Neon bible

By Tom Briglia

St Kilda fans have long had a Messiah complex.

We’re a long-depressed, long-oppressed legion that has been waiting for too long to be taken to the promised land. The legend of 1966 grows with every failed attempt and every wasted opportunity at seeing the Saints march back to heaven.

Yesterday, we were left without our next Messiah as his defection proved him to be merely a false idol.

Like the worshipped Barker and Riewoldt before him (the latter’s time may have yet passed), Tommy Walsh was (is) blonde, and it seems by all our accounts had a special presence about him. Like them he could take a mark, could kick goals and if needed could play a hand at the other end of the ground; as of two days ago, his leadership qualities were also paramount.

Fittingly, the club’s best and fairest award is named after one of them, whilst the other has won it more than any other Saint in the club’s 138-year existence.

However, the next chosen one won’t even play a single game in the red, white and black, despite having demanded a debut through 2011. It’s fair to say the team’s situation demanded it, too.

Instead, a conservative selection policy seemed to have left Tommy disillusioned through the season. Ross the ex-Boss hinted as much in a press conference when Walsh was yet again talked up by everyone except the coach.

Whilst Ross left Tommy waiting in the VFL, it seems Leigh Tudor had seen enough in 2010 alone to urge the Swans to offer him a lucrative contract. The hunt for Tommy may well have been as much as a couple of months old by the time yesterday’s trade was made. This is conjecture, of course, but Tommy looked to have his mind made up from the beginning of trade week.

Even though the Saints said publicly Tommy wouldn’t be up for trade, it appears he would have left anyway for the money. Had they not traded, St Kilda would yet again have lost a player for nothing; the Luke Ball non-deal will leave a sour taste in the mouth for a long time, whichever way we look at it.

For all of Pelchen’s and Swat’s talking up of Tommy as a player and clubman, as well personal pleas from the new coach to stay, it seems St Kilda wasn’t willing to match the Swans’ offer. The general consensus is that salary cap issues are dire currently and this probably got in the way, but either he was worth walking the walk after talking the talk or not (and what talk it was). Several players would have need to have been delisted or have taken pay cuts – offloading them in trade week didn’t happen – but if the club was really serious, then the potential and two years of development put into the club would surely have been worth the offloading of others with leaner prospects.

Instead, Saints fans are again left searching for a new Messiah, their faith shattered. Meanwhile, Walsh joins fellow power forwards Plugger and Big Bad Bustling Barry Hall in making the move from Moorabbin/Seaford/Frankston to Sydney.

Like 2009 and 2010, like the though of drafting Judd instead of Ball, we’re again left wondering what might have been – for now, anyway. Picks 35 and 68 might prove to yield members of the next premiership or not, Walsh might prove to be a huge coup for the Swans or not. For now also, it looks like we’re back to worshipping the other young tall blonde forward.

Arise, Rhys Stanley, and lead us to salvation.

  • Leigh McLachlan

    Well written Tom. As a long term Saints member who also dreams endlessly about the ultimate prize, I too saw Tommy as a potential messianic figure.
    Two short years ago I watched YouTube footage of a dominant Tommy in his native homeland; although the ball was round.
    He was heralded as the finest Irish talent, forget Jim and Tadgh…OUR Tommy would surely be the most successful and spectacular Irish forward yet. Better than Aaron Hamill and with fair hair…
    I can also recall stories related to the pioneering work in Ireland of Ricky Nixon , who managed to secure our future star. Nixon also managed our captain Nick Riewoldt, Sam Gilbert and others (such as Ross Lyon).
    Off field issues lead to Nixon’s demise and contributed to the annus horribilis experienced by Riewoldt, Gilbert etc. during 2011.
    I wonder whether Tommy’s defection related as much to this off field rubbish as it did to not getting a game. Besides, his close friend Tadgh (ex team-mate at County Kerry) was in constant contact with him.The Swans were a more stable club, he said.
    Oh well…Go Rhys!

    Leigh McLachlan

  • Tom Briglia

    Leigh, I did something similar to you when he was signed – looked through the YouTube videos of him playing and even interviews and getting excited about what he could bring to the forward line. This wasn’t long after Rhys Stanley had won the Grand Final sprint and was building up some hype of his own, and the thought of a three-prong, all-blonde forward line at some point in the near future seemed to be so suited to the Saints.

    Of course, you bring up the Ricky Nixon’s “pioneering” work – obviously a lot of effort had to go into first identifying him as a prospect, then getting into contact with him and convincing him to turn his life upside down – but the fact that he was outside of the conventional youth “system” felt like we’d simply found him and he was meant to be at the Saints; not many, if not no other clubs knew who he was, let alone were seriously entertaining the thought of doing the same, and perhaps for that reason subconsciously Saints fans thought he would always be “ours”.

    It appears he left for a multitude of reasons, but from what was reported it seemed the Swans were offering far more money, and that will trump a lot of things for a lot of players.

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