The People v GWS [No 142] (2018)

by Tom Briglia

Round 5, 2018
St Kilda 2.2, 5.8, 6.12, 10.13 (73)
GWS Giants 2.5, 4.9, 7.15, 9.19 (73)
Crowd: 14,956 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, April 21st at 1.45pm

stkilda gws 2018

Ok, yeah, wow. Let’s get the Carlisle-Davis marking contest thing out of the way first, keeping in mind all of these things are able to co-exist, many don’t necessarily preclude the others.

  • Jack Steven (by his own admission) shouldn’t have put the pass up so high
  • (Carlisle is 202cm tall to begin with). All he had to do was put it in front of him; anywhere from slightly lower to where he kicked it, even if Carlisle had to get done and slide to it. It would have taken Davis out of the equation and guess what? This is the kind thing that had dicked us all day, all year so far, all year last year, and a lot of the year before.
  • Jake Carlisle (by his own admission) should have taken the mark, despite the loose kick.
  • Carlisle had already dropped the ball, so Davis doesn’t really impact the outcome of the contest – if Carlisle had held on to it and Davis crashed into him, then at we’d at least have been in the territory of the umpire paying the mark straight up.
  • The umpire is on the other side to Davis’s arm so he wouldn’t have seen it (similar to the TV angle); the members saw what Davis’s arm come over Carlisle’s left shoulder so were rightful to go ape droppings.
  • Unless the AFL comes out and makes a statement saying the call was incorrect, then the umpires can’t pay this kind of thing for the rest of the year. And I think if they actually did that, we’d probably prefer it. The chopping of the arms rule has been one of the greyer areas of umpire interpretation since it was introduced last decade, but I doubt this will set a precedent beyond a possible one week crackdown.
  • Go back to when there’s 40 seconds left and watch Luke Dunstan fall right into the back of Callan Ward on the GWS 50-metre arc.
  • We had 67 inside 50s to 47.

If you’re good enough, you won’t have to rely on weird shit happening for things to go your way. We’ve all seen how much the delivery forward (quite specifically) has cost us over the past few years, and now we have it all summed up in one solitary play, involving arguably our two best players.

***

The Round 4 match down the highway went a similar way as the pantsing in Round 4, 2002, also on a Sunday at the same venue. The 166-44 scoreline punctuated a torrid few weeks for the Saints and was an awkwardly mashed-up foreteller of the paths the two would-be rivals would take in the coming years, featuring what would remain St Kilda’s growing legend of 1966, and Geelong breaking a 44-year premiership drought a few years later before adding to that against Guess Bloody Who two years later. That match and the blowback gave way to the infamous GT uber-flood the following week against the Swans; a bizarre draw known for the half-time scoreline of 2.2 to 1.4, Nick Riewoldt’s arrival (12 marks across centre half-back), the Swans’ last quarter comeback, Daniel Wulf running into goal the snatch back the game and hitting the post, and second-gamer Nick Dal Santo not making the distance from a free kick after the siren.

On Saturday, the GIANTS®©™ played the role of the Sydney Swans; and the tick under 15,000 there were the 21,000 that dotted the Concrete Dome on that cold Saturday night. St Kilda was played by St Kilda, coming from a Geelong smacking and playing a bunch of young guys. The role of Stephen Milne’s late snap goal from the pocket on the rebound was played mostly by Ben Long’s solo effort, with Jade Gresham (wearing just one 4) somewhere between Milne’s goal and Daniel Wulf (wearing 40), having the late shot to put the Saints in front by five points, but levelling the scores instead. Jake Carlisle was almost Nick Dal Santo having a shot after the siren, but along with Gresham and perhaps Jack Steven’s pass, made up for the balance of Wulf’s role. The role of Nick Riewoldt’s break-out game was shared by, let’s say, Paddy and Long.

In a really trying week, the club might have played up the contract extensions of Clark and Coffield a little bit too much, with what felt like a season’s worth of episodes posted to the club site. I really thought we’d moved on from looking for flashes of hope for the “future” from young guys; of course the line-up still allows for that, but we weren’t thinking it would be the centrepiece of positivity in 2018.

Having punched my seat a couple of times after the siren and screamed profanities at the umpires after seeing the Carlisle contest from the pro-free kick angle, over the next hour, and then through a night out down the road at Howler and certainly by the next morning, the anger and frustration thundering through my head had made a little room for diplomacy and optimism.

***

Injury had shaped recent personnel changes as much as incompetence, and in more varied and unfortunate circumstances – Roberton (heart) and Marshall (Billings) – and only Membrey’s return prevented the novelty line-up filth of a Battle and Paddy attack running out, as Josh Bruce’s newly shaved head settled into an extended period out.

The club was building up to the game with the line, “It’s time Jack the Giant Slayer got a sequel”, which says a lot about how well 2017 didn’t go and how poor the start to this year has been; we’re really holding on to two wins that happened once. When Stuv lifted in the third it brought the underlying sense that we’d at least be in touch for some time, but in an excellent surprise it wasn’t because he was carrying everyone else.

For a team that has rightfully been accused of being vanilla, and has been playing in a way that slashes the edges of the creativity that brings out the best of Billings, Gresham and Acres, the line-up changes and a more aggressive approach brought a much different look. The intent was flagged early with Sav – having been panned by My Favourite Hair in the Fox Footy Commentary Box twice last week – winning a two-on-one, Stuv got it out to Ben Long who ran off through half-forward and speared a kick to the advantage of Gresham one-on-one in the goal square. That was more precise than anything that had happened this year, and unfortunately would prove to be for the afternoon.

***

It didn’t take long for it the game to turn into a scrap. Really, we just looked like a bunch of annoying bump-intos at a party as the Giants tried to get through the crowd to their friends in the quieter part. Eventually the pressure and sort-of linking up grew to a stranglehold during second quarter, but yielded a typically wayward and inefficient 3.6. Yes, the same issue that has plagued us for more than two seasons now would prove to be costly again.

At half-time Billings had kicked 0.3 (by game’s end he had 3.8 this year and 26.44 since the start of 2017), as well as finding himself with all the time and space in the world near the 50-metre arc and for some reason getting confused by the situation (to the confusion of everyone else), before skewing the kick in a way that it was unclear what he was actually trying to do. We used pick 3 on him specifically because of the X-factor qualities and class he’s supposed to have, whether with or without that time or space. Hopefully his goal in the last square tweaked something for him.

He was the profligacy headliner for the first-half but had a solid supporting cast. Acres kicked straight into a waiting smother instead of to Paddy standing in the arc on his own; Gresham more than once tried turning into traffic more instead of giving off an easy handball to a player nearby and the second time resulted in a GWS goal, prompting the first admonishment given during a game by Ben Long.

Several times throughout the second quarter we threatened to blow the game open but the moment passed us in taking advantage of the momentum and the atmosphere, and went into half-time at 5.8 to 4.9. The quarter’s best moments saw what might be the emergence of Paddy in earnest, making the game his own for several minutes. It was also the best advertisement for getting more games into the younger humans on our list; this was the first time he had played five games in a row (partially for reasons outside of the match committee’s control, of course). His first attempt at goal came from leading into the space close to the sticks and Hickey and Gresham got into some push and shove that turned the heat up in the TV Dome, but Paddy sprayed it right. A free kick just seconds later in a similar position had Paddy turf the Goalkicking By CentreBet handbook and go the banana instead – which worked – followed by a goal on the run from just inside 50 after outbodying and peeling off Davis from Sinclair’s kick forward – Carlisle had started it by slicing the ground open from the back pocket with a ball to Hickey at centre half-back. Paddy’s acknowledgement to the crowd felt like a small nod between player and fans that something good might be coming in the future. He delivered on that in the short-term with a strong mark and goal in final minutes.

Amongst an otherwise rollicking performance, we got the staple Mav the Hero attempt from long range when Paddy was one-out in the goal square, but Mav’s great set shot goal in the final term and a wealth of front-half pressure made his return a success. Paddy wasn’t done, attacking a low ball on the wing with zero fear for his incredibly concussion-prone being, and for all the wasted opportunities going forward Dunstan kicked a massive set-shot goal from the point of the 50-metre arc and boundary line. Slowly, some real moments of leadership are beginning to emerge.

Acres had 19 touches at half-time, but it simply wasn’t his best showing. Ross had looked injured a few weeks ago and he was still racking up possessions, and I still feel like he’s not quite at full capacity (he did get the 10 AFL Coaches Association votes. What would I know?). Billings and Gresham were out of sorts, but had their moments for varying results. Sinclair, playing higher the up the ground, continued to purr his way up the rankings as one of our best players (not bad for a rookie selection), moving through traffic and knowing when to hold on to the ball just that little bit longer to allow the movement around him to open up options. Broadly, there’s still a gap on his spectrum between “slick” and “kicking directly into the opposition player just a couple of metres away”, but on days when he keeps that tight he is very important, and perhaps still underrated by even St Kilda fans. Numbers of 23 touches and 11 tackles didn’t reflect how much he can open up the field.

Part of the half-forward revolving door last year, Long played his fifth game in a row (like Paddy) and backed up his neat showing last week wonderfully. The last quarter goal is a potential landmark moment for anyone; a kid who had genuinely changed the dynamic of the team by playing his own game, backing himself in the final minutes to run around the GWS captain on the mark and curl a goal around from an angle and only just inside 50. His composure and slick dish-off (not to mention his instruction immediately after) in the final seconds opened up the final foray forward; these moments had a number of exclamations marks prepared for them throughout the game. Perhaps instructively, the one time he didn’t decide to do things himself, running through half forward towards goal early in the third, it fell apart. Eight tackles to go with it all.

White had also been kept in the side after a mysterious disappearance through last year that basically lasted until Round 1. It was just his seventh game but he knows how to use his body to good effect. Coffield off half-back – and to a point Clark on occasion higher up the ground – showed more composure than most, and their awareness allowed for constructive and instinctive quick movement of the ball to dangerous areas around the ground in a side that had become turgid and stagnant.

***

What to say about Carlisle? “He dropped a couple he probably should have taken”? For once, his move forward actually came at a time when the game was well and truly in the balance and he had again been imposing in defence, and it should have paid off. Our view in the members had Davis appear much closer to him than he actually was, but I think looking more realistically at the space between them on the replay reflects more poorly on Jack Steven’s kick.

We don’t really have many of the senior Harvey, Thompson, Peckett, Hamill, Gehrig types that the last en-masse rebuild side had to shepherd them whilst playing their own vital roles, and that’s where Steven and Carlisle need to be stepping up (they have for the most part). Sole Survivor Gilbert delivered in key moments, combining with Geary in the last when the game looked done to make something out of nothing, running hard up on the boundary line to force the ball forward for Ross and Billings to combine, and he pushed up and took the mark from an errant GWS kick out of defence and centred the ball to Paddy for the final goal.

Membrey seemed pretty flat on return. He presented up well but just wasn’t as sure with his hands. Hickey didn’t quite have an impact up forward in lieu of Marshall but indeed this feels like his second (third? fourth?) coming. Competitive in the air, he used his body cleverly when the ball was low and in general play (see the Gilbert-Geary combo), and finished with 18 touches himself.

***

They ended up with 9.19, but three GWS goals in the third quarter showed how class can be a weapon even if you’re being largely outworked across the ground. Deledio’s snap and Shiel and Greene’s goals from opposite pockets were quality that we don’t have right now, or certainly of a type that either hasn’t been developed and either way isn’t shown consistently enough at the moment. Around the ground, that’s where Long, Coffield, Billings, Sinclair, Gresham, Acres and Clark, hopefully, come in.

Gresham was unlucky in his moment given Ross could managed a tired tumble kick forward, when all that was needed as a drop punt that would bounce vaguely expectedly. Ross made up for it to a point in the final passage by willing himself to wheel around the GWS player and get the ball moving in our direction.

***

It felt that this was the first time this rebuild (?) that we were purely looking to young guys to guide us out of a difficult situation; premiership fancies constantly threatening to break the game open, and then being one more mistake and one less shanked kick at goal from having the game lost. And young guys did good things, unexpected things, inspirational things. Long’s output rose as the situation grew greater; McCartin willed himself to be a presence when the game was a scrap and when it was boiling; the composure of Clark and Coffield; Billings had been carrying his inaccuracy around his neck but took it on himself to kick around the corner and goal at a time in the last quarter when there was no margin for error. Not only that, but in that moment he showed the maturity to point at and go straight to Seb Ross for the excellent handball he’d dished out.

As fans, dramatic situations and trying circumstances in games like that get you attached to these guys. And perhaps not getting the result more so – we’ve all copped that hit with them, they as players, we as fans, and perhaps fosters more empathy than winning does. The final moment aside, the crowd had been incensed by the umpiring all day, and as the afternoon wore on it felt as thought we were willing these new young guys against the AFL and their plans for sporting landscape domination.

A final crowd total of 14,956 was maybe generous, but for the moments late in the game when Long’s kick began curling, Paddy’s own held its line, and Stuv was running into attack the noise was incredible.

It confirmed – not that it needed to be – that it is the game itself and the crowd that creates the atmosphere. We don’t need music playing over the top of everyone after a goal, and while the club had turned the volume down a little it was still competing for ownership of the moment through the game. The idiotic addition doesn’t add anything – lass than 15,000 people in a tin can proved that – but it can take something away. Hopefully the club learned something.

***

AFL.com.au (i.e. the AFL’s) Matt Thompson reflected the organisation’s frustration with any subtlety and genuine drama with a ridiculous tweet using dangerously presumptive language for someone in a very high-profile position: “Surprised by the amount of love for the draw. Why don’t we just get rid of it.” He went back at it with one of the most ridiculous AFL-related tweets of all-time, and then thought the agreement of handsomely-paid guys on Talking Footy was the logical end of the discussion.

Like his position on the changing of club songs, he ran with either the AFL line (the “diminishing quality” nonsensical argument), or with the position of high-profile media commentators, but at no point did he take into consideration the opinions of the fans – who don’t necessarily enjoy the perks of getting paid to go to the footy, or have a media megaphone – let alone actually coming up with a reason why it should be shunted. The AFL does its best to manufacture drama, but the draw has a power over everyone that forces hard questions in a situation that isn’t so clear. Yes, it’s a result, and it’s remarkable.

***

The club was hurtling back to the classic St Kilda jokes about simply being shit, as opposed to the jokes the club had to carefully craft while being in front in time-on of successive Grand Finals about never being able to win a second premiership. Realistically, this was one game that the team built on the an oft-used world-against-us template. Whether or not this translates into something more sustainable is something that isn’t answered yet, even if we’d won. Either way, it felt like something we’d seen before.

Tolerance

by Tom Briglia

Round 4, 2018
Geelong Cats 4.3, 8.6, 13.8, 15.13 (103)
St Kilda
1.4, 3.7, 5.8, 7.14 (56)
Crowd: 27,338 at GMHBA Stadium, Sunday, April 16 at 4.40pm

geel stk 2018 2

Flu Royale 2018 came a little earlier than usual. The Geelong trip has never counted as the non-negotiable must-attend that all of St Kilda’s Melbourne games are considered, but either way I was shacked up at home in my oversized dressing gown watching on TV with two one-litre bottles of Gatorade, a lot of Nurofen and two bags of jalapeno-flavoured Farmhouse Culture sauerkraut chips in a bid to force some sort of head cold drainage ASAP.

Not all of the olive leaf extract, echinacea, and zinc + C capsules in the world were going to change anything on either side of the screen. Throw in the multitude of Nick Riewoldt groans and sighs from the Fox Footy box setting new standards for partisan commentating and we still would have come back down the highway with the same overall result, probably with the same scoreline, and certainly having earned it via the same bemusing method.

It should be noted straight up that Dylan Roberton’s collapse was a very scary moment and stripped away the more decadent of rages and depressions we allow (afford?) ourselves as St Kilda fans. As Gerard Whateley has said (and Bob Murphy reaffirmed the other week in Open Mike), sport is the “dessert tray of life”. The cut on the broadcast from pre-ball up to a quite visibly concerned Newnes, Gilbert and Carlisle running over to Roberton was a very abrupt, raw reminder of where our priorities really are, compounded when the footage showing players from both teams trying to grab the attention of staff on the bench and the umpire. That Roberton got up quickly and came off looking quite fine was as much of a relief as you could get in the moment, but quelled some of the emotional energy we would have repeatedly tried to summon as another long ball forward landed into the comfortable hands of Tom Stewart.

In more pragmatic terms for that moment, and the rest of the evening, it brought the viewing experience back to what it was – watching a poorly skilled and apparently poorly coached football team playing Australian Rules football against a much better team representing a much more competent club.

***

If you’d watched the first several minutes then you’d watched them all, and even Sandy Roberts calling Esava Ratugolea “Ratagalouie” came back later in the game. As a seasoned Saints fan, Sandy had probably given up on the whole thing like the rest of us early in the third, but Roo and to a lesser extent Nicky Dal took on a more flustered tone, although Nicky Dal saved some of his ammo for the Monday.

Billings collected what may have been the most meaningless 23 touches possible, as well as two behinds, but it was his first involvement that should have had any Saint watching turn off the TV or legging it out of the ground to South Geelong station to try and salvage what was left of the weekend. He tempered his attack on a low ball forward of centre as a Geelong opponent was coming the other way, and instead of picking up the ball and barging through, or bracing and freeing his arms, he leaned back awkwardly to avoid contact that wasn’t really coming, and dished out a handball along the ground between two Saints. Needless to say, the Cats were away, and went straight up the other end for their first goal.

The numbers didn’t reflect a “soft” game, but numbers don’t reflect that kind of stuff to begin with, and fair to say Geelong outworked us pretty comprehensively everywhere. Starting extra players back because – by Richo’s own admission – we weren’t overly confident in the midfield getting it done suggested we’re also not overly confident in the blue-collar, pressure-heavy style that supposedly defines our better footy. You also end up with Robbo saying right at your head on television the next night that you’re messing with young forwards because they’re left without the support they should otherwise get from players that are be closer to them, as long, useless ball after long, useless ball is driven forward like a post-apocalyptic Dead Hand system sending out missiles into a nuclear wasteland.

I don’t know how I felt on balance about the 360 grilling and the clear discomfort of the situation on the set and for Richo, but part of me secretly enjoyed it. It was embarrassing for the club, and I don’t know how much more money the club it on top of my Ultimate Social Club and Southern Saints memberships before really basic stuff is covered five seasons into a rebuild.

Simon Lethlean might come across as a no-bullshit sort of operator but during the week he’d tried slipping in the supposed deviation from the Road to 2018 plan as if we were stupid for having believed any of in the first place. If it was always going to be malleable then what’s the fucking point of having it? And making big deal of it? And producing these videos for it? And charging supporters $150 to give presentations about it? To shut the fans up through a darker period with an official, documented plan the club could refer us to. Selling St Kilda-style hope, but having dressed that hope in a suit and tie.

***

“Basic stuff” includes basic stuff like handling the old Australian Rules football. Just like the JLT games (except this was an actual game that counts for stuff), really simply skill and decision errors started popping up immediately. Gilbert dropped an easy mark, St Kilda Football Club Captain Jarryn Geary made his contribution with a small, pokey kick out of defence to flat footed Jake Carlisle that was quickly turned over, Gresham and Newnes royally messed a clean break from defence along the wing, Marshall was outmsucled in a one-on-one with Bews, and Gresham kicked off the back of the centre square to an outnumbered Tom Hickey instead of lowering the eyes.

All this to go with 1.4 for the quarter, with all four misses coming from set shots that were hung out to the right. Never mind that Dan Menzel in the next quarter slotted one from the boundary line. Our set shot kicking coach is better known for being a CentreBet spruiker and one of the many hosts on one of the more confusing footy shows on TV, and right now any images of him at a St Kilda training session will be looked at similarly to any image of Nathan Carroll.

Back to Gresham’s kick – I’m picking him out because it was one of the early occurrences of what would define the day. Regardless of a player’s talent, skill or composure, there was incessant kicking long to an outnumbered player with little to no support on the ground, and no real sign that there was an order for anyone to be doing anything else. Let’s hope the kick was at least to the player’s advantage to begin with (it wasn’t). I don’t know how many times I’m going to say this during the year, but I don’t know what else to say – it was so comprehensive and broadbrushed. That’s what happened. It was talked about non-stop in the commentary box, as I said, Nicky Dal ran with it afterwards, and it was broadcast nationally and is all available in excellent quality, right now, digitally.

No half-time spray or measured talking to or shake of the head – whatever the hell went on in those 20 minutes – made any change. Once they came back out, Paddy had either caught the bug or decided to dish out what he’d been receiving, and bombed one deep into attack himself. Blacres joined the sad party and undid some neat work from Long (that one went straight back up the other end for a goal), and by the time Steele kicked to a one on three Roo gave up on the commentary box diplomacy and let out a heavy-hearted “it’s becoming ridiculous now”.

Paddy toiled admirably, which I think comes across as a bit of a patronising cliche to use, but following a week that he came under the most intense scrutiny of his career, competed repeatedly in a way that was hard to ignore in the circumstances. Tell me it’s his fault his career’s this way after watching any of the last three games. And then he gets his car stolen and house broken into that night? You’ve got to be shitting me.

***

Moments of class are perhaps being misread or overrated by Saints fans at the moment, but there were a few hints of above-average competence. Among it all Ben Long, on his way to playing the best game of his short career, cleverly soccered his way past a Geelong player wide on the forward flank, but Lonie couldn’t read the second deft kick inboard. Instead, he’d run on as if Long had already picked up the ball and started the action of handpassing over the top of the Geelong player.

In the few minutes late in the second half that we threatened to be vaguely competitive, Rowan Marshall was at his busiest rucking and actually looking threatening in the forward line, and as much as it said about him it said about the mystery en masse ebbs and flows the team experiences throughout the game. A strong mark on the 50 metre line, and flushed the set shot right through the middle. We didn’t actually know until after half time that the goal would just about be it for him, because the only impact Billings had for the day was on his face.

Dunstan again played like one of the few guys who visibly cared,. Carlisle is our best backman, possibly our best forward if we actually played him there when the game was still up for grabs, and possibly our best ruckman too, but the Hickey and Marshall pairing seemed to work a lot more effectively across the ground in the half that it was operating. Marshall again showed what a dynamic player in a Saints jumper can look like, and Blacres had moments but for fuck’s sake, is that what we’re back to looking for now? Really? It’s nice that Clark and Coffield – who genuinely have shown class and composure beyond most in their short time at the club – have had their contracts extended, but the club is hitting the Poster Boy button on the pairing a little too early.

Long was probably the only real news out of the game. The game had been over for some time when he read the ball skipping over a pack in the forward pocked, turned his opponent inside-out near the point post and snapped a goal over his shoulder, but he also worked hard up the ground in what showed one of the first real expansions on the creative moments that have carried his reputation into the AFL system.

Right now, there is nothing apparent in our game plan that allows for Billings to do what he does best, or Gresham, or even Acres, which is what made Long’s game so noticeable. Our sharpest and most damaging players have looked blunted since Good Friday afternoon. Roo derided the “metres gained” stat at least twice, specifically after separate Shane Savage long kicks to not much in particular. Premiums are too high for too little, but probably on parity with what the Saints have worked with for too long.

***

A flustered Roo spoke for almost all Saints fans watching the tripe (and anyone who’d given up their Sunday evening for it) when he was finally given licence to really snap late in the game, teeing off on Newnes who sliced one from outside 50 when Paddy was one-out in the goal square. It was a rare occasion where there was a player not just one-out, but one-out close to the actual posts. Garry Lyon pressed him over whether it was personnel or system and his breathless response was emphatic – it was the system; as they had all day from the opening bounce when there were extra numbers camped in defence, and time after time after time after time players would look to kick long to a one-on-two if basic skill errors hadn’t stopped progress up the ground already. Maybe our structures are that flawed

Where a comment like that, or putting blame the structures and systems becomes really  damning is that he had been there throughout Richo’s entire career to this point, and captain (officially and unofficially) during that time. He would have known every single move trying to pulled from the coaches box on the ground. Shortly afterwards, Geary kicked a short ball in the defensive 50 to Jordan Cunico, who went back and kicked a goal.

***

I’m in the very, very large camp-turned-metropolis that broadly dislikes Dwayne Russell as a football commentator (if he’s paired with someone for games he’s actually tempered and not too bad), but he wrote a suspiciously positive article about Saints fans for the Geelong Advertiser on Sunday. It closed with, “You might see a handful in Saints colours during the broadcast today. Don’t feel sorry for them. Salute them. As far as AFL fans go, these are the elite of the elite. The diamonds that can’t be crushed.”

Now, I’m not saying let’s go to the game this Saturday because it make us feel good about ourselves, and “Fortius Quo Fidelius” doesn’t mean “no matter what, this club is great”. This club is not successful on or off the field, not historically and certainly not now, and we might be seeing the 21st century equivalent of what those that endured the awful 1980s saw, and for fuck’s sake I’ll be sending another letter to the club if there’s music playing after the goals and ruining the moment again and The Fable Singers aren’t brought back because the club won’t shrug at anything the AFL tells them to do, even if it simply destroys the experience of being at the footy because someone who can afford to not worry about it gets the feedback on an easy-to-read one-pager later on, and they can use that for planning the night Grand Final. The club didn’t ask anyone about anything like that in the first place, and they certainly didn’t respond to the letter. I said last week that we as fans would be asking again “What do we get?” out of the relationship between this club and the supporters. Right now, I don’t know what realistically the best outcome of any of this is, or what that would actually look like on a day-to-day basis, but the longer it goes – whether it’s within a season or over years – I don’t know if I should bother waiting for a response.

[Placeholder post for review of garbage]

by Tom Briglia

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Ah, the same mistakes again and again and again and again. There is comfort in the familiar, etc. etc.

This week’s review might not be up until Wednesday, so please try to calm yourselves as you wait to relive yet more garbage courtesy of season 2018/the St Kilda Football Club.

Bad behaviour

by Tom Briglia

Round 3, 2018
St Kilda 2.6, 3.9, 4.12, 7.13 (55)
Adelaide Crows 3.2. 5.7, 11.10, 15.14 (104)
Crowd: 19,324 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, April 8th at 7.25pm

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For the first time in this rebuild the club had been genuinely and publicly challenged about its direction. The high draft picks, the clean slate of the new coach, the Road to 2018. Last week looked like we’d hit the brakes and floored it in reverse. Or maybe things never really got going at all.

A terse Richo looked a bit taken aback during the week by the public scrutiny. We’d lost our last seven against the Crows going back to 2012 by margins of 4, 40, 86, 79, 46, 88, and 57 points. Those last five came in the Richo era (beginning with the wooden spoon season of 2014) at an average 71.2 points, and they’d just beaten the team they’d fallen to in last year’s Grand Final. Time to make a statement, time to show exactly what “Saints Footy” means since it started being used by anyone at the club after the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Was this going to be a Round 5, 2002 type performance? Round 14, 2005? Round 13, 2008? Somewhere in between? It would be none of them, and had turned to be a memorable game for whatever reason there was going to be more seagulls that could say they were there than actual humans.

***

White was taken out of the Moorabbin cryogenic freezer and brought in with Coffield for his debut. Long stayed in, Rowan Marshall was in for Billy, and Steele and Stevens were dropped and all of a sudden this was a more dynamic team. Well, it was until Membrey became the late withdrawal for Nathan Wright. Membrey had apparently hurt his knee at training and the BigFooty mail was that he was somewhere between “in doubt” for Saturday night to “6-8 weeks”. That grew to SEN and Daniel Cherny Tweets by the Saturday, and for some reason Wright was the replacement.

Broadly speaking, this was the kind of line-up we should have been playing last year – and perhaps to a point the year before, although there were senior guys obviously still having a pretty positive impact. But the club was seduced by the back half of 2016 and had a bet each-way last year, and we finished where we deserved to be if we’re playing an injured Mav Weller throughout the season.

It echoed the approach by North Melbourne through last decade that got it within a loud meeting of being shipped to the Gold Coast; we’re steaming at the very least towards a Southern Saints rebranding if the AFL continues to have its way with us and we remain so incompetent. Obviously we have the VFLW connection with Frankston and our ruck coach and ruckman are bizarrely their coach and ruckman, and it’s great that the Dolphins were able to get back into the VFL, but Matt Finnis tweeting from their return game while Sandy was playing at Small Beachside Windbowl added an extra layer of tinfoil to my hat.

***

A bit like last week, it’s hard to pick out specific guys for specific errors because there was just that fucking many, and Bruce, Paddy and whoever else was forward of the ball – apart from Billings, maybe, who just didn’t want to lead – really can’t be blamed for too much. This week’s winner is probably Armo for his last quarter kick out on the full in front of the members, which would have spent 90% of its trajectory on the wrong side of the boundary line. It was a fitting climax for a feature-length presentation of highly trained, professional stuntmen offering quality slapstick and non-stop laughs. Right from the opening bounce Gresham, Sinclair and Stuv scrubbed basic passes with the old Australian Rules football, there was weird handball from Billings, another Gresham scrub kick to Acres in the pocket, a probably injured Seb Ross floating a kick vaguely forward I’m not sure who, and Paddy returned the favour by kicking out of bounds to Seb’s lead.

Sinclair had a weight of numbers and a clear endeavour that stood out for the positive. He’d had nine touches and a goal within the first nine minutes, but aside from the aforementioned clownery his opening quarter also saw a passage had him running forward and kick directly into the Adelaide player in front of him, get it back so he could kick it poorly to Paddy in the pocket, and then chased after the resulting spill and Wright somehow ended up with it and quickly snapped a behind.

He was probably reflective of where the team was for the first half. A more manic version of last week, both with and without the ball, and that faded after half-time. It still only had us with 3.9 at half-time, with 29 forward 50 entries, as opposed to the previous week’s 2.10. That should tell you plenty about the skills and structure that we don’t have.

That faltered to 4.12 at three-quarter time as the Crows cut things open and kicked our entire score and sundries (we ended up at a one shot inverse to the previous week at the final change too, but somehow on the lower 5.11).

Sinclair was one of our best on the night, it must be said; for all the uh, errors, his running game and smarts were back to what they were last year when he was being played in a position that clearly benefited him. The flame beneath the vat of hot oil that Richo has been slowly lowered into simply due to turning up at the St Kilda Football Club in the first place was fanned further by people realising that as well some poor results, there had been questionable positioning of players under Richo’s watch.

It’s hard to tell exactly what kind of gameplan is going on beyond the faltering pressure en masse, random-setting disposal and curious decision making, other than the occasional changing of angles or opening up the ground (or at least the intention to). But all of a sudden Sinclair looked like the “Elite” player Champion Data ordained him as because he was back on the wing, with a licence to roam around much more than the opening two rounds. We saw the inverse last week with Steele being played forward too often instead of on the ball, and then Carlisle going forward in the second half and allowing Ben Brown to kick five goals, even though the forward targets themselves weren’t letting us down, and to that point Carlisle was our best player while nullifying the opposition’s most potent. It didn’t happen this week because he was cracking the shits at guys while the play was next to him instead (he’s still arguably our best player).

You could perhaps say Blacres’ had his own turn on Saturday night when he should have stayed on the ball. He’d rucked, he’d defended, and yes, he’d been put forward for occasional spell, but perhaps too much later on in the game. We were watching his every contribution grow in audacity as he became drunker and drunker on his own GOAT power. He brought his own fan engagement with his finger-in-the-air goal celebrations, he followed up his ruck contest from a throw-in with a brazen snap at goal, and then soon after his own head almost blew off as he was streaming into goal at the cheer squad end for another miss (he ended up with 1.3). It wasn’t as clear cut as playing the Carlisle forward “We’re Fucked” card, but when he was put forward in the second half we’d again taken one of our most damaging guys out of the play and into our very own Bermuda Triangle.

Ultimately, that wouldn’t have changed anything. Again, the entire side faltered together through the third quarter and there was no stopping the Crows, and, again, for all the hard work through much of the game to pressure and clean up our disposal errors, it was far too easy for them to take the ball from defence to attack and score. Webster’s calamitous dropped mark in the square and Seb’s non-commitment to a rushed behind at the same end was the cream on an absurd cake.

***

For someone who has dealt with the media in his role as coach for some time now – and is on TV every week for 20ish minutes – it was irresponsible of Richo to say in the press conference that “our forward line didn’t work”. He talked about a lack of pressure in the forward half and the basic skill errors further up the ground, but he also said some of the “looks” that the forwards got weren’t any different to those that Walker and Jenkins got. Sure, there might be an issue with presenting or getting space on their opponent but just about any forward in the game would be a poorer player for running with this team at Kardinia Park on Sunday evening, barring Buddy because he can just skip that last possession forward and kick the goal from 70 himself.

As for the pressure aspect, Wright’s existence was being criticised before the first bounce and he played like someone without any confidence. Not sure how much of a real chance he’s been given though. Yes, five touches, 0.1 and three tackles is fark all, but none of him, Long, Lonie, or Minchington have really been given a chance in their time at the club to work through a drop in form at the highest level.

That revolving door is probably going to keep turning. Wright’s numbers were simply too poor and he had no presence. Lonie’s four goals and 27 touches for Sandy continue to suggest he’s above VFL level, but he’s yet to get safely beyond the Robert Eddy or Eli Templeton zone between the two tiers.

Richo said he didn’t necessarily “wholesale” changes in the forward line but I’m assuming Wright comes out and Membrey doesn’t sound like he’ll be back next week. If Paddy wasn’t the number 1 pick would I be as willing as I am to just give him more game time? We’d have a better idea if guys weren’t constantly bombing the ball on top of his head. He’s not that type of player; I’m obviously not going to compare him to My Favourite Hair in the Fox Footy Commentary Team, but even he struggled when guys were going the high hit and hopes. Paddy’s not really that type of player, and he was never built up to be outside of the leading full-forward mould.

Perhaps there’s a slim chance that Josh Battle comes in – he didn’t add much to his three goals and 16 disposals at half-time at Sandy but he’d add an extra dynamic to the team, particularly with Membrey out. The other option is Rowan Marshall as a forward and Billy or Hickey come in. It was an incredible novelty to have a ruckman that could do so much around the ground and demand the ball and look to move to dangerous positions of their own accord. He tired and playing against Sam Jacobs in your second match isn’t overly easy but his output around the ground was too much to ignore; and he is built for the game more than Longer and Hickey are right now. Here’s hoping he’s not Rhys #2.

I’m acutely aware the previous paragraphs didn’t actually talk too much about what the forward line actually did on Saturday night, but it was incredibly non-existent. There were times when no one had actually gone forward quickly enough to present an option on a turnover, there were times when Billings was our deepest player, one-on-one at the top of the 50-metre arc and not moving when we had the ball not overly far away. I don’t know. I don’t know what they’d trained for over the summer and I don’t know what they actually spent their time doing during a supposedly intensive week on the track. Was the message just “try harder”?

***

Seb looked uncomfortable moving across the ground – his kicks were loose from the beginning, he fluffed the entries forward and even when walking his gait was laboured. It says something about him he still found the ball 32 times, albeit with an output that wasn’t just diminished, but at times a negative one. We did it with Mav last year, and we did it with Billy in the first two games – if someone’s carrying something then FFS play one of the kids you’ve been talking up for the past four years.

Jack Steven spent times in the room with an ankle issue – I thought he’d become the first guy for the season to do a hammy while taking a mark on a lead from another ill-directed pass – and Armo looks like he hadn’t played for three years. I don’t want him to be looking so jaded and I understand there’s not too many senior guys out there etc. but maybe the coaches and development staff should own that and try and give some younger guys the chance fill that gap themselves. Armo’s duck into the traffic of a couple of Crows looked tired; it looked as meek as the team did after Bruce’s goal in the third. Why these manic episodes happen across the entire 22 I’m not sure.

Of course Jacobs having the better of Marshall in the ruck gave Adelaide an advantage, but this was a pantsing across the park. Going off the 41 touches and any reports from people at the ground Steele has to come back in. Maybe Gresham should spend a bit of time in the middle too, given that’s what he naturally is, and maybe Billings. Get them involved somehow and shake up the dynamic the midfield. Fortunately Our First Ever AFLX Captain Luke Dunstan was able to come in and make and make a good impact right away. I think we were all a little surprised that he wasn’t in the team to begin with, and for the second time in less than a year he’s responded very nicely to being left out of the team. Jay Clark ran with the Dylan Shiel as-target line on Triple M so I guess that’s a vague potential event that might be talked about a whole lot at some point in the future?

The general garbage of the night didn’t quite allow White to show off his game as much as we would have liked, but Coffield was excellent in his debut, and with Acres, Dunstan and Marshall’s game offered one of the very few positives on the night. Composed, thoughtful and actually effective whether he was hitting up a target short or looking further around the ground. You wouldn’t believe it. He didn’t play safe and stay camped to one small part of the ground; he ended up kicking his goal because he’d backed himself to push up so high. Dunstan was one of the few guys we’ve picked in recent year that were able to come in and play an effective role (despite some indifferent periods since). Add Coffield to that list; it was an instructive reminder of how much class we’ve been lacking.

***

Much of the hype around the club before the season was perhaps driven from the club itself. Richo’s declaration that he thought we could win the premiership – although what the fuck else would you say (Simon Lethlean stepped in with the PR game on 3AW for that one) – is looking as astute a call as Peter Schwab’s about his Hawthorn team on the eve of the 2004 season. That did ultimately turn out alright for the club; either way we’re going to have to wait a little longer if anything decent is going to happen. Not only is this club an historical joke, but right now it’s playing like one.

I’ll bring it up again and maybe a bit more frustratedly – the club has been stupid in its replacement of the song and the playing of music after each goal. It strips the moment of any drama or dignity, and it played comically too loudly and for too long. They actually doubled down on the idea after Round 1, and played different songs and for longer, as if we needed more, or a different version of it to, you know, keep up the vibe. It has been so upsetting to have the club not listen to any supporters or members about either and make the decision that no one asked to be made in the first place. As St Kilda supporters we don’t have much to hold on to, and the club song is something that ties us and the players running out on any given week to the great players and landmark moments over the years.

Round 1 was the first time I didn’t enjoy being at the footy for the footy experience in my life, and it was specifically because the theatre of the game itself had been sucked out by event planners who don’t care for that. As the music played after each of the three goals in the final quarter on Saturday night, more and more people in my members section became visibly and audibly annoyed by it. Some of the speakers at the ground through level two were cutting in and out, there was a glitch happening on the second-level electronic advertising signage in the final quarter that had it flashing a nasty lime green, and the ground announcer was talking about our next home game over the top of the Adelaide song. It was pathetic. Now is not the time to be alienating supporters and members like that. No time is.

The Road to 2018 was a neat little spinner to make people feel comfortable about the future as the team plummeted to the bottom of the ladder with the 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals, and the departure of yet another coach ringing through our heads. They gave themselves the get-out clause of a second premiership by 2020  in the fineprint, but right now none of that even seems relevant. Nor does the target of 10,000 members based in New Zealand to go with 50,000 members in Australia. We quietly ticked over 40,000 during the week and only 19,324 turned up on Saturday. Sure, it’s school holidays, some people might be away. But after the Good Friday 2018 showing, that wasn’t what stopped thousands upon thousands of members turning up, let alone supporters that aren’t members. It’s an ongoing give and take relationship; on Saturday it was the club’s turn to give, as it was the supporters’ time to ask, “What do we get?”. We’re going to be asking that again this week.

Southern Saints

by Tom Briglia

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Let’s hope this really works. There are a lot of people who have given so much time and effort to the St Kilda Football Club that were never afforded even the dream of one day playing for the club.