You’ll be famous

by Tom Briglia

Gold Coast Suns 2.1, 6.5, 8.7, 11.8 (74)
St Kilda 3.2, 6.2, 9.4, 12.6 (78)
Crowd: 3,095 at Metricon Stadium, Thursday, August 8th at 8.10pm

Back in the open fields of the Channel 7 broadcast, for the Gold Coast Suns’ first-ever prime-time match on free-to-air. The coverage began at the curfew specific time of 8pm, leading into the 8.10pm bounce, and after Collingwood and Sydney played at the Gabba at 5.40pm. On a Thursday. Yes, there must be a pandemic.

The rhythm of the season that Bob Murphy salutes simply does not exist this year. Hopefully this is the closest we get to the type of fixture US MAJOR SPORTS fetishisers in the media/tacky light show enthusiast Karl Langdon have always wanted. Footy all the time, prime time, double-headers, reduced to a made-for-boys television show that the NRL prides itself on being. Dan Andrews’ daily press conferences have become a more reliable understanding of where the day is at (unless there’s some extra-fucked-up shit going on).

At this time of year we’re usually we’re plotting results in our head for the ladder predictor going into the final few rounds. For us St Kilda supporters specifically, maybe looking forward to getting some rest. Take in the finals. September still is special. Remind ourselves of what two genuinely good teams going head to head looks like.

***

If we win, we’re in second spot. Pretty simple stuff. Rarefied air, but it’s demanded Channel 7 coverage of our games next weekend and the weekend following. Still incredible to think Bruce or JB or anyone of these guys know who Hunter Clark or Max King or Nick Coffield are, let alone being impressed by them.

Like their Port Adelaide Homecoming Event broadcast, Channel 7 really set this one up for a focus on the Gold Coast. This one never quite felt in control. Any lead or momentum felt like a luxury. There is something about the way Gold Coast plays, and something about the way we play. They match up too well on each other. They are young teams bashing down their own paths. We might just be the first rival of the Gold Coast Suns. Who else would it have been? We have the Bizarro Rivalry with the aesthetic joke that is Fremantle. We had our Team of Champions ultimately humbled by the Champion Team of Geelong – another VFL foundation club – throughout the early 2000s and into the early 2010s. Let’s swing back to the novelty route, the anonymous fun-time let’s-go-to-the-beach boys that stubbornly continues to wear the most boring jumper in the league. Much like the new plastic cover version of our song, no one ever specifically asked for the Gold Coast Suns. They still haven’t shirked their Sydney 2000 “Let’s Go Australia!” cloak of a bunch of athletes being supported mostly by their immediate families, with some occasional bandwagoning. They and the AFL just need some other club to take the hit of having their next rival not being able to fill out Docklands, let alone the MCG. Of course it’s going to be us. Rankine, Ben King (come home, Ben), Collins, Lukosius, Rowell, Anderson, Touk Miller, Lachie Weller – we might have to start getting used to these names, in the way Chapman, Johnson, Scarlett, Ablett et. al. were always in the periphery. Rankine, in just his fifth game, had a crack at Kent when Powell took a mark near goal in the last.

The bedding has been sorted – four games out of four that have been decided by 2, 1, 4 and 4 points, and with very similar scores – 80-78, 85-84, 80-76, and 78-74. St Kilda is not the kind of team that puts together these kinds of streaks. I tweeted after Butler’s fourth goal “Ok let’s not pull a Port 2017.” A few seconds later, Rankine kicked his second incredible goal to set up a frantic final two minutes. That felt like a reminder enough – there might be a lot more of these types of games against the Suns. This probably won’t go away quietly, but as supporters we’ve been waiting to get our hands dirty with something on the line.

***

Two leads of 18 and 15 points isn’t quite giving up leads of 31 and 37 points. It isn’t wildly far off. Momentum swings were broken by small lapses in concentration and by moments of brilliance. A dodgy kick in during the third gifted Steele a goal, and then Marshall was able to beat Witts out of the middle and the long roost fell to Butler for a thundering snap around the corner. It felt like that might have been enough and the Suns might have made their run. Phillips had felt about 15% out of sync with the team (understandable, given it’s his first game) but a undid some hard running on the rebound with a wildly sloppy handball. From the turnover, Rankine took a hanger over Steele on the wing to get the crowd and Bruce and JB back into the game, and then pulled off a slick running goal from just inside 50. It was the first of four goals to the Suns either side of the final change.

There were a lot of periods in the game in which we looked lacking in the usual older, or maybe just wiser heads leadership. No Geary, Ross, Hannebery, Roberton, Nathan Brown (at all). Membrey hasn’t quite made an impact in the last few weeks. Hill is still needing to get into games (perhaps literally short-changed by the shorter quarters). It’s worth noting there were no players out of the five-man 2018 leadership group playing last night.

Twice the Suns kicked four goals in succession and we looked unable to halt the momentum. Have we become too used to waiting for a Riewoldt or a Lenny to pull us out of it? Of course we’ll be a better team for this. Steele and Billings and Carlisle – all in different contexts – had a chance to really take charge.

What did getting out of those holes look like? What did actually winning the game look like? The long balls forward weren’t always working. St Kilda’s Messiah Complex has often centred around high flyers or tall forwards. Max King is the Heir, but Dan Butler played a kind of game we simply haven’t seen in a St Kilda jumper for nearly a decade. The game is always changing, and we’d missed out in the 2010s of human highlights reels in the uber modern game. This is what it looked like. Four goals, all of them the best goal anyone else would kick in any other game. Two either side of half-time, the first off a step from the first genuine space Paddy got from Witts to show off some tap work (albeit in open play) with a comically nonchalant celebration. He had Hind to thank for some quick footwork to get the ball out of congestion that opened it up for a banana goal to get us back within a kick during the last quarter, and then had the game understanding, the speed and composure to make his run as Paddy got down to the ball on the break with less than three minutes left, burn off Lachie Weller and run into goal.

Leadership was players understanding what they needed to do in moment. Carlisle was a big presence particularly in the first half, and there’s something calming about the way he deals with higher balls and his underrated field kicking. He always looks like he’s just lit a cigarette or cracked open a can at the park and a stray Sherrin has bounced over his way.

Hind made the decision to use his pace when the game looked sunken. Paddy Ryder was quelled by Witts all night and the Suns’ midfield had smashed our own, but he was still up to controlling the low ball that set up Butler. Battle took the responsibility to run and launch for a big contested mark, and went back and put us in front. Max pulled down a high mark to soak up most of the final minute.

Hunter Clark entrenched himself further in this club’s journey with some deft steps. Wherewithal to move through traffic is one thing, it’s another to do it multiple times in the final minutes of a tight game in defence. Parting the seas, Scott Pendlebury-like, whatever you want to call it. Three times in defence across the broadcast side he was involved in safely getting and guiding himself and the ball out of harm’s way, ultimately leading to Butler’s final goal. Side-stepping four opponents in the back pocket, never flinching, finding space, and getting low, turning and stepping out of a contest on the defensive 50 (after Carlisle had worked hard for a smother to make up for his own poor kick), and sending the ball forward that ended with Paddy and then Butler. He wanted the ball in those moments. Players are able to express themselves.

***

Is anyone else worried that we’re going to do it in front of 8,000 at the Gabba? Yes, I am still thinking about it and it still worries me. We keep learning what footy can mean to us in such a dour time. Footy concerns still rise up during a pandemic, contained within its own sphere, but it’s a prominent star in this shit-fest galaxy. A young St Kilda team in second place on the ladder feels like a luxury at any time.

Of course, it was nice to finally win a close one too. Arguably even better to have held them out for the final two minutes. A great fucking game of footy, and a great fucking St Kilda win.

How would you feel

by Tom Briglia

Round 9, 2020
St Kilda 3.3, 7.4, 9.6, 15.11 (101)
Sydney Swans 2.1, 3.6, 5.10, 6.12 (48)
Crowd: Some on the Top Deck at the ‘Gabba, Saturday, August 1st at 5.10pm

Within a few minutes after the siren, a friend messaged me unprompted.

“How would you feel about a flag this year? If you couldn’t be there and it wasn’t at the G?”

St Kilda fans should be the last to be overly concerned about such matters. On top of the ladder, 15-7, or winning your first 19 games, rarely does this Australian Rules stuff really work out for the club.

But when a young team starts steamrolling through the hype as if it were the onion skins left on the chopping board from my tuna salad preparation, they at the very least create the illusion of a carefree, bold, brash and happy bunch beating down their own path. On their way until they’re not.

Maybe, for a few moments, that hype got too big for a young team. After a big pre-season and a big first half in Round 1. Again, a few weeks into the resumption, after a big couple of games, the first batch of whispers of a pandemic premiership and a 37-point lead early in the second quarter against another unfancied opponent.

Rather than making it about premierships, St Kilda fans would do well to make a sport of identifying fate tempting conduits over the past 147 years, although it’s pretty easy to join up dots that have appeared over that journey given they’ve just about all given us a picture of no success.

This time, it was much more recent history to overcome. The hype was back, on team and on individuals. Fourth position on the ladder is hard to ignore, and the most mature performance since 2010, perhaps 2011, in the open fields of the Channel 7 broadcast more so. Garry said we can do it this year. He said Ryder is the best tap ruckman in the competition. The stoppage work attracted another in-depth analysis piece. Tim Membrey’s freak goal found itself on Sports Centre. There was focus was on Jarryd Roughead’s different type of stay-at-home role, and he referred to St Kilda as “we” on 360. Our trade raid wasn’t done yet. I’m sure as hell none of us were expecting Spencer White to get a shout-out on Fox Footy during the week, perhaps matched only on Joshua Kitchen Bingo by Blake Acres getting a mention in Nathan Brown’s retirement speech.

Since 2012 we’d played extras in a droll film, rather than starring in the ongoing series of our eternal embarrassment. We are a club has always fallen through the cracks, struggling so much we couldn’t even afford to breach the salary cap. This is all still new. Do things come in threes? Or is it third time lucky?

Game day presented the ultimate challenge. A double-page spread in the Herald Sun for Jack Steele (a surprise contender for 2018-2022 Premiership Captain after failed bids from Hugh Goddard, Jack Newnes and Mav Weller, and probably Seb Ross and Luke Dunstan), while in The Age it was a feature interview with Zak Jones.

***

A few minutes into the first quarter something felt off. There were some uncharacteristic moments going into attack (uncharacteristic as far as nine games into the Ratten era goes). The Swans had the Bloods clamps on. The umpires were making up for the previous week. The Gabba never has been a comfortable stopover for the Saints. Were the interstate wobbles back? Some very deep defending had Butler charging out of defence and instead of looking for a teammate – or any teammates readily running with him – and he belted the ball long to nothing in particular (i.e. a Sydney defender). Something didn’t quite feel right. The ball went straight down the other end for a big mark by Blakey at full forward, who went back for a weird miss. That kind of thing was going to help later on.

The running and sharing game just wasn’t quite happening. Long balls forward never felt overly threatening. Ground level was busy enough as it was (previous estimates have shown as many as 75,000 players can be found in the Sydney defence in match held at the Gabba). We’d topped our behinds tally from the week’s previous record accuracy just after the five minute mark. Carlisle long throw back to McCartin brought on an old-style “throwing the ball too high” 50-metre penalty, and he was quickly getting into that shitty mood that we’ve associated with an interstate crowd comforted by our crappy first quarters booing and/or lolling at him, possibly moments before he’s moved forward when the game is out of reach.

You want physicality and aggression and occasionally being a fuckwit to be part of the team’s DNA. Not just an adrenaline rush that appears and burns out. There were a few ways this can present itself. It can be Butler’s eight tackles, it can be Jake Carlisle throwing the ball a little too high to a player, and then that very same Jake Carlisle (and Max King a little bit) smacking Dane Rampe’s Franklin baseball batting glove. It can also be Paton and Marshall going back with the flight of the ball, or Dougal Howard thumping into the back of The Other McCartin in a marking contest late in the game. Or Zak Jones repeatedly getting into some push and shove and walking around with the equally old-style ripped sponsor patch/logo/number.

***

Outside of the back half of 2016 and the first five weeks of 2019, throughout the Richo era we got used to better performances evidently being the result of surges of adrenalin, or the players just by chance being “on” on the same day or night. Something that wasn’t sustainable week to week, and which evidently didn’t translate to interstate match preparation. Either way, when the team was flat, everyone was flat. When everyone was up and about, it was borderline manic, for better or worse. Players weren’t able to break through the gravity of how a game was being played and bend it towards a moment or a passage. Again, we have guys we’re simply not used to being in a St Kilda jumper – they’re young, or they’re from a different club, but mostly, because of how they play – doing just that.

How nice when it’s a player that has done it before. Nick Hind kicked three goals all from his non-preferred side, all of them quality snaps at important moments. His first came after 10 minutes of dominance from the Swans in the first quarter, and from the same fast reaction time at the fall of the ball that released Gresham at the beginning of the last quarter against Port. The second, at the same end, arrived with just over 30 seconds before the final change, the lightning rod for a big finish after Sydney had taken control of the game from the time Florent snuck in their only goal of the second quarter. A third goal effectively sealed it, part of four goals in four minutes and 14 seconds of play to open the last quarter. He was also fast enough to slap back a bouncing ball from the goal line into play that ultimately Butler grabbed and kicked the first of that last term.

Until his involvement late in the third quarter, 27 was looking like it could be added to 30 and 37, in the way 14th might be added to 16th and 17th. The moments that had brought us to that point, and those that saw us out of it, were brought to you by guys that some of us haven’t seen live play in a St Kilda jumper yet. Max King broke the self-imposed two goal limit that Paddy McCartin was mostly subject to, and added to his St Kilda Messiah Complex Heir Designate bow with a Paddy Ryder-style tap over the back from a boundary throw-in that Sinclair pounced on and linked up with Hunter Clark for one of the slicker moments of the game. Dan Butler is quietly equal fourth in the Coleman Medal race, and even more quietly Max King is three goals behind him. Zak Jones, Brad Hill and Dougal Howard haven’t played in front of a St Kilda home crowd yet. Paddy Ryder’s presence is becoming transformative for this team.

***

After the Fremantle mishap on the Gold Coast this side has strung together three mature performances, each in varying contexts, but with similar circumstances. Hugely challenged after half-time, we’re getting attached to guys watching them learn week to week to weather a storm and then send one the other way. We might finally be making good on Simon Lethlean’s promise heading into 2019 that we would run teams off their feet. Now, he specific Marvel Stadium, but this is the best chance we’ll get to learn to win anywhere, any time, and in any natural conditions.

This has been 12 days of doing things differently. Both Adelaide teams were beaten within five days of each other, both for the first time since 2011. A first-ever win at Adelaide Oval, Just a second win over the team sitting on the top of the ladder in a decade. Saturday ended a 10-game losing streak against the Swans. Our last win was Lenny’s 250th, and their wins since then over St Kilda have come at 29, 16, 59, 71, 97, 70, 50, 42, 71 and 45 points, and since Richo took over at an average of just over 63 points.

Also, the Gabba played The Fable Singers version of the club song.

So my answer two days later is: I still do not know how I would feel about a flag this year, if I couldn’t be there and it wasn’t at the MCG. It’s too early to think about it. But I am a St Kilda supporter, and it would at least take an event of plague proportions to alter the thinking of St Kilda supporters. I have thought about it, and I have worried about it. Fuck a duck, we’re third on the ladder, but we’re playing again in three days, and four days after that, and five days after that.

Head of dreaming

by Tom Briglia

Port Adelaide 2.1, 4.4, 6.6, 6.8, (44)
St Kilda 1.1, 5.1, 7.1, 12.1 (73)
Crowd: 20-something thousand-ish at the Adelaide Oval, Saturday, July 25th at 7.40pm EST

Up against the team on the top of the ladder, the club had gone all out with Max King as the promo human on their social media match day graphic. Appearances on Channel 7 increasingly are a mark of faith from the AFL and marketing people that you are worth the general public’s time, and Channel 7 had gone all out for Port. Where Fox Footy had skipped from Tony Lockett in a home and away match to Darren Jarman in a Grand Final on the Monday, I’d turned on the TV just in time for 7 to deep dive into the 2004 Preliminary Final with Gavin Wanganeen. This was a Port Adelaide homecoming event. In Grand Final broadcast-style, they covered the Power’s entrance onto the ground with the club song patched into the audio (as they usually do after the final siren), as they ran out to a genuine home crowd for the first time this year.

***

Also quickly apparent was that only eight people had responded to the Channel 7 FanZone email that went out to the members, and I’d only not seen the quote filled once or twice and I was sure that was because a fans had pulled the equivalent of leaving early, but in the comfort of their own home.

Throughout the 2010s we completely forgot what genuinely good players look like, and what it looks like for two good teams to be going head to head. This game felt like it was being played at an  intensity that we hadn’t needed to bother even worrying about, really, since 2010. The (more so) inexperienced guys looked like they were feeling it. King shanked a banana in front of a fan who came down to the fence with his beer to say things vaguely in his direction, and then shakily fresh aired a kick off the ground in the goal square (taking me back to a dark last quarter moment playing for St Paul’s at East Brighton in the Under 13s), and Parker royally shanked a set shot, while at the other end Wilkie was feeling the heat in front of the home fans. Gresham and Coffield were hardly sighted. How the hell were we going to last the distance? Maybe it’s the ingrained St Kilda pessimism, but at no point until the final quarter did it feel like we were going to be the ones to break it open. Much the opposite.

Three breaths as a team at quarter time was a neat hint that the players were a whole lot calmer than I was, quietly losing my shit on the Brunswick West couch. Some things had gone our way – free kicks to Marshall, Ryder and Hind during the half ended with goal – and King and Parker aligned their only real shining moments by the major break to contribute a huge mark and spearing kick on the rebound to set up Butler’s set shot. When the momentum in the game shifted and goals started slipping through we still found ourselves ahead, and even that had happened as Port looked like they might be starting to build a gap. Ryder and Jones combined for a rare example of a genuinely good tap ruckman linking with a spirited midfielder, both in St Kilda jumpers, to take the ball forward for the first of Membrey’s hands-free majors from the goal square.

Jones and Steele had held up the workmanlike aspect in a very contested game. Boak was slowly being edged out of the game. Coffield was quiet but Ben Paton was just as subtly picking up the slack. Ryder and Marshall were slowly imposing themselves on the game, both slowly building a case as individuals and as a pair in showing their importance to the team. Clark was back to his smooth best, and on his way to probably being the classiest player in a heated duel.

When was the last time the octane was this high? It was amazing getting to half-time still in it. I thought I was heading for a quieter Saturday night.

***

Charlie Dixon had been held quiet until the first several seconds of the third quarter. The extended half-time break allowed any and all sorts of fantasies of the rest of the game to play out whilst we waited to stumble back into reality. Again, the nerves began to show. After Dixon had finally got one on him, Dougal dropped a mark and hurried a kick out on the full, and Dougal was joined by Wilkie and even Hunter in fumbling the ball down back. The top team in the league was back in front of its home crowd, who had been waiting until the end of July to welcome their team they had to watch rise on the television.

A little curiously, they kept missing shots. Hunter almost created the breakthrough up the other end himself with a gather and move through traffic in which he appeared to bend the space around him, and control the drop onto his boot enough to chip the ball to Sinclair. Membrey couldn’t complete the mark, and at that point the sinking inevitability of a St Kilda interstate foray began to materialise in a slight flushing of the cheeks. They got me again.

It took another Hunter effort on the rebound that ended up with King and Parker going down before Kent strolled into goal – it was 6.1 to 5.6 – and the tease was strung out just a little further. I don’t think enough credit or attention has been paid in the post-match to the Ryder double-tap to Gresham from a throw-in at half-forward, and Gresham’s excellent pass to Marshall on the lead. The storm had been weathered. The countdown to the next one began. It came straight away and the fucking archery gimmick came out.

***

James Brayshaw politely pointed out that the only game this year in which a team came from behind at three quarter time to win was…North over St Kilda in Round 1. That’s the kind of history St Kilda likes to echo, and we held a one-point lead with a fun, accurate scoreline of 7.1.

Up until…several days ago, Adelaide Oval had done an excellent job of continuing the calamitous legacy of St Kilda team at Football Park past. Like Fremantle over time, and Essendon always, Port Adelaide has always presented issues for us, even in better times. Close losses in Adelaide in 2004, 2010, 2012 and 2017. The most we could comfort ourselves with was, well, hopefully Robbie Gray needs time to replenish his magic stores after his post-siren winner. Saturday night was four days short of three years on the button since he combined with Paddy Ryder to skewer the Richo era rebuild following a calamitous 59 seconds of football (only three weeks after the Maddie’s Match peak). I think about that, I think about Membrey’s celebration in front of the Port fans as he put us 10 points up just a couple of minutes before. I think about the long and tired car trip home from a family event in Beaumaris back to Brunswick West later that night, still rattled, missing the turn onto CityLink and ending up on the Westgate, and having to go through Spotswood and arc all the way back with those two late goals in my head. This one wasn’t over until the siren had gone, and the goal umpires confirmed the final score.

***

There is something irrepressible about a team making a move during a match they aren’t expected to win. Momentum in footy expresses itself in many different ways, now more so than ever. Momentum is a storm. How do you weather that? How do you clear the skies and then bring down your own thunder? What does it look like for a St Kilda team to do this in 2020? Five goals in the last quarter – 5.0, to take us to the most accurate winning score of all time of 12.1 (pipping our own 18.2 against Essendon in 1994) – is what it looks like on paper. What actually took place was a wild mix of the recruiting moves made in the off-season (the closest we’ve come to a 2000 post-season heist) and players developing in front of us each week.

Each was more fantastical than the last. Gresham’s snap was tailor-made for Gresham, and Hind was the one who pulled off the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it handball on his left from the marking contest. A stray Westhoff pass landed in the arms of Butler. Paddy Ryder’s pluck, pivot and dribble from his own marking contest from a tight angle was bettered only by the celebration. The circumstance wasn’t lost on me, but the Membrey celebration three years earlier just a few metres away was screaming at me. Not just yet.

Yet again, parallels between this game and that night in 2017 popped up. Membrey pulled off the most spectacular of goals to all but seal the game, nearly cartwheeling his way to a small place in St Kilda folklore. He didn’t even know he’d kicked it. We might have fleetingly suspected at most, and it was still only a staggered realisation of what had just happened for us at home, watching the replay, hearing the change in tone through the commentary box, hearing the ARC personnel describe what they were seeing, and then waiting for the system to officially confirm on the scoreboard it had actually seen what we’d seen. For one week, at least, these are our better stories written that we can enjoy and call on. And what sweeter icing than for the young, star tall forward, the St Kilda Messiah Complex Object Designate, wearing our greatest of all time’s number, to pull down a contested mark and kick the final goal? As Blake Acres lined up for goal on that night three years ago after the three-quarter time siren, we’d kicked 2.12, the height of an extended period of inaccuracy that had cost us so much. We’d now kicked 12.1. Josh Bruce and Tim Membrey and Luke Dunstan deserved better that night. Hunter Clark and Jack Steele and Zak Jones and Jack Billings and yes, Tim Membrey, got what they deserved on this night.

***

One week doesn’t wipe out 147 years, let along what happened a few rounds ago. The goodwill after wins over Richmond and Carlton were throttled on the Gold Coast against Fremantle in the Round 1 redux. Two of our three losses have come against the teams in 16th and 17th. The Swans, in 14th, are next. Whispers of a pandemic premiership are back. Garry says he can see us going all the way. “The Saints are real deal”, according to Gerard and Robbo.

Games like that of Saturday night’s forge new paths for a club. A young team and its players do things they haven’t done before. St Kilda is always prone to droughts and the bad kinds of streaks and feats. In the space of six days we won at a venue that we’d never won at before, and at which we’d racked up an average losing margin of around 49 points, beaten two teams we hadn’t beaten since a we did nine years ago, a fortnight apart. We’d only come up against and beaten the team sitting on the top of the ladder once in the past decade (but, where did that last time ultimately get us?). We’re fourth on the ladder, and are consistently fielding among the three or four youngest sides. St Kilda might slowly emerging as an example of what we hoped footy would present us in a period like this. I don’t know at what point we need to start worrying about not being at finals, or playing and winning on Channel 7 and having the shitty plastic cover version of the club song that no one asked for and sounds terrible played over the broadcast for everyone to hear. There’s not much we can take for granted at the moment. It can be really important to embrace small scratches of optimism. So, here it goes. Some good in the future, even if it is just within a game, is appearing.

9 to 5

by Tom Briglia

Round 7, 2020
Adelaide Crows 1.2, 4.2, 5.6, 8.7 (55)
St Kilda 3.2, 7.4, 8.4, 12.6 (78)
Crowd: More Than the Other Games So Far This Season at the Adelaide Oval, Monday, 7.40pm EST

In the way pandemics are a byproduct of the natural world, the seasons still do take their course. Brighter days during the week showed that the sun is beginning to change its path through the sky. It’s a little bit brighter and higher sooner. It’s still cold, but winter is still moving through its natural course. Usually we know this as a sign of the final weeks of the home and away season, where we start to think about enjoying the spring and a break from the faffin’ about of the St Kilda Football Club, or if we go back just a little further, perhaps the impending history we wanted to be see made. Instead, we’ve just played Round 7 on a Monday night in a hastily arranged match against the Crows, are back at Adelaide Oval again on Saturday night against Port, and we haven’t been to the footy yet this year.

***

The Saints bandwagon had been dismantled and sold off for scrap. The part of me that was asking “What if this is the year?” had not just gotten quieter but had stood up and promptly and meekly left my braincase. The midweek (and weekend) anticipation was gone. Who cares what the ins and outs are? Instead of a chance to go 5-2 (and you could easily argue we should have been 5-1 going into this), we’re looking more vulnerable against a winless team, in front of their fans for the first time this year, and  facing back-to-back trips from Noosa to Adelaide (so much for a hub) comeback.

“Fremantle on the Gold Coast” should have been a bigger red flag than I thought it would. After the Carrara calamity we’d been bumped off the neutral media coverage in favour of a Sunday afternoon of terrible footy. Appearances on front page of The Age website were now for the off-field curios of Jarryn Geary and Jake Carlisle potentially having their partners fly up to give birth, and club doctor Ian Stone having a laptop with player records stolen, giving Hugh Goddard being stretchered off in Candy Stripe #2 a rare non-COVID prime place.

Adelaide had never started a season 0-7, and would be hitting 10 losses in a row. St Kilda are made for teams to create heroes or folklore for other teams that are positive. The numbers smacked too much of us not being able to win 10 in a row in 1997. The Fox Footy pre-match went from highlight of Lockett’s return in Round 7, 1991 to highlights of Jarman in the 1997 Grand Final (Ronnie Byrnes highlight against the Saints, Roo pointed it out, obviously didn’t like the Jarman highlights, nor the 2010 Grand Final Replay comparisons bought up the night before while he was in the box). Time for Tex Walker to pull out a vintage performance and Tim Doedee to be become an Adelaide hero as captain in his 27th game, against the best jumper cables of them all.

***

The first quarter started and finished with what were probably the two cleanest parts of the match (and both featured Zak Jones coming clean out of the middle). Butler had a shot as he was dragged down in the opening seconds but ended up snapping a goal from the throw in, already looking the smoothest of all players just in that short few moments. After the start last week (let alone the whole first quarter), it wasn’t worth getting overly excited about. The game settled into a genuinely competitive battle of contested pressure and Josh Battle getting his handsome face split open by Paddy Ryder. The Fox Footy pressure gauge (???) was right into that green bit (???). As the minutes ticked by it became apparent St Kilda were either not trying to move the ball as fast as they had, or Adelaide had blocked off space around the ground.

Jones provided a circuit-breaker hard against the boundary that triggered a genuine slingshot action. Not sure how many people 12 months ago would have tipped Dan Butler, Jarryn Geary and Jack Lonie being the three St Kilda players breaking forward ahead of their opponents, but yes, it is 2020 and yes, stranger things have happened. Nonetheless, it was still strange how clinically the passage unfolded – Lonie reacted to the high bounce, slapping the ball over his head to Geary, who gave off to Butler in the square.

As he did at the opener, Jones took the ball out of the middle from the resulting bounce and hit King on the lead, who took a classic leading mark with his arms out in front. Making up for a simple mark he’d dropped a few minutes before, he nailed the goal and continued his hard work of bringing back the early 2019 Billy Slater-initiated big goal celebrations.

These were the types of moments that allowed for a win. Lonie’s slap, King utilising his height and reach to take marks on the lead and then at the highest point and take his opportunities with straight set shots, Dougal Howard’s side-step, acceleration and goal from 55, Steele’s snap in the pocket, Gresham wheeling around on his low centre of gravity and Seb Ross’s knock down in the goal square against two players to Butler against all the momentum in the third quarter. This wasn’t a full team performance in the sense that there was the incredible cohesion and sharing of the ball and running in numbers that we’d seen in the better periods. It never looked like it.

***

Despite apparently having done fuck all we were up by two goals at quarter time. A little like the Carlton and Fremantle games, it appeared as though the most decadent moments represented a peak in the players’ minds that they themselves didn’t think they could back up. Butler’s running goal against the Blues, Butler’s solo effort and arrogant snap and celebration against the Dockers, and then last night the cheeky Jake Carlisle handball and the Dougal Howard running goal into Jack Steele’s snap from the forward pocket throw-in.

No matter what the lead, no matter how, I’m not going to be comfortable any time watching St Kilda soon. I remember my housemate (also Tom) early in the Carlton match saying “just enjoy it” whilst I quietly shat my pants watching the Saints skip out to a lead. He goes for Hawthorn, and rightfully couldn’t quite comprehend why I wasn’t relaxing.

The commentary team tempted fate by referencing Gerard and Johnno the previous week saying maybe this was the week Max kicks six. Howard was doing it all at both ends but in scenes both wildly familiar and unexpected, the forward entries just…disappeared. At half-time the mark and play on rate was down from around 32% to 18%, so there might have been some method to it, to a point.

Tex had already kicked two by early in the second. His first may have been the softest free kick known to science (also marking the fast return of the hometown whistle) and set off a wild night of wild umpiring. Ben Keays got into some push and shove with Gresham, Hill and Steele very early and loomed as the designated supervillain with a sharp haircut. Tom Doedee was slowly becoming a presence across half back. We didn’t have the flashy Hill and Butler et al. passages going forward; we did have Steele putting together a mountainous performance and Coffield (and subtly, Carlisle) repeatedly mopping up in defence.

Freo had revelled in the whole man or two down business a week earlier. What were we gonna do when Battle went down early? While he was getting a gash in his face attended to, I had problems of my own at Brunswick West HQ – I’d got a spatter of my chilli tuna salad in my eye.

A string of Adelaide  misses either side of half-time – effectively a run that continued until McAdam’s goal after the three-quarter time siren – appeared to have cost them a genuine shot, given we’d pulled one out of our arse the other way courtesy of Gresham’s low centre of gravity. Somehow St Kilda finds a way, and Geary was given holding the ball in the final seconds, tackled after a touched mark. We couldn’t even get away with the curio stat of a goalless quarter against.

The pressure appeared to be getting to the players. The crowd could sense something. It was getting increasingly vocal, and there was a combination of the size, dispersal around the ground, and the Fox Footy ground microphones that had it sounding like a rollicking suburban ground. Dougal Howard was the serving up multiple contenders for the greatest cracking of shits since Max Hudghton in Round 6 of 2008 against Port Adelaide (or perhaps Leigh Montagna in the 2010 intra-club match at Moorabbin when Milne opted for a difficult snap at goal from the boundary instead of a handball). Dougal got Wilkie in the third, Jones in the last and the umpire too, who gave a 50 metre penalty against for another Shane McAdam goal.

Tex got dicked by the umpiring with what should have been an excellent mark but got one back with a soft dive to bring them within nine points. It was happening. Leads of 31 points, 36 points and now 26 points, and Adelaide Oval looked set to snuff out another season. When the breaks came, Kent and Membrey stood up with straight set shots. Nothing was pretty about them, but they were important and they were enough. Sometimes it is as mundane as that.

***

Enough disappointment (in a St Kilda sense) has happened this season to not get carried away with a first-ever win at Adelaide Oval, and a first win over Adelaide since 2011. However. In an ugly period, St Kilda winning ugly still feels satisfying. Watching a young St Kilda team learning to win ugly in a raucous environment interstate maybe a little more so. Yet again, there has been barely enough time to enjoy this, and the only constant at the moment – and still, how fleeting – will be the Saints wearing the excellent new clash jumper at the Adelaide Oval. See you back here (well, there) in a few days, and from then, every few days.

Ride lonesome

by Tom Briglia

Fremantle 1.2, 6.4, 9.7, 12.7 (79)
St Kilda 7.2, 8.5, 8.5, 11.7 (73)
Crowd: Very Few at Metricon Stadium, Saturday, July 12th at 12.35pm

St Kilda is the kind of club that would be troubled by Fremantle. The Dockers are truly the tacky 1990s aesthetic joke answer to The Traditionalist Losers, and naturally we’re the only team a club like that can mess around with. Matt had messaged me in the morning saying “This will be like the Gold Coast games last year”. Ratts had warned us several weeks ago (immediately after a win, no less) about inconsistency. After a blistering first half in prime time the week before, cautious mentions of St Kilda being “capable” of “doing it” this year were whispered. Coming into this week, the top four featured the same teams as 2004 (swap the Cats and the Saints and you’d get the same order). By the end of Saturday, that had turned into a Round 1 redux, allowing for “Comeback of the year”, according to AFL.com.au. “It was the greatest comeback of the year and then the great escape all rolled into one”. We’re a whole lot closer to being “that team” now. Two 36-point leads blown against what are broadly considered weaker opponents. Who else but St Kilda, Where Else But Queensland?

This week’s Fate Tempting By Media came in the form of “Destination St Kilda…via Noosa” on the front cover of the AFL Record and a double-page spread about the club finally being able to attract talent from elsewhere (how does Brad Hill and Dan Hannebery chewing up $1.6 million a year feel right now?), and a longform look on the ABC about what has changed on the field.

And now, the bottom two teams ahead of us. A 5-2 record beckoned. No Marvel, but we were fed pictures of a group post-match last week that look focused and maturing fast before heading interstate. Well, never mind the analytics. Club culture can follow you beyond state borders to a hub in Noosa during a once-in-a-century health, social and economic crisis.

***

Of course, Freo gets to make its history with and over St Kilda. Fox Footy hadn’t even waited for the game to finish – and for Freo to actually win – before they wheeled out the footage of Longmuir’s mark and goal after the siren against us late in 2005. What the fuck would it have looked like if they’d drawn or lost from that point? Welcome to the latest chapter of the Bizarro Rivalry (a few years ago I wrote about the parallels and curios the “rivalry” has been built on). This decade’s opening offering: Fremantle vs St Kilda on the Gold Coast, at the traditional time of 10.35am for the home team’s fans. In short St Kilda, blows a 7.2 to 1.2 lead at quarter time, not kick a goal from the 16-minute mark of the second quarter until trailing by 19 points and with six minutes left, kicking 3.1 to draw level, and then uhhhm losing. Add it to the list.

Saturday afternoon (EST) started with perhaps the best quarter of footy a St Kilda team has played in a decade. Walters kicked the wrong way from the first bounce and a sloppy 50-metre penalty gave Membrey the first goal in the opening moments. Two goals from score reviews gave you the feeling this would be the kind of day that goes your way. King was making big contests. Butler and Billings were consistently at the fall. Within a couple of hours bitterly turned into a waste of time. What to make of Hill running the length of the play for a slick centring ball to Membrey? Kent working off his opponent, bouncing off the goal post padding and kicking the goal whilst glaring at said opponent on the ground? Butler blasting through the forward line with repeat efforts for a casual snap that he didn’t even bother celebrating? Nothing. Blake Acres wins.

Lonie found a free kick in the final second of the first quarter and kicked straight, no matter the siren sounding as he wound up. We got use to St Kilda’s notoriously slow starts interstate under Richo, not to mention being able to back up decent wins or create extended periods of good form. This is where the inconsistency was supposed to bite. But were up, seven goals to one. Fucking hell!

***

Like the North Melbourne game, there was no wild shift in momentum. Slowly, slowly, slowly, forays forward became rarer. Kicks out of defence more rushed. They just weren’t being cleared as far. Moments and passages of genuine quality shown in the first quarter and seen multiple times since the resumption simply…didn’t happen. Slowly, Freo’s moments came. Big marks by Lobb and Fyfe bookended the run prior to half-time. They made it louder.

There were chances in the second quarter to snuff out a Freo comeback before it really started.. Gresham had a set shot in the opening moments of the term that was royally sliced, and would have given a scoreline of 8.2 to 1.2. Gresham out of the middle to Max King for a goal after Lobb’s turned the game back. Long barrelled through the middle and set up what should have been another goal to King, but he missed a snap around the corner he should have kicked. Hill turned over the footy a few moments later and hit King on the lead. He missed. He’d kicked 1.3 and that was the last score until the final quarter. By then, comments from Former St Kilda Supporter Gerard Healy and Johnno about Max King kicking six had dried up.

What are we going to do about it? North Melbourne had set the template, but even then the challenge had been laid down by half-time. They were two men down. That Round 1 problem could and should have been consigned to the pre-pandemic era, showing that the changes at St Kilda in 2020 also include learning lessons. We thought that had happened after half-time against the Bulldogs. But their no-names were moving the ball and their kids were running down Seb Ross and knocking over Rowan Marshall. Richo-era problems were back. Another performance missing interstate. King kicked 1.3; Membrey kicked three but his one behind came from his most important shot of the match. Butler and Hill were anonymous after quarter time. Downhill skiers, flat-track bullies. It looked a whole lot sillier when Wilkie lost the ball in the sun and Banfield took the mark and goaled. Desperate moves were made when there was a failure in leadership. Clark in the middle, Geary in attack, and the ultimate Richo-era white flag: Carlisle thrown forward in the last quarter. More than anything else, the failed comeback was an insult to St Kilda fans.

***

Ben Long’s hit on Sean Darcy will be used in headlines and Fremantle folklore as a turning point. Darcy was one of Freo’s best at that point and they were suddenly two down on the bench. Like we did with J. Longmuir, the St Kilda Football Club were there to help create Dockers heroes. A hamstrung Nat Fyfe kicked two important goals resting forward after the first break, when perhaps he shouldn’t have even played (and in the middle of a pandemic!). St Kilda was coming off a nine day break, and Fremantle six. (I’d vaguely complained about Collingwood getting choice time slots all year and that the only time they didn’t, they ended up playing us on a nine-day break against our six-day break. That obviously didn’t matter.) “Lachie Schultz from the Longmuir spot!”, with St Kilda opponents in an excellent clash jumper helplessly standing around him is a football memory and experience we all have now. Walters made the opening gaffe and gave away the 50 metre penalty in the final minutes that allowed the Saints to draw level, but he won the next two centre bounce clearances and helped set up the match-winning goal – that came from our captain panicking and bombing it long on the rebound with scores level and plenty of time left, and despite being in space with teammates around him.

Am I still afforded the same level of frustration and anger towards players and the club in a season like this, as I am fleeting dreams of the best-case scenario (Victorians not having to quarantine before an inevitable interstate game on Grand Final Day)? Call it one less worry. The siren sounds, and it’s back to being some guy on the couch on a wet and grey Saturday afternoon during a pandemic.