Round 3, 2016
St Kilda 6.3, 9.6, 15.7, 18.11 (119)
Collingwood 4.3, 9.4, 10.6, 14.6 (90)
Crowd: 50,903 at the MCG, Saturday, April 9th at 1.45pm
Following last week’s conversion of the Concrete Dome to a rubbish tip who could guess that one of the club’s most stirring wins in recent history would follow just seven days later?
Collingwood certainly didn’t present the challenge that the Bulldogs did but coming off 5.6 and the Pies’ thrilling late, late show you would have thought a gulf built by momentum (or lack thereof) alone was enough between the two teams that Collingwood should be able to see us off.
Which would have been appropriate in a very St Kilda kind of way, with the “celebrations” around the 50th anniversary of the 1966 premiership underpinned by feelings of embarrassment in the form of no premierships since and the ghosts of coming sadly close not once, but twice just a few years ago – one of those against the day’s opposition.
Indeed, it felt more like the 6th anniversary of the 2010 Grand Final Draw and Replay, with someone amazing at AFL House deciding to plant public focus from firmly on the Grand Final Draw-into-Replay concept being canned during the week. With that in mind there was more acknowledgement of a Collingwood premiership at our expense rather than vice-versa.
The fact it was our home game Collingwood’s own ground made things feel as if we were even more in their domain. Dad, Matt and I were keen to capitalise on our MCC memberships but as Saints members were reminded via text on match morning we had access to the Hassett and Medallist bars (where Matt and Dad watched the final quarter of the Replay from) on level 2 to watch the game from if things went south, rather than going into the bowels of the MCC to the BullRing and watching the game on any of four small TVs, to which Rich suggested our 2016 membership slogan should have been Kramer’s immortal words, “now let’s push this giant ball of oil out the window”.
Like the Draw in 2010, we were sauntering around Swan Street pre-match, this time in search for brunch rather than a drink to settle uncontrollable pre-Grand Final nerves. The Cheeky Monkey came up trumps and Matt declared his favourite thing ever was that Nathan Freeman was playing in Sandy’s development team today. We didn’t have any it was going to be a really big day.
We talked about the gamut of ‘66 acknowledgement in the lead-up to gameday – despite the genius at AFL house getting excited about Grand Final extra time specifically this week – with The Final Story and YouTube hero mashfan72’s “Last 4 Minutes” idea utilised on the League’s site. But it was the special edition of Open Mike we were keenest to dissect. We all agreed it was good, but it’s testament to the shithouseness of the club that if you gave the job to me I could have returned a documentary several hours long including details of 1991/92, more on 1998, and covering the underrated, amazing three-year storm that was 2004/05/06 in depth as well. It served to perhaps get a few more different viewpoints but other than that and the massive scar running the length of Jamie Shanahan’s face it was mostly going over old ground.
The players came out and lined the race towards the banner with the usual flag-waving kids and they became simply one of them – bystanders watching the heroes of the club that saluted, led by Cowboy and Barry Breen, bring out the 1966 Cup and break through the St Kilda banner with the team once more. The mythology of that 1966 team was reinforced when My Favourite Hair in the AFL, with a tinge of sadness and regret on the part of supporters, came over to the leading duo to shake their hands as his superiors. As I said, and as almost every St Kilda supporter would say, it was Riewoldt who should have been the one to lead the club to its second premiership and find himself on the same pantheon as Cowboy, Breen, Doc, et. al. But here he was as simply another representative of a transitioning St Kilda team reaching for that next flag some time in the future.
Parallels between Saturday and 2010 Draw ended within the game’s opening seconds when Collingwood ominously kicked a very quick goal. By quarter’s end the game has turned into a free-flowing replica of the Round 1 game against Port and we’d topped our 5.6 last week with 6.3 by the first change.
Once we got past the first several minutes that echoed the previous week’s – the opposition with more and cleaner possession, and us struggling to find our bearings with or without the footy – we were much cleaner and more purposeful with the ball, and for the first time in a long time we looked more comfortable specifically in the expanses of the MCG than anywhere else.
The pressure was up around the ground, so that basic element was covered off, but the willingness to take the game on led to more than enough space and goal scoring opportunities created in dangerous areas. Sinclair’s mark, play-on and long ball to Paddy in the goal square a good indication of where footy is at in 2016.
Sinclair gave another off, to Lonie whilst Paddy was on the fence chewing the fat with the cheer squad, and is a good barometer for our forward pressure being up and about. Lonie was quite wasteful throughout the day and there’s a big difference on how your performance is viewed when you kick 1.3 from gettable shots as opposed to 3.1. Fortunately Lonie had plenty of help with the expanded mosquito fleet featuring Sinclair, Billings and Minchington and Savage too later in the game. Throw in Weller too, but that’s a pretty ripped mosquito.
They needed to step up, too, because two thirds of our forward line anchors were concussed by half-time. Roo was looking really smooth running up and down the ground and after 300 games of drop punts decided that it was time to go around the corner for shots from the pocket. His hit looked bad when it happened – any hit on a lowered head does – and from our distant vantage point I think we’d all feel more comfortable if he did miss a week. That’s despite him being cleared by the club doctors in accordance with the concussion test in place by the AFL, but they decided that there were other signs from his reaction that he shouldn’t go back out.
Paddy’s was a different story, lauded for essentially what was a self-inflicted wound taking a nearly career-defining (at this point) pack mark at full speed and height. It was a shame because his first half was featured some of his best work to date, having kicked 1.2 and putting himself in the right places at the right time. He could easily have kicked three goals by the time he went off.
He and many others seemed to be much better for the run or another game under the belt and had this situation been in place a week earlier the team might have out of steam in a big way, much like the Round 1 faltering.
But there some things that were simply a step up from the week before regardless. It was the desperation in close that allowed for so many breaks – Newnes’ lunge and smack away in the middle of the ground in the third quarter led to Weller’s third goal; Armitage’s own stretching dive tight on the boundary to outbody Crisp and keep the ball in as the clock ticked down in the final term led to the sealer in Steven’s third goal of his own.
There seemed to be people who thought the effort overall last week was pathetic, and others that simply thought the Bulldogs were simply too slick and anyone poo-pooing our effort was being too harsh. As always with these kinds of things the truth was probably somewhere between the two, but I could never say our endeavour in the contest was anywhere near the same.
Likewise the follow-up work of players to provide simply provide options – Gilbert’s second goal came from him initially making a contest against two Collingwood defenders and working forward to follow Dunstan and then Bruce’s hands; Billings was a part of the chain in the last quarter at half-back that led to his own vital goal 45 metres out 30 seconds later (or what would for him have felt like 30 minutes of standing by himself in a goalscoring position waiting for someone to notice him).
Given the workrate was high, the MCG’s width offered extra reward for the hard work with the ability for Billings, Ross, Newnes, Montagna, Savage, Dunstan, Webster and others that little extra time and space to ensure possession was more precise than it was last week. It gave the players confidence to move the ball quickly once the turnover was completed or a path cleared.
Indeed, all of those players got career-high or close-to possession counts, and Dunstan played probably his best game (or at least quarter in the third term). When you’re a Luke Dunstan and still a pre-season or two away from the desired tank and/or Mav arms, knowing where to be in the play is critical to being effective and he was in all the right places moving through traffic, with his positioning up forward and quick thinking in the chain that led to Gilbert’s second goal critical.
Ross is in a similar situation for the time being but is deceptively tall for his build and his poor, perennially-slightly-overgrown haircut also makes him look smaller (and doesn’t do him any favours aesthetically). But another pre-season seems to have simultaneously improved his tank and bulked him up, and he’s moving through traffic a lot more smoothly and finding himself with more time and space. Fortunately his disposal has improved as well, which tempers my constant questioning on here of what a good game from him actually looks like and if that game is actually effective. All of a sudden he’s finding the ball and using distributing out of tight spots well and consistently.
We inched ever closer on Saturday to Jack Newnes being appointed the 2018-2022 Premiership Captain, in what was definitely his most effective game to date. He’s in that 50-plus games territory in which commentators like to say players will take their initial real leaps as players and he’s using the ball smartly in different situations, as well as keeping a tough edge and willing to take on any physical contact.
Realistically he played second rung to Joey throughout the day however, with Jimmy Webster as the extra support, which was more of a reflection on busy Joey was. People talk up the defensive “generals” and usually they’re the bigger guys – in our case Fisher and Dempster – but Joey was the one directing traffic off half-back with Newnes his deputy and Webster as the above-average-ability work experience kid.
I’d say Joey has almost turned into this team’s own version of Aussie Jones, but we probably have two now counting Sav as well Sav and Webster play slightly different roles off half-back and their ceilings for disposal effectiveness are probably measured a little differently, too. Sav is about running with the ball and distance on the kick, whereas Webster has more of an element of precision to his game. But when both are frequently involved in the play, once you add that to Joey and Newnes doing what they do the back half looks a lot more creative.
That’s not to say the bugger guys Fisher and Dempster weren’t pivotal. Their presence in the air as the Pies tried getting things going with quick balls into their forward 50 in the second half was the best it’s been for a long time, and in the first 15 or 20 minutes or so of the last term, as the nearly 51,000 expected the Saints to tire and Lonie, Bruce and Armitage frittered away easy chances to seal the game, that presence was something we couldn’t take for granted in the way we might have – Fisher’s particularly – in recent times.
I’m not sure where Hugh Goddard is at, but with Blake Acres making another strong case for a recall and Nathan Freeman dominating the development side match in his comeback in a rare type of performance the focus on who’s next in line are elsewhere and I think we can wait another week without Hugh and, for that matter, Jake Carlisle. I can’t promise I won’t be filthy on anyone and everyone next week after we’ve been rolled by 12 goals though.
As for team balance, the side actually operated quite well without both of Paddy and Roo in the second half. Hickey started to present more in the front half and showed his intelligence with his perfectly-weighted kick to the goalsquare for Josh Bruce to take the spoils of. Sav managed to get himself involved in the latter part of the game up forward (fortunately we didn’t have to rely on his goalkicking in a tight finish; see Round 21 last year), involved in our last goal to Sinclair, who did some really good things all around the ground. I mentioned his part in setting up Paddy in the first quarter but his 40-metre pass tight on the boundary line in the third quarter from back of centre was an underrated highlight of his game.
The inclusion Minch wasn’t overly busy but his game certainly had highlights of his own. His exhilarating takeaway out of the middle and hitting up of Mav for the latter’s third, and his quick hands out of congestion to Steven for the aforementioned sealing goal showed off both parts to his fast, attacking game and he certainly earned another chance after backing up his ridiculously strong numbers in the VFL practice matches.
Mav himself continues to show how far he’s come since he was the first ever pick for the Gold Coast – a novelty of the game in its history and in name, but when his game clicks he’s a tough, uncompromising midfielder that knows how to kick goals from different parts of the ground and via different avenues.
I questioned Gilbert’s worth to the side through the week when Blake Acres is playing for the Zebras but he was genuinely good and displayed why he’s physically such an attribute to the team – he effectively played tall and small in the same passage of play for his second goal, and gave Steven and Armitage a chop out physically in the stoppages.
It had been a long time since we rode the sustained wave of momentum throughout a second half. Not one of domination of a depleted side, or a kamikaze comeback, but one in which you pull away from the opposition with an air of responsibility and dependability. For the first time we were putting genuine confidence in Seb Ross to break out of traffic and get the ball out, or for Jack Billings to push up the ground and find a teammate with a pinpoint pass off either boot – and not to mention stand up when the game’s narrative needed a defining juncture. For Jack Newnes to know exactly what the game needed when the ball was in his hands, or for Josh Bruce to force a contest in the forward half and know that he’ll follow it up immediately.
On the day we acknowledged the heroes of what is still the solitary premiership in this club’s 143-year history, what better way to honour them than a demonstration of utmost respect for the journey the club is currently on and what it is trying to achieve. For now, that’s the most we can hope for. The days when you get it – especially on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the MCG – are what make it possible to get through this part of the journey.
RWB 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 3
Leigh Montagna – 3
Jack Billings – 2
Jack Newnes – 2
Jack Steven – 2
Mav Weller – 1
Jack Steven – 7
Leigh Montagna – 5
Tom Hickey – 4
Jack Newnes – 4
Nick Riewoldt – 4
Jack Billings – 2
David Armitage – 1
Josh Bruce – 1
Sam Gilbert – 1
Mav Weller – 1