Mariana

by Tom Briglia

Round 8, 2018
Fremantle 3.2, 7.5, 9.9, 13.11 (89)
St Kilda 1.2, 1.5, 7.7, 8.11, (59)
Crowd: 41,752 at Optus Stadium, Saturday, May 12th at 6.10pm WST

There’s something about Fremantle and St Kilda. It’s the Bizarro Rivalry of the AFL; not made up of the Carlton and Collingwood juggernauts that created some of the greater formative moments of the league, nor of the Geelong and Hawthorn teams over the past decade that have managed to master the peaks and troughs the draft era was designed to bring.

Rather, it’s been made up of the bemusing, sensational, and incidental. We’ve talked about it a couple of times on this: Sirengate, Ross the ex-Boss, premiership droughts, busy colours, maiden Grand Finals in 2013 and 1913 respectively, Peter Carey’s mark. We could go on, and on this meltdown-via-incoherent ramble “blog” we already have a few times over the years. How appropriate it was that we would meet on the weekend as the two saddest teams in the AFL, St Kilda simply by being St Kilda, and the Dockers somehow besting us for scoring inability the previous week before more Ross the ex-Boss whispers became public. And I would have said “saddest” independent of the Ross off-field stuff, and before he specifically used the word “saddening” but I guess it made this whole thing a whole lot sadder. The AFL as an arbiter of justice is sad and messy to begin with.

Fremantle always came across as a bit of a clown club for a number of reasons – their tacky branding from formation, their colours, their players celebrating goals as if they’d cured cancer, their tacky branding now, and now their AC/DC Aussie rock post-match Perth-washed-in-1980s-Gold-Coast-big-showtime merged with a light show that was outdated as soon as it began; just like their inflatable anchors, just like their colours.

Inevitably, the purple discotheque was going to kick off on the final siren, as it became apparent that the rare decent gut feel I had during the day was probably the probiotics balancing out the olive leaf extract and the Minocycline for my perennially dodgy skin. Each time I’ve seen the post-match bullshit at Perth’s new Corporate dome I wonder which American sport fetishist’s idea it was to make sure any chance for the players to reflect – on whatever side of the result – is sucked out of the stadium by their fucking light show. How do you enjoy a win when the lights are all over the place, or look your teammates, or your opponents in the eye? As a fan, what are you watching, or listening to, or taking in, or experiencing in that space and time at that moment? [Edit: More info here from excellent St Kilda person Michael Egan]. There’s something very Fremantle about it. We had the decency to at least ignore Rod Butterss’ idea of stage lighting during games at the Corporate Dome in 2007, although the club has found ways to shit on our own game day more recently.

On one side of the Saturday, Freo’s President Dale Alcock insisted Ross had the “full support of the board”, and otherwise said nothing over and over again, one week after Matt Finnis labelled our performances “completely unacceptable”. By the Monday, we had heard from former coach Scott Watters make a rare St Kilda comment and suggest that maybe Finnis and President Summers should be sacked (“Ultimately what’s been set up at the club started 10 years ago”; “poor decision making around the list, poor decision making around the recruitment strategy”, and he called Richo a “working-class coach doing his best with a pretty average list at the moment”), and that was enough for Fox Footy to get Summers to say “We firmly believe Alan is the right person to continue to lead our group forward”.

***

Bizarrely, but maybe not surprisingly given our form, Richo declared Ed Phillips one of our most in-form players in the week leading up to his debut; i.e. the most in-form player at the St Kilda Football Club had played zero games for the St Kilda Football Club at the time of the statement. Turns out he actually might have been, and he probably is right now. Phillips was probably the most anonymous human on the list since being drafted at the end of 2016, before being switched in the Moorabbin underground bunker with Dan McKenzie during the off-season.

He’d been collecting disposals at will for the Zebras and according to the Club, he had the most possessions on debut for a Saint since Brodie Atkinson in 1993, before he was mysteriously delisted at year’s end. That’s nice, but like Coffield through this year and Clark (particularly for parts of Saturday night), he appeared to be one of the most composed with the ball.

His first possession didn’t come until well into the first quarter, and it was up there with Daniel Archer’s nomination for worst first kick of all time. But his no-nonsense, efficient and hard-working performance stood out amongst a team of players that for most look like they’re trying to play above their capabilities when they’re looking to kick to a teammate more than 20 metres away. Instructively, he was part of the most attractive passage of play for the year that appropriately ended up with a Tim Membrey shanked shot at goal; Coffield won a free kick on the back flank and went across to Sav, who’s kick to Phillips was a borderline hospital pass, but Phillips didn’t flinch and took the mark under heat and speared the kick forward to Billings, who did the same to Membrey.

I said a couple of weeks ago after the Hawthorn game that interstate matches allow you to subconsciously recalibrate how you feel about the team and where it is. This one was probably more about confirming how we felt about the team and where it is, and that is 16th after Round 8 and averaging 7.57 goals since the end of March. No-one looked like they wanted to kick a goal in the first 15 minutes, and then Freo had a small burst that saw them nail three goals pretty effortlessly in quick succession – Ballantyne a nice set shot, Pearce on the run and Sandilands exploiting the Gilbert-as-ruck match up and taking a lazy mark in front of goal – after a lot of pressure across the ground amounted to fuck all again for us.

Gilbert made it up with a free kick for holding the ball near goal a few minutes and looked visibly relieved when it went through that, for now, he hadn’t been infected with the wayward goalkicking virus that I’m not sure if CentreBet spruiker Ben Dixon has inflamed or introduced a new strain of to the club.

Richo hinted that Carlisle and Marshall would be spending most time up forward, but Marshall didn’t turn up until after half-time, and Carlisle had already been knocked out after a move forward for the first time this year when the game was up for grabs early. He was our best player by a long way up until then in his casual intercept defending role. He was welcomed to the forward line with Membrey burning him on the goal line in favour trying to kick a goal on his wrong foot from effectively behind the padding of the point post. A knee to the head and a short nap and crunching headache a few minutes later was what he got for being our best player. Being St Kilda’s best player has typically been a thankless role. The way he was moving on the boundary showed was obviously keen to come back on, and if they were going to make him (with the cameraman in tow) walk that far from the bench back to the rooms they might as well have kept him out there.

***

Phillips had our equal-most touches at half-time with 14, but again we’re back in 2014 mode in which we hope some young guy makes us think the future might be better than this, and we were sitting at 1.5 (our worst half-time score since we tried replicating the GT uber-flood against Collingwood in 2002). A couple of Freo misses were enough to have us sort of-not really in the game, but this was quite an incredible exercise in flailing wildly and blundering our way out of the match. Freo didn’t appear to have periods of comprehensive dominance in possession or time in forward-half, rather they sat back and waiting for an errant kick to come their way and that was enough for them to scoot up the other end.

In my first use of graphics ever, I’ve got the scoreworm things from the AFL site from our six losses, which have come in sets of three – Round 2, 3 and 4 and then 5, 7, and 8 (does that mean we don’t lose this week?). I’ve flipped the home games over for the sake of consistency. There’s a pretty clear pattern to each and this was no different, in four phases (I’ve added the numbers for the Round 3 match against the Crows):
1. Opposition gets the jump, however gradually;
2. Opposition hits an evidently insurmountable peak before we claw things back;
3. The margin is brought back to touching distance before missed opportunities take their toll;
4. The opposition gets away/the end etc.

stkilda r234678 2018 copy

Don’t be sucked in by one quarter of decent footy against another poor opposition. This was really the same thing we’ve seen every other week. A stupidly low score at half-time featuring missed opportunities early to grab the game on our terms, the rally and more missed opportunities at critical moments to grab the game at all, before the other team scoots away having watched us shanking kicks and having to work extra hard to chase the wayward disposal and hating ourselves because there’s no reward for it. On Saturday it was Cerra and Tucker breezing through a couple while Membrey blew his own good work in the contest and around the ground and blunders his way to 1.5.

Tom Morris article pointed out that St Kilda is the most ineffective team inside 50 since Champion Data began in 1999. There are those who deride the reliance on Champion Data for rankings of teams or players, but show me a St Kilda supporter whose frustration levels don’t align with that. Membrey from nearly behind the padding of the point post instead of a handball to Carlisle in the square, Membrey from four other set shots, Billings from the top of the square.

What to say about Membrey’s game? He was great as a target around the ground and up forward, and could have kicked at least five goals, but instead was this week’s villain and kicked 1.5, including two set shots in the final quarter as we were set to pounce on the game. What do you say about that? Richo can’t do anything about that.

***

Last year I fluked the call early in the season that Billings – Villain of 2018 – so farlooked best playing mostly in front of the ball. The dynamic of the team has shifted and is still shifting, obviously – it had to during the game on Saturday night with Carlisle going forward, then being knocked out, and then Rowan Marshall appearing – however, both he and Gresham looked much better when they were moved up the ground. Gresham more so, and he was able to have a creative impact – see the torp to set up Jack Steven in the third – and kick a couple of goals too, including the great snap in the third that seemed far too rare a kind of goal for a St Kilda player.

As I mentioned before, Billings part of probably the cleanest passage of play this year. For now, this was the best use of his skills rather than him missing from the top of the goal square at a crucial moment in the third, or shanking a set shot in the final quarter. He’d also flown for a couple of marks and really put his arms up with no concern for his landing, and despite a couple of heavy falls he kept going. His confidence right now isn’t going to come from continuously having shots at goal, or having the ball scrubbed vaguely in his direction when he’s in the forward line.

***

Richo’s post-match comments included lines like, “when we play what we prepare for” and “kicking it to each other”, but have we sunk so low that we’re looking to one quarter of decent footy against another poor side for a positive about where we’re heading? We kicked 2.9 across three other quarters for fuck’s sake. How can we be this bad in the fifth season as coach?

Does anyone know what a genuinely good game of footy looks like? What two genuinely good, dangerous teams, that can rightfully dream of winning a premiership, playing against each other looks like? Does anyone remember?

Clay bodies

by Tom Briglia

Round 7, 2018
St Kilda  2.5, 3.8, 7.10, 9.13 (67)
Melbourne 5.1, 8.6, 13.10, 16.10 (106)
Crowd: 25,496 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, May 6th at 3.20pm

r7 2018

As the season heads into the depths of winter, and St Kilda into the deepest, darkest trenches of ineptitude, the footy can take a place towards the back of stage. This was probably the leanest build-up to a game in two years. The CEO did come out at the start of the week and have a crack at Richo for the “completely unacceptable” performances this year, but given he extended Richo’s contract when no-one would have been after him we’ll have to guess that it’s a much safer line than “full support of the board” or “we chat with Malcolm fairly often”.

One week ago we came back across Bass Strait promising to work on our Australian Rules football skills. Now, we’re looking at the prospect of tanking when we’re already the most useless side in the league. Paddy fought off his two nemeses – diabetes (via hypoglycaemia) and concussion, only to be whiplashed out for the game for a few weeks; Gilbert hurt his ankle, Long is out for up to three months somehow, and they join Roberton, Stevens and Bruce (and Minchington I guess) on the sidelines. Nathan Freeman is in with a shot of being our best player in a few weeks.

Sinclair was out somehow, Armitage was in, White was dropped, Marshall came in. Clark came in too. Was all this for class? Some toughness? Marshall presenting decently in the final quarter when Paddy came off sure aside, I’m now sure what Sinclair was doing so wrong or being so neglectful about to be dropped. Let’s have a look at Billings or ol’ Four Tackles Newnes first. Acres was being “managed”, which Lethlean let slip was a sore groin, and all of a sudden we’ve got Sunstan, Armo, Steele and Seb Ross making up one of the most one-paced midfields in the comp. If we weren’t going to win with competent disposal of the Australian Rules football, then we’d do it by grinding the opposition down to our level. Our average score of 7.13ish this year was in danger of being dragged down further. That didn’t happen, of course – we just stayed down in our pit. No St Kilda team since 1960 has scored fewer goals in the first seven rounds.

Mick Malthouse had a double-page spread in the Herald Sun saying he have no brand, but our brand of ineptitude, calamity and heartbreak is second to none, thanks very much. Matt and I met on the bridge on a beautiful sunny day and entered The Ground That Was Built The Wrong Way, which was TV-set mode, meaning 3pm on Sunday marked the end of natural light for the weekend (and also another garbage performance by St Kilda).

***

We finally had the Paddy-Petracca Plate up for grabs. It had taken until their fourth season in the AFL to play in the same game, and I’m looking forward to losing the Billings-Bontempelli Bowl in Round 20. We were all feeling a little better over the past 12 months as Billings became a more influential player (KEEPING IN MIND BONTEMPELLI HAD JUST WON A BEST AND FAIREST IN A PREMIERSHIP YEAR), but he’s kicked his way out of that conversation and into the “is he an active liability?” thread.

Billings (and Newnes’ tackle count) is probably the best representative of where this team is at. He’s nothing on the player he was in 2014. Four years later we have him with all the time in the world not making the distance from 35 metres out, never mind making the distance and finishing with 0.3, and then backing out of marking contests in defence. You can hear the murmurs on the broadcast in the seconds following it, before Jimmy Webster goes back with the flight and puts the spoil ahead of his own balance and as a result hits the ground horizontally with no time to brace. That so many teammates ran over to him was excellent, and how embarrassing for Billings to have been one of them – he could only pat him on the back briefly – just seconds after one of the softest, saddest efforts. And I mean that with some sympathy. He looked sad turning up to Moorabbin yesterday with the press camped out in the car park.

Do you remember where you were when whoever it was (Sam McClure?) broke the news in draft week of 2014 that we’d be going with Paddy? I’d been sold on him mid-year, but I was seduced like many others by Petracca’s finish to the season and accepted he was probably the best young player, Tom Boyd godfather deal or not. Of course, of course, of course, Paddy’s been unfortunate with the concussions, and in the PPP on Sunday that was appropriately taken to new levels. He’d actually started pretty well, with involvements in the first three scores, although two were his own behinds, and the first a set shot after Jack Steven professionally executed a drop punt to his lead, just like a real AFL team. It was one of three that Stuv delivered during the day, either of which anyone would have traded for his overexcited tumble to Jake Carlisle in the final moments the other week. Where was it when it really mattered, let alone his entire career? Admittedly, apart from Ben Long and some Paddy and Acres, that was probably the only thing that someone has successfully corrected within this season.

Paddy hacked another behind from a half-chance but soon after he outbodied his opponent from a long Jimmy Webster bullet, and got low to dish off to Gresham for the first, and it looked like both might be on for a big day. How dare we even entertain the thought. He tried replicating his GWS skate-through but kicked it out of bounds, and then after working all the way up the ground wide and past the defensive side of centre, he dropped an uncontested chest mark that came from a magical Billings right-foot kick out of defence. You might genuinely be able to put down that down to hypoglycaemia.

He then got head knock which was more expected then unexpected, and certainly looked like concussion for the few moments he stayed on the ground and then unconvincingly tried keeping his position as the play unfolded, while occasionally turning towards the bench. Incredibly, he passed the testing to come back on and suffer whiplash that was so bad Richo had already ruled him out for at least one game by his weekly 360 grilling on Monday night.

Don’t let anyone tell you this is Paddy’s doing. The last few weeks showed what happens when he’s had continuity in his game – his GWS performance was arguably his best and he took seven marks across the ground in Launceston on a wet night; that was the first time he’d played five and then six consecutive games.

In a period that is seeing more public discussion about zoning than ever before, if we play uglier and uglier footy that might push the cause to introduce the type of zoning that allowed Paddy to play the way he did in the Under 18s. Who’s gonna stop him as a traditional full-forward type? For now, we have to deal with Petracca running into open goals at the cheer squad end directly after Paddy’s given away a free in our forward 50, and taking huge grabs in their forward line himself anyway. Right now, Bont and Petracca are better players, but they’re specifically the type of players we’ve needed, do need and will need.

***

Rowan Marshall provided us with one of the great St Kilda images of this decade (i.e. not much has happened since the 2010 Grand Final Draw), but he was eventually reduced to our level in the way Billings, Gresham and Newnes have. He had three consecutive shots at goal in the last quarter and finished with 0.3. There was a mass exodus after his third miss, right in front of goal – I’ve never heard such an audible sigh and rush to leave a game of footy after that kind of moment in a game. Maybe after an opposition goal to seal the game, or make things more embarrassing. Maybe a lot of people were thinking that if he kicked it then this tall athletic guy who was looking decent up forward could at least give us some possum shit-sized positive. But nah.

I actually thought he showed more than any of our forwards – he’s taller and he’s quicker and appears to cover a lot more ground that any of them. That goes for him in the ruck too, but he looks more suited as a forward that rests in the ruck with Hickey in the team, who has made the spot undoubtedly his own for now. With Paddy out there’s every chance we have Marshall and Battle in the team next week, which is some top-shelf novelty line-up smut. But Marshall – perhaps like Billings – might enjoy the bigger spaces of Optus Stadium on Saturday night, and possibly the discotheque they have from the final siren, as only Fremantle would do.

***

In excellently St Kilda fashion, our biggest positive of this year to date is now out for up to three months with an injury no one knew he had. It’s not quite coming home to “Lenny’s out for the year with a knee” one weeknight in May 2006, but for fuck’s sake especially in this team he really was standing out. His pressure game I think can really go missing occasionally, but otherwise he’s kicking goals and he’s creating more than anyone else in this bemusing team.

A bit has been made by wannabe Fox Footy War Room hosts like myself about “spitters” that Port Adelaide made fashionable in 2014. Melksham was coming off the back of the square for Melbourne for much of the first half at least (it was hard to keep caring beyond Hunter Clark’s miss early in the third) and managed to get a very clean clearance in the second quarter purely because Long tracked him from the edge of the square and then didn’t put any pressure on him when he got the ball, almost bizarrely so. That kind of thing certainly wasn’t the reason why we lost, but I’m not sure if it was actually an improvement on the first quarter when Melksham ran off the back of the centre square all the way to the Melbourne goal square to be at the fall of the contest without anyone going near him.

Long did back that up almost immediately with a high leap over the of a contest up the ground to get the ball moving forward, and followed it up with a neat shepherd before Armo shanked the entry to Newnes by himself, who was apparently playing the Blacres resting forward role. He certainly wasn’t the only one, but Long fluffed his lines again amid a lot of hard work to keep the ball inside 50 before Seb got the free for holding the ball and, uh, missed the set shot. Some more good pressure, a shanked kick to Mav, and it only meant the next wasted opportunity was closer. Armo missed a shot from the Petracca free and 50-metre penalty, Seb missed the shot on the right, and we were at 2.8. Nothing was really quite syncing up.

***

The members really became restless when no one went up on the goal-line for Petracca’s set shot (after his great mark), and the short pass resulting from the mark ended up with Nathan Jones right in front. Paddy smacked heads with Jetta soon after and Dom Tyson kicked a very goal from the pocket for the Dees. Quickly, this had become normal, again.

Armo finished the game with a neat goal, and just as it had all day, and as it has all year, the club continued to play music after goals, which no one ever asked for. The GWS game showed that the music doesn’t add anything, and when it played after Armo’s goal, comically long and comically loudly, it was embarrassing.

Matt had summed it up in a far more pure moment earlier in the last quarter. There was he and I sitting among a bunch of empty seatsl Weidemann hadn’t don’t anything all day but piped up with goals with side of the final change to put the game beyond doubt. “Our rebuild has been a joke. We’ve ended up with nothing.”

I turn 30 at the end of next week, and Matt is 27. Anyone slightly older than us and younger has spent most of their St Kilda supporting lives with St Kilda being a joke because they couldn’t win a second premiership – despite everything going our way in 1997, “The Streak”, and the fact the club promoted it as “The Streak” in 2004, the capitulation in the final quarter of the 2005 Preliminary Final to a team that showed us what spirit actually looked like; 2009 and 2010, of course, and then the nightmare-into-black hole of 2011. Our narrative as supporters and members is shifting to what those much older than us would find more recognisable – St Kilda is a club that is incompetent from the top down. As far as St Kilda supporters go, maybe we’ve been lucky. Maybe the club doesn’t owe us that we turn up to the footy expecting that they did everything they could and were transparent about shifting around the “Road to 2018” plan/PR strategy. Maybe I shouldn’t expect to pay for a membership and make the effort of going to the footy every week and not have the experience – win, lose, or indeed, draw – shat on by hideous “fan engagement” initiatives, in an attempt to soften the pain of seeing the team and the last several years turn into a loose piece of rubbish, caught in the run-off on the edge of a storm drain.

It’s a little bit lonelier

by Tom Briglia

Round 6, 2018
Hawthorn 3.7, 4.9, 7.9, 13.11 (89)
St Kilda 0.4, 3.7, 5.10, 7.12 (54)
Crowd: 15,721 at Aurora Stadium, Saturday, April 28th at 7.10pm

After last week’s incredible high of not losing, we were tucked away in Tasmania on a cold Saturday night for our several still-interested fans to take a breather. It’s the kind of week that puts some distance between yourself and the club, and maybe subconsciously you have your expectations recalibrated.

We found ourselves flying back across Bass Strait with the message from Richo that we “we might have to take a risk” in getting “enough skill work in” during training this week. That we’re lacking in the Australian Rules football skills department isn’t news to us and given how shilpit this was overall, the performance against GWS has quickly become an outlier and enough comedy errors slapped together to form a statistically significant sample size, i.e. we can be confident that right now this is a fucking mess.

That we and the club went the fap over the draw before accepting Saturday night as normal shows how our expectations of this club have been slowly but consistently driven face-first into mud, and forced deeper and deeper with each missed shot at goal until said face is being scraped back and forth over hard layers of sedimentary rock.

I’ve never officially been a staff member of a professional Australian Rules football club, and zero football clubs have taken notice of anything anyone has said in their weekly shitting of grievances via blog, so I can only say that I assume that handling and disposal of the Australian Rules football itself would be a given. Obviously some teams are better than others than this, and obviously it matters, even in an age dominated by sports science. But there’s something increasingly absurd about this situation, and it’s something a blanket of Launceston mist can’t cover for.

It’s difficult to really pick out specific errors from Saturday night as they nauseatingly blur into each other as the weeks go by. The breakdowns, structural or skill, are so comprehensive it’s hard to not talk in generalities, or ask otherwise stupid questions like, “Are the players in the right positions across the field?” “Is that exactly where they should be, or should be running to?”

What’s the point of the pre-season, other than the club shitting out puff pieces about about Ed Phillips and “what the boys have been up to” over the Christmas break? What’s training for during the week? What has been going on since the 2014 pre-season? We shouldn’t be talking about any of these things the way we are after Round 6 with one win and a draw, four years after our 27th wooden spoon, and in the fifth year of a coach’s tenure. This a professional Australian Rules football club that is fielding a team that isn’t very good at Australian Rules football. It’s like watching an Under 14s team when a few of the guys are aware of vague structural concepts but it still ends up being a bunch of awkward kicks around the ground.

***

I don’t think anyone was expecting an overly slick game of footy from two sides, and certainly not once the ground had been drenched by the dew. Either way, we haven’t played with any more apparent purpose or skill than we had under the roof or in decent conditions at Corporate Dome. What’s changed? We still had Billings missing shots early, we still crawled to a air-swing 0.4 at quarter time. Hawthorn themselves had 3.6, but despite us grinding them down to our level over for much of the next two-and-a-bit quarters they still kicked 10.4 after another miss early in the second.

This time last year, the footy world was finding itself increasingly bemused by Hawthorn’s aggressive trading for O’Meara and Tom Mitchell. We’d belted them to a 0-6 start at this ground, and Josh Bruce’s infamous goalsquare poster was still only categorised as “funny”, and hadn’t yet become considered evidence of a very, very contagious infection. Six days later we knocked off GWS and were primed for a top-two pick in the draft, and our own 2017 looked like it could be anything (at half-time nine weeks later, we were sitting in the top four).

Almost a year to that day in Launceston – 364 days, in fact – eerily, awfully, deflatingly, we had Membrey up the other end of the ground run into an open goal and instead of kicking our first, he dribbled the ball into the post. Nowhere is safe on the ground. No passage of play can be accepted as merely decent until the umpire has bounced the ball in the middle, confirming that the mandatory review didn’t at least graze the kicker’s own face on the way through.

Like Steven and Carlisle messing up the final moments of the previous week, Membrey’s miss was a neat encapsulation of an ongoing problem that simply won’t go away and has genuinely cost us for more than two seasons now. It will probably be the only thing this game is really remembered for, otherwise it would be Isaac Smith’s classy game that included four goals. This dynamic seems familiar.

At 0.7 well into the second quarter, we looked as if we didn’t want to kick a goal, let alone likely to kick a goal. To Membrey’s credit, sort of, but not really given he gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to do this, he presented for a mark inside 50 just moments afterwards and nailed the set shot.

That sparked the kind of period of dominance we’ve become accustomed to – grinding down another team and working really hard for fuck-all reward, occasionally leaking out easy goals. Between the first and final changes it only returned 5.6, while the Hawks kicked 4.2, and we were still 10 points down at three-quarter time.

The Membrey poster could have been the kind of thing that was a neat tie-up of a nightmare in the front half, undoing the curse or whatever the hell this goalkicking thing is. But no, it’s much more ingrained that that, and the misses kept coming. Billings charged to 0.3 in the first half for the second week in a row. Set shot misses from Sinclair and Gresham either side of the final change and a rushed Seb Ross snap were the last gasps of a thrashing, floundering performance that was sunk by a string of quality goals to Gunston, Howe and Smith, with the last of those probably summing up the night best; the foray through the middle, the clumsy breakdown, and Smith charged through and ran away with the ball and the game.

***

Richo’s line “you wouldn’t want to be a forward in front of the ball” in the post-match presser was a sharp turn from the “our forwards didn’t work” but no fucking shit. To argue against my own point, I present Tim Membrey, and Jack Billings, and Richo had gone back to the “disconnect between the kickers and the catchers” line by last night’s 360/now-weekly Robbo grilling. But those catchers have an out for the most part if they’re not able to get the ball in the first place.

St Kilda’s scores since the 16.11 in Round 1 read as follows: 5.13, 7.13, 7.14, 10.13, and 7.12, for a total of 36.65 and an average of 7.2 goals and 13 behinds. It said too much when the other TV at the North Melbourne pub I was watching at cut to CentreBet spruiker and part-time St Kilda training merchandise-wearer Ben Dixon doing the boundary for Fox Footy at the Adelaide Oval whilst Billings, Membrey, Gresham, et al were blazing away.

Maybe it’s the pressure of being the Hat model, but Billings has really stepped up into the role of poster boy for the goal missing. He’d shanked his way to another bag of three behinds before kicking a nice goal in the last to vaguely enhancing his year’s return to 4.11. I’m not sure I’m going to quite articulate this next bit properly but I’ll have a crack – when he was lining up for goal in the last quarter, I looked at his face when the broadcast cut to a close-up of him and I…felt sorry for him? That’s a pretty base expression, I know. There was something about him that looked flat, or that he didn’t really want to be there. I don’t know. He doesn’t come across as an aggressive or overly arrogant human. Like Membrey, he also gets paid lots of money (not that that’s the be all and all but it’s something pretty decent). Maybe it’s because he naturally has a rather soft resting expression. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. A part of supporting a club is projection, and like the club representing much than the sum of its parts, the human beings that play the game become something a little bit more when combined with the way they play their football, or what they promise, or their part in a club’s narrative, or what they eventually achieve.

***

While last week quickly became the outlier rather than the turnaround, Paddy and Long still managed to back up their performances on another night. Paddy presented well for most of the night and did well at ground level, and his mark and goal in the third quarter showed what can happen if his teammates gave him even part of a decent look.

Long provided one of the cleaner pieces of play, put in a big aerial contest at half-back and then found the ball on the ground to get the rebound going – by the time the ball had come through Paddy’s strong hands and found Jack Sinclair, he was running by the ball carrier for the shepherd and telling him to kick the goal. The cynical sentence that follows says enjoy it while you can; like Gresham and Billings before him, I won’t be surprised if the team’s style also drains his game of any instinctive creativity and class.

***

“Sam Gilbert” will be the answer to a small piece of trivia for St Kilda fans – Who was the last remaining Saint that played in the 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals? BJ’s career will probably outlast Gilbert’s, but at a different club. That it would be Gilbert makes a little bit of sense given his relatively young age in those teams, but it makes a lot less sense if you’d seen some of his Australian Rules football over the past few years. He has gone under the radar for some time, playing a rather thankless Jason Blake-style role in a team that didn’t get the attention or kudos that Blake’s did. His work with the Pride game and as an advocate for and ally of the LGBTIQ+ community has been ahead of nearly all others that have played or been involved with this game at this level.

Although it would give way to three shanked shots early in the Replay, his goal in the third quarter of the Grand Final Draw was a pivotal moment in the game and a stirring moment for the club. By chance, he was the first St Kilda player I saw following the siren of the Grand Final, after lifting my head out of my hands; it was Gilbert dropping to the ground that will be imprinted in my mind as clearly as the Geelong song blasted across the MCG that made real what would become of that season.

It’s easy to forget how important he was over those two years, and that he finished third in the Best and Fairest in 2010 – appropriately, alongside Goddard.

***

When we’ve looked “good” this year, it’s basically just been a more manic version of the majority of footy we’ve played – maybe more tackling, maybe quicker disposal, but not necessarily cleaner and certainly not necessarily more effective. How many times can the players go through this pattern before you just give up? At what point is this incredibly inefficient and wayward, frustrating game style stop encouraging you to keep doing whatever it is you’re doing?

Maybe the club knew what was coming. Sort-of conspiracy theory – If the board was expecting it, and were therefore comfortable with the contract extension, then we might be in a position in which Richo is actually quite sage. We’re playing more inexperienced guys, so the incumbent pressure on the coach(es) to maintain a high(er) standard throughout the year, certainly in this moment, might have shifted over to whether or there is something more sustainable evident in how the young players are developing, and the way they’re playing together. That might be a little bit different at the moment.

***

We’re sitting at Round 6, one and a half wins, averaging effectively 7.13 a game for more than a month now. Whether it was linear or exponential, this team’s development curve has sagged – apparently all part of the Altered Road to 2018 plan – and really now this is just a lifestyle. This is what the club does, and we watch it. No direction on the field, no direction as a team, no direction as a club. Nathan Brown’s mostly uncontested non-spoil going back with the flight of the ball resulted immediately in a Hawks goal, and immediately afterwards he gave away a free kick to Langford. Richo put the headphones on but at that point we’ve moved from football club to comedy troupe and what’s he going to say? At that point it’s going to have as much effect as anything I whinge about on here.

Richo opted not to talk about positives in the members’ message. Yes, young guys are playing, etc., but how long does he need to be the coach for until he can implement an effective system with players that can carry it out? It’s not as if he’s still struggling with a list he just inherited that was built over a decade by and for someone else with a very specific game style.

As supporters, the messages from the coach and the club are slowly turning into a din, and gradually that noise is disappearing into the distance and over the horizon, taking another year with it.

 

The People v GWS [No 142] (2018)

by Tom Briglia

Round 5, 2018
St Kilda 2.2, 5.8, 6.12, 10.13 (73)
GWS Giants 2.5, 4.9, 7.15, 9.19 (73)
Crowd: 14,956 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, April 21st at 1.45pm

stkilda gws 2018

Ok, yeah, wow. Let’s get the Carlisle-Davis marking contest thing out of the way first, keeping in mind all of these things are able to co-exist, many don’t necessarily preclude the others.

  • Jack Steven (by his own admission) shouldn’t have put the pass up so high
  • (Carlisle is 202cm tall to begin with). All he had to do was put it in front of him; anywhere from slightly lower to where he kicked it, even if Carlisle had to get done and slide to it. It would have taken Davis out of the equation and guess what? This is the kind thing that had dicked us all day, all year so far, all year last year, and a lot of the year before.
  • Jake Carlisle (by his own admission) should have taken the mark, despite the loose kick.
  • Carlisle had already dropped the ball, so Davis doesn’t really impact the outcome of the contest – if Carlisle had held on to it and Davis crashed into him, then at we’d at least have been in the territory of the umpire paying the mark straight up.
  • The umpire is on the other side to Davis’s arm so he wouldn’t have seen it (similar to the TV angle); the members saw what Davis’s arm come over Carlisle’s left shoulder so were rightful to go ape droppings.
  • Unless the AFL comes out and makes a statement saying the call was incorrect, then the umpires can’t pay this kind of thing for the rest of the year. And I think if they actually did that, we’d probably prefer it. The chopping of the arms rule has been one of the greyer areas of umpire interpretation since it was introduced last decade, but I doubt this will set a precedent beyond a possible one week crackdown.
  • Go back to when there’s 40 seconds left and watch Luke Dunstan fall right into the back of Callan Ward on the GWS 50-metre arc.
  • We had 67 inside 50s to 47.

If you’re good enough, you won’t have to rely on weird shit happening for things to go your way. We’ve all seen how much the delivery forward (quite specifically) has cost us over the past few years, and now we have it all summed up in one solitary play, involving arguably our two best players.

***

The Round 4 match down the highway went a similar way as the pantsing in Round 4, 2002, also on a Sunday at the same venue. The 166-44 scoreline punctuated a torrid few weeks for the Saints and was an awkwardly mashed-up foreteller of the paths the two would-be rivals would take in the coming years, featuring what would remain St Kilda’s growing legend of 1966, and Geelong breaking a 44-year premiership drought a few years later before adding to that against Guess Bloody Who two years later. That match and the blowback gave way to the infamous GT uber-flood the following week against the Swans; a bizarre draw known for the half-time scoreline of 2.2 to 1.4, Nick Riewoldt’s arrival (12 marks across centre half-back), the Swans’ last quarter comeback, Daniel Wulf running into goal the snatch back the game and hitting the post, and second-gamer Nick Dal Santo not making the distance from a free kick after the siren.

On Saturday, the GIANTS®©™ played the role of the Sydney Swans; and the tick under 15,000 there were the 21,000 that dotted the Concrete Dome on that cold Saturday night. St Kilda was played by St Kilda, coming from a Geelong smacking and playing a bunch of young guys. The role of Stephen Milne’s late snap goal from the pocket on the rebound was played mostly by Ben Long’s solo effort, with Jade Gresham (wearing just one 4) somewhere between Milne’s goal and Daniel Wulf (wearing 40), having the late shot to put the Saints in front by five points, but levelling the scores instead. Jake Carlisle was almost Nick Dal Santo having a shot after the siren, but along with Gresham and perhaps Jack Steven’s pass, made up for the balance of Wulf’s role. The role of Nick Riewoldt’s break-out game was shared by, let’s say, Paddy and Long.

In a really trying week, the club might have played up the contract extensions of Clark and Coffield a little bit too much, with what felt like a season’s worth of episodes posted to the club site. I really thought we’d moved on from looking for flashes of hope for the “future” from young guys; of course the line-up still allows for that, but we weren’t thinking it would be the centrepiece of positivity in 2018.

Having punched my seat a couple of times after the siren and screamed profanities at the umpires after seeing the Carlisle contest from the pro-free kick angle, over the next hour, and then through a night out down the road at Howler and certainly by the next morning, the anger and frustration thundering through my head had made a little room for diplomacy and optimism.

***

Injury had shaped recent personnel changes as much as incompetence, and in more varied and unfortunate circumstances – Roberton (heart) and Marshall (Billings) – and only Membrey’s return prevented the novelty line-up filth of a Battle and Paddy attack running out, as Josh Bruce’s newly shaved head settled into an extended period out.

The club was building up to the game with the line, “It’s time Jack the Giant Slayer got a sequel”, which says a lot about how well 2017 didn’t go and how poor the start to this year has been; we’re really holding on to two wins that happened once. When Stuv lifted in the third it brought the underlying sense that we’d at least be in touch for some time, but in an excellent surprise it wasn’t because he was carrying everyone else.

For a team that has rightfully been accused of being vanilla, and has been playing in a way that slashes the edges of the creativity that brings out the best of Billings, Gresham and Acres, the line-up changes and a more aggressive approach brought a much different look. The intent was flagged early with Sav – having been panned by My Favourite Hair in the Fox Footy Commentary Box twice last week – winning a two-on-one, Stuv got it out to Ben Long who ran off through half-forward and speared a kick to the advantage of Gresham one-on-one in the goal square. That was more precise than anything that had happened this year, and unfortunately would prove to be for the afternoon.

***

It didn’t take long for it the game to turn into a scrap. Really, we just looked like a bunch of annoying bump-intos at a party as the Giants tried to get through the crowd to their friends in the quieter part. Eventually the pressure and sort-of linking up grew to a stranglehold during second quarter, but yielded a typically wayward and inefficient 3.6. Yes, the same issue that has plagued us for more than two seasons now would prove to be costly again.

At half-time Billings had kicked 0.3 (by game’s end he had 3.8 this year and 26.44 since the start of 2017), as well as finding himself with all the time and space in the world near the 50-metre arc and for some reason getting confused by the situation (to the confusion of everyone else), before skewing the kick in a way that it was unclear what he was actually trying to do. We used pick 3 on him specifically because of the X-factor qualities and class he’s supposed to have, whether with or without that time or space. Hopefully his goal in the last square tweaked something for him.

He was the profligacy headliner for the first-half but had a solid supporting cast. Acres kicked straight into a waiting smother instead of to Paddy standing in the arc on his own; Gresham more than once tried turning into traffic more instead of giving off an easy handball to a player nearby and the second time resulted in a GWS goal, prompting the first admonishment given during a game by Ben Long.

Several times throughout the second quarter we threatened to blow the game open but the moment passed us in taking advantage of the momentum and the atmosphere, and went into half-time at 5.8 to 4.9. The quarter’s best moments saw what might be the emergence of Paddy in earnest, making the game his own for several minutes. It was also the best advertisement for getting more games into the younger humans on our list; this was the first time he had played five games in a row (partially for reasons outside of the match committee’s control, of course). His first attempt at goal came from leading into the space close to the sticks and Hickey and Gresham got into some push and shove that turned the heat up in the TV Dome, but Paddy sprayed it right. A free kick just seconds later in a similar position had Paddy turf the Goalkicking By CentreBet handbook and go the banana instead – which worked – followed by a goal on the run from just inside 50 after outbodying and peeling off Davis from Sinclair’s kick forward – Carlisle had started it by slicing the ground open from the back pocket with a ball to Hickey at centre half-back. Paddy’s acknowledgement to the crowd felt like a small nod between player and fans that something good might be coming in the future. He delivered on that in the short-term with a strong mark and goal in final minutes.

Amongst an otherwise rollicking performance, we got the staple Mav the Hero attempt from long range when Paddy was one-out in the goal square, but Mav’s great set shot goal in the final term and a wealth of front-half pressure made his return a success. Paddy wasn’t done, attacking a low ball on the wing with zero fear for his incredibly concussion-prone being, and for all the wasted opportunities going forward Dunstan kicked a massive set-shot goal from the point of the 50-metre arc and boundary line. Slowly, some real moments of leadership are beginning to emerge.

Acres had 19 touches at half-time, but it simply wasn’t his best showing. Ross had looked injured a few weeks ago and he was still racking up possessions, and I still feel like he’s not quite at full capacity (he did get the 10 AFL Coaches Association votes. What would I know?). Billings and Gresham were out of sorts, but had their moments for varying results. Sinclair, playing higher the up the ground, continued to purr his way up the rankings as one of our best players (not bad for a rookie selection), moving through traffic and knowing when to hold on to the ball just that little bit longer to allow the movement around him to open up options. Broadly, there’s still a gap on his spectrum between “slick” and “kicking directly into the opposition player just a couple of metres away”, but on days when he keeps that tight he is very important, and perhaps still underrated by even St Kilda fans. Numbers of 23 touches and 11 tackles didn’t reflect how much he can open up the field.

Part of the half-forward revolving door last year, Long played his fifth game in a row (like Paddy) and backed up his neat showing last week wonderfully. The last quarter goal is a potential landmark moment for anyone; a kid who had genuinely changed the dynamic of the team by playing his own game, backing himself in the final minutes to run around the GWS captain on the mark and curl a goal around from an angle and only just inside 50. His composure and slick dish-off (not to mention his instruction immediately after) in the final seconds opened up the final foray forward; these moments had a number of exclamations marks prepared for them throughout the game. Perhaps instructively, the one time he didn’t decide to do things himself, running through half forward towards goal early in the third, it fell apart. Eight tackles to go with it all.

White had also been kept in the side after a mysterious disappearance through last year that basically lasted until Round 1. It was just his seventh game but he knows how to use his body to good effect. Coffield off half-back – and to a point Clark on occasion higher up the ground – showed more composure than most, and their awareness allowed for constructive and instinctive quick movement of the ball to dangerous areas around the ground in a side that had become turgid and stagnant.

***

What to say about Carlisle? “He dropped a couple he probably should have taken”? For once, his move forward actually came at a time when the game was well and truly in the balance and he had again been imposing in defence, and it should have paid off. Our view in the members had Davis appear much closer to him than he actually was, but I think looking more realistically at the space between them on the replay reflects more poorly on Jack Steven’s kick.

We don’t really have many of the senior Harvey, Thompson, Peckett, Hamill, Gehrig types that the last en-masse rebuild side had to shepherd them whilst playing their own vital roles, and that’s where Steven and Carlisle need to be stepping up (they have for the most part). Sole Survivor Gilbert delivered in key moments, combining with Geary in the last when the game looked done to make something out of nothing, running hard up on the boundary line to force the ball forward for Ross and Billings to combine, and he pushed up and took the mark from an errant GWS kick out of defence and centred the ball to Paddy for the final goal.

Membrey seemed pretty flat on return. He presented up well but just wasn’t as sure with his hands. Hickey didn’t quite have an impact up forward in lieu of Marshall but indeed this feels like his second (third? fourth?) coming. Competitive in the air, he used his body cleverly when the ball was low and in general play (see the Gilbert-Geary combo), and finished with 18 touches himself.

***

They ended up with 9.19, but three GWS goals in the third quarter showed how class can be a weapon even if you’re being largely outworked across the ground. Deledio’s snap and Shiel and Greene’s goals from opposite pockets were quality that we don’t have right now, or certainly of a type that either hasn’t been developed and either way isn’t shown consistently enough at the moment. Around the ground, that’s where Long, Coffield, Billings, Sinclair, Gresham, Acres and Clark, hopefully, come in.

Gresham was unlucky in his moment given Ross could managed a tired tumble kick forward, when all that was needed as a drop punt that would bounce vaguely expectedly. Ross made up for it to a point in the final passage by willing himself to wheel around the GWS player and get the ball moving in our direction.

***

It felt that this was the first time this rebuild (?) that we were purely looking to young guys to guide us out of a difficult situation; premiership fancies constantly threatening to break the game open, and then being one more mistake and one less shanked kick at goal from having the game lost. And young guys did good things, unexpected things, inspirational things. Long’s output rose as the situation grew greater; McCartin willed himself to be a presence when the game was a scrap and when it was boiling; the composure of Clark and Coffield; Billings had been carrying his inaccuracy around his neck but took it on himself to kick around the corner and goal at a time in the last quarter when there was no margin for error. Not only that, but in that moment he showed the maturity to point at and go straight to Seb Ross for the excellent handball he’d dished out.

As fans, dramatic situations and trying circumstances in games like that get you attached to these guys. And perhaps not getting the result more so – we’ve all copped that hit with them, they as players, we as fans, and perhaps fosters more empathy than winning does. The final moment aside, the crowd had been incensed by the umpiring all day, and as the afternoon wore on it felt as thought we were willing these new young guys against the AFL and their plans for sporting landscape domination.

A final crowd total of 14,956 was maybe generous, but for the moments late in the game when Long’s kick began curling, Paddy’s own held its line, and Stuv was running into attack the noise was incredible.

It confirmed – not that it needed to be – that it is the game itself and the crowd that creates the atmosphere. We don’t need music playing over the top of everyone after a goal, and while the club had turned the volume down a little it was still competing for ownership of the moment through the game. The idiotic addition doesn’t add anything – lass than 15,000 people in a tin can proved that – but it can take something away. Hopefully the club learned something.

***

AFL.com.au (i.e. the AFL’s) Matt Thompson reflected the organisation’s frustration with any subtlety and genuine drama with a ridiculous tweet using dangerously presumptive language for someone in a very high-profile position: “Surprised by the amount of love for the draw. Why don’t we just get rid of it.” He went back at it with one of the most ridiculous AFL-related tweets of all-time, and then thought the agreement of handsomely-paid guys on Talking Footy was the logical end of the discussion.

Like his position on the changing of club songs, he ran with either the AFL line (the “diminishing quality” nonsensical argument), or with the position of high-profile media commentators, but at no point did he take into consideration the opinions of the fans – who don’t necessarily enjoy the perks of getting paid to go to the footy, or have a media megaphone – let alone actually coming up with a reason why it should be shunted. The AFL does its best to manufacture drama, but the draw has a power over everyone that forces hard questions in a situation that isn’t so clear. Yes, it’s a result, and it’s remarkable.

***

The club was hurtling back to the classic St Kilda jokes about simply being shit, as opposed to the jokes the club had to carefully craft while being in front in time-on of successive Grand Finals about never being able to win a second premiership. Realistically, this was one game that the team built on the an oft-used world-against-us template. Whether or not this translates into something more sustainable is something that isn’t answered yet, even if we’d won. Either way, it felt like something we’d seen before.

Tolerance

by Tom Briglia

Round 4, 2018
Geelong Cats 4.3, 8.6, 13.8, 15.13 (103)
St Kilda
1.4, 3.7, 5.8, 7.14 (56)
Crowd: 27,338 at GMHBA Stadium, Sunday, April 16 at 4.40pm

geel stk 2018 2

Flu Royale 2018 came a little earlier than usual. The Geelong trip has never counted as the non-negotiable must-attend that all of St Kilda’s Melbourne games are considered, but either way I was shacked up at home in my oversized dressing gown watching on TV with two one-litre bottles of Gatorade, a lot of Nurofen and two bags of jalapeno-flavoured Farmhouse Culture sauerkraut chips in a bid to force some sort of head cold drainage ASAP.

Not all of the olive leaf extract, echinacea, and zinc + C capsules in the world were going to change anything on either side of the screen. Throw in the multitude of Nick Riewoldt groans and sighs from the Fox Footy box setting new standards for partisan commentating and we still would have come back down the highway with the same overall result, probably with the same scoreline, and certainly having earned it via the same bemusing method.

It should be noted straight up that Dylan Roberton’s collapse was a very scary moment and stripped away the more decadent of rages and depressions we allow (afford?) ourselves as St Kilda fans. As Gerard Whateley has said (and Bob Murphy reaffirmed the other week in Open Mike), sport is the “dessert tray of life”. The cut on the broadcast from pre-ball up to a quite visibly concerned Newnes, Gilbert and Carlisle running over to Roberton was a very abrupt, raw reminder of where our priorities really are, compounded when the footage showing players from both teams trying to grab the attention of staff on the bench and the umpire. That Roberton got up quickly and came off looking quite fine was as much of a relief as you could get in the moment, but quelled some of the emotional energy we would have repeatedly tried to summon as another long ball forward landed into the comfortable hands of Tom Stewart.

In more pragmatic terms for that moment, and the rest of the evening, it brought the viewing experience back to what it was – watching a poorly skilled and apparently poorly coached football team playing Australian Rules football against a much better team representing a much more competent club.

***

If you’d watched the first several minutes then you’d watched them all, and even Sandy Roberts calling Esava Ratugolea “Ratagalouie” came back later in the game. As a seasoned Saints fan, Sandy had probably given up on the whole thing like the rest of us early in the third, but Roo and to a lesser extent Nicky Dal took on a more flustered tone, although Nicky Dal saved some of his ammo for the Monday.

Billings collected what may have been the most meaningless 23 touches possible, as well as two behinds, but it was his first involvement that should have had any Saint watching turn off the TV or legging it out of the ground to South Geelong station to try and salvage what was left of the weekend. He tempered his attack on a low ball forward of centre as a Geelong opponent was coming the other way, and instead of picking up the ball and barging through, or bracing and freeing his arms, he leaned back awkwardly to avoid contact that wasn’t really coming, and dished out a handball along the ground between two Saints. Needless to say, the Cats were away, and went straight up the other end for their first goal.

The numbers didn’t reflect a “soft” game, but numbers don’t reflect that kind of stuff to begin with, and fair to say Geelong outworked us pretty comprehensively everywhere. Starting extra players back because – by Richo’s own admission – we weren’t overly confident in the midfield getting it done suggested we’re also not overly confident in the blue-collar, pressure-heavy style that supposedly defines our better footy. You also end up with Robbo saying right at your head on television the next night that you’re messing with young forwards because they’re left without the support they should otherwise get from players that are be closer to them, as long, useless ball after long, useless ball is driven forward like a post-apocalyptic Dead Hand system sending out missiles into a nuclear wasteland.

I don’t know how I felt on balance about the 360 grilling and the clear discomfort of the situation on the set and for Richo, but part of me secretly enjoyed it. It was embarrassing for the club, and I don’t know how much more money the club it on top of my Ultimate Social Club and Southern Saints memberships before really basic stuff is covered five seasons into a rebuild.

Simon Lethlean might come across as a no-bullshit sort of operator but during the week he’d tried slipping in the supposed deviation from the Road to 2018 plan as if we were stupid for having believed any of in the first place. If it was always going to be malleable then what’s the fucking point of having it? And making big deal of it? And producing these videos for it? And charging supporters $150 to give presentations about it? To shut the fans up through a darker period with an official, documented plan the club could refer us to. Selling St Kilda-style hope, but having dressed that hope in a suit and tie.

***

“Basic stuff” includes basic stuff like handling the old Australian Rules football. Just like the JLT games (except this was an actual game that counts for stuff), really simply skill and decision errors started popping up immediately. Gilbert dropped an easy mark, St Kilda Football Club Captain Jarryn Geary made his contribution with a small, pokey kick out of defence to flat footed Jake Carlisle that was quickly turned over, Gresham and Newnes royally messed a clean break from defence along the wing, Marshall was outmsucled in a one-on-one with Bews, and Gresham kicked off the back of the centre square to an outnumbered Tom Hickey instead of lowering the eyes.

All this to go with 1.4 for the quarter, with all four misses coming from set shots that were hung out to the right. Never mind that Dan Menzel in the next quarter slotted one from the boundary line. Our set shot kicking coach is better known for being a CentreBet spruiker and one of the many hosts on one of the more confusing footy shows on TV, and right now any images of him at a St Kilda training session will be looked at similarly to any image of Nathan Carroll.

Back to Gresham’s kick – I’m picking him out because it was one of the early occurrences of what would define the day. Regardless of a player’s talent, skill or composure, there was incessant kicking long to an outnumbered player with little to no support on the ground, and no real sign that there was an order for anyone to be doing anything else. Let’s hope the kick was at least to the player’s advantage to begin with (it wasn’t). I don’t know how many times I’m going to say this during the year, but I don’t know what else to say – it was so comprehensive and broadbrushed. That’s what happened. It was talked about non-stop in the commentary box, as I said, Nicky Dal ran with it afterwards, and it was broadcast nationally and is all available in excellent quality, right now, digitally.

No half-time spray or measured talking to or shake of the head – whatever the hell went on in those 20 minutes – made any change. Once they came back out, Paddy had either caught the bug or decided to dish out what he’d been receiving, and bombed one deep into attack himself. Blacres joined the sad party and undid some neat work from Long (that one went straight back up the other end for a goal), and by the time Steele kicked to a one on three Roo gave up on the commentary box diplomacy and let out a heavy-hearted “it’s becoming ridiculous now”.

Paddy toiled admirably, which I think comes across as a bit of a patronising cliche to use, but following a week that he came under the most intense scrutiny of his career, competed repeatedly in a way that was hard to ignore in the circumstances. Tell me it’s his fault his career’s this way after watching any of the last three games. And then he gets his car stolen and house broken into that night? You’ve got to be shitting me.

***

Moments of class are perhaps being misread or overrated by Saints fans at the moment, but there were a few hints of above-average competence. Among it all Ben Long, on his way to playing the best game of his short career, cleverly soccered his way past a Geelong player wide on the forward flank, but Lonie couldn’t read the second deft kick inboard. Instead, he’d run on as if Long had already picked up the ball and started the action of handpassing over the top of the Geelong player.

In the few minutes late in the second half that we threatened to be vaguely competitive, Rowan Marshall was at his busiest rucking and actually looking threatening in the forward line, and as much as it said about him it said about the mystery en masse ebbs and flows the team experiences throughout the game. A strong mark on the 50 metre line, and flushed the set shot right through the middle. We didn’t actually know until after half time that the goal would just about be it for him, because the only impact Billings had for the day was on his face.

Dunstan again played like one of the few guys who visibly cared,. Carlisle is our best backman, possibly our best forward if we actually played him there when the game was still up for grabs, and possibly our best ruckman too, but the Hickey and Marshall pairing seemed to work a lot more effectively across the ground in the half that it was operating. Marshall again showed what a dynamic player in a Saints jumper can look like, and Blacres had moments but for fuck’s sake, is that what we’re back to looking for now? Really? It’s nice that Clark and Coffield – who genuinely have shown class and composure beyond most in their short time at the club – have had their contracts extended, but the club is hitting the Poster Boy button on the pairing a little too early.

Long was probably the only real news out of the game. The game had been over for some time when he read the ball skipping over a pack in the forward pocked, turned his opponent inside-out near the point post and snapped a goal over his shoulder, but he also worked hard up the ground in what showed one of the first real expansions on the creative moments that have carried his reputation into the AFL system.

Right now, there is nothing apparent in our game plan that allows for Billings to do what he does best, or Gresham, or even Acres, which is what made Long’s game so noticeable. Our sharpest and most damaging players have looked blunted since Good Friday afternoon. Roo derided the “metres gained” stat at least twice, specifically after separate Shane Savage long kicks to not much in particular. Premiums are too high for too little, but probably on parity with what the Saints have worked with for too long.

***

A flustered Roo spoke for almost all Saints fans watching the tripe (and anyone who’d given up their Sunday evening for it) when he was finally given licence to really snap late in the game, teeing off on Newnes who sliced one from outside 50 when Paddy was one-out in the goal square. It was a rare occasion where there was a player not just one-out, but one-out close to the actual posts. Garry Lyon pressed him over whether it was personnel or system and his breathless response was emphatic – it was the system; as they had all day from the opening bounce when there were extra numbers camped in defence, and time after time after time after time players would look to kick long to a one-on-two if basic skill errors hadn’t stopped progress up the ground already. Maybe our structures are that flawed

Where a comment like that, or putting blame the structures and systems becomes really  damning is that he had been there throughout Richo’s entire career to this point, and captain (officially and unofficially) during that time. He would have known every single move trying to pulled from the coaches box on the ground. Shortly afterwards, Geary kicked a short ball in the defensive 50 to Jordan Cunico, who went back and kicked a goal.

***

I’m in the very, very large camp-turned-metropolis that broadly dislikes Dwayne Russell as a football commentator (if he’s paired with someone for games he’s actually tempered and not too bad), but he wrote a suspiciously positive article about Saints fans for the Geelong Advertiser on Sunday. It closed with, “You might see a handful in Saints colours during the broadcast today. Don’t feel sorry for them. Salute them. As far as AFL fans go, these are the elite of the elite. The diamonds that can’t be crushed.”

Now, I’m not saying let’s go to the game this Saturday because it make us feel good about ourselves, and “Fortius Quo Fidelius” doesn’t mean “no matter what, this club is great”. This club is not successful on or off the field, not historically and certainly not now, and we might be seeing the 21st century equivalent of what those that endured the awful 1980s saw, and for fuck’s sake I’ll be sending another letter to the club if there’s music playing after the goals and ruining the moment again and The Fable Singers aren’t brought back because the club won’t shrug at anything the AFL tells them to do, even if it simply destroys the experience of being at the footy because someone who can afford to not worry about it gets the feedback on an easy-to-read one-pager later on, and they can use that for planning the night Grand Final. The club didn’t ask anyone about anything like that in the first place, and they certainly didn’t respond to the letter. I said last week that we as fans would be asking again “What do we get?” out of the relationship between this club and the supporters. Right now, I don’t know what realistically the best outcome of any of this is, or what that would actually look like on a day-to-day basis, but the longer it goes – whether it’s within a season or over years – I don’t know if I should bother waiting for a response.