Cometh the hour, cometh the Gresham

by Richard Lee

Round 14, 2016
St Kilda 4.2, 8.6, 12.8, 14.9 (93)
Carlton 1.4, 4.6, 10.9, 13.12 (90)
Crowd: 28,745 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday at 7.25pm

For so long – the best part of a decade – in the recent past, St Kilda was going bonkers trying to solve the puzzle of how to top the best player in the AFL and his Cats. And again on Saturday night at the dome, it felt like that puzzle was again a step beyond us. Paddy Dangerfield (previously known as “Paddy Football” – David King you need to try harder) waltzed inside fifty, looped a handball over to Steven Motlop and his tap in put the Cats up by 9 points with a handful of minutes remaining. This had the slow-mo car crash flow of the original toe-poke sequence that finished with Chappy’s snap back on that afternoon in September of 2009. Nothing you could do but gape and let cold horror wash through you. Again, the cats had the ace. Again, they would have the final say.

Jade Gresham had other ideas. Like I texted my brother shortly after the final siren: his goal was the best Saints goal I remember seeing in several years. It was miraculous yet deliberate and clinical, and most importantly came at such a clutch moment. To the few that have been under a rock over the past few days: Jack Steven burst from the center square and poked a left foot kick just over the head of Gresham. Gresham gathered, shrugged off Lonergan’s imminent tackle with a shimmy of the hips and, smushed up against the boundary in the pocket, he turned and snapped a beauty. The Saints members wing crazy mix of ecstasy and disbelief.

But this only brought the margin back to 3 points. It was left to Jack Steven to put on the final, improbable touches on the win. His toe-poke goal from 15 meters out was quick piece of thinking on the end of just sheer gut running, molecule piercing persistence. Steven’s performance wasn’t one of his finest, yet it was one of his most poignant. It was one of a midfielder who wasn’t going to be denied having a say in the outcome. In fact, it should be highlighted that in recent times, his ability to effect a game late regardless of how he has gone for the rest of the evening has been somewhat of a trait. The most obvious other example of this being his efforts against the Dees last year, with his double power-play, catapulting the ball forward for Joey to run on and kick a dying seconds goal for the win.

It’s so easy now to just bask in the brilliance that was the Gresham goal (or the Steven toe poke if that’s what does it for you), and marvel at the composure and steadiness of Riewoldt’s defensive presence over the dying minutes. Yet, to focus on that would do a disservice to how this win was set up in the first half.

If there indeed is a pressure gauge mechanism in the Saints coaches box it may have been close to exploding in the first quarter. The pressure was hot and unwavering. Better yet, the midfield had a fair bit of ball in hand in the first place. Seb Ross was leading the charge; he was omnipresent and was bringing the likes of Newnes, Montagna, and Savage into the game. Not only is it impressive to see Seb developing the thirst for leather poisoning, but his poise when he has the ball is quite remarkable.

Minchington was lively early, Wright was hitting the scoreboard (albeit in comedic fashion), Hickey was pushing forward with good effect and Paddy McCartin was an effective target. Paddy got his account open early after an impressive mark and snap finish from the set shot. The rest of the Saints forward forays for the half wouldn’t be so clinical though. There was quite a lot of huff and puff, but a lack of refinement and polish. Poor kicking again coming in the way of some exciting play.

To be honest, the Saints should have been a longer way to wrapping up the four points at halftime. Twenty-four points seemed like a generous margin on the balance of play, even though the Cats themselves had been profligate in front of goal, particularly with set shots. Dangerwood had been stifled, Seb Ross had been unleashed and yet the door was clearly ajar for the ladder leaders to swing right back open after the main interval.

Of all people (and no disrespect) if there was one Geelong player I would have been peeved to have the game snatched away from us by it’s Lincoln McCarthy. Credit where it’s due, he kicked 4 third quarter goals and they weren’t all exactly gimmes. The Cats had six for the term, and they seemed to go through with mechanic frequency. For the first of the quarter anyway the game was played almost exclusively in their forward half. Hickey’s prominence in the first half was a distant memory as Dangerwood, Blicavs, Smith and the rest of them ran riot in the centre square.

This was gut check time for the Saints. For a team that so often trumpets about their trademark being their pressure and how everything flows on from it, they couldn’t have done anymore in that regard in the first half and yet the Cats were still primed to pounce. Dangerwood were never going to lay low for the entire four quarters and on cue their minions chimed in. St Kilda responded enough in order to gather themselves and steady the ship before the last change. However, the two goal cushion wasn’t one to be sat on for a quarter; the game still had to be won in the final term.

*****

One of the more valuable things in watching a contest like this, in terms of the long-term, is seeing young players, who may have been widely touted as stars by armchair experts across the internet, react in such a pressure-cooker contests against quality opposition. Membrey is the most obvious test case: Tim has been brilliant since he has been inserted into the lineup, but hasn’t really delivered against opposition of any quality as yet.

Another I had my eye on was Josh Bruce, who unfortunately, got given a bath by Lachie Henderson. Bruce worked fairly tirelessly for the night; he could be seen barking out orders to his cohorts, particularly in the desperate final minutes of the last term. On a handful of occasions he actually outworked Henderson and ended up in a favourable position to mark, but each time he came up short. Often because he just lacked the strength and poise to make the most of his positioning. Yet, on the one occasion he did shake off the shackles in the third term and rose to mark at the top of the square, he was struck and impeded over the shoulder blatantly – but to no avail, the umpire waved play-on. That was his night in a nutshell. Perhaps we can put it down to just a dog of a night for Baroose, but it’s something to keep an eye on; he hasn’t really caught fire at all this year in all honesty.

Armitage was another to really let himself down. In the face of, arguably, the Games two foremost current midfielders, Armo was somewhat of a ghost for the majority of the night. He had only chalked up 10 disposals to three-quarter time, which was indicative of a very meek performance from one of the teams more brute players. Fortunately for him, the performances of Ross and Steven in the midfield overshadowed his no-show.

Roberton, Gilbert, and Montagna all shared duties in making a pigs ear of trying to deliver the ball out of the back half in the final term. All three didn’t do much to move the needle in terms of their current form. With Delaney, and at times Geary, also dropping back to those last lines, it was really agonising stuff seeing them try and lol their way out of defence. Savage must feel like he is odd one out back there sometimes.

Whilst I remember Delaney though (it’s been quite a while!), he deserves a shout for the way he has competed so fiercely after such a long stint back with the Zebras. If I’m not mistake his contract is up at the end of the year, and it’s performances like the one he gave on Tom Hawkins that will linger in the mind of those who matter.

Delaney’s efforts, and Roberton’s effort to not get flat in the back of a sprawling Tomahawk in the last minute or two, won’t catch the spotlight much, if at all, for it’s Gresham who stole the show. Not just for his superlative snap that yanked us back into touching distance of a win, but his overall performance – which was good enough to earn him the Rising Star nomination.

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 14
Seb Ross – 4
Jack Steven – 2
Jade Gresham – 2
Maverick Weller – 1
Nick Riewoldt – 1

Totals
Jack Steven – 23
Nick Riewoldt – 18
Seb Ross – 15
Tim Membrey – 10
David Armitage – 8
Tom Hickey – 8
Leigh Montagna – 8
Jack Newnes – 6
Sam Fisher – 5
Jack Billings – 4
Josh Bruce – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Jade Gresham – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Blake Acres – 3
Paddy McCartin – 2
Jarryn Geary – 2
Mav Weller – 2
Sean Dempster – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1
Mav Weller – 2

 

Saints 93 Cats 90

by Richard Lee

Cometh the moment, cometh the Gresham.

What a win that was! I had a sneaky feeling (no, seriously) that the Saints could give the Cats a real shake yet even when I expressed this to friends before the game it was hard to do so with a straight face.

Steven was actually the one who kicked the winning goal, his second half was instrumental in getting over the line. Seb Ross – in his 50th game – was one of the best on the ground (33 disposals). Mav Weller, Riewoldt and Newnes were also very good.

Probably the best win of the Richardson era. Huzzah!

THE MATCH REPORT WILL BE UP ON MONDAY

The St Kilda Jumper 2016 SOTU

by Tom Briglia

The 2015 pre-season began with what effectively qualifies as sexually explicit material in my books with the very late unveiling of our clash jumper.

It was intra-club match morning and rather than sweltering in the sun on a glorified nature strip in Ti Tree Crescent I was still lying in bed making a slow start to my Saturday.

I did have my eye on Twitter though, because often its the intra-club game that has introduced us to clash jumpers (2013), premiership season-quality training jumpers (two in each of 2008 – #1 & #2, and 2009 – #1 & #2) and NAB Cup/Challenge jumpers (Stickman in 2014). The Saints were the last team in the competition prior to 2015 to release any jumpers officially for the season so I had a suspicion that this might be the big reveal of the type that no doubt millions tune into a la whatever reality TV slopfest is the flavour of the week.

And it was, with a few accounts tweeting quality images of suspect quality of half the¢ team wearing what is arguably the best St Kilda jumper in its history. I’m talking of course about our current clash jumper, which mercifully the club has retained for 2016.

Clash Jumper

I say “arguably the best St Kilda jumper” because it’s something that pays reverence to a jumper that we not only wore over 100 years ago, but one that is also a refined and bolder version of the candy stripe jumper worn both at the peak of the GT era but also from 1886 until 1892 – before the thicker stripes were introduced. See also the jumper worn in the brilliant 1996 Centenary Celebration Round win.

The colour scheme and thickness of the stripes lends a further heritage quality as it’s not as plainly symmetrical as any other jumper in the competition – barring our own and West Coast’s woeful tri-panel, which fortunately has been turfed in favour of the far superior navy wings jumper. But this clash design also lends itself to the lack interference from manufacturers of the era in which we wore this, with just some of the next stripe in the pattern on each side organically peeking out, importantly adding a little more red to the left hand side, lest we have another clash jumper which is effectively a Collingwood jumper when seen from one side.

It’s the kind of jumper that be just about the best in the competition in a black version, with black cuffs and collar and black back. It eradicates having a completely different back to the front of the jumper should the stripes continue around the back, although an original-size club logo encroaching across the white panel of our current home design would actually help this.

As for the practicalities of our current clash, the only possible change I would make to it is that the numbers should be red, as black and navy are the colours we’re clashing against. Again, The stripes continuing around the bottom might also help if only to add red through it, as the 2004/05 version of candy stripe tastefully did. And again, at least the front this jumper has the advantage of having red throughout the width of the jumper, not just to one side, so it should be utilised for contrast and consistency across both sides of the jumper, rather than simply having a white back which has nothing to do with the front of the jumper.

NAB Challenge/Training Jumper

It’s a gripe I have with this year’s almost-glorious NAB Challenge jumper. The new almost-old-style-V-neck ISC collar actually works in its favour despite the template potentially cluttering the design (i.e. Geelong’s home jumper). Fortunately a far as our home and clash goes, it serves to make the collars far more solid, despite having quite a wide neckline cut, and the new ISC collar (fortunately) is the only real change to last year’s designs.

Anyway, we saw the issue in the final NAB Challenge game against Melbourne with the jumper – the front is completely different to the back, and we had two teams with white numbers and red on the back opposing each other. Whilst having red and and white on the back is a step forward in terms of contrast (as I’ve already mentioned), it simply doesn’t quite do the job of doing the hot-cross bun nostalgia justice. Fortunately for those harbouring the fire, in the 20th Anniversary since the jumper was introduced, we got a closer version of that for Maddie’s Match in Round 2, which is is actually a really clever way to honour both Roo’s 300th and the occasion with, like last year’s edition, 5% of all proceeds from the jumper going to the MRV.1430952997570 (1)

Unfortunately, given the cut of jumpers now and the eagerness of the club to replicate the full body of the design, the proportions of the jumper were squashed upwards – the black cross wasn’t as prevalent and bold and the full compliment of red at the bottom was retained at its expense. The messiness of the new ISC collar was on display also, looking right out of proportion compared to the rest of the jumper.

One thing that people seem to miss with the hot-cross bun design is that the back could easily be inversed so it has a red bottom, white top half and black number, making it a mostly red and white jumper with a little bit of black, with the red contrasting against darker teams on both sides of the jumper. This year’s NAB version is almost the perfect modernised, fitted version of the design on the front – what we’d probably be wearing now if we’d won the 1997 Grand Final in the hot-cross bun – although red in the top corners as per the hot cross bun design would be an even better design. Couple that with the inversed back and you have what would be a very effective and very bold clash jumper. So yes, what I’m essentially saying is a mixture of the hot cross bun design with this year’s NAB Cup jumper might be a wonderful clash jumper. Or, just the regular hot cross-bun back for a home jumper.

But could it supplant my heart’s constant yearning for the current candy stripe? I think in my ideal world a black version of the current clash as home – kind of like this probably inaccurately-coloured photograph featuring Vic Cumberland above – and both with stripes around the back is my dream St Kilda kit; probably closer to the 1913 jumper below (from Boyles Football Photos). They’re such incredible designs that pay homage to history and historical designs. But who the freak am I?vlcsnap-00017_StKilda_1913_Grand_Final_Team_25_17

Indigenous Round Jumper

Indigenous Round gave us another taste of the red and black on both sides of a tri-panel version of the jumper, which the 2014 ANZAC jumper did to almost excellent effect. This was a little more subtle, however, with the circular patterning overlaid on the clash jumper last year replicated but over the home jumper. I’d still a home jumper that’s essentially the 2014 ANZAC jumper with black cuffs and black on the top half of the left and right side panels, with red on the bottom half either side of a full middle white panel and black shorts and mostly black socks (something like the 2002 home uniform) would be very becoming.

A nice win in the sunshine

by Tom Briglia

Round 12, 2016
St Kilda 4.2, 8.3, 14.8, 17.8 (110)
Carlton 3.0, 5.2, 8.3, 12.6 (78)
Crowd: 47,945 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday at 1.10pm

A week of swinging between anger, apathy, apprehension, and simply not wanting to think about it at all culminated in a genuinely good day out at the footy for a St Kilda supporter.

To watch a young side without its current lynchpins of the present and future respectively show qualities that stand up regardless of personnel in the sunshine of a cool winter afternoon in front of 48,000 was a pleasure.

It was a long week to get through for the Saints. No sooner had the blowtorch been packed away following two wins lined with positive elements, albeit against weakened opposition, it was back out and turned up higher and hotter than when it made its first appearance following the debacle in Perth.

Things came to a head on Thursday evening, with the underlying revelations of one particular article, shortly followed by the team announcement.

Selection/injury lotto

The dropping of Hotline led the selection stunners. Whilst he’s been averaging over 20 possessions this year, that’s been pushed up by his great performances against Collingwood and Hawthorn and he’s really lacked something in past month or so. The last quarter against North Melbourne saw him get the opportunities to be a match-winner in the way he was late against the Bulldogs in the comeback game last year, but just didn’t quite take them. He wasn’t drafted to get 30-plus possessions (although he’s capable of it); he was drafted because he can be so damaging and creative with ball and stand up in big moments, something that seems to have left him of late. Am I being too hard on him? Maybe, but the guy we could have picked to lead our midfield for the next 12-15 years became the youngest winning captain of a team in history last week. I still think not enough is made of us not taking Chris Judd in the 2001 draft, which would have altered the course of the club’s history and perhaps the game’s, given the longevity of the St Kilda team’s competitiveness through the GT and Ross eras. Even with those outlandish comparisons aside it’s incredibly early, but how many people right now genuinely think Billings will prove to be a better player than Bont, and more valuable to their team given where our midfield stocks are currently at? We’ll find out in time regardless of our (my) out of proportion statements/comparisons/propositions/whatever, but this week was one of the more difficult of the development phase for fans who find themselves thinking about where the club is at many a time during the week.

Also getting the arse was Murdoch, which I don’t think anyone took notice of, and the injuries to Dempster and Goddard depleted our defensive stocks in the way Roo and McCartin’s did for the attack. Over the past two years there’s been essentially two approaches to the forward line – a bunch of creative smalls in Lonie, Sinclair and Billings buzzing around and creating movement and pressure; otherwise it’s been the more recent incarnation of one that’s based around Bruce, Paddy and Membrey, with Riewoldt dropping in on occasion but mostly roaming further up the ground. This week presented a hazardous, makeshift mix of both – only a handful of times since Round 1 last year have none of Lonie, Sinclair and Billings been in the line-up, let alone because none of them warranted selection in the seniors. Gresham and Minchington were this week’s designated small forwards, with Bruce and Membrey to play taller alongside debutant and specifically non-specialist-forward Lewis Pierce, going by the video the club posted of his chat with Richo during the week.

So on paper it was effectively three true forwards in the team and then also named in the forward line a promising kid who’s just counting down time until he’s moved to the midfield; Sam Gilbert who might float in and for for another seven-possession game; Mav Weller might hang out looking handsome but not doing much before following the game with a genuinely funny tweet; and Luke Dunstan who is just there when he’s not in the middle. And Lewis Pierce.

When you have a week to stew upon where the club is that – whether it’s up or it’s down – you essentially come to conclusion each time that we’re in this position simply because of the horrors that come with being the St Kilda Football Club, both at the behest of the footy gods as well as some good, old-fashioned incompetence. Paddy getting getting knocked out by the handsome face of Jack Newnes (which fortunately came out of the collision untarnished; every cloud etc. etc.) before another whack to the back of the scone immediately afterwards? Hugh Goddard out for 12 months because he took a few steps? They’re just things that happens at St Kilda that you can’t do anything about. Another thing at St Kilda is just shit stuff happening because of poor decision making or poor execution, either people doing things poorly, which between that and my previous point about Paddy should entirely cover shit stuff happening at or to St Kilda regularly.

I’m going to duck and/or flinch immediately after I say in my completely uninformed stupor that My Favourite Hair in the AFL shouldn’t have played at all beyond quarter-time last week. Even though I’m apparently throwing in a caveat I’m also not a medical professional in any sense so for all I (don’t) know, all the damage might have already been done when our own Stephen Merchant trundled into our best player and My Favourite Hair in the AFL and  possibly dented the remainder of his career. Hopefully Roo’s re-signing for 2017 doesn’t yield the little that Aaron Hamill’s 2007 did. But why, why, why would you keep him on the ground? How about worrying about other guys actually getting off their proverbial and show something rather than having to keep an integral part of the team who might have damaged their historically suspect knee on the ground to do fark knows what? Anyway, here we were, with Lewis Pierce – who becomes the third player to play for the Saints in six years after being drafted from the Dandenong Stingrays with pick 75, following My Former Favourite Player Arryn Siposs and Sav (via the Hawks obviously) – as a key focal point up forward. And with another problem at the forefront of our mind, and one that covers both on- and off-field matters.

St $andringham Zebra Saints (Part 1)

It then came out on the eve of the round in The Age that the St Kilda standalone VFL team is for now making way for a swallowing of Sandringham in the vein of Fitzroy at the top level and Carlton’s of the once-Preston Bullants. From Caro’s article:
“Although the move presents a significant financial saving to the debt-ridden club, Finnis insisted that had not been a driver in the decision. He said: “This is about our position in the community and the physical infrastructure. The agreement, should we achieve it, gives us everything we need to ensure the correct development of our players.”

This was a key part of the article for two reasons. Firstly, just because we don’t have a standalone team it doesn’t mean our VFL arrangement won’t work. The Hawthorn and Box Hill alliance has been incredibly beneficial – well, for Hawthorn anyway – but even to that I would counter that Hawthorn’s coffers and history have something we don’t, which are money and a shitload of premierships respectively. No-one can say for the certain the club wouldn’t be in this position had Schneider, Milne, McQualter et al. kicked straight on Grand Final Day but…you know, it wouldn’t. Finnis went out of his way to say that money “had not been a driver in the decision” (Caro’s para-quoting), but I will suggest that this has just about everything to do with money. You could say well, they need the money for the women’s team and the club’s just announced a massive restructuring to accommodate that so that might come into it somehow too. The point is this shows that we can’t actually achieve all that we want because our financial situation is much worse than any of us would like to think, and other clubs seem to be unencumbered this way. Funny that.

At best we get the essential breakdown of a VFA/VFL club with a long and proud history so an AFL club that hasn’t been able to sort its shit out on and off the field can attain the cohesion between its younger guys that the Bulldogs, Geelong, Collingwood and so on can enjoy. Whilst the club will be back at Moorabbin, all the goodwill of having a stand-alone VFL team called St Kilda playing from the ground against opposition that it faced in the beginning years of the VFA in the late 19th century had been diluted to a Sandringham team playing “up to” three games in a St Kilda-coloured jumper. Whoever ripped off the logo from The Saints for our club’s own copyright-infringing purposes better get to work on a stick-Zebra with a halo on it.

 This where things reached a head for the week – just a couple of hours after the story broke we’d dropped Billings and Murdoch, and whilst bringing in a bunch of inexperienced guys is something that needs to be done I felt, and still feel despite a really good win today that we’re starting behind and beginning to do that, let alone finding out if our depth is actually any good.

St $andringham Zebra Saints (Part 2)

Who better to compound all of this further than a resurgent Carlton, which for some reason was heading straight for a 7-5 record at our disposal. Carlton, the laughing stock that should be duking it out with Essendon for the number one draft pick. That specifically isn’t our conversation, but during the week the slow filtering of national draft articles and who’s who pieces into the mediasphere all of a sudden seemed a whole lot more relevant.

Matt and I got to the Locker Room to take in on the newly-repaired big screen – following someone’s drunken, crushing charge into its lower section – a quarter of how some of our development was tracking, namely our number 3 pick the day after number 4 guided his club to a famous win on the Adelaide Oval as it staked its premiership claims for 2016, as opposed to us rolling out a plan that vaguely named either 2018 or 2020 as the premiership year. Hotline gave fark all to TDL as the players ran out past the captain as per Sandy’s video posted on Twitter, but I’m probably just looking for another loaded sentence to write. Matt and I agreed he’d kick five and have 30.

What we managed to catch of the second quarter was mostly the Zebras’ surge in its latter period, and on one of the smaller screens as the Locker Room management had gone with Fox Footy for the big, non-crushed screen. Lonie and Sinclair had both started well and Billings was getting a lot of the ball, even though he looked like/was obviously cruising, and there was a terrifying period where I wondered if there’d be more team cohesion on Trevor Barker Beach Oval than Corporate Stadium.

We caught a few notable things, starting with forgotten footballing human Bailey Rice finishing off a neat if partially comedic end-to-end passage of play with a nice goal on the run. He already looks like he’s 38 years old and everyone seems to have erased him from the St Kilda list. That’s pretty much all I have to say about him. 

O’Kearney goaled shortly after and then it was down to Lonie to get some real highlights happening, starting with a brilliant contested aerial effort which we dragged down and followed up with a goal from the res ulting kick, before using the never-ending gale beautifully for a massive long-range goal. Things got even more out of hand from there, with Channel 7 posting a tweet from Ahmed Saad about Cam Shenton’s hair.

Billings finished with 28 touches (although interestingly wasn’t named in the best), so Matt and I were only two touches and, uh, five goals off our predictions for him. Lonie finished with five himself. Surely both will come back in for the Cats in a fortnight’s time? Assuming you’ve got Paddy and Roo coming back in too, that’s potentially four changes right there. I’ll get to some of Sunday’s performances soon but I dare say there’s more in favour of the incumbent, especially when you’re going like-for-like; for example is Minchington’s 16 touches and hard work up the ground enough to keep his spot, or has Lonie’s form been that good that he leapfrogs him? We’ll probably have a better idea after next weekend following- oh wait, no we won’t, because Sandy’s got the bye. So we’re running on today I guess; regardless, when you make six changes in one week it’s usually not a wholesale reset of your default 22, they’ll either be injuries or a chance to give someone’s arse a rocket, as in Billings’ case, and eventually you’ll have those changes coming the other way. Sinclair was apparently good as well as kicking two goals, so that’s a bunch of potential ins already lining up. 

The actual game, in actual, natural light

Holy shitballs the roof was open.

A nice, mostly sunny, cool winter afternoon. Sunday actually fucking felt like we were at the footy, and not on the set of a TV show with lights and loud non-football-crowd-related noises going off every four seconds. The 1.10pm start only added to it – the game began and finished in sunshine; it wasn’t a made-for-TV timeslot in which you enter the Corporate Dome at 2.45pm and your weekend is basically over.

The top deck full of navy blue, and it was only a quarter time browse through Twitter that pulled my attention to the size of the crowd, as well as the issues the stadium was having getting so many people into the ground. A huge number of people beyond the nearly-48,000 either didn’t make it in until the end of the first quarter or during the second quarter, as the we went from empty seats in the members everywhere shortly before the game to a near sell-out, with just standing room left. Games like this highlight (one of the many) the shortfalls of the existence of the Medallion Club, as well as the pathetic decision to build Melbourne’s second AFL venue to only effectively accommodate 48,000 for a “sell-out”. Yes, I’m sure Etihad management could have more or better protocols in place to accommodate extra walk-ups close to an “event” taking place and I’m sure it would have been totally shitty standing in a queue as the game began and kept going, and kept going. Also, why wouldn’t you print your ticket for the sake of your own convenience? Both of those thoughts can exist in the same sphere.

It took 15 minutes before anyone kicked a goal but there were six kicked from that point by the time Membrey had slotted a very nice goal after quarter-time siren.

In that time I learnt that it wasn’t a good thing Jarryn Geary wasn’t captain in My Favourite Hair’s absence going almost solely by his rubbish disposal at several points. Glaring examples included his handball to actually no-one as we came out of half-back, before he intercepted a Carlton kick on the return shortly after and decided to kick directly to nothing out of bounds. The good work of Gilbert and Eminem that led to Lewis Pierce’s goal (I’ll get to that) covered Geary’s very awkward kick out of defence. I actually thought Geary was the captain for a second given he was telling everyone what was what as they went through their final whatevers in the minutes before the game. Jack Steven was our captain for the day, and whilst he is only now not coming across as as 12 year-old in interviews, having a captain who leads from the front with their actions, including breaking through the constant off-the-ball attention that Carlton clearly planned for him and ending up with 25 quality touches and three goals, particularly stepping up when the game was the to be taken by the collar, is clearly more valuable and makes having a Geary or, for the time being, a Mav, as stand-in captain look very token.

The now-typical late run-out, adopted also by Geelong this year and Essendon last week, was our first look at Lewis Pierce in St Kilda colours and he became the third of our players to wear his socks up, following Hickey and Gilbert. With the black boots and awkward frame and running gait he looked more like a player from 1996 had been blasted through a wormhole from Waverley to the Concrete Dome; somewhere between our number 42 ruckman in 1996 Andrew McLean, or is number and position inheritor (and 1997 Preliminary and Grand Final ruckman) Brett Cook. 

As we made our move in the second quarter Lewis gave us what will be one of the better moments of the 2016 season in the form of his first goal from his first kick. As I mentioned, Gilbert and Eminem managed to get out of an awkward situation created by an awkward Jarryn Geary kick out of defence and Wright’s kick bounced nicely for the leading Hickey, who was playing up forward at the time and he wheeled around with more agility than someone his size should have, and shot a kick deep into attack that bounced across goal. From our side of the ground we could see Lewis had the run into the ball’s path, and fortunately it sat up for him and he was good enough to get it onto his boot quickly and accurately enough under heavy attention. It seemed there was a split-second pause at that moment, and when it went through the release was obvious in both the crowd and in the reaction of Lewis and the players – his double-arm celebration before being mobbed by his teammates was a genuinely nice thing to watch.

I’ll indulge myself further and keep going on about it – it was this kind of moment that really completed the picture and made us feel like we were at a game of footy, as opposed to a made-for-TV event. It was kind of cold and a little nippy in the slight breeze sometimes but it didn’t matter to begin with because it was nice to be outside, and at this point it I didn’t know if we were mature enough to close out the game from a point in which we were tantalisingly close to closing out if we were actually decent, but no matter what happened we at least had a moment like that to enjoy as part of this whole journey.

Fortunately we did go on with it, and it was somewhat surreal to be in that position in a game that all of a sudden became a marquee match. It wasn’t just the size of the crowd that was foreign to us – the Collingwood match the only comparison, in recent times, and this was our biggest home crowd at Etihad since Round 10 of 2012 (in what was our first loss to the Tigers in nine years) – but it was the fact the players weren’t overwhelmed by the crowd, let alone the focus on themselves after two smashings in a month, nor the momentum the Blues were taking into the game.

Hickey alone had just a few minutes before setting up Lewis threaded through a great set shot on the boundary line after marking nicely on the lead, but moments like that only punctuated his value on the day. Kreuzer had actually looked dangerous in their match-up early, pushing forward a couple of metres on his own immediately after a centre bounce has Hickey got drawn into following the ball, creating a spare man for a few second goalside of the centre circle for a few second, dangerous if Carlton’s mids could extract the ball. It ended up being a moot point though – Steven, Ross, Dunstan and Armitage all got to work in earnest in the second quarter and took things to another level in the third quarter, capitalising on Hickey’s effective ruckwork.

It was a key reason why we were able to play the game on our terms, and often Jack Steven’s terms. Jack’s first goal, a long shot on the run from a tight angle, came conveniently as the Fox Footy commentators had highlighted the off-the-ball physicality of the Carlton players towards him. Noted St Kilda supporter Sandy Roberts became appropriately excited about the whole thing.

Steven’s work was rounded by a similar running goal in the first minute of the final quarter that effectively closed the game. It could be put down as a brilliant solo effort – he followed up his own run from a throw-in on centre wing and kick forward to get the ball back and kick the goal – but it was the other parts of the chain that reflected the midfield’s work for the day. Hickey’s hit-out from the throw-in to Armo, who’s deft handball under pressure found Steven who was already running; Dunstan was ahead of his man on the lead and Seb Ross mopped it up; Ross added a second quick, classy handball to the chain to Steven who had kept running and kicked truly in front of the members.

The midfield line-up that should take us to a premiership tilt in the coming years is by no means complete, but with Hickey’s best getting better, Steven establishing himself as a nearly-elite mid, Seb Ross all of a sudden being a really, really good, consistent footballer and Luke Dunstan back on track to being the proud, contested competitor we hoped he’d be the core is getting stronger and a little bigger. There’s still guys like Billings, Acres and Gresham to roll through, not to mention Freeman (well, maybe) and the not-so-small matter of free agency and trade targets that Ameet, Trout and co. will be looking at as we speak. We certainly need more speed and polish, but the considered, quick thinking and use of the ball by Ross and Dunstan particularly this season is something we’ll need to compliment all that in the future.

It helped a whole lot on Sunday that guys like Minchington, Acres and Gresham between them helped out a whole lot by pushing up the ground and giving options when Armo, Steven, Seb, Dunstan etc. were busy in traffic applying pressure getting the ball and then looking for someone to get it out to (the tackle count ended 70 to 43 in our favour). As I said I don’t know if Minchington did enough to hold his spot, nor Acres but Richo slipped his name into the members’ post-match video so might find himself in the rare position of not being able to drop him. But we’re slowly getting to the stage where even under selection duress we can bring in guys that will step in add something of their own to this team. Acres only had 15 touches but looked composed with the ball, showed speed and a willingness to create played a tall forward cameo role also to reward some good work out of the middle.

Speaking of guys that can step into the team, Tim Membrey continued his excellent run of form; he’s now kicked 20 goals in seven games since coming in for the Round 6 game in Melbourne. His five goals came from all angles and were more than just a compliment to his work up the ground; his 10 marks and 17 touches reflected how hard he worked and how important he was in the absence of Roo as a strong linking option higher up. 

It was a good sign we could kick 17.8 without a big involvement from Josh Bruce, with Sunday’s game just the second time in his last 36 he’s been held goalless. Whilst he pushed up often himself and provided a contest, like our midfield options we’re gradually getting to a point in which at least one of our key forwards can have a quiet day and that responsibility can be taken by other forwards, such as Membrey, with input from smaller forwards and mids, in yesterday’s case Jack Steven’s three and Gresham’s pair.

Gresham’s second goal would actually push Lewis’s own for the most enjoyable moment of the day. For completely different reasons, but he showed incredible composure and then skill to get past Thomas and squeeze in that low snap. He’s still young so his number aren’t huge but he does something good with it every time – to have a firing Billings, Lonie, Sinclair and Gresham in the same side is a very exciting prospect for St Kilda fans.

For such a good team performance there were individual performances that did stick out, but that’s part of it – whoever’s having a good day needs to have that support, and whilst some players like Steven and Joey will always have a heavy involvement that load will need to be shared from week-to-week as match situations dictate. Webster stepped up with some quality ball use and physicality on a day in which Roberton reverted to the haphazard version of himself; Newnes did as well and stepped up for a timely snap goal, which is the kind of thing that covers a guy like Mav missing gettable shots at goal – although it goes without saying that Mav’s goal on the run late in the third quarter was a crucial moment in the match. 

So after all my whinging during the week and on the Thursday, and then in this bloated “match” “review”, what did the win on Sunday mean? Well, maybe not a whole lot. You move out of the development phase and into a period of being a genuinely good team over time, through  a collection of countless moments and lessons learned, contest by contest, Lewis Pierce goal by Lewis Pierce goal.

I’ve said over the last few weeks you simply can’t take anything for granted in this game, whether it’s a several year period in which your team is a legitimate premiership threat, down to those days where you make your way into a Grand Final and all that goes with it, or those individual days in the development period in which you feel that much better about what’s coming in the years ahead. We have no idea what the game against the dangerous Geelong will bring in a fortnight, but Sunday was a nice day out. In the sunshine and in front of a huge crowd, the Saints had a great win.

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 12
Tim Membrey – 3
Jack Steven – 3
Tom Hickey – 2
Seb Ross – 2

Totals
Jack Steven – 21
Nick Riewoldt – 17
Seb Ross – 11
Tim Membrey – 10
David Armitage – 8
Tom Hickey – 8
Leigh Montagna – 8
Jack Newnes – 6
Sam Fisher – 5
Jack Billings – 4
Josh Bruce – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Blake Acres – 3
Jade Gresham – 2
Paddy McCartin – 2
Jarryn Geary – 2
Sean Dempster – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1
Mav Weller – 1

Welcome to winter

by Tom Briglia

Round 11, 2016
Adelaide Crows 6.5, 11.11, 16.14, 19.19 (133)
St Kilda 1.2, 4.2, 5.5, 6.9 (45)
Crowd: 40,896 at Adelaide Oval, Sunday, June 5th at 4.10pm CST

And with that spitting, hissing performance, winter began.

Australian football is seen as a “winter” game but winter really just covers the second half of the home and away season; during which St Kilda seasons typically break down, decay and disappear into the pool of our collective memories of the one long journey we’re on to see that second premiership. Sometimes we’ve made it through winter, but we know that even when it seems the stars have aligned for us and the spring sunshine promises what we’ve been waiting for it doesn’t necessarily come.

The 2016 season may well now have established a distinctive first half and a distinctive second half. The finals are effectively out of reach now as a mid-season slumpline begins to form and the injury list. This week also marked the official establishment of that first half – one down week, followed by two up weeks:

  • Round 1 – up I guess; a bit of an outlier given the contrast between the frisst three quarters and last in the wake of a shortened pre-season
  • Round 2 – down; smacked without a whimper by the Bulldogs
  • Round 3 – up; a stirring a win against Collingwood
  • Round 4 – up; pushed Hawthorn all the way
  • Round 5 – down; squashed by GWS
  • Round 6 – up; strong win against Melbourne
  • Round 7 – up; almost knocked off the undefeated North Melbourne
  • Round 8 – down; the West Coast match
  • Round 9 – up; a third quarter for the future setting up an eventually comfortable win
  • Round 10 – up; not without panic attacks but an admirable final quarter
  • Round 11 – down; the Adelaide match

Once you move out of the “always-rubbish” phase to “still occasionally rubbish but capable of a good win” phase it can actually play on your mind a little more. At least when you’re always going to dish up slop you know what’s going to happen and you can enjoy the social aspect of watching a game a little more, whether from what suddenly appear to be overpriced membership seats or the confines of the lounge room with ham and salami puff pastry pin-wheels and Virgin Marys.

I say “Virgin Marys” instead of beers (or indeed, Bloody Marys) because I’d decided to try and test out a ride on the wagon for a bit. At least if things went south quickly again after the long trip from Brunswick West – sans usable headphones after one of the rubber things decided to stay at home – I’d have something novel to (want to) throw across the room (I would never have the guile to actually do that).

Fisher was one of this week’s victims of the club again trumpeting it’s clean bill of health before multiple players went down. His injury at training on Thursday might well be the beginning of the end, being the second hamstring injury he’s had in the space of a few weeks. Potential future captain Goddard got a clear shot at a month or so if he could just do enough to stay in with Tommy Lee also circling.

Later in the week it also emerged Longer was having sustained symptoms of concussion and would also be out for a month; Freeman was pulled out of the Sandy development squad on Friday with hamstring tightness (as opposed to the “awareness” a few weeks ago) and then would you believe it, D-Mac is a late out with “illness” with Jimmy Webster coming in. Both Webster and Lee had been photoed at the airport on the way there with the rest of the team but the club had specifically posted a shot of D-Mac on social media at training the day before the game (“jet fuel can’t melt steel beams” fans go bananas with that).

The game was set to be a match-off between the two forward lines given the relative lack of quality key defenders on each line. Fisher out hurt but like the West Coast game – which he also missed – it wouldn’t matter if our midfield was getting smashed and we did have him and Carlisle in; if the ball use going in his unpressured and the forwards are moving smartly there’s no stopping that. So the midfield battle would be big, and probably as Richo had mentioned earlier in the year the key would be to create turnovers in play and keep the game moving rather than for in stoppages and winning the ball from those. From the start, there wasn’t even a battle. Instead of Kennedy et al getting the clean runs it was Jenkins, McGovern and Tex.

The last time I trekked the hour-plus from Brunswick West to Casa de Briglia in Ormond was just three weeks ago and we’d lost the game within six minutes of play. There’s not much I can really do personally once the Saints have run out – I can’t really say, “and I was determined to not let it happen again” because basically I just have to sit on my arse and hope we’re not rubbish.

Like the West Coast game that day there wasn’t much to say about anything or anyone; unlike the West Coast game no kicked a goal in the first six minutes, but 22 scoring shots to 4.2 at half-time made that a moot point. Last week I wrote 4,000 words about I’m not sure what. After this, I barely have it in me to crap on for half of that.

My Favourite Hair in the AFL was already off barely by the time you could register what was what after Tom Hickey decided to get take his Stephen Merchant impression out on to the ground and take out our captain and best player within a minute or two.

Gresham again showed genuine skill and composure for his great snap goal from the pocket but even that in itself presented a troubling mirroring component to the Eagles game. His goal was the only for the quarter as the Crows held the ball in their half of the ground dangerously for a large majority of the quarter. Rather than being patient and working hard to create an option switch the play or create movement in or through the middle of the ground, it felt like every possession out of the defensive 50 was a high kick to a pack featuring Hickey and maybe Bruce and whilst Bruce took a few marks when he got some sort of split on his opponent throughout the game the up-and-unders gave us fark all. The more it happened the more you wondered what different outcome would magically present itself but hey, these guys get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to do this so who would I do be to question any of that.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a St Kilda belting (particularly in an unforgiving interstate venue) without some comedic relief. Murdoch tried to intercept a sharp ball towards the Adelaide goalsquare and on the less-than-50% chance he would get it at full stretch instead created an even-more-chaos ball, a gift which Charlie Cameron duly honoured with another Adelaide goal. It came just a few minutes after McGovern took a towering mark at the top of the goalsquare with his direct opponent Webster caught somewhere between the pack and the top of the hill, and Josh Bruce of all people the nearest to the target trying so many ways in vain to affect a spoil.

Armitage had two possession and Matt Crouch had 17 at quarter-time and whilst the Armo lifted a little the damage was done. Mum in her Steven Baker 2009 white player issue training jumper, Matt in his 2008 apron clash retail issue, me and in my David Armitage 2014 New Zealand player issue jumper, and dad in his Tom Murphy Gold Coast player issue home jumper, home shorts and clash socks (???), and Evan in some grey hoodie. The mood was flat and the Virgin Marys could only do so much (Mum was on the Bloody Marys so was probably coping better than the rest of us).

Before Hugh went down the second quarter was punctuated by how many times Adelaide turned over the ball and so easily got a scoring shot out of it. There was simply no endeavour; the players were surely at one of the airports still or the plane hadn’t landed. Dempster rolled out some of the St Kilda-style character-based comedy by spooling Geary, which Dwayne exacerbated in the commentary by marking down the spoil to Tex.

I’m not sure what make of Geary essentially being our best player on the night. He kept Eddie Betts to 1.2 in a side that kicked 19.19 and to little influence otherwise. I mean, people talking about Roo and Joey being our best being somewhat of a problem is understandable but also is aaa nod to their longevity. This is something else; a lot of people would have struggled to have Geary in the 22 for much of the last couple of years.

By half-time, Hugh’s season was over. An innocuous turn that screamed “ACL” given he hit the deck immediately and seemed to be holding the right (i.e. wrong) spot. The shot of him watching the game from the boundary in a moonboot brought only temporary relief – it wasn’t an ACL, it was a ruptured achilles; but he will miss 12 months anyway.

It was a night in which amongst the general hammering we lost our young forward and back future pillars in respectively sickening ways. Hugh had endured a horror return to the side in Jackson Ferguson-style as Cameron and Lynch supported Jenkins (whose 7.3 matched our 6.9), McGovern and Tex with ease and he wouldn’t have known where to look. All of a sudden he was on the ground with a face of devastation and the Adelaide crowd’s commendable reaction as he departed from the field a reminder that this was just a shitty thing happening in front of us, regardless of what jumper they wore.

Paddy’s was a bit different. Somehow Jack Newnes’ handsome face steamed through Paddy’s skull before it copped another knock to the back of the head in the traffic. To see him lying motionless with his arms raised but his eyes opened and several very concerned medicos around him was sickening. Hugh’s injury in the shadows of half-time had sucked whatever little was left out of the game; if you didn’t already feel slightly nauseous watching the horror show then this definitely brought the buckets out. Continuing to pay watch the game from that point felt like some form of perversion, whether it was hoping for a 100-point loss to add extra heat to the blowtorch or wincing at any physical contact, lest there be another Paddy collision, or any St Kilda player moving slightly, lest there be another Hugh rupture.

All of a sudden the immediate future of one of our most exciting players is in doubt, and the others’ has been ruined beyond that. Riewoldt and Dempster might join Fisher on the sidelines, Jarryn Geary is our best player and Luke Delaney may have to be reminded he is a St Kilda listed player.  The second half of the season will most likely see a refresh in this year’s exercise of younger or inexperienced guys getting games put into them – probably Tom Lee and maybe even Delaney, as well as D-Mac, Marshall Mathers, Blacres, Lonie and Eli. Footy moves fast, wherever you might be on the ladder or in your development.

Then we had our forward line coach Aaron Hamill to look forward to reiterating on Open Mike why it was no coincidence we’ve won one premiership since 1873. And probably a reminder that this whole journey could – and possibly should – have been over in 2004.

The way home on Sunday night was a rare silent journey, with my headphones out of action. Sunday felt like a changing of seasons, so to speak, for the 2016 season itself, right on the completion of its first half. Injuries for the next month at least will force a mini restart in giving young and inexperienced guys games. How close we were to being 6-4 with major scalps has given way to looking towards another high draft pick and reading up on the countless articles that may or may not gives us some vague indication about which guys could possibly but probably not fulfill our most pressing need, or another need altogether.

The silence of the trip home in the chill and the dark felt like an appropriate moment to take a breather rather than go over the game and stew in something by Braids or Marissa Nadler. Winter is here, and there are some cold months ahead.

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 11

Jarryn Geary – 2
Shane Savage – 2
Jack Steven – 2
David Armitage – 1
Tim Membrey – 1
Josh Bruce – 1
Jade Gresham – 1

Totals
Jack Steven – 18
Nick Riewoldt – 17
Seb Ross – 9
David Armitage – 8
Leigh Montagna – 8
Tim Membrey – 7
Jack Newnes – 6
Sam Fisher – 5
Tom Hickey – 5
Jack Billings – 4
Josh Bruce – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Blake Acres – 3
Jade Gresham – 2
Paddy McCartin – 2
Jarryn Geary – 2
Sean Dempster – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1
Mav Weller – 1