The RWB 2015 Season Review podcast

It’s that vague time of year again in which Rich and myself break some copyright laws in an attempt to enliven the inane chat that makes up most of our podcasts. In this case, it’s our 2015 Season Review and that rubbish chat is sadly maximised as this one is another feature-length presentation from RWB HQ (this time the Brunswick West one). Who’s in Tom’s Top 5 Hair at the club and who threw up next to Rich in the back of the taxi?

Toothless and tired

The faux feature point highlighted by St Kilda and the general footy media in the lead up to the Round 23 clash was about the dual between the “two best Athletes to have played the game”, Nic Nat and Jason Holmes. The Eagles big man stepped up to that errr…plate, dobbing his side’s fourth straight with a speculative left foot snap only nine minutes in. Holmes hadn’t fired a shot at this stage and spent most of the night scrambling to play along.

It was just that sort of the night for all the Aussie Saints out there too though, not just Jason.

But for a slight detour through the second quarter, there was no looking back for the Eagles from that Nic Nat snap. That goal – their fourth – came from only their fifth inside 50. Like Freo had done against us back in round 19, the home side wanted this game sorted by quarter time. At that particular moment it seemed like they had succeeded, yet the Saints chipped away and despite Joey fluffing an open goal – with some help from an errant Maverick Weller pass under no pressure – they got two majors on the board before the first change to give the few supporters in attendance a flicker of something.

Indeed, what seemed like a stemming of the flow actually materialized as a shift in momentum in the second quarter. The Saints pressure game had finally started to heat up; Lonie and Bruce in particular had found renewed vigor up forward and with good reason, seeing as the engine room was starting to claw it’s way into the game. Armitage, Steven and Montagna, and even Ross to a lesser extent, started getting their hands on it and gave the side a chance to set itself up in the forward a little more often.

What actually came of it is indicative of the second half of the season. The side managed one goal and four behinds, despite getting a foothold on the game which drew them alongside the Eagles for inside 50s come half time. All night long, the Eagles power and effectiveness in using the expanses of Domain Stadium was brutal and so, they were able to sucker punch the Saints a couple of times in the second term against the run of play. One counter attack in particular saw a brilliant surge which involved Nic Nat intercepting a handball, getting off a handball of his own – whilst getting tackled by Goddard – which was knockled along by a herd of Eagles and found it’s way to Yeo, then finished off point blank by Cripps via a handball from Josh Hill. A goal that emphatic in its power after a prolonged period of Saints territorial advantage, was a TKO even though the margin was only restored to four goals. It was the epitome of the Eagles ability to overwhelm the Saints with brute force, running and systematic play.

Hugh Goddard – in probably the nights first Hail Mary move – had already been thrown forward in a bid to pep up the Saints forward structure a little, and it worked to a degree, with the young man from Geelong Falcons snagging his first career goal with a fine drop punt on the run.

Two things about this goal: One, it had the conviction about it that reminded me of Jack Billings’ game winner against the Dogs (as well as his searing goal against the Dons last year), whereby Hugh had laser focus on the big sticks despite Roo peeling off into space on his left. Secondly, Hugh received it in space (he actually had time and space to spill the mark first) courtesy of a lovely side step and swift pass from Maverick Weller. This was one of barely a handful of times for the night when a Saints midfielder was able to evade a tackle or break a line with some purpose, and in this instance it was the key the unlocked an open forward line for us.

And ultimately, this lack of cutting edge seriously hampered the side ability to break the Eagles systematic defense and to give the forward line many clear opportunities. Richo has been on record a number of times in stating the Club’s lack of resources in the run-and-carry department and that was underlined again on this occasion.

With the game having effectively been taking away from them, the Saints started to roll the dice at every opportunity in the third term with excessive play-on and handball. Joey (33 disposals) was the lead man in this approach, and despite being made to look toothless at times, his gut running really stood out. Armitage and Steven both tried hard too, but succeeded mainly in skirting the packs and running into dead-ends. Armo’, whether forced through an injury of sorts I don’t know, ended up spending the majority of the night up forward. In the first half he actually had a few decent marking opportunities but he dukes went missing.

Overall, there weren’t many winners for the Saints across the park. Holmes was Nic Nat’s personal doormat; Riewoldt couldn’t impose himself on the game; Fisher just kept eating Josh Kennedy’s dust; and McGovern gave Josh Bruce a bath.

Just on Bruce: whilst he remains the year’s most remarkable story for the Saints and one of their true finds, he does frustrate. His efforts on Saturday night lacked a lot of maturity; his inability to just compete and at least make McGovern and co. earn the marks they were lining up to take was exasperating. The territory game is of utmost importance against the good sides – the Saints actually showed in the second term that when they had the chance to set up their press high up the ground they caused the Eagles trouble and were rewarded with repeat entries. Too often though, when trying to regain this sort of field position, Bruce was caught out of position or lacked the nous to punch when he needed to, to give the likes of Lonie a sniff at ground level. Over and over we saw the Eagles able to reload and get forward because they were able to mark too easily.

It’s great that Bruce has shown how damaging he can be close to goal, but the AFL doesn’t really have any place for players that stick to one position anymore. He’s going to have to work on being smarter in a positional sense and more adept at being that link man. To date Tom Hickey hasn’t exactly shone in that role either, so between him, Bruce and McCartin they’re going to have to get that party started somehow.


The Eagles piled on another 5 goals in the final term. The Saints didn’t manage 5 for the game – they had only 2 scoring shots in the second half. Scoring hasn’t come easily at all against the elite sides of the competition. Tallies of 78, 69, 59, 38 and 30 against the competition’s top four tells a tale.

That second half against the Eagles though felt like a slow motion car crash. It was a really meek and frustrating way to see out the year. As I was mentioning to @Tom_Briglia after the game though: the last two losses against the Swans and Eagles were essentially what most people predicted the majority of the year would be like. That is, the older players looking unable and the younger players simply not being able to step up to their roles as yet. It was just a shame that this was how the curtain was closed on what by and large was a positive year. Positive is a very generic term to slap on the team’s performance, I know. It’s apt though. Six and a half wins is indeed six and a half more than I and many a pundit had chalked for the Club. And Richo would have legitimate reason to be cheesed at not walking away with 9. Losses to Essendon and (to a lesser extent) the Giants in round 1, as well as the Geelong draw, were down to ineffective goal-kicking more than anything.

“Playing to win” was one of Richo’s favourite mottos through the first half of the year, and the fact that The Club had some serious soul-searching chats after back-to-back losses against the Pies and Carlton (in Wellington) in regards to righting the season tells you a lot about how serious the side was about following through on that. I mean, this, after all, is a team that’s not meant to be that concerned with winning for another couple of years.

That’s not to say that scrutiny won’t arrive before then. Like Richo correctly pointed out post-game in Perth, the Club needs to be both patient and impatient in regards to the team’s growth. Of course there will be growing pains when inexperienced talent is asked to fill in big boots; three years in the Giants are still coming to terms with that. All in all the St Kilda Football Club has won 15 and a half games from it’s last 69, since Watters and the Club drew a line through the Thomas/Lyon team. That’s not a scenario that a Club can simply live with without a sense of urgency – particularly one financially strained like the Saints.

There are still considerable question marks too in regards to both the players that are at Seaford (those hyped and un-hyped) as well as how or where the remaining pieces of the puzzle will come from. Elder statesmen like Montagna, Riewoldt and Dempster again were central to any Saints victories this year. You may argue that that only underscores their greatness; their enduring ability to produce. And of course that’s true, but this side needs to create it’s own identity and that means that those veterans need to recede to the background. Just like Boyd and Murphy have become stabilizers for the resurgent Dogs.

Jake Niall’s piece (prior to round 11) stating that the Dees were better placed list-wise than us drew much ire from certain sections of the Saints faithful, most of whom felt vindicated when we got over them by 2 points in that game. The crux of Niall’s argument though rings true and loudly now in the immediate wake of the Rising Star Award. Jesse Hogan took the chocolates, with teammate Angus Brayshaw rounding out the top 5. That’s two more (near) guaranteed stars that the Dees have than the Saints right now.

Billings is the one that comes close but he hasn’t had the continuity to solidify any claims. Dunstan, McCartin, Goddard, Sinclair, and to a degree Lonie, have had their moments. Whilst debates over Hickey, Lee, Ross, and Wright amongst others, still land you with a lot of questions rather than answers. Spencer White will almost definitely not be at the Club next year.

Now, the kicker there is that, most of those players weren’t exactly taken at the top end of the Draft pool. Dunstan, Billings, Acres, McCartin, and Goddard (and Lee/Hickey technically too) will be viewed in a different light though as they’ve been acquired with the types of picks by which “rebuilding teams” are banking on acquiring bonafide stars. You don’t surrender yourself to bottom of the ladder years on end in order to get fillers.


And that’s where the positivity of this year sits. 6 and a half wins is definitely noteworthy, but it’s still just a stepping stone in the process; the (still) big losses at the hands of the Top Four reinforce this. With the oldies being a year older next year, and the drums for the youngsters to step-up getting a bit louder, perhaps the step ahead of the group next year will be a much more treacherous and revealing one – but ultimately a needed one.



Eagles 125 Saints 30

You might be wondering where in the hell the last match report for the year is. The answer: it’s coming. It will be up Wednesday night. Being such a god awful game – as well as the last game of the year – it deserves a bit more love. We’ve been trying to hold off unveiling our overall thoughts on what the year actually was like and what it said about where the team’s at. But now it’s time to delve into that – starting Wednesday night.

Stay tuned!

Without a fight

Round 22, 2015
St Kilda 1.5, 3.9, 4.12, 4.14 (38)
Sydney Swans 4.3, 10.6, 15.10, 20.15 (135)
Crowd: 27,856 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, August 30th at 3.20pm

In the character-based comedy stylings of the St Kilda Football Club Adam Schneider was farewelled today with the opposition supporters having infinitely more reason to be thankful for his services.

He was not just a part of the history-making Swans outfit that broke the longest VFL/AFL premiership drought in 2005, but he was also pivotal the week before in which the Swans won their first final at the MCG for 69 years. Of Course, who else would it be against? (Just as a further tease, the same number of years the Saints took to win out first and still only flag).

That 2005 season would go down as one of the most tumultuous in St Kilda history, and one that for a brief fortnight appeared could be the one that delivered its second flag. Instead the unfancied Swans – whilst they’d finished above us on the ladder in third spot, they were lucky to be there due to Nick Davis’ heroics – ran away with the Preliminary Final in the final quarter. Schneider finished with three straight as the Swans kicked 7.0 to 0.4 in the final term.

I’ve only ever seen one highlight from that game, one day being daring enough to bring myself to watch some footage from it (a YouTube that has since been taken down, but a couple of more in-depth highlights videos of that night have been posted). That on passage is Schneider’s third goal halfway through in the final term to seal the deal once and for all. Tim Lane’s commentary befits the mood and context of that moment wonderfully.

Obviously not the best way to ingratiate yourself to an opposing club’s fans but it was a very popular trade indeed that brought him and Dempster to the club. Curiously (as pointed out in Herald Sun yesterday), the only three players remaining from that match are Goodes and the St Kilda duo.

Schneider brought a slickness to the side that we really needed more of; a goalsneak foil to Milne but one that could play higher up the ground and use pinpoint disposal going into attack.

But so it will be that the 2009 Grand Final will be the defining point of his St Kilda career. Going into the day he’d already banked a premiership as a 21 year-old in just his third season, and for all intents and purposes he should have had a second. He wasn’t the only villain on the day the Saints kicked themselves out of a premiership – Milne, McQualter, Gram and Dempster all wasted multiple gettable chances – but he was the ringleader.

His return of 2.3 doesn’t tell you that his first chance at goal was a snap from directly in front to give us our first major but, as we saw close-up from the Punt Road end pocket he tried kicking the proverbial off the Sherrin and missed. Nor does it tell you about the moment that will be branded painfully, searingly into my memory will be his miss in the last quarter that would have set the tone and put breathing space between ourselves and the Cats. At the time it was another miss we feared might come back to hurt us in the worst possible way, and now it hurts immensely.

I’ve never seen footage from the game; I still turn away when a highlight appears on TV and I know it’s from the game (including when watching the 2009 Season Highlights DVD). And so I’ve seen Scarlett in the seconds before “the toepoke” but I still don’t exactly know what it looks like (likewise Chapman’s goal). But this Schneider moment is still clear in my mind, from the viewpoint of our seats at the other end of the ground. It’s as much the feeling I had at the time as well as the visual memory itself. When he broke clear into space, well inside range, the first instinct was that he would kick it. But in the wider context of what the kick meant this was a completely foreign position to be in. When he broke clear, I remember thinking…well, I don’t know if I want to say I felt “this is it”, because the goal in itself wasn’t going to win it at that point, rather, that if he kicked it we would be very difficult to shake from there. But for that brief moment before he physically kicked it we were going to be in that incredible position in the last quarter of a Grand Final. His getting the ball and heading for goal on his own seemed to represent the situation we were in: there were no obstacles; no thunderbolts from the footy gods, no personal hang-ups. It was only space; I guess “weightless” is the best way to describe how I felt. The only thing standing in our way from this point would be ourselves. And within seconds, so it proved to be. The kick curled to the right and missed.

Maybe it was the 21 year-old frame of mind I was in at the time, but in writing this even now I can feel myself getting worked up about how I felt. There are few singular moments in St Kilda’s history I personally feel so pained about; so simply sad about. For a few seconds I thought we were on our way. But we gave it up and ultimately lost it. That’s a long way down.

From that point on his key contribution was set in stone, officially so after the Grand Final Replay and the team was psychologically ruined. Time would run out for him well before he would make it anywhere near another Grand Final in which he could atone for that day. It raised its head again this year against the Bombers early in the season. A missed set shot from directly in front to put us up by over a goal with several minutes left; the resulting kick-out was taken straight up the other end for what proved to be Travis Colyer’s winning goal. It didn’t prove to be as much until after Schneider missed from 15 metres out directly in front.

Every player from the 2004-2010 era who retires feels like a victory for everyone that enjoyed seeing the Saints fail to win a premiership throughout it, and for those who thoroughly enjoyed the St Kilda schoolgirl saga to bookend it (as an entree to the dour awful 2011 season). We’re that far away from those Grand Finals now that we’re more prone to thanking Schneider for his work with Lonie (surely he takes #13?), Sinclair and Minchington in the immediate sense of what we’re losing. Unfortunately, as a St Kilda supporter, his career will be defined by that moment on that amazing, awful, defeating day. In a wider context, his career’s peak will have come with the Sydney Swans as part of their 2005 premiership, with him personally disposing of St Kilda en route.

Hard to review a (non-retiring) player’s game at this stage of the year without turning it into a faux-season review, or “Where are they at?” BigFooty-style irrationality convention. It’s hard to review anything with this one in that light because I went to the Savoy for lunch and drinks with RWB cohort Rich, Dad, Lewis and family friend Jim, but we already know the Savoy will have to echo it’s comeback act from the time that construction begins on the 68-floor tower on its site.

I keep coming back to this but I always will – Mum and Dad returning to the country gave a welcome expanded dynamic to gameday. The problem was that they so late in the season and only now I was getting used to the pre- and post- match drinks, burgers and chats, let alone the games themselves. And just like that, with next week a meaningless match over in Perth, the season is essentially over for the supporters.

The takeaway from last week was the performance of J Holmes; big leaps, good hit-out numbers and some tapwork that gave our midfield its best service for years. Holmes opened up early with a big leap and healthy tap, Armo winded from hit, Schneider caught immediately

Holmes looked quite lost for much of the game, with Mike Pyke the beneficiary. Pyke floating forward on his own was a dreaded but predictable outcome, and Tippett helped himself at the right time of year to plenty of the action as the ruck foil and up forward.

The signs weren’t that good whichever way you looked at it. Even our better passages were wasted. Holmes out of the ruck to Armo, to Ross, to Murdoch and then to dicking around should simply have been a straightforward entry to the advantage of a moving forward in 50. Instead, the Swans forced a stoppage and went straight to the other end and a chance to reset at a throw in next to their own goals.

Tom Hickey obviously either got comfortable or injured after signing a two-year deal last week, doing fark all and subbed out just after half-time with leaner numbers than J Holmes. Playing as a forward he kicked one behind and elsewhere he was disappointing, punctuated by weak efforts in a marking contest against Grundy in front of the members and then a weak tackle on Pyke, which ended with Riewoldt flying back into a marking contest and Tippett goaling immediately.

Novelty team line-ups mean novelty passages of play. Anything featuring Murdoch (like the above) probably qualifies, but he and the poorly-haired Seb Ross were busy across the ground early, linking up for Ross to hit the post. Other behinds registered at quarter-time were barely decent opportunities (e.g. Gilbert off the ground from 12 rows back behind the goals), but such was Sydney’s pressure and our ability to execute, pressured or not.

Armo didn’t kick a great chance for goal on the run after some good work from a Schneider and Sav double team, and the footy went straight up for Mike Pyke running into goal with Holmes nowhere near it. What could have been a three-point margin was now 15, and moments later 21, despite the Swans leading the scoring shots count 9 to 8 at that point.

Things were looking really droll when Dempster came out of defence and just vaguely kicked it out of play. No tact, no cunning, no plan from the wider team to give him something further down the ground. But we plummeted further with some more St Kilda comedy gold as Armo strolled in to goal and missed, Webster dropped an easy mark in defence and Tippett and Goodes goaled immediately afterwards. Murdoch’s nice kick after goal the half-time siren was barely sugar coating.

As far as those booing Goodes goes, several points to make. Firstly, a few are jumping to their own defence or that of others that they’re booing him because he’s a “thug”, “diver”, “cheat”, etc. They would then have to argue that people have begun booing him en masse in recent times for all of those things specifically, and just purely coincidentally after he called out someone making a racist comment directed at him and then after performing an indigenous culture-themed war dance on field. Because no crowd ever booed him in the past unless after he’d done something specific during a game, as all players are susceptible to (and you’ll be hard-pressed to find too many of those games). I can guarantee you no St Kilda crowd has ever booed him like that before any on-field incident involving Goodes and race (and I invite anyone to prove otherwise). Goodes was clearly booed the first time he went near the ball, with muted boos the following couple of instances. But it was back in the second half, particularly after a free kick decision in front of the members wing went against St Kilda, as if he made the decision himself. Rather, this was about a number of people feeling they had been justified booing because in their mind this was loosely linked to the “diver” theory, even though he actually hadn’t played for the free (and didn’t for the entirety of the game). This carried on clearly to the end of the game (see Goodes’s touch in the final seconds), and people were still trying to at least bat it away as something they could barely hear at the ground (again, refer to the video). This is something that happened, whether you did it or not. This is what a St Kilda crowd sounded like. And I hated every second of it. I don’t think the club will acknowledge it, quietly putting it down to a minority of supporters that caused a minor stir that will disappear if no one mentions it. That would be an awful shame and a rather hypocritical stance given the wonderful work the club has put into involvement in the annual Pride March and launching a “Pride Match”. If you’re accusing me of putting words in their mouth then please tell me what kind of take no comment would reflect on the club’s behalf.

By three-quarter time the game was ready for some more comedy and the club decided for whatever reason to play Tex Perkins’ version of the club song, which was met with exactly zero fanfare considering we were about to endure another quarter Sydney mopping the floor with us.

We just didn’t look like it all day, and specifically Josh Bruce didn’t look like it all day. Lest We Forget his 20-game streak of kicking at least one goal in each game. He wasted his own chances, whether they were dropped marks and his shot with time and space in the last quarter. There was also his mark a second after the three-quarter time siren within range, and also his give-off to the running Webster who didn’t even kick for goal.

So what the hell to say for a dirty day all round? This season deserved a better send-off for the members and fans, and a number of those let themselves down on the day. On the field this was more along the lines of 2014, and it’s easy to feel for a moment like we’re back amongst the bottom few wondering where the hell we’re going. Next Saturday looms as another forgettable match in an era which is purely for bridging purposes; to get us to the other side. That’s all well and good when you think of watching a team develop over a season and seeing the improvement of players week to week, but sometimes we just need to get to the end of a season and have a rest. One week to go.

We need to talk irrationally about Holmes, Savage, et al.

Round 21, 2015
St Kilda 5.4, 8.7, 11.9, 14.13 (97)
Geelong Cats 5.1, 9.2, 13.4, 15.7 (97)
Crowd: 25,245 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, August 22nd at 7.20pm

Any close game, and more so a draw, will inevitably have everyone taking out their science starter kit microscopes with the bacteria images already printed onto the slides and declaring how either side got dicked because of one or two easily digestible scapegoats.

So let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way, namely Shane Savage. In Lonie’s absence he did his best Schneider impression and frittered away a chance to put us up by 10 points well into time-on, and then put us in front by five points with 14 seconds left from close range – this depressingly St Kilda-like repeat offending, eerily similar to Schneider’s efforts late in Round 5 against the Bombers.

The difference was, it was Savage that was responsible for the already infamous Stevie J tackle as the latter was waltzing into an open goal, headchecked to the left but gave nothing to the right sideview. Was he changing to the left? He could afford himself a smile as he got up afterwards though, because he’s played in three premierships, and one of them was against us. And what did he do just a couple of minutes after that? He snapped a brilliant goal on his left from the pocket. (He also kicked a goal from the just on the goal line in the third quarter into the goal umpire’s face.)

The Cats I feel have flown under the radar as a difficult team for us historically (I’m talking beyond the last 10-15 years). Until perhaps the early 90s signalled the earliest of a changing club at Moorabbin, it was the VFL overall win-loss records we had against teams like Carlton, Collingwood and Essendon that demonstrated everyone liked to comprehensively beat up on us.

Even that 1991 tilt ended with a seven-point loss to the Cats, and in the 95th season marked just the second time we had ever played them in a final. Appropriately last night finished at 97-97. Thanks to Wayne Carey and Ken McIntyre’s final 8 system for clowns, it’s been lost to history that in 1997 it was only percentage that separated ourselves at the top of the ladder from Geelong, and they had beaten us comfortably at the Cattery during the year.

Not much needs to be said about the rivalry of the aughts between the two clubs, other than to say last night was the first St Kilda home match against the Cats at Etihad Stadium since Round 14, 2009, when the two teams ran out onto the ground each at 13-0. Scores were level until Michael Gardiner’s huge mark and goal with just over a minute left, but in the Grand Final it would be one goal the difference the other way when the siren sounded (and before Max Rooke added further icing). For a few minutes early in time-on in the second quarter last night the scoreboard showed 7.7 to 7.1, the half-time score of 2009 decider.

The Saints actually beat the Cats twice in 2010, and the Qualifying Final was the first time the Saints had beaten them in a final. Motlop’s disallowed goal was in a remarkably similar spot and at a crucial time compared with that of Ling’s in the final minute of that match, after Mooney had landed in Gwilt’s back. Which brings us into the umpiring decisions that both sides will feel cruelled them. Chris Scott was whinging about the Motlop decision but conveniently neglected to mention Gregson running a casual 100 metres over the mark when Mav had the ball just outside 50 in the last minute. Then you can say well, lucky the siren went with J Murdoch running towards goal to signal three-quarter time. But then, Sav should have kicked those goals late. But he did save that goal – one great moment in one his better games – as Stevie J was walking in. Although maybe Newnes and Ross didn’t kick their shots earlier whilst their defenders Taylor and Mackie did. And you could also talk about Jack Steven’s involvement in a couple of chains that led to Geelong kicking goals. Or Luke Dunstan just totally not kicking the ball on the goal line.

All of that in itself should show that this is the kind of game that rewards doing the rights things en masse throughout a match rather than an arsey moment or two. Whilst this game wasn’t the pick of the weekend there were so many remarkable moments to stew over, to rue, to – pun intended – draw on.

Undeniably the focus coming into the game was on Jason Holmes, or as too many people kept calling him last night, “Johnny” (yes, we get it). Jason has had plenty of media time over the past couple of years – let alone the huge attention on the college comps that he was a part of  – but you’ve come a long way when you’re the guy being interviewed by Cameron Ling post-match after two hours of BT yelling and Darc sort-of-but-not-really nailing the right tone of voice for a play-by-play commentator.

You’ve also come a long when you’re an ex-college basketballer with a brother playing in the NFL and you’re fronting a media conference in Seaford with whichever journos could be arsed making the trip. The fact that he said “I’d love to have a crack at that” suggests he’s embraced the experience, and the fact that he said he’s working on his “craft” suggests he’s coached by Alan Richardson.

At least it was beyond speculation this time. This time he knew it was real, that he’d be playing this weekend. That this wasn’t a windy oval next to the beach, this was the real deal, to be broadcast probably on ESPN17 along with competitions based entirely on the Dodgeball and Baseketball films, and perhaps some highlights this week on sports discussion shows with guys who have never heard of the sport.

It’s not quite the same level as Matthew Lappin playing for the Gold Coast reserves yesterday, but if you were told at the start of last year that he’d be playing AFL footy in 2015 then you’d surely have thought the season had turned to such shit any feel-good story was a non-negotiable.

Not long after Sanford Wheeler was toiling away in Sydney during the Swans’ darker years, the AFL produced this ad with international sporting identities talking up Aussie Rules (and the short, etc.). Holmes’ debut seems to have bridged that gap in a big way. The Irish influx has edged us towards the mentality that we’re after anyone and everyone now – although that standards for Australian athletes-before-footballers are now highly benchmarked by Mark Blicavs.

The support acts indeed were the return of opposing ruckman Nathan Vardy (and him working in tandem with Blicavs, with Stanley out for the season) and Geelong looking bolster their finals chances. In the end J Holmes and Stevie J, for obviously wildly different reasons, were amongst the bigger stories

Holmes looked like he’d aerobically blown up through the second quarter, after his second centre bounce leap particularly had everyone just about jumping out of their seats and rushing onto the ground to shake his hand. His lead on the wing and mark was greeted by something louder than if Savage had have kicked either of his shots in the last minutes, as was the resulting kick. His tackle on Guthrie was huge and it was his follow-up work in the centre bounce led to Hickey’s goal in the third quarter.

But he got caught out around the ground a number of times. Vardy ran him ragged off the ball and a couple of times got to a dangerous position near goal. At one point in the second quarter Holmes was left to pick up Stevie J at high half-forward – something which shouldn’t have happened and wasn’t his fault – and Stevie J was able to run forward by himself as the Cats went into attack but the ball didn’t fall his way. This was just after Holmes had gone the tap behind from a throw-in to Roo who didn’t break stride (but kicked it out on the full). But that short period alone would have been very instructive.

Richo said after the game that we’d kicked 9.2 to 2.1 from stoppages, alluding to Holmes’ presence being the reason why we were so dominant in the hit-outs and stoppages overall. Holmes finished with 34 hit-outs out of 54 for the Saints, with the Cats getting 32. Fair to say the quality of the some of the tap-outs was superior to those of Longer and Hickey. But whilst Longer has increased his presence across the ground through the year and Hickey has done some really good things up forward (including last night), Holmes for now has very little presence around the ground. Two things; neither did Billy most weeks until mid-season, and secondly Holmes was essentially learning the game itself from scratch at VFL level, with the step up essentially another short course in learning the game. Given he hadn’t played the sport two years ago it’s more than reasonable to back him to improve quite a lot from here.

We’re probably clearing out a whole bunch of S’s at year’s end – Spencer, Saad, Schneider, Siposs, Saunders, Smarkworth and Smurdoch – so it was good timing for Minchington who’s has been hovering around being condemned to a life of ex-AFL player playing VFL tease hell. I still don’t know how guys like TDL and Jones go playing VFL with guys their teammates still involved so closely with the club that turfed them so recently. But I’m also not a professional footballer. Minch kicked the first two goals and set the tone for a game of speed and space – two things we’ve certainly struggled with in the past several weeks in the forward half. He finished with a career-best three goals in just his ninth game, and a further drilling down into his career numbers would show he’s kicked a goal in every game he’s played. The knock on him is that he doesn’t have enough of an impact away from the scoreboard, and whilst he finished with “only” 10 touches he had five tackles too, which was a step towards having a heavier presence. Lonie and Sinclair are still ahead of him, but going on last night he might turn out to be very handy at least.

My 2nd Favourite Hair in the AFL was the other key forward on the night and by half-time had three goals. It looked like he’d finally come out of his sort-of-slump (goals on the board always mask that kind of thing for a bigger forward), although one of our better rebounds on the night saw him drop the easiest mark of all time. In front of the members he also had the dubious distinction of becoming The Man Who Spoiled Himself, in I assume anticipating an marking effort from his opponent over the top. As we came out of defence with a straightforward pass to him, he was well in the clear but he put a single hand up to ultimately stifle his own phantom marking attempt. His also missed a set shot in the third quarter that was replied to immediately sixfold (i.e. with a goal) by Gregson. Cheers.

It was up to Sam Gilbert of all Australian Rules footballers to pick up the slack in that passage and do what he couldn’t quite finish in the 2010 Grand Finals, and uh, I guess by that measurement didn’t quite finish last night either. But he was still good; probably his best game since that draw? His two goals were both monster set shot kicks that hit heights echoing Kosi’s long range efforts. He also found the ball 21 times and managed to shank only a couple, as well as laying a game-high nine tackles. A bit of time through the middle too and perhaps he’s en route to a changing, more dynamic role. First things first though, he’s got to stay on the park.

Gilbert’s move forward was made possible by Bruce kicking goals (at least in the first half) and My Favourite Hair in the AFL playing across the ground, essentially as a wingman, to good effect. In a young side 22 touches and 10 marks was key in having a solid presence throughout the play, and his contests hard on the boundary to force the ball out twice displayed both his fitness and his nous. He was up forward for periods of course, and he pulled a Spencer White in running himself into the ground and resting by himself 40 metres out waiting for a Joe the Goose. The kick was the kind of flat punt shocker we’ve come accustomed to from him, but this one did vaguely enough.

It also helps when you’ve got Hugh Goddard getting invaluable experience at worst playing mostly on Hawkins. The Cats would have acknowledged him as susceptible, particularly one out when they were on the rebound, but he Hugh did well to keep his head up and keep playing his own game despite being beaten a few times. He was mature and smart enough to run off his man and take the mark in front of the members at a tense point in the game, and won a huge one-one-one in defence late in the game. Sam Fisher played one of his better games this year, too, allowing guys like Gilbert to move around and for the team to be that much more dynamic.

Membrey’s inconsistency continued, as he did what’s become a trademark which is a good start followed by not much else. A really nice set shot was our fourth straight goal to open the game, but shortly after he botched a forward 50 entry by not going to what was effectively a free Tom Hickey near goal; and this after weeks of looking for that kind of option. The pressure was up afterwards to sugarcoat it a little, but Steven got carried away at the next entry and kicked about four metres to Membrey instead of long to a couple of tall options close to goal. Whilst that one wasn’t Membrey’s fault it was mostly downhill for him from there. Paddy was pretty good in the VFL and with Roo maybe or maybe not finding touch up the ground there’s room for a swap there. But when you’re a team full of this kind of inexperience at the end of a long year everything is a maybe or maybe not at best.

Unfortunately Jack Steven decided to step down to that bracket on a couple of telling occasions. In these eras when it comes to close games you’re relying on younger guys who you simply can’t trust in these situations (Shenton, Saunders), because they’re simply not experienced enough (Shenton, Saunders) to understand the pressure (Shenton, Saunders) as well as execute in the circumstances (Shenton, Saunders). All those brackets are harsh on Shenton and Saunders but I don’t know what they were doing at all. Curiously, Shenton ended up in the forward line, and far less curiously Saunders was subbed out of the game after literally not getting a kick. Anyway, Steven’s kick into a Geelong player on the rebound went straight to Hawkins for a goal, and it was his lack of awareness that got him caught late in the game and the ball spilled out for Cockatoo’s goal that put them in front.

So we were still prone as a team to royally turning over opportunities, Steven or not. The scoreboard alone would reflect that, with our 14.13 far more wasteful than their 15.7, not to mention to the fact that at one stage they were 13.3 with all the more scoreboard pressure on us throughout the game.

After several years of being dominated by Geelong, complete with two years of being on the receiving end of smackings at the Cattery – of 101 and 96 points respectively, with nearly identical scorelines – this felt like the first time we’d come out of the shadow created by the lost opportunity on Grand Final Day in 2009. This was a result engineered by a young team showing development and playing an effective style of footy. That the Cats were playing merely for a finals berth also heightened that, as opposed to the top two and top three finishes of the last two years.

But through all of that Stevie J was smiling after being run down in the goal mouth because he could; Geelong so completely and crushingly won what over a decade ago promised to be the next great rivalry. Again, last night the Cats proved just too hard to move. This game was all about the future, but it also held a few reminders.

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