Did it before and we’ll do it again

Round 13, 2015
St Kilda 1.5, 3.7, 5.9, 7.14 (56)
Western Bulldogs 1.3, 3.4, 7.7, 9.8 (62)
Crowd: 26,511 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, June 28th at 7.20pm

Sometimes you go to a game of footy and it becomes apparent a basic agreement must exist between the two teams – let’s just do a whole bunch of stuff and get this one out of the way ASAP. Or maybe not. But maybe? I don’t know.

Obviously that’s the viewpoint from the comfort of the Corporate Stadium stands, and one that belies all the planning that goes into a game of AFL footy. But tell me, what else we would have ended up with otherwise? We didn’t get a really good game of footy, we didn’t get any real highlights, and we definitely didn’t get the win.

In recent years we’ve been building to a point in which for the first time ever the supporter can’t know what’s really happening on the ground. It’s been a topic of some discussion in some media this year, but this was the kind of game that really drives it home. Of course you can still pick up the fundamentals, but you won’t get told that this game was by design, even though we’ll have Richo talking up how we won the tackle count 68-54, the inside-50 count 56-44 and had 21 scoring shots to 17, and how most things went to plan overall, and Sean Dempster can talk about how proud they were about the effort. Somehow the old trick of kicking the Australian Rules football undid us.

Whether it was Gilbert out of the defensive goalsquare or Lonie in our own, we both cost ourselves in defence and in attack throughout a match in which goalscoring opportunities simply needed to be made the most of if one team was going to win this.

There were a couple of strange echos of the 2009 Preliminary Final and subsequent Grand Final in the way this game played out and the scoreline. The final score was an echo of the 2009 Preliminary Final reversed – our 9.6 (60) to the Bulldogs’ 7.11 (53) of that remarkable night became 9.8 (62) to 7.14 (56) last night. As for the 2009 Grand Final, just add to two goals straight to each of last night’s totals and you have the score when the siren sounded with the ball in Max Rooke’s hands.

The difference was between last night and those games that I still regard that Preliminary Final as the most intense game of footy I’ve witnessed…until the game the following week. And whilst there was a reasonable amount of pressure around the ball and ball carrier last night, the 68 tackles we laid were nothing on the 118 we laid in that Grand Final, nor even the 99 a fortnight ago. There was a substantial amount of unforced errors – mostly by us – rather than two teams making it incredibly difficult for the other due to manic and purposeful pressure. And this isn’t to take anything away from the Dogs. Whilst we’re both a long way off the summit, they’re further developed than we are and a decent team will win these types of games.

Given the stage of development we’ve been in since the beginning of last year, the darkest days of these darker periods are when we’ve left the game wondering what all this is for. None of the young guys had a big day or gave us anything huge to look forward to. The difference is now we have several guys who have have had more game time and shown more than enough to have us reasonably excited about their future at the club. We don’t know that all of this will work until it works, really, but right now we’ve banked enough to feel simply flat more than anything else when a game like last night eventuates. No Billings or Sinclair, Lonie was good but has the Schneiders about him still around goal, Membrey really presented well in just his ninth game without really hitting the scoreboard or holding on to that many, Seb Ross racked up 11 touches in one quarter. When most people would agree that your best were the senior guys in Joey, My Favourite Hair in the AFL and Dempster with Armo and Steven in tow then you know you’ve had a night that will probably be forgotten by us all if we ever reach anywhere near the summit over the next few years.

The closest we got us Bruce kicking three and whilst it’s not a huge bag, it’s three straight out of 7.14 – leaving 4.14 kicked by the rest of the team – and if the delivery forward was executed more professionally or tactfully then that’s a whole lot more opportunity for him and Roo to have shots on goal from dangerous positions.

It’s perhaps worth tying that in with no Billings and Sinclair factor when it comes to discussion about how the forward line has functioned in their absence in the last fortnight. I tried with all the power of my amateurish insight into what it was in the Melbourne game and the way that the Demons set up that left Roo and Bruce with such little space to lead to, and that replayed itself in a big way last night. That Bruce could finish with those three goals and Roo could work himself into an almost match-winning performance – the passage of exchanges with Bruce over nearly the length of the ground late in the game that led to Bruce’s third a rare highlight on the night – said a lot about work ethics of the two. And they really were needed, otherwise we didn’t look like finishing with any more than five goals. The point ultimately being is it took a massive work rate from both to create some sort of tall target opportunities, but again what was by design, and what was because of the way the Dees and the Dogs set up? Obviously the woeful entries forward (and actual shots at goal) were not, and I get the feeling this might have stunted a lot of the more likely forward thrusts. The problem going forward was that countless times it was a ball far too high landing on the top of Riewoldt, Membrey or Bruce in a one-on-one or even when they were outnumbered, giving them no chance to work to space to the advantage of the drop of the ball which last night clearly wasn’t a concept that crossed the mind of most. It also allowed Easton Wood to clean up at will, and show off just how much he’s improved with some really tough intercept marks in big moments. Robert Murphy was curiously allowed far too much space out of defence throughout, and that’s even on a night in which he probably wasn’t as damaging as usual.

So where do Billings and Sinclair come in? Billings brings class that very few of our players either have naturally or, as far as the other younger guys go, have yet to develop. He’s also a great user of space, knows where to lead and had the ability to take strong marks. The fact he plays a little higher up in the forward line creates movement in attacks which we simply don’t have at the moment, and has forced the ball user kicking inside 50 to go to options that are far too stationary or just shank the kick anyway.

Sinclair looked a class above and then some in his performance for Sandy today as he belatedly began his rookie-listed status, but who knows? Maybe another mystery housekeeping injury might sideline someone for long enough to allow him back in this year, or Curren might have just gone and done it the traditional way this afternoon. But had Sinclair been there last night, with Billings in there as well, it’s a lot more help for Lonie when the ball hits the deck and the ball was hitting the deck a lot. Interestingly, the best piece of roving last night was Bruce off his spilled marking contest in the third quarter. Lonie could have made things very different but from the goal square managed to find the post instead of the large space between the two big ones. It would have brought us to within a kick and cranked up the momentum even further. As I said, Lonie’s taken several leaves from Schneider’s inaccuracy book, which is vaguely appropriate given Schneider’s mentoring role for him. Mini Schneider’s kicked 9.9 in his first 10 games, which is OK given at the core he’s a small forward but also not that great given that he’s a small forward. A lot of those shots have been quite gettable, so it’s been his pressure, poise and disposal higher up the ground that have punctuated his genuinely valuable contribution to the side to date as an 18 year-old.

Schneider himself was guilty of a couple of basic errors, but his return of 0.2 is the kind of think that will contribute to his legacy at the Saints being one of waste. The Essendon misses brought back his 2009 Grand Final howlers, with the clincher this time being that he’s actually there to finish those opportunities and show guys like Lonie, Sinclair, Minchington et al how to finish when the pressure is on. That’s why he’s on the list at all, and that’s why he was elevated ahead of Sinclair. Perversely, had he finished those opportunities this year alone we’d be saying he’s having close to a career-best season. But poor kicking is poor footy; it was true on Grand Final Day in 2009 and it remained so last night. More perversely, he’ll retire with the comfort of being a premiership player for Sydney in 2005, having gone bananas (and kicked straight) against us when it counted in the Preliminary Final.

Gilbert has found himself in Schneider territory for similar reasons. Yes, he has capable hands defensively, has missed a lot of footy and incredibly is only 28 years old. Like Schneider, however, he’s supposed to be the senior guy that shores things up, gets into the right spots and with his style of play run out of defence and set up a rebound or several. He tried those things but ended up kicking directly to the opposition and getting caught holding the ball, gifting the opposition goals on a night when the Bulldogs managed only nine in total. Stringer didn’t kick any, Delaney hadn’t done any washing so was available to keep Boyd to just one goal, Dickson only kicked one and Dahlhaus none.

Worth also mentioning that yet again we ran a close game out but were seriously hampered by inaccuracy. To be more a little contemporary with the historical analogies, the game closely paralleled the GWS tussle in Round 1, with us unable to find goals despite having an overwhelming amount of the play in the last quarter, and throw the Essendon game in there for the glaring misses at goal by a certain senior player starting with “A” and ending the “dam Schneider”. Including last night, in the last quarters of the respective three matches we’ve kicked 4.7, 1.4 and 2.5, which is a total of 7.16 in games three games we’ve lost by nine points or less, whilst the opposition has kicked 7.8. The same would be said of the Melbourne escape if we didn’t fall over the line in the last 19 seconds – we kicked 1.4 in the last term after having a monopoly on possession and territory for the nearly the entirety of the last quarter.

For some reason, let’s now talk about Billy Longer (I couldn’t think of a decent segue). The hit-outs finished pretty evenly, but I feel like he vaguely got to a few more contests and pulled in a decent grab or two – one late on the wing which exactly mirrored that of the one he took late in Round 6, but with the scores essentially reversed. I still don’t think there’s a enough evidence to see outright he’s better than Hickey or will be better than Hickey in the long run, particularly given Hickey was played as a forward. It allowed him to demonstrate just how mobile he is and particularly how good he is down low and at providing a presence immediately after a marking contest. Billy’s tapwork is superior for the time being, notwithstanding him inexplicably unable to make it to a centre bounce at one point.

Interestingly the St Kilda Facebook account hinted very strongly at something to do with “good news” about Jason Holmes to be announced soon, and I’m assuming it’s either a contract extension or perhaps an elevation onto the senior list at the end of the year. More interestingly it arose from the Club’s wonderful post celebrating the USA Supreme Court’s decision to legalise gay marriage in all 50 states. Footy is typically separate in my life from anything outside of my family – very, very few of the people I know and hang around with (barring, Richie and Lewis and a couple of others I’ve mentioned) are genuinely interested in the game – mostly because the things I’m involved with outside of the game are at odds with what you would typically experience within the culture of a footy club. That the Club did that was really incredible, given the overriding culture of the game has been dominated by masculine ideals and intimidation towards anything challenging those. Whilst last night’s on-field performance gave us little to take home, our club took a massive step that day of the type that no other has taken. Football clubs join people together because we are all chasing the same quantifiable achievement – to be in front on the scoreboard when the final siren sounds on Grand Final Day. Too often the idea that clubs bring people and communities together is mistaken for clubs bringing a very specific section of communities together. As a result of historical ties to particular regions, and by proxy class, a particular socio-political discourse is something that adds another thread through supporter bases above the aforementioned default culture, and those haven’t served to bring AFL clubs very far forward just yet. That the Saints have made the decision to openly support what’s happened in the US, given what the Club actually is, is bold and risks alienating some fans, but this is the kind of attitude that is necessary to move the Club and ourselves forward.

Just: Well, someone had to win it

Round 10, 2015
ST KILDA         3.5  9.6  11.9  12.13  (85)
MELBOURNE    3.4  8.6  11.9  12.11  (83)
Official crowd: 25,187 at Etihad Stadium

Last year in Round 1 we saw two over-enthused, young sides looking to draw first blood at Etihad to kick off their campaigns. Both sides were full of effort, though well short on method. Here at Red, White and Black we were fist-pumping our arms off at Luke Dunstan’s debut – he earned the Rising Star nomination too. But it was St Kilda’s trusty captain that was the difference between the two sides on the day.

Sunday afternoon/evening Saint Nick put in another stellar performance – many deemed him the best on the ground (10 marks, four goals) – and though the Saints snuck in for the victory with Joey’s last gasp goal, it was felt like a changing of the guard somewhat. Jesse Hogan played in only his 10th game for the Dees, but already he’s threatening to be a match-winning type of player, and if Sunday’s 5 goal haul is anything to go by he could well be the next generation’s Riewoldt.

That’s not to say that he’ll blubber when injured, or underwhelm on the final day in September, or contract a sever case of the goal-kicking yips – it’s just that he may be very, very good for a very long time.

And it was that guy Jesse who kicked off proceedings with the game’s first major, after being setup by a spearing pass from Nathan Jones. He didn’t have to wait long for his second – from another Jones bullet – again on the lead and again he proved too explosive for Luke Delaney. Delaney didn’t sign up for this stuff; he signed up for 90s footy like Kosi, and a tiny part of him must’ve felt relieved to have been subbed-out in the third term before he could witness Jesse completely pantsing him.

Sadly, for Dees fans, Jesse’s artful performance fell short of perfection in the last term when he left his set shot short with the teams deep into an arm-wrestle. Like my RWB co-writer @Tom_Briglia said after the game, it felt like watching two teams who didn’t know how to win. The final term saw just two goals, both of which came in the final 45 seconds. This was after the Saints squandered a litany of chances in front of goal – they kicked 1.4 for the term, but it felt so much more wasteful given how many times the Saints had it in the vicinity of goal. I’m still not quite sure how Jack Steven’s left-footed kick squeezed it’s way through to the goal square for an onrushing Montagna to swoop onto for the game winner.

That is the point I suppose: these two sides – Melbourne a lot more so in recent years – have found ways to lose games when there have seemingly been none.

But on this occasion the Saints stalwarts mustered enough class to carry their underlings over the line. Just in time.

At one point during the middle stages of the contest my Dad commented that the Dees were probably a couple of years ahead of the Saints development-wise. On reflection that’s quite arguable. As much as the Saints might have had a more consistent year, they do rely on their elder statesmen to have great games more than the Dees. Yes, the Saints still have McCartin and Goddard waiting in the wings, but Paul Roos already has Hogan and McDonald at either ends playing great football. It’s a massive building block for the future of Melbourne; Hogan’s career has only just reached double figures games wise and McDonald – though he feels almost like a household name – is still only 22 years young. Moreover, whilst Bernie Vince was probably my BOG for his 38 touches whilst blanketing David Armitage, it was Jack Viney who was the firestarter for the Dees in the second and third terms.

Armitage wasn’t alone in having his colours lowered for the day, as Jack Steven too was subdued (mostly thanks to Viney). They had 20 and 21 disposals respectively, which is weak sauce relative to what we have come to expect from them over the first 9 games. In fact, aside from Steven and Armo, the team only had one other player to amass 20 or more disposals – Montagna. Joey’s 28 caps off a white-hot month from him: he has average over 29 touches, which started with a vintage, running performance against the Eagles. Now that Armitage and Steven are getting more and more attention, it seems Joey is stepping up to the plate. This is on top of the fact that he clearly seems reinvigorated this season in general, presumably because of how competitive the side has managed to be so far.

Granted, by games end, Armitage and Steven managed to have tangible impacts on the final outcome. Steven produced a few game-breaking pieces of play – firstly, his dash from the center square and goal from 50m on the run to halt Melbourne’s momentum late in the third quarter. Obviously, he again broke from the center to setup the game winning goal in the dying half a minute. Armitage too battled away, and though a lot of his possessions came around half-back, he won a critical hard ball get on the half back flank with Melbourne making one final charge forward before the siren. The Club has been egging them on as much as possible to be leaders in the last two years, and their performance definitely showed that aspect of their character.

*****

Aside from the vitriolic comments regarding Acres being cast as the specialist sub, the Saints faithful seems the happiest it’s been in several years. Members scarves are being worn to Etihad with a lot more pride these days and duly, the side is giving them a lot of bang for their buck.

Of course, there were a lot of things wrong with yesterday’s performance but it doesn’t feel like the right time to zoom into them right now. What was particularly satisfying in some ways was getting a W that had no asterisk or bizarro element to it. There was no career haul from Josh Bruce; we weren’t playing against Fremantle’s development team; we didn’t play an absurdly good 30-40 minutes to storm over sneak up on anyone. We just got it done. Persistence paved the way to the four points in the end. Somehow.

And they are the types of wins that the supporters just simply took for granted through the Ross Lyon era; when winning was merely a habit. And what a habit that is to instill into a young playing group – there’s nothing like wins to reinforce the good parts of your play and build confidence.

Of course, there will be a time – on this site at least – to dig into Longer’s terrible attempts at marking, Shenton’s butchering of the ball, Gilbert’s return and Acres’ anxiety. But on Sunday we banked four points, and sometimes that’s just enough. Sometimes winning ugly has it’s own charm.

And we’ll just take what we can get.

 

 

Saints 85 Demons 83

Such a satisfying win and, absurdly, the Saints are now 4-6  heading into their BYE.

If there’s one word to describe the win it is: gutsy. The game was fairly scrappy through an arm-wrestle of a final quarter, and the Saints lacked a lot of method, but just when you thought the Dees had pinched it BANG.

The match report will be up tomorrow night.

The reigning premiers played against the reigning wooden spooners. What happened next was pedestrian and expected.

Round 10, 2015
St Kilda 2.3, 3.5, 7.8, 10.9 (69)
Hawthorn 4.5, 8.10, 14.11, 20.12 (132)
Crowd: 33,886 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, June 7th at 4.40pm

alanrichardson_2015r10

I’m not sure what kind of state Sports Delivered is in right now. I’ve whinged about them before, still scarred by the fact they inexplicably didn’t make a 2005 Season Highlights DVD for the preliminary finalists as a once off, and then in 2009 conveniently decided to end them altogether outside of the premiers, leaving only Saints members with shorter than usual DVDs for the years in which saw sadly perhaps the defining seasons for some Saints fans and formative seasons for a whole new generation.

Sports Delivered have mostly traded on the Name-A-Game offering, a necessity of a bygone era in which individual games were purchased on VHS and then DVD at bemusingly inflated prices (and with a considerable lack of pre- and post- match coverage). All games should certainly be kept on record – that’s no secret – but I’m not sure about flogging some of the more pedestrian encounters. I always favoured the Seasons Highlights DVDs though; every season is a story and these documented from beginning to end the best and worst of a journey which meant a whole lot to supporters, whatever the outcome may have been. Sports Delivered decided that offering every single individual game was somehow more worthy. 

Sunday barely came close to passing the Name-A-Game test, and sub-editors in charge of shamelessly clickbaiting headlines on anything from Buzzfeed to The Age would face a near impossible task teasing you with this one. The Name-A-Game test is applicable here in the sense that they are supposedly there for posterity; when reflecting what we possibly might have learnt or the magnitude of what we witnessed. What is the historical value of this game? What did we see in terms of development? Certainly no real stellar moments, Acres’ mark and decision to run off his man late in the game aside. You can watch some passages or performances that place them on a few guys’ development curves (Billings, Ross, Webster), otherwise it’s a lot of them playing in far too much awe of the Hawks and being worried out of moving it forward too quickly. Or if we did manage to get it forward, a bunch of Sherrins bombed on top of or not near enough My 1st and 2nd Favourite Hair in the AFL respectively. And as far as the first 90% of the first half went, that was just the Saints.

Shane Crawford apparently writes an opinion piece in the Herald Sun, which I genuinely didn’t know until his article yesterday bobbed up on my Twitter feed, with “Why Saints can win flag in 3 years” as headline and a 2010 shot of Riewoldt in the white collar and cuffs far more reasonably holding that year’s yet-to-be awarded premiership cup. It wouldn’t quite have the same effect if he was holding this year’s, or even 2018’s because it hasn’t been made yet. In fact, there’s only one ever made in which it would really make total sense for any St Kilda person to be holding. For now we have to run with photos that are a half-decade old and simply sad to look at. 

Though it was a home game yesterday Matt and I found yet another way this year of sitting somewhere other than our members seats. We ended up on the top deck with Rich, dear cousin Evan, another good friend of mine/Hawthorn supporter (also Tom), Matt’s friend Angie and very special guest James, Evan’s younger brother. I’m making note of this because St Kilda-Hawthorn games happen to mark particular occasions in our wider family – Dad took me to my first game in round 1, 1994, and it was a Friday night game in round 21 two years ago that was the last we went to together before he and mum left for the UK. Evan’s first game was Round 9, 2003 (a rare home game at the MCG and Allan Murray kicked four in his first game for us). All were St Kilda-Hawthorn games. I took James to his first game before he’d turned eight in Round 3, 2009 in which we belted the Eagles, and he’d been to Round 16 of 2010 against Collingwood and that year’s Preliminary Final against the Bulldogs. Nothing in the five years since though despite our best efforts, but sitting next to him before the game started he said, “I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve been here. It’s so good to be here.” He was already talking up next Sunday immediately after the game despite the handsome belting, so it looks like a St Kilda-Hawthorn game has again provided the landmark occasion for another poor young soul being roped into a lifetime of disappointment and heartbreak.

Hawthorn had managed to go W-L this entire season, and who better to give you the opportunity to right your season than ours truly? A rare appearance from 2011 1st Preliminary Final anti-hero Luke Schoenmakers made things all the more ominous following his four goals on return last year against us (and just further demonstrate how comprehensive that loss was, take those away and we still lose by 121 points). After playing Round 23, 2013 anti-hero Ryan Lester into his best form last week, Schoey was the prime candidate for this week’s armchair treatment for a middling player from the St Kilda Football Club.

Obviously they’re coming from a different outcome over the past few/54 years, but it really feels like the Hawks are doing their version of what we experienced in 2010 – just keep teams at arm’s length throughout the season, because it’s all about getting to the last Saturday. Given the close losses to the Bombers and GWS in there, you’d think Clarko might have watched Bomber’s Open Mike interview and paid particular attention to what he said about the 2008 season, namely that they were that good they didn’t know what to do when Hawthorn challenged them on Grand Final Day, and should have engineered some closer results to test themselves against throughout the year. Watching their opening half – or at least until they broke the game open with three quick goals late – you would have thought that was the case. How many times as Roughy miskicked so wildly? Their kicking for goal had them at 5.10 at one stage, before they decided we weren’t coming along for their ride and represented the same opportunity for a percentage boost rather than competitive hit-out that Melbourne did a few weeks ago.

The early piece of play that saw some precise kicks hit up Bruce for a strong mark and the opening goal was probably the cleanest we’d look all day. Soon after Schneider backed up his kick into the man on the mark out of defence with a handball along the ground to Riewoldt on the rebound, there was Armo’s clown miss from 15 metres out from goal on his own, and Hickey fluffed a couple on the lead. For all of the always-reliable Roughy, Mitchell, Burgoyne and Smith all getting themselves in on the faux-Hawthorn faffin’, the charade was punctuated by moments of real class that really demonstrated the gulf that still clearly exists between the two sides, Crawf talking up a St Kilda premiership in the coming years or not. These were four quality goals by four different players; Jack Gunston showing his versatility and running onto a loose ball for the Hawk’s first first, Billy Hartung – who for what it’s worth many had going to us with either of the picks we used on Dunstan and Acres – wheeling around from nearly 40 out on an angle, Cyril in the second quarter taking the ball and running across goal before the snap as the Hawks looked to create a gap and then Taylor Duryea well and truly made it real from outside 50 late in the term.

Things reached the bottom of the crater made by the AFL’s meteor of novelty when Ahmed Saad got falconed mid-big screen interview at half-time by one of the inflatable beach balls that the crowd was smacking around, at the same time All-American superstar Jason Holmes was handing out Susan Day cakes. The new sponsor probably couldn’t believe their luck that someone in the PR department decided that Rita (Happy 100th Birthday Rita!) was keener on attending the match than training on the day of Richo and Jack Steven’s presser, and their “100th” cake found its way in front of the media with Josh Bruce and Dylan Roberton shyly presenting it.

Having to explain the nondescript versions of the Saints song by Ben Salter (played accidentally before the game after already being used several weeks ago?) and Dan Sultan (shown at half-time because they showed Ben Salter before the match?) was in itself exhausting. Almost as much as the ground presenter interviewing Richo before the game talked up some guy called “Josh Smith”. Marchetti was there with his beanie on and he seems to pretty popular at the moment. He’s done the post-match interviews on occasion (Holmesby, Luke was back behind the mic on Sunday), although after a loss it’s hard to take him seriously because of how affable and energetic he is, and he’s still wearing the beanie.

More symbolic shenanigans included Geary being interviewed by Marchetti as the players walked off at half-time and then Armo after the game by Cam Mooney for Fox Footy. What I liked about AFL was that, as opposed to Super 15s and the A-League, et al the losers weren’t interviewed after the game (or during it). I thought it was an element that represented something stoic that we believed about this game; that they cared enough about what they were doing and the club that they played for that they wouldn’t want to do a shitty media interview afterwards. They’re not just guys that go from city to city playing for a new club and perhaps in a new league every couple of years. Maybe not.

The result had been well and truly taken care of by the time Roo took on three guys in the square, almost completed the mark and then reacted quickest to get to the ball of the contest and snap a goal over his own shoulder from his left boot. Joey’s goal was both quality and laughable, but the AFL’s Facebook account was interestingly a lot more pointed in telling everyone their thoughts on it as opposed to, say, the rule enforcement merits involved in either of (this part’s important) Collingwood’s Jamie Elliott’s mark or goal earlier in the year.

One of the more frustrating elements on Sunday was seeing Josh Bruce work hard for nearly fark all return from teammates further up the ground that were apparently kicking it to him. That he finished with 15 touches, eight marks and 2.2 said far more about how hard he works than good movement of the footy. Yes, we were much slower than we have been for most of this year but there were a number of times when Bruce was one-out or in some space as we went forward and kick simply didn’t favour him, usually ending up coming straight down onto his opponent or what needlessly was a body-on-body one-on-one contest. And when the latter happened guys like Lonie and Schneider just weren’t around enough. Sinclair again showed how well he’s settled into the AFL standard, kicking two goals but having more of a presence away from goal also.

Lonie showed glimpses with slick disposal here and there, but I thought his kick which ended up as Joey’s “goal” summed up his and the team’s night. Had a crack sort of, didn’t come off definitely. From being 5.10 in the second term, Hawthorn kicked a ridiculously efficient 15.2 and that 5.10 could easily have been 10.5 given the ease of scoring shots by their standards. For all of the relatively positive air around us even after this one, it probably should have been a lot, lot worse.

One interesting little tidbit to come out of the game was Savage being played as a forward once he came on as the sub. He finished his previous game in a similar spot and in the limited time finished with two goals and 11 touched, although most of those were handballs and his kicking is the key aspect of his game. I don’t think it’s something that should be stuck to, because he can kick those longer goals when he’s in decent form anyway. On a day when Newnes is again a little quieter than you’d expect him to be, it would helped to have his drive off half-back.

Speaking of which, there seems to be a bit of a selection showdown looming around there. Sav as the sub won’t happen next week, and with Weller and Dunstan sure to come straight back in do you keep all of Ray, Shenton, Acres and Ross? Ray would be very unlucky to go out after 24 touches but is he quick enough and creative enough? A lot of people (myself included) had used him as the best St Kilda reference point for D-Mac’s type of game after last year’s draft, and with guys like him and Acres proving they can show something at AFL so early in their careers – not to mention Gilbert coming back at some point – then another selection bottleneck with senior guys pitted against youth featuring is looming. Shenton out is obvious one and Schneider’s clangers only dented the fans’ goodwill for him that will be called upon when he is taken back to the rookie list over the next week or so.

Acres again just hummed away doing his thing on Sunday, and he continues to remind me of a Goddard (B.) type, and not just in playing style. BJ was our whipping boy in 04/05, the number one draft pick who, unlike Roo, Ball, Dal etc. just didn’t seem to have the same immediate impact and with a premiership within touching distance the expectation was high. But Blacres has a good size, good kick and some speed about him and he’s already showing that he knows how to use them all together.

Speaking of humming away, Billings collected another 21 touches and Webster perhaps the lowest fanfare 27 touches I’ve ever seen a young player get. The clincher of this is that both are in our best handful of kicks – Webster’s howler of a kick-out notwithstanding – and both play in different parts of the field, which is a key element you want to build an entire team around.

As for Seb Ross, you probably didn’t notice him (again). I certainly didn’t. I still don’t know what a good game from him really would look like, but he’s quickly making a name for himself as the guy who’ll get the nuts and bolts of the inside stuff done and given it was his first game back I thought he did quite well. Armo was actually down on his output this year, but I never thought I’d say that after he’d picked up 24 touches. Ross would have been in there anyway, but having him in the middle after such a long lay off as well as Lonie and Sinclair certainly gave things a fresh edge. Longer wasn’t exactly the ruck beast he’s apparently become, but with Hickey being subbed out and against Hale and Ceglar he was up against it whichever way you look at it. I still think he’s a better player than Longer, but a statement like that is mostly null and void whilst he’d playing almost exclusively as a forward.

For all of that though, it was ultimately another forgettable game. We’re not going to remember Webster’s numbers or Acres’ dash or Josh Bruce’s leading. No-one will be ordering this on DVD and sitting down to watch it from the opening bounce to the final siren. Both teams had this in mind as a simple step in their separate missions. For the Hawks it was just about getting the job done to make sure they’re there when it counts. It was for us too, really, but from a much earlier time.

Safe, successful returns from the vortex

Round 9, 2015
Brisbane Lions 7.1, 8.2, 11.6, 13.8 (86)
St Kilda 2.3, 9.6, 12.9, 16.12 (108)
Crowd: 16,898 at the Gabba, Sunday, May 31st at 1.10pm

As Brisbane has faded into obscurity over the past decade, tragically taking the Fitzroy Lion with it, the Gabba itself has become somewhat of a footy vortex.

Somehow, despite the pandering that began in the 90s, they’ve become forgotten by the AFL. Their Queensland cousins the Gold Coast obviously took top billing when it came to the draft concessions race, with GWS likewise and the Swans the perennial Schwerer Gustav of AFL HQ’s turf war against Ray Warren and co.

By proxy, games at the Gabba have now sunk down to the small-font billing of Aurora Stadium status. Not much really happens there now – they’re usually just the games buried in the nothing time slots. Remember when they came back from 52 points down against the Cats? You do, but you only remember finding out later that night, because the game was played in a rarely explored land and a time well after the relevant weekend of footy had ended.

It’s a sense that has been compounded for Saints fans purely by virtue of the St Kilda Football Club being the St Kilda Football Club, with the national expansion of the VFL allowing us to take our historically freakish ineptness across the country. The Gabba was famously a holiday destination for St Kilda players and their talents for a number of years, going without a win there from 1991 until the last round of the weird 2006 season, made weirder by Barry Brooks kicking three goals and being hailed as trade bait. It was a place where we either got smacked or something remarkable happened as we lost. The Grand Final year of 1997 saw us smacked by the appropriate margin of 97 points as we stunk it up early on, and then the following season saw our incredible late-season capitulation highlighted by a one-point loss at the Gabba to the Lions in the final round. The Lions had only won three games to that point (one against us), and had we won relatively comfortably as we should have, we would have finished fourth. This was the game that finished with Stewart Loewe kicking a goal from a metre or two out a second or two after the final siren sounded . Having been first after Round 14 and equal first until Round 17 we instead dropped to sixth. It effectively ended the Alves era, and the  resulting Watson era began with an 89-point loss against the same opposition at the same ground.

Fast forward to the next tilt, to the penultimate round of 2004, and we were blown away after quarter time by the first team to replace us on top of the ladder as The Streak petered out. This match was set to determine who would host the qualifying final a fortnight later, and needless to say the Lions belted the proverbial out of us in the return bout, with the margin blowing out to 100 points in the final quarter. Season 2005 was arguably the most turbulent in the club’s history, and it began with the night at the Gabba in which the brutish physicality of the Lions era roared its last, with Nick on the receiving end.

Easy wins to the Lions in 2007 (52 points) and 2008 (46 points; 69 at three-quarter time) were almost pedestrian affairs, before we registered unconvincing wins in the second Grand Final year of 2010 and 2011, an actually decent win with 2012 heroes Siposs and Saad starring, and then back to the usual tripe in 2013.

Right now, Brisbane’s lack of success in recent years has consigned them to the lowest profile team in the league. The kind of team Hawthorn plays against in Tassie because who would know and who would care? The AFL certainly could never be farked honouring their promises to Roys fans signed off on as part of the merger then so why bother now? I dare say the mailboxes initially and now inboxes at AFL HQ have become progressively lighter nearly two decades on, and those at reception are consciously relieved about it.

So what do the Lions do about this weird crisis? They brought the old Fitzroy Lion back to the jumper, which is a great start but it shouldn’t have gone anywhere in the first place. Certainly the old Fitzroy jumper is just about the best ever worn by any club, but Brisbane is still stuck with dogshit re-recording of what was probably the best song in the league as well.

They wanted to have an actual Lion hanging out on the field pre-match, but instead they decided to ditch the statesmanlike tradition of running through the banner in favour of running out an inflatable Lion’s head.

The Saints Twitter has upped its pre-match banter of late, but you still feel like it could only reflect the club’s on-field fortunes – it could never be as intimidating or brutal or arseholey as an Essendon, for an instance. The account tried to take on Brion this week by drawing attention to our own giant, weird, far more freako mouth. In the end I wasn’t sure what the point was. Who has the biggest, giantest weird mouth thing?

The 1.10pm Sunday timeslot is an odd one. If the game’s in Victoria then some people might remember it exists, but if it’s a match-up actually worthy of wider attention it would be in the 3.20 Channel 7 News airstrip slot. Remember the 2002-2006 TV rights deal, and the blanket Channel 7 coverage before that? The 1.10pm game (for as long as it’s been around) has been broadcast live, mostly as an interstate game, but if it’s an interstate game now it’s on Fox Footy  and the silence can be nearly as deathly as the 4.40 slot later in the day (or even the 4.40 slot on the Saturday). Most people are either watching Footy Flashbacks or the neither-here-not-there TAC Cup Future Stars, and sometimes the players themselves – specifically Tom Hickey – will appear as a guest on the latter being asked about his Schneiderman appearance rather his own team playing in the timeslot.

It’s certainly an odd timeslot when you’re walking through North Road in Ormond at 12 noon and it’s heavily overcast and ridiculously quiet. Hardly the place for a decent build-up – not that the game warranted one – and I’d trekked from Brunswick West for it, but my brother had moved back on the Saturday to the Motherland six weeks ahead of my parents’ return from their UK tenure, and as first duty Fox Footy had been connected.

Carlton Draughts (or were they Mids?) were going down thick and fast in the first quarter as it was evident traditional Gabba form had been flown up and the Lions kicked the first five goals. I got sucked in to the Rohan Connolly theory following their late 2014 season form and had them as a smokey for the eight this year, whilst they’d remembered how to play footy in previous weeks they still showed themselves up as a young work in progress. They do have one of the best younger midfields in the competition, but in trying to gather what was going on through the broadcast, struggling namely Dwayne Russell’s words and resident Lions fan Jonathon Brown, I was led to think we were just really, really not switched on enough.

Matthew Leuenberger was once the future “Best Ruckman of All Time” but on Sunday he was one of those players closer to washed up then next-best-thing who decided to use the Saints as a canvas for some of their arsiest work. He was involved up forward a few times and early and for all the talk of Brisbane barely fielding a forward line, particularly with McStay out, Leuenberger’s involvement and five goals to none said otherwise.

Concerningly, the manner in which those goals and forward thrusts in general were being cultivated was reminiscent of the more negative footy we’d played this year. Hickey led hard up the ground and took a good mark in the middle before wheeling around and having it chopped and the Lions went up forward and kicked a goal, and Bruce and Hickey went up for the same mark in the 50 and with no one down and soft pressure on the Lions running out defence they went all the way up again, with Zorko completely on his own on one flank and finding Daniel Rich on his own for his second goal. Rich had made Panther and Geary look silly close to goal earlier en route to his first, so that percentage shaved off the intensity was all across the ground. That intensity was arguably reflective of the jumper design, and even though I’ll be covering this in more detail in the scarcely-anticipated next edition of St Kilda Jumper Talk, I’m not going to ditch an opportunity to talk about footy jumper minutiae. So let’s do it.

Ah, Indigenous Round. The weekend where every club wears a questionable jumper with genuine concepts behind them that have been filtered down by the whim of jumper manufacturers and whether you’re wearing your home or clash jumper to begin – as we were, and we ended up wearing something that looked like a spider’s web with braces, if you could actually make out anything on top of the entirely white canvas, with the 2009/2010 clash jumper faux-panels on the side.

But this year’s jumper if anything was more so shades of the infamous 2007/08 clash jumper, or should I say FADES of the infamous 2007/08 jumper? I’ve never felt a woman’s touch.

The Lions’ fifth goal came after Paparone outdid Riewoldt in a one-on-one, Hickey laid a huge tackle straight after and then Dunstan missed the resulting shot. The Lions went straight up the other end that fifth came as the clock ticked over just 10 minutes of play.

It would be easy to say “and then the intensity lifted, and the rest if history”, but that’s essentially what happened. And I don’t mean to say that as in we’re that good that we can just turn it on and off. That’s what we did in 2010, when fans bemusingly went ape droppings about “boring” football, not recognising the fact that the coach and the team, for the first time in the club’s then-138 year history, were that good we could choose when and how to win games. This is a completely different stage of development (obviously), so we’re rightfully getting off on these guys not settling for a competitive loss even on the road and in what’s essentially been a St Kilda Football Club black hole.

“Gallant” or “honourable” showings in previous weeks were enough to have the Josh Bruce Hype-O-Meter given the Warrior treatment. Hutchy’s understudy suggested Bruce could kick eight or nine against the Lions. He did essentially the opposite – strangely, in our two-highest scoring games this year we’ve kicked 16.12 (Sunday) and 16.11 (against the Gold Coast) and he’s kicked his equal-lowest (1.3) and highest (6.1) totals respectively. Not sure what the odds are on a gradual fade-out this season given how inexperienced he is and how hard he works, but it’s the latter that’s made him what he is so far this year and he’ll get somewhere at least on that alone.

Bruce was next to unsighted in the first half, caught under the ball often (as Roo and Hickey were) and it was hard to tell if a lead was rarely offered (by him or anyone) or the guys further up were too hasty in bombing it forward. He comically found himself on his own and on the lead in the last few seconds of the first half but dropped an absolute sitter 30 metres out. But he worked his way into the game in the second half and despite the inaccurate return was the one who kept the forward line stable in the final quarter when the Lions needed to be shut out.

Maybe everyone was just trying to remember what it was like to have Roo up forward for so much of the game but it seemed like he, Bruce and Hickey all got caught under the ball a lot and in the same contests in the first half – even the second quarter onslaught was mostly driven by Armo, Dunstan, Lonie etc. Was it just me or was Bruce playing more of the 2015 Roo role than Roo was? I’m not complaining in so far as Roo kicked four goals, but it felt like all of a sudden Bruce and Hickey were relegated a little and couldn’t have the impact they’ve been able to in the last few games. I don’t know if it was simply poor kicking, poor planning or poor movement on their part – probably a combination of both – but fortunately a lot of the smaller guys took some responsibility and we finished with our highest score for the year. It’s probably worth point out too that the better teams would have up to any of several bigger guys that can deliver on any given day up forward – look at our new neighbours the Hawks, who in recent years have had all of Gunston, Roughead, Buddy and Hale as talls alone – and this day it was Roo that finished with the goals.

So yes, the comeback was vaguely built around Roo but it didn’t feel like there was consistent structural anchor throughout the game that he, Bruce or Hickey have provided through the season. Two things about the Hickey and Longer “experiment”: firstly, it’s only as good as the weaker player, and secondly they’re both still very inexperienced so I’ve got billions of years’ worth of time for them. It’s just a part of a young team developing. Either way, it was the smalls and mids in the front half that took control of the game on Sunday.

Dunstan was probably the one that took the biggest step up this week, kicking two really good crumbing goals and laying six tackles in a role mostly confined to the front half. His dip in output over the past couple of months had seen him pushed to the brink of what you’d deem a “rest” (from the outside anyway) for a player of his experience and promise, so this simplified role allowed to him to show off his physicality and his decent mid’s goal sense. Lonie and Sinclair when he came on both brought their spark which feels like a natural component of this side already, only nine matches into their time with the club, Billings continued to rack up his 15+ quality possessions per week and Schneider played probably his best game of the year. Whatever you think of him, make the most of the contribution he makes out on the field because he’ll be gone very, very soon, back to the rookie list and that might well be it.

Armo continued his eponymous Fest 2015 with another 31 touches and an impact all around the ground, inside and out, and all the other things that people say about mids that play good games like that. He’s currently at point that Roo/Joey/Dal/BJ/Lenny consistently operated at over the past few years, in which I totally CBF writing about them in these reviews because everyone knows what they did and that they did it well. This time around, the talking point was that he kicked two really quality goals in the second quarter to wrestle the momentum from the Lions and send us on our way.

Like Armo, Mav finished with two goals at a crucial time in the game as a midfielder, volleying Billings’ great kick from just beyond the 50 metre arc and then reading the contest in the goal square best from the resulting centre bounce. Unfortunately he smacked Bewick in the head and was lucky to not get more than the one week offered to him by this week’s MRP Lotto Supervisors. Like Dunstan, I thought his output had tapered off a little over the last few weeks but a lot of players really took turns to stand up when someone needed to. Coming back from 29 points is one thing, and whilst the Best columns would feature senior guys in Roo, Joey, Schneider and Dempster just about every player – right down to D-Mac, one of the lesser lights on the day, taking a huge hit from behind whilst holding a tough overhead mark on the wing in the last quarter.

Martin replicated what Bennell did at a similar point further south in the state in Round 2 and really we were safe. Richie felt differently but Matt and I were talking about relatively confident we were through the second half. “Relatively” is the operative word – I wasn’t thinking we were going to shit it in or necessarily win but I felt much better about the prospects of giving it a shake through to the end, and a decent shake at that, as opposed to the last couple of years.

So two out of three wins this year in Queensland. Whilst the Gold Coast win was great at the time, particularly with the Bruce factor turned up to 11, using the arsey tool of hindsight it was probably the result that should have happened. This one had a lot more fight, and with the Lions flicking the switch in the last few weeks the poor start at our least favourite ground actually made some sense. But we’re hitting the point of the season now in which we can see clear hallmarks that each side is displaying in the 2015 season. Pleasantly, this side has been instilled with a real fighting aspect and a pride in both performance and application. To go with that we’ve been lucky that young guys in Billings, Sinclair, Lonie, Bruce, and so on have all improved their contributions, but it all starts with watching a young team working hard and really giving a shit about what they’re doing.