On Richo

by Tom Briglia

Individuals that become a part of the St Kilda Football Club – most of whom we’d have nothing to do with them otherwise – players, coaches, officials, whoever, are intertwined with our search for a life experience as Saints supporters; the “after” that we can pair with this 53-year-old “before”.

And so they come to represent more than just themselves as individuals. What position should Blake Acres be played in? How many games will Dan Hannebery be fit for? Why isn’t Brandon White being selected? Maybe Max King will take us to glory. We see the St Kilda supporter in ourselves in him, and we see our messiah complex being fulfilled by him.

We’ve started asking deeper questions in the past few years. Where did our leaders go? Is our recruiting awful? What happened to the Road to 2018? Where are all of our New Zealand members?

Fairly, unfairly, simplistically, unusually, often this winds up being represented in the coach. The senior person who is in charge of and represents the players. It’s an easy place to have concentrated the frustration. A club’s primary function is to have a team play Australian Rules football, and St Kilda’s just hasn’t done that very well very often. Richo, given his position, has been at the centre of our frustrations.

But he’s been central throughout the past six years. In a period that has seen leaders and true St Kilda people go and very few emerge, Richo has been the only constant. Hayes left in the first year of his tenure; Fisher and Dempster were there a little longer; Riewoldt and Joey for four seasons. Armo peaked briefly in there, Geary emerged and perversely his best season has been upended by two freak collision injuries. But what else?

Who did we see and hear represent the club after every game? Who were we looking for when we looked to the coaches’ box across the other side of the ground? Who were we looking to to take us out of the post-Grand Finals misery? Richo may well have been the closest thing to an identifiably St Kilda person at the club that remained from the end of the Watters era black hole. As time goes on, that era appears a deeper and more curious chasm dividing the GT and Ross Combined era and the current post-Grand Finals era. Richo’s appointment and tenure has become a clear demarcation point. Even watching the (very funny and enjoyable) Doulton video was strange. All of a sudden, this is the St Kilda Football Club. Who are the Saints? It just looked Brett Ratten and a bunch of guys who like footy.

A modern-day storm of rebuild-via-draft-and-free-agency, and a St Kilda board seeking stability meant that despite a not-quite-35% win rate, Richo is St Kilda’s second-longest serving coach, and whatever I think of how he coached or the results during the past six years, the place feels strange without him.

***

It was a text from Matt that dropped down from the top of my iPhone screen that was how I learned what had happened on Tuesday. But I didn’t register it immediately; he decided to call me anyway in that moment, and I blankly opened with “What’s up?”

Heading into last weekend, many thought this was the most likely game to trigger an immediate move from the club on his position: a trouncing from the ladder leaders at the Cattery, ten years on from Paul Chapman ultimately being proved right. Instead, the team had put in one of their heartier performances, but like so many games throughout the past six years, the gulf in top end talent was the difference.

And maybe there was, indeed, enough in his face on the siren to gauge what was about to happen. I thought maybe it was projecting on my part, but it became apparent during the week that he knew.

Did he ever get a really decent chance? He took over a lost list and a heartbroken club, and then had to deal with genuine heart issues, head issues, mental health issues, poor trading and recruiting (but was the development his fault?), other strange injuries, and other strange list decisions (in hindsight anyway).

However it was, Richo carried himself with dignity, decency humility throughout whatever happened over the past six years. He engaged with anything he saw was in the club’s best interests. He kept fronting up to 360 to get asked about on TV why the club’s rebuild was collapsing, and if he was aware of the implications that the public scrutiny and pressure might only end up with him losing a role that he had worked years to attain. He answered similar questions for much of the past couple of months; he kept it out of the conversation at training. Going by the most oft-consulted metric for a coach’s viability, the players were still playing for him.

The only faint crack that appeared was a swipe at the umpires after Saturday night, but a very large part of me feels that it was his way of sticking up for the club in one of the few remaining ways he could. He certainly wasn’t going to get fined, and he could let AFL HQ knew that the club was watching.

Footy’s a business, sure, but you can’t just leave it at that. It’s a fucking emotional one, whether you like it or not, and whether I like it or not. Those simplistic components co-exist and cross over in uncomfortable ways. Maybe when tears appeared during the press conference – for what people had given up for him – it was that the situation became a whole lot more real. The chatter was something we’d become used to for more than 12 months, but the requirement he felt to stay stoic was now gone. His involvement with the club was now past tense. Some were keen for this event. I certainly didn’t take any joy out of it. His success would have been our own; the optimism of late 2016 was his and our own; the plummet down the ladder may or may not have entirely been his, but it was our own.

***

By chance, my brother Matt was driving around Moorabbin on Monday and decided to swing by the club shop. Maybe some of the players would be out on the track. Instead, on his walk from the car up Linton Street, he chanced upon Richo and Matt Finnis. Matt couldn’t pass up the opportunity. He thinks Richo had done really well in 2019 given the the varying physical and psychological tolls felt by the players.

“Sorry to interrupt lads, but I just wanted to shake this man’s hand and let him know what a great job he’s done this season.”

That ended up in a several-minute chat with two people who, it became apparent, were discussing a landmark event in this club’s history. One of them was 24 hours away from publicly getting the arse end of it; from answering questions about it, specifically how he had not been successful.

Matt’s interaction might have been the last Richo had with a supporter, or a member. I’m not sure. In the footy bubble, Alan Richardson the human is infinitely intertwined with Alan Richardson, and I don’t know how many positive lines he would have heard about his coaching over the past 12 months, nor, given what we walked into, the past six years. I hope he got some affirmation from what Matt said. That the time and effort he had spent – and the pressure he felt – during his time at the club had meant something to St Kilda supporters. On a windy and wintery day in a suburban Melbourne street, away from anyone else and knowing that he’d coached his last game at the club, he still felt and honoured a responsibility to engage with them.

The wind picked up

by Tom Briglia

Round 17, 2019
Geelong Cats 4.4, 5.7, 8.8, 12.12 (84)
St Kilda 2.2, 6.3, 6.7, 8.9 (57)
Crowd: 24,035 at Kardinia Park, Saturday, July 13th at 7.25pm

Screen Shot 2019-07-15 at 9.00.58 pm

We were looking at four in a row for Geelong and St Kilda matches in the final year of a decade producing something bizarre or incredible or wonderful or awful or scarring:

  • Round 7, 1989 – Geelong kicks 35.18.228 to 16.13.109, Gavin Exell kicks eight goals, Geelong’s highest score at the time, and what remains the biggest score we’ve conceded.
  • Round 10, 1999 – Came back in the last quarter at the Cattery to go 7-3 and move into premiership favouritism. This was the last win before the Alves/Watson team collapsed. (Shout-out to Sebastian Hasset for reminding me that I’d missed in the 1998 win in my initial tweet about this.)
  • 2009. Twice. For all of the feel good memories the club and the media have tried producing around the recent 10-year anniversary of the Round 14 match, it’s just a sub-plot to the main story arc, in which Paul Chapman was ultimately proved right. No links required here. We all know it.
  • Bonus round:
    • Round 14, Corio Oval, August 12th, 1899 – The Cats win 16.23.119 to 0.2.2.
    • Sectional Round 3, Corio Oval, September 9th, 1899 – Geelong wins 23.24.162 to 0.1.1, which remains the lowest score in VFL/AFL history, against what at the time was the highest score to date (eclipsing Essendon’s 120, also kicked against the Saints)

What horrible delights awaited us at Kardinia Park on a cold Saturday night? In the 10-year anniversary meeting since the rivalry of the aughts came to a head, we got the absolute opposite. We didn’t even get the thrashing that 1899 nor 1989 teams received, nor for that matter those that went to Kardinia Park in 2002, 2013, and 2014. Rather, we saluted a decade in which we descended into mediocrity, and collapsed in a heap of disengagement and irrelevance with a match that no neutral would have cared for and no Cats nor Saints particularly needs to remember.

***

Another week of the bizarre “Win, and our season is still alive, lose and the coach is sacked”, but this is now moving into the, “Win, and we might keep our coach, lose and the coach is sacked” phase. This week did have something dangerous written over it; Adelaide are clearly capable of dishing out big defeats and we’ll need to deal with them in a few weeks, but top-of-the-ladder Geelong coming off a loss presented an immediate threat. We’re an off day in general away from requiring new coach, let alone an off day against the team on top of the ladder. Maybe we feel like our rage (or whinging) can be enough to move things at senior level. This felt like an ominously quiet week among supporters. For those actively wanting a change of coach this week presented the most likely chance for the footy to do the talking.

Geelong haven’t been great (relatively speaking) after the bye over the past two seasons, and despite all the available empirical data over this season and the past 146 years, I had a sick feeling during the week we would either win or lose a close game. The kind in which you get run over the top in front of a hostile one-sided crowd. That didn’t quite happen. However, we did play like we cared. The players were still responding to the coach. We just don’t have good enough players; perhaps this coach isn’t the right fit for this team. Guys a few years into their careers are going to weird places. Acres had four touches at three-quarter time, we don’t have a genuine midfielder that is an excellent user of the ball; Gresham is still playing a role in which he feels the need to quick the cover off the footy instead rather than using his agility and shorter kicking to open up the game; Membrey is lost; D-Mac was played up forward for some reason; Sinclair is still indifferent.

Bruce yet again played like one of the few guys that look close to a leader on the field. Something isn’t quite working between both he and Membrey. They’ll both benefit from Max King coming in. Otherwise, our best player right now just played his 27th game in a position he actually isn’t a full-timer in, and arguably is perversely our best midfielder. He’s also The Best Player in the AFL Since Round 11. A St Kilda Best and Fairest might yet have Rowan Marshall’s name on it, and I’d wonder how he’d go in the Brownlow (he obviously wouldn’t win it, but given the AFL’s official rankings and his position it would be a fun curio to keep tabs on one of the few St Kilda guys that genuinely impacts the play, and across all parts of the ground).

His bump on Dahlhaus was a rare moment since Round 6 onwards in which we took to it to the opposition. Steele went with him on that that, and Dunstan too, and that annoying/hardarse factor has been a bit of a bellwether. The run of four goals in the second quarter might have given us perverse, fleeting thoughts, immediately weighed down by acknowledgement this team most likely wouldn’t be capable of sustaining it for four quarters.

Not much as actually been said about what happened between the Melbourne and Adelaide games in April. The first few minutes of that Adelaide game may well have been the peak of the season. The crowd wasn’t big, but there was an anticipation in the moments leading up to the first bounce that hadn’t been felt since late 2010, and the feverish pressure in the opening minutes had me thinking that we might actually be a good football team. But as the first quarter unfolded, it was clear that was more in the maniacal style of 2017 and 2018, and it started to come undone too easily. As the second quarter unfolded on Saturday night, maybe we had finally returned to what happened before that. Maybe it was because Lonie was back. Maybe Jack Lonie was our spiritual leader this whole time. You might be able to make a direct correlation between the time he went down with a knee injury in that Adelaide game with our personality disappearing and our season turning to shit. Never mind, we lost and he had five touches.

***

Still, some mongrel was nice as opposed to zero mongrel, and the defensive pressuring was high-energy as well as efficient. There were players around the ball in the right spaces to make sure the ball got moving the other way, but the ball wasn’t used well, or there just wasn’t much ahead, but probably both. It made for a forgettable game in which Geelong couldn’t show off much and we once again farted out a score that provided more of a nuisance than anything else.

Watching on TV is always a very short and sharp experience. No build-up in physically going to the game and being among the crowd and getting a drink. In the lounge room, sometimes it can be hard to really absorb yourself in the game. The team is running out, a quick ad break, nothing changes in the lounge room aside from finishing off the Juanita Peaches delivery, the ball is bounced, quarter time, nothing really changes in the lounge room aside from an M&Ms refill, start of the second quarter, you get the idea. This was the depths of winter. Choosing to stay in on a cold, wet Saturday night to watch a public demonstration and confirmation that Geelong are better than us and can have this four points. We just needed it to be broadcast and to see what it would look like, for transparency.

Geelong weren’t quite 100% and we were on, but all it took to finish this was less than two minutes of a 35-year old injured Gary Ablett. Another three-quarter effort, but we were probably operating at capacity and Geelong could just pull it out when they needed to by choice. The different between this and the last few weeks was that we didn’t lose that outlier quarter by as much, but the numbers were instructive as any. With the season on the line, 14 entries for 0.4 for the third quarter, to Geelong’s nine entries for 3.1.

In a year of low and bizarrely consistent scores, this was a little surprisingly our lowest. After Long kicked his second goal 16 minutes and 44 seconds into the second quarter, we kicked 2.6 to 8.7, and no goals until Acres’ 12 minutes and 15 seconds into the final quarter. Again, much like this season, an isolated block of decent footy covers up a lot of benign kicking down the line and an inability to win contested ball, or trying to play on too fast and kick to not much. Outside of the 10 minutes and 31 seconds in the second quarter during which we kicked four straight, it was 4.9 to 12.12.

Unfortunately couldn’t add to the 11 out of 15 games coming in to this in which we’d scored between 66 and 76 points. Let’s take another 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)
11.6 (72)
8.9 (57)

***

Broadly, this Australian Rules football team just isn’t that good at Australian Rules football. Maybe they’re too young, maybe the injuries did matter. It’s hard to feel overly proud of honourable losses as you’re watching a rebuild fail. The soft draw has turned into a string of games that just don’t matter any more. From here, we’re a minor roadblock to the 2019 aspirations of the Bulldogs, Adelaide, and maybe Freo. We are the soft draw.

The fact that the commentators were talking up how the last time we went into half-time in front at Kardinia Park was in 2004 – also a game that we lost (in a very handsome Heritage Round jumper) – was patronising enough. This came in within a couple of days of AFL.com.au publishing a glowing article about Geelong’s 2009 premiership 22 all still being still involved in the game. On the same day, Ross was coaching his 300th in Tasmania, on the same ground and against the same opposition we went 19-0 ten years ago; when it looked like the next seven weeks was written for us. I was secretly hoping chairing off a coach became a thing for one day, and specifically on Saturday, because the idea of Ross bashfully being chaired off the ground is objectively funny.

I was cleaning my room while listening to Kane and Dermie on Crunch Time on SEN late on Saturday morning to hear them talk about West Coast and Collingwood and they way they play, just to remind myself what talking about good footy teams sounds like, let alone what it looks like. How would you view us from a Geelong perspective? That would have been a “pedestrian” win for a Geelong fan, ticking down to the pointy end of another flag tilt. From a competition perspective? “Plucky” or “brave” if you wanted quickly scan an article the next morning, perhaps, but no neutral would seek to find out any more details about this game. No need to mention it again. How would you feel watching the game at home if it wasn’t the Saints playing? What would you think of the players? Or the game style? Or the club?

***

As far as footy goes, the coach is in charge of a lot of what dictates our emotions through the week and is a representative of the football club and its history and its current journey. We project how we’re feeling onto them, likewise the players. Alan Richardson the coach and public figure is a different entity to Alan Richardson the human. Sometimes that bleeds across how we might be feeling about the club and the team. Watching Richo on the siren was upsetting. Channel 7 cameras were poised for the moment. He looked upset. The players are still playing for him. The team’s effort was up and a lot of things went right. He’s handled himself excellently. But it just hasn’t been enough. He looked like he knew it was over. He looked like he didn’t want it to be. I didn’t want it to be, certainly in that moment. I don’t want it to be, if only for it being an official acknowledgement that this rebuild hasn’t worked (if we needed more than everything that has happened in the past 30 months). There’s still time for a little more thrashing about until it happens, of grabbing at anything that might be able to sedate things momentarily, or maybe stumbling upon something that could save him and this whole era. A way out of this that isn’t taking the jump to a new coach, and all the uncertainties that come with it. What if there was a genuine reason that this hadn’t worked that was out of Richo’s control? What if the injuries did actually matter? What if Paddy and Roberton could make it back? What if Acres and D-Mac and White are just another pre-season away? What if it’s just the goal kicking? What if it’s just a few small things misaligned? We probably won’t ever know.

If you must, you must

by Tom Briglia

Round 16
North Melbourne 7.5, 10.6, 13.7, 17.10 (112)
St Kilda 1.1, 6.3, 8.5, 11.7 (73)
Crowd: 10,696 at Bellerive Oval, Sunday, July 8th at 3.20pm

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We could afford ourselves the testing block Adelaide, GWS, West Coast and Collingwood. Maybe pinch one, and then we’d have Josh Bruce’s “decent stretch” of games. Then we’d be back. Hannebery in, Carlisle in. Easiest draw in the comp. Carlton? Yeah right. Port Adelaide? Flighty and fickle. Gold Coast? Lost their early season vigour, and back to being the 21st century’s University. Brisbane Lions? Young team set to fade. Richmond? Has-beens with injuries (which turned into, should be rusty off the bye). North Melbourne? About to sack their coach and the next-worst (which turned into, ???).

And St Kilda?

This has become a laborious path to the end of the Road to 2018. No 10,000 members in New Zealand, no big fish caught on the free agency market, no big fish bred in the Moorabbin pond, really, no top four finish by 2018, let alone 2019, and anyone who drew up those plans won’t be able to claim to be the architects of any freak premiership in 2020.

Lethlean started padding out our holding cells by specifying that Richo would need to start beating the teams above us. Rampant diarrhea was a decent excuse against Port, but utter shit is the reasoning for what’s happened since. Sweat on the ball figured as an excuse in the nicest weather we played in.

This was probably the last of any “normal” match-up before things either get really dicey in terms of unacceptable margins, and then mathematically incompatible with a contract extension. North Melbourne are now looking more attractive and potent than they have in years, and with the most recent and comprehensive evidence we have, a 46-point better team than us when the season is on the line. Brisbane is in the top four. Carlton has a future. Melbourne, for now, can legitimately call this year a once-off. We’re running out of jokes that aren’t us, and no one cares about the Suns anyway.

***

In the same way a trip to Geelong in 2011 was a landmark event for the Demons (and nearly for a few competition records that will probably never be threatened again), the Cattery looms as the scene of something definitive. It’s been such a dour, spluttering path I think we all might have tuned out by the time it actually happens. Whether it’s a big loss on Saturday night, or simply commentators and fans doing their own maths or using the ladder predictor across a round of footy somewhere between now and several weeks’ time to confirm there are no laws of science that would allow us to make, let alone win, a final in 2019.

For a club known for mastering disorganisation, hope and ultimately heartbreak in extremes, the post-Grand Finals era has been disengagement by stealth. We’re not thundering towards a dramatic overhaul, we’re not going to pull a GT-for-Ross style move that looks more incredible (in the true sense of the word, for all of the better and for all of the worse) as time passes and and the legend around the two eras grows. No more miracles, no more fancies, no more flirting with naughty, forbidden thoughts of the impossible. We will reconvene in a few weeks (maybe one week), take the few split seconds to reacquaint ourselves with the usernames and handles. Think about the better times when we were a step ahead on the Road. What I feared more than anything else after the Grand Finals was a Carlton 2009 to 2013-style peak in our next (i.e current) era of utter mediocrity, maybe pinching a final but holding onto the metallic taste of a useless final win. We will lay claim to beating the Bulldogs in 2016 and finishing two places under them on the ladder in their premiership year. We wouldn’t have bothered pinning it to our membership scarves as a badge of honour, next to 2017’s long-haired Jack Steele and recently-purchased Dan Hannebery editions.

***

So, yes, bizarrely, another game with the season on the line, or the coach’s job on the line, or maybe it’s not so bad, or maybe it has been a festering sore this whole time that we quietly thought it might be every time we left the Concrete Disney inspired to go home and not even think about watching a replay.

And, another game interstate. We’re consistent if nothing else. What does 47-7 at quarter time tell you? That the same problems have been occurring for six years regardless of season context nor personnel. Often in the first quarter, certainly by the some point in the second, trips outside of Melbourne have more often than not seen the game given up before the opposition takes the foot off, knowing the game is done. See how easy it is to spin that around? “Our players showed fight”, sure, but it would have been nice if they did that when the game was live, because if it was any other team it’s simple Richmond relaxing a little after going into half-time up 103-19 on the Gold Coast on Saturday.

Don’t confused “we got within 15 points for a few seconds” as a sign that this whole thing is working. Any warped positivity we would have felt during the game is, well, warped. The physicality and hot-headedness with and off the ball reappeared. Parker finally looked like he might hit someone (including one moment in which he was wrestling within a couple of metres of the live ball), Hind was cracking the shits with Polec, and Dunstan was acting more like the leader he promised to be five years, joined briefly by Acres who had switched into a mode other than “Oh yeah that’s cool”. Where did the pointing to the crowd go after goals? Not much to yell or point about when you’re watching another year pass you by. The season is still absurdly open and 12 wins may yet be much more than enough to sneak in. The problem is, there are other teams who would also like to play finals, please. In the same way, we’ve ended up thinking Seb Ross is borderline A-grade and a bunch of guys could easily be traded out for second-round picks. We’ve been comparing our own middling guys to the rest our middling crew. I’ve forgotten what a good St Kilda team looks like. Not one that “shows fight” when the match has been blown and the score is 53-7 and the opposition still only bothers to yield seven points in that margin by game’s end. “At least we fought it out” was something that could be used in 2015 and 2016. But it’s been used since and it hasn’t been appreciated. At least what? And then what?

Richo looked tired doing his coach’s message for the club app. He mentioned the same points he’s mentioned before in these situations, but he and the talking points had been sapped of the optimistic slants. Outscoring them by one point after quarter time was mentioned, but it didn’t matter. It was too little, too late, done and dusted, he said.

***

Battle getting innocuously hurt wasn’t anything new. At training alone in the past several weeks, Steele dislocated his kneecap and Dean Kent kicked a ball, and now he’s out for the season. Battle just adds his name to a list that it feels like anyone of importance has been on this year.

If there was anything remarkable about Sunday, it was how unremarkable it was. Three goals in the opening eight minutes to North Melbourne. Their unquestioned physicality was there from the start of the game, because that’s when you do those things: during the game. From the time that it starts. A long Ziebell snap from near the boundary skittled everyone and rolled through for a goal, and until Hunter Clark has a career vaguely approaching Lenny’s then the respective broadcasts remains a footage of a physical senior North player ironing out a young Saint with unquestioned commitment to a contest, and their likeness a genuine curio.

I’m not saying Hunter will not be a good player, by the way – he looked fantastic and more composed than any other Saint last week, and on Sunday post-barrelling. That’s what a young player playing well looks like. It’s not just glimpses for a couple of years that don’t actually impact games and then trail off. Again, it’s no surprise he plays like this and has spent a whole lot less time in the club’s system (whatever that means) than other guys. Same goes for Carlisle, who was back to his relaxed plucks out of the air best, Dan Hannebery in the 45 seconds he’s played for us, and of course The Best Player in the AFL Since Round 11, Rowan Marshall, who let’s not forget didn’t spend the formative years of his adult career at the Saints.

Zurharr five goals, Larkey five goals. Who? Yeah exactly, and they’ve developed these guys more in five weeks than we have in six years.

***

Josh Bruce played his one-every-couple-of-months herculean performance, which is a description that Greg Baum used in 2012 that I’m paraphrasing. In that piece, he was talking about Justin Koschitzke’s Round 6 performance against Hawthorn. It feels like Bruce is playing a more modern latter-career Kosi role. Bruce always plays like he cares, but on Sunday he was taking every mark and he was nailing every set shot. Remember when he did that kind of recently? Incorrect, it was actually nine weeks ago. That’s how long it’s been. He needs Max King as the main human.

For some reason Newnes was already back, but he played one of his more efficient games of the year, reprising his early season form between the arcs, but he noticeable had a lot more purpose in his kicking forward.

***

This season really ended in earnest with one of the saddest turnovers of all time. Carlisle, who had battled strange umpiring and the opposition completely outplaying us anyway, casually won a marking contest against Ben Brown at centre half-back and handed it off. D-Mac spotted Seb on the rebound out wide, and kicked it over his head. Scott Thompson trotted through and without breaking stride, guided it into the pocket and Ben Brown already had a gap on Carlisle, ran onto the ball and neatly plucked it out of the air on the high bounced and dribbled it through. Coffield’s weird poke directly out on the full was funny; this was funny and also rather sad.

But who’s coming back from 47-7 down at quarter time, with 21 to seven inside 50s? More to the point, who’s letting this happen again? It’s enough to be stress eating three different types of chips while you’re watching the game, but it’s Monday night and I’ve eaten five-sixths of a 345g bag of M&Ms (“More to Share!”).

***

I mentioned the Footy Round 10-year anniversary of the Round 14, 2009 match a couple of weeks ago (obviously), but last Friday marked the 10-year year calendar anniversary. I don’t know how you or anyone can watch anything from that season without feeling incredibly sad or wanting to throw up. I put up the 2009 season highlights DVD on our YouTube channel as a reminder that all of those feelings of optimism and bewilderment throughout that year, as a culmination of that decade and everything that had happened, actually were were real (also, no one else had; PPS it was “Members Only”, because Sports Delivered shat it again). To think it is 10 years later. Of course, that’s an arbitrary marker of time that western culture has came up with, but it means it gets a double page spread in the Herald Sun, a full highlights package on the AFL site and social media channels, and we talk about it a bit. We think a bit more what a different time and place that was. No mention of the Grand Final. Has enough time passed that those moments have splintered away from each other just enough to not bring one up without the other? We all know the story anyway.

Shame about your neighbourhood

by Tom Briglia

Round 15, 2010
St Kilda 3.0, 7.0, 8.3, 10.10 (70)
Richmond 2.0, 6.2, 9.4, 16.7 (103)
Crowd: 40,962 at Marvel Stadium, Saturday, June 30th at 1.10pm

After last week’s super melt, it’s hard to pull on the Player Issue jumper (this week is Jack Newnes 2013 clash), sit at the desk looking over Dawson Street and again shit out an all-timer rant about the club’s lack of premierships, the Road to 2018’s existence and the awful new version of the club song. The past week was an exercise in how you feel about a club not necessitating that the club listens to you, or cares what you say (it’s now 473 days that the club has refused to publicly even acknowledge the existence of the new version of the song). Thankfully, they’re not going to sack a coach whether we want them to or not, but they sure as hell might extend their contract when they don’t need to and shunt us into a weird and upsetting corner later on. You can tweet directly @ the club, you can leave comments on their Facebook posts, you can call up SEN; the most it will get you is being quietly laughed at off-mic by Garry and Cornesy and maybe Huddo. Probably not Gerard. Maybe, but probably not.

The quiet shock (but not really shock) of last week’s third quarter gave way to begrudging acceptance and exasperation, and anything could have happened on Sunday. Have the stakes of a game been so manic? A win on Sunday, and our season was maybe, sort of, back on track. Lose, our coach might be sacked, but purely as paperwork to confirm the Road to 2018 was actually a bottle of piss. “Off days” are a fading back into foreign concept territory; they’re the default now, and they’re also a luxury that we simply can’t afford as a club, nor can certain people at the club, it seems. Richmond had plenty of excuses for their season but they’re still smokeys for a second premiership in three years. Did anyone actually believe we could outplay and beat Richmond because we’re a better team? Or simply because they were coming off the bye with seven inclusions? We can’t “the opposition had an off day” our way to success.

In the way the club would have been different forever if it had won any of the 2009 or 2010 Grand Finals, it is different forever for having not won any of them. Deny the culture problems all you want in the years since, deny any of this ever happened, deny our best line-up several of its best players through injury. A decade on, the waterline of disappointment and resentment and anxiety and paranoia has risen higher and higher. We can’t do the rage thing every week. We give the club too much (evidently not enough). Sometimes it’s hard to keep caring. And what better way to pump the whole situation full of Lexapro than one and three-quarter decent quarters from the team, and three-and-a-half decent showings from young guys.

***

Two years on, Maddie’s Match 2017 has become same anomaly as the first five weeks of this year. Probably too much of it played around the socials. The legend grows around the first half. In the top four on percentage at half-time with a 92-10 lead, there’s a reason why no one mentions the second half. A 95-point lead late in the third quarter – a score of 122-27 – ended up being 67 points by game’s end. We didn’t even double their score. Essendon more than doubled ours the next Friday night, and beat us by 61.

On Sunday, things started out Autumn 2019 enough. Shorter kicks, holding on to the footy, more willingness to be patient and switch, choosing the moments to go faster and more direct through the middle with purpose and confidence and structure was enough to make you nostalgic for the early part of the year. But we’re not that team worked for Collingwood, but we’re not Collingwood.

It might not actually have been as good as it looked. A slick rebound through the rebound that actually came off really only happened once or twice throughout the entire match for us – Bruce’s first, started by Clark winding up for a big day by making up for a moment that rightfully might have frazzled him, and the other one was more out of the Richmond playbook of moving the ball forward at any cost, and ended up with Complete Dairy Pin-Up Jack Sinclair curling a neat left-foot snap into Nick Hind.

Ben Long being involved both with the ball was decidedly un-St Kilda like. Getting the ball higher up in the front half is like being given a free, new player who can actually hit a target with a low kick. He loves a first quarter, but this week he was more present throughout the game. We forget easily that he’s only played two and a half seasons. The first goal came from Hunter Clark quickly making up from an awkward non-going-back-with-the-flight and wrestling a disputed ball at half-back and giving out a neat handball, and a slick take and dish from Long at centre half forward to Bruce, who did everything he could to still not kick a goal while still kicking it straight.

Maybe it was the new headband. Hunter Clark couldn’t not get the ball, and he couldn’t not look good and relaxed using it. All the pre-season directives from the PR team to make sure every player and coached being interview mentioned Hunter Clark finally made some sort of sense. Everyone’s Under 18s highlights package looks good in the few days either side of the draft and it took giving him a few games and playing him in a clear position to have it translate onto an AFL field. It took him actually doing it, too. Neat handballs, neat kicks, direct, well-weighted, calm

The Best Player in the AFL Since Round 11 Rowan Marshall was flushing 50-metre set shots, was stopping and propping outside 50 and hitting up guys on the lead, he was making a good contest in the ruck, he was a presence in defence, he’s simply too good to be playing at St Kilda. It’s not quite a Kosi 2005 streak but he secretly might be on his way to a Trevor Barker Award. Nick Hind kicked two quick goals and the second one was a smart turn and snap and it made some people in the crowd stand up. He’s not even a forward. The common thread here is the most interesting and exciting guys are the ones who have spent less time at this club.

The tackling was up. The harassing was more annoying. The physicality was back. Parker hit someone as they gave off the ball, Steele was pissing off Cotchin and Cotchin was giving away frees. That had been a barometer earlier in the season. It had disappeared when Lonie got shoved in a marking contest and hurt his knee and had rarely been sighted since. Goal kicking accuracy was back too, but that was more of an outright novelty.

***

 Some things were nagging away. Bruce pulled out a shithouse-in-the-office-on-the-wrong-hand handball when we should have had worry-free possession in the back half. Hannebery missed a kick to Paton who was running into 50 on his own, and then Battle forgot the short kick and mark thing and burned Paton on the lead with a high weird kick on the opposite wing, and Richmond went up the other end and Sydney Stack took a huge mark and now everyone’s talking about him and looking at the photo of the mark on top of Hunter Clark, no matter how many videos about young guys the Saints pump out on social media.

Richmond was weathering the storm. The burned opportunities were starting to build up. Fumbling in the forward 50, and the shorter passing around the ground became too conservative, and chances to change the angle more and open up the middle were ignored. Mabior Chol kicked three goals and took nine marks and had 16 touches. Their injuries didn’t seem to matter so much. Gresham kicked to three Richmond players inside our forward 50 on his way to nine clangers. He needs to keep his game shorter rather than kicking the cover off the ball, and I think his role is stretching him a little right now.

The day was actually over in one moment in the second quarter, and we were actually 23 points up. Dunstan running towards 50 in space and shanking the kick is the short way of putting it. Richmond went straight up the other end for a goal. They would always hit back in some way. The purpose and confidence and a clear plan was gone from then. For whatever reason, that could only be maintained for not quite one half of a game. The post-match line from the Tigers was that they simply set up deeper when we had the ball and looked to switch. Is that all it takes? The anxiety-ridden footy saw us out when it really counted. Billings was back to running towards goal on 50 and doing everything he could to not have a shot at goal. We kicked 3.10 in the second half, including 2.7 in the last quarter. After kicking the first three goals it was 7.10 to 16.7. Richmond kicked 7.3 in the last quarter. We remain the only team this year to not have scored 100 points in a game (EDIT: One of three, along with the Hawks and Gold Coast – thanks Alastair). Let’s take another look at our final scores for 2019 list:
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)

***

Remember when we were the fittest team in the AFL? When players that weren’t Matt Parker or Nick Hind or Ben Long or Josh Bruce really celebrated kicking goals? Josh Bruce’s “decent stretch of games” has so far given us two wins against the bottom two teams, and three losses of 70, 56 and 33 points.

Richo moved into second position for most games coached at St Kilda on Sunday. This club has existed for 146 years. The widely held belief that a finals win would trigger another season for him might mean we have to wait before finals are a mathematical impossibility before anything happens, unless there is a calamitous event in the next few weeks. We’re stuttering and staggering towards a probably unhappy ending. Before we all start considering Richo’s legacy, he’s still the coach. But can you right now imagine a moment in which you find out his contract has been renewed? And what that would look like? A text from someone? Facebook post from the club? Tweet from Tom Morris saying press conference at Moorabbin at 2pm where Richo is expected to have an extension confirmed? It’s not going to be the final siren of an Elimination Final.

It feels uncomfortable to talk about this. It’s intensely personal and intensely public scrutiny. I don’t get any pleasure out of Newnes and Richo’s Mate Dave being dropped, nor the prospect that Richo might get sacked. There might be some relief that a period of uncertainty or unhappiness has come to an end, and maybe that will be a gateway to some sort if optimism. After seeing coach changes and rebuilds a few times now, and experiencing them really not work, at the moment that’s a moot point. This is getting dull and I’m not sure what we’re supposed to be looking forward to.

Cross my heart

by Tom Briglia

Round 14, 2019
St Kilda 3.3, 4.6, 5.7, 8.11 (59)
Brisbane Lions 4.6, 7.8, 16.11, 17.13 (115)
Crowd: 22,885 at Docklands, Saturday, June 23rd at 4.35pm

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This was the day in which the rest of the season started. The day we pulled out the ace up our sleeve. We never bother with a poker face; we’d been talking about this with a deranged smile, waiting to dump it on the table and cash in the chips. Decent showings in the pre-season with new players making an impact on a new game style? Wait until Hannebery and Carlisle come in. Top of the ladder on the Saturday night of Round 5? Wait until Hannebery and Carlisle come in. Struggling for the four following weeks against four premiership fancies? Wait until Hannebery and Carlisle come in. Entering the “decent stretch” of games after that difficult block, with what has been perceived to be one of the softest draws in the competition? Wait until Hannebery and Carlisle come in.

Never mind that there is still Lonie and Webster and Steele and Steven and even White to come back in the coming weeks, never mind Geary, Paddy, Roberton and King. It says a lot about the hype around these two guys that they weren’t developed in the St Kilda system, an underlying self-hatred of where this club is at. Carlisle had been proven in red, white and black already, and we couldn’t wait for these guys that came from mysterious, better places can come in and shake things up in 2019.

Richo warned us it might take a while for them to settle in, but the day took a sharp but probably never unlikely turn, and we’ve got bigger things to be worrying about.

***

Let’s pick off some easy stuff first. Hannebery paid us back by getting low and taking hits in contests every time it was required of him, extracting the ball when he needed to, yelling orders from the wing when the game started shifting late in the second quarter (from the near the top of level 2 we could hear him screaming from his spot on the opposite side), sprinting back to add an extra number and then sprinting half forward to present an option to our player with the ball only to be ignored. Sharp passes off his left foot were more direct than most of our field kicking all year, and his contributions were swatted away twice by dropped uncontested marks on the wing that broke the whole thing down.

He might have been talked about more than any other Saint this year but it hadn’t quite been minted. It was specifically surreal watching his post-match interview and hearing him talk about “us” and the game’s developments and what needs to be worked on in terms of…us. As in, the Saints. His game wasn’t necessarily a step above everyone else’s, but he was clearly a step above everyone else we have. Most disposals behind only Seb and Lachie Neale, and his own most disposals since the 2017 Semi Final.

Seb and Gresh were among our most prolific and frustrating players. Seb gets a lot of the ball, so he’s doing something right, but Hannebery’s showing was enough to shut up any of our illusions as to how good Seb actually is, heir apparent to the captaincy or not (he long until Hannebery is a smokey?). The concept of genuinely good teams and good footballers that impact the competition has become so distorted and buried in the past few years that we mistake our relatively better players for guys that other teams and opposition supporters would genuinely be wary of. Time and time again, Seb been a chief offender when it comes to composed delivery across the ground and effective forward entries. His Harvey-esque stops, props and neat passing from early in the season are now a curio that emerged in what is now itself an aberration. Even in moments of more space and time he shanked a kick forward to Kent on one of our better rebounds passage, and then he missed a running shot on goal. He’s the captain.

Likewise, Gresh is getting enough of the ball in a role that he is still settling into at this level, but yet again he’s slicing the ball or trying to kick it around his body or trying to get hit the roof with it; even a simple drop punt to Hannebery for what should have been his first goal in Saints colours became an awkward kick with an awkward bounce, an awkward situation with a man over the top, an awkward decision and an awkward miss (Hannebery should have kcked it either way). Gresham’s woes with possession for the moment might be that he’s getting more of the ball in higher pressure situations, but there remains is a gulf in his offerings and bit by bit its sucked out some of the polish from his high half-forward work. Maybe even Gresh isn’t immune from the famous St Kilda development system trappings.

And then there is Jack Newnes. From career-best form and being a huge reason for our early season whatever-the-fuck-that-was, to one kick and seven handballs last night. Newnes had survived his Four Tackles phase last year and is now the holder of most consecutive games in the competition, a state which for good reason did the rounds over the past few days. Although most would say he’s disappeared (although he has been a consistent BOG on the podcast), Newnes is not a Dal Santo or Milne, but it appears something’s going on and strength or conviction would need to be shown by someone at the club to make a selection statement. He may well just be ticking down to free agency. If he’s injured, then fucking do something about it. We saw what it did to Mav in 2017 and we saw what it did to Newnes himself last year (despite weeks in which he admirably battled in a forward line position).

***

Round 14, 2019. Round 14, 2009. Ten footballing years – the calendar anniversary is July 5th. Whether or not we’re drifting through this year because of our own making or not (i.e. injuries) is beside the point. what were we able to do when we had control, whether you start the clock since Richo stepped in, or start the clock at 2.30pm on Saturday, September 26th, 2009? Geelong lost this weekend too, but they’re still one game clear on the top of the ladder.

What has that Sunday afternoon counted for since? We got a poorly-made season highlights DVD out of it (eventually) as the historical document of arguably our best-ever season, and then we got the real-life event version of 2004’s The Streak DVD where players basically just talked about a win we had once. It ‘s a long way fall towards Saturday twilight frequenters from the birthplace of the 3.20pm start (i.e. the AFL commission taking its first steps towards all its members being present on the dias for the presentation of the Premiership Cup as fireworks and LED confetti pours over them, each of them smiling manically and trying to get a hand on the Cup among the coach and the captain and the players).

***

Even in China we had a sort-of excuse that meant some of us could say “well, we haven’t been blown off the park aside from the time a bunch of guys we were shitting rampantly”. Last week, Richo pulled out the ol’ “there was actually too much sweat on the ball” line to have some sort of cover for butchering the footy. This week there is nothing. Brown wouldn’t have made a difference, nor Geary, nor Paton, maybe five of the other guys. Physical presence? Never heard of ‘em. Hunter Clark kicking a weird high ball to nothing in the middle of the ground for a cordial invitation to the Brisbane Bears Fitzroy Football Club to score a goal? You got it.

Carlisle is a physical presence of surety but so is Brown, I thought Brisbane might have had enough tall humans to have both in, but Marsh’s versatility might have got him in (as well as his efforts on the other King last week). Turned out weren’t competitive in the air, or anywhere. Hipwood and McInerney were hard to touch, McCarthy took an uncontested mark in the goal square, and Charlie Cameron was too much for D-Mac once they got isolated (and teammates actually kicked the ball vaguely to the advantage of forwards).

This was another comprehensive overwhelming of the player group in a game that had been built up to have something on the line. This has traversed seasons, playing lists, and season contexts. The way the team plays. The scattered development of players. Who are our genuinely good players? I don’t know what else needs to be said about where this team and where the club is at. What’s going to change? The first five weeks is the same anomaly that the GWS and Richmond games were in 2017, and which the club kept trotting out well in 2018. The opening several rounds of this year aren’t a guide to anything, rather just freak events in which every decent corporeal and intangible component of a specifically unsustainable type of footy aligned for a short period. We were fooled into giving the entire club an out because 2018 was so bad. How can the absurdity of that not be acknowledged more than it is? (Joke’s on me, I write this for nothing and the club didn’t really listen to any questions I had about why they changed the song without saying anything.) A fucking football club that deals with millions and millions of dollars and has access to some of the best in science and medicine and research and just about any and all other resources got an automatic pass because it was so bad. Sure, take more of our money, maybe that will help. Yeah sure, we’ll spend a shitty Saturday at your shitty game at your shitty home ground. Never mind anything that happened since September of 2011. Never mind anything that happened since late in 2013. Never mind the list managers and footy professionals who don’t actually need to really ever deal with supporters or caring about a club. Never mind the people in suits and board members that came up with the Road to 2018 and the marketing team and the PR reps that put it all together and shat it out all over a depressed and desperate supporter base. Shut up and keep buying memberships, it’ll be sorted out later.

***

Five scoring shots in five minutes proved to be ominous, Rich danced around Carlisle (who was clearly underdone), Hannebery’s first kick was perfect and met with a simple dropped mark, a floating hacked ball to half-back fooled Marshall and Armo, following on from Dave’s near-disastrous drop in the final moments of last week, and he tripled down on it late in the game. Seb joined him too in there.

Funny that guys like Hind, Wilkie and Parker who brought their specific tools last night that no one else really offered had none of their development at this club. Hind in particular; where the fuck has he been all year? He showed this kind of thing in the pre-season, and then showed composure three times when no one else could (and not in his natural position, either). Leave it to him to have to kick two goals and for Parker to push and shove with some guys to wake up the rest of the team. The Gatorade GAMECHANGER® got stuck into Hodge at some point, but that was mostly it, apart from Hannebery hitting him on the lead at one point in the second quarter.

***

We all saw the third quarter.

***

You might have got the texts too; the club was flogging guernseys for $15 off at the game to celebrate the bidding war that Jack Billings arranged for two years’ time. The month off actually going to the Concrete Disney store was partially refreshing. The tram in to the game had some vague sense of anticipation as I took my usual place as the entire St Kilda-supporting cohort on the Route 58 tram.

But there wasn’t even 23,000 at the game. Most of those were streaming out ahead of three quarter time. What happened to the Hannebery and Carlisle thing? What about the $15 off on the jumpers? Where’s everyone going? If this club got kidnapped and shoved into the back of an AFL van headed straight to Station Pier, would we be able to actually get enough people or money moving quickly enough to stop it from happening? We’re about to rebuild again, again. I’m not sure what I was really expecting after a third shitty win against the Gold Coast that might have saved extended the coach’s tenure. A lot of me really did think something was going to change this week. Surely it was time ? The fans would realise would all realise it was just the injuries and everything was actually fine and we’re set to go again. We’d be selling out the Corporate Dome and Roo and Kosi and Lenny and Bally would be taking on history. Just like old times, right? Fans chanting “LET US IN” outside the ground and climbing up on and trying to break down the shutter gates at quarter time? Police in riot gear with assault rifles trying to calm things down when fans rush to the fence when Gresham snaps one from the pocket? Hannebery to kick the first goal, and Carlisle to kick five? Get fucking serious. We were 14-0 ten years ago. Where did that get us?