Master and apprentice

This game was meant – in my quasi immature mind anyway – to be about (round 1 of) McCartin versus Hogan. But it turned out, in many ways, to be about Riewoldt versus Dawes.

Again, Riewoldt was what set the two teams apart. And he’s a repeat offender in this area: in both of our last two encounters against the Dees the Saints skipper has pretty much been the difference.

In round 11 he had 4 goals to go with 10 marks. And in round 1 of last year he was again the difference maker in a low scoring season opener.

It’s certainly not been a habit of mine to wax lyrical about some of the stalwarts that have come through the Club since the turn of the century, but more and more these days I find myself coming to really appreciate them and force myself to eek out every adjective on them where warranted. Perhaps that’s called “getting old”; perhaps it’s a nice dose of perspective. I’ve no doubt part of it is about having endured this phase where part of that early 00s group have moved on from the Club, mostly in somewhat sad or unwarranted circumstances. Luke Ball is still present in the AFL community, now on the radio (3AW) – Kosi has done his stint of special comments for Croc Media too. Brendon Goddard is still churning up games of AFL for the Club that shall not be named.

To have the leader of that pack, Nick Riewoldt, running around, let alone playing very well, still in the red, white and black is truly something special. Ditto Leigh Montagna and Sam Fisher. Riewoldt has been a great of the competition, and undoubtedly is one of the best players to have pulled on the St Kilda guernsey. So it was brilliant for some vintage Roo to be on show at the Home of Footy on Sunday.

We saw a classic, full-stretch park mark at the Punt Rd end in the second quarter; in the pivotal third quarter a Carey-esque chest mark against a couple of Dees defenders. And in somewhat anti-Riewoldt style, he went back and kicked the Captains goal (in the wet) that helped ignite the spurt of goals that effectively killed off the Dees.

We’ve become accustomed, particularly since the late 00s, to Riewoldts game more being about accumulation. He grinds opponents into the ground; his aerobic capacity is unparalleled for a key forward. Highlights packages need to be run over 5 minutes rather than 30 seconds to get the full sense of how he has such a big impact on games. On Sunday though, it was a very lean 13 marks. Every time Roo did something, it really stood out – there were no “padded stats”. 13 marks were well earned, even against a brittle Demons outfit.

The story of this game of course won’t quite be that. It will rather be the big forward that lined up alongside him. Patrick McCartin finished with 8 marks and a goal, producing far and away his most promising performance to date since being picked number 1 at the 2014 National Draft. Last week, I was just super chuffed to see him kick his first career goal, so you can imagine how rapt I was to see him legitimately play a good game of footy this time around.

And let’s not forget that it was on a wet, greasy MCG surface that Big Paddy made his debut earlier in the year. On that occasion, the Saints had their pants pulled down on Friday Night Footy and he barely had a sniff. That performance right now couldn’t be more tucked away in the mind. Come the fourth quarter yesterday, the big 32 was starting to make the centre-half forward line his own, even if it was junk time.

I’m not ready to call “breakout game” like Sam Gilbert did – I don’t think it’s quite possible to have one against the league’s worst club of the last 10 years – but it was an utterly pleasing baby step for Big Paddy.

What puts the cherry on top is that, his faux future generation nemesis, Jesse Hogan was effectively suppressed for the afternoon too. If you cast your mind back a few weeks (focus!), Hogan threatened to go Hulk on the Dome versus the Saints. He kicked five, monstered Delaney (and everyone) and did everything bar kick a potential dagger in the fourth quarter. His side came away with a loss on that afternoon, but it felt like a warning signal had been fired for the rest of the competition to take note of. Jesse’s comin’.

Throughout the first half though, the Saints seemed to “sag” onto Hogan wherever possible, effectively DARE-ing Chris Dawes to be used as the forward option on every entry. Dawes finished with 17 touches, but never made the Saints pay for letting him have that much airspace. He only registered 1 goal for the afternoon. Between he, Dawes and Garlett they got only 3 goals in total. Even in slippery conditions this wasn’t going to quite be enough.

And whilst Garlett is on my mind: Jimmy Webster. He had a great afternoon. You would never predict that the Tasmanian would have one of his best games in the greasy, wintry conditions on the ‘G but his shutdown role on Garlett was exemplary. Earlier in the year, Webster held his own against Cyril at the Dome, and Sunday was another good notch on his belt.
Speaking of defenders: another who played big for the Saints was Sean Dempster. As much as Roo’s 13 marks were pivotal in asserting the Saints on the scoreboard, it was Dempster’s marking at the other end (10 marks, 2 contested) that was a repeated thorn in Melbourne’s side. Shinner’s form was a little patchy in the early rounds of the year, but as the year has gone by he’s been our most reliable defender by far.

As assured as Shinner and our back six were, there was nothing certain about our prospects coming into the game. We played two good quarters, and two poor ones, against one of the competitions in form sides on the previous Sunday and we’ve entered the chapter of the season whereby teams agendas start to shift away from playing to win. On top of that, this was only our second game at the ‘G for the year – would Richo’s game plan be as effective on the wider expanses?

I thought Richo was outcoached to a degree, when these two sides last met. The Demons, effectively parked the bus in front of the Saints touted tall forwards on that occasion, and were effective enough in getting the ball forward to their own forward dynamos, with Jesse Hogan obviously the nexus of that setup. And that’s increasingly become a strategy to take the air out of the Saints over the last two months. The Doggies, the Giants, and the Tigers (to a lesser extent) slowed the Saints up in getting forward and nullified their ability to make use of their tall targets.

Again, yesterday the Dees got numbers back and looked to burst forward where possible beyond the Saints high defensive line. In the second term it felt like these tactics again were at least wearing the Saints down. The likes of Roberton, Geary, Dempster, and Fisher were continually poking and swinging kicks around in a bid to find a hole or a pocket of space to pick out up forward. It wasn’t a successful strategy. As much as those names have provided much stability, experience and consistency to the defense, with ball in hand they don’t possess the precision or the nous to slice through tightly packed defenses.

But that Riewoldt Carey-esque chest mark and goal was the spark that lit a fire under the side. Soon Newnes got in on the act from 60, and Paddy and Lonie chimed-in and before you could sense the collective slumping of the Melbourne faithful’s shoulders slump, the four points were virtually secured.

As much as those Dees fans started to find their voice in the second term, when they seemingly were arm-wrestling their way on top, they generally lacked a cutting edge.

*****

The pivotal third term was actually absorbed from the cosy confines of the MCC’s Bullring bar. I had kindly been invited to sit with the esteemed Briglia family for the afternoon – including RWB’s own @Tom_Briglia. I soon realized that the last time I’d taken in a Saints game at The ‘G with this bunch was the 2010 Elimination Final win against the Cats. That night too was a slippery, wet, grinding affair and obviously a really memorable one – including my favourity Lenny Hayes moment.

It’s nights like those that reaffirm why you go to the Footy, and why you stick with one Football Club – in the face of logic. Luckily, I’ve had Saints people like the Briglias to experience several of these famous wins (and losses) with.

Whilst waiting for the #48 tram on Sunday afternoon, with the rain tumbling down and the chilly wind sweeping through, “could this game please be cancelled?” momentarily passed through my mind. These games in the latter rounds of the year take weirdly different angles given that several Club’s start to have one eye on next year. Pleasantly, as much as the game had stretches of “A show about ‘nothing’” as Hamish McLachlan put it on Channel 7, there were nuggets of something from a host of the younger players that warmed St Kilda hearts. Not just Paddy, but @newnesy, Jimmy, Maverick and Our Favourite Goddard, had all played their parts. And you just start Dare-ing to think towards our next Elimination Final, rather than playing “remember when”.

Demons 46 Saints 83

Hi peeps. The report will be up later tonight.

For now, be content with just bathing in some Paddy McCartin goodness…

Maddie’s Match, and Maddie’s day

Round 16, 2015
St Kilda 2.5, 3.8, 4.10, 10.13 (73)
Richmond 2.3, 8.6, 13.8, 13.11 (89)
Crowd: 45,722 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, July 19th at 4.40pm

Nearly two years ago I wrote what is by far and away still my favourite piece for this blog. Not that I’ve got an amazing back catalogue, but personally I’d had a remarkable day to write about.

It was written just before my parents left indefinitely for the UK as a result of Dad taking on a job in London. That game – Round 20 of 2013, against the Hawks – was the last we attended together before he left, and as was typical of that year it was a pretty flat affair.

But to go with a night punctuated more by sentiment than the footy itself, I’d ended up having a big afternoon, too. To try and put it briefly (as it’s all in the original post), I’d been very fortunate to be invited to a Saints in the City function on the day of the game (which was on a Friday night) at The Point in Albert Park, attended by St Kilda supporters and identities. MC’d by Danny Frawley, a number of past players were in attendance (Loewe, both Wakelins, Peckett, Thompson, Hamill, and others) and My Favourite Hair in the AFL himself came down to say a few words to everyone. The real thrill was being sat next to his Dad – many will be familiar with Joe Riewoldt – and speaking with him throughout the afternoon.

As I said in that review, he was warm and enthusiastic with everyone. At the table he sensed I was feeling a little out of my depth and he did everything to make me feel welcome. He was like that from the absolute start. As a few of us chatted before being seated he came up to our group, and all of us being St Kilda members and supporters, very sweetly and genuinely said, “It’s great to be amongst family”. Indeed, for me the entire day was about that. I’d spent my life going to and watching the footy, and I’d done all of that with Dad, I wrote. It was a special and constant element of my life that I wouldn’t have for some time.

The piece I wrote certainly got more feedback than any other piece I’ve done. One of those people who offered their thoughts was Maddie Riewoldt, who not only said she herself enjoyed the piece but that she’d shown Joe and that he’d “loved it”. It was a simple Twitter exchange – many people I follow and who follow me would have tweeted back and forth with her far more than I ever did – but I couldn’t have been more thrilled. For all the shit I talk on here, and for the very few people who actually read it, I’d felt that I’d perhaps done some justice to something that meant a lot to me.

So how bittersweet it was to be going to the footy together as a family for the first time since my parents’ return for Maddie’s Match. Joe’s words on that day were amplified in so many wonderful and sad ways given what he and his family have gone through.

Mum and Dad had arrived home from their journey the day after the Essendon win, so this was their first Melbourne game back. It was so wonderful to be at the footy with them and Matt, but just a fortnight after the shock of Phil Walsh’s death we were all again arriving at the footy in rather emotional circumstances. Without trying to claim anything more than others on the day, for me the links between the games we went to together that bookended their trip couldn’t be ignored.

Whilst Maddie’s Match arose from an awfully sad situation, this had an element of celebration. That we know that someone clearly loved so much by her family and so many others would inspire something of true value, not just so that people didn’t have to experience what she did but that they could also get the chance at living a life that she was denied.

Obviously the Jack link is incredibly strong, but I still taken aback just by how much both St Kilda and Richmond fans took on the message throughout the week to wear purple. Again, we witnessed first hand just how much people can be united, and indeed on Sunday we were in the unique position of outwardly making that happen.

As for the purple through the St Kilda jumper, I thought it looked great. For something that in any other context would have looked more like either a novelty or an EFL or DVFL jumper, it somehow nailed the occasion respectfully and aesthetically. I’ll be writing more about it in the upcoming edition of “St Kilda Jumper Talk”, which will be anticipated keenly only by myself so no need to look out for that one.

We’d spent over a decade in the first row or two on Level 2 as Social Club members and Matt and I had test the Social Club area on Level 1 for the past two seasons. To mark their first Melbourne game back we’d gone for Level 2 seats behind the Lockett end goal, and I’d suggest we’ll be back there next year in the Social Club section. I certainly don’t mind Level 1 – if anything I certainly prefer the noise levels, with the Level 2 structure amplifying anything around you. But the view really is sensational at an otherwise lacklustre place.

As odds would have favoured the game had a pretty cagey start. A quarter-time scoreline of 2.5 to 2.3 suggested chances for both teams, but from our perspective poor or slowed movement meant a lot of those were only half-chances or from tough positions. A questionable goal review decision and J. Riewoldt kicking into the man on the mark from close range had the game feeling like it was well and truly in Richmond’s control well into the term. The Tigers were working incredibly hard from side to side to shut down any chance of the Saints cutting the through the corridor or opening up one side of the ground, otherwise we literally dropped the ball when we had possession. Any DARE Iced Coffee we had was often undone by our own lack of Australian Rules football skill.

It was a quarter of few highlights, with Paddy’s strong mark high up and beautifully weighted kick to a running Roo the standout. It wasn’t necessarily ideal if you’re keen on taking four points from a top four contender, but it was exciting that one of the few quality acts was by a third-gamer showing off different parts of their game. Hopefully it’s an early sign of a so-far underrated mobility in his game – we know he’s highly rated moving through traffic, getting split (lol) on his opponent and smooth on the ground.

In fact, it was probably Paddy who gave us the best moment of the second quarter too. His scramble and body work on the ground in the goal square, then dive to wrestle it out of Deledio’s hands and quick give off to Mav for the latter’s second was something you can’t teach. That it came from a guy whose size belied his awareness and agility on the ground, again, was something we all should have taken note of. Whether or not he’ll be the type to run up the ground back constantly we’ll wait and see, but he’s already shown a willpower to effect the contest around him in whatever way he can.

My 2nd Favourite Hair in the AFL was typically playing higher up by owing to the Tigers constricting the Saints he was next to unsighted. Damned if I saw any of his nine touches other than his goal in the last quarter, although I didn’t need to look far into the highlights to find the kick out of defence to set Mav up was from his boot. Small comfort but good to see he kept working hard and doing the team thing all the way into what was clearly his quietest day of the year. He’d kept Rance quiet for a half, in the sense that we weren’t good enough to string successive AFL-standard possessions together and actually get it anywhere near either of them. His run at the Coleman is like a diluted version of Stewart Loewe’s in 1996 – massive start in the first half with the side up and about, but ultimately waning with the team’s wider fortunes of the season.

It was such a shame that Roo wasn’t completely OK for this one. I don’t think it was ever really in doubt whether he’d play or not. But the kilos of strapping around his leg showed he clearly was hampered and the club’s already said he’ll be facing tests again this week. I think a lot of people would be in for the idea of him having a week off. From the calf/purely football point of view at the very least it gives something close to our (ideally) future forward line a hit out together.

The calf didn’t completely stop him. His goal at the start of the last quarter kickstarted the comeback. But it took the 52-point three-quarter time margin to overwhelm his endeavours, ultimately. He looked incredibly drained in the post match presser, as you’d expect.

Not sure about equating the last quarter comeback with the day’s tagline “Fight Like Maddie”, as the first journo in the post-match. I assume Richo, resplendent in ill-fitting t-shirt (despite him having maintained quite a decent shape), felt he needed to send a feel-good message to go with the genuinely positive sentiments of the cause the day represented. We’re not quite approaching the parallels between the ANZAC Day match and ANZAC Day itself that simply are hyperbole; given the sporting nature of Maddie and the Riewoldts (and Nick and Jack’s boots alone) I don’t think they would have minded too much at all. I’m specifically talking more along the lines of that I think trying to find those links is really giving the players a bit too much of an out for some of the worst three quarters we’ve played this season. It seemed as though Richo really was genuine in talking up the effort through the last quarter, and whilst he would have plenty to say about the lesser points of the game behind closed doors I do think the nature of the day allowed – and perhaps needed – some positivity to flow through the camp afterwards. But I really thought that as a whole, given the emotional circumstances, the build-up over a number of weeks now and the fact it was our biggest home crowd since we were genuinely competent and probably for some time again, this game was really, really disappointing.

Not sure how much you need to get paid per year to hit a target on their own when you’ve got yourself in space, or to not give up the footy by handballing directly to an opposition player. When it’s senior guys doing that you can feel whatever proverbial you choose. Gilbert has plenty of endeavour but is cataclysmic, Fisher was too slow in a way he hasn’t been before and Joey was almost there with him, despite the 27 touches and goal. Geary put in the kind of performance that keeps people on the outside like myself never entirely convinced of him. Schneider was already dropped from the team.

It was a momentous day in more than one way. We were to witness Hugh Goddard’s first cracking of the shits, and his first game with his best friend that’s a number 1 draft pick, Paddy, and Paddy’s first goal. We also saw Paddy achieving the feat of wearing three AFL games in three different St Kilda jumpers, having appeared in the the clash, New Zealand and now Maddie’s Match jumpers.

Hugh’s 13 touches probably didn’t reflect how much of a presence he had throughout the game, for better or for worse. He moved around the back half well and was quite partial to the cheeky one-twos, but he also found himself caught out on the wrong side of a couple of one-ones close to goal. The Lennon snap close to the line was quality but Hugh would have been disappointed he didn’t put more body work into both the initial and follow-up contests. That said it felt like between Fisher, Dempster and Gilbert there was a lot less cohesion than usual. That could be put down to some St Kilda-style incompetence but the way Richmond move the ball is very precise – not to mention how much harder and faster they spread and moved in general – and really undid our set up going forward. Either way I must say I was surprised they had all four of those tall defenders in the same team, but Hugh is at least a lot more versatile.

Not that anything really functioned that well all day, but it was rare off-day for both Jack Lonie and Jack Sinclair. Not sure if the chemistry simply hadn’t developed with Eli in there instead of Schneider – and still no Billings to boot – but it was one the lesser performances from the small forwards. Sinclair was a real let-down when he came on. Even though he had the fresh legs for the final term he looked like he struggled to find space and get to the right positions and his set shot from right in front (albeit after being paid a mark from a terrible kick which I’m sure bounced up to him) barely made the distance from 40 metres.

Whilst there didn’t seem to be much purpose in the high balls landing in the forward 50 ad nauseum, there certainly wasn’t much pressure or presence when the game was really one the line from Lonie or Eli once it hit the deck; the latter’s most obvious contribution was being The Celebration Guy With the Goalkicker after Mav kicked our sixth for the last quarter.

Mav was the only one who seemed to be able to master it and find a way through Richmond’s set-up in the front half – and that goes for all of our full-time forwards, big and small. He did it in three different ways for his three goals, too – the first a mark jumping back with ball and some follow-up smarts to find it on the way down, the third being in the right roving position to capitalise and Paddy’s brilliant desperate work on the ground, and his aforementioned third was the what would prove to be the last of the game, and it’s pinnacle – a surging run and long-range kick on the rebound that registered our sixth goal in 19 minutes, and genuinely brought the most unlikely of victories within reach.

It was just too much. Whilst Richmond didn’t kick a goal in the final term they were good enough to stop us from kicking a goal after the 19-minute mark of the last term, even after kicking six in that time. Very few games this season would six goals in the first 19 minutes of the final term had us still facing an uphill battle; that’s how disappointingly off we were on arguably our biggest day of the year.

So – again, isolating the footy itself – a flat and frustrating affair for Mum and Dad to come back to. They timed it well – the only full season they missed was the one we finished on the bottom, and Dad has seen too many of those in his time.

In that review nearly two years ago I wrote that simply supporting a particular club and the way you do so creates a legacy. What have you seen, who do you share it with and what do you pass down? My life as a St Kilda supporter is nothing without the experience of my Grandpa and my Dad as St Kilda supporters; everything they’d seen throughout their respective times and the experiences I’d had with them.

When Mum and Dad left my brother and I – dear cousin Evan, too – were going to watch the Saints without Dad for the first time, and if Mum wasn’t there then we were without her to talk to about the day we’d had. It was a new part of our history as supporters, and now again we find ourselves in another. Despite the tragic situation, Sunday had a sense of optimism and new beginning. The MRV will bring all means and effort to a number of difficult situations out a purely altruistic wish. That people are out there working for the benefit of other people.

For purely personal reasons for Matt and I there was a similar tone, but one that was in heavy contrast to day’s official theme. As I said, it was bittersweet. We have our Mum and Dad back, and Sunday felt like the christening of their return. Given the context of the day there was even more appreciation for that, if that’s possible.

There’s nothing quite like having the closest people in your life sitting in the seats right beside you. Sunday reminded us in so many ways of that. Sunday wasn’t simply about the game itself. This was about enjoying the time you have with the ones you love. “It’s great to be amongst family.” It was Maddie’s Match, and it was Maddie’s day, too

Looking up at the Giants: subtle reality check

Somewhere along the line this kind of afternoon, and performance, escaped our consciousness. Expectations have risen and risen this year. Was it post the comeback win over the Bulldogs? Or our gallant (but feeble) effort against the top-two Eagles? Or when we demolished the Dons last week?

Afternoons such as Sunday’s were meant to be par for the course coming into 2015: trying but patchy in doing so, tackling but not quite making them stick enough and overall just being over-matched talent wise. And it’s a gentle pat on the back that this has not become our default experience of the footy this year. This year the Saints have competed. Hard. Sunday definitely saw a drop off from those standards and duly, the League’s junior powerhouse kept us at arm’s length.

Saints.com.au’s Breanna Gallagher asked assistant coach Adam Kingsley pre-game how were the Saints going to maximize the Giants weakness in the ruck division without Shane Mumford, but it’s up forward where surely Richo and co. would have been wanting to get a strangle hold on the game. The Giants are still without defensive linchpins Phil Davis and Tim Mohr down back, and so Adam Tomlinson was got the short straw to curb Saint Nick. Tomlinson has barely played a game this year, mind you.

And perhaps it was the diligence of the Giants’ defense that was the most obvious signifier of their coming of age as a team. That’s not limited to their back half either; it was telling when Jeremy Cameron, no less, sprinted and tackled Dylan Roberton down from behind in the centre of the ground – with a notable assist from a careless Jimmy Webster. This was in the last quarter too, when the Saints limp comeback had truly waned.

It was the Giants who had the dominant forward for the afternoon though. Jeremy Cameron had 3 majors by quarter time as the Giants opened up a 20-something point lead later in the opening stanza. Cameron’s speed on the lead was far too much for Sam Fisher. He made Gilbert look robotic too. Up the ground the likes of Shiel, Ward and Treloar had set the tone in the midfield and the Saints well-documented defensive pressure wasn’t anywhere to be seen. In fact, this was as close to bruise-free footy as I’d seen in a St Kilda game this year. Glorified circle-work came to mind at times early on – and the Saints had their chances to take advantage of this too, as it seemed GWS were happy to concede the corridor in order to get numbers back deeper to stifle Riewoldt and Bruce’s space in the fifty meter arc. Bruce barely had a touch in the first term; his only notable act was a hideous attempt at a snap at goal on his right foot. It was a kick befitting of someone who hadn’t played Aussie Rules before and in some ways was lucky that it was smothered. That kick actually came as a result of one of the few kicks I’ve seen in my time that travelled zero metres horizontally across the ground. It came from Billy Longer about 25 metres out from the Saints goal and it ballooned about 20 metres vertically straight up. The worst part about this is that, that sort of kicking had become a tiresome pattern already by that point. Steven, Gilbert, Roberton, amongst several others took turns at spilling handballs, fumbling and missing simple kicks to lead-up targets. This type of stuff wasn’t going to cut it against a GWS side that actually plays and looks like a football team now.

In all honesty I haven’t watched a lot of Giants footy this year. Without Foxtel – dodgy internet live streams notwithstanding – my ability to watch certain teams is somewhat restricted. I’d be confident of counting on one hand how many times the Giants are on Channel 7 this year.
But this game actually wasn’t all that far removed from how this fixture panned out back in Round 1. On that day, the Giants midfield got hold of the game early (particularly in the second term) and for the rest of the day, the Saints had to grind their way back into it whilst continually shooting themselves in the foot with their ball use and lack of refinement in the front half. Riewoldt got injured that day as well. Thomas Bugg wasn’t present on Sunday to put a pin into the Saints skipper’s afternoon – his own calf took care of that – but St Kilda’s momentum definitely fizzled out in the final term all the same, just like it did eventually in Round 1.

Between Saint Nick and The Real JB, we got 3 goals and 9 marks. Opposition teams know by now that putting the clamps on those two severely restricts St Kilda’s ability to kick a score. As much as Jack Lonie has quickly risen to Fan Favourite status, kicking goals actually hasn’t been his strong point this year. He has 10.13 from 13 games this year and his profligacy from set-shots was on show again early on against the Giants. If he’s truly to take Milney’s mantle, then he’ll need to become more ruthless in front of goal.

Tim Membrey also had a dismal afternoon up front. His 8 touches (a quarter of which were clangers) and 3 marks were a massive drop from his landmark afternoon against the Dons last night.

Yet it’s flawed to be judging players based on that afternoon out against the Bombers. Yes, we were good. And yes, we took them to the sword in style. But it’s been widely acknowledged that Essendon were god-awful. As much as the Essendon victory was a real pin up for Saints fans who have had more than their fair share of hidings in the last 2-3 seasons, it was an odd afternoon. For large parts it barely resembled a genuine AFL contest. Whether some of the Saints took a little too much encouragement from that day is anyone’s guess, but the side definitely came out of the gate a little too comfortably.

Membrey though needed to be more present and more active in trying to get involved around the half-forward line to try and suck away some attention from the two main forwards. That third-forward position is a tough one, and as much as teams really covet a good option there, there aren’t that many really effective ones around. Luke Breust is the best of the bunch, and I can assure you that he’d be more active in finding pockets of space if defenders were rolling off onto Roughead and Shoenmakers (et al).

As far as individuals go this was meant to be Ross Lyon era stalwart Sam Gilbert’s Sunday 1:10pm game afternoon. It was his 150th game after all. Gilbert garnered respect as part of a stingy defense in 2009/2010, albeit begrudgingly. His ball use back then was shaky at best, and Sunday showed that leopards spots don’t change – or whatever the saying thing is. Check in on any online forum or social media medium and you’d be hit with how much criticism was directed his way. It’s understandable to a degree. One, he’s never been a good kick, even before the numerous injuries of the last two years. And two, Saints fans had been mentally prepared to move on from players like Gilbert who are still strongly tied to the near-misses of the late 00s. So when “leaders” such as himself are committing errors, particularly skill ones, fans are quick to be irate. Fans are pretty cool with sucking up skill errors from young guys, but their tolerance of older guys such as Gilbert – and Ray, Dempster, Fisher, Schneider – quickly dies once they spot these sorts of players screwing up. Because these guys aren’t the future after all.

Another old-timer who deserves to be highlighted is Leigh Montagna. He’s only had one game this year where he’s accumulated less than 27 touches and that was back in Round 1 against the Giants funnily enough (and he still managed 24 on that occasion). His consistency, particularly over the last 6 games has been staggering and has come at a good time, when the effectiveness of Armo and Steven has waned a little bit. It goes without saying that Joey was the main catalyst in the Saints crashing back into the game early in the third term on Sunday. He had 14 touches for the quarter, and along with Steven, Armo and Weller, rebooted the midfield. Three goals in the first 5 minutes had St Kilda back within touching distance on the scoreboard, but unfortunately that was it as far as goals went for the term, and by three-quarter time the Giants had quelled the momentum somewhat. Joey and co. just couldn’t drag enough other players along with them, and so it was GWS who seemed to run out the game with a little more gusto.

*****

Aside from a disastrous Friday night encounter against the Pies earlier in the year, there haven’t been very many dispiriting or distressing performances. The last two years has been so full of empty afternoons at empty stadiums, with very little silver lining. This year, there’s been a lot of silver – not just on the lining.

Like it or not, it’s clear by now that Richardson has opted to prioritise the integrity of selection process and performances over “getting games into” x amount of young players. When fit, guys like Ray, Gilbert and Fisher have been whisked into the side pretty eagerly. This hasn’t really effected Paddy McCartin seeing as Bruce and (to a lesser extent) Membrey have played their roles well. Youngsters like Mackenzie, Goddard, Acres, Eli and Saunders would no doubt have chalked up more games. Granted, despite what side of that fence you sit on, at least Richo has been consistent with it, as well as being fair in regards to rewarding youngsters who come in and perform (see Mackenzie, Sinclair etc).

All up it was an unremarkable afternoon. One of those Footy Sunday’s that just feel like desserts or canapés that people aren’t essential or appealing enough to devour – even Hawthorn versus Freo had a degree of “meh” to it, seeing has it had been shipped off to Tassie.
Despite this, I’m secretly hoping this is a bit of a chapter divider in the Saints season. 8 games remain, but the 32 points on offer are by the by. Look at the Giants. They have oodles of talent, and that talent is really starting to congeal and form something greater. The Saints have already shown the footy world that they’re on the right track; Richo has ticked a lot of boxes from the coaches box and the side has established a resilient and vibrant brand of footy. With 8 games left I think it’s time to zoom-out from the week-to-week of 2015 a bit, and throw the keys to more of the guys who are (hopefully) going to be properly challenging these Giants in the years to come.

A time to be so small

Round 14, 2015
Essendon 1.0, 5.1, 7.3, 8.4 (52)
St Kilda 5.3, 10.8, 17.9, 25.12 (162)
Crowd: 38,020 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, July 5th, 1.10pm

It goes without saying – or even the need to say – that the entirety of this round was overshadowed by the awful death of Phil Walsh.

Awful not just because of someone of his unique influence on so many people over so many years was taken away at an early age, but the tragic circumstances that surround it. Somehow there’s a further downside, in that this wasn’t the ending of those troubling circumstances; for his wife and daughter particularly this is just the beginning.

For the myriad proposals made from the time the news broke on Friday morning to when Gillon fronted the media, there was no certainty with which anyone could say their own or any particular proposal would realistically trump any other.

The precedent set on Friday night of having no club songs, banners or pre-match music during games and at breaks was an incredibly simple but appropriate way of emotionally and logistically acknowledging the unbelievable news we woke up to on Friday morning. Having the Adelaide/Geelong game cancelled alone was probably the best course of action amongst a number of also imperfect options. Sadly I couldn’t tell if the number of arseclowns on various Big forums related to Footy (and out in the general public also) talking about how “unfair” the agreement was to the Cats for Adelaide to not forfeit and give up all four points was a surprise or not. This extended to people worried about how fair any Brownlow votes or SuperCoach points arrangement would be. What I am pretty sure of is that the most unfair thing was that Adelaide’s coach was murdered. That’s a reality we’ll never get used to.

Arriving in our near-front row Level 3 seats with Matt, Tiarne and Angie it was hard to not be taken aback by just how hushed the stadium appeared out of reverence for the situation, despite us all being aware of the arrangements made before the weekend proper. A mutual, en masse state of shock to be more succinct. In a way it was what going to the footy was like perhaps 10 years ago – I might be underestimating that figure – and whilst it could have been a refreshing change to being blasted by all the bells and whistles the AFL says we asked for, the sombre context of why it was so, with the image of Phil Walsh gazing over us from the big screens, permeated through every aspect of the day. Both teams were met with a rather muted but appreciative applause from the crowd. Muted, and tempered still with no song or flag-waving kids or (as far as our home games go) drum roll intro loop to heighten the anticipation, and knowing that shortly we would all be observing a minute’s silence for a murdered human being that we were all at least publicly familiar with and, yes, influenced by. Appreciative, though, because we were at the footy on a Sunday afternoon and that of all things it’s typically the four points that are our chief concern. As Friday demonstrated, to even been there at all was something worth celebrating.

A moment’s silence – the AFL never really consistently quite got the full minute posited for ANZAC Day fixtures – and then a game of footy to be played.

I like to think of myself as socially progressive and quite a rational, reasonable thinker* (*What I actually do moment-to-moment and day-to-day may differ strongly). However, if there’s one stereotype I’m totally in for it’s that of footy clubs and the characteristics of their fans, although I feel it contributes to the identity of the clubs a massive amount (but does not, as some fans think that they do, contribute to what actually happens out on the ground). In an era in which the AFL has tried to mostly do the opposite – although I dare say moves to reverse that are slowly being implemented – it’s one piece of lazy thinking I subscribe to. And so with that, Essendon has always been the team I’ve despised playing against more than any other. The attitude of inherent success and superiority that has flowed from the hierarchy down to whichever loud supporter has been invariably around me/on the Hot Topic Board on BigFooty is one that on Sunday appeared to finally be irrelevant in an era in which multiple cycles of the national draft and overall equalisation system have been observed, measured, emulated and improved on several times over. It’s the same we appear to have seen with Carlton, although the Blues at least, with SOS involved, seem to have now acknowledged as much.

Of all clubs it was us that have sent a thunderbolt through the Bombers. In the footy sense, of course; hyperbole and melodrama seem even more useless in a time like this. The current Essendon and Carlton situations obviously are very different, but for the first time it’s genuinely difficult to tell whether or not the supplements saga (now specifically referred to as the WADA Appeal given it’s reached that stage) is solely to blame for the predicament the Bombers have found themselves in. When Jobe and BJ – arguably their two best players – finish with 15 touches combine you think something really weird is going on (or that Jobe is on the precipice of giving in his season due to injury). Given the context of the day a surreal feeling was embedded in whatever would take place. That we would witness St Kilda’s biggest ever win and score against Essendon and fifth-biggest win in the club’s 142 years certainly had the game itself giving us probably the key football talking points by the end of the Round.

Going from what I caught of half-time interview on the big screens (I was just getting back from purchasing beverages) the Bombers were having a 1965 premiership players reunion at the ground (in all sincerity I didn’t catch the two players from that day they were speaking to). How much do you hold that over another club on a day like that (again, I’m talking in the footy sense)? They’ve won 16 premierships, and 1965 obviously was over us, with the Bombers coming from fourth to knock us off on the big day after we’d finished on top of the ladder. The next time we’d finish on top the same would happen – against Adelaide.

My point is it served as a small, subtle reminder. The game saw some incredibly exciting footy from a really young team that for another week this year is flavour of the, uh, week. But for everything we’ve enjoyed since early 2004, we still haven’t been able to complete the mission. The Bombers have done so four times since with extended periods of finals and Grand Final appearances.

It was the arsey Gilbert dribble along the boundary when he was pinned in a tackle that would ultimately end up with Dunstan [NEW HAIRCUT] for his goal early in the last that said as much about the game as the woefulness emanating from Bombers HQ. It was the kind of day where everything seemed to come off for us. The trick in all of that is dissecting which parts belong to the immense pressure and movement we displayed throughout the day, and which parts came from the Bombers being completely

Cale Hooker’s three goals fortunately won’t belong in the Daniel Healy file given the result, but don’t tell me you weren’t thinking when he kicked his first early on that who else better to play against when you’re Essendon and trialling a defender as your key forward? With Carlisle out and Daniher proving to be more of a project player than first hoped – I do think he will be a great player; it’s more that the timetable is a little longer than it seemed it would be at first – Hurley required down back, Bellchambers AWOL whether he’s out there or not, Giles languishing in the VFL and Ryder now at a different Australian Rules football club on paper some problems were already presenting themselves.

In the end it didn’t matter because we brought out our best game for three years and Essendon there worst since, I would hazard a guess, some time in the middle of last decade. This would prove to be our 2nd highest score since Round 17 against Richmond on a Saturday afternoon at the MCG, missing out by only one point to 128-point win against GWS three years ago. In what should have clearly been not just the club’s biggest win ever (which remained at 139 points) but one of the greatest winning margins of all time, we could only kick 2.1 in the third quarter and a wayward 6.6 in the final term against what quite possibly will be the weakest team we will ever play, given their unique circumstances (never mind, because even if all goes to plan they’ll be knocking us, Melbourne and Bulldogs off for premierships over the next decade).

Simply it was the relentless pressure across the ground for four quarters that was the genesis of every attacking thrust. Even Sinclair’s brilliant running goal out of the middle – the cleanest of the day – came about because he anticipated and intercepted Heppell’s quick handball from the centre bounce. The tackle count of 61 belies the pressure acts and knock-ons in traffic to advantage or at the very least to create some movement around the ball, and not mention that we had 141 more disposals.

One of the pleasing [COACHES’ BUZZWORD] aspects of the game was the even spread of goalkickers. My 2nd Favourite Hair in the AFL was due for a modern-day bag and his 5.2 was punctuated by his hard running and solo effort at the beginning of the second quarter, which saw him harass Gwilt chiefly and finish with the ball and a running goal from around 50 metres. It completed a hat-trick of goals for him after some really physical contests and smart positioning late in the first quarter had him with 2.1 at break. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I still can’t believe that right now he’s good at footy. He’s still a novelty. Like a really bashful G-Train.

The next key forward with a decent plate of sausages was My Favourite Hair, who pushed right up into the backline early to get involved. Bruce ended up finding some more space in the front half and work his way into the game, and Roo also was an anchor for the rest of the team to work with, whether it was when the maniacal pressure had us switching from defence to offence in one tackling movement or when looking to sure things up when attacking options or movements were scarce. And this isn’t about whether or not he gets a ton of possession, it’s about the other guys working with his positioning and presence. I was worried on Sunday and I’ll be worried this Sunday he’ll get an arsey cork from one of the spoilt GWS FIGJAMs (Bugg) and miss Maddie’s Match the following week but you’d think even if he did a knee he’d be out there for that one.

I know it’s an early call but after Justin Sweeney, Matthew Ferguson, Charlie Gardiner, Ryan Gamble and Beau Milkster it looks like we’ve finally found a competent “third tall”. Last week the knock on Tim Membrey was that he got to a lot of contests but probably didn’t take as many as he should have. This week he took 10 marks, had 16 touches and kicked 2.1. Not bad for your 10th game.

He’s not a forward but for pure “Wow, that’s odd” factor Dylan Roberton’s 31 disposals – and let’s face it, entire season – has been a very pleasant surprise. His injuries were probably ignored a bit too much given the criticism he received last year. Maybe he should keep having more kids because the latest one seems to have spurred him on that much more as it is. He’s had 31 touches, is looking more fitter and more mobile than ever, and is proving to be a more effective rebound player than more were expecting. Whilst I’m throwing these around, I’ll huck in Billy Longer too – 18 touches, eight marks with some really good contested grabs included, and 35 hit-outs. Not much by way of first-choice opposition in this one but what more could he have done? Again, I think Hickey has been done a disservice by being played as a forward, but with Membrey, Roo and Bruce all of a sudden gelling pretty well (for one week at least) it’s hard to see either of them drifting down and adding a whole lot more height should both of the be name in the same side.

Surely Jack Lonie’s officially been taking way too many cues from his faux-dad. Great to see him get a Rising Star Nomination; we’ve had a distinct lack of those until recently because I don’t think most Saints fans knew who Alistair Smith, Nick Heyne, Paul Cahill or Daniel Archer were, let alone them coming to the attention of Corporate Rising Star committee.

On that, how much better did we look having both Sinclair and Lonie running around? Their disposal counts don’t show much, and their tackle counts also undersell the kind of pressure they put up forward. Whether it’s with or without the ball they’re so consistent and mature given their age and inexperience it’s difficult to think that this time last year none of us would have even known their names. Lonie could do with some real attention on his finishing, but he was the first one to point out in a couple of media interviews that he’s kicking the hard ones and missing the easy ones. His 1.3 took him to 10.12 for the year. Dare I say I’ll be keeping an eye on the running tally ahead of Grand Final Day ~2019 given who he’s taking orders from.

That man Schneider moved past an opponent halfway through the last and from relatively close range smacked it into the post. This time it didn’t matter, because the game was over 45 minutes earlier.

I’m not going to call it and say we’re on our way to challenging for a finals position, because our younger guys are more infinitely likely to tire towards the back end of the season than we are to bowl over enough of Richmond, Port, Geelong, North Melbourne, Sydney and West Coast. We lost to next week’s opponents GWS in Round 1 and similarly looked to have kicked the game away against our Round 17 opponents the Dees the other week, before needing Max Gawn to get a hit out to the completely wrong spot with 41 seconds left and a calamitous communication error on everyone’s part to get over the line. But what if we did? Suddenly we’re nowhere near Darcy Parish, and after Billings and McCartin at pick 3 and pick 1 we could be headed for some clown with pick 6.

Armo and Jack Steven keep humming along, and it’s safe to say that Armo has finally reached that level we’d been hoping him to reach, say, I don’t know, sometime by any of the 2009 or 2010 Grand Finals. As I’ve said before on this, I probably tend to overlook the really good, consistent players because what else can I say? I don’t know if he’s quite captain material in the off-field sense but how much of a relief is it to see him playing like this? Steven has reassured us that 2013 wasn’t a fluke in different ways recently. Despite a quiet game by his standards his double effort in the winning passage of play against Melbourne showed he is able to stand up in the most pressing situations, and then he produced a nearly complete game on Sunday with 29 touches, 11 tackles and some of the better use of his speed post-last year’s injuries.

Drilling further down into the midfield, the Dunstan/Weller/Ross triumvirate is an interesting one. At their own paces they’re slowly carving out their roles in the team, and I would have said pre-season I had reservations about how good a team could be with three inexperienced (Weller not so much though) but not overly dynamic players in the same 22. Dunstan’s shut that one down by showing he can drift forward and hit the scoreboard, and likewise Weller who’s now kicked 7.1 in the last five games. Embarrassingly, I have to admit I don’t recall seeing one of Ross’s 25 touches, although having seen the replay twice his quick hands in traffic were what kickstarted a lot of good movement. I would have said with Jack Billings due to be back soon that perhaps Dunstan might make way, particularly given he was the sub as he was due for a rest, but regardless of Billings now missing at least a month just try dropping one player from  Sunday’s side.

The final siren was again met with a muted reaction. Whilst everyone in the stadium could see the Bombers had hit possibly their lowest ebb through this entire sage, Saints fans could quietly take away one of the most complete performances you could hope for from a young side, and until the next match optimistically ponder all it could mean for what heights this team and this club could rise to.

But there was no post-match song played and any glee harboured in our hearts for the on-field win was set aside as the players and the fans united again in silence in a display that proved that we are humans before anything else, whether or not your red and black had a dash of white in it on Sunday.

This wasn’t necessarily about footy taking a back seat. It can’t for too long even if you try, because inevitably, disturbingly – but it some ways, and for some, comfortingly – our lives and the wider world will keep moving. In the longer-term this weekend was more about where footy sits in your life. This game and these clubs are a part of who we are; this wasn’t about whether they’re more or less important than the other things in life, but rather how they fit into and influence those.