Or it is not

by Tom Briglia

Round 22, 2019
Carlton  2.4, 5.5, 8.11, 11.12 (78)
St Kilda  3.3, 7.4, 8.8, 10.8 (68)
Crowd: 51,876 at the MCG, Saturday, August 18th at 1.45pm

IMG_7856 (1)

Much like all the wild fantasies and scandals we might have conjured up for the Ladder Predictor, including weird shifts in form and blow-out margins that wouldn’t have matched what actually happened, the scandalous storylines that open the pathway for a bemusing fairytale to unfold at this club are gone. Brett Ratten to Carlton? Brett Ratten to North Melbourne? Clarko to us? Ross Lyon to Carlton, and then we play them in the Grand Final in a couple of years? Which could mean maybe Robert Harvey to us? Or maybe Ross Lyon straight to us? Omg Lenny? IS GT COMING BACK? HOLY FUCKING SHIT MAYBE IT IS ROSS.

Whatever grown-over, baited pathway that lies beyond the Road to 2018 isn’t going to suddenly become apparent and neatly paved because of a late-season change of coach. There’s no Teague Train charging through the Frankston line to Moorabbin station. There was no McKay or Walsh or Cripps or Curnow or Curnow or Dow or McGovern or Setterfield or Casboult or whoever waiting to be rearranged in a large navy blue jigsaw and unlock the code to reawaken a giant club that had laid dormant since the Semi Final weekend of 2001, with intermittent disturbances.

***

Just like our Saturday match-up against Melbourne at the MCG earlier this year, this game offered a glimpse of an early 2020s Grand Final match-up featuring St Kilda and another emerging or Secure Long-Term Future club. For some reason we’re wearing our clash jumper as we did in 2010, but preferably a version of the candy stripe, or maybe what we have now. This weekend it was the 2022 Grand Final Day jumper match up. St Kilda’s clash jumpers are far more “St Kilda” than Carlton’s clash jumpers are “Carlton”, or Melbourne’s jumpers are “Melbourne”. For that reason I can’t quite imagine a Grand Final in which St Kilda is playing Carlton with the Blues in a clash jumper, or the Dees in theirs. The 2017 match-up was a test for the AFL but I’m sure they would step in and make us wear white shorts with the home jumper? But that’s a conversation for a different dimension.

Saturday afternoon at the MCG with two founding clubs of the competition. There’s nothing quite like it. For as long as the roof remains closed at the Concrete Disney Store who knows where or when we are? If Saturday’s game had been played there, the roof would have been closed. Sunshine for one day. I said the other week some moments feel like they’re made for the seat you’re sitting in. The play or the moment unfolds and you have the perfect view. Some days at the footy feel like they’re made for wherever your life might be at that point.

***

There was anticipation around the ground as I walked in a stupor at 12.15pm from Wellington Parade to Gate 2. There were already queues of Carlton fans outside of the ground waiting to pick up tickets. People had already got their hands on the navy blue hand sign wavy things. Out in the sunshine, to watch a game in the actual weather. Remember that? People are still doing this. Walking around outside the ground was a much needed reminder that all of this was still a thing. It was a relief.

Of the 51,000 crowd, 80% would have been Carlton fans. This was the awkwardly presented membership make-up game for Shanghai, and having the city end entirely for St Kilda looked great, but that was basically it. If just about any other club was playing there would have been 65,000. Keep in mind the stakes for this one were zero.

***

Before a game of such stature, nothing short of the classics on the big screen at the MCG would suffice. And so, Carlton’s match day humans presented us with St Kilda vs Carlton in Wellington on Anzac Day of 2015; early in a year that saw the teams finish 14th and 18th respectively. The most striking thing about the game was the aesthetics – St Kilda in one of the three one-off NZ jumpers (this was the one with grey), and Carlton in their weird sort-of panelled clash jumper in front of a stadium one large tier of yellow seats. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yncPGRsy2KY

***

If you hadn’t bothered keeping track of anything this year, there were a few hallmarks of a late season dead rubber, and that’s beyond the mincing of disposal and non-physicality. Cripps trying to kick a goal out of mid-air, Hind trying to dribble one from the pocket. Footy back to its purest form. Nice to have the run around. Nice to be out of the house.

Membrey set the tone with a set shot miss from a clinical opening bounce clearance and mark on the lead. Nothing was going to be easy. Let’s take a look at the board:
13.7 (85)
10.16 (76)
9.12 (66)
10.14 (74)
15.5 (95)
10.8 (68)
10.10 (70)
10.10 (70)
10.11 (71)
9.14 (68)
9.15 (69)
11.14 (80)
8.11 (59)
10.10 (70)
11.7 (73)
8.9 (57)
17.14 (116)
15.14 (104)
10.10 (70)
10.12 (72)
10.8 (68)

Acres probably opened with three specifically bad kicks out of four, including two terrible forward entries. No rhythm and no momentum in this one. Bruce and Stuv ran into goal and messed it up. Bruce’s captain’s moment never came, Stuv was clearly struggling second up.

Eventually Nick Hind decided to take four bounces and floated a goal through against the flow. Like Stuv last week, it was a reminder of how rare it is that one of our own players will seem to physically break through the will and gravity of a match. What else did we have? Very quietly, not much really. It was a meek sign-off. Long’s goal? Oh yeah, I remember when he did that when our season mattered. Hunter Clark’s finesse, Rowan Marshall’s work out of the ruck before Kreuzer wore him down. In the way we could manufacture something the week before, we absolutely could not on Saturday. We kicked 3.4 in the second half.

Casboult at one end, to the lead of McKay, to the threat of McGovern. Simpson charging through the middle in the last quarter had the air of Ablett’s charge out of the centre in our last game at the MCG last decade. McKay’s wheel around and goal; Daisy’s side step; Casboult’s goliath protection at the top of our goal square. This was their day, and their time is coming. Never mind the noise when Jack Billings’ post-siren goal sailed through in Round 5 as we sat on top of the ladder. Did you hear that roar when ? It wasn’t just for this game, it was an affirmation that the Blues are back. That the appointment of David Teague was more than just riding the 2019 caretaker’s momentum.

This went into the file of watching a team run over the top of the Saints at the MCG, and feeling that the ground was simply too grand and too much for this club. Round 21 of 2002 against Collingwood, a shock loss to the Bulldogs in Round 12 of 2004, the 2005 Preliminary Final, the 2006 Elimination Final, Round 14 of 2007 against Collingwood (featuring Daisy Thomas), the 2009 Grand Final. You have that feeling in your core sometimes – not today, whatever the stakes.

***

Really, I’d forgotten what it was like to go the footy and enjoy the fucking day. Artificial light. I had a great day out with Matt and Dad. Dad and I spoke on the phone the next day and specifically talked about how much we liked the MCG and how nice it was to be out in the weather.

***

Melbourne loomed as our next vague rivals. Geelong and St Kilda was made for the early 21st century period of premiership drought breaking, and it made sense the Dees would be next after the Dogs and Tigers wiped out anything else beyond Carlton and Fremantle’s 1995. Our next rival appears to have already gone beyond us. The Carlton and Brisbane Lions that were a permanent fixture of derision and irrelevance look like the next big things (if the Lions aren’t there already), and perhaps what we refer to as the team of the 2020s later this century.

***

At what point is it late in the season? At what point does the early season feeling give way to the reflective nature of Rounds 20-plus? What were we doing or thinking in Round 15 or Round 16? The day-to-day reveals the banality of the actual lumps of dirt that make of the earth of the season – we’ve been filing out of this season for a couple of months now, and games have become a little bit more of an impost to the rest of the weekend. There is more relief now when a season is done than ever before. Footy season is a state of being. All of sudden this is the last rushed minute left to grab the membership scarf and get everything together (which I had all morning to sort out) before ungracefully rushing to the 58 tram. The last tram ride into the city, the last Saturday afternoon to watch the Saints play in actual weather and the actual earth’s atmosphere. This Saturday, the season will disappear in anonymity.

Yesterday’s problem

by Tom Briglia

St Kilda 4.3, 6.5, 8.7, 10.12 (72)
Fremantle
2.3, 6.4, 9.8, 10.9 (69)
Crowd: 17,715 at Marvel Stadium, Sunday, August 11th at 1.10pm

Screen Shot 2019-08-12 at 11.26.35 pm

By the end of Saturday night, Round 21 had seen GWS reduced to their lowest score in the eight years in the competition, and then North Melbourne to theirs since joining the VFL in 1925. Essendon had kicked a goal within 19 seconds of their game starting, but at the 21-minute mark of the last quarter were 1.8. Melbourne had kicked 3.8 at the final change that afternoon. Carlton were 1.6 at half-time on Sunday.

Of course, Essendon kicked three arsey goals to let novelty scores and stats enthusiasts down and somehow, somehow, temper the loss with the last three goals. Teams like that will always find some angle, some cushioning. That deserved to be 1.8 at the end. . It’s often not mentioned that Port kicked the last 1.3 of the 2007 Grand Final – the margin had stretched out to 128 points. That does make a difference. The Bulldogs at one stage led 137 to 14. It was still their biggest loss to the Bulldogs ever, sure, but it just wasn’t the empirical freak occurrence it could have been, that belonged in the tired, very off-white pages of the copy of Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Australian Rules Football, But Couldn’t Be Bothered Asking that my Mum bought home for me when I was seven, and endlessly fascinated and partially terrified me with its odd font and strange tales about scorelines and happenstances that belonged to a time when freak occurrences maybe weren’t such freak occurrences, but were still of the same century.

The laboured point being is that this was the kind of game that might just well yield a only a couple of goals for each team on any weekend, let alone one that was already drenched in anomaly. Like those weekends where all the games are weirdly close, but usually the effects have worn off over the Saturday night. The close game aspect was one that felt likely, and to the point where I was more expectant of close piss-away of the type we saw in Round 3. We almost got something very similar – before Josh Bruce’s kick floated left we had kicked the same score as that shitty Sunday evening, and Freo were up by three points instead of five. Watching Ross Lyon’s Dockers in Round 4 of 2012 was like watching the same team play against each other on a video game, and watching the Saints over the past couple of years has been like watching a not-as-good, then briefly better, then worse version of Ross Lyon’s Dockers of the late 2010s. Perhaps fairly, both games this year were decided either way by less than a kick, and that is a very St Kilda and Fremantle thing to say when usually that sentence is applied to the Swans and West Coast and the 2005 and 2006 Grand Finals.

 ***

Anonymity is the lot of a team who is watching their season and another heavy-hearted decade quietly move to a close. The crescendo of 2019, really, was reached a few weeks ago, and opened the epilogue pages in Adelaide last week. No one has cause to mention the Saints for any good reason. All Australian squads, Brownlow tips, under 22 all Australian squads, a smattering of media awards, let alone anything relevant to finals or a premiership. No one has cause to mentioned the Saints for any bad reason. We just sacked our second-longest serving coach in an event no one really wanted to happen, but was inevitable, and is now in the past. The most we could hope for came via Channel 9 Adelaide this week in a piece about crowds being down throughout the year: Port Adelaide crowds by more than 3,000, Adelaide’s by around 1,270, “Torrential rain, bad time slots and match-ups <cut to footage of Adelaide vs St Kilda> all blamed”. Last week was the third-lowest Crows home crowd at Adelaide Oval.

No, high scoring doesn’t necessitate quality football, but the scoring of zeitgeist of 1919 had returned a century later, through snow or Concrete Dome conditions, and the latest edition of the Bizarro Rivalry had suitably been scheduled for two teams known for not being overly keen on kicking goals this year, or for much of the past decade, by design, by incompetence, and seemingly in some cases, both. Another look the board, please:
13.7 (85)
10.16 (76)
9.12 (66)
10.14 (74)
15.5 (95)
10.8 (68)
10.10 (70)
10.10 (70)
10.11 (71)
9.14 (68)
9.15 (69)
11.14 (80)
8.11 (59)
10.10 (70)
11.7 (73)
8.9 (57)
17.14 (116)
15.14 (104)
10.10 (70)
10.12 (72)

***

Jade Gresham was the latest edition to the 2019 Surprise, Unusual and Bad Injuries List, and we’d brought in two midfielders that are probably our best players but have played about 30 seconds of footy this year. The Best Player in the AFL Since Round 11, Rowan Marshall nearly joined the group after a collision with two Dockers coming from different directions that actually looked like a computer glitch from our view on the opposite wing. Matt and Dad and I had said less than a minute earlier that we’d had all the play for not much return on the scoreboard. Very quickly, Marshall had come off and 2020 was ruined. The game quite obviously shifted in that moment. Marshall is clearly our most important player. Welcome to the next rebuild.

Being the St Kilda Football Club meant the door was open and delicious food laid out for the opposition, and Walters was brought into the game within moments to kick Freo’s first. The Coff’s shoulder fell out a few minutes later and Fyfe (in clash arm sleeve) kicked a goal around the corner. There are clear differences in talent and careers built here, but Freo’s best players were now making an impact as some of the few highlights we had left in 2019 were quickly dropping off. Freo supporters continued ensuring their club remains an aesthetic 1990s bad novelty with the “Olé, olé, olé, olé” chant after goals. Cool.

The difference in leaders and star quality was slowly looking like it would take hold. That isn’t actually that much across the two teams right now, but that’s all it might take when you’ve got two teams that aren’t overly keen on scoring. Hannebery’s two goals were forgotten, and Stuv’s smart body work one-on-one that had contributed to a Membrey mark and goal then set off an excellent chain which ended with a long kick to Josh Bruce out the back tripping over himself. Freo took it up the other end for a goal, and Bruce – one of the few guys who has actually been playing like a captain – rewarded the neat work from Dunstan to open up the ground, and then some rare clean ball movement through Hannebery, Stuv and Lonie, with a missed set shot. Freo went up the other end again for a Fyfe goal. The Ross Effect had taken hold, Freo had unassumingly hit the front and Fyfe at that point had 17 touches and two goals.

Decent looks at goal were rare, which made Hannebery’s snaps in the first quarter that much more valuable. He wasn’t quite pacing Fyfe but two goals and 14 touches might have been in the classier of halves played by a Saint this year. No fuss, no worry, no problem. He clearly wasn’t developed at this club. Uncompromising usually is a byword to toughness, and he has that, but he doesn’t need to think too hard about his disposal and intent. He knows what needs to be done, and he does it.

Marshall had been reduced to the Freo-style set-and-forget ruck, which only works heading into the 2020s if you literally, literally, literally are the tallest player to have ever played. Stuv’s goal and the celebration was an excellent moment that was brashly interrupted by the recorded Jack Steven chant over the PA. I don’t know if the club knows this, but that ascending tone that played at the MCG was one of the last in-game ground announcements and that kind of thing really is going to make the crowd stop and listen. The ground announcer and the club (I know we’re not the only ones doing this) can’t help themselves and are still running with the soccer-style individual player announcements before the game. They really built this one up after zero responses for any players number 1 to 26 and went for JOSH *vague “ooooooo” crow noise for “Bruce”* which just ended up as JOSH SILENCE. And they did the captain last, like it’s fucking Craig Willis after the fucking Grand Final.

When music was played after a late, meaningless goal in Round 3 of 2018 that visibly pissed off people who were only just coming to terms with the rebuild failing, I really wondered in that moment if the club would care or think about this kind of stuff. After the game and the crappy version of the song was played a few times they tried something different and went for the replay of Bruce’s winner with BONUS GROUND ANNOUNCER EXCITED VOICE and built up the crowd but they just still don’t understand the disconnect and went to that “you’re the best” song instead of the club song and people started leaving immediately. Yes, it did matter and it did make a difference in that moment.

***

That second quarter featured a string of Acres, Long, Battle and Paton that may have been the saddest handball chain of the professional era, and was immediately followed on the turnover into Freo’s forward line by a scuffed kick to Walters who was good enough to handball over his head to Fyfe. The skied kick meant an awkward dance shared by Carlisle and Sean Darcy, a dribbling ball towards goal and a weird attempted spoil by Battle with his boot via an awkward lunge. We talk about all the highlights of a season, but what is it that makes a season? It’s all the shit in between that builds up bit-by-bit.

Barging through the idea of Dunstan going for a checkside goal instead of a drop punt because he didn’t learn from the first time because he actually kicked the goal was Stuv. The one-on-one mark in front of goal lifted the crowd in a game that had become all about which side could reduce the other to the lowest score. By the time Acres, Lonie and Long had all shat directly into their pants in front of goal late in the game it was then about to which side could reduce themselves to the lowest score.  For all intents and purposes we were done before Stuv’s third goal. It might have just been too good to be true if he’d wheeled around for his fourth to put us in front shortly after, but it would have made sense in that moment, in the way the game was being played and the way that he appeared to break through the gravity of the dour game itself. Was he this good the whole time? Maybe we didn’t use him properly, if that’s possible. Maybe he should have played in the forward line more often. He outbodied his opponent and turned to look for a teammate, or indeed the goals, that made him our best small forward. He did start his career  off in that role – for many our first introduction to him may have been kicking the winner in the second round of the 2008 NAB Cup against the Cats, but more loudly the three goals against Geelong in Round 13 of 2010 as the search for redemption really got going. In the way that these stints in attack were out of necessity, so might the last few years have been. Too much class in the midfield to break into initially, and then in a slow and one-paced team crashing down the ladder, how do you take out your best midfielder? We might not have a choice pretty soon, but I think we’re going to be more than ok with that if that’s best for him.

Bruce eventually had his captain’s moment. He’d burned a few options earlier to take a set shot from outside 50 and didn’t score, but this is someone who has wanted to take responsibility whatever the game situation has been. Right to the end, when Josh Battle made the kind of play that really endears supporters to a young player.

***

There was just over 17,000 at the Concrete Disney Store for the last home game of the year. Secretly, yay. This was branded as “Saints Say Thanks” round, after we’d been “called upon” at the start of year as if we were still owing favours after decades of memberships and shitty winter trips to and from shitty games at shitty home grounds. I tweeted that I’d trade the free chips offered for having turned up to every home game for The Fable Singers version of the club song being returned (Rory: “I’ll have the chips … and the song returned too”, which was a more appropriate and reasonable response to be honest). There was no real response from the club, which brought us to 514 days since the new songs were “revealed” and St Kilda has not publicly referenced the change, nor publicly nor privately given any reason as to why, nor why they didn’t actually ask anyone about the change, nor why they didn’t say anything at all about it, now why it’s been so long that they didn’t. Thank you, Saints. I didn’t even get the fucking chips.

Another weird, shitty season under the YEAR 2000 lights of Incubating Disneyland Melbourne, where the seasons are forgotten. The changing in the angle of the sun is forgotten. Part of the journey of a footy season is that it tracks the path of our day-to-day lives from the tail of summer, as we reacquaint ourselves with reality, through the depths of winter, and then, if you’re lucky enough, spring springs for you in September as the weather warms and the sun shines heading to the final stretch of the year, which has soon enough become the year that was. Every game played at Docklands is an aesthetic duplicate now; no real record of a time or place other than a link between Disney and a Western Bulldogs board member, and the idiocy or fuckwittery of people who had every number of resources and dollar amounts available to them when designing and constructing a new stadium. So many games are played in this concrete dome – including most of ours – and it means so many games across the competition look and sound the same. The crappy echo of the unnecessary roof, the shitty grey, the same artificial lighting forever.

 

 

Was lovely to stay

by Tom Briglia

Round 20, 2019
Adelaide Crows 4.1, 6.4, 10.7, 14.8 (92)
St Kilda 3.2, 5.5, 7.7, 10.10 (70)
Crowd: 39,984 at Adelaide Oval, Saturday, August 3rd at 7.10pm ACST

Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 11.24.43 pm

Got yourself a dysfunctional club? Issues that run beyond an ageing list (but that’s actually quite talented)? Did you lose a Grand Final after dominating a season and the players have since looked exhausted and broken? Did you drop Eddie Betts, who needs to rediscover his ability to kick quality goals? Does Bryce Gibbs need a confidence boost after being bemusingly dropped several times this year? Does Tex need to feel like the captain he thinks he is (and almost sort of is)? Need a highly rated kid to lift a stadium when the game is on the line?

Have you ever considered, the St Kilda Football Club?

From Adelaide’s final quarter comeback to draw the game to 1994, to watching a wobbly performance early in 1995 in the strangely dark Football Park – in which Joshua Kitchen and Wayne Thornborrow kicked two of our three goals – to the Crows stopping our early season run on my birthday in 1996 as Ben Hart of all people took mark of the year, to the Crows bookending the 1997 run, with a trying, lonely Saturday loss in Round 15 on one side, and one of the darkest days in the club’s history on the other (the half-time scores of the games are unsettlingly similar). Then there was a humiliation at Football Club in our 1998 collapse, as the Crows went on their way to snatching a second premiership. Adelaide was chief villain in my formative years as a St Kilda supporter. In my head the Football Park crowd always seemed to have this reaction like a vigorous golf clap when the Crows kicked a goal. There was something unsettling about it.

St Kilda had always seemed small and vulnerable and wobbly and anxious interstate. Some performances in 1997 and in the better times of 1998 aside, the ability to win interstate relatively consistently throughout the GT-into-Ross Era was a welcome novelty that felt like the club had a generational armour. That is now well and truly been forgotten, as has the ability to win consistently anywhere.

That said, interstate games presented a specific problem in the Richo era. Slow starts, early blowouts, some big margins. That comes with the territory of being shithouse, but even as the team rose vaguely up the ladder, and then comically slid back down it, giving up games in the opening half hour or 45 minutes interstate have rendered so many invitations to houses deflated. There isn’t really any build up at home, if you’re watching solo (as I was on Saturday) you can from shoving your face with Joe’s fish and chips and fucking around the HDMI cable and picture settings straight to the opening bounce as glimpses on the screen of the team running out in the clash jumper to even less fanfare than usual stirred the match day butterflies that much more. No tram trip in, no scrolling through the Twitter feed for pre-match whatever, no meeting up with humans, no taking in the atmosphere of the office buildings around our Concrete Disney Store home ground. Watching at home with other humans usually means going from 0 to 100 and then the focus quickly deviating from the lost cause game to settle on the various potato chip products around us, or the M&Ms, or conversation with those we’re with related to things around the footy, occasionally punctuated by an “OH!” as in, “OH! THAT WAS SHIT, AGAIN.”

So maybe we cheekily thought that now that Richo was gone, that element of our game was gone, too. We’d decided to kick 100 points two weeks in a row for the first time this year, so why not? Adelaide Oval has given us smackings or heartbreak from both Adelaide teams. But this was different. Adelaide was on the ropes, resorting to pizza and Don Pyke showing human emotion, and we’re just happily charging along with Clark and Coffield and Marshall and Bruce on our way to unconvincing relatively high scores. Beat Adelaide and then the rest of the season just falls into place, right? Just like after Round 19 in 2009 when we were playing three not so great teams and we’d be on our way to an undefeated season. But as you near game day, logistics and machinations become a bit more real, particularly when you read the St Kilda club tweet saying Newnes and Paton are out due to puking or shitting, joining Hannebery in the puking and shitting rehab group. Those clouds that gathered over Shanghai and dumped a storm of diarrhoea and that watery vomit had come south and were poised to bring another shitty interstate game that’s done at quarter time, where everyone’s gonna be diarrhoeaing all over the place.

***

The magic cloak of a new coach was stripped off. This team was mostly the same, the same team that managed to ride adversity so handsomely at the beginning of the year and was able to reprise in recent weeks. This was not quite a wolf in sheep’s clothing, maybe just a sheep inside a more efficient sheep’s clothing. An exercise in reinforcing the state of the list, putting it in all caps so boomers can overcome their inability to understand subtlety and facetiousness online. It certainly shouldn’t make us feel much different about Ratten.

The atrocious kicking forward, shanked shots at goal from guys who couldn’t miss over the last few weeks, Parker and Long and Langlands being mostly unsighted, but then we get guys like Clark and Marshall and Coffield whose trajectories in the past couple of months in particular have been impervious to the team’s form, which says a lot about them – let alone the way they play their footy – as much as it says about this lost and its development.

Carlisle’s been copping a lot of heat but you’d need to acknowledge he didn’t really have a pre-season and I would happily break into medical records cabinets/bugged conversations with medicos that reveal his back still isn’t 100%. Of course he can’t fucking bend down that quickly right now.

Really, zero interesting things happened in this one. No wild momentum shifts, no overly incredible moments. Matt had texted me during the day on Saturday, saying. “We were so bad last year that I can’t even remember any of the games”. Much of this year will end up falling into the same footy black hole. Like the Round 6 meeting with the Crows, this was the “every week” in the “We go to the footy every week”. The narrative of the season informs the way we feel about it, but nothing hides that this is a nondescript game of footy that neutrals would not know existed, nor would there be a pressing need to call up any footage from it. Round 6 raised questions over whether we’d moved beyond 2018 really, and whether we as supporters could or wanted to get through another slog of a season. Only Matthew Parker saved that from being entirely forgettable and useless outside of some guys getting 120ish minutes of AFL footy under their belt, and maintained the early season good vibes around recruiting. Round 20 raised questions over how much of 2018 we still need to shed. This was a revert to type, but with 25% Brett Ratten thrown in. Eleven deep entries yielded 5.2, suggesting better positioning up forward and we’re using it, but 10.10 and comedy capers otherwise would suggest our players, by and large are either young or just not that good. The scoring is back to it’s bizarre consistency – let’s take a look at the big board:
13.7 (85)
10.16 (76)
9.12 (66)
10.14 (74)
15.5 (95)
10.8 (68)
10.10 (70)
10.10 (70)
10.11 (71)
9.14 (68)
9.15 (69)
11.14 (80)
8.11 (59)
10.10 (70)
11.7 (73)
8.9 (57)
17.14 (116)
15.14 (104)
10.10 (70)

Which means 12 out of 19 scores between 66 and 76, and if you want to stretch it a little further, 15 out of 19 scores between 57 and 80, and whichever way you diced that up, you finish with a shithouse percentage that like 2016 and 2017 had us effectively another game behind in the scramble for also-ran status. It’s a game we played again in 2019, but with even less of a presence.

***

A little bit like 1997, but in a quite different and infinitely more forgettable way, the Crows were bookends, sort of not really. They defused our opening season run in Round 6, and just as soon as we’d opened up a new tab and started using the Ladder Predictor with the default 20-point margins just to be safe to see what could be what – the equivalent of St Kilda smut in the post-Grand Finals era – and the Crows have walked in the door and we’ve frantically quit Chrome altogether with flushed, guilty faces. Slam down the laptop screen, angry we got caught. Go do some washing or the dishes in shamed silence.

We’ve disappeared from the conversation altogether for now. The coach isn’t that new, the loss has levelled things out and development and youth is again the order of the day. All that pressure we felt around the coaching situation – which stayed at the forefront given the wins – has now evaporated, as has an unease around the general club direction. The absurd shift to anxiety over a potential finals spot is gone now also. All of this has brought a light breeze of relief.  Footy fans get a little more reflective at this time of year. Let’s just play some young guys and see what they can do. The future is a long way away. The sun is setting a little later now,. The light is there for longer. The air isn’t as harsh. Not sure if it’s a bump in serotonin or just a reduction in general anxiety. Maybe it’s a bit of both. That’s ok, and it feels quietly ok.

There’s a time

by Tom Briglia

Round 19, 2019
St Kilda 3.2, 5.7, 10.10, 15.14 (104)
Melbourne 5.3, 6.4, 10.6, 13.7 (85)
Crowd: 22,854 at Docklands, Saturday, July 27th at 7.25pm

Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 11.55.33 pm

Are we feeling freer? Were we able to focus a little more on what we were meant to be doing on Sunday? Was the sun shining at a different angle, the air a little milder? For both of those last ones, the answer is actually yes. We’re pattern-seeking mammals and we read into things like that. In this case, that St Kilda has just won two games of footy playing its most interesting footy in three years, endless fluffy skill errors aside.

Richo’s success was ours, and we felt the pressure that was building on his job and the lcub in some way. Watching the Saints every week went from “Holy shit, the Billy Slater thing worked” in April to a sad countdown with no obvious end by mid-July.

Not just for the broader picture, or the Road to 2018, or the last 53 years, but more immediately a coach being sacked usually means that specific season has turned to slop. And now peeking out, or peeking through, or seeping through, or whatever, is a tiny bit of pressure coming the other way. Secretly, quietly, the mathematical chance of playing finals is a little higher now. In all likelihood this is the same teasing Road to Nowhere runs seen in 2012, 2016 and 2017, and while we’re here we might as well throw in 2003 and 2007, although each of those represented very different parts of this club’s history. Since the Pelchen days we’ve been waiting for a Riewoldt generation-style rebuild to become apparent, Road to 2018 maps or not, but the confetti and endless futures that exploded into view in 2004 haven’t eventuated. If we really wanna push it, then maybe this might be a 2008, if we can shit out some successive 108-point wins and everyone collapses around us in smoking piles of shit and draws. Fantastical scenarios in our head are justified with freak past occurrences. Remember when Brisbane made it in 1995 with 10 wins? And then Essendon did it in 2009 with 10 and a half? Remember that article that said maybe a team could make it with less than 12 wins? That could be us, and anything could happen, but usually it’s bad.

And let’s not completely get carried away. We’ve got a percentage that’s as attractive as me on the 58 tram heading into the game on Saturday evening realising I had a bit of snot on the outside of my nose. It’s a less forgiving environment too, you’re consistently the only Saints fan on that route.

Five-and-a-half minutes had us three goals down and the weird apparition that was a vaguely competent St Kilda team had disappeared in a floundering mess of red, white and black and red, white and royal blue that echoed the Camberwell and Frankston match-ups in the 1970s.

The 6.5 of the first quarter against the Dogs had turned into three players cutting across Luke Dunstan’s path as he was running in to goal, and Doulton’s set shot misses were widely known enough that when he reluctantly took the chest mark in the forward pocket in the second quarter it set off one of those moments in which everyone starts talking about it, and instead of 30,000 people (or in our case, 30) people yelling “BALL” the chorus is dispersed into smatterings of “Doulton Langlands/the video at training/he’s already missed two”.

***

Before his game turned into a career highlight, Seb Ross was merely contributing magic moments amongst quality capers that in all fairness weren’t confined to him. He kicked his once-every-several-months goal on the run from 50 metres to go with probably the classiest forward line moment of his career, but by the end he’d produced a quality body of work. Not sure that he’s screaming captaincy, but he’s seeming a whole lot less meek about it. The most promising part of the night as far as his 2021 Onwards Premiership Captain prospects go was cracking the shits with Blacres after the GOAT played the uncontested ruck contest against Gawn for a second time on the wing without actually, you know, contesting at all. and Melbourne walked in a goal at a crucial moment in the third quarter. It felt like it was going to be one of those nights at Colonial Stadium: a young team you have no reason yet to trust fumbling their way down to the wire.

Half-time saw Disney tightened its stranglehold on our home games beyond the Spiderman wall, and the giant thing of whatever the fuck it is just inside Gate 3. Simba Cam appeared to replace Kiss Cam, so instead of some tacky US MAJOR LEAGUE SPORTS half-time shit we got…forget it.

This game was heading towards zero clear resolutions. Newnes pulled out the self ankle-breaker in the opening minutes of the third quarter when abusing the game of Australian Rules football lost its appeal. But in the same way Seb kicked his long goal, Josh Bruce’s played his once-every-several-months Kosi-late-career colossus game, except he’s now played a few them in the space of a several weeks. Again, you’d consider him a leader but probably not a captain, but Paddy aside he’s the only guy that genuinely plays like one. Herculean efforts, a big presence, and I can tell from my room in Brunswick West that he does what he can to keep the atmosphere in the group lively. His first goal via ruck contest grab-and-go was weirdly aggressive, an unwieldy big guy’s version of Seb’s neat turn, and so many of his moments on Saturday were big. Who else would have kicked that goal on the three-quarter time siren? Who else was going to honour Hunter Clark’s almost-literally game breaking moment off half-back with a lead and then another set-shot goal with a 50-metre-plus kick to put us back in front in the last quarter?

Very quietly over the past several weeks, he and Membrey seem to have sorted their shit out and are rarely sighted at or near the same contest. It helps when players up the ground seem to actually know what they’re doing or would like to do with the footy, and the longer this chapter of the season plays out the less blame we can put purely on the lack of presentation foward of the ball. Bruce has kicked 19 goals in the past six games; he’d kicked 13 for the entire season before then, and Membrey has kept his own tally ticking over without needing to do anything spectacular. So much so you’d barely have realised he kicked three goals in within 10 minutes of play in the third quarter. His first might have been the worst goal I’ve ever seen, walking after loose ball that had bounced off the top of a pack and no one bothered else bothered chasing after it. Bruce is usually the ring-in, but this was part-time keeper at Wednesday night futsal giving up the one-on-one stuff.

***

Neither team really looked like they actually wanted to win. A goal off the ground from past and almost certainly future nemesis Christian Petracca after a poor goal square contest, and then a free kick immediately given away by Carlisle saw a 10-point lead became a two-point deficit in a few seconds. Bruce’s huge goal put us back in front on the siren, but I was assuming we’d all turfed the whole “we’ll run teams off their feet at Marvel Stadium” schtick (as if we’d kept that up throughout the season anyway) and wasn’t sure what else we could pull out in the last quarter. Melbourne kicked a goal in the first 20 seconds, and the next one, and the atmosphere had been sucked out of the stadium, presumably via the gates because for some reason there’s a fucking roof on our home ground.

Rather than having a moment in which the game was thrust upon some unwitting kid, Hunter Clark decided to do the reverse. He’d been good anyway, and I say that with a strange familiarity. When was the last time a Saint did something so decisive in one game, let alone a 20-year old? A fend-off with one hand, a gather with the left off-balance, and turn and acceleration off half-back is something our game plan hasn’t allowed for, or our players haven’t been capable of, or wanted to do, or knew they could do. Or whatever, and even better that Seb and Bruce could finish it off. The Best Player in the AFL Since Round 11, Rowan “I’ve Fucked It” Marshall, didn’t beat Gawn but he was clearly learning during the game and by the final quarter had figured out how to win the ball out of the ruck consistently. Nick Hind had backed out of contests, had a mark on his own on the boundary called touched over the line, and taken the game on after pulling off the shortest kick known to science and blasted it across the face all within a few minutes, but when game was down to the final minutes he had his chance to go with flight, and had the awareness and balance to stay with the ball and kick the goal.

***

Having a VFL match-up the day after is both a) a ridiculous waste of a chance have a curtain raiser; and b) a massive come down for at least on set of fans. There would have been negative willingness the morning after to go again if we’d lost on Saturday night, but all of a sudden I’m more than willing to waste a beautiful Sunday on my weird yellow pleather couch and watch Sandringham play. The all-star cast helped, sure – Battle, Webster, Steven, Parker, Marsh, D-Mac, but the Brett Ratten Effect had reached the coaches’ box of Sammy Hamill at the Wilson Storage Trevor Barker Beach Oval. Anyone who bothered tuning in would have seen the new quintessential St Kilda stuff: D-Mac running and bouncing down the wing and kicking forward to the lead of Darragh Joyce, who nailed the goal from the set shot 40 metres out. You would have seen Stuv bulleting a kick out of the air from the pocket to Robbie Young, Webster bulleting a kick through the middle to Joyce on the lead (but he missed that one). Marsh running through traffic to Joyce on the lead. You would have also seen, uh, Parker blatantly, wildly, going third-up in the ruck. Never has anyone given away a free kick while looking so confident and athletic.

The point is, guys are playing like themselves (the Parker thing aside, but the levels of entertainment, relatively speaking, are through the Concrete Disney Store’s roof). Gresham needs to stop kicking the cover off the ball but the different elements of each player are being encouraged and it shows. I’m not sure what the hell happened between April 20th and July 21st – three months and one day – but for now we can enjoy the feeling of being catapaulted into another dimension, like a cat shaking itself off after accidentally being shut in the bathroom for an entire day.

This six-week stretch feels like a pilot episode for the 2020s. Some of the cast will change. Character development will naturally occur, some will be written in and some will be written out. In the way The Simpsons and Seinfeld had their first episodes in 1989, but are linked inextricably with the 1990s (or at least the peak of the former is), the players we’re watching, if successful, will most likely be linked to the 2020s when it comes to western pop culture references and conversations had in mid-21st century bars.

What was supposed to be the next Geelong rivalry of the aughts for us hasn’t yet proven to be anything, but Melbourne and the Saints seem to keep circling each other – even last year we both decided to do things in extremes. We’re the last two teams with premiership droughts after the Lions, Swans, Cats, Bulldogs and Tigers wiped out a combined 276 years of drought the in space of 17 seasons (I’m counting the Bears, but also fuck that). We haven’t been successful enough over any period of time to generate any genuine rivalries so the consistent spotfires on Saturday night stirred a competitiveness we’ve forgotten about, or never really got that used to. If you had any empathy you could take some pleasure out of seeing Geelong break through in 2007, even if at that moment the Riewoldt generation looked to be floundering. It should have been us, we might have thought, and we definitely think it should have been us two years later. The Bulldogs also loomed as a potential rival in the next great drought-breaking race between two battlers, but we could take pleasure in their 2016 heroics. We felt like we were on our way ourselves at that point, too. Instead there’s a chance if we get our shit together with this group we’re going to be competing with Melbourne and then maybe Carlton, whose drought is at 24 years already. But all we’ve really done right now is win two games in a row.

All you got to do is say it

by Tom Briglia

Round 18, 2019
St Kilda 6.5, 11.6, 13.9, 17.14 (116)
Western Bulldogs 1.0, 4.5, 10.5, 14.5 (89)
Crowd: 21,705 at Docklands, Sunday, July 21st at 4.40pm

 

Screen Shot 2019-07-22 at 10.31.12 am

 

“I got friends in Kansas City with a motherfucking futon couch,
If that’s how you want to play it.”

 ***

Appearances in the spotlight have been rare in the past six years. Occasional excitement about Billings and Gresham, the landmark events that were the retirements of Lenny Hayes and Nick Riewoldt, but that’s mostly been it. This week we were confronted with mattering again, if only to a news cycle and viewer numbers and journos one-upping. We were reminded of what it’s like when cameras and media bother hanging out in the Moorabbin car park waiting for players in non-St Kilda merch to emerge. This had been reserved for the peak of the GT and Ross eras, a team of glamour boys in 2004 and 2005 that matured into a machine in 2009 and 2010.

Last Tuesday confirmed we had gone from The Age’s “story of the year” in April to simply one of the stories that will make up the year that was. Once it actually happened it wasn’t overly sensational. Probably expected, and a dignified exit in keeping with the humility of Richo’s tenure was hardly clickbait fodder.

***

What does it feel like when your season is over and you get to 4.40pm on the Sunday of Round 18? Faux new era feeling or not, the echoes of the crowd ring out around the Concrete Disney Store for longer and with a hollower tone. Everyone’s a mathematical chance by some string of freak occurrences; the Dogs had and still do have realistic finals prospects, but we’d turbo charged our “relaxed day at the footy as social outing to watch the Saints because none of this matters”.

This one had a lot more optimism, sure, with more kids doing things we hadn’t seen them do before. The weight of the recent past had been lifted, however temporarily before the anxiety begins again. Where are all the New Zealand members? Where’s the free agency big fish? All of those hot flushes thinking of wasted years will come back eventually. But on Sunday we had one day, and we now have this small window of several weeks, to exist outside of the throes and ups and downs and vigorous side to sides a that the length of an entire live season gives us, if we can ever remember what that’s like.

We don’t have a coach, maybe not officially anyway, but maybe the future does look bright, maybe this list is ok, and we can get to watch these kids run around with a clear freedom, with their dragon haircuts and sleeve tattoos and Jill’s blue boots and relatively accurate goal kicking. There is nothing yet tainting where this could be going.

The strange sensation of surety when the Coff was near the ball, the surprise aggression and progression of Hunter Clark, Doulton Langlands literally standing up to take a mark under heat from two opponents in the middle of the ground. It was all working. Even Jack Bytel got more mentions on Tuesday alone than he had in his entire time at the club.

***

Hunter was given “the next Bont” treatment by the AFL site, and since Brent Guerra’s feature in The Age after Round 9, 2004, and The Age’s 2009 August 9th and of course the infamous April 27th headline that was, uh, also in The Age, we’d be right to be terrified of any positive media coverage, ever. I don’t know what the hell happened between the time he was last dropped and recalled for the Gold Coast game. All of a sudden we have a new, other best player alongside Best Player in the AFL Since Round 11 Rowan Marshall. I keep saying it, this team has played bored and anxious footy for basically two years, but somehow we now have Hunter Clark acting as if he’s got time and space on both sides of his body, and then actually doing stuff with it. The exclamation point this week was his two goals. A set shot from 50 metres and then a wicked snap out of a stoppage, in one movement across his body from 40 metres out, which soared as high as any of Kosi’s set shots. Sometimes moments in play feel like they occur in a specific part of the ground just so you can experience them more lucidly from wherever you happen to be sitting. Watching the ball blasted from his boot, curl and then hold his line was one for Aisle 33 (and most of the members probably, but you know what I mean).

***

It actually felt like we didn’t have a coach. Like the box was empty and some veteran staff had just turned up on the day to boost morale and let the players know when it was time to run out for the game. “Just enjoy yourselves, guys”, or whatever people say.

Tory Dickson’s opener aside, something was up. This team looked different. This was the team Matt and Rich and I went to Werribee to watch in 37 degree-heat during the pre-season. There was something bolder. There was an aggression to shape the game and make it our own. The expression was back with the ball and with the mouth, which ended up with spotfires not seen since Jack Steele went out of his way to give up 50 metres against the Bombers after Jimmy Webster got collared. Nick Hind getting stuck into Dogs players after Doulton’s goal reminded us of those heady times of three months ago (it also meant there was a push and shove group next to a first-goal celebration group). It happened during actual play, too. Parker made up for his non-paid mark (which ended up with Lonie’s banana goal) by slamming into a marking contest.

Maybe Jack Lonie was the spiritual leader of this team after all. Maybe this whole time, he was the Aaron Hamill. We’d been playing him at Sandy and then yo-yoing him in and out of and around the team in a revolving small forwards door with Minchington and Weller and Templeton and Murdoch and Wright. A 20 possession game kicking 4.3 are individual numbers reserved for excellent players of other teams. Maybe one day he’ll kick straight. Of course, it was very Jack Lonie that he would miss a relatively easy snap in space to have banked four first-quarter goals.

Watching the first quarter unfold made sad sense; we’d seen glimpses of this in the first part of the year, but whatever they’d taken this week was an optimal dose of Lovan. More movement running forward, smarter and more efficient positioning in congestion and further up the ground, handballs to guys moving forwards, i.e. guys who’d worked hard enough to be there in the first place. The anticipation of the ball sailing deep into attack to a well-positioned forward. We forgot what aggressive footy and a team wanting to actually win looked like. It was at once a reminder of St Kilda teams long ago, and also felt ultra futuristic.

***

Bruce and Sav both sliced opportunities late in the first quarter to tick the scoreboard over to seven goals to one. By quarter time we had to settle for 6.5 to 1.0. And I mean that – if you’ve had the year we’ve had, who knows where your next goal is going to come from? Nothing could have been enough.

And so we had to navigate all sorts of emotions and experience all sorts of dynamics unfold that we’d simply forgotten about, and may not have been so well equipped to handle. The natural ebbs and flows of a 21st century game of footy necessitated that the Dogs would get some traction. Watching a bunch of kids feel the pressure of an in-form team come back in the third quarter, and with no proven reference points in their short careers as to how to handle that. Coff had zero reference points for any ways of winning.

By three-quarter time there was frustration in the crowd. I punched the chair in front of me Maybe some despair. Couldn’t we just at least have this? Our wins this season have been at arm’s length. This was a different type of tension we hadn’t felt for a long time. What if we lost? Would we just waste kicking 11.6 in the first half? Would it be left to tiring young guys to fend off the Bulldogs pack? See Round 5, 2002 vs Sydney and Round 5, 2018 vs GWS.

Whichever way, it’s a very small step. We’ve been here before, of course, and the more optimistic parts of us would this is different. It might be, but it doesn’t necessarily end up with what we want. There are a lot more ways to not win a premiership then there are to actually win out. We’ve come up with more ways to not win a premiership while leading in time-on of a Grand Final than we have to win one. You get the idea.

This was an exhaustive exercise with no real known outcomes, successful or otherwise, to be evident for some time. Perhaps not clear until the 2030s and we’re sitting around doing whatever people do that are nearly 15 or 20ish years older than our current age, discussing what became of the St Kilda team of the 2020s. We’ve watched eras come and go, never mind single weeks of dips and peaks in form. Next year will mark the beginning of first era for this club that has real separation from the GT and Ross era (the birth and peak of the Riewoldt generation).

Maybe there were some lessons or opportunities during the week that we could take. Time to reflect on the good and the bad, and that all of those can and do co-exist. A lesson in humility, in empathy, in sympathy, in that there are no guarantees, in that not winning three Preliminary Finals and then not winning any of three Grand Finals does not mint a new standard at the football club, and does not mean your next rebuild will come off. One hell of a fucking exhaustive exercise indeed, if only to end up with Doulton Langlands on the front page of The Age.