Round 12, 2016
St Kilda 4.2, 8.3, 14.8, 17.8 (110)
Carlton 3.0, 5.2, 8.3, 12.6 (78)
Crowd: 47,945 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday at 1.10pm
A week of swinging between anger, apathy, apprehension, and simply not wanting to think about it at all culminated in a genuinely good day out at the footy for a St Kilda supporter.
To watch a young side without its current lynchpins of the present and future respectively show qualities that stand up regardless of personnel in the sunshine of a cool winter afternoon in front of 48,000 was a pleasure.
It was a long week to get through for the Saints. No sooner had the blowtorch been packed away following two wins lined with positive elements, albeit against weakened opposition, it was back out and turned up higher and hotter than when it made its first appearance following the debacle in Perth.
Things came to a head on Thursday evening, with the underlying revelations of one particular article, shortly followed by the team announcement.
The dropping of Hotline led the selection stunners. Whilst he’s been averaging over 20 possessions this year, that’s been pushed up by his great performances against Collingwood and Hawthorn and he’s really lacked something in past month or so. The last quarter against North Melbourne saw him get the opportunities to be a match-winner in the way he was late against the Bulldogs in the comeback game last year, but just didn’t quite take them. He wasn’t drafted to get 30-plus possessions (although he’s capable of it); he was drafted because he can be so damaging and creative with ball and stand up in big moments, something that seems to have left him of late. Am I being too hard on him? Maybe, but the guy we could have picked to lead our midfield for the next 12-15 years became the youngest winning captain of a team in history last week. I still think not enough is made of us not taking Chris Judd in the 2001 draft, which would have altered the course of the club’s history and perhaps the game’s, given the longevity of the St Kilda team’s competitiveness through the GT and Ross eras. Even with those outlandish comparisons aside it’s incredibly early, but how many people right now genuinely think Billings will prove to be a better player than Bont, and more valuable to their team given where our midfield stocks are currently at? We’ll find out in time regardless of our (my) out of proportion statements/comparisons/propositions/whatever, but this week was one of the more difficult of the development phase for fans who find themselves thinking about where the club is at many a time during the week.
Also getting the arse was Murdoch, which I don’t think anyone took notice of, and the injuries to Dempster and Goddard depleted our defensive stocks in the way Roo and McCartin’s did for the attack. Over the past two years there’s been essentially two approaches to the forward line – a bunch of creative smalls in Lonie, Sinclair and Billings buzzing around and creating movement and pressure; otherwise it’s been the more recent incarnation of one that’s based around Bruce, Paddy and Membrey, with Riewoldt dropping in on occasion but mostly roaming further up the ground. This week presented a hazardous, makeshift mix of both – only a handful of times since Round 1 last year have none of Lonie, Sinclair and Billings been in the line-up, let alone because none of them warranted selection in the seniors. Gresham and Minchington were this week’s designated small forwards, with Bruce and Membrey to play taller alongside debutant and specifically non-specialist-forward Lewis Pierce, going by the video the club posted of his chat with Richo during the week.
So on paper it was effectively three true forwards in the team and then also named in the forward line a promising kid who’s just counting down time until he’s moved to the midfield; Sam Gilbert who might float in and for for another seven-possession game; Mav Weller might hang out looking handsome but not doing much before following the game with a genuinely funny tweet; and Luke Dunstan who is just there when he’s not in the middle. And Lewis Pierce.
When you have a week to stew upon where the club is that – whether it’s up or it’s down – you essentially come to conclusion each time that we’re in this position simply because of the horrors that come with being the St Kilda Football Club, both at the behest of the footy gods as well as some good, old-fashioned incompetence. Paddy getting getting knocked out by the handsome face of Jack Newnes (which fortunately came out of the collision untarnished; every cloud etc. etc.) before another whack to the back of the scone immediately afterwards? Hugh Goddard out for 12 months because he took a few steps? They’re just things that happens at St Kilda that you can’t do anything about. Another thing at St Kilda is just shit stuff happening because of poor decision making or poor execution, either people doing things poorly, which between that and my previous point about Paddy should entirely cover shit stuff happening at or to St Kilda regularly.
I’m going to duck and/or flinch immediately after I say in my completely uninformed stupor that My Favourite Hair in the AFL shouldn’t have played at all beyond quarter-time last week. Even though I’m apparently throwing in a caveat I’m also not a medical professional in any sense so for all I (don’t) know, all the damage might have already been done when our own Stephen Merchant trundled into our best player and My Favourite Hair in the AFL and possibly dented the remainder of his career. Hopefully Roo’s re-signing for 2017 doesn’t yield the little that Aaron Hamill’s 2007 did. But why, why, why would you keep him on the ground? How about worrying about other guys actually getting off their proverbial and show something rather than having to keep an integral part of the team who might have damaged their historically suspect knee on the ground to do fark knows what? Anyway, here we were, with Lewis Pierce – who becomes the third player to play for the Saints in six years after being drafted from the Dandenong Stingrays with pick 75, following My Former Favourite Player Arryn Siposs and Sav (via the Hawks obviously) – as a key focal point up forward. And with another problem at the forefront of our mind, and one that covers both on- and off-field matters.
St $andringham Zebra Saints (Part 1)
It then came out on the eve of the round in The Age that the St Kilda standalone VFL team is for now making way for a swallowing of Sandringham in the vein of Fitzroy at the top level and Carlton’s of the once-Preston Bullants. From Caro’s article:
“Although the move presents a significant financial saving to the debt-ridden club, Finnis insisted that had not been a driver in the decision. He said: “This is about our position in the community and the physical infrastructure. The agreement, should we achieve it, gives us everything we need to ensure the correct development of our players.”
This was a key part of the article for two reasons. Firstly, just because we don’t have a standalone team it doesn’t mean our VFL arrangement won’t work. The Hawthorn and Box Hill alliance has been incredibly beneficial – well, for Hawthorn anyway – but even to that I would counter that Hawthorn’s coffers and history have something we don’t, which are money and a shitload of premierships respectively. No-one can say for the certain the club wouldn’t be in this position had Schneider, Milne, McQualter et al. kicked straight on Grand Final Day but…you know, it wouldn’t. Finnis went out of his way to say that money “had not been a driver in the decision” (Caro’s para-quoting), but I will suggest that this has just about everything to do with money. You could say well, they need the money for the women’s team and the club’s just announced a massive restructuring to accommodate that so that might come into it somehow too. The point is this shows that we can’t actually achieve all that we want because our financial situation is much worse than any of us would like to think, and other clubs seem to be unencumbered this way. Funny that.
At best we get the essential breakdown of a VFA/VFL club with a long and proud history so an AFL club that hasn’t been able to sort its shit out on and off the field can attain the cohesion between its younger guys that the Bulldogs, Geelong, Collingwood and so on can enjoy. Whilst the club will be back at Moorabbin, all the goodwill of having a stand-alone VFL team called St Kilda playing from the ground against opposition that it faced in the beginning years of the VFA in the late 19th century had been diluted to a Sandringham team playing “up to” three games in a St Kilda-coloured jumper. Whoever ripped off the logo from The Saints for our club’s own copyright-infringing purposes better get to work on a stick-Zebra with a halo on it.
This where things reached a head for the week – just a couple of hours after the story broke we’d dropped Billings and Murdoch, and whilst bringing in a bunch of inexperienced guys is something that needs to be done I felt, and still feel despite a really good win today that we’re starting behind and beginning to do that, let alone finding out if our depth is actually any good.
St $andringham Zebra Saints (Part 2)
Who better to compound all of this further than a resurgent Carlton, which for some reason was heading straight for a 7-5 record at our disposal. Carlton, the laughing stock that should be duking it out with Essendon for the number one draft pick. That specifically isn’t our conversation, but during the week the slow filtering of national draft articles and who’s who pieces into the mediasphere all of a sudden seemed a whole lot more relevant.
Matt and I got to the Locker Room to take in on the newly-repaired big screen – following someone’s drunken, crushing charge into its lower section – a quarter of how some of our development was tracking, namely our number 3 pick the day after number 4 guided his club to a famous win on the Adelaide Oval as it staked its premiership claims for 2016, as opposed to us rolling out a plan that vaguely named either 2018 or 2020 as the premiership year. Hotline gave fark all to TDL as the players ran out past the captain as per Sandy’s video posted on Twitter, but I’m probably just looking for another loaded sentence to write. Matt and I agreed he’d kick five and have 30.
What we managed to catch of the second quarter was mostly the Zebras’ surge in its latter period, and on one of the smaller screens as the Locker Room management had gone with Fox Footy for the big, non-crushed screen. Lonie and Sinclair had both started well and Billings was getting a lot of the ball, even though he looked like/was obviously cruising, and there was a terrifying period where I wondered if there’d be more team cohesion on Trevor Barker Beach Oval than Corporate Stadium.
We caught a few notable things, starting with forgotten footballing human Bailey Rice finishing off a neat if partially comedic end-to-end passage of play with a nice goal on the run. He already looks like he’s 38 years old and everyone seems to have erased him from the St Kilda list. That’s pretty much all I have to say about him.
O’Kearney goaled shortly after and then it was down to Lonie to get some real highlights happening, starting with a brilliant contested aerial effort which we dragged down and followed up with a goal from the res ulting kick, before using the never-ending gale beautifully for a massive long-range goal. Things got even more out of hand from there, with Channel 7 posting a tweet from Ahmed Saad about Cam Shenton’s hair.
Billings finished with 28 touches (although interestingly wasn’t named in the best), so Matt and I were only two touches and, uh, five goals off our predictions for him. Lonie finished with five himself. Surely both will come back in for the Cats in a fortnight’s time? Assuming you’ve got Paddy and Roo coming back in too, that’s potentially four changes right there. I’ll get to some of Sunday’s performances soon but I dare say there’s more in favour of the incumbent, especially when you’re going like-for-like; for example is Minchington’s 16 touches and hard work up the ground enough to keep his spot, or has Lonie’s form been that good that he leapfrogs him? We’ll probably have a better idea after next weekend following- oh wait, no we won’t, because Sandy’s got the bye. So we’re running on today I guess; regardless, when you make six changes in one week it’s usually not a wholesale reset of your default 22, they’ll either be injuries or a chance to give someone’s arse a rocket, as in Billings’ case, and eventually you’ll have those changes coming the other way. Sinclair was apparently good as well as kicking two goals, so that’s a bunch of potential ins already lining up.
The actual game, in actual, natural light
Holy shitballs the roof was open.
A nice, mostly sunny, cool winter afternoon. Sunday actually fucking felt like we were at the footy, and not on the set of a TV show with lights and loud non-football-crowd-related noises going off every four seconds. The 1.10pm start only added to it – the game began and finished in sunshine; it wasn’t a made-for-TV timeslot in which you enter the Corporate Dome at 2.45pm and your weekend is basically over.
The top deck full of navy blue, and it was only a quarter time browse through Twitter that pulled my attention to the size of the crowd, as well as the issues the stadium was having getting so many people into the ground. A huge number of people beyond the nearly-48,000 either didn’t make it in until the end of the first quarter or during the second quarter, as the we went from empty seats in the members everywhere shortly before the game to a near sell-out, with just standing room left. Games like this highlight (one of the many) the shortfalls of the existence of the Medallion Club, as well as the pathetic decision to build Melbourne’s second AFL venue to only effectively accommodate 48,000 for a “sell-out”. Yes, I’m sure Etihad management could have more or better protocols in place to accommodate extra walk-ups close to an “event” taking place and I’m sure it would have been totally shitty standing in a queue as the game began and kept going, and kept going. Also, why wouldn’t you print your ticket for the sake of your own convenience? Both of those thoughts can exist in the same sphere.
It took 15 minutes before anyone kicked a goal but there were six kicked from that point by the time Membrey had slotted a very nice goal after quarter-time siren.
In that time I learnt that it wasn’t a good thing Jarryn Geary wasn’t captain in My Favourite Hair’s absence going almost solely by his rubbish disposal at several points. Glaring examples included his handball to actually no-one as we came out of half-back, before he intercepted a Carlton kick on the return shortly after and decided to kick directly to nothing out of bounds. The good work of Gilbert and Eminem that led to Lewis Pierce’s goal (I’ll get to that) covered Geary’s very awkward kick out of defence. I actually thought Geary was the captain for a second given he was telling everyone what was what as they went through their final whatevers in the minutes before the game. Jack Steven was our captain for the day, and whilst he is only now not coming across as as 12 year-old in interviews, having a captain who leads from the front with their actions, including breaking through the constant off-the-ball attention that Carlton clearly planned for him and ending up with 25 quality touches and three goals, particularly stepping up when the game was the to be taken by the collar, is clearly more valuable and makes having a Geary or, for the time being, a Mav, as stand-in captain look very token.
The now-typical late run-out, adopted also by Geelong this year and Essendon last week, was our first look at Lewis Pierce in St Kilda colours and he became the third of our players to wear his socks up, following Hickey and Gilbert. With the black boots and awkward frame and running gait he looked more like a player from 1996 had been blasted through a wormhole from Waverley to the Concrete Dome; somewhere between our number 42 ruckman in 1996 Andrew McLean, or is number and position inheritor (and 1997 Preliminary and Grand Final ruckman) Brett Cook.
As we made our move in the second quarter Lewis gave us what will be one of the better moments of the 2016 season in the form of his first goal from his first kick. As I mentioned, Gilbert and Eminem managed to get out of an awkward situation created by an awkward Jarryn Geary kick out of defence and Wright’s kick bounced nicely for the leading Hickey, who was playing up forward at the time and he wheeled around with more agility than someone his size should have, and shot a kick deep into attack that bounced across goal. From our side of the ground we could see Lewis had the run into the ball’s path, and fortunately it sat up for him and he was good enough to get it onto his boot quickly and accurately enough under heavy attention. It seemed there was a split-second pause at that moment, and when it went through the release was obvious in both the crowd and in the reaction of Lewis and the players – his double-arm celebration before being mobbed by his teammates was a genuinely nice thing to watch.
I’ll indulge myself further and keep going on about it – it was this kind of moment that really completed the picture and made us feel like we were at a game of footy, as opposed to a made-for-TV event. It was kind of cold and a little nippy in the slight breeze sometimes but it didn’t matter to begin with because it was nice to be outside, and at this point it I didn’t know if we were mature enough to close out the game from a point in which we were tantalisingly close to closing out if we were actually decent, but no matter what happened we at least had a moment like that to enjoy as part of this whole journey.
Fortunately we did go on with it, and it was somewhat surreal to be in that position in a game that all of a sudden became a marquee match. It wasn’t just the size of the crowd that was foreign to us – the Collingwood match the only comparison, in recent times, and this was our biggest home crowd at Etihad since Round 10 of 2012 (in what was our first loss to the Tigers in nine years) – but it was the fact the players weren’t overwhelmed by the crowd, let alone the focus on themselves after two smashings in a month, nor the momentum the Blues were taking into the game.
Hickey alone had just a few minutes before setting up Lewis threaded through a great set shot on the boundary line after marking nicely on the lead, but moments like that only punctuated his value on the day. Kreuzer had actually looked dangerous in their match-up early, pushing forward a couple of metres on his own immediately after a centre bounce has Hickey got drawn into following the ball, creating a spare man for a few second goalside of the centre circle for a few second, dangerous if Carlton’s mids could extract the ball. It ended up being a moot point though – Steven, Ross, Dunstan and Armitage all got to work in earnest in the second quarter and took things to another level in the third quarter, capitalising on Hickey’s effective ruckwork.
It was a key reason why we were able to play the game on our terms, and often Jack Steven’s terms. Jack’s first goal, a long shot on the run from a tight angle, came conveniently as the Fox Footy commentators had highlighted the off-the-ball physicality of the Carlton players towards him. Noted St Kilda supporter Sandy Roberts became appropriately excited about the whole thing.
Steven’s work was rounded by a similar running goal in the first minute of the final quarter that effectively closed the game. It could be put down as a brilliant solo effort – he followed up his own run from a throw-in on centre wing and kick forward to get the ball back and kick the goal – but it was the other parts of the chain that reflected the midfield’s work for the day. Hickey’s hit-out from the throw-in to Armo, who’s deft handball under pressure found Steven who was already running; Dunstan was ahead of his man on the lead and Seb Ross mopped it up; Ross added a second quick, classy handball to the chain to Steven who had kept running and kicked truly in front of the members.
The midfield line-up that should take us to a premiership tilt in the coming years is by no means complete, but with Hickey’s best getting better, Steven establishing himself as a nearly-elite mid, Seb Ross all of a sudden being a really, really good, consistent footballer and Luke Dunstan back on track to being the proud, contested competitor we hoped he’d be the core is getting stronger and a little bigger. There’s still guys like Billings, Acres and Gresham to roll through, not to mention Freeman (well, maybe) and the not-so-small matter of free agency and trade targets that Ameet, Trout and co. will be looking at as we speak. We certainly need more speed and polish, but the considered, quick thinking and use of the ball by Ross and Dunstan particularly this season is something we’ll need to compliment all that in the future.
It helped a whole lot on Sunday that guys like Minchington, Acres and Gresham between them helped out a whole lot by pushing up the ground and giving options when Armo, Steven, Seb, Dunstan etc. were busy in traffic applying pressure getting the ball and then looking for someone to get it out to (the tackle count ended 70 to 43 in our favour). As I said I don’t know if Minchington did enough to hold his spot, nor Acres but Richo slipped his name into the members’ post-match video so might find himself in the rare position of not being able to drop him. But we’re slowly getting to the stage where even under selection duress we can bring in guys that will step in add something of their own to this team. Acres only had 15 touches but looked composed with the ball, showed speed and a willingness to create played a tall forward cameo role also to reward some good work out of the middle.
Speaking of guys that can step into the team, Tim Membrey continued his excellent run of form; he’s now kicked 20 goals in seven games since coming in for the Round 6 game in Melbourne. His five goals came from all angles and were more than just a compliment to his work up the ground; his 10 marks and 17 touches reflected how hard he worked and how important he was in the absence of Roo as a strong linking option higher up.
It was a good sign we could kick 17.8 without a big involvement from Josh Bruce, with Sunday’s game just the second time in his last 36 he’s been held goalless. Whilst he pushed up often himself and provided a contest, like our midfield options we’re gradually getting to a point in which at least one of our key forwards can have a quiet day and that responsibility can be taken by other forwards, such as Membrey, with input from smaller forwards and mids, in yesterday’s case Jack Steven’s three and Gresham’s pair.
Gresham’s second goal would actually push Lewis’s own for the most enjoyable moment of the day. For completely different reasons, but he showed incredible composure and then skill to get past Thomas and squeeze in that low snap. He’s still young so his number aren’t huge but he does something good with it every time – to have a firing Billings, Lonie, Sinclair and Gresham in the same side is a very exciting prospect for St Kilda fans.
For such a good team performance there were individual performances that did stick out, but that’s part of it – whoever’s having a good day needs to have that support, and whilst some players like Steven and Joey will always have a heavy involvement that load will need to be shared from week-to-week as match situations dictate. Webster stepped up with some quality ball use and physicality on a day in which Roberton reverted to the haphazard version of himself; Newnes did as well and stepped up for a timely snap goal, which is the kind of thing that covers a guy like Mav missing gettable shots at goal – although it goes without saying that Mav’s goal on the run late in the third quarter was a crucial moment in the match.
So after all my whinging during the week and on the Thursday, and then in this bloated “match” “review”, what did the win on Sunday mean? Well, maybe not a whole lot. You move out of the development phase and into a period of being a genuinely good team over time, through a collection of countless moments and lessons learned, contest by contest, Lewis Pierce goal by Lewis Pierce goal.
I’ve said over the last few weeks you simply can’t take anything for granted in this game, whether it’s a several year period in which your team is a legitimate premiership threat, down to those days where you make your way into a Grand Final and all that goes with it, or those individual days in the development period in which you feel that much better about what’s coming in the years ahead. We have no idea what the game against the dangerous Geelong will bring in a fortnight, but Sunday was a nice day out. In the sunshine and in front of a huge crowd, the Saints had a great win.
RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 12
Tim Membrey – 3
Jack Steven – 3
Tom Hickey – 2
Seb Ross – 2
Jack Steven – 21
Nick Riewoldt – 17
Seb Ross – 11
Tim Membrey – 10
David Armitage – 8
Tom Hickey – 8
Leigh Montagna – 8
Jack Newnes – 6
Sam Fisher – 5
Jack Billings – 4
Josh Bruce – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Blake Acres – 3
Jade Gresham – 2
Paddy McCartin – 2
Jarryn Geary – 2
Sean Dempster – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1
Mav Weller – 1