I thought that I could take it from here

by Tom Briglia

Round 23, 2018
St Kilda 3.3, 6.4, 11.6, 14.10 (94)
North Melbourne 6.7, 11.9, 14.11, 17.15 (117)
Crowd: 19,866 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, August 26th at 4.40pm

Version 2

At last, this shitbox of a season is over. It was a sickly, extended march through weekly public humiliation rituals that after two months had simply blurred into each other. We can now turn to watching the club raze the place and start again, again.

Maybe the whole thing went too fast, but given the club was supposedly in a different place this is the kind of season that feels like the six months we see and engage with more publicly as supporters and members was a waste; like it sIipped right through our hands and we’re not particularly sure why.

I was listening to Maggie Rogers on the 58 tram on the way in to the city and it registered that this was it. Sitting at home super sick with with bottles of Gatorade and large packets of Kettle chips watching the Geelong game in my giant dressing gown didn’t seem so long ago. Trying to arrest this slump and salvage something from this year doesn’t seem so long ago.

If the rumours about player departures are true then this club will be unrecognisable next year. Two years ago every one of our young guys was untouchable. This year I haven’t felt so alienated by and disconnected from the club. On the field it looked like the players that did care weren’t given a game plan that was able to let them show it. Off the field things have descended to the point where I sympathise profusely with Dunstan and Acres for (allegedly) wanting to get the fuck out of there. This decade will be synonymous with the fallout of the Grand Finals, which nearly spanned the end of the aughts and the start of this decade (the “Twenty Tens”? “Teens”?).

***

It was nice of the AFL to draw this out as long as possible; to really soak up a quintessentially St Kilda season and schedule this for Sunday twilight, literally the last game of the home and away season. Ben Brown needed seven to take out the Coleman alongside Jack Riewoldt, and who else better to come up against in the final round of the season?

The Roos got the jump (hehe), which wasn’t a surprise given the team probably squeezed any decent quality juice left in this year out of themselves against the Hawks. Gilbert’s early goal was followed by the celebration of a retiring player and his teammates. I was thinking during the game if this was the final time we’d see him – a lot of people must have, because when he found the ball couple of times, a small applause and cheer broke out in the members. For all the frustration I’ve had with him over the year(s), part of me really did think it would be a shame if he didn’t get a publicly acknowledged farewell match, and to enjoy the game with his teammates and fans, and being able to soak that up. It’s part of the hangover of the Riewoldt generation (to steal Jake Niall’s term), but he’s the last remaining player on our list that ran out in any of the 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals and probably represents more of our personal histories as supporters than we acknowledge.

There’s an uneasy feeling about the last game of the season. Last year was such a sad event. The pressure of the several weeks leading up to it, knowing that Roo would be retiring and our chance for a finals spot slipping away by the week was a dour time. In the moments afterwards we needed to come to terms with his career ending, and what he meant to the club and how he represented it, and what it meant for us to have watched that go by without a second premiership.

In the Concrete TV Set you don’t quite feel the changes of the season; you don’t see the sun set at a different angle, you don’t see the shadows fall in a different way, you don’t quite feel the air in the same way as you might as finals approach. In a few days’ time it becomes a Disney-owned shop where football is played. The ground announcer (he’s been there for a decade now and I don’t know his name) took it on himself to get in a last-minute audition before the changeover, taking it on himself to take control of Jarrad Waite’s final moments on a footy field as a player, talking over the North Melbourne song (The Fable Singers version, in all its excellence), and try and give a “three cheers” that wasn’t just unnecessary, but also complete fucking shit. That’s a moment for the player, their teammates and the fans.

***

The final siren sounded with ball in Waite’s hands, and the game safely in place of North’s. Any chance of being raised beyond a sleepy slump in the padded seats of level two, trying to hear myself hate everything through the kids going bonkers in the row behind us, was knocked out with Gresham’s kick from the pocket cannoning into the post to bring us within two goals in the third quarter, much in the same way his snap late last week to put us ahead cannoned into the crowd in the forward pocket.

The final game of 2016 belongs to a different era now. My Favourite Hair had kicked nine goals, had 26 touches and taken 21 marks on his own, and we’d kicked 25 goals in a barnstorming finish that had us just percentage out of the eight and only two ladder positions below the premiers. The formline was neatly similar to that of the GT era going into 2004. Every one of our kids was untouchable. Don’t touch Paddy, Membrey, Bruce, Gresham, Billings, Acres, Ross, Webster, Lonie, D-Mac, Sinclair. Newnes? Next captain. Dunstan? Next, uh, co-captain. Goddard? Maybe he could be a captain too.

To finish a year that might see him win a fourth best and fairest, Jack Steven was a clear stand-out and upped his trade value nicely, depending on which BigFooty and Saintsational posters you believe. I still think he’s overrated by St Kilda fans, AND NO THAT DOES NOT MEAN I THINK HE IS BAD. I think his disposal has never been as good as many people think –  it doesn’t make or break his career but the kick to Carlisle in the final seconds of the GWS match in Round 5 was a sadly excellent example. Which is why it stood out how many low, sharp drop punts he managed among his feverish skating across the Concrete TV Set’s concrete turf on Sunday. That wasn’t normal and shouldn’t be our reference point (much like the club pointed to the wins over GWS and Richmond in 2017 going into this year).

Nonetheless, his movement across the ground alone stood out particularly in a team that for a whole season has looked frustrated, sometimes forgetful, and often bored. If I point to Stuv’s GWS kick to talk down his skill, then I have to point to the final 30 seconds of the Melbourne win to talk up his work rate, and it’s safe to say he has given just about everything throughout this shitshow of a year.

Jack Steele joined Gresham, D-Mac and Webster among the very few players that could say they improved on last year (and perhaps earlier in the others’ case). His move to a tagging role didn’t represent an incredible shift in his game style – he was recruited for his tough inside work – but this role demands he be on a prime opposition ball winner and therefore around the ball all the time given he’s disciplined to stay with them. But it’s triggered something else for him, because he’s not just getting more of the ball but he’s using it better, perhaps more neatly, and he’s taking more marks and kicking more goals too. He doesn’t turn 23 until December.

***

One of the other 18 Jacks, Jack Lonie, didn’t quite have the same presence in a game that I don’t think cared too much for its own existence, but ended up proving one of the better surprises in a small field. His biggest impact on the game was actually when Majak Daw charging through from the opposite direction, and I’m sure everyone thought Lonie was about to evaporate, or combust, or explode into 1,000 tiny Jack Lonies. He’s not really the kind of player that’s going to have a massive pre-season and come back larger or overly fitter or whatever, but does he absolutely need to be? Yeah he actually kinda does. Part of this team’s problem is that rather than embracing what guys can bring to the team, i.e. Gresham, Billings, Long etc. (Long hasn’t been tainted by our system just yet), it’s tried to even everyone up a little too much while trying to effectively play a Richmond-style game, but without the smarts or work rate to actually have anyone in front of the ball. Otherwise we’re playing rugby poorly, so as well as playing it badly we’re ruining the game of Australian Rules as well.

Also through the forward half was the welcome presence of Ben Long, who looked a little more comfortable again at AFL level after coming back from the VFL possibly too quickly. He threatened to take mark of the year twice on either side of half-time, and a massive bump in the forward line that actually banged up a North defender was one of the best displays of aggression for the year; never mind in this two hours of forgettable curio. Should he have a decent pre-season he would be like a new player next year.

Jade Gresham had a strange game to end his season but thanks to some shanks from Tim Membrey finished on top of our goal kicking with 35. Membrey was just behind with 34, and while it’s not a Novelty Bag it’s a Novelty Goal Kicking Top Three Finish for Ol’ Four Tackles Jack Newnes, who took his banged-up shoulders to third on the list with 18 goals and 17 behinds. In a season that felt incredibly disappointing for him, he’d only played two-third of the season as a forward, something he hadn’t even done before.

***

There was quite understandably the risk that North would become too Ben Brown conscious in the second half, but they never really did. It says a lot about where they’re at at the moment, although I really was barracking for him to tie with Jack Riewoldt. At half-time it was looking more than likely; he had three and despite a couple of set shot misses he’d snagged a couple of very nice snaps. The borderline blow-out margin could afford the Roos to wait for the next lead from Benny when they were going forward, too. Instead it was Waite who had the bigger presence in the second half, and I don’t think anyone begrudged that. I hope Ben Brown does get another shot at it.

For a period, it looked like this could end up being a reverse scoreline of our win in the final round two years before. Ziebell had three in a freewheeling first quarter and North had 6.7, but there was the old “lack of interest” from the players and increasingly the crowd as the second quarter turned into something closer to the AFLX trash that opened the season. The official crowd total of 19,866 definitely had an incorrect, extra number in there.

Someone who seems to have gone under the radar in the past several weeks is Roma. He’s been taking marks around the ground, he’s kicking goals and he’s provided an option deep too. Hopefully he stays tracking towards becoming what he hoped Rhys Stanley would be for us, because Rhys turned into an enigma and then pick 21, which we turned into another enigma in Hugh Goddard. I will write about Goddard and Freeman over the next few months in more detail as their departures become clearer in context with other changes on the list, both in and out, but I am desperately disappointed that both are gone. It feels far too recent that Hugh was taking promo shots with Paddy on the Gold Coast beach. We’ve afforded Paddy – rightfully – every chance to get himself right and we feel like he hasn’t even started. Hugh was taken 20 picks later and has had a horrible run with injuries too. Freeman earned a reputation throughout the club, from the the playing group right up to the board, for all the right reasons. Maybe this is part of the club becoming more ruthless.

***

I should say something about Peter Summers. A lot of people have talked about wanting he and Finnis to go along with Richo through this year. He was clearly going to go anyway given the board guidelines at the club, but I thought those calls in isolation were unfounded. History will show that the club was returned to Moorabbin within a decade of moving in his tenure. As President of the club, I found he always had time for fans, and would always engage with them and take an interest in how they feeling about the club. As he said in his press conference today as he officially announced Andrew Bassat as the next President, next year will mark his 50th consecutive year as a member. I first met him in November of 2009. Someone said to him – very tongue-in-cheek – “Have you gotten over it yet?”, and he quickly said, “I’m still getting over ‘71”. He is very much a St Kilda person, and did what he did out of what he thought was best for the club.

***

The weight of history has been peeling away over so much of the competition. The Lions, the Swans, Geelong and of course the Bulldogs and Richmond have won premierships this century to break longstanding droughts. With those, so have quirks of history tied to those trends been erased. The Swans won their first final at the MCG in 61 years; the Bulldogs’ premiership came with their first Grand Final appearance in 55 years; Richmond’s with their first Grand Final appearance in 35; next weekend alone we will see Richmond and Hawthorn meet in a final for the first time ever, and Richmond and Melbourne – hideous messes on and off the field as we were challenging – will play in the same finals series for the first time since 1941. The myth of 1966 grows, and the myth of the Riewoldt generation is growing far too great too quickly.

Watching the Summers and Bassat press conference on the club site, with the link sitting below the “Initial list changes” story with a picture of Freeman, as well as the mechanic “Saints secure Lade” and “Saints thank departing coaches” headlines, something felt different. Like the site and the club were in sleep mode. No interview with Michael Ryan, just the straight press conference, and a quickly edited intro video from Bassat. No article about the slenderest sliver of positivity from another droll performance, no article based on one line of “we’re looking forward to this week” from a player’s interview on SEN.

This year I didn’t enjoy going to the footy for the first time; the club trashed its own song, and played music after goals for most of the year, managing to destroy any sense of actual atmosphere of going to the footy whenever the team threatened to play half-decently (the club had the guile to publish an article on its site about how great the crowd noise was following the GWS draw). This is the most disconnected I’ve felt to the club and I have the sense that the wider supporter base feels the same.

Now, there are changes across football department, the list itself and the board. We’re probably facing the biggest club overhaul in one hit since the end of 2000. That can be scary. It might not quite be cause for optimism given we’ve just watched a rebuild break down. But there is the opportunity to take relief in no longer being caught in the awful weekly cycle of this year, as well as this period in the club’s history. In our own space, we will start learning what our relationship with this club is all over again.

Falling water

by Tom Briglia

Round 22, 2018
St Kilda 4.4, 6.6, 10.9, 11.10 (76)
Hawthorn 1.3, 7.5, 12.6, 12.8 (80)
Crowd: 24,795 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, August 18th at 7.25pm

The vaguely decent aspect of the Farewell Residency is that it’s a residency, and we don’t have to travel too far for this meaningless garbage. Freo would have been thinking why they’d bothered travelling across the width of Australia and then getting on a bus for a one-hour drive to get hailed on, and then comprehensively shat on by the Cats. They certainly played like it.

It wasn’t the most attractive door of possibilities to open. The percentage factor in Hawthorn’s finals finish was ramped up, perhaps more by the Collingwood win, and a team playing for a top-four spot against a club in a sombre mood that has plummeted to 15th could have taken this one anywhere. Geelong had completed their smashing in the rain and hail, and Richo’s seventh game in charge came against the premiership-bound Hawks in the wet at the MCG that ended as a 145-point loss.

The Saints hadn’t appeared to try and salvage anything from the final matches, but rather bake in the sun as it slowly set on the season before actual change could happen off the field, beyond moving on some assistants.

Summers’ article with Robbo in the Herald Sun on game day morning actually felt like it did a decent job of quelling the high pressures around the club as stories of board room spats and spills ran around. Turns out the most accurate reporting I got on it until the press went to the source (all carefully prepared statements in any pre-arranged interview aside) was a BigFooty post a couple of months ago that flagged board members were already planning tidy transitions.

***

The shift in momentum that saw us collapse in two consecutive second quarters in the previous two weeks was delayed to the third, but was surprisingly arrested just as Hawthorn looked ready to run away. Of all people it was Lonie who stepped up and shut out his three-goal phobia to kick four for the first time in his career – three of those came in the third quarter alone – and deliver the latest Novelty Bag of 2018. He kicked goals from set shots, his trademark playing for a free kick, and his best was a snap on the run after Gresham took on McEvoy across half-forward, showing off the kind of trait that Richo noted in the post-match press conference was part of the reason why they’d drafted him; “to create something out of nothing”, and our forward line looked better for it if it means Gresham and Billings can create opportunities higher up the ground that someone can finish off too.

While Gresham’s goal early in the last came from Blacres pouncing on a wayward Ben Stratton kick in defence, Lonie was the one who was on the mark in the first place and charged forward to pick up the tumbling ball and poke the kick through to Gresham. If anything, he got too high on confidence and went from “I can do this” to “I’m a leader” and after taking an excellent contested mark in the pocket a few minutes later, decided to centre the ball, but didn’t hit the kick quite right and chance was lost.

I’m very happily surprised at how good his form has been since he came back into the team. I was very convinced that his career was done. He’d shopped himself around at the end of last year and no one was keen, and the club gave him a one-year contract and he had showed fuck all by the time he was bemusingly called up for Round 17. He has impacted games more consistently with the ball as he, Billings, Gresham and Sinclair work in more complementary parts of the ground together, and his pressure is up, although he remains incredibly slight.

In the five games since coming back into the team, he’s kicked 11.6 (four of those behinds in his 2.4 against GWS), registered his highest disposal count in a game and then matched it, his equal-highest tackle count, his highest number of marks, and of course last night his most goals.

***

From the comfortable seats on Level 2 and without having graced a blade of grass as a footballer in any relevant capacity to AFL level, last night seemed to be the best Lonie, Billings and Gresham – you can throw Sinclair in there too – had worked across the ground with each other. That would be the kind of thing that changes during quarters, between quarters, and over weeks, and I think last night – aside from the Melbourne game at the MCG (Lonie didn’t play in that one) – was one of the best displays of each playing creative roles across the match against strong opposition, in a way that impacted a game. For how much I’m talking that aspect of it up, paradoxically the game didn’t really feel like it featured many highlights, but it felt like a big part of the mechanics otherwise.

Billings did some of his best work across half-back. The highlight was the corrected kick on the rebound that hit Paton at the other end of the centre square who finished with an expert running goal. He managed to snaffle a goal in the second quarter as well, recovering after fluffing his timing at a high ball in the marking contest to follow up, and collected 27 possessions to take his average to 26 over his past nine games, frustrating lows in that run (goal kicking specifically) aside.

The kick to Paton has come from a rebound that started with Hugh running off his man in defence and trapping the ball, then shovelling off and quick handball to Ross. Aside from that, a comprehensive tackle early in the game were among the few highlights, but Richo seemed vaguely impressed with what he saw going by he post-match. Hugh looked slow but what the fuck do you expect from a 197cm guy that had played one game since the end of 2015?

***

The number 23 at St Kilda has had a pretty wild ride since Stewart Loewe took it on in 1987 (he was number 50 for his first eight games, in 1986 – I think the last person to wear 50 for St Kilda was Nicky Winmar in Round 16 of 1997 when he got blood on his number 7). After being handed the number by Loewe, Kosi’s enigmatic career took it through to one of the greater enigmas in The Next Buddy, Spencer White, who had spent a short time as number 18 after past and possible future Saints Brendon Goddard left. White, for a range of reasons, never really got his career going and Hugh is the next tall guy to wear the number, and arguably the next enigma given his mid-2014 touting as pick 1 in the draft, and what he showed in 2015 before two very innocuous but difficult injuries.

In the disappointment of the moments after the game it was encouraging to see Richo’s Mate Dave talking Hugh through positioning across the ground. The lack of leadership has been apparent, and displays of senior guys openly demonstrating something vaguely in the vein of a leader have been few and far between; Seb’s near-spray but then non-spray against Port Adelaide was bemusing, visibly demonstration of something that isn’t actually there. Otherwise there was Jarryn Geary on Saturday night running into goal and kicking the ball directly into player five metres in front of him.

Armo played a fair chunk of the game down back. Not sure how much we got out of that – he took a great mark out wide from a Billings kick), and the switch over the other side via Gresham recovering from a spoil ended with Armo marking the ball at the other end in front of goal – but he missed. On the same night, Big Boy McEvoy took two strong marks in front of goal and nailed big shots; hindsight is 20/20 etc. but it highlighted the difference in guys we held onto and guys we traded out post-Grand Finals. McEvoy was traded for Savage, who was out injured on Saturday and isn’t overly vital going forward if he’s not going to try hitting targets; the pick we got with it gave us 18, to go with our 19; whichever way you wanted to look at it, we used 18 on Dunstan who has gone from future captain to playing in the VFL, while Acres was slipping and sliding and in the final minutes with part of his mind on going home to Western Australia. Dunstan might join him on the way out.

***

While we might have done something about the collapses of the previous weeks, that was replaced by another specific malady beyond being an Australian Rules football team that just isn’t good at Australian Rules football. On Saturday night, it was giving up goals immediately after kicking our own. Steele might have done an excellent job on Mitchell and tempered O’Meara, but that didn’t stop some pitiful centre bounce work. Gunston finding himself with a snap right in front of goal immediately after Paton’s on the run was it particularly glaring given there were just seconds left until half-time – was there any plan in place to defend that? – and it gave the lead back to Hawthorn and sucked all of the goodwill and mirage or momentum that one of the season’s better moments appeared to have created. Gunston shut off a chance to put some sort of gap between us to positive after Newnes kicked the first of the second half, and Breust even snuck in one between Lonie’s three goals in six minutes in the third.

***

Game that felt strangely devoid of any real highlights – even the last quarter featured just four scoring shots, and for all the dour dominance we had for the much of the quarter we could still only manage 1.1 to 0.2. No one looked overly keen on winning the game. Maybe they got word the Gold Coast were up the gills against the Lions and didn’t want to jeopardise the chance of avoiding being pushed down in the order at the top of the draft by the priority pick the Suns will almost certainly get for Tom Lynch. A haphazard, awkwardly blistering run off half-back was the best chance with players running free either side by the time we got the ball to the 50-metre arc, but Paton simply didn’t have the wherewithal in his second game to get the ball off at the right time, and the ball was turned over. Gresham’s snap in the final 90 seconds probably deserved more for his ability to create the opportunity in a high-pressure, (relatively) high-stakes situation, but the shot was nowhere near it. As well as creating Lonie’s goal in the third by deciding to take on Big Boy from the mark, he was the only player to kick a goal in the final quarter (with 18 minutes left on the clock, for the record).

***

Just about everyone stopped on the siren, partially from exhaustion, partially from not really getting beyond the adrenaline and desperation required beyond the pre-match warm-up, in which Sinclair and Newnes managed to false-start in our short team sprints. The Hawks and their supporters would have been pleased to escape the ignominy of repeating their folly in the final round of 2001; St Kilda people felt like that might have been our last chance to experience a win for at least six months. What I noticed after the siren was Gilbert lying on the ground and it was hard not to draw a lot of wild conclusions from it. He’d shanked a kick into the forward line out on the full in the final quarter, but from that point there was something about him that looked like he wanted to atone for it, and he competed admirably in a couple of one-on-ones. It’s the kind of trait you can pick up on in the crowd and something that’s been missing. Maybe he felt like he’d cost us, maybe he felt like it was his last chance for a win as a player. Six months is a long time. Right now feels a long time away from six months ago and what we thought we might be in for this year, and its a long way from what this club will probably be on and off the field six months from now. For the moment, there’s one week left of this weird shit of a season.

 

But it is, and it is

by Tom Briglia

Round 21, 2018
Essendon 5.3, 10.8, 14.13, 18.14 (122)
St Kilda 4.4, 6.8, 7.10, 11.13 (79)
Crowd: 37,483 at Etihad Stadium, Friday, August 10th at 7.50pm

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What better way to see the most depressing team in the competition play in one of the more depressing games of the season than kicking off your night by yourself in the most depressing seat at Nando’s? For reference, it’s table 50 (near the kitchen entrance), although they did call me “sir” in an unexpected flourish. It was also my first game on my own at the concrete TV set this year. I don’t think it’s necessarily any more or less enjoyable being able to walk around freely having cracked the shits and swearing to yourself, but it’s one of many ways to experience this shitheap of a club.

After a bunch of years writing this thing the repetition of some things gets as fucking boring as they are humiliating. This week’s theme: There’s just something about the Bombers and the Saints. In 2009 I was there on my own to watch them hand us our first lost of the season in Round 20 (who else?), and in Round 18 of 2010 I watched an almost identical game to Saturday’s by myself as for a few weeks our season looked like it was barely keeping its head above flushing toilet water. It doesn’t matter where the Bombers are on the ladder, and it doesn’t matter where we are. They are the anti-St Kilda; the VFL/AFL’s first premiers, we the first wooden spooners; they the equal-most premierships, we the least and by far the most wooden spoons. Their colours are nastier version of our own. The arrogance that fills the air at their home games is something incredibly foreign to St Kilda supporters.

It was leaked during the week that we’re going after Hannebery and Lycett (and then Menzel and maybe Jordan Roughead in the last few days), and might be getting a compensation pick according to Barrett. Lethlean and Richo didn’t rebuff any of the trade speculation. With the any chance that the final chunk of the season could represent a building block of sorts going into next year being eroded with every shanked kick into the forward line, any footage of the past five years – let alone these final few weeks – is increasingly joining the irrelevance of that seen in the Watson years. These broken-down passages of play are filled with either players that played a key role in earlier successes (“successes”), but had no real say in the next tilt (Burke, Loewe, the Wakelins, Tony Brown, Jason Heatley into Riewoldt, Montagna, Fisher, Gilbert), and a bunch of players and curious trade-ins that were parts of that black hole in between (Tony Francis, Tony Delaney, Ben Walton, Jason Gowans, Gavin Mitchell, Sean Charles into Newnes? Weller? Minchington? Holmes, Saunders, Templeton, Luke Delaney et al).

This was all before the talk of Richo perhaps being removed before 2019 cropped up over the weekend, despite Lethlean’s strong words about Richo being the right guys for the job pre-match on SEN. Lethlean seems to have everyone at the club under his control role, to the point where he’s being interviewed by the club for the website – the last time he did that he forewarned the sacking of three assistants – although some people close to the club will tell you there was a directive to leave Richo himself out of the otherwise club-wide review.

***

It was hard to spot any white in the crowd among all the 37,000-plus people wearing some form of red and black, although this year at St Kilda games it’s been hard to spot anyone in the crowd. I walked around the ground via standing room stand through the first quarter and eventually found a spot behind the St Kilda cheer squad, and felt like we were cornered (ovaled?) by a crowd I assume in size and unnecessary booing would be very similar to being interstate.

The tension in the atmosphere through the first and second quarters probably topped that of any other game featuring our vanilla football club this year. Our pressure was up and slowly we’d worked our way into the game, and the Essendon crowd that couldn’t hate us enough to begin with was incensed after the replay of Brown’s hit on Saad was played at the ground. Brown was late but I think three weeks was on the slightly harsher side, and the red card talk was ridiculous – he didn’t hit him in the head, and if Saad had braced himself then no one would have noticed it happen.

While all that was going on, the ball had gone up the other end after an Essendon poster and ended up with Jack Billings. Later on in the night he again proved he has an intense phobia of kicking three goals in one match. Saad was stretchered off after Billings took the mark and before he had his shot at goal, meaning he had ample time to go through every single miss of his career before taking the kick as the Essendon fans made noise that tripled anything made by Saints fans this year. Incredibly, Billings kicked it, and I thought it might have been a moment that just turned some gears in his head that were rusted or jammed and breaking everything else down. A smart one-two with Lonie along the boundary line in the pocket and neat finish from a turnover, and he had two goals and 10 disposals at quarter-time.

A classic Richo move away from the forward line didn’t necessarily put him out of position – he’s played his best footy higher up on the ground this year – but clubs use pick 3 on players like him because he can go forward and have a big game in the same way he can rack up 25 damaging disposals higher up. He indeed finished with 25, but again, he fear of three goals, along with Lonie (and Paddy of course). His near-mark in the goal square in the second quarter could have been a key moment if the lack of response from the entire team afterwards to the mere prospect of a momentum shift wasn’t so pathetic. But it was the mark that he did take in front of goal in the final term, following which he decided to play and had his shot touched off the boot. As incredulous as I was I fucking feel for him. For all the talk from footy media personnel about it being best for him to be traded to another club, a big part of me thinks there is a lot for him to gain from a new set-up, whether it’s around or in place of Richo. He’s become more physical in recent weeks and is more reliable in getting the ball across the ground. The Bulldogs-through-Bontempelli was a sad night for the club’s arse-up recruiting and development, but the sort-of-not-really change at the club would be good for him. If he did want out, I wouldn’t begrudge him; I would begrudge the fuckwits that have made the club the place it is right now and botched his development.

Needlessly playing on near goal had already dicked us when we were making our run in the second quarter. That was headed by Gresham; while playing on wasn’t entirely out of character for him, missing was. It extended to set shots with himself and Membrey. It’s worth noting that Freeman and Paton did manage to nail their set shots, and Lewis Pierce, who has spent the year in a VFL side that didn’t exist last year, played well coming straight into the team. Throughout the year we’ve seen Clark and Coffield showing composure, Ed Phillips working hard to move across the ground smartly, Josh Battle being good; there’s a strange trend with these guys that haven’t spent too much time in this club’s system.

Who is responsible for the Lewis Pierce situation I’m not sure, but it’s probably a good gauge of the dysfunction at the club. Richo said he hasn’t seen him live due to the arrangement (he has seen vision) and Skrobalak has been coaching him every week, as ruck coach at St Kilda and then within the broader context of the entire Frankston team. Richo said in the post-match conference “perhaps we could have had him in a bit earlier”. Maybe playing Billy Longer injured over and over again might have also been an error.

Reprising Brett Cook’s role as the back-up ruckman for the back-up ruckman and wearing number 42, Pierce had a good presence around the ground from that start. He looked more sure physically in the ruck against Bellchambers than Billy or Our Very Own Stephen Merchant have this year, and he followed up in traffic immediately afterwards and across the ground.

The tall guy set-up appeared to work well with Marshall. In fantastical St Kilda fashion, one of the more notable passages of play was undone by our own goalkicking in the first quarter. Marshall worked up the ground to take a leading mark on the wing, the kick went out of bounds but Pierce roved the throw-in after contesting the ruck and the ball was kicked forward to Marshall, who had worked his way into attack, and of course he missed the set shot at goal.

***

I went up to the third level at quarter time and was amazed to find people at a match involving St Kilda, and had to nestle up in literally the back row of the stadium. The game looked to have shifted in our favour but after Gresham’s and Membrey’s misses (with a Gresham goal somewhere in there too) the game swung. This was the same challenge we’d faced the previous weekend, in the same period of the game. It was time to show the football world that we were capable of learning the lessons of six days earlier, as a professional Australian Rules team that has access to all kinds of vision and feedback and anything they want, really. The leaders could atone for having gone missing, and the younger guys could show some modicum of development. The coaches could send a different, or stronger message. What an excellent opportunity. Between the 23.04 mark and the 28.44 mark, Essendon kicked four goals.

What do I think of when I consider the leaders at this club in that situation. I think of RIcho’s Mate Dave coming out of defence and launching a high faux-torp going that went wide and bounced out of play, I think of St Kilda Football Club Captain Jarryn Geary being used out of defence when the reality is that he isn’t very good at using an Australian Rules football at AFL level, I think of Jack Steven being caught with ball – in Richo’s words, trying to do too much – and I think of Seb Ross, yes, despite 43 touches and being clearly our best player for a second week in a row, having two opportunities to guide us out of half-back in the second quarter; the first time his kick didn’t really go to anyone and came back, the second attempt didn’t really go to anyway and came back and ended with Hooker outmarking Carlisle to the joy of Essendon fans, and a goal. Newnes had theee touches at half-time, and three-quarter time last week he had six.

But the signs were probably there in the natural spike in tension following Brown’s hit on Saad. The push and shove ensued and while Billings somehow raked through the set shot, that was immediately followed up by Stringer pouncing on Richo’s Mate Dave and McDonald-Tipungwuti snagging the immediate reply, Armo missed a shot at goal on the run and a few minutes later Jack Steven did as well. What the fuck is wrong with drop punts? Long gave away a nothing free and then 50, which led to Aaron Francis kicking his first goal and getting the Bombers fans a little higher on being Bombers fans, but Long hit a low contest soon after and showed no sign of intimidation in it all.

Yet again, it was an en masse drop-off right across the ground. No one stepped up; there was no collective of individuals that stepped up to take on the barrage. The whole team and the whole system and the whole club just dropped off. It was as if all the players ran directly off the ground after running to Freeman to celebrate his first goal, and if not then they sure as hell didn’t remember to come back on after half-time. “We’ll work on it” didn’t have the same ring four months into the season, and now the words are just structured sounds coming out of Richo’s mouth after another loss.

***

All wider context aside, this just ended up as another typical Essendon and St Kilda match. It’s like going to the pre-drinks for a big Friday night out clubbing, covered in the stench of dick-measuring contests between the Essendon bros. On the actual ground, the Saints don’t offer much; a player with genuine speed and skill and dare in McDonald-Tipungwuti kicks five, Essendon is down to no rotations by three-quarter time and are made to look like heroes, Nathan Brown ends up in everyone’s shit books for a shoulder-to-shoulder bump. Yes, as I said, the suspension is ballpark. But the many, many people out there with a hatred for St Kilda would have said it was Kosi’s fault for not looking when Gia actually did hit him in the head, and they would still tell you that in 2018. I’m not bitter, I’m hate-filled and worn down.

As the talk about who we’re interested in, and who isn’t interested in St Kilda (Gaff, i.e. the best player of the list; also at least two of them are just desperate for a fresh start and/or longer contracts) it’s become apparent that the real work of 2018 will be done through the trade and draft periods. The 2018 premiership season itself has simply been a drawn out exercise of weekly humiliating public demonstrations of our countless flaws as a team and as a football club. That the Riewoldt generation’s legacy – for now anyway – has been forgotten and shat on so quickly and comprehensively shows that maybe this club hasn’t changed much.

The distance seemed sure enough

by Tom Briglia

Round 20, 2018
St Kilda 4.2, 7.4, 7.9, 9.14 (68)
Western Bulldogs 0.5, 6.6, 14.12, 15.13 (103)
Crowd: 20,748 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, August 4th at 7.25pm

Version 2

For the first time in VFL/AFL history, five games in the same round were decided by one goal or less, and they all came within the six games played over Friday and Saturday. Of course, of course, of course, it would be the Bulldogs and St Kilda that were the exception, and of course, of course, of course it would be St Kilda that would be the ones wiped off the park, and by a team only half a game ahead of them.

It’s worth noting that none of those games had been played with a roof overhead. Maybe the state of the game talk carried a little more weight for us throughout much of the year because we were used to watching actual garbage, but I feel like the standard has picked up as teams increasingly try and time their run at the pointy end.

Nevertheless, get out of our way – we had some St Kilda stuff to do. Hopefully Steve Hocking didn’t go to this game of the six, because the garbage was back, and he’d missed Essendon and Hawthorn to watch Coburg and Werribee as the AFL continued to use the VFL as its adult toy testing department.

The Bulldogs used to be our sparring partners in one-premiershipdom; red, white and black and red, white and blue united across opposite sides of the city by ageing premiership footage, ageing premiership heroes, and ageing tall tales of those respective solitary glory days. The Bulldogs’ on-field fall since their wonderful 2016 premiership is still safely contained within the shadows of that triumph, and no one should be putting it past them to achieve something like what Hawthorn did over the several seasons following 2008.

Looking at their fans around the ground before the game, it still feels strange that the quiet empathy and sympathy I had are mostly gone. They’re more of a curiosity; these are people that lived a dream so similar to ours, and so recently. What does it feel like to have seen the impossible?

It’s getting lonelier at the bottom. While Sydney, Geelong and Richmond have also ended their lengthy droughts in the early part of this century, Melbourne is looking a decent chance over the next few years to leave us as the undisputed worst and most tragic club – not just in our VFA history and of the VFL/AFL, but for everyone following the game now.

***

Saturday kicked off the 2018 Farewell Residency at the Corporate TV set, featuring our terrible re-worked version of the song and much-appreciated lack of music following goals. Part of that whole faecal discharge of changing the club songs was that the AFL, clearly directed by no actual understanding of why the songs are what they are, also pissed away the chance to bring back the grandiosity of “Sons of the ‘Scray” (and did the same with the Lions’ song).

It’s obviously not the point, but Freeman potentially dominating news headlines became Freeman as part of Comeback Round, which starred Alex Johnson and featured cameos from Aaron Vandenberg and Brodie Smith. Offering Freeman up to Channel Nine’s Monday night news and then mentioning him on official count social media early in the week were the giveaways.

Anticipating a Novelty Bag ahead of a shambolic loss, shame on me; anticipating a Novelty Bag twice ahead of yet another shambolic loss, shame on me still, really, for expecting anything to change after all of those “we’ll work on it” lines in post-match press conferences this year from Richo. He followed that up on 360 with, as well calling it embarrassing, pointing out twice that we had seven scoring shots to the Dogs’ two in the last quarter, again running with the competed well late in the game line, well and truly after it was gone. Lethlean guaranteeing his role on 3AW the next morning may have already gone to his head.

Marshall was out for some reason and so it was down to Battle and Membrey to anchor the forward line, but Battle followed Paddy’s lead and got concussed early, so it was down to Membrey with some help from Hickey, but Hickey absurdly injured a hamstring tendon, came off, got on the bike for a bit, and was made to come back on and stand in the goal square given Webster was sore and Freeman had been out for five years. He could hardly move.

Acres was being passed around from the ruck to the backline to the forward, to the wing and vaguely through the midfield, and with Carlisle rucking too, Newnes loomed as the only other option as a focal point in the forward line. His second goal in the final term masked a performance in which he’d only had six touches to three-quarter time, and finished with nine.

It all started OK. Lonie, Billings and Gresham all had decent numbers by quarter time, although even at the moment Lonie was far too nonchalant in his celebration of his second goal, which took us to six goals against the Dogs’ one. Lonie was set to back up his good game last week with two early goals and plenty of involvement with and without the ball, but he got a case of the Paddy McCartins (the not-goal kicking one) yet again and couldn’t get that third goal. In fact, all three of the “high half-forwards” finished with decent numbers, but you can never trust teams in these stages of development to build nor hold a decent lead. Things started leaking in the second quarter and I’m not sure if anyone even looked like they wanted to do anything about it.

***

Billings is now specifically a player you don’t want to have taking a shot on goal, and also appears to be suffering the three-goal phobia – only three times in his 82 games has scored three goals in a game, and he’s kicked at last three behinds in a game 11 times since the start of 2017. Saturday night was absurdly the fourth time he’s kicked 1.3 in his past 21 games. As we saw on Saturday night, he’ll miss them whichever way – set shot drop punt, on the run, set shot with the step-around snap from boundary line in the pocket. He got far too excited about finally kicking a goal; an accident on the line in the extended junk time period that may well have actually clipped Geary’s boot on the way through. He pleaded far too much with footballer turned The Footy Show Grand Final Edition fodder turned goal umpire David Rodan for a review and rightfully got his way, but his celebration showed how much weight he is again carrying on his shoulders. He would be flat as fuck if they credit that one to Geary (for now it’s still his according the AFL and major publications that still exist).

It has to be noted he’s upped his physicality in the past couple of weeks. A couple of big chase-down tackles in the first half were uncharacteristic, but pleasantly so. He finished with a very commendable 27 touches by the end, but they were a battling 27 that ultimately didn’t make a huge impact on the game.

Which brings us to the crux of the night – while Billings was doing, or trying to do all of this, the Bulldogs had the Bont running riot when the game was there to be won, kicking four goals in a massive third quarter in which he continuously put himself in the right place and had no troubles finishing the job. We ran out with picks 3, 10, 18 and 19 of the 2013 draft, but the Bulldogs had pick 4 – and their number 4 – and that short period after last year in which we thought Billings was, for that moment, the better player and in a club that might be going somewhere feels like a very different time and place. Marcus Bontempelli, specifically the kind of player we lack – a classy, smooth big-bodied midfielder than can kick goals -will go down in history as the best and fairest winner of the team that broke one of the game’s most famous premiership droughts.

As this hamstring-tendon injury affected game hobbled to a finish, complete with a bonus unnecessary score review after what was a comprehensive ricochet of JJ’s hand, at the SCG Paddy’s brother Tom – taken with the pick before our second-rounder last year – kicked a freak winner for a team playing for a top four spot.

***

If the thunder, lightning, gale-force winds and monsoonal rains of the 2018 shitstorm are our manic shanks forward to no one, and Billings and Membrey repeatedly missing shots at goal, then eye of the storm is a meek, en masse surrender that has cost us a game of footy in a matter of minutes, as opposed to providing any sort of relief to re-tape the windows (read: the chance to actually control the tempo of the game). From the 14.28-minute mark of the second quarter, when Lin Jong kicked the Bulldogs’ second, to the 28.50 mark of the third – 43 minutes and 40 seconds of footy, time-on included – the Dogs kicked 13.6 to 1.6.

Maybe something like that was to be expected when you’ve told three assistant coaches during the week that they’ve effectively been sacked, and still need to front up for a meaningless month of footy that won’t enhance their CV. Richo looked the flattest I can remember him, and perhaps the angriest, in the post-match press conference. Words used like “unacceptable”, which also featured in the Corporate Sponsor Members’ Message, were followed up by “really, really unacceptable” by Simon Lethlean on 3AW the morning after.

“Really wreckless with the footy” was also used very aptly by Richo, with “wreckless” an appropriate term for this club’s 145-year history. “A really weak performance by our team and by our footy club today”; “It’s pretty hard to be competitive when you only have one strong, consistent midfielder, in Seb Ross”. Richo appeared to be getting sick of his own lines, but during his weekly 360 grilling by Robbo – who has strangely become a de facto ally for the Sack Richo camp – reverted back to talking up how we had more scoring shots than the Bulldogs in the final quarter.

***

Seb Ross isn’t going to pick up a team and carry them with him, and I don’t know if he’s the type to ever turn a game. He might be our next captain though. Not sure if you can pencil that it in based on Saturday night’s game or not, but 40 disposals and three goals was on paper the best output in his career and one of the better individual performances from a Saint in an awful season. His disposal this year has been unconvincing, and long with the use of his acceleration through traffic has been down on last year, but his ball use was better I guess.

Richo parking him in the back half for the final quarter and a bit was bemusing, but I think that was more to do with the game being well and truly over and a chance for Coffield, Freeman, et al to try a few different positions while our forward line was out injured.

Freeman clearly had several extra gears to play with. For all of the supporters (me included) screaming out for a Freeman debut, Richo’s comments that he wasn’t quite “letting go” with his body rang true throughout the night. And rightfully so if your next five years was written off but a mid-range kick along the wing in a pre-season match. At no point did he even look like he got beyond 80% capacity.The optimist left in me think that if anything, that reflects well on where his career could go. They parked him out on the broadcast wing throughout the first quarter, and he was the widest player on the ground the entire time, but ended up coming off half-back and into the forward line a little more, and a more centrally.

***

The noise coming from the club after the match – Lethlean, Richo and Ross; official, coach, and player – was that injuries don’t particularly matter if you’re going to play so meekly. Things had started so nicely but I’ve barely addressed them here because it feels so…irrelevant? Yet again we trotted out the up/down en masse performance, with no real leadership, nor clear directive, nor effort when the game started to turn against us. Newnes had six touches to three-quarter time, Armo was being played off half-back, Brown and Carlisle couldn’t do much about anything, but this was the worst second-half team in the competition.

Lethlean let a few things out on 3AW, namely that “we’re in the market for line coaches and development coaches”, and that Danny Sexton does a “pretty good job” and almost certainly won’t be going anywhere. What was notable – although maybe not a surprise, given other comments coming from the club this year – was his backing of Richo. “We need to support Richo, not blame him”, he said, and specifically mentioned the next “12 months”, on the day that Barrett revealed the break clause is more to do with 2019 than this year. Whether you or I like it or not, unless something weird happens over the next few weeks, that’s probably what we’re dealing with.

***

 Every once in a while when I’ve got a bit of time to dick around on YouTube, I’ll be caught in a loop of watching excellent uploads of the Bulldogs’ 2016 finals campaign. Caleb Daniel walking into goal on the final siren of the Semi Final, as his teammates line up behind him because they know the siren is about to go; the JJ run off half-back in the final quarter of the Preliminary Final that finished with Bontempelli striding into goal and putting them in front; Stringer out the back settling and kicking across to the safe hands of Tory Dickson in the final seconds in front of full bays of Bulldogs fans; and the Bulldogs song after the final siren of the Grand Final that ends as the camera sits on Luke Beveridge with Bontempelli.

The People v GWS [No 155] (2018)

by Tom Briglia

Round 19, 2018
Greater Western Sydney 2.0, 5.2, 11.5, 13.8 (86)
St Kilda 1.6, 3.10, 6.11, 8.13 (61)
Crowd: 12,014 at Spotless Stadium, Saturday, July 28th at 4.35pm

The weather turned in Melbourne over Friday and Saturday. Having passed the halfway mark of winter during the week, it is around this time of year you notice there is a little more sunlight, the mornings aren’t getting colder and pushing harder each day against the enthusiasm for getting out of bed. The winter chill was gone and tripped the subconscious understanding that the weather will be more comfortable and September is soon, which means for some finals and hope, but for us, a rest. In whatever ways this season is looked back on in the future, right now there is relief creeping in that we’re almost done.

It’s been a fucking grind. Simon Lethlean’s interview – produced by the club and posted on social media, but curiously hidden from the main page – was a comprehensive statement from the club itself that change is coming. During this season the most we’ve been able to see is a shuffling of younger guys and senior guys in and out of the team while we feel the weight of realisation much of the last half-decade may well have been wasted, and the holding pattern that the systemic change so obviously needed at the club can’t come until the home and away season is done. Richo said “we’ll work on it” every week, and we certainly didn’t a get a change in game style or sustained change in the outcome, from the kick in individual passages of play to wins and losses.

We were shunted back into the black hole time slot of 4.35pm interstate after ruining two consecutive Friday nights for people that fetishise American Major League Sportsballs. So ahead of the 2018 Farewell Residency at Docklands for the final month of the home and away season, we delivered a fantastical encapsulation of our inability to play decent Australian Rules football once within 60 metres of goal.

***

The St Kilda banner was a bit of a fucking reach, a bit with a dig at the GWS song:
“Let’s play Saints footy
Tough. fierce and strong
So we don’t have to hear
The GWS Russian folk song”
Get fucked. The GWS song is bold and brash in the same way the Richmond song was, and like the Richmond song (the original) is instantly associated with a club that is arrogant and has a fuck you attitude to the rest of the competition. I don’t care who exactly put it together, how dare the club even try that kind of line after going out of its way to choose “reworked” version, put together as an afterthought after Richmond’s bizarre gaffe that their fans can’t stand. Our song sounds like the Dodo ad jingle and the club didn’t ask anyone, and then they had the team run out to a Dare jingle the other week. The “Camry Crows” is still a joke 25 years on, this club is a shitty joke 145 years on.

***

Shopping For Lonie proved a flop last October, and in the 10 months since it’s felt like he was playing out time, pissing off fans when selected. Earlier in the season we were thinking about guys who’d gone backwards since 2015 and 2016, and he has been among names like Billings, Bruce, Newnes, Weller, Hickey (Dunstan?) and, for a time, D-Mac. Lonie’s promising 2015, which included wasteful kicking at goal as per his tutelage under Adam Schneider, was followed with no real specific development in his game. He still gets knocked off the ball too easily in contest, he has an input for a few minutes in the opening quarter and then disappears, he misses shots on goals, he tried to make something out of nothing when he can’t quite.

Like the difference in the team’s best and worst footy pre-Carrara this year, Lonie turned everything up on Saturday; a more manic version of the good, the bad and everything in between and either side. All in all, this was his best game. For the first time for a couple of years he maintained a presence throughout the match, he sprayed stupid shots against the boundary line in opposite pockets, he tackled and harassed with more purpose and more effect, he shanked goals he should have kicked. He finished with 2.4 to be one of the chief architects of the wasted opportunities – he had 0.3 before kicking a couple of nice goals. His career statistics are ridiculous – 12.17 in 2015, 10.8 in 2016, 6.14 in 2017, and 7.9 this year, for a total of 35.48 from 46 games. Like Paddy, he seems to have default setting that basically prevents him from kicking three goals in one game; for all those shots on goal he’s only managed to kick three goals twice.

A career-best 21 possessions were littered with extremes. He set up our first goal from an excellent kick inboard to Gresham after a turnover; he harassed Whitfield out of bounds with a great chase in the pocket, the boundary umpire didn’t see it, and the ball came back and he found an arsey free and hit the post. Having had all the play, with 11 to three inside 50s for just a 1.4 to 1.0 lead, he gave away 50 which resulted in Lobbe’s crumbing goal (only the against the Saints). He took us to 1.5 with a banana from the boundary he really had no business in trying without having had some sort of look inboard first.

Some of his follow-up showed some development in that space, as well as how much more of the ground he appeared to cover. Another free from jumping on the low ball that skittled off Membrey’s boot did justice to his kick off half-back that got it to Membrey in the first place, and he was still there doing some over-caffeinated things in the final quarter; a give and get going forward to set the tone when the game was still there to be won looked good until what should have been a simple kick floated over Gresham’s head. Lonie got a lucky free a bit later – despite dropping the ball before being landed on in the back, and missed again.

That was followed up by Membrey hitting the post to take his own game to 2.3, and burning the chance to being us within 19 points with more than seven minutes left. He returned to his mid-sized herculean role around the ground, surrounded by very raw support in Marshall and Battle up forward, pulling in 10 marks while looking like he didn’t want to kick a goal. That final poster, from a relatively simple angle and distance, was the last chance to stay in touch. It was a pointed summary of the night; Battle had worked to get to the ball to Gresham, who danced around a couple of opponents outside 50 with a bounce included and perfectly weighted the pass to Membrey from his left boot. We’re at Round 20 this week and again, we’re working on it. Himmelberg kicked 4.0 in his 17th game, Daniels nabbed a couple and Langdon kicked a monster from the meeting point of the 50 metre arc and the boundary.

Gresham took another step on his way to being our best player, and there were a couple of things in this game that reminded us that he’s just in his third year and is still developing his own game. That it was novelty that he started in the middle at the opening bounce was more than a wink. He should only get fitter with more pre-seasons, but given what’s happened to Billings et al maybe expect him to lose the capacity to kick a goal if there’s more than half a second of time to think.

Until time on in the second quarter he was the only one to have the composure to finish in front of goal, having kicked his two goals from a set shot and moving with the ball. His second quarter goal was probably the best singular offensive and defensive effort in his career to date, and again that he’s still on a development curve. A near one-on-one mark was followed up by a chase and harass that we don’t typically associate him with; Marshall’s effort to get down low and get the ball out should be noted too, and Gresham finished neatly.

His possession count is growing too as he covers more space and spends more time through the middle, and he’s the type of player in which that makes a different to the team and to the game given his creativity and class, which are two words I’ve used together I think in every review this year, due to a remarkable lack of them or the novelty of when they were displayed by a St Kilda player. He equalled his career-high 25 possessions to go with his two goals.

***

Aside from the Jack Billings being (one of) the face(s) of AFLX in the lead-up to the Gillon McLachlan and Steve Hocking’s faecal and flagellation matter as legacy attempt that he didn’t even end up playing in, Gresh is bit-by-bit cropping up as the most visible player for the club to the wider competition. Things like appearing on a GameDay (why was I watching?) graphic among the players who have kicked goals in the most respective games this year (he’s equal second with 16), and then Gerard and Robbo going out of their way to talk about him with Richo after another week of gushing about the Cats before awkwardly addressing another game pissed away by junior footy errors en masse.

Billings played a rather strange game for Billings, in that he was quite physical. I do mean that as a backhanded compliment, but with a little more sugar than I might be letting on. A missed shot on the run in the final seconds of the second quarter, with more space and time than ever necessary, right now is now well and truly, sadly, the expectation from him. He’s put together a decent body of work this year that seems to show the more time he has to think around goal he appears he to get cluttered.

This became one of several games he’s had a decent amount of the ball (by his standards), but heavily weighted to handballs – 7 kicks and 15 handballs, after 8 and 12 last week, but for just the second time this year he registered five tackles after a season-best six last week. Several times he hit the ball hard low to the ground, including a decent moment on centre wing in which he pounced on the ground ball and had the composure under pressure to suss out options on his left and then right hand; and by the third quarter he was flying for a couple of marks and leading across half forward with his arms up, which was a good sign given he’s rarely committed to contests in that way – I’m assuming it’s something to do with having had his shoulder strapped for some time now.

***

One clear development in-season is Steele’s move to playing defensive roles. Another good run-with job, this time on Ward, had him collect 24 touches while keeping Ward to 11 until three quarter time before the tag was dropped. Where does that leave the midfield otherwise? Incredibly, Richo dropped his mate Dave while Weller stayed in, but Acres came back in and looked at home after a long layoff despite slowing down as the game wore on. An early contested mark and goal would have been outrageous, but we had to settle for an early contested mark and miss, but that didn’t stop Acres carrying what Rich rightly described as “irrational swag” for the rest of the quarter.

Dunstan’s game was one of his few that were carried by decent moments rather than ticking over contested ball efforts. A couple of well-weighted kicks into the forward 50, to Marshall in the first and then Membrey in the second both led the forwards turfing his good work and spraying both. He went back with the flight of a Jack Steven forward 50 entry in the second and almost wiped out Battle on the lead, but barrelled a couple of Giants instead, got the ball and got it out, which found Lonie who finally kicked a goal.

Going by Richo’s post match presser, in response to what was the closest thing you’ll get to a Dorothy Dixer on game day,outside of the mid-week press conferences which suspiciously have a St Kilda and Dare-branded mic a little too prominently, he mentioned Dunstan, Steele, Acres, Gresham, D-Mac and Webster specifically as guys taking the team forward, so I don’t think Dunstan is going anywhere anytime soon.

Freeman had 37 touches and 13 marks for Sandy on Saturday in the Channel 7 free-to-air game, to go with a very neat goal. After two games against arguably the likely Grand Finalists, the 2018 Farewell Residency at the Concrete TV set starting on Saturday night against mid-tier teams presents the best opportunity for some feel-good PR for the club without having it entirely shat on on the scoreboard, or on the alleged “big stage” of Friday night. But maybe Richo’s Mate Dave comes in instead, and Mav Weller keeps his place after another mesmerising nine touches and 0.0.

The VFL broadcast situation was the making of the AFL and Channel 7’s self-serving TV rights agreement. It was actually incredibly that Robbo blasted the “floating” fixture of the final round and called it a TV program, and even noting the asterisk that he himself is employed by Fox Footy which is party to the deal. On the 7 side they cut the number of free-to-air games as Gil’s brother can maximise his public presence; Gil and Steve are now trying to get some more goals happening per match so they can create more of “the most valuable 30 seconds of screen real estate in Australian television”, while Tim Worner can keep paying his way out of trashy behaviour. In the Fox corner, Gil told everyone to “Go to the pub”, in what will probably go down as an historical quote that illustrates the disconnect between the AFL and its fans. That’s not helped by Gil and Steve henchjournos like Jon Ralph, see here and here that try and butter up (i.e. shut up) fans.

And as for Saturday’s game at the MCG, who’d have thought a massively important match between two huge teams could have an amazing atmosphere and care for the actual game itself, even without being moved to a night timeslot and fireworks and a celebrity appearance before the match.

***

D-Mac’s reanimation continued. He was tasked with curbing Toby Greene and did a decent job, but what really stood out was twice he went back under high balls to take strong marks, in the same way that brought him concussions a couple of times early on in his career. One of the very few positives of this year has been his form since three-quarter time at Carrara.

For the inside 50 dominance in the first half – 40 to 18 entries at half-time – The Captain of the St Kilda Football Club, Jarryn Geary made far too much of a contribution tothe poor return. He collected at least 30 possessions for just the third time in his career – in his 179th game – after doing it for the second time against Richmond at the MCG this year. It makes sense he could play as a small forward from a pressure and aggression perspective, but he contributed for too many dodgy kicks at least going forward in a game that was notable for how often he was involved in the front half. Two forward 50 entries within a matter of moments early in the first quarter were royally shanked, missing Hickey near the goal square first and then Steele as we peppered the forward line and grabbed handfuls of air around the GWS throat. He blazed away going forward early in the second to set specifically the example we need a whole lot less of; when were pressing in the third with consecutive goals, he found the ball in heavy traffic inside our 50 and rushed a kick around the corner, rather than look back for the handball to a couple of players, and GWS took it up the other end for a goal against the run of play. A few minutes later he scuffed a kick going forward to Billings, and Zac Langdon thumped through the long set shot goal up the other end. Captains aren’t the ones who are supposed to sap the team of any will to football. He’s not the only one but that goes to show how much of a train wreck the place is before the Lethlean accident scene management and removal services comes in for a sweep.

Also in the Concerning Leaders group is Seb Ross, who continues to find the ball in large quantities without doing anything overly damaging with it. You could perhaps say he’s trying to settle into a changed role as he spends more time off half back (at least when Webster is out), but it doesn’t account for useless kicks up the line when he’s running on the wing and Gresh is yelling at him, in space a couple of metres inboard, to get the ball back and keep running. A few times earlier this year we watched Seb live off the ball and I’m sure he looked injured; the small bursts away from opponents simply haven’t been there this year, and his on-field temperament sparks but never really takes into verbally challenging leader.

Over this final month of the season we’ll be looking to Goddard and Freeman getting games, as the club teases Hugh’s return with Sandy highlights packages, and teases us by ignoring Freeman altogether. They’re heading towards Matt Maguire circa 2009 and Tommy Walsh circa 2011 territory right now. It’s time to find out a few things that for no clear reason we’re still unsure of. We’ve waited five seasons for this development period to show results. I don’t know what the club is waiting for.