If there’s one thing St Kilda supporters have learnt over the past several years, it’s that premierships are won on Grand Final day (or, Grand Final Replay Day). The Saints can lose Round 1 in as many ways as they like – although the club continues to choose the cruelest of methods, no doubt for the supporters’ benefit – it’s all about September and/or October.
Although we got a pretty good lesson out of 2004 – Wizard Cup premiers before 10 straight wins culminating in a preliminary final loss – it was 2009 that really drove the message home. Going to 19-0 before you-know-what.
On the contrary it was the seasons following both of those that taught us peaking at the right time is of utmost importance. In 2005, a silly loss to a lowly Essendon side after Round 13 had the Saints at 6-7, before hitting something of premiership favouritism after a club-record 139-point win in Round 22 followed by that famous Qualifying Final victory against Adelaide a week later. Of course, the Swans would see to that, after being all but knocked out of the finals race by the Cats the week before doing so.
And then there was 2010, where it took another famous Qualifying Final victory after a spluttering season to put the Saints on the path to a drawn Grand Final.
The thing about Friday night’s game is that even if the clock had beaten the Cats, St Kilda would still need to be working on the same things to improve on their performance – namely, moving the ball forward with purpose.
Keeping Geelong to 6.12 is no mean feat; it was kicking 6.11 at the same time that was the problem. The boss highlighted Ryan Gamble’s efforts in the first half, but he made some clumsy errors that no AFL player should make too often, and probably didn’t present as much as players further afield would have liked. And it was those players with the ball upfield going forward that decided to kick it to Nick Riewoldt no matter where he was, who he was near, or how difficult a high kick right on top of him would make things for him.
It didn’t help that there was no pressure from the Saints once the ball hit the ground in the forward line, with the much-needed small forwards Andrew McQualter and Stephen Milne wonderfully ineffectual. The Cats, dangerous as they are with the ball in their hands and with space to enjoy, were favoured more so when the game broke open by being able to rebound quickly and effectively out of defence.
Attention will turn now to younger players in Justin Koschitzke’s absence to provide an effective foil to that blonde guy. Another blonde, Daniel Archer, was promoted to the senior list probably for this need, whilst Paul Cahill kicked six goals for Sandringham in their weekend’s practice game, but will need to prove more before a call-up to the senior team. Will Johnson put in another strong performance for the same side after kicking five goals for the Zebras two weeks ago, but by all reports Rhys Stanley and Tom Lynch struggled. With Ross admitting Sam Gilbert wasn’t enjoying plans for his foray up forward, there can only be so many risks taken with backmen playing out of position if the going gets tough on Friday night.
As far as smaller forwards go, Nick Heyne was apparently rather flat also, although Nick Winmar (at only 190cm, and along with Heyne, taller than Gamble) was a little better. Jack Steven remains underdone but a possibility. Adam Schneider has one week left to serve of his suspension, but should make a welcome return against the Bombers in Round 3.
With surely at least one change to be made – perhaps even the inclusion of Jamie Cripps is imminent anyway – the Saints will need to think hard and fast about how to best move the ball forward against a young and hungry Tigers outfit on Friday night.