To: St Kilda Football Club Cc: BLK Re: Please get it right

by Tom Briglia

Well, the decision’s been made.

The club is consigning arguably the best jumper in its history to a clash jumper scrap-heap that is growing rapidly across the competition. It also dashes my secret dreams of having a black version as our home jumper. Sigh.

But, first thing’s first – the home jumper isn’t quite staying as is.

Much unlike the very late jumper reveals of recent seasons, this year the club offered up a lot of next year’s design before the prior season had even finished.

They did this via Mav and Membrey posting cheeky shots of Membrey and Josh Bruce respectively on their Instagram and Twitter accounts in a photo shoot wearing BLK-manufactured guernseys with white collar and cuffs that is considered a more classic St Kilda design.

St Kilda's 1953 team (from Bigfooty's Sipossmagic)

St Kilda’s 1953 team (from Bigfooty’s Sipossmagic)

Whilst the period from the 1930s until 1960 saw a very sleek design with a jumper that featured plenty of red and white on the front and black (with white sleeves – as seen in the 2004 Heritage Round jumper) paired with mostly black socks, the era that included the 1966 premiership, as well as the 1965 and 1971 Grand Final appearances actually had black cuffs to go with the white collar, before giving way to the “traditional” white collar and cuffs, black jumper back and hooped socks combination.

Not that there was anything overly symbolic about it, but for the romantics/people who look far too much into this kind of thing, I always associated the solid black collar and cuffs that came in for 2011 with a mark of depression coming about from the Grand Final losses, and it’s perhaps timely it has been lifted as the club’s development unfolds.

A further tick for the historical aspect of the new BLK design is the fact that there doesn’t appear to be shoulder panels darkening the front of the jumper, so the red panel will be red all the way up to the top of the front of the jumper – it’s subtle, but it means there’s a lot more white and red coming through in the design.

However, one thing that instantly raised a few alarm bells with some was the weird colouring of the jumper. BLK has been criticised in recent years for the colours on some of their clubs’ jumpers – most notable the rather faded yellow on the Adelaide and Richmond jumpers, and the black-turned-dark-charcoal of the Tigers. The shot of Membrey – despite the quality – instantly shows his black tracksuit is far darker than the black panel of the BLK home jumper he’s wearing. FFS seriously, how is that even a thing that gets through? Surely with all the bullshit technology that goes into manufacturing the BLK can somehow get colouring right? It’s obviously very early into the agreement but as a few people have posted already online, we’re at risk of looking like neapolitan ice-cream.

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Skunk, by Mav Weller

What’s more alarming than that? Well, the fact that we are holding our breath now for the club and BLK to release a new clash jumper design (as per Finnis’ Q&A at the end of July) that will replace the Candy Stripe #2 jumper we’ve had for the past two seasons, and what I’d say is arguably the best jumper the club has ever had.

If the club is serious about its Road to 2018 plan, then they’d want to back that up with a clash jumper they’re happy to run out in on Grand Final Day. We became the first ever club to wear a clash jumper in a Grand Final in 2010, and fortunately it was a jumper that was based on the home jumper and also echoed some of those aforementioned 20th century designs (strangely in 1997 our “away” jumper was the traditional home design).

Given this year’s pre-season design and the hot-cross bun return for My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s 300th (which was slightly botched in its return owing much to the ISC template) , I’d be banking on a similar design for the new clash with the timing right for nostalgia-fuelled inspiration. I’ll say this every time I bring up clash jumpers – they need to accentuate the red rather than the black, whether that means having a red number on a white back or something like the jumper worn by some players between 1906 and 1908, which was mostly white but had red shoulder panels.

This pre-season jumper’s red back was a nice novelty (following on from the Stickman’s of 2014), but essentially meant two completely different designs on the front and back of the same jumper.

There’s a couple that could work otherwise. Some strategic maneuvering of the red and black hoops of the 140 Year Anniversary jumper – a definite title contender for the best and almost certainly the boldest St Kilda jumper of all-time – would be sensational if executed correctly.

The design worn by some St Kilda players in the 1906-1909 seasons (from footyjumpers.com)

The design worn by some St Kilda players in the 1906-1909 seasons (from footyjumpers.com)

Either way, the key here is the balance of red and white over making it essentially a white jumper with a bit of black and negligible amount of white. The teams we clash with are darker teams – Essendon, Melbourne, Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond, Port Adelaide, etc. and particularly when it comes to teams with black or navy in them we have been at risk of essentially half the jumper looking like the opposition. Red needs to be throughout the jumper, not just shifted to one side like the tri-panel. Despite the jumper itself being a good design, from one side, BJ’s mark in the 2010 Grand Final is taken by a player in a white jumper with a black stripe playing against a team wearing black and white stripes.

This is where a hooped jumper might work, or red cuffs and red numbers. It also brings a version of the hot-cross bun into play, say for instance with red chest panels (a lá the original) and then white below the horizontal bar of the cross, perhaps with the red coming back over the shoulder and creating a mostly red and white design with more than enough black to remind you who exactly you’re watching, rather than what could be any team wearing a white jumper.

Or perhaps this might be the chance to finally bring in a red, yellow and black clash jumper?

A next-level dead rubber

by Richard Lee

David Spader on Seinfeld

Round 22, 2016
Richmond 2.1, 2.5, 3.9, 6.10 (46)
St Kilda 3.5, 5.8, 5.10, 7.13 (55)
Crowd: 35,255 at the MCG, Saturday, August 20th at 2.10pm

In the lead up to this one, I was really searching for what would trigger my excitement. I had only witnessed the job the Swans did on us the week before from afar, at a friends birthday party. It was a reasonably predictable loss and it completely snuffed out any chance we had of sneaking into September action this year. That capped a month or so of footy in which Saints fans finally felt a semblance of a feeling that their club was “in the conversation”; anxiety about ladder positions and outcomes and the nuances of every contest had suddenly become pronounced. This was especially the case for the Roos game – Boomers record breaker – at the Dome in which we did everything except hit the scoreboard. My feeling since then was that we had effectively “already played our Grand Final”. In switching my focus to the actual fortunes of the team as a whole, rather than the players and parts that make it up – like we had been conditioned to for the last 4-5 years – my bubble had been burst for 2016.

Except one thing: Paddy McCartin.

McCartin has been an elusive figure within this new era of St Kilda. He’s the only number 1 pick in the side, and yet in a lot of ways he has flown under the radar. The Club has rightly treated him with kid gloves. One, it has helped him just get on with his development. And two, in light of the luckless run with bouts of concussion, it has been wise.

When McCartin rose to clunk a contested mark against the Game’s most talked about tall defender, clunked it and drilled it through the middle, suddenly my Saints companions for the afternoon and I were rubbing our hands together. Could this be the afternoon in which he really thrusts his name into the “Exciting forwards of the future” ring alongside Darcy Moore, Tom Lynch and co? Matt – brother of RWB cohort Tom – quickly predicted 5 majors for big Paddy.

Unluckily, his second major would be his last contribution to the game. He went off with what we now know is a broken collarbone.

Now, the initial reaction was relief. Relief that it wasn’t another concussion. Players come back from collarbone injuries al the time right? Right?

An SMS from my brother later drew a comparison to Kosi’s career arc. Koschitzke never got a clear run at it in his prime, particularly due to a string of bad concussion type incidents.

Apart from the fact that Paddy has barely seen two years in the AFL and is 19 years old, Kosi’s circumstances were quite different altogether. Kosi had great talent, but a patch in 05/06 in which he was able to play ruck and push forward, he never really found a great position in which his talent could be maximised. Paddy on the other hand you can clearly see has the size and skill to make the full-forward spot his own. He’s shown he can lead the lines, and given his ability to beat players one-on-one and so on, there’s no evidence yet that he can’t extend beyond that to be effect beyond the 50 meter arc.

American Jason Holmes may have threatened to take some of the novelty spotlight off big Paddy, with his first game for the year, but it wasn’t to be. Tom Hickey has been so good this year that I think Saints fans are already missing him, having been injured last week versus the Swans. Tom’s shoes have already become bigger ones to fill, and sadly, bar one or two impressive taps to advantage (particularly one from the center bounce to Jack Steven) Holmes didn’t do his cause to stay on the Saints list much of a boost. Being replaced by Billy Longer or Lewis Pierce wouldn’t be a shock.

Other individuals to make a splash of one kind or another included: Seb Ross, Jack Newnes, Dylan Roberton, Tim Membrey, Jack “Hotline” Billings and Blake Acres.

Acres has really risen in the eyes of the Saints faithful – as well as the coaching hierarchy – over the last 3 or 4 games and Saturday afternoon continued that trend. He ended up with 26 touches, and against the grain, probably got more interesting as the game crawled to it’s conclusion. Jack Steven started well, but after half time wasn’t sighted much and so it was Acres who was the main midfielder who was able to extract the ball from tight spaces or get the ball moving into space. Over this month of games it seems he has almost physically grown such is the way that he is actually utilizing the size and height advantage he possesses over most midfielders.

*****

It really says something about the positivity and learning perspective of coach Alan Richardson that he can come away from such a dull affair and douse the side in praise for their defensive discipline in keeping the lowly Tigers to a mere 46 points.

This was an aspect that completely eluded me in getting through the four quarters. Frustration and then agony is what filled me after the dominant Saints failed to kill the game off on the scoreboard in the first half. After they had squandered several shots on goal in the first half it seemed that skill errors spread through the side like a raging virus. It was a contest that was crying out for a player to smack it between the eyes with a flash of class or two.

Perhaps Blake Acres was the only one who looked up for that role. He took the game on, and wanted the ball in his hands at all times despite making showing a lack of poise with the ball several times in the first half. Paddy looked ominous in his short time on the ground as well, and Billings kept hovering without ever really threatening to kick into top-gear. I’m actually not sure that his top-gear is functional right now.

When the final siren finally rang I exchanged my disbelief at how agonising and dull a win that was with my Saints cohorts for the afternoon. We all couldn’t believe how little entertainment we had gotten for the afternoon. And yet, that was the ridiculous thing. This was a victory that, setting aside any built-in St Kilda angst, felt secure from late in the first quarter – after Paddy had done his thing. How quickly we’ve gone from savouring any four points even if it’s against a lowly Melbourne or a Fremantle C-grade team, to disbelief at our inability to elegantly dispatch a mediocre team in virtually a dead rubber.

 

Seasons past

by Tom Briglia

Round 21, 2016
St Kilda 5.0, 7.5, 9.8, 11.10 (76)
Sydney Swans 4.1, 8.4, 16.7, 23.8 (146)
Crowd: 33,059 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, August 13th at 7.25pm

Between two wins from the first eight games and last night we swung between “mathematical chance” for a finals appearance and “part of the conversation” (as proxy for “better mathematical chance”). Ridiculously, we’re still a mathematical chance to make the eight, but more reasonably (and to the point) we’re no longer part of the conversation.

Saturday night marked the end of a few weeks in which we appeared to perhaps emerge from the depths of the last post-Grand Finals crash. This year will be noted for the big step taken by the club from the previous years, but certainly nothing more until we find out in the coming years what it actually led to.

Yet another late season drubbing against the Swans in hindsight was always on the cards. Our record against top eight sides hasn’t been awful – some of those encounters include our best footy for the year – but the Swans added to our 2016 pile of smashings at the hands of premiership fancies that have highlighted the gap still to be made between where we’re coming from, where we are and where we want to get to.

The AFL has enjoyed the comfort of recent years knowing that the Swans will be facing the lowly Saints late in the season in what surely looms as a key match for the Sydneysiders (#conspiracy). In Round 21 of 2013 the Swans doubled our score for a 59-point win; in Round 21 of 2014 Buddy went nuts and the Swans won by 71; last year we kicked only four goals in Sydney premiership hero Adam Schneider’s farewell match in Round 22 as the Swans shat in a 97-point thumping; and in Round 21 this year it was a 70-point margin.

Despite what was on the line for both team the atmosphere pre-match was one I haven’t quite experienced before. The Pride Match is a wonderful initiative by the club. Last night was the first time I ever saw two males holding hands at a game of footy. I saw one man get visibly emotional as he received his Pride scarf, which were sold out well before the game (I had to opt for the beanie after going to four different selling points inside and outside of the ground). There was a remarkably relaxed feeling walking through the crowd; people seemed to feel comfortable and there little of the bravado that often accompanies a boorish mass of people. People felt like they just be people.

The reception it received – judging by the media attention on the game, the atmosphere at the ground, and seeing how many people had purchased and were wearing the scarves and beanies – was incredibly heartening. As a straight, white male I’ve had the easiest of runs but to know this event was being planned and then actually attending was a relief. Some people will say it’s a PR stunt; others will click the “Angry” icon on Facebook posts from the club and the league; others will bemusingly leave flyers on windscreens around Trevor Barker Beach Oval on the day of Sandringham home games. Yes, free speech and all that, but the ideal of free speech is to have a serious conversation, and through that process weed out the excess and deadweight that gets in the way of growth and progress. It’s so great that the club I support engineered this event, but it’s so great that any club did.

Hey, remember that time we had pick #2 in the 2001 National Draft and we used it on Luke Ball and then Chris Judd got taken at #3 and the Eagles made back-to-back Grand Finals and won a premiership and Judd became one of the greatest players of all time? And then Luke Ball left after getting only 50 per cent game time in the 2009 Grand Final and won a premiership the following year for the club we played off against twice for the Cup? Anyway, three years ago we had the #3 pick and we used on this guy Jack Billings who I reckon will be pretty good, but the Bulldogs had pick #4 and they used it on Marcus Bontempelli who is exactly the kind of big-bodied, polished player who can kick goals that we’re chasing in a trade or via free agency to lead our midfield and is probably the best young guy in the comp at the moment? And albeit at this early stage Billings is giving us worrying signs that he might not be as good as thought he might be? He had five touches to three-quarter time last night. Yes, it’s not about this year; yes, he’s here for a career; but is anyone else slightly terrified about that situation? Here’s to a massive pre-season for Junior Burger.

Anyway, we’re looking thereabouts for the coveted #9 pick this year, having had it in 2006 and 2007, using it on Armo and Big Ben respectively. Armo’s a known quantity now – we know what his best is, and he was closer to it last night than he’s been all year. But he’s fallen well down in the pecking order of our prospective midfield through the anticipated climb up the ladder. Big Ben has turned into Shane Savage and Luke Dunstan (with pick #18 in 2013). I still think we finish ahead in that one (pick #19 in 2013 was Blake Acres which technically speaking we received from the Hawks in a separate deal for picks 24 and 59), although you’d have to ignore the fact that Patrick Dangerfield (yes) was taken with the pick immediately following Big Ben’s, and Cyril Rioli three picks later, and Harry Taylor at #17, and Alex Rance at #18, and Callan Ward at #19.

Blacres was really the only one that Richo highlighted in the post-match press conference. Again, he was just about everywhere. He started at centre bounces, and moved high up the ground and into defence, took on the opposition and moved smoothly through traffic, and played as a focal point up forward. It was his hard get-out from the middle that released Steven who ran and delivered to Mav for a goal in the first quarter, and twice in the second quarter after he was moved up forward pushed up a little to provide a link and delivered handsomely to Paddy on the lead.

He ended up with 1.3 amongst a couple of rushed shots and probably should have finished with two or three goals but in his turns up forward he covered for the glaring absence of Membrey and Bruce. Membrey looked likely early but after his early mark and goal neither really effected the game in any meaningful way. Paddy only finished with five disposals but he kicked two goals and presented very nicely when the guys further up the ground were holding up their end of the bargain.

The difference between the first and second halves was (obviously) profound. As someone who totally doesn’t play for the St Kilda Football Club I can’t actually tell you why, I can mostly just sit here at the keyboard and say I don’t think Billings was very good. Perhaps the enormity of getting through a season caught up with the group when faced with a genuine premiership prospect playing for a top-two spot; for whatever reason it might have been Richo pointed out that whilst the intent might have been there it simply wasn’t effective when a tackle was attempted or a turnover was on. The midfield was obliterated; Ross and Armo battled hard but Steven’s influence was quelled, Hickey couldn’t run after the first quarter and Gresham’s output was understandably down a little. Guys like Geary and Dunstan may well have been missed, but I don’t think their absence combined with a couple of umpiring howlers in the final quarter would have made much difference to this one. The Swans were controlled throughout and it felt as if we were playing above ourselves to stay in it until half-time; the short balls in to players in space in the forward 50 was our forté last week; this week it was the Swans who ran, spread and presented in numbers all across the ground.

Strangely, the best moment of the night might have been Eminem’s snap goal in the first quarter when he was low to ground and under pressure; at that point we were looking like we might really present a challenge to the Swans. However, he and Minchington are the most likely to come out on form next week as surely some novelty moves are made to make way for Shenton, Templeton, Holmes, Brandon White, et al. What might save Wright is what saved Minchington the week before – low possession numbers offset by a large tackle count; Wright had an equal game-high of eight (shared with Newnes and Tom Mitchell) whilst Minchington had 10 against the Blues. But the temptation to have a look at guys that have performed consistently well for the Zebras without reward surely becomes too great given the only thing on the line is exactly which top-10 pick we get that we might regret in hindsight. Shenton kicked another four goals for Sandy today, making it 10 in the last two weeks and 16 in his last five games for the Zebras. I don’t know how many possessions Eli needs to get and Holmes’ best chance comes this week with Hickey in doubt.

Who else but the Saints to play into form a premiership contender? Buddy roamed scarily across the ground in the second half and incredibly racked up the highest possession count of his career (28) to go with his six goals; at the other end Aliir Aliir continued to establish himself with his composure Fletcher-esque reach – his spoil on Paddy wide near the 50-metre arc was sublime. Their midfield showed off the best of their hardness and polish, and racked up huge numbers (and a few goals) en masse. To put it short, the Swans looked scary, and there’s every chance we’ll be looking back on Hawthorn vs. Sydney Grand Finals in the even-numbered years of 2012, 2014 and 2016.

The season effectively ended with potential future captain Jack Newnes’ flying shot at goal at the beginning of the third term. His shot cannoned into the post; had it gone through we would have been in front, but from then on Buddy alone collected 15 possessions and kicked three goals in the quarter as the Swans kicked 8.3 to 2.3 for the term; 15.5 to 4.5 for the half, and 17 of the last 20 goals for the match. The final siren marked a 141-point turnaround from the previous week, making it our 11th highest in history but only eight points from second on the list.

I don’t think any reasonable Saints fan would have set themselves for a season that ends immediately with the sounding of a siren – I talk of course about finding yourself in a final, or an effective elimination match near the end of the year. When you’ve been at our low level over the past few years the end of the season is literally just the end of the final home and away match, but you’re counting down to that from around the halfway point when it’s clear no dream run will emerge. We didn’t quite get that this year. Whilst the slow start to the season and costly losses to the Gold Coast and North Melbourne (at least one of the two to them) had us on or near the ropes for much of it, the emergence of several younger guys and some genuinely good wins on the back of some genuinely good football meant it would take a few serious shakes it took to bring the whole thing down.

In hindsight it was the 2003 season that was the link between the post-1997 Grand Final crash and rebuild and the heady 2004-2010 premiership-fancy era. I don’t think the improvement in 2017 will be as exponential as what the stunning 2004 season gave us, but with the addition of Carlisle, perhaps another big-name player in the off-season, and another season’s experience for the younger guys improvement has to be a non-negotiable. Amongst all the forgettable games, conjecture by amateur bloggers about our recruiting and the piercing draft and trade talk, time passes. Slowly but surely we’re approaching that point in the future we’ve been talking about for years; that point where what the club has been building towards materialises. Over the next couple of weeks we get to relax a bit, and then we get the chance to really take a break for a few months. These types of seasons can become quite laborious as a fan and it’s a welcome breather. The weather in Melbourne today was beautiful and in tandem with last night’s result compounded the feeling of another season going by; the unfamiliar weight of pressure, however small, of the last few weeks had been lifted. But as one Sydney premiership hero (and yes, ex-Saint too) once said, “Give me Grand Final nerves any day”.

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 21
David Armitage – 3
Blake Acres – 2
Seb Ross – 2
Leigh Montagna – 1
Jack Newnes – 1
Nick Riewoldt – 1

Totals
Jack Steven – 32
Nick Riewoldt – 23
Seb Ross – 23
Tim Membrey – 18
Tom Hickey – 14
David Armitage – 11
Leigh Montagna – 11
Blake Acres – 10
Jack Newnes – 9
Mav Weller – 7
Jade Gresham – 6
Jack Billings – 5
Sam Fisher – 5
Jarryn Geary – 5
Josh Bruce – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Dylan Roberton – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Sean Dempster – 2
Paddy McCartin – 2
Luke Delaney – 1
Luke Dunstan – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1

Penultimate Candy Stripe Jumper #2 Match Review

by Tom Briglia

Round 20, 2016
Carlton 1.2, 3.5, 6.7, 7.9 (51)
St Kilda 4.3, 10.5, 14.6, 19.8 (122)  
Crowd: 37,797 at the MCG, Sunday, August 7th at 1.10pm

Welcome to the final period of the home and away season, in which the sun begins to shine with a little more purpose, the conversation and daydreaming during the week starts to drift away from your own team a little and your best chances for anything happening at a meaningful time from well into September is “mathematical”.

Whilst the Kangaroos lost the previous night the Bulldogs, the realistic damage had been done the previous weekend, and perhaps more pointedly, the first time we met them in letting them get out to a comfortable lead, leaving too much to do in the final charge.

There’s nothing quite like a sunny afternoon at the MCG with two Victorian sides playing (and it’s perfect example of why there shouldn’t be a roof at any footy ground). Whereas our first date there this year was a brilliant early season win with a lot of exciting input from Billings, Dunstan, Steven, et al. this time was more about the season itself moving to its natural end around us; the sun shines a little more brightly but ultimately it’s for others. We begin to be reflective of our own side’s season, perhaps with a glimmer of an eye to the future, but as we also begin to look forward to finals time. It’s not our time just yet, rather we sit back and take in the history made by others.

On Sunday the pressure was mostly off. Everything was nice and relaxed, perhaps more social outing than attendance-at-a-footy-match-that-means-something vibe, but when it happens at this stage of the season you’re watching the ghosts of the hopes we had for the year, and it’s more of a celebratory tour for what has been a largely positive season that, to date, bodes well for the future.

Incredibly, it was my first time at the footy with my uncle, dad’s brother Simon, who represents the Carlton sliver of our family tree. Like so many Italian migrants a century ago, the Briglias settled in Carlton and the Blues became my ancestors’ club of choice. It was my grandpa, living near the Junction Oval as a small boy, who began the St Kilda chapter of the family’s history, with Simon only one of his six children to follow the Blues. Despite my grandfather’s brother being the Carlton club chaplain for a long period and his uncle Bill being the Carlton club doctor, and the consistent access to the Carlton clubrooms that my aunts and uncles had, it was just Simon that stayed with them.

He’s the kind of opposition supporter that you can easily watch your teams play against each other with. I’ve always found it a good character guide – objectivity, humour, and reasonableness will rise above boorish, boring, overgrown-boy tendencies. Simon is laid-back, has a great sense of humour and overall has the better qualities of people in spades so having him there made the day very enjoyable.

But more important than family, than heritage, than humanity: it was our penultimate match in the Candy Stripe #2. The King is (almost) dead, long live the King – no doubt a hot-cross bun style jumper that will either look like two different jumpers on the front and the back or have just a bit too much going on will be introduced next year in its place. I’ll reserve my whinge for this for a different, even less-read post than this, but watching it in the sunshine at the MCG…shit, it’s a great fuckin’ jumper.

The day before had seen Paddy kick five as he settled back into match fitness at VFL level and Shenton kick six. Yes, that’s correct. Shenton kicked six. Goals. Even when he was playing ok footy in the seniors for a wooden spoon team two years ago Matt Finnis’s comment on SEN about “unearthing a Shenton” still seemed overs. He’s kicked multiple goals a few times this year as he’s spent more time in the forward half – including one of the best VFL goals you’ll see out at Casey the week – and has also kicked Alex Kidd-style small bags of behinds to go with it all. Finally, it all clicked and he’s kicked six. Expect Paddy to come straight back in next week, to be reunited with Bruce, Membrey and My Favourite Hair in the AFL in a line-up we didn’t think would work together earlier this year but quickly found out was much more beneficial than we thought. In the distance, in the way you see the planes lining up to come into a land, another set of lights has appeared and it’s either cheeky trade bait or a reprisal of the problem we thought we had earlier this year.

Well, he was named as an emergency this week and surely deserves a call up alongside Paddy. There’s been a few question marks over Josh Bruce, and I know Richo said it’s great how he competes until the end but I don’t know how much merit there is in scoring cheap goals in junk time of games that were lost long ago; perhaps like Armo in recent weeks the coach is simply going into bat after their players. However, after today you might have to be shuffling the dynamic of the team a little – Dunstan will have to go out with a shoulder and Eminem slightly hurt his back (Minchington had little of the ball but laid 10 tackles) – and how do you keep out a guy who’s been consistently impressive in the VFL and then kicks six goals? The only template for that so far is Eli, but Shenton offers a little more versatility. Bruce certainly won’t be going out – it was about time he beat up on weaker opposition and he did that, with the trademark late goals included, but it’s the spark in whatever form it took that he’s (we’ve) been waiting for.

This game was probably the most relaxed of the season from a St Kilda point of view, and that’s taking into the account the unabashed talk of a finals appearance being nearly muted over the past eight days or so. Really, it was just a nice day out with my dad, my brother, my uncle and Rich, although easier to say that for us St Kilda supporters.

Things started as you’d expect a dead rubber between vaguely competent but ultimately developing teams would – free-flowing but with more than enough errors to abuse to the privilege of having a kind amount of time and space to do whatever the hell it is you want to do with the footy.

About halfway through the quarter though the St Kilda pressure machine was switched on after a week AWOL. In a solid team performance seventeen smothers was probably my favourite stat to come out of it. They’re the kind of thing that can be camouflaged by traffic around rushed kicks but so many of these were clearly the result of aggressive harassment by guys taking responsibility on themselves to quell the opposition, even in one-on-one situations and without the weight of numbers that makes that thing far easier.

Indeed, there were a number of individuals who returned stand-out numbers that bode well for our future – Newnes had 32 touches and nine marks; Membrey five goals; Josh Bruce four and nine marks; Billings two goals, 19 touches and nine marks despite disappearing for a lot of the game; Acres likewise for 23 touches and a goal; Ross found the footy 27 times, and to a lesser extent Roberton 28 to go with a goal, his Mattingley-style haircut having had a Samson-esque effect. But between all of them and Minchington and Eminem – both who got some acclaim from Richo in the post-match – there was no deadwood.

But the best individual stats probably belonged wholly to Jade Gresham – 25 possessions, 6 clearances in the second quarter, 13 contested possessions. Matt was going off early about how this would be Junior Burger’s break-out game, but for all the highlights Gresh has given us so far this year this was his most complete offering.

It also adds something to a the prospects of a midfield that at the start of the year were looking significantly leaner. Seb Ross and was still just some guy, and Gresham hadn’t played a game; Ross is now one of our top few best and most consistent players, and rather than a creative forward-half player Gresham is quickly showing signs of his worth as a midfielder. It’s not a like-for-like but with Dunstan out for the last three matches that would open things up a little for Gresh to spend more time in the middle and closer in at stoppages. His deft movement and balance, on top of his slick decision making and execution (we’ve all seen and talked about that) has given him the X-factor that we’re still waiting to completely emerge from Billings, and perhaps we’ve got that now in the midfield as well as near goal.

You could perhaps add Acres to that, who moved very well through traffic a number of times and has the larger midfield body size we crave after going Junior Burger instead of Bont. He’s not a genuine mid; I see parts of Brendon Goddard and parts of Gary Rohan in his game – decent size, can play anywhere across the ground and can move forward and play as a tall or lead-up option.

That’s all probably a little hard on Billings; he spent a middle stretch of the year injured and his numbers yesterday weren’t bad at all – if you’re going raw data he was probably only a few possessions short of the what we drafted him to deliver week in, week out. He’s started games well since returning, pushing high up the ground to offer avenues forward – something we need from him given his disposal – so perhaps it’s partially an experience and partially a tank issue. Both of those can be rectified.

Jack Steven was tagged out of the game but some further analysis showed it wasn’t all bad, but we were up against a pretty flat team. Gresham is showing a more genuine and damaging midfield pedigree than anyone else on our list this early in their career, but he probably won’t be doing that every week just yet and the guys I just mentioned simply aren’t  midfielders that can turn the game and step up their involvement in the way Stuv can at will. Armo’s almost certainly past his brief peak, Ross just isn’t that kind of player and it’s a 16-gamer who looks most likely to get things moving when someone needs to step up in the engine room.

The classic, arrogant Blues supporter behind us couldn’t stand Matt’s very facetious banter (most of it shared with Simon to begin with) and began having regular cracks at Jack Steven, telling him to get his own ball. Ok, look. Sure, you’re getting hammered by historically the worst team in this game’s history, but out of all the players that have represented the club that has won just one premiership in 143 years, you choose that guy to pick on? Him? Jack Steven? He’s the one?

Yes, it’s definitely a huge tick to the coaching staff that this playing style is a weight-of-numbers, all-in style that doesn’t rely on individual brilliance as the GT era mostly did. But we still to find need that bona fide, A-grade-at-worst, specialist midfielder to help out Jack, Gresh, Seb, et al over the coming years. The jockeying for Hurley’s signature might turn into jockeying for Caleb Marchbank’s if that midfielder presents themselves sometime this year, but we might be happy to hold off and go for the former Saints supporter if that key mid isn’t available just yet.

It’s easy to see a lot of positives – particularly in the forward line – when you win by 71 points but the Blues were clearly cooked after three really good weeks against strong opposition. So let’s run with it anyway because this week against the Swans will probably be a lot different. I’ve gone over Josh Bruce a little already but it’s worth highlighting his nine marks to go with the four sausages. You can look silly if you keep committing yourself to contest after contest in all parts of the ground and don’t hold your marks, and he’s been borderline Maister over the last few weeks but finally things stuck on Sunday and he got some reward on the scoreboard too. There’s no use in that happening at VFL level at this stage – he, his teammates and the coaches just had to make sure it happened in a red, white and black jumper and hopefully he can finish the year with a little uptick in form.

Talking about Tim Membrey is easy enough now because I’m essentially copy-and-pasting the same paragraph – he’s not the tallest player, he’s not the most powerful, and he’s not the quickest, but fuck a duck he’s a smart footballer. He hasn’t been quite as damaging against top sides but that’s literally a part of a lower team on the ladder typically kicking less goals overall against higher-placed teams. Saturday night presents him with a chance to further enhance his credentials, and to redeem himself a little after his quiet performance in the crunch match against North – should the Kangaroos lose on Saturday afternoon then the Swans present that challenge to him. Perhaps Paddy might make his job easier; I hope he does because Roo will probably need to be up the ground taking another 16 marks for us.

We’re gonna need it all firing again on Saturday night either way. We’re playing merely for the chance to sneak into the eight, but the Swans will be playing for top spot, and at the very least a top-two spot with just seven percentage points separating them in second from Geelong in fifth.

Another drink in the Bull Ring post-match with everyone before it was time to walk back to the city on a beautiful Sunday afternoon for a relaxed tram ride home. Should North salute this coming Saturday afternoon expect plenty of Shenton and Holmes action that night, or whoever else might have been named as emergency on the Thursday night. It all counts, bit by bit, towards the future. This year or not, slowly, things are starting to really matter again. The sunshine over the MCG on Sunday represented the better days of looking ahead.

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 20
Tim Membrey – 3
Jack Newnes – 2
Seb Ross – 2
Blake Acres – 1
Leigh Montagna – 1
Dylan Roberton – 1

Totals
Jack Steven – 32
Nick Riewoldt – 22
Seb Ross – 21
Tim Membrey – 18
Tom Hickey – 14
Leigh Montagna – 10
Blake Acres – 8
David Armitage – 8
Jack Newnes – 8
Mav Weller – 7
Jade Gresham – 6
Jack Billings – 5
Sam Fisher – 5
Jarryn Geary – 5
Josh Bruce – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Dylan Roberton – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Sean Dempster – 2
Paddy McCartin – 2
Luke Delaney – 1
Luke Dunstan – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1

An oddly familiar feeling after all this time

by Richard Lee

Round 19, 2016
North Melbourne 2.4, 4.7, 7.8, 12.13 (85)
St Kilda 1.4, 2.7, 3.10, 8.14 (62)
Crowd: 44,287 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, July 30th at 7.25pm

The mid to late 00s for this Saints fan in particular was a wonderful rollercoaster, albeit punctuated (and bolded, underlined and highlighted) by heartbreak. One of the more poignant off-field moments I remember – among many – in the early phase of this ascension to contention was in the wake of the 2004 preliminary final. St Kilda had played, and lost to, Port Adelaide at Football Park by a kick or so. The side’s rapid rise that year had injected massive amounts of belief and excitement to all those who follow The Club; we were destined for great things, this was the start of something special. A close friend of mine in the hours after the game had assured me to no end, whilst we were downing some beverages at Loop Bar, that this was just the beginning. A learning that is part of the process and would be looked on as critical, invaluable in making us doubly strong in the coming finals series. He wasn’t happy that we lost, but he was pretty comfortable. Even then, at the tender age of 18, I rebuked that it’s not that simple; preliminary finals don’t come by every day. By that point I had been earnestly following the St Kilda Football club for a good 10 years give or take, and had witnessed more than my fair share of dreary, bleak afternoons at Moorabbin and then Waverley. I had seen the Cinderella run to the 1997 Grand Final; went to the parade too – of course, I was there for The Game itself too. And what I’m getting at is, even at that ripe age, I felt like saying losing a prelim was a good lesson was way too glib or facile.

In that particular Finals series, the race to the Grand Final had an open feeling about it seeing as the all conquering Lions were increasingly looking like a wounded beast. This only compounded the feeling of “missed opportunity” that I sensed at the time.

Now, I’m not saying that that loss made an indelible mark psychologically or otherwise on the group that went on to go deep in the finals for the rest of the decade. In all honesty, it probably was a good wake-up call to some of them – sometimes, Wanganeen is going to kick a goal from Row F to win the game. You can’t take anything for granted.

But it was an opportunity. In fact a golden one when you look back at how feeble the Lions were in the big dance. And those opportunities can be so, so rare. Our climbs back to that final day thereafter in the footy calendar ultimately, for the most part, had us on a collision course with one of the best sides of all time: Gary Ablett’s Geelong.

Saturday night’s 23 points loss to the Roos, of course doesn’t hold a candle to the enormity of the clashes I’ve just mentioned. It was an opportunity though.

Had we won that game then the door to a finals berth would have been well and truly flung open.

After a pressure packed first half, scoreboard wise the game was virtually still at square one; neither team had taken control. The Roos had a 12 point buffer, but the Saints had established that they were up for the fight both mentally and from a tactical point of view. Enter the premiership quarter and the intensity of the game, or at least amongst the crowd, seemed to go up a notch or two. Having secured reserve seats in the upper area behind the goals at the Saints cheer squad end, we had a prime view to see the side fritter away the opportunity to grab hold of the game. Membrey and Riewoldt were the prime culprits. Both had shots that were less than 4 out of 10 on the difficulty level scale, both from within 30 meters. Either shot would have brought the margin back towards 2 goals. Both missed and despite spending so much time camped in the Kangaroos’ back half, the Saints could not make it count. To rub salt in the wound, some contentious umpiring helped the Roos extend their lead to 22 points at the final change. In fact, Waite’s free-kick after Hickey dived on the ball near the goal mouth was a critical umpiring blue in such a low scoring affair. Sure, Waite’s knees were hit but this type of incident definitely would not have been on the demonstrational video that the Umpiring department sent out to the Clubs when this rule was brought in. It was incidental contact and unfortunately it served as a real sucker punch to the Saints on this occasion.

That 22 point margin didn’t seem unassailable to me seeing as St Kilda had not really made a run all night. I still felt they were a special goal, or a couple of quick ones, away from really stirring the faithful and making Brad Scott sweat some bullets.

It wasn’t to be though. Like they did all night, Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington and Sam Gibson got the better of their rival onballers at the start of the fourth. This resulted in a Drew Petrie major, followed by goals from Thomas and Brown. Game. Over.

Josh Bruce, Riewoldt, Jade Gresham and Mav Weller battled on – the side more ended up more than doubling it’s total courtesy of five goals in the final quarter. Too little, too late, unfortunately. It was to be the perfect celebration for Boomer and more importantly, the steadying win that Roos really needed.


*****

I’ve no doubt mentioned this before, but when you see younger players play in these sort of pressure cooker type atmosphere it’s really enlightening. Some players relish the opportunity, some don’t quite cut it. Blake Acres was one who stepped up to the plate. He started the game brilliantly in the first quarter, taking a great one-on-one mark and kicking truly. And that confidence flooded through in the way he played the rest of the game, in his ball winning ability and in the way he pressured the opposition. To date, we’ve seen a lot of games where Blake has cancelled out flashes of brilliance with some real dear-in-the-headlights mistakes, but on Saturday Night he played a lot more confidently and assertively.

Seb Ross, whilst not in vintage form, definitely was one of our best midfielders. He amassed 25 disposals – a team high – and generally toiled hard in and around the stoppages. Jack Steven was well and truly nullified, Armitage was having another mediocre 2016 outing, yet Ross was still plugging away. Dunstan had some nice moments too, but they were few and far between. Billings chimed in with 22 touches, including a nice mark on quarter time, but his kicking in front of goal is still off. Overall, the midfield was well and truly eclipsed. And aside from our shoddy goal kicking, the midfield is where the Roos had the better of the game. There exits from a stoppage were cleaner and more precise, and they generally dealt with the Saints pressure reasonably well.

Up forward we didn’t have too many winners either. Josh Bruce constantly got in dangerous areas only to fail to make the most of them, as well as being sucked into Scott Thompson’s provocations, resulting in giving away a few obvious free kicks. He’s becoming a bit of a dilemma, Josh. He’s continuing to work hard, but his lack of confidence right now is painful to watch. Tim Membrey hardly got a sniff, and Nick Riewoldt was quiet by his lofty standards.


*****

Now, whether it was indeed a wise thing, taking in the big picture, for the Saints to creep into the top eight this year is a debate worthy of it’s own write up entirely. Having already chalked up so many wins this season, there was no going back though. It would have been great to see the team have to play out the rest of the season with some serious heat on them to keep up the momentum in a bid to clinch eighth – let alone, see how they would have handled Week 1 in September.

That experience would no doubt have been invaluable, as well as giving the Club the added bonus of giving the team a bit more gloss when trying to woo potential free agent recruits.

It wasn’t to be. Sometimes these opportunities are so fleeting. And if one thing is for sure, you never know when they’re going to bob up again – nothing is guaranteed.

 

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 19
Blake Acres 2
Tom Hickey 2
Dylan Roberton 2
Seb Ross 2
Jack Billings 1
Jarryn Geary 1

Totals
Jack Steven – 32
Nick Riewoldt – 22
Seb Ross – 19
Tim Membrey – 15
Tom Hickey – 14
Leigh Montagna – 9
David Armitage – 8
Blake Acres – 7
Mav Weller – 7
Jade Gresham – 6
Jack Newnes – 6
Jack Billings – 5
Sam Fisher – 5
Jarryn Geary – 5
Josh Bruce – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Dylan Roberton – 3
Sean Dempster – 2
Paddy McCartin – 2
Luke Delaney – 1
Luke Dunstan – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1