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.

Frostbiter

by Tom Briglia

Round 16, 2018
Port Adelaide 3.1, 5.6, 8.12, 12.14 (86)
St Kilda 0.5, 2.6, 4.6, 7.8 (50)
Crowd: 36,253 at Adelaide Oval, Saturday, July 6th at 4.35pm EST

After stealing a two-point win, a week off to enjoy it, and crawling through the last 163 seconds at the MCG for another two-point win, it was time for the 2018 streak to come to end.

As enjoyable as parts of those five quarters of footy were, I don’t think we were expecting to be so low that this would constitute a peak, no matter the adrenaline rush that comes with consecutive wins of such small margins (regardless of where you are on the ladder).

Three weeks after saving our coach’s and Billy Longer’s jobs, we were shoved back into the black hole fixture interstate at 4.35pm EST. Playing against a team who was gunning for second place, at a venue we’ve never won at, and the set of probably our worst moment of 2017 was simply too much of a feel-good story for this club, so we thrust ourselves beyond the event horizon and went back to scoring 60ish or less, back to looking like the park footballers that AFLX is designed to be played by, back to reality.

If we were going to salvage anything from this one at three-quarter time, we’d have to come back from the same paltry score of 30 as last year’s incredible loss. The Power had shanked their way to 60, though, and we’d almost certainly have to endure another tense finish in the unlikely event of getting a result, and this proved well beyond running over the top of Gold Coast at Carrara. We spent the last few seconds of the first couple of quarters trying to hold off their forays forward but the drills weren’t required.

Outside of the final few minutes the margin wasn’t actually that dire, but the most dangerous we looked was when Jared Polec speared a kick to Gresh in front of goal. Charlie Dixon managed some rude self-satisfaction in the last few minutes with three goals as we folded under the weight of our own shitty kicking forward. Richo’s Mate Dave managed to kick his third amongst all that, meaning four of the game’s 19 goals were scored in the last few minutes.

***

The Power defence held up incredibly well. While the cliché “we threw everything at them” isn’t much to be feared if it’s coming from the St Kilda Football Club, it was still a lot of high balls that they nullified comprehensively, not just deep in attack (particularly in the last quarter) but when they were pressing up to keep it locked in their front half.

Who would want to be Paddy or Membrey? Paddy had little influence after a few early touches, and he should have just been taken off after injuring his foot in the first few minutes, but like any other player I doubt he would have said he wanted to stay off. Apart from his short-lived career in defence (two momentary forays during the game), he ended up playing the role of our deeper forward having Sherrins landing sort-of in their vicinity while being outnumbered. The result was what you’d expect, and if he still has critics this deep into the season then I’d assume you’d saved your time and not bothered watching the Saints much this year, and all of a sudden the joke’s on me.

Membrey played higher up the ground but Port pressed up very effectively and their defence was set-up solidly, and somehow all of the wrong-footed sky balls weren’t landing directly between several Port defenders and on his chest. Last week I pondered if we could call Jade Gresham good yet, rather than saying he’s going to be good. Is it too early to say we missed Josh Battle? This was the kind of week where Richo’s “disconnect between the kickers and the catchers” was all on the kickers, though.

I felt bad for Nathan Wright. Surely playing for his career, playing as a forward and he starts the final quarter with exactly zero kicks. He was playing in a team that was set up to lose. Maybe our own weather forecasters messed it up but we needed a taller option to give us an option if we’re just going to bust it out of defence instead of trying to work in numbers up the ground. Marshall ended up as the best for Sandy and the club started their soft selection PR campaign for this week quickly by naming Goddard immediately behind him (although that has since shifted to Freezer. JUST PLAY HIM FFS. WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT.).

***


I remember a feeling of injustice as Ken Hinkley arrogantly beamed his way through the press conference last year, talking up how good Ryder and Gray were at the game-winning stoppage. For fuck’s sake, I thought, that was Blake Acres and Billy Longer being their airhead selves and not respecting their spaces, and Seb Ross switching off, just as much as the no-shit hit inboard by Ryder was. We control our own shitful destiny through our shitness, thanks very much. That said, Hinkley managed to shit out a “we were never going to lose” this time, but there was no comeback for that.

Perhaps scarred by what happened last year, and also due to common sense a lot of effort seemed to have been put into curbing Robbie Gray’s influence. There were moments of immense physical pressure on him in the first quarter. Jimmy Webster on his return didn’t have the same attacking prowess but was significantly massive in a one-on-one duel with Gray along the boundary deep in the Port forward line. It showed off footy nous on top of just being fit enough run out a game. Seb Ross, his direct opponent at the (in)famous stoppage last year, caught him holding the ball through a large tackle as he was again spent plenty of time in the back half. It must have done something to rattle Gray a little – he passed off a shot near goal after an unforced Gilbert error and caused a turnover, and then meekly (by his standards, normal by ours) squirted a set shot wide. He still finished with 1.4 and was a general menace through his 21 disposals, but even with his influence below his lofty best and Jack Steele keeping Ollie Wines to 18 touches, the Power have that much depth this year it wasn’t noticeable in the end result, bar their inaccuracy. Jack Watts threatened to take BigFooty’s Callum Sinclair Cup, but you could take it or leave it by the end.

***


Shout-out to Richo’s Mate Dave for pulling off some of the arsey stuff that players in good teams are considered geniuses for doing. He sort-of-not-really pulled off a backheel through his legs in a short burst through the second quarter in which he kicked our first two goals to when no one else looked like that actually wanted to. There were was five minutes left exactly when we kicked out first. At 3.5 to 0.5 we didn’t look like getting it out of defence; Darragh couldn’t even get the ball past Robbie Gray and back over the boundary line from his kick following a mark out side.
Dave also fooled the umpire twice at the Noise of Affirmation’s second-favourite venue, playing his way to frees on the wing and then for his second goal in one of those “the forward seems slightly discomforted, so I’ll pay it” decisions.

There were two sides two his game. This was the Armitage we thought we had from Round 3 of 2013, and that we did have for much of 2015. Three goals and 30 touches, and surely a free pass for the rest of the season, providing the leadership of tough, repeat efforts and smarts and seniority on the ground that Roo and Joey did without ever reaching their heights.

It’s not really his job – his is more the contest by contest – but where Gresh created and embraced the moments in which something special was needed, particularly late, Armo had the chance to break open the play off half-back and instead of kicking to either Stuv running laterally or Newnes coming forward out wide, he split them and the Power went straight up for a scoring shot. Moments like that, added with the pending return of Acres and Freeman’s potential debut this week, make louder the question of how many of Dunstan and Mav (who actually looked better coming off half-back rather than playing forward of the ball) and Dave and Steele and Seb we can have in this mess.

There was a moment during the game in which Seb turned from a kick that didn’t quite hit him and had gone out of bounds, and he was about to crack the shits as the camera did a soft zoom-in but he stopped himself. He really needed to crack the shits in that moment. Someone needs to crack the shits more.

Speaking of captains that never quite became a captain, what is with Jack Newnes’? Since he kicked 4.2 he’s turned into a Mav type, a faux hard guy that loves the tough stuff but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when they show it and to what effect. Last year he averaged a shade under 23 touches per game; this year it’s just over 16 and while the move forward has been alright at some points, and may well give both himself the team some versatility in the future, when he goes missing he really goes missing.

***

Gresham only got 17 disposals but he played with class and spark that no one else really brought (is he our best player at football?), but otherwise the movement across the ground was stodgy and Billings and Sinclair, who were all highlighted for their work across the ground the week before, simply didn’t quite provide the same movement and spark. If Billings is going to end up with 22 and we’re going to be shitty with it, that’s a good start. But a few of those were massive wind-up kicks that were smothered by or kicked straight into the nearest player. Not sure if it was the kickers or catchers for that one.

Was it the midfield? The ball spent a lot of time in the Power’s front half, and the inside 50s were a ridiculous 67 to 46 in their favour. Austin played another good game (considering he’s only played a handful at all) but fuck a duck we missed Carlisle. Maybe it’s the club’s PR department doing too good a job with their article on him this week but he might quietly be moving into captaincy calculations. Aside from Gresham, he’s probably our best player at football also.

***

We’d dragged down the Sandringham Football Club to our own level a few weeks ago, taking the proud and successful club to its lowest score ever. On the day when North managed to beat (or lose to?) that with 0.7.7 at Casey Fields, which is the modern day Waverley, we only managed to draw with winless (and drawless Coburg), thanks to a lucky, and frankly awful 50-metre penalty just before the siren. Whereas in the past couple of years there have been times when we just wouldn’t take the game on and “become too conservative with our ball movement”, this was one of those days we’ve grown used to in 2018 – and perhaps last year too – in which we just have to assume we actually actually trying to move things and open up the game, but we didn’t because we can’t fucking kick.

For one week we could claim fast-paced movement, the pressure we supposedly prided ourselves on for a few not-actually-successful seasons, some skill and some grunt right across the ground. This was how 2018 was meant to be. It didn’t take much at all to bring us back to an irrelevancy that’s at least equally as hideous as the plummet we took through until three-quarter time at Carrara. We were back to being bad, and no-one particularly cared about even that anymore, and we’re only half a game and a little bit of percentage from being 17th (who knows what’s going to happen this week?). One year ago, at half-time, we were inside the top four. Maybe it’s the depths of winter, but this shitshow has been a slow, disheartening grind, and I can’t wait for it to be done.

100 times

by Tom Briglia

Round 15, 2018
Melbourne 4.2, 9.3, 11.6, 18.9 (117)
St Kilda 4.3, 11.6, 14.10, 18.11 (119)
Crowd: 38,910 at the MCG, Sunday, July 1st at 1.10pm

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After a dour two-month period as fans we’ve now been shaken around with two two-point wins. Off the top of my head, the last time we had that kind of back-to-back mayhem was the one-point loss and a draw to open 2011, keeping in mind two games prior to those was also a draw. None of this means we’ll have 50,000 for the Friday night game against Carlton in a couple of weeks (it’s strange to think we sold the place out two years ago), with a week buried again interstate in the Saturday twilight timeslot at a ground we’ve never won at sure to sap some momentum. We’re giving away tickets on Shop-A-Dockets for fuck’s sake; you’ll find a photo of Tim Membrey alongside half-price Docklands-to-Portarlington ferry trips and Avis truck rental discounts (Sunday to Thursday). Whichever way, on Sunday, for the first time this season we saw what 2018 was supposed to look like.

We mystifyingly dropped Logan Austin, but to make the marketing team’s job slightly easier ahead of what should have been a loss we brought in Darragh Joyce. Cue a wordy gag about having to look beyond Australian Rules footballers and over to County Kilkenny for hurlers to make something of our benzodiazepine-influenced ball movement and confused onlooker defence. He became the third Irishman to play a senior game for St Kilda, following pick 99 in the 1988 draft Dermot McNichol (wearer of our highest ever number in a game with 60), and Colm Begley, who somehow was on our list in 2009, and somehow managed to play a game that year, joining names like Troy Gray and Luke Miles as Guys That Played But Didn’t Make it to Grand Final Day. That one game – Round 19, in which we dropped everyone and still beat the Hawks in Tassie – was probably the high point of that period. Undefeated, and bulletproof. It was also the end of the run. Somehow, Tommy Walsh was never one of them, even though it took us ripping one of Ireland’s best Gaelic footy prospects out to the other side of the world to not play him, as the team hated itself following 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals, and played like it.

Darragh ran out in 39, made forgettable over the past decade by Alastair Smith and The Panther Cam Shenton. I remember thinking four years ago who would end up being the flotsam and jetsam of the rebuild; the Chris Olivers, the Brett Moyles, the Daniel Wulfs. Not at all to say Darragh will be one, but we’re still going through them.

***

Given what’s transpired through this year, the prospect of a Melbourne-St Kilda rivalry in the mould of last decade’s Geelong-St Kilda enmity has been put on indefinite hiatus. A few weeks ago, Melbourne were looking like the most dangerous threat to the Tigers, and despite a couple of losses the gap between the two teams currently (and their short-term futures) has St Kilda looking likely to be the only team to have not broken their long-term premiership drought by the time AFLX takes the place of the season proper, and all club songs are replaced with either Dodo ad jingles or lightshows as the Perth teams continue to try and conquer the late 1980s.

St Kilda’s plummet and Melbourne’s step up has sapped any anticipation for these games, particularly after last season’s meeting. Round 7’s official lodging of scores for record-keeping earlier this year at the Concrete TV Set and Future Marvel Outlet seemed the perfect appetizer for the microwaved late lunch usually scheduled for Fox Footy at 1.10pm on a Sunday.

After they’d kicked the first three – Brayshaw had kicked two of those just to add to the inevitable Paddy-over-Petracca reminder – it looked like it was going to be a rude afternoon. Eventually, our sort-of love affair with the MCG started bringing out the best in our set-ups and our ball us, and while it will never become “BALL”, the smattered comments of “It’s the extra space here at the MCG” grew to at least rival the bolter “Arms!” for the defender’s chop.

Perhaps the space adds something to the structure itself, but on top of that we continually got numbers and follow up efforts from contest to contest. While the lesser space can make the overlap and support a little more difficult if you’re trying to find some space to run into with the ball, for the same reason I can say from my relaxed vantage point that theoretically it should make things a little easier to crunch the opposition for space.

We actually lost the inside-50 count 62-50, but still managed to win, and I don’t know when the last time we a) lost the forward 50 count by so much was, nor b) what our most efficient return has been.

Part of the reason why that happened was that the way played brought out the best in guys like Sinclair, Gresham and Billings particularly. Not only has our game style and execution been a fantastical failure this year, it had also sterilised a lot of the class and creativity those guys bring. It sliced open space and meant less pressure on the kick going forward; even then Membrey, Gresham and Battle particularly all did some special things once it got closer to goal.

So where has it been all year? Curiously, it was there for a large part against the Tigers, so maybe it was hanging out at the MCG waiting for us to turn up again. But if you’re good enough, a few extra metres of wings shouldn’t make or break you.

***

Gresham again played a career-setting game at the MCG. At what point do we say he’s already good? He’s now kicked five, six and four goals in his last three games there, but his presence around the ground has become more influential. He was being played off the defensive side of the wing at centre bounces, and it paid off in the first quarter with his slick charge through traffic in the middle, breaking through and then kicking on his left to the lead of Membrey. Two goals in the third term were telling – the dashing run with Salem along half-forward and a neat finish from a fortunate free kick, and then pushing forward to stretch the field – and his last-term read of the ball and bodywork from D-Mac’s entry, and punch of the ball as it bounced up towards Membrey, with Oscar McDonald approaching front-on, set up a vital last-quarter goal.

Billings and Sinclair – with some Gresham sprinkled over the top – make for mean threats higher up the ground. After more than three months, the dream of Billings kicking long to Paddy has reformed.

Steven motored his way through the game, and kicked what proved to be the sealer. He willed himself to the savings acts in the final 30 seconds by tackling Petracca, who took the ball from Gawn’s hit-out, ran onto the ball once it spilled out, spun away from the incoming Jetta, and measured the kick into difficult territory wide and forward. He charged over to the bouncing ball from his own kick and took out Petracca who had beaten him to it, and forced the ball over the line the second spill (more Noise of Affirmation was required for the umpire to pay deliberate). Appropriately, Gresham was alongside him through the play, and when the clearance from the throw-in went our way, Gresham smartly punched the ball from a high Sinclair handpass out to Steven, who chipped back to Richo’s Mate Dave to keep the final seconds safe.

***

I’m not sure if the club wasn’t specifically planning ahead of this season on giving the marketing over to guys who would be playing at VFL level. Bruce has been behind a fourth gamer (who is our most exciting draftee after four games for some time), Billings caved under the pressure of being the club site background guy and Hat Model and was dropped earlier in the year, and Armo is always several minutes of overloading away ending his season. Bruce was a certainty to have to #feelthezeal for a bit because this was the best combined day for the three tall forwards (yes I’m aware Tim Membrey is shorter than Blake Acres and only centimetre taller than Seb Ross and Jack Steele), but now Josh Battle is out with a fractured eyesocket. Hopefully the zeal has rubbed off on him, because on Sunday we saw some of the best of Billings and Armo.

Paddy continued his bemusing run of not being able to kick more than two goals in a game. I thought his three in the draw earlier this year might have broken things open but after two early goals he only managed to kick 0.3 from five set shots (one went out on the full and the other was a dead butterfly). He was huge in the first half and has obviously been told to back himself from set shots. While that’s something that worked for Membrey – Richo said in public as much on his yips run – Paddy attempted several tough ones from out wide and on the 50-metre arc. I’m not sure how high anyone’s ceiling for shots like that will ever be, particularly for as long as he keeps creeping that close to the man on the mark, but if we ever need to take one in emergency circumstances then I guess we’ll have at least one guy who’s practiced.

It’s still the helmet and the patch on his arm to monitor his blood-sugar levels; they make his efforts seem more herculean. He still comes across as one of the very, very few guys that plays like a captain, and has the bigger presence and personality of a captain. Sunday maintained that for another week, and you could argue it was his best all-round game of actually playing Australian Rules to date. He was firmer with his hands willed himself to some strong marks, and he’s motoring around the ground more effortlessly.

Battle turned up at key moments despite shanking a few kicks and a handball in the early stages of the game – notwithstanding an incredible contested mark from a high kick that rained down vertically on him (he missed the subsequent shot). Like Carlisle, he has very soft hands when the ball hits the contest. One of Richo’s favourite post-match press conference phrases is “it might not be your game, but it might be your moment”, and he found a few in the last. Some excellent bodywork and balance, and then the hardest part of all for us in 2018 – a direct kick to someone close(r) to goal – on his left foot to Billings by himself in the goal square; he went close to sealing the match himself neatly working off first-gamer Petty deep in attack to take a good mark from well-weighted Armo kick and goaling, and then put on a crunching tackle up on the wing late. It wasn’t quite the four goals in his fourth game having kicked one, two and three before Sunday, but he again showed he wants to get involved, and he gets involved. He

***

Gawn was arguably the best player on the ground, and whichever ruckman we played we’d have been giving something up. Longer had saved his own game at Carrara, and in a large way the team’s, with some excellent hit-outs in the final quarter, but there was simply no way he could track Max around the ground. He came off when Gawn did, spurring an increasingly-common sighting of two non-ruckmen going into the ruck against each other (Paddy vs Weidemann at the centre bounce was decidedly a 0-0 draw, and there’s the obligatory World Cup reference). Hickey collected 34 disposals for Sandy on Saturday as the Zebras went from kicking 0.9 before the bye to 21.8, but Max would have had all of the hit-outs if we opted to go with Our Very Own Stephen Merchant and challenge him around the ground. Given Viney’s storming last quarter, that might have prompted an even bigger performance through the game if Max was effectively directing the ball from stoppages himself. Might have been an OK move.

Steven aside, Jack Steele was back to a more physical role and with 11 tackles (and a bit going forward) reminded as to why we got him. Richo’s Mate Dave played his best game since his golden weeks of 2015, and showed the kind of steady head we’d looked to him for since. His well-weighted kick to Battle late to set up the mark and goal was the kind of thing you look to leaders for in those moments.

He snuck in the goal on half-time, too, and the photo of the team celebrating has been used widely in the coverage since, and looks far more appropriate for celebrations on the final siren. Only a few weeks ago this club appeared at its lowest for some time; Callum Sinclair kicked a goal after the half-time siren to make us look more pathetic and as he was lining up, each of his Swans teammates came near him and celebrated together when the ball went through. We sat there in disbelief, thinking how much further this club could fall, while also being reminded what a good, professional, close footy team looks like. This deep into such a shitty season, it was a little bit incredible to have us creating that kind of moment.

***

Moving Seb Ross to defence was an interesting one. Shuffling was needed with Brown out of the game and Hogan going closer to goal, and he’s probably not needed if Jimmy Webster is there but all of a sudden we’ve got something vaguely resembling a small portion of a Plan B on game day. Armo playing well certainly helped; Dunstan and Mav were a little quieter but if we’re kicking 18 goals I’m not sure if we’ll tinker outside of Webster, Bruce and Austin coming in for Darragh, Battle and Brown.

I’m not sure what the hell happened from some point early in the last quarter at Carrara to D-Mac but he looks like the player we’d supposedly drafted, or maybe the Queensland heat finally thawed him out after we’d left him at the back of the Moorabbin freezer for two years. He might have the longest hair out their atm but the way he parts it has him in serious danger of replicating the G-Train’s 2003 mullet.

It’s still really bizarre for me to have Jake Carlisle as a Saint, and playing the role of the general in the way that he does. Essendon is the club I see as most diametrically opposed to us – it works historically, too – and Carlisle seemed such a good fit for their brute arrogance and entitlement. Since his own herculean performance in the long-sleeved clash jumper in trying circumstances against Port last year, he’s one of our leaders. I never thought to associate him with St Kilda, let alone Trevor Barker, but right now he’s the Best Guy at Footy we have.

***

Five things were hovering around my head as the goal review of Jordan Lewis’s late shot confirmed a goal.

At the start of the final quarter I said to Matt that we’d lose by less than a goal – we were down a player, Melbourne was looking a lot more dangerous with Hogan deeper, and we’re St Kilda. It made sense. I was also conscious of the finish to the Bulldogs and Geelong less than 48 hours earlier, and how Bruce had (with much self-awareness, it had to be said) called the game for the Bulldogs with about one minute to go.

During the last quarter I received two messages from friends – one said “Congratulations” just after Membrey’s final quarter goal, and shortly afterwards another one saying “Carn the Saints!” in a far too triumphant manner.

And then there was one particularly loud Melbourne fan sitting near us who really cracked the shits during the second quarter as the umpiring went our way. When Armo’s kick from Oliver’s 50 metre penalty after the half-time siren started wide – but before the crowd could react – he screamed out “AND THAT’S ALL IT DESERVED”, before it wobbled back to the right side of post. I’m certainly not saying this in a “yeah, fuck you” way; rather, I mean it in the sense that I felt like the Australian Rules Football Gods would ensure St Kilda fans were paid back with interest (because I heard this singular comment), and make sure that our comfort with what we were watching would be shat on royally.

I can trace that thought back to my acutely formative years of St Kilda supporterdom of 1997 and the awful 1998. There’s one goal we kicked at Football Park against the Crows in our loss there in Round 15 – our last loss for the year until we met them on Grand Final Day – which saw a mish mash of Heatley, Everitt and Lappin fucking around with the ball for a little too long before kicking it through on the goal line. Even as a nine year-old, I remember thinking along the lines of “I hope that doesn’t happen close to the final siren in a close game”, and a bit more than a year later we saw Matthew Lappin, Tony Brown and Stewart Loewe fail to find a goal in time as we dropped to sixth place in the final round, losing our second game of the year to wooden spooners Brisbane.

This was an inherent attitude or component of being a St Kilda supporter, and so the final siren seemed like such an indulgence. Sometimes a win is enough. That might reflect a whole lot of things – for St Kilda, over 145 years, more so because they have been a rarity, but we might lose a few things along the way of a rebuild if we cast them aside as not as comfortable as they should have been. My usual walk back from the MCG to the city in the remaining light of day was more buoyant, the crispness of the air was rejuvenating rather than something to recoil from. There was no rebuild to think about in that trek, no considerations of where the list was heading, just that 20-minute walk.

These tight games get us as support attached to Battle, Paddy, Gresham, Billings, Sinclair, Membrey, et al. My walks from the MCG to the city in the 2010s have been as laboured as these posts. The rare occasions of playing at the MCG, where it felt like we only played for finals, and getting pantsed with no obvious direction, still reeling from the initial hit of being so close to saluting in two Grand Finals. The distance between then and now reflects the botching of the rebuild, but we’re collecting these moments and matches piece by piece, as history is gradually written outside of those shadows. Two weeks ago we had Jade Gresham celebrating in front of our supporters on the Gold Coast, and now we have Jack Steven’s arms raised in the air on the siren, in the long-sleeved clash jumper, in the winter sunshine at the MCG.

Breathing space

by lethal

Round 13, 2018
Gold Coast 4.2, 9.7, 11.12, 11.12 (78)
St Kilda 3.2, 4.6, 6.11, 11.14 (80)
Crowd: 10,181 at Metricon Stadium, Saturday, June 16th at 4.25pm

Thanks to the likes of the Dees, Bombers and Carlton’s own demise, the hounds of the media had not been as frenzied as you would have expected when it came to a team that some pundits (I’m looking at you RoCo) had tipped to be finish as high as the top 5.

That said, the spotlight had been ratcheted up; anxious, cautious, loyal Saints fans usually reserved to ciggie breaks in the parking lot had suddenly found their voice even in the public spheres of talkback radio and such.

It must be said that, despite carrying along several fresh newbies, the side had at least – aside from the Swans game – stemmed the bleeding in a performance sense. Against the Pies, Tigers, and Eagles (in Perth), there were definite takeaways however vague.

And despite the debacle that was the Swans game, you felt that the side – and the Coaching team/Match Committee – had found a new course for this season. Ed Phillips? Yes. Hunter Clark? Yup. Throw in Josh Battle, Bailey Rice, Coffield, presumably Brandon White pending health and an un-concussed Paddy McCartin. There were suddenly some green buds from which could be nurtured, to give this side a whole new complexion. There was a sense of a small silver lining.

And it’s with that in mind that so many loyal fans were baffled beyond belief when the team sheet was handed in for the now critical Suns game. In some ways, it should have seemed predictable. With the wolves at the door, out goes Phillips and Coffield; and some of Richo’s faves slide back in.

In my mind at least, the significance of this game had been dulled down in previous weeks as I had mentally resolved that this was essentially, if not a “rebuild” year, then definitely a “rethink” and a shift of course. The W-L columns had receded into the background. It’s about finding players and, more importantly, developing them. Great, get a McCartin, get a Billings, but once they are there you have to do right by them; they’re not sea monkeys.

Granted, of course, the looming prospect of the issue of the coach coming to a head did amp up the hype leading into this game. My thoughts on Richo? Generally speaking, I don’t think he comes across with the conviction or the strength that the figurehead of an AFL club needs to exude. For the most part this year he has reflected the fans – a lot of head scratching. And to top it off, it would be easier to swallow or empathise with if not were it for the incessant positivity and hot air that was coming out his mouth (amongst others) about our Finals chances and the five year plan and bla bla, in the lead up to Round 1.

Three quarter-time. Staring down at a 31 point deficit. Somewhere between evacuating the homemade rosemary and mozzarella pizza out of the oven, and finishing off the sriracha honey sauce for the chicken nuggets, I overhear the gleeful cries that Daniel McKenzie has got us back within a kick of hitting the front.

A remarkable turnaround. And despite anything and everything, this was a marvellous display of character from a group who have been stamped accused of a lack of maturity, leadership, resilience, et al. Of course, whether this is a flash in the pan in that regard, only time will tell. And it has been well documented how insipid the Suns have been in last quarters this year.

This is a pocket of air, of much needed breathing space whilst the likes of Richo, Finnis, Hammill and the rest of the lackies around the football department flounder and grasp for life jackets whilst the Club is being turned upside by Lethlean (and god knows who else at City Hall etc). And for me, that’s that. As I mentioned before, in Phillips, Clark, Coffield, White, Battle (who again stood out on Saturday night) and to a lesser extent Rice, the Club has stumbled upon (not by design) some of the tonic or the pathway by which we can navigate out of this mess that we’ve created ourselves.

That works both ways too. The relative success of that shiny new bunch has only further underlined the shortcomings of the likes of Mav, Sav, Geary, Newnes, Dunstan, Lonie and the rest of the deadwood that I can’t even stomach conjuring up from the depths of my memory. With all due respect, it was damn telling (and plain nice) that it was Gresh and not Mav, who was able to kick the game clinching goal. For those playing along – Mav actually had a set shot from about 50 to put the Saints in front with about 1:45 left on the clock.

 

Just a loser who likes it again and again

by Tom Briglia

Round 12, 2018
St Kilda 1.1, 3.8, 4.10, 7.13 (55)
Sydney Swans 9.1, 14.3, 17.7, 19.12 (126)
Crowd: 27,569 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, June 9th at 7.25pm

stk syd 2018

The appetite for a change of key personnel at the club – coaches or board members, or at least dropping a bunch of players – has grown into something louder and more desperate since Saturday night. For all of the poor performances this year, Saturday night was different. There was a meekness that wasn’t really there before. Sydney’s a great team, no shit, but the idea that the players were still having a crack and playing for the coach despite kicking ourselves out of relevance was no longer something apparent. We’re just going to have to take their word for it at the moment, and the club has moved to get a few comments out there already.

The disarming ease of the Swans’ movement of the ball from half-back that ended up with Zak Jones’ goal late in the first quarter was incredible to watch live. Kennedy (?) could afford himself a fumble on the rebound after our botched entry forward, McCartin (T), Kennedy (again?) and Lloyd walked and scrubbed it up into the forward line, before it was poked back out to Jones who was by himself just inside the 50-metre arc. I don’t think he could quite believe that he was in so much space and he actually paused for a second before slamming through a goal from a step. I don’t think the members’ section could quite believe it, and on the quarter time siren there were a few Saints fans who booed, but it felt like most were either too exhausted or shocked to conjure up any sort of active response. What could we really actively do anyway, apart from throwing away our Saturday night and turning up to the concrete TV set, and hand over our banking details to the club and allow them to take the monthly membership payment instalment?

***

Sydney kicked 9.1 from 12 entries in the first quarter, and we’d finished with 1.1. We’d gone from seven goals to one in the last quarter the week before to being on the wrong side of nine to goals to one. For all of the fap material one quarter of footy gave us through the week – we’ve somehow downgraded from talking about two wins that happened sometime during last season to single quarters – it ultimately showed up that final term in Perth for what it was: a premiership contender not bothering to waste its time or energy on a dysfunctional mess, after toying with it for three quarters when the game was actually on the line.

In the same extraneous way that statistically we have the highest disposal efficiency in the competition, we ended up with more inside 50s than the Swans (including in that first quarter). While they glided across the ground and made it seem as vast as the MCG – with BigFooty’s Callum Sinclair Cup on its way to being retained as sub-plot – we decided to throw away our entires by continuing Old Four Tackles’ trick from last week of the faux long-bomb from just outside 50. It failed so spectacularly that first time around but at least added some variety to how we butcher our opportunities. Newnes repeated it this week, and was followed by Clark and Sinclair; a set-shot from just beyond the player’s range that turns into a 40-ish metre kick to zero genuine leads but plenty of defenders.

For what it’s worth (which to many people right now is very little), Richo said that he pointed out Gresham and Battle as the only ones “at the level” during his quarter time, spray. Our first goal came in the last couple of minutes of the first quarter courtesy of a handball from Gresham over this shoulder hard up against the boundary in the forward pocket, which went via Weller to Membrey, for a composed centring kick to the top of the goalsquare, and Battle reached out to take it with his right hand. Players have dropped much simpler marks this year in the forward line, and have missed simpler goals.

Battle proved to be the only positive, really, now that we’ve regressed back the “exciting game by a young player” as the reason we go to footy stage. He was the one that was in the right place for the first, and he motored up the ground and without hesitation put his head over the footy under pressure in an act that ultimately ended up with Sinclair’s goal from the pocket.

He followed that up with a mark at centre half-back and a bullet to Newnes, which ended with Paddy on the lead and a goal in what was one of the better passages of play this season. A few minutes later Battle ran down Callum Sinclair on the defensive side of the wing with a tackle rare in its aggression for the Saints this season, let alone this night. His kick down the line ended up with Dunstan, who delivered to Paddy and the opportunity was there to not just stamp himself on the game, but to generate some sort of momentum. Paddy missed, taking his tally to 1.2 – all from set shots – and the Swans took the ball wide from the kick-out, Callum Sinclair galloped away from a throw-in on the wing and Buddy took a stupidly easy mark one-on-one against Brown, and goaled.

Richo use the word “sacrifice” in talking about the way Battle used his body throughout the game. The club’s certainly gone out of its way to do that to him, throwing him into the side for its weakest performances two years in a row. But he was talented enough and worked hard enough to be among our best on a night we returned to our circa-7.13 scoring average. I was glad Battle he kicked a second goal. Membrey had cost him a gimme by kicking into the oncoming when all he had to do was get it past to Battle by himself 30 metres out. He narrowly missed one during the last quarter, but in the final minutes managed to kick one on the run from 50 metres and on his wrong foot.

***

Webster was again our best, offering solid defence and actually direct and purposeful kicking, but it was a blight on our team that something we consider to be a key trait of one of the two most likely best and fairest winners is commonplace throughout the Sydney team.

Outside of Battle and Webster, for any positives amongst this steaming hot pile of rubbish you’d need to grab moments from Phillips, Rice, Clark, and yes, Paddy, who I think still qualifies in this group because it’s only his 32nd game. Paddy’s performance could have looked a lot different; it wouldn’t have taken much to change the outcome of the calamity with Gresham in the goalsquare in the final quarter, and a couple of missed set shots. My secret wish for a 2005 Captain Kosi-style appointment as captain in Geary’s absence was scuppered by the much more expected appointment of Seb Ross. Maybe one day.

Phillips again ran hard across the ground off half-back and Bailey Rice showed come nice composure; Hunter Clark pulled off a spin out of trouble and handball and hit some contests really hard. But there wasn’t that much else.

David King’s about players not creating “space for team mates through unrewarded running or positioning”, being “selfish”, that we “didn’t play team first footy”, including “senior core types”. I don’t know if it was specifically what he was talking about, but one of the first things I noticed watching the highlights back for the first time was Newnes covering off space wide in defence for fuck-knows-what as the Swans went forward again the first quarter, and then he didn’t work hard enough to get in the way anyway when Buddy ran off Nathan Brown to the obvious space in line between the kick and the goals. Brown is one of the few guys that has shown demonstrable leadership on the field this year and immediately told Four Tackles off.

***

I left the ground wearing my Pride scarf, covered in shame and dandruff, thinking we’d just seen the kind of match we look back on in the future as a turning point for this team, or this era. Those can be good or bad (see Brisbane 2004 for the positive version); this was felt like confirmation (not that we particularly needed it by now) that the past half-decade was lost. The guys we drafted up to five years ago that we said would be “awesome” and “could be the next captain” were supposed to be those now, but we’re still saying the same things about them. Billings was dropped in a Dal and Milne-style statement that came after the Round 12 loss to Sydney in 2008; the comparison ends there, because that was a side that was on its way to a Preliminary Final, having been considered premiership fancies for the previous four seasons, in effectively a mirror image to this situation.

How do we differentiate a loss that is simply going to happen when you play a young team like that, coming off two decent showings against the top two teams and a trip to Perth, with a loss that is simply…shit? It’s a two-step process; first, we have to acknowledge we’re in a second rebuild, which is a failure on the part of everyone at the club, and then through that lens we consider how to view this match, which would a bunch of kids in a rebuilding team getting pantsed by a perennial premiership threat. It makes Saturday night make a lot more sense, and it becomes just part of what happens when you play kids.

But of course, be angry. Be disappointed and shattered about the state the club is in. We’ve won three games out of 19 since the Richmond win last year. What does the board see in Richo, in his fifth year as coach, that makes him the person above anyone else to oversee a rebuild again, having already overseen a failed attempt over an extended period? You could further that and say that sticking with the coach brought Geelong and Richmond great things, but again, they were teams that had come close to Grand Finals or had played finals and were reasonably expected to give their premiership droughts a good shake. For all the good work the club has done off the field – specifically on Saturday with the Pride Match, and then more broadly things like getting back to Moorabbin and securing the Good Friday time slot – there are footy-related reasons why no-one wants to turn up to watch the Saints at the moment, and why we’re probably no chance of getting that free agency “big fish” the club spent so much time telling us we’d get while it tried to quell our anxieties as we plummeted from Grand Final Days to irrelevancy.

***

Billings embraced #feelthezeal on Sunday and collected 53 disposals and three goals through the midfield and across the wing, in a win against our ruck coach’s team and VFLW partner club. Freeman eased himself back in with 26 touches (just play him FFS, who gives a shit anymore) and Richo would have pleased that his mate Dave got 37, although I think I might collected 15 or 20 myself from sitting around in the RWB Brunswick West HQ. Bruce kicked four, but there’s no reason to bring him in just yet, both for his own sake and that Battle and Paddy just have to play at the moment. Maybe Billings comes in and plays in the midfield or something or rather.

While Richo sounded pretty lost in his 3AW interview with Tim Lane et al on Sunday, Luke Dunstan was picked out by Channel 9 at Trevor Barker for a quick interview and came out with the rather emphatic statement, “We trust him and love him as a coach. We’ve got to start holding up our end of the bargain and playing some better footy”. Not sure if he was able to get onto the media manager between the time he was asked for a few words and that being recorded. It was at least consistent with what the board has said through the year, but notable for it being the first real public comment on Richo from someone at the club after that match. Then today, Seb Ross today said players “feel sorry for Richo”, and we’ve got Jake Carlisle as the bemusing special guest for tonight’s Talking Footy, and Richo may or may not be going head-to-head with My Favourite Hair in the Fox Footy Commentary Box on AFL360 tonight, and after going down the slide as Robbo at the MCG today for the Freeze MND cause I think he would have got a pretty soft run from the panel either way. I don’t think he’s going anywhere anytime too soon. Until it becomes apparent either way we need to reconcile with being in a second consecutive rebuild at the moment. It would have been an incredible piece of trivia if Richo’s last act as St Kilda coach was sliding into a pool of ice wearing a bald cap and fake goatee. There’s form, though. The last guy phoned up SEN as a talkback caller to tell everyone his job was safe.