribution grow in audacity as he became drunker and drunker on his own GOAT power. He brought his own fan engagement with his finger-in-the-air goal celebrations, he followed up his ruck contest from a throw-in with a brazen snap at goal, and then soon after his own head almost blew off as he was streaming into goal at the cheer squad end for another miss (he ended up with 1.3). It wasn’t as clear cut as playing the Carlisle forward “We’re Fucked” card, but when he was put forward in the second half we’d again taken one of our most damaging guys out of the play and into our very own Bermuda Triangle.

Ultimately, that wouldn’t have changed anything. Again, the entire side faltered together through the third quarter and there was no stopping the Crows, and, again, for all the hard work through much of the game to pressure and clean up our disposal errors, it was far too easy for them to take the ball from defence to attack and score. Webster’s calamitous dropped mark in the square and Seb’s non-commitment to a rushed behind at the same end was the cream on an absurd cake.

***

For someone who has dealt with the media in his role as coach for some time now – and is on TV every week for 20ish minutes – it was irresponsible of Richo to say in the press conference that “our forward line didn’t work”. He talked about a lack of pressure in the forward half and the basic skill errors further up the ground, but he also said some of the “looks” that the forwards got weren’t any different to those that Walker and Jenkins got. Sure, there might be an issue with presenting or getting space on their opponent but just about any forward in the game would be a poorer player for running with this team at Kardinia Park on Sunday evening, barring Buddy because he can just skip that last possession forward and kick the goal from 70 himself.

As for the pressure aspect, Wright’s existence was being criticised before the first bounce and he played like someone without any confidence. Not sure how much of a real chance he’s been given though. Yes, five touches, 0.1 and three tackles is fark all, but none of him, Long, Lonie, or Minchington have really been given a chance in their time at the club to work through a drop in form at the highest level.

That revolving door is probably going to keep turning. Wright’s numbers were simply too poor and he had no presence. Lonie’s four goals and 27 touches for Sandy continue to suggest he’s above VFL level, but he’s yet to get safely beyond the Robert Eddy or Eli Templeton zone between the two tiers.

Richo said he didn’t necessarily “wholesale” changes in the forward line but I’m assuming Wright comes out and Membrey doesn’t sound like he’ll be back next week. If Paddy wasn’t the number 1 pick would I be as willing as I am to just give him more game time? We’d have a better idea if guys weren’t constantly bombing the ball on top of his head. He’s not that type of player; I’m obviously not going to compare him to My Favourite Hair in the Fox Footy Commentary Team, but even he struggled when guys were going the high hit and hopes. Paddy’s not really that type of player, and he was never built up to be outside of the leading full-forward mould.

Perhaps there’s a slim chance that Josh Battle comes in – he didn’t add much to his three goals and 16 disposals at half-time at Sandy but he’d add an extra dynamic to the team, particularly with Membrey out. The other option is Rowan Marshall as a forward and Billy or Hickey come in. It was an incredible novelty to have a ruckman that could do so much around the ground and demand the ball and look to move to dangerous positions of their own accord. He tired and playing against Sam Jacobs in your second match isn’t overly easy but his output around the ground was too much to ignore; and he is built for the game more than Longer and Hickey are right now. Here’s hoping he’s not Rhys #2.

I’m acutely aware the previous paragraphs didn’t actually talk too much about what the forward line actually did on Saturday night, but it was incredibly non-existent. There were times when no one had actually gone forward quickly enough to present an option on a turnover, there were times when Billings was our deepest player, one-on-one at the top of the 50-metre arc and not moving when we had the ball not overly far away. I don’t know. I don’t know what they’d trained for over the summer and I don’t know what they actually spent their time doing during a supposedly intensive week on the track. Was the message just “try harder”?

***

Seb looked uncomfortable moving across the ground – his kicks were loose from the beginning, he fluffed the entries forward and even when walking his gait was laboured. It says something about him he still found the ball 32 times, albeit with an output that wasn’t just diminished, but at times a negative one. We did it with Mav last year, and we did it with Billy in the first two games – if someone’s carrying something then FFS play one of the kids you’ve been talking up for the past four years.

Jack Steven spent times in the room with an ankle issue – I thought he’d become the first guy for the season to do a hammy while taking a mark on a lead from another ill-directed pass – and Armo looks like he hadn’t played for three years. I don’t want him to be looking so jaded and I understand there’s not too many senior guys out there etc. but maybe the coaches and development staff should own that and try and give some younger guys the chance fill that gap themselves. Armo’s duck into the traffic of a couple of Crows looked tired; it looked as meek as the team did after Bruce’s goal in the third. Why these manic episodes happen across the entire 22 I’m not sure.

Of course Jacobs having the better of Marshall in the ruck gave Adelaide an advantage, but this was a pantsing across the park. Going off the 41 touches and any reports from people at the ground Steele has to come back in. Maybe Gresham should spend a bit of time in the middle too, given that’s what he naturally is, and maybe Billings. Get them involved somehow and shake up the dynamic the midfield. Fortunately Our First Ever AFLX Captain Luke Dunstan was able to come in and make and make a good impact right away. I think we were all a little surprised that he wasn’t in the team to begin with, and for the second time in less than a year he’s responded very nicely to being left out of the team. Jay Clark ran with the Dylan Shiel as-target line on Triple M so I guess that’s a vague potential event that might be talked about a whole lot at some point in the future?

The general garbage of the night didn’t quite allow White to show off his game as much as we would have liked, but Coffield was excellent in his debut, and with Acres, Dunstan and Marshall’s game offered one of the very few positives on the night. Composed, thoughtful and actually effective whether he was hitting up a target short or looking further around the ground. You wouldn’t believe it. He didn’t play safe and stay camped to one small part of the ground; he ended up kicking his goal because he’d backed himself to push up so high. Dunstan was one of the few guys we’ve picked in recent year that were able to come in and play an effective role (despite some indifferent periods since). Add Coffield to that list; it was an instructive reminder of how much class we’ve been lacking.

***

Much of the hype around the club before the season was perhaps driven from the club itself. Richo’s declaration that he thought we could win the premiership – although what the fuck else would you say (Simon Lethlean stepped in with the PR game on 3AW for that one) – is looking as astute a call as Peter Schwab’s about his Hawthorn team on the eve of the 2004 season. That did ultimately turn out alright for the club; either way we’re going to have to wait a little longer if anything decent is going to happen. Not only is this club an historical joke, but right now it’s playing like one.

I’ll bring it up again and maybe a bit more frustratedly – the club has been stupid in its replacement of the song and the playing of music after each goal. It strips the moment of any drama or dignity, and it played comically too loudly and for too long. They actually doubled down on the idea after Round 1, and played different songs and for longer, as if we needed more, or a different version of it to, you know, keep up the vibe. It has been so upsetting to have the club not listen to any supporters or members about either and make the decision that no one asked to be made in the first place. As St Kilda supporters we don’t have much to hold on to, and the club song is something that ties us and the players running out on any given week to the great players and landmark moments over the years.

Round 1 was the first time I didn’t enjoy being at the footy for the footy experience in my life, and it was specifically because the theatre of the game itself had been sucked out by event planners who don’t care for that. As the music played after each of the three goals in the final quarter on Saturday night, more and more people in my members section became visibly and audibly annoyed by it. Some of the speakers at the ground through level two were cutting in and out, there was a glitch happening on the second-level electronic advertising signage in the final quarter that had it flashing a nasty lime green, and the ground announcer was talking about our next home game over the top of the Adelaide song. It was pathetic. Now is not the time to be alienating supporters and members like that. No time is.

The Road to 2018 was a neat little spinner to make people feel comfortable about the future as the team plummeted to the bottom of the ladder with the 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals, and the departure of yet another coach ringing through our heads. They gave themselves the get-out clause of a second premiership by 2020  in the fineprint, but right now none of that even seems relevant. Nor does the target of 10,000 members based in New Zealand to go with 50,000 members in Australia. We quietly ticked over 40,000 during the week and only 19,324 turned up on Saturday. Sure, it’s school holidays, some people might be away. But after the Good Friday 2018 showing, that wasn’t what stopped thousands upon thousands of members turning up, let alone supporters that aren’t members. It’s an ongoing give and take relationship; on Saturday it was the club’s turn to give, as it was the supporters’ time to ask, “What do we get?”. We’re going to be asking that again this week.

Southern Saints

by Tom Briglia

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Let’s hope this really works. There are a lot of people who have given so much time and effort to the St Kilda Football Club that were never afforded even the dream of one day playing for the club.

And the phases, never just a phase

by Tom Briglia

Round 2, 2018
North Melbourne 0.6, 2.10, 6.16, 13.17 (95)
St Kilda 1.2, 2.10, 5.11, 5.13 (43)
Crowd: 33,966 at Etihad Stadium, Friday, March 30th at 4.20pm

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It’s taken only seven days of The Road to 2018 endgame period for St Kilda to be holding “crisis talks”.

Watching the team flounder alongside a wooden spoon fancy to 2.10 apiece at half-time and and then go on to be cut apart felt suspiciously out of date by three or four years. When we finished on the bottom of the ladder and we could look forward to begin our ascension armed with young, talented top draft picks and, eventually, that big fish we would land through trade and free agency.

Having sat on what happened Friday (or what didn’t happen) doesn’t make things feel any better. This was one of those “no positives” games that we’ve run the risk of seeing any week through the darkest days of the crash and supposed rebuild (essentially the worst of Round 1, 2011 onwards). Weren’t we done with that stuff? Watching a bad team, with a clear direction yet to emerge but with so much apparent potential, losing a bad game of footy? This is 2018 after all – the exact same 2018 as seen in The Road to 2018 in which we finish top four. The club told us, remember? Well, the road to 2018 sucked and right now it sucks being in 2018.

Last week I left the ground dismayed that what the club had done to game day. This was the same, but with the focus on the actual football, so it’s been a comprehensive effort by the club over the first two weeks. The blowtorches are literally out.

***

I said after the Lions match I felt like I was at a TV set rather than a game of footy. This week the roof was open, and not being our home game we were spared the Kmart jingle (not that we would have heard it too often), although the Pine O Cleen version of our song was used again. Despite this being the very new Good Friday time slot, with the sunshine streaming in and no match day experience bullshit forced onto us by the AFL, it actually felt like going to, you know, the footy, compared to the previous week.

It felt embarrassing that this was fixtured as a marquee event, although it’s a tie-in with the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal so the pure footy blockbuster aspect isn’t really in play. It looks like a small pool that they want to rotate this one through, i.e. clubs with neither enough success nor supporters to have never been able to cultivate a genuine rivalry with anyone over time. That leaves us, North and the Bulldogs as far as Victorian clubs go, but even the Bulldogs have a recent flag.

I really don’t know if a half-time scoreline did justice to the horrors of this one. North weren’t great either but they played in a way that at least reflected the entire club’s push to have not just established but keep this game. They played with purpose, and it was more about their goal kicking in the first quarter rather than our futile attempts at getting the ball forward that made the half-time scoreline what it was.

Not sure how many of their fans accounted for the 33,966 that witnessed that tripe, but next year we can go back to Good Friday being the near-universal day off we knew it to be. We failed on both counts – a big crowd (regardless of the numbers breakdown) and decent performance. The AFL had the gall to tweetStill some tickets available for #AFLNorthSaints if you can get to @EtihadStadiumAU today!” in the lead up. Do they know we can see through that shit? Ultimately the joke was on us for turning up, and as I get closer to my 30s I’ve learned more and more than the joke’s on us for following this club.

***

There were a few things to look out for after last week – more Billings and Acres good stuff, a response from Paddy, and a response from Billy after being towelled up by Stef Martin. Martin is one of the more mobile rucks in the comp and Richo let slip during the week that Billy has been carrying a hip “niggle”, which was borderline bizarre after the events of Mav ’17. As it turned out Billy copped one in the balls from (perhaps appropriately) Ben Cunnington in the third quarter, and Josh Bruce had to take his futsal ring-in game to the ruck, which was in turn taken to the cleaners.

Longer was the only one with a borderline excuse for his performance aside from Carlisle, and I think any Saints fan would have taken one to the nether regions if it meant getting away from this.

saintscrisisBecause the crux of it, really, is that…everything was bad. The “want”, as Richo would say, wasn’t there; no intensity, no real care, evidently not too much thinking, and basic disposal of the Australian Rules football was poor. If North had kicked straight from their gettable opportunities in the first quarter this would somehow have been a lot uglier. As I said, as far as we were concerned it had more to to do with the kind of shots we were having than anything else, reflecting shanked and shoddy build-ups and a couple of dropped chest marks from Paddy and Bruce each, having the previous week managed to pick through the Lions and capitalise on having a lot shots from close to goal. The difference between Round 1’s 16.11 and Friday’s 5.13 is nine scoring shots, sure, but it’s also 64 points.

Billings and Acres had moments. Acres threatened to turn the game in the third quarter with an genuinely excellent running goal from outside 50 and near the boundary line, and then had a shot from right in front of goal soon after denied by a howler of a non-decision from the umpire. If a shitty decision from an umpire is enough to quell a faux-push to take back the game then you’ve probably got no business getting closer than the final 52-point margin. Billings managed to find the ball 23 times and looked to have been moved higher up the ground as we looked to for some better ball use, but don’t confuse his ability to hit open targets in general play on Friday as a positive for him. Those should have been the default for the team.

Carlisle was a Hercules in defence, and he also kicking our opening goal (it be the only goal of the first quarter). Longer took some painkillers on the bench and had gone into the rooms but somehow made it back on after Bruce struggled against Goldstein, and Carlisle was bemusingly swung into the forward line.

There’s a bunch of things to take out of that. We were down by 11 points going into the last quarter but a) There was a reason why Ben Brown had kicked one goal at half-time, which was Carlisle’s intercepting in the air and general ability to compete, and b) there was a reason why we’d kicked 5.13 to three-quarter time, which was our intensity, decision making, and disposal, not because arguably our best player was doing an excellent job in their own position.

Rather than maybe order a different approach to ball movement or shift personnel higher up around the ground (or maybe the players could have shown some pride in what they were doing, but that’s a slightly different conversation), the coaches’ move saw Ben Brown end up with six goals – just as Damien Barrett and Spud (with the Jarrad Waite extra included) said would need to happen if North would win. Only St Kilda would allow those kinds of iffy calls to get up. Nathan Brown wasn’t big enough nor sharp enough to keep up without Carlisle around, whether it was a long, high kick to the goal square or a kick to a lead for a set shot goal just outside 50.

It only added to the suspicions about Richo and perhaps the wider coaching group’s game plan and ability to not really make any hugely positive match-day moves. Carlisle in defence has quickly become code for we’re fucked. Right now we’re relying on blue-collar intensity and grunt to make things work, and yesterday we didn’t want to, weren’t able to, or were too slow to make things happen. Against the Lions we looked to change the angles or change direction but it’s not our disposal that makes that effective, it’s a combination of awareness and hard work. For all of the better quality players we have had access to and the war chest we supposedly have built up for recruits we still severely lack players that are genuinely potent with the ball.

Jimmy Webster had 30 touches off half-back and while his good disposal is probably amongst the team’s best he’s got the Matt Sucklinds about him. His shanks can be royal. Roberton can somehow cruise through traffic but Webster is the one who can really pierce through the ground with a decent kick. Savage had a lot of the ball too and while his game his different we might be getting to a similar point with Jimmy that for each handful of better moments there’ll probably be a slip-up.

Our drafting, recruiting and development personnel will be under more pressure the longer this goes on, but the coaches bring all of that to game day. The evolution of Acres and Billings, should it continue on the current trajectory, would help, but then we’ve got Sinclair playing more as forward after a great year on the wing, and Gresham is rarely given more purposeful roles higher up. I understand that he’s being used early in his career in the front half in the same way that say, Jack Steven was, but Jack Steven was trying to break into a team that was playing in Grand Finals. Further to that, the coaches got a bit ahead of themselves by playing Stuv out of full forward, Jacobs’ tag or not. Yes, make some changes, but Steven and then Carlisle to full-forward aren’t the ones. Stuv is not the type of player Dangerfield or Dusty are that can command a position like that.

***

We have a growing list of failures in big games too now – Maddie’s Match last year aside, there were capitulations against the Bombers the following Friday night and then against Melbourne in what appeared at the time to be an effective Elimination Final. The year before that we didn’t offer anything against the Bulldogs in Round 2 for My Favourite Hair in the Fox Footy Commentary Team’s 300th game, and then later in the season against North after we played our way into finals contention. After years of Finnis and Summers trying to get us into a decent time slot we’ve now dished up another bucket of lukewarm greywater. If – if – the first two performances are a guide to the rest of the season, then never mind Good Friday; we’ll have a whole year’s worth of a shitty fixture to worry about 2019.

Aforementioned dropped marks aside, Paddy, Bruce and Membrey finished with exactly zero goals between them. Paddy had a bit more focus on him during the week with a piece from Channel 7 about his diabetes, while his performance last week raised the usual questions about Paddy vs Petracca, is he fit enough, etc. etc. I don’t think what’s going on up the ground has done him justice for two weeks out of two now, and it was his 23rd game. The concussions have not just stalled his development but have been the result of Paddy applying himself a little too much if anything, and that’s specifically what Friday was missing.

The precedent for poor decision making, let alone the inability to follow it up with decent disposal, had been set in the first quarter. Newnes blazed away on the 50-metre arc early when he he two teammates within a couple of metres, and thinking back it was just as likely to have been a lack of communication than a lack of smarts. Blacres was running through the middle towards attack and gave off to Gresham, which drew the player and left Blacres in Blacres of space 60 metres out, but Gresh had already made up his mind to hit up someone out wide. The one-two is an old trick but sometimes it works.

***

The first five minutes of the final quarter was ready-made for being sped up and packaged with the Benny Hill song, a la the sadly no-longer-available video of Clinton Jones’ disposals and shot appearances against Adelaide in the Round 21 of 2008 (nothing particularly wrong with those disposals, it was just worked purely with his mechanics). From then it was just quietly horrifying. What has happened over the past four seasons? How far can you get on being “up and about” for parts of some games? The group was called into a meeting on Saturday morning that hadn’t been planned ahead of the weekend.

Does Mav coming back in change any of that? He had the same numbers as Dusty’s Thursday, but in a VFL practice match. Dunstan got a lot of the ball too, and if Mav’s fit then I’d say the pair would provide something more than a few guys did on Friday. But like last week within the game, the whole team fluctuated between on and off. Billy’s balls might bring in Rowan Marshall too, but until we simply don’t know until we know if this is an outlier or not.

SEN trumpeted Garry Lyon’s declaration that Richmond’s loss on Thursday night was “a little warning bell” as news. For fuck’s sake, if that’s a thought and a headline anywhere in Round 2 for the reigning premiers then maybe there’s a 24-hour news cycle and a whole lot of people who believe in it that need to change. The broader media storm around the sandpaper in Cape Town saw a lot of wildly shifting sentiment from commentators and the media, and Saints fans (myself included) had a shocker of our own to deal with. Call for Richo to be sacked, questions about why his contract was extended by so long ahead of time, questions about the club’s recruiting, questions about the club’s development, questions about the club in general. They might been simmering for a while but the bewilderment following Friday felt a little more deserved. Something stinks a whole lot. This has been several years in the making, with a serious plan behind it. One that included 10,000 members in New Zealand and right now is heading towards the AFL Hall of Infamy.

The occasion of the game tempered things during the week and for moments afterwards. Regardless of how ridiculous it looked in the moment the players handed out Easter eggs to fans after the game, Richo did the press conference with Cody and Brad Scott with Thomas, and North and Saints players did a lot of the week’s marketing and community stuff together.

These can all co-exist with how we feel about the club’s current direction. For the first time we genuinely had a case for the Road to 2018 being the failure that the St Kilda Football Club so often promises.

A home game against the Crows next week on a Saturday night, and no amount of Kmart jingles after goals will help a poor situation on the night (not a good one, either), and a poorly re-recorded version of the club song certainly won’t. If we shit out the same kind of performance and The fucking Fratellis are playing again late in the game after a token goal (if we actually do manage to kick one late) then we’ll be hitting a new level in a pathetic comedy that so many parts of the Club would be accountable for. Rod Butterss ridiculously looked into having stage lighting during games in 2007, that completed its natural evolution arc with Fremantle short-circuiting any post-match feelings last night. If it looks ridiculous for a win, how does that kind of garbage look when a club has botched another carefully planned half-decade? The joke rolls on, and this is just one week of an entire season ahead to take it all in.