But it is, and it is

by Tom Briglia

Round 21, 2018
Essendon 5.3, 10.8, 14.13, 18.14 (122)
St Kilda 4.4, 6.8, 7.10, 11.13 (79)
Crowd: 37,483 at Etihad Stadium, Friday, August 10th at 7.50pm

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What better way to see the most depressing team in the competition play in one of the more depressing games of the season than kicking off your night by yourself in the most depressing seat at Nando’s? For reference, it’s table 50 (near the kitchen entrance), although they did call me “sir” in an unexpected flourish. It was also my first game on my own at the concrete TV set this year. I don’t think it’s necessarily any more or less enjoyable being able to walk around freely having cracked the shits and swearing to yourself, but it’s one of many ways to experience this shitheap of a club.

After a bunch of years writing this thing the repetition of some things gets as fucking boring as they are humiliating. This week’s theme: There’s just something about the Bombers and the Saints. In 2009 I was there on my own to watch them hand us our first lost of the season in Round 20 (who else?), and in Round 18 of 2010 I watched an almost identical game to Saturday’s by myself as for a few weeks our season looked like it was barely keeping its head above flushing toilet water. It doesn’t matter where the Bombers are on the ladder, and it doesn’t matter where we are. They are the anti-St Kilda; the VFL/AFL’s first premiers, we the first wooden spooners; they the equal-most premierships, we the least and by far the most wooden spoons. Their colours are nastier version of our own. The arrogance that fills the air at their home games is something incredibly foreign to St Kilda supporters.

It was leaked during the week that we’re going after Hannebery and Lycett (and then Menzel and maybe Jordan Roughead in the last few days), and might be getting a compensation pick according to Barrett. Lethlean and Richo didn’t rebuff any of the trade speculation. With the any chance that the final chunk of the season could represent a building block of sorts going into next year being eroded with every shanked kick into the forward line, any footage of the past five years – let alone these final few weeks – is increasingly joining the irrelevance of that seen in the Watson years. These broken-down passages of play are filled with either players that played a key role in earlier successes (“successes”), but had no real say in the next tilt (Burke, Loewe, the Wakelins, Tony Brown, Jason Heatley into Riewoldt, Montagna, Fisher, Gilbert), and a bunch of players and curious trade-ins that were parts of that black hole in between (Tony Francis, Tony Delaney, Ben Walton, Jason Gowans, Gavin Mitchell, Sean Charles into Newnes? Weller? Minchington? Holmes, Saunders, Templeton, Luke Delaney et al).

This was all before the talk of Richo perhaps being removed before 2019 cropped up over the weekend, despite Lethlean’s strong words about Richo being the right guys for the job pre-match on SEN. Lethlean seems to have everyone at the club under his control role, to the point where he’s being interviewed by the club for the website – the last time he did that he forewarned the sacking of three assistants – although some people close to the club will tell you there was a directive to leave Richo himself out of the otherwise club-wide review.

***

It was hard to spot any white in the crowd among all the 37,000-plus people wearing some form of red and black, although this year at St Kilda games it’s been hard to spot anyone in the crowd. I walked around the ground via standing room stand through the first quarter and eventually found a spot behind the St Kilda cheer squad, and felt like we were cornered (ovaled?) by a crowd I assume in size and unnecessary booing would be very similar to being interstate.

The tension in the atmosphere through the first and second quarters probably topped that of any other game featuring our vanilla football club this year. Our pressure was up and slowly we’d worked our way into the game, and the Essendon crowd that couldn’t hate us enough to begin with was incensed after the replay of Brown’s hit on Saad was played at the ground. Brown was late but I think three weeks was on the slightly harsher side, and the red card talk was ridiculous – he didn’t hit him in the head, and if Saad had braced himself then no one would have noticed it happen.

While all that was going on, the ball had gone up the other end after an Essendon poster and ended up with Jack Billings. Later on in the night he again proved he has an intense phobia of kicking three goals in one match. Saad was stretchered off after Billings took the mark and before he had his shot at goal, meaning he had ample time to go through every single miss of his career before taking the kick as the Essendon fans made noise that tripled anything made by Saints fans this year. Incredibly, Billings kicked it, and I thought it might have been a moment that just turned some gears in his head that were rusted or jammed and breaking everything else down. A smart one-two with Lonie along the boundary line in the pocket and neat finish from a turnover, and he had two goals and 10 disposals at quarter-time.

A classic Richo move away from the forward line didn’t necessarily put him out of position – he’s played his best footy higher up on the ground this year – but clubs use pick 3 on players like him because he can go forward and have a big game in the same way he can rack up 25 damaging disposals higher up. He indeed finished with 25, but again, he fear of three goals, along with Lonie (and Paddy of course). His near-mark in the goal square in the second quarter could have been a key moment if the lack of response from the entire team afterwards to the mere prospect of a momentum shift wasn’t so pathetic. But it was the mark that he did take in front of goal in the final term, following which he decided to play and had his shot touched off the boot. As incredulous as I was I fucking feel for him. For all the talk from footy media personnel about it being best for him to be traded to another club, a big part of me thinks there is a lot for him to gain from a new set-up, whether it’s around or in place of Richo. He’s become more physical in recent weeks and is more reliable in getting the ball across the ground. The Bulldogs-through-Bontempelli was a sad night for the club’s arse-up recruiting and development, but the sort-of-not-really change at the club would be good for him. If he did want out, I wouldn’t begrudge him; I would begrudge the fuckwits that have made the club the place it is right now and botched his development.

Needlessly playing on near goal had already dicked us when we were making our run in the second quarter. That was headed by Gresham; while playing on wasn’t entirely out of character for him, missing was. It extended to set shots with himself and Membrey. It’s worth noting that Freeman and Paton did manage to nail their set shots, and Lewis Pierce, who has spent the year in a VFL side that didn’t exist last year, played well coming straight into the team. Throughout the year we’ve seen Clark and Coffield showing composure, Ed Phillips working hard to move across the ground smartly, Josh Battle being good; there’s a strange trend with these guys that haven’t spent too much time in this club’s system.

Who is responsible for the Lewis Pierce situation I’m not sure, but it’s probably a good gauge of the dysfunction at the club. Richo said he hasn’t seen him live due to the arrangement (he has seen vision) and Skrobalak has been coaching him every week, as ruck coach at St Kilda and then within the broader context of the entire Frankston team. Richo said in the post-match conference “perhaps we could have had him in a bit earlier”. Maybe playing Billy Longer injured over and over again might have also been an error.

Reprising Brett Cook’s role as the back-up ruckman for the back-up ruckman and wearing number 42, Pierce had a good presence around the ground from that start. He looked more sure physically in the ruck against Bellchambers than Billy or Our Very Own Stephen Merchant have this year, and he followed up in traffic immediately afterwards and across the ground.

The tall guy set-up appeared to work well with Marshall. In fantastical St Kilda fashion, one of the more notable passages of play was undone by our own goalkicking in the first quarter. Marshall worked up the ground to take a leading mark on the wing, the kick went out of bounds but Pierce roved the throw-in after contesting the ruck and the ball was kicked forward to Marshall, who had worked his way into attack, and of course he missed the set shot at goal.

***

I went up to the third level at quarter time and was amazed to find people at a match involving St Kilda, and had to nestle up in literally the back row of the stadium. The game looked to have shifted in our favour but after Gresham’s and Membrey’s misses (with a Gresham goal somewhere in there too) the game swung. This was the same challenge we’d faced the previous weekend, in the same period of the game. It was time to show the football world that we were capable of learning the lessons of six days earlier, as a professional Australian Rules team that has access to all kinds of vision and feedback and anything they want, really. The leaders could atone for having gone missing, and the younger guys could show some modicum of development. The coaches could send a different, or stronger message. What an excellent opportunity. Between the 23.04 mark and the 28.44 mark, Essendon kicked four goals.

What do I think of when I consider the leaders at this club in that situation. I think of RIcho’s Mate Dave coming out of defence and launching a high faux-torp going that went wide and bounced out of play, I think of St Kilda Football Club Captain Jarryn Geary being used out of defence when the reality is that he isn’t very good at using an Australian Rules football at AFL level, I think of Jack Steven being caught with ball – in Richo’s words, trying to do too much – and I think of Seb Ross, yes, despite 43 touches and being clearly our best player for a second week in a row, having two opportunities to guide us out of half-back in the second quarter; the first time his kick didn’t really go to anyone and came back, the second attempt didn’t really go to anyway and came back and ended with Hooker outmarking Carlisle to the joy of Essendon fans, and a goal. Newnes had theee touches at half-time, and three-quarter time last week he had six.

But the signs were probably there in the natural spike in tension following Brown’s hit on Saad. The push and shove ensued and while Billings somehow raked through the set shot, that was immediately followed up by Stringer pouncing on Richo’s Mate Dave and McDonald-Tipungwuti snagging the immediate reply, Armo missed a shot at goal on the run and a few minutes later Jack Steven did as well. What the fuck is wrong with drop punts? Long gave away a nothing free and then 50, which led to Aaron Francis kicking his first goal and getting the Bombers fans a little higher on being Bombers fans, but Long hit a low contest soon after and showed no sign of intimidation in it all.

Yet again, it was an en masse drop-off right across the ground. No one stepped up; there was no collective of individuals that stepped up to take on the barrage. The whole team and the whole system and the whole club just dropped off. It was as if all the players ran directly off the ground after running to Freeman to celebrate his first goal, and if not then they sure as hell didn’t remember to come back on after half-time. “We’ll work on it” didn’t have the same ring four months into the season, and now the words are just structured sounds coming out of Richo’s mouth after another loss.

***

All wider context aside, this just ended up as another typical Essendon and St Kilda match. It’s like going to the pre-drinks for a big Friday night out clubbing, covered in the stench of dick-measuring contests between the Essendon bros. On the actual ground, the Saints don’t offer much; a player with genuine speed and skill and dare in McDonald-Tipungwuti kicks five, Essendon is down to no rotations by three-quarter time and are made to look like heroes, Nathan Brown ends up in everyone’s shit books for a shoulder-to-shoulder bump. Yes, as I said, the suspension is ballpark. But the many, many people out there with a hatred for St Kilda would have said it was Kosi’s fault for not looking when Gia actually did hit him in the head, and they would still tell you that in 2018. I’m not bitter, I’m hate-filled and worn down.

As the talk about who we’re interested in, and who isn’t interested in St Kilda (Gaff, i.e. the best player of the list; also at least two of them are just desperate for a fresh start and/or longer contracts) it’s become apparent that the real work of 2018 will be done through the trade and draft periods. The 2018 premiership season itself has simply been a drawn out exercise of weekly humiliating public demonstrations of our countless flaws as a team and as a football club. That the Riewoldt generation’s legacy – for now anyway – has been forgotten and shat on so quickly and comprehensively shows that maybe this club hasn’t changed much.

The distance seemed sure enough

by Tom Briglia

Round 20, 2018
St Kilda 4.2, 7.4, 7.9, 9.14 (68)
Western Bulldogs 0.5, 6.6, 14.12, 15.13 (103)
Crowd: 20,748 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, August 4th at 7.25pm

Version 2

For the first time in VFL/AFL history, five games in the same round were decided by one goal or less, and they all came within the six games played over Friday and Saturday. Of course, of course, of course, it would be the Bulldogs and St Kilda that were the exception, and of course, of course, of course it would be St Kilda that would be the ones wiped off the park, and by a team only half a game ahead of them.

It’s worth noting that none of those games had been played with a roof overhead. Maybe the state of the game talk carried a little more weight for us throughout much of the year because we were used to watching actual garbage, but I feel like the standard has picked up as teams increasingly try and time their run at the pointy end.

Nevertheless, get out of our way – we had some St Kilda stuff to do. Hopefully Steve Hocking didn’t go to this game of the six, because the garbage was back, and he’d missed Essendon and Hawthorn to watch Coburg and Werribee as the AFL continued to use the VFL as its adult toy testing department.

The Bulldogs used to be our sparring partners in one-premiershipdom; red, white and black and red, white and blue united across opposite sides of the city by ageing premiership footage, ageing premiership heroes, and ageing tall tales of those respective solitary glory days. The Bulldogs’ on-field fall since their wonderful 2016 premiership is still safely contained within the shadows of that triumph, and no one should be putting it past them to achieve something like what Hawthorn did over the several seasons following 2008.

Looking at their fans around the ground before the game, it still feels strange that the quiet empathy and sympathy I had are mostly gone. They’re more of a curiosity; these are people that lived a dream so similar to ours, and so recently. What does it feel like to have seen the impossible?

It’s getting lonelier at the bottom. While Sydney, Geelong and Richmond have also ended their lengthy droughts in the early part of this century, Melbourne is looking a decent chance over the next few years to leave us as the undisputed worst and most tragic club – not just in our VFA history and of the VFL/AFL, but for everyone following the game now.

***

Saturday kicked off the 2018 Farewell Residency at the Corporate TV set, featuring our terrible re-worked version of the song and much-appreciated lack of music following goals. Part of that whole faecal discharge of changing the club songs was that the AFL, clearly directed by no actual understanding of why the songs are what they are, also pissed away the chance to bring back the grandiosity of “Sons of the ‘Scray” (and did the same with the Lions’ song).

It’s obviously not the point, but Freeman potentially dominating news headlines became Freeman as part of Comeback Round, which starred Alex Johnson and featured cameos from Aaron Vandenberg and Brodie Smith. Offering Freeman up to Channel Nine’s Monday night news and then mentioning him on official count social media early in the week were the giveaways.

Anticipating a Novelty Bag ahead of a shambolic loss, shame on me; anticipating a Novelty Bag twice ahead of yet another shambolic loss, shame on me still, really, for expecting anything to change after all of those “we’ll work on it” lines in post-match press conferences this year from Richo. He followed that up on 360 with, as well calling it embarrassing, pointing out twice that we had seven scoring shots to the Dogs’ two in the last quarter, again running with the competed well late in the game line, well and truly after it was gone. Lethlean guaranteeing his role on 3AW the next morning may have already gone to his head.

Marshall was out for some reason and so it was down to Battle and Membrey to anchor the forward line, but Battle followed Paddy’s lead and got concussed early, so it was down to Membrey with some help from Hickey, but Hickey absurdly injured a hamstring tendon, came off, got on the bike for a bit, and was made to come back on and stand in the goal square given Webster was sore and Freeman had been out for five years. He could hardly move.

Acres was being passed around from the ruck to the backline to the forward, to the wing and vaguely through the midfield, and with Carlisle rucking too, Newnes loomed as the only other option as a focal point in the forward line. His second goal in the final term masked a performance in which he’d only had six touches to three-quarter time, and finished with nine.

It all started OK. Lonie, Billings and Gresham all had decent numbers by quarter time, although even at the moment Lonie was far too nonchalant in his celebration of his second goal, which took us to six goals against the Dogs’ one. Lonie was set to back up his good game last week with two early goals and plenty of involvement with and without the ball, but he got a case of the Paddy McCartins (the not-goal kicking one) yet again and couldn’t get that third goal. In fact, all three of the “high half-forwards” finished with decent numbers, but you can never trust teams in these stages of development to build nor hold a decent lead. Things started leaking in the second quarter and I’m not sure if anyone even looked like they wanted to do anything about it.

***

Billings is now specifically a player you don’t want to have taking a shot on goal, and also appears to be suffering the three-goal phobia – only three times in his 82 games has scored three goals in a game, and he’s kicked at last three behinds in a game 11 times since the start of 2017. Saturday night was absurdly the fourth time he’s kicked 1.3 in his past 21 games. As we saw on Saturday night, he’ll miss them whichever way – set shot drop punt, on the run, set shot with the step-around snap from boundary line in the pocket. He got far too excited about finally kicking a goal; an accident on the line in the extended junk time period that may well have actually clipped Geary’s boot on the way through. He pleaded far too much with footballer turned The Footy Show Grand Final Edition fodder turned goal umpire David Rodan for a review and rightfully got his way, but his celebration showed how much weight he is again carrying on his shoulders. He would be flat as fuck if they credit that one to Geary (for now it’s still his according the AFL and major publications that still exist).

It has to be noted he’s upped his physicality in the past couple of weeks. A couple of big chase-down tackles in the first half were uncharacteristic, but pleasantly so. He finished with a very commendable 27 touches by the end, but they were a battling 27 that ultimately didn’t make a huge impact on the game.

Which brings us to the crux of the night – while Billings was doing, or trying to do all of this, the Bulldogs had the Bont running riot when the game was there to be won, kicking four goals in a massive third quarter in which he continuously put himself in the right place and had no troubles finishing the job. We ran out with picks 3, 10, 18 and 19 of the 2013 draft, but the Bulldogs had pick 4 – and their number 4 – and that short period after last year in which we thought Billings was, for that moment, the better player and in a club that might be going somewhere feels like a very different time and place. Marcus Bontempelli, specifically the kind of player we lack – a classy, smooth big-bodied midfielder than can kick goals -will go down in history as the best and fairest winner of the team that broke one of the game’s most famous premiership droughts.

As this hamstring-tendon injury affected game hobbled to a finish, complete with a bonus unnecessary score review after what was a comprehensive ricochet of JJ’s hand, at the SCG Paddy’s brother Tom – taken with the pick before our second-rounder last year – kicked a freak winner for a team playing for a top four spot.

***

If the thunder, lightning, gale-force winds and monsoonal rains of the 2018 shitstorm are our manic shanks forward to no one, and Billings and Membrey repeatedly missing shots at goal, then eye of the storm is a meek, en masse surrender that has cost us a game of footy in a matter of minutes, as opposed to providing any sort of relief to re-tape the windows (read: the chance to actually control the tempo of the game). From the 14.28-minute mark of the second quarter, when Lin Jong kicked the Bulldogs’ second, to the 28.50 mark of the third – 43 minutes and 40 seconds of footy, time-on included – the Dogs kicked 13.6 to 1.6.

Maybe something like that was to be expected when you’ve told three assistant coaches during the week that they’ve effectively been sacked, and still need to front up for a meaningless month of footy that won’t enhance their CV. Richo looked the flattest I can remember him, and perhaps the angriest, in the post-match press conference. Words used like “unacceptable”, which also featured in the Corporate Sponsor Members’ Message, were followed up by “really, really unacceptable” by Simon Lethlean on 3AW the morning after.

“Really wreckless with the footy” was also used very aptly by Richo, with “wreckless” an appropriate term for this club’s 145-year history. “A really weak performance by our team and by our footy club today”; “It’s pretty hard to be competitive when you only have one strong, consistent midfielder, in Seb Ross”. Richo appeared to be getting sick of his own lines, but during his weekly 360 grilling by Robbo – who has strangely become a de facto ally for the Sack Richo camp – reverted back to talking up how we had more scoring shots than the Bulldogs in the final quarter.

***

Seb Ross isn’t going to pick up a team and carry them with him, and I don’t know if he’s the type to ever turn a game. He might be our next captain though. Not sure if you can pencil that it in based on Saturday night’s game or not, but 40 disposals and three goals was on paper the best output in his career and one of the better individual performances from a Saint in an awful season. His disposal this year has been unconvincing, and long with the use of his acceleration through traffic has been down on last year, but his ball use was better I guess.

Richo parking him in the back half for the final quarter and a bit was bemusing, but I think that was more to do with the game being well and truly over and a chance for Coffield, Freeman, et al to try a few different positions while our forward line was out injured.

Freeman clearly had several extra gears to play with. For all of the supporters (me included) screaming out for a Freeman debut, Richo’s comments that he wasn’t quite “letting go” with his body rang true throughout the night. And rightfully so if your next five years was written off but a mid-range kick along the wing in a pre-season match. At no point did he even look like he got beyond 80% capacity.The optimist left in me think that if anything, that reflects well on where his career could go. They parked him out on the broadcast wing throughout the first quarter, and he was the widest player on the ground the entire time, but ended up coming off half-back and into the forward line a little more, and a more centrally.

***

The noise coming from the club after the match – Lethlean, Richo and Ross; official, coach, and player – was that injuries don’t particularly matter if you’re going to play so meekly. Things had started so nicely but I’ve barely addressed them here because it feels so…irrelevant? Yet again we trotted out the up/down en masse performance, with no real leadership, nor clear directive, nor effort when the game started to turn against us. Newnes had six touches to three-quarter time, Armo was being played off half-back, Brown and Carlisle couldn’t do much about anything, but this was the worst second-half team in the competition.

Lethlean let a few things out on 3AW, namely that “we’re in the market for line coaches and development coaches”, and that Danny Sexton does a “pretty good job” and almost certainly won’t be going anywhere. What was notable – although maybe not a surprise, given other comments coming from the club this year – was his backing of Richo. “We need to support Richo, not blame him”, he said, and specifically mentioned the next “12 months”, on the day that Barrett revealed the break clause is more to do with 2019 than this year. Whether you or I like it or not, unless something weird happens over the next few weeks, that’s probably what we’re dealing with.

***

 Every once in a while when I’ve got a bit of time to dick around on YouTube, I’ll be caught in a loop of watching excellent uploads of the Bulldogs’ 2016 finals campaign. Caleb Daniel walking into goal on the final siren of the Semi Final, as his teammates line up behind him because they know the siren is about to go; the JJ run off half-back in the final quarter of the Preliminary Final that finished with Bontempelli striding into goal and putting them in front; Stringer out the back settling and kicking across to the safe hands of Tory Dickson in the final seconds in front of full bays of Bulldogs fans; and the Bulldogs song after the final siren of the Grand Final that ends as the camera sits on Luke Beveridge with Bontempelli.

The People v GWS [No 155] (2018)

by Tom Briglia

Round 19, 2018
Greater Western Sydney 2.0, 5.2, 11.5, 13.8 (86)
St Kilda 1.6, 3.10, 6.11, 8.13 (61)
Crowd: 12,014 at Spotless Stadium, Saturday, July 28th at 4.35pm

The weather turned in Melbourne over Friday and Saturday. Having passed the halfway mark of winter during the week, it is around this time of year you notice there is a little more sunlight, the mornings aren’t getting colder and pushing harder each day against the enthusiasm for getting out of bed. The winter chill was gone and tripped the subconscious understanding that the weather will be more comfortable and September is soon, which means for some finals and hope, but for us, a rest. In whatever ways this season is looked back on in the future, right now there is relief creeping in that we’re almost done.

It’s been a fucking grind. Simon Lethlean’s interview – produced by the club and posted on social media, but curiously hidden from the main page – was a comprehensive statement from the club itself that change is coming. During this season the most we’ve been able to see is a shuffling of younger guys and senior guys in and out of the team while we feel the weight of realisation much of the last half-decade may well have been wasted, and the holding pattern that the systemic change so obviously needed at the club can’t come until the home and away season is done. Richo said “we’ll work on it” every week, and we certainly didn’t a get a change in game style or sustained change in the outcome, from the kick in individual passages of play to wins and losses.

We were shunted back into the black hole time slot of 4.35pm interstate after ruining two consecutive Friday nights for people that fetishise American Major League Sportsballs. So ahead of the 2018 Farewell Residency at Docklands for the final month of the home and away season, we delivered a fantastical encapsulation of our inability to play decent Australian Rules football once within 60 metres of goal.

***

The St Kilda banner was a bit of a fucking reach, a bit with a dig at the GWS song:
“Let’s play Saints footy
Tough. fierce and strong
So we don’t have to hear
The GWS Russian folk song”
Get fucked. The GWS song is bold and brash in the same way the Richmond song was, and like the Richmond song (the original) is instantly associated with a club that is arrogant and has a fuck you attitude to the rest of the competition. I don’t care who exactly put it together, how dare the club even try that kind of line after going out of its way to choose “reworked” version, put together as an afterthought after Richmond’s bizarre gaffe that their fans can’t stand. Our song sounds like the Dodo ad jingle and the club didn’t ask anyone, and then they had the team run out to a Dare jingle the other week. The “Camry Crows” is still a joke 25 years on, this club is a shitty joke 145 years on.

***

Shopping For Lonie proved a flop last October, and in the 10 months since it’s felt like he was playing out time, pissing off fans when selected. Earlier in the season we were thinking about guys who’d gone backwards since 2015 and 2016, and he has been among names like Billings, Bruce, Newnes, Weller, Hickey (Dunstan?) and, for a time, D-Mac. Lonie’s promising 2015, which included wasteful kicking at goal as per his tutelage under Adam Schneider, was followed with no real specific development in his game. He still gets knocked off the ball too easily in contest, he has an input for a few minutes in the opening quarter and then disappears, he misses shots on goals, he tried to make something out of nothing when he can’t quite.

Like the difference in the team’s best and worst footy pre-Carrara this year, Lonie turned everything up on Saturday; a more manic version of the good, the bad and everything in between and either side. All in all, this was his best game. For the first time for a couple of years he maintained a presence throughout the match, he sprayed stupid shots against the boundary line in opposite pockets, he tackled and harassed with more purpose and more effect, he shanked goals he should have kicked. He finished with 2.4 to be one of the chief architects of the wasted opportunities – he had 0.3 before kicking a couple of nice goals. His career statistics are ridiculous – 12.17 in 2015, 10.8 in 2016, 6.14 in 2017, and 7.9 this year, for a total of 35.48 from 46 games. Like Paddy, he seems to have default setting that basically prevents him from kicking three goals in one game; for all those shots on goal he’s only managed to kick three goals twice.

A career-best 21 possessions were littered with extremes. He set up our first goal from an excellent kick inboard to Gresham after a turnover; he harassed Whitfield out of bounds with a great chase in the pocket, the boundary umpire didn’t see it, and the ball came back and he found an arsey free and hit the post. Having had all the play, with 11 to three inside 50s for just a 1.4 to 1.0 lead, he gave away 50 which resulted in Lobbe’s crumbing goal (only the against the Saints). He took us to 1.5 with a banana from the boundary he really had no business in trying without having had some sort of look inboard first.

Some of his follow-up showed some development in that space, as well as how much more of the ground he appeared to cover. Another free from jumping on the low ball that skittled off Membrey’s boot did justice to his kick off half-back that got it to Membrey in the first place, and he was still there doing some over-caffeinated things in the final quarter; a give and get going forward to set the tone when the game was still there to be won looked good until what should have been a simple kick floated over Gresham’s head. Lonie got a lucky free a bit later – despite dropping the ball before being landed on in the back, and missed again.

That was followed up by Membrey hitting the post to take his own game to 2.3, and burning the chance to being us within 19 points with more than seven minutes left. He returned to his mid-sized herculean role around the ground, surrounded by very raw support in Marshall and Battle up forward, pulling in 10 marks while looking like he didn’t want to kick a goal. That final poster, from a relatively simple angle and distance, was the last chance to stay in touch. It was a pointed summary of the night; Battle had worked to get to the ball to Gresham, who danced around a couple of opponents outside 50 with a bounce included and perfectly weighted the pass to Membrey from his left boot. We’re at Round 20 this week and again, we’re working on it. Himmelberg kicked 4.0 in his 17th game, Daniels nabbed a couple and Langdon kicked a monster from the meeting point of the 50 metre arc and the boundary.

Gresham took another step on his way to being our best player, and there were a couple of things in this game that reminded us that he’s just in his third year and is still developing his own game. That it was novelty that he started in the middle at the opening bounce was more than a wink. He should only get fitter with more pre-seasons, but given what’s happened to Billings et al maybe expect him to lose the capacity to kick a goal if there’s more than half a second of time to think.

Until time on in the second quarter he was the only one to have the composure to finish in front of goal, having kicked his two goals from a set shot and moving with the ball. His second quarter goal was probably the best singular offensive and defensive effort in his career to date, and again that he’s still on a development curve. A near one-on-one mark was followed up by a chase and harass that we don’t typically associate him with; Marshall’s effort to get down low and get the ball out should be noted too, and Gresham finished neatly.

His possession count is growing too as he covers more space and spends more time through the middle, and he’s the type of player in which that makes a different to the team and to the game given his creativity and class, which are two words I’ve used together I think in every review this year, due to a remarkable lack of them or the novelty of when they were displayed by a St Kilda player. He equalled his career-high 25 possessions to go with his two goals.

***

Aside from the Jack Billings being (one of) the face(s) of AFLX in the lead-up to the Gillon McLachlan and Steve Hocking’s faecal and flagellation matter as legacy attempt that he didn’t even end up playing in, Gresh is bit-by-bit cropping up as the most visible player for the club to the wider competition. Things like appearing on a GameDay (why was I watching?) graphic among the players who have kicked goals in the most respective games this year (he’s equal second with 16), and then Gerard and Robbo going out of their way to talk about him with Richo after another week of gushing about the Cats before awkwardly addressing another game pissed away by junior footy errors en masse.

Billings played a rather strange game for Billings, in that he was quite physical. I do mean that as a backhanded compliment, but with a little more sugar than I might be letting on. A missed shot on the run in the final seconds of the second quarter, with more space and time than ever necessary, right now is now well and truly, sadly, the expectation from him. He’s put together a decent body of work this year that seems to show the more time he has to think around goal he appears he to get cluttered.

This became one of several games he’s had a decent amount of the ball (by his standards), but heavily weighted to handballs – 7 kicks and 15 handballs, after 8 and 12 last week, but for just the second time this year he registered five tackles after a season-best six last week. Several times he hit the ball hard low to the ground, including a decent moment on centre wing in which he pounced on the ground ball and had the composure under pressure to suss out options on his left and then right hand; and by the third quarter he was flying for a couple of marks and leading across half forward with his arms up, which was a good sign given he’s rarely committed to contests in that way – I’m assuming it’s something to do with having had his shoulder strapped for some time now.

***

One clear development in-season is Steele’s move to playing defensive roles. Another good run-with job, this time on Ward, had him collect 24 touches while keeping Ward to 11 until three quarter time before the tag was dropped. Where does that leave the midfield otherwise? Incredibly, Richo dropped his mate Dave while Weller stayed in, but Acres came back in and looked at home after a long layoff despite slowing down as the game wore on. An early contested mark and goal would have been outrageous, but we had to settle for an early contested mark and miss, but that didn’t stop Acres carrying what Rich rightly described as “irrational swag” for the rest of the quarter.

Dunstan’s game was one of his few that were carried by decent moments rather than ticking over contested ball efforts. A couple of well-weighted kicks into the forward 50, to Marshall in the first and then Membrey in the second both led the forwards turfing his good work and spraying both. He went back with the flight of a Jack Steven forward 50 entry in the second and almost wiped out Battle on the lead, but barrelled a couple of Giants instead, got the ball and got it out, which found Lonie who finally kicked a goal.

Going by Richo’s post match presser, in response to what was the closest thing you’ll get to a Dorothy Dixer on game day,outside of the mid-week press conferences which suspiciously have a St Kilda and Dare-branded mic a little too prominently, he mentioned Dunstan, Steele, Acres, Gresham, D-Mac and Webster specifically as guys taking the team forward, so I don’t think Dunstan is going anywhere anytime soon.

Freeman had 37 touches and 13 marks for Sandy on Saturday in the Channel 7 free-to-air game, to go with a very neat goal. After two games against arguably the likely Grand Finalists, the 2018 Farewell Residency at the Concrete TV set starting on Saturday night against mid-tier teams presents the best opportunity for some feel-good PR for the club without having it entirely shat on on the scoreboard, or on the alleged “big stage” of Friday night. But maybe Richo’s Mate Dave comes in instead, and Mav Weller keeps his place after another mesmerising nine touches and 0.0.

The VFL broadcast situation was the making of the AFL and Channel 7’s self-serving TV rights agreement. It was actually incredibly that Robbo blasted the “floating” fixture of the final round and called it a TV program, and even noting the asterisk that he himself is employed by Fox Footy which is party to the deal. On the 7 side they cut the number of free-to-air games as Gil’s brother can maximise his public presence; Gil and Steve are now trying to get some more goals happening per match so they can create more of “the most valuable 30 seconds of screen real estate in Australian television”, while Tim Worner can keep paying his way out of trashy behaviour. In the Fox corner, Gil told everyone to “Go to the pub”, in what will probably go down as an historical quote that illustrates the disconnect between the AFL and its fans. That’s not helped by Gil and Steve henchjournos like Jon Ralph, see here and here that try and butter up (i.e. shut up) fans.

And as for Saturday’s game at the MCG, who’d have thought a massively important match between two huge teams could have an amazing atmosphere and care for the actual game itself, even without being moved to a night timeslot and fireworks and a celebrity appearance before the match.

***

D-Mac’s reanimation continued. He was tasked with curbing Toby Greene and did a decent job, but what really stood out was twice he went back under high balls to take strong marks, in the same way that brought him concussions a couple of times early on in his career. One of the very few positives of this year has been his form since three-quarter time at Carrara.

For the inside 50 dominance in the first half – 40 to 18 entries at half-time – The Captain of the St Kilda Football Club, Jarryn Geary made far too much of a contribution tothe poor return. He collected at least 30 possessions for just the third time in his career – in his 179th game – after doing it for the second time against Richmond at the MCG this year. It makes sense he could play as a small forward from a pressure and aggression perspective, but he contributed for too many dodgy kicks at least going forward in a game that was notable for how often he was involved in the front half. Two forward 50 entries within a matter of moments early in the first quarter were royally shanked, missing Hickey near the goal square first and then Steele as we peppered the forward line and grabbed handfuls of air around the GWS throat. He blazed away going forward early in the second to set specifically the example we need a whole lot less of; when were pressing in the third with consecutive goals, he found the ball in heavy traffic inside our 50 and rushed a kick around the corner, rather than look back for the handball to a couple of players, and GWS took it up the other end for a goal against the run of play. A few minutes later he scuffed a kick going forward to Billings, and Zac Langdon thumped through the long set shot goal up the other end. Captains aren’t the ones who are supposed to sap the team of any will to football. He’s not the only one but that goes to show how much of a train wreck the place is before the Lethlean accident scene management and removal services comes in for a sweep.

Also in the Concerning Leaders group is Seb Ross, who continues to find the ball in large quantities without doing anything overly damaging with it. You could perhaps say he’s trying to settle into a changed role as he spends more time off half back (at least when Webster is out), but it doesn’t account for useless kicks up the line when he’s running on the wing and Gresh is yelling at him, in space a couple of metres inboard, to get the ball back and keep running. A few times earlier this year we watched Seb live off the ball and I’m sure he looked injured; the small bursts away from opponents simply haven’t been there this year, and his on-field temperament sparks but never really takes into verbally challenging leader.

Over this final month of the season we’ll be looking to Goddard and Freeman getting games, as the club teases Hugh’s return with Sandy highlights packages, and teases us by ignoring Freeman altogether. They’re heading towards Matt Maguire circa 2009 and Tommy Walsh circa 2011 territory right now. It’s time to find out a few things that for no clear reason we’re still unsure of. We’ve waited five seasons for this development period to show results. I don’t know what the club is waiting for.

It’s what you do

by Tom Briglia

Round 18, 2018
St Kilda 1.2, 2.3, 5.7, 8.9 (57)
Richmond 6.4, 11.7, 14.10, 16.15 (111)
Crowd: 26,269 at Etihad Stadium, Friday, July 20th at 7.50pm

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So much, too much, had been made of what happened on the field in the 2017 instalment of Maddie’s Match. It was a little more than one year ago (Round 16 last year), but Saturday night loomed as a bookend either way. It would mark a curious, troubling form slump that cost us two seasons, or stronger confirmation that we were deep in a second-phase rebuild.

I don’t know if it was just me, but I feel like there was a sense that we were in with a chance. While Richmond’s loss to GWS could hardly be considered a form slump, we’d somehow won three out of our last four and had lurched so far between best and worst it seems as though everyone, including the club, lost sight of where we were actually at. Maybe we forgot what big games were like and so the fact that were was so much publicity around the match during the week was confused with it being an inherently competitive match-up, the kind associated a lot more with a final.
Nowhere near it. Much like the Sydney game, this was a comprehensive blow-out that was over early and was taken down to a simmer for the second. Last year’s famous half-time score – 92 to 10 – was effectively reversed to 15 to 73 this year. Dimma was right in saying these kinds of games end up with the dominant team taking it all the way, or just holding the opposition at arm’s length and cruising through.

***

So much for this week’s Novelty Bag. My Novelty Hope last week was that Marshall would kick five against a weaker opposition; this week it was that the Tigers would keep a closer eye on Gresham given his last couple of performances, and that Billings would kick four. We ended with 8.9 from the entirety of the team, and the Holman and Dare donations to MRV for every goal ($250 from each company per goal) was awkwardly lean every time that came up on the screen. Certainly not for the intent; I said at the start of the game they would have had a better shot at donating if they did it per behind given our last couple of years.

Paddy was effectively declared out for the season again, meaning the Novelty Forward Line with Marshall and Battle as talls is a lock for the rest of the season. Webster tweaked some scar tissue in his groin and Lonie was “injured”; Seb was back after puking, and club resisted again playing Freeman, Paton and Goddard despite some noises made about them by Richo and on the club’s website. Perhaps they didn’t want to throw a couple of first gamers and one guy who’d missed two full seasons into the path of the best team in the competition. It was also hard to make too many changes from a team that won by 64 points with a relatively even contribution.

Richo got a bit more aggressive in his messaging during week, saying he told the players to “throw the first punch”. In bigger games recently, as finals loomed in 2016 and 2017, we’d simply tightened up and played what Richo has described as “conservative” footy. Against North in 2016, against Essendon on the Friday night following Maddie’s Match last year, and then Melbourne a few weeks later; and Good Friday this year. The latter was so much of a disaster than Richo cited it was something that rattled the confidence of the playing group. Here was a chance to show what the coaches and playing group had learned from those.

Surprise, we came out flat as fuck and Richmond’s pressure was incredible. In fact, we comprehensively, specifically didn’t play the way that we were urged to. Also noticeable was how efficiently Richmond set up across the ground; even without the ball they were very disciplined in sticking to their grid formation across the ground, expanding and contracting as needed, and if it meant a St Kilda player would look to fill a hole that was OK – there was never that much space to find if we were looking to switch or cut back inside from a mark, and we simply didn’t have enough class with or ahead of the ball to move through it. If we tried busting through it with numbers, Richmond hunted us to the point where the next player in any prospective handball chain was second-guessing themselves.

Only a few minutes were needed before the inferred pressure started taking a toll. One of our first forward 50 entries hit the deck after a kick across to Geary, and D-Mac basically tripped over himself heading towards the spill and kicked it off the ground and out on the full in front of the Richmond cheer squad. Down the other end, Geary, The Captain of the St Kilda Football Club, tracked a rushed kick into the Richmond forward pocket with two teammates around him but dropped the mark and the ball dribbled away and over the line. Gilbert got lost twice trying to stay with his opponent leading to a mark on Richmond’s half-forward, literally spun himself out of awareness and to not stay on the mark and then not pressure on the centring kick, despite being a couple of metres away. He tracked over to the fall of the kick inside 50, only to have a free kick paid against him for in the back, despite Lambert (I think?) falling on his side in the tackle.

Richmond had 6.4 at quarter time and several of those were snaps from near goal – Jack, Lambert, Higgins and Rioli, showing the value of entries deep into the forward line and some considered positioning and movement around the fall. A bit like what we try and do but the kicks don’t go anywhere near to advantage, they’re in weird spots, no-one is really there to keep the ball locked in at the very least and when they do get a chance to have a shot they probably miss. Edwards’ goal in the last quarter, started by pressure on Rice and Clark deep in the pocket, ultimately came from Vlastuin getting to the outside of the traffic and splitting the forward 50 open with a clever long handball the eventually ended with a shot just metres out. All the numbers, the higher work rate, and some footy smarts.

***

Richo had a chance to shake things up with the group in front of him at quarter time (“throw the first punch, again”) but Richmond walked in the first two goals in the first 150 seconds through Riewoldt and Prestia. We were in the slicing-to-ribbons-via-Sydney territory, when the unease around the club’s uncertainty reached its most volatile point.

There was a moment in traffic when Hickey was slowly moving to handball around the 50-metre arc and a Richmond player pinched it out of his grasp, barely breaking stride. I swear Hickey looked at his hand for a split-second as if the acid tab was kicking in, or as if he was one of 22 contributors to another lacklustre St Kilda performance across the board.

Hickey really tried but it wasn’t great to see a ruckman drop back in defence and time their run across a pack perfectly, only to be the one that gets taken out by the bodies in the contest. No-one was helped in the middle of the ground, with the centre circle turf having obviously been replaced and still very, very soft. The bounces were for the most part quite low, and the situation became a little more ludicrous early in the third quarter when one umpire who decided to throw it up instead didn’t actually get the ball to the height of the dodgy bounces earlier on.

Not that it would have changed anything. Even when Hickey was winning the hit-outs it didn’t appear to be of much advantage. Cotchin only got 17 touches but who cares when you’ve got 22 guys making an impact in the way they do. Steele was moved from him to Dusty and continued his run of racking up decent personal numbers by being in close proximity to guys who naturally find a lot of the footy – 25 this week after 26 and 33 following Wines and Cripps in the past fortnight – but Dusty became the next in a long line of players and teams to make us look silly. An easy brush-off of Carlisle near goal to set up Cotchin in the first was ominous enough.

***

It remains an issue of this team – and I’m assuming the coaches, too – that there doesn’t really appear to be a middle ground of form or application, whether it’s within quarters, games, or weeks. We’re either playing like the team we thought we’d be at the MCG against Melbourne, with Billings, Gresham, Sinclair and Paddy all contributing handsomely, or the arse falls out en masse and there is no real way out of the stupor. Stuv can kick possibly goal of the year from ridiculous mid-air cannon, and he and Membrey battled harder than most to make sure their repeat efforts counted, but they’re just small sparks that don’t really take.

I should say, I still think Membrey is underrated – maybe not so much by Saints supporters – his body positioning when the ball is moving around him is very smart, even if just to knock on the ball in the right direction to a teammate nearby. We’re in an era in which stats and match and player data has never been so comprehensive (no shit) but things like that remain intangible, and “pressure points”, and ranking players based on SuperCoach numbers will never be an exact science, no matter how many times they’re used by Robbo on 360 or in the War Room.

There was simply nothing in it for the forwards. This was back to the toothless work of pre-three quarter time at Carrara; that Marshall finished with 15 touches, seven marks and a goal was a little bit incredible. Unsurprisingly, Battle had not much influence himself despite offering some sort of contest.

At half-time, Newnes had had just five touches, Gresham eight and Billings seven, and zero impact on the scoreboard. Gresham turned up after half time and finished with decent numbers, but all that happened when the game was done. Billings inched his way 20 touches with some neat passes forward amid his trademark spurned chances in front of goal, Sinclair was quiet, and as the stats show any creativity that we get from those guys was barely given an opportunity to be used.

Newnes and Weller appear to be playing a similar role in the front half but I don’t know how much longer Weller can keep doing whatever it is he does. Mav actually took a couple of really strong marks – something we haven’t seen for a couple of years – but how long do we keep waiting for something to happen with a bit more impact, and more consistently? Newnes has made himself a viable goal scoring option; Mav has kicked 5.7 from 12 games and I don’t know if his pressure around the front half really is so good that we simply have to have him in the team in the final part of the season, as opposed to someone like Freeman or Paton (they’re not strictly like-for-likes, obviously, but perhaps give Armo, Stuv, Sinclair etc. stints up forward as well. IDFK. Connellan?). Richo flagged changes after the game – he named Paton and Coffield and Acres in the post-match – and Mav and the club’s decision to push him through the ankle injury last year after a great 2016 has evidently done him zero favours.

Seb Ross reprised his role in defence and he keeps getting decent but he has to be carrying something?. Armo kicked a clever goal we had no right to have on the board but like most felt anonymous for middling numbers. Dunstan was fine, sort of.

I still can’t believe Richmond changed their fuckin’ song. And now a few clubs, including us, are stuck with these shitty fucking versions that were made as an afterthought to the Tigers getting theirs redone.

***

A very, very disappointing crowd put the club in the spotlight again for…being in the spotlight? The stink started with the Good Friday match and we’ve quickly become part of the “state of the game” debate because of fixturing rather than anything else. As long as people know the laws of the game committee is there to make football more attractive rather than every game a close AFLX-style shoot-out then that’s ok, but I’m sure Channel 7 will be buttering up Gil and Steve again for some more ads. Only 36,000 turned up on Saturday night for what was meant to be our biggest home crowd of the year – in 2015 there was 45,722 for 13th vs 5th, and last year 47,514 for 8th vs 4th (at half-time we were sitting in 4th spot, and the goals we gave up in the final term meant we ended he night as 7th vs 6th, as opposed to 6th vs 7th). But ffs, it’s a Friday night and it’s an excellent event; one that permeates through the atmosphere of the crowd around and within the ground before, during and after the match. I would hope it keeps a decent place in the round’s fixturing whenever it’s played in 2019.

A big part of me thinks the result itself just part of the territory that comes with a match up between 1st and 15th, particularly when your team is 15th. Of course, players will need to get up for important games, for finals, whatever it might be. Realistically, Richmond is a team looking to defend a premiership and this game has no bearing on our finals. If this exact match was played out on a Sunday at 1.10 would anyone have really been surprised? This was always a chance of happening. If you do want to put more currency into the big-game factor, then things still don’t look very good over the past couple of years.

Gerard Whateley put it pretty succinctly on Saturday morning, and it’s something that has been on display quite publicly through comments from players, coaches and officials. This club had measured itself against and based its expectations on what was a freak occurrence. This is our reality now – since Round 16 last year we’ve won six games, lost 17 and drawn one – and this is what we need to base our next move at trade and draft and list management on.

Jarryn Geary couldn’t really muster the same advocacy for us a top four team in the way Peter Summers did earlier this year, and not in the way the President and Richo defended that statement as being taken out of context. Of course you can say “if we’re consistent” then we could be better, but that’s a part of what we are. If you don’t do the good stuff consistently then the weight of numbers would suggest you’re just not that good.

We wore the same jumper as last year for the occasion, and Richmond wore their clash jumper again. So if you want to distinguish the footage of either game, in this year’s Richmond has black cuffs, and they also have the gold AFL logo.

Reach for the stars

by Tom Briglia

Round 17, 2018
St Kilda 4.5, 8.10, 14.14, 16.20 (116)
Carlton 3.3, 5.5, 6.8, 7.10 (52)
Crowd: 33,780 at Etihad Stadium, Friday, July 13th at 7.50pm

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Seventeen years to the day since an 18-year old Nick Riewoldt made his debut, we were still stuck with one premiership and playing the support role in making people to crack the shits at the AFL for fixturing two lumps of coal on a Friday night. A few Saints fans took some glee in beating Melbourne the other week, and more so after some things their players apparently said to our own after last year’s game were reported. Some just liked beating Melbourne and watching their fans be shitty about it, but a fortnight later we’re being universally lambasted because we’re shitty. We’re well and truly back to being at the arse end if jokes far and wide for being shit. For all the faux-success I’ve seen during my lifetime, it still feels like home.

Freeman was left out of the emergencies so there was no chance of a Paddy-style zero-hype debut (after the hype early in the week), but it also made for a zero-hype game unless you’re on strapped in on the Rowan Marshall bandwagon as much as I am. Even when we were playing particularly well through 2008 to 2010 we were disliked for not being overly entertaining, so we stood fuck all chance of being welcomed as a Friday night prospect. Perilously close to the kind of gags Carlton is now subject to about Friday nights, but that’s a quirk of the AFL not being able to let go of their connections with Carlton high rollers, and a media hype-machine that has made Friday night games seem to count for more than four points.

The club itself was critiqued for flogging seats at low, low prices, which I didn’t mind – maybe the league should take a couple of bucks off tickets across the board and pay less for shitty re-recordings of the club songs and AFLX.

Using the Concrete TV set as a footy ground would help too, although the club was at fault on Friday as it continues stamping the saliva-drenched cigarette butt of our home games into the cracked concrete pavement. The “Camry Crows”-as-theme has been rightly derided by supporters across the league for 25 years. Our club decided to really show off that not only had it not learned anything from the blowback of the new versions of club songs on offer at the start of the year, but that it hadn’t learned anything one quarter of a century on from Adelaide shitting on of one of the most beloved components of out game.

Before the match, we chucked out what appeared to be a live big band in what might have been an earnest attempt to bring some realism to the new version of the club song. Instead, horribly, it was a front for a pre-recorded Dare-themed club song (“When the Saints All Drink it Through”) as the team came out behind the band, who split and lined up either side of the path towards the banner alongside the usual flagwavers. Whoever decided on this whole thing either didn’t really think about the cut to the actual song and a very awkward crossfade revealed that the new version of the club song actually isn’t very different to what was a hastily put-together jingle for a coffee flavouring and sugar drink. But yeah sure, go ahead, turf the song that we’ve become attached to for a few generations. Who the fuck’s idea was that at the club to sign off on any of this? What were the reasons that they signed off on it? (Yes, money, I get it, but I’m keen on dignity too.) A horrible year has been that much worse by these kinds of things, and at a time when the club certainly, and literally, can’t afford it, it’s been bemusedly and depressingly alienating.

I remember after a win in the second half of 2016 when the song came on, my brother saying very contentedly, “I fucking love this song”. He and my Dad have stopped going to games over the last couple of months, as going to the footy at our home games this year became a lot less like going to the footy.

***

On a more positive note, the club looks to have turfed the music after goals, four months into the season. This was the best footy experience by some distance at our “home” ground this year. To go with the comfortable victory, and much of the spectacle aside, this was a better fucking time at the footy.

On a certainly more negative note, the Marvel branding the stadium has already begun, and yes, it’s going to be more of a Marvel outlet than the 50-ish square metre actual Marvel outlet that will be at the ground. Rather than think about the experience of going to the footy, anyone and everyone involved in this trash – i.e. the stadium’s owners, the AFL – have doubled down on their Concrete TV set and American Sportsball Outlet dreams.

***

Bizarrely, the first quarter turned out to be one of the most involving of this season. Two teams that were at least attempting to take the game on, some attempted party tricks in lieu of real quality, and some spite emanating from the Cripps and Steele match-up that got everyone randy after the macho bullshit from last year. No need for any music to hype things up, no need to award Player of the Series to the sentimental favourite because you’re trying to create your own legends. I thought for a fleeting moment that we’d stalled our rebuild so much that maybe Carlton will be our next rival instead of Melbourne, following last decade’s Geelong rivalry. Cripps went straight to Steele after he kicked the goal to get something going, and unsurprisingly was the best player on the ground. Maybe Steele taking the run-with role benefits his own game because chances are he’s going to be drawn to the action more often – it’s worked for two weeks in a row; along with Stuv he was second on the ground for disposals with 33, behind Cripps’s 35, and last week he finished with 26. They’re his two highest totals this year, to go with 10 tackles and a goal himself. While it one of Steele’s better games from an offensive perspective, Richo gave him a backhander in the press conference for the lockdown perspective, and again it was nice to see Richo pretty consistent in tone regardless of the result.

Marshall was looming large in place of Paddy and Battle from the start but like Paddy, had missed a chance for multiple goals early (specifically more than two), and had 1.2 at quarter time. Gresh had shanked a couple of kicks from around 50 metres, although one ended up with a strong mark to Roma right in front goal for the first, Billings was quiet, and Sinclair’s disposal was messy, so the heightened intensity and pressure wasn’t quite getting the reward on the turnover as much as it could have. Maybe it was the added build-to up what was called a “mockbuster” (when it wasn’t subject to Friday the 13th references), but maybe it’s because we’re still really inconsistent at being good at footy.

For the first time since My Favourite Hair in the Fox Footy Commentary Box drew the ire of opposition supporters for some reason, Jake Carlisle proved to be our only player good enough and with enough presence to be booed. The push and shove after Cripps’s goal might have quietly been Carlisle’s favourite thing to happen this year and from memory the booing began after that scuffle (in front of the Carlton cheer squad), but otherwise he wasn’t needed a huge amount through the night. The pressure across the ground stayed up and the Australian Rules football itself eventually sorted things out. Steele probably looked a bit too happy with things when he barrelled one through late in the second, and it was sandwiched between Zac Fisher and Charlie Curnow goals leading into half-time – we got a let-off when Liam Jones hit the post soon after Curnow’s – but that only drew the contest on the scoreboard out a little.

It took until early in the third quarter to get going but Billings ended up having 20 touches in the second half, and kicked a great snap goal out of a stoppage to move things our way early in the third. This was the kind of game in which he could have kicked a small bag at least, after five against the Blues last year. A wasted snap from 30 out with ample time and space going across the body when a nice drop punt of his would have been more than sufficient – definitely not the first time he’s missed one of those since the start of last season – and then a set shot from the 50-metre arc near the boundary didn’t go near it. Early on in his career those appeared to be somewhat of a specialty of his, but I think might have been something imprinted in our minds following the Round 6, 2015 comeback against the Bulldogs. Latte kicked a similar goal to that third quarter snap against GWS in the final quarter earlier this year, and his first goal had charging through a stoppage in the second. Maybe the less time he has to think about things the better, and the role higher up the ground when things are moving around and ahead of him focuses him. His value is growing in the goal assists and score involvements. He finished with 30 touches (the first time this year and just the sixth time in 79 games he’s ended up with 30-plus), 2.1 and seven marks. Of those 30 touches, 13 were score involvements. His influence on the game might not be made up entirely of highlights-reel worthy snaps and raking long shots, but over the last month he’s become a creative part of chain the can crash through (yes, Billings) and get a quick, neat handball out to Newnes in front of goal, and square a ball up neatly by foot from out wide to players in better positions near goal, which is how Weller and Newnes kicked our two final-term goals.

Hoping for Novelty Bags is a part of the weekly grind of going to watch a developing side, and really we’ve been hoping for them since 2014, if only to reassure our St Kilda messiah complex we’ve got someone to pin a turnaround of 145 years of failure onto. Gresh kicking five in Roo’s last game might have been something of an omen, and Gresh’s six against Richmond was a Novelty Bag due to size, and ideally he’ll keep doing it to the point where that’s just a thing that happens as part of a good St Kilda team (Membrey is in a similar situation, while Bruce may be back to square one from the start of next year). Rich and I were in Aisle 33 hoping for at least one of Roma or Billings to kick five, and they could have ended up with three-plus. Paddy probably would have had his best chance of breaking the two-goal barrier for just the second time in his career, while Battle could have taken a shit on the ground and I would have talked it up anyway.

Newnes kicked three, almost matching his Novelty Bag of 4.2 against Collingwood, and moves closer to being a viable permanent forward – particularly given he’s only played a few games down there since both he and Richo shuffled positions during the Freo game. He’s kicked 13.10 in the nine games inclusive of then, and 27 tackles, after going with 0.5 and four tackles in the first eight games.

The Novelty Bag never eventuated. Roma may well have offered the only real lesson, in that he could genuine alternative up forward, otherwise a lot of this performance had an enjoyable asterisk next to it. Kreuzer going off early in worrying circumstances certainly created inflated ruck numbers for both him and Hickey, but the team looked more mobile as result. Perhaps the spell at Sandy worked – his hands were stronger (his two goals game from nice grabs), and his impressive follow-up work defensively and down low across the forward line was something you can’t take anything away from, regardless of opposition. A return of 2.2, eight marks, 16 touches and 23 hit-outs certainly looks excellent on paper. Richo said he was “terrific” and his goal celebrations were the happiest anyone has looked wearing a St Kilda jumper this year. We’ve had plenty of time to come to terms with this season being a waste, and I think the team has maybe had some of that weight lifted a little.

***

Carlisle was back and was hard to get past when it actually went near him, although he looked like he’d hurt his ribs again after thumping into Jarrod Pickett in the last quarter. That didn’t help when Roaming Brian tried getting his attention with a few pats right to the spot following “AFLSaintsBrowns”, and right after he’d taken the guard off. “Oh boy, sorry about that, come this way.” This happened shortly after BT had asked Jack Steven why he always went to the same spot in the rooms after a game – “It’s my locker”. Wowee.

In one of the more bemusing performances of the year, Gresh got nowhere near it. He was moved higher up the ground during the game – almost in Sinclair territory – in the second half but he just couldn’t find the ball very meaningfully. I thought he might have been thrown right into the middle but it just never seemed to happen. “Fined for wrestling” feels like something out of the mid-1990s and that threatened to be his most notable contribution; in the end it was having his eyes clawed at by Jed Lamb in said wrestle. Part of developing a good team is that you’ll have guys that cover the quieter days, and we had nine guys contribute to 16.20.

***

Lots of people got lots of the ball on Friday. Aside from Steele in the midfield, Stuv kicked two very nice goals in very un-St Kilda-like fashion, and Armo was confusingly good again, aside from taking an easy dive for a couple of frees. I think he thinks he’s pulling off some footy smarts thing (see Hawthorn 2011-15), but he’s actually just going to ground for no reason. Dunstan played his best game for a couple of months, including some huge tackles that really punctuated the team’s pressure game.

When was the last time we had a comfortable win? When was the last time we said “we should have won by 80 points?” Regardless of the opposition, take it in and make the most of it, because it’s been more than a year since we could relax just a little and enjoy a win.