Disappointed, buoyed

By Tom Briglia

Round 17, 2013
St Kilda 2.2, 4.5, 9.9, 13.14 (92)
Port Adelaide 7.4, 10.8, 11.10, 14.13 (97)
Crowd: 14,878 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, July 20th at 7.40pm

I don’t think many of us were expecting much from Saturday night, but by the end we’d had the best and worst of a rebuild in the one match. Much like the West Coast match we didn’t come away with a win, but we have plenty to feel good about for the coming years.

However, personally Saturday night was overall tinged with some sadness as it was my Dad’s last home match before he and Mum move to the UK over the coming weeks. As my brother Matt said as we sat dejected in our members’ seats after the siren, the Saints gave him a typical St Kilda farewell.

Typical certainly for the modern era, post ‘97. Inconsistent and toothless to one side, irresistible and surging to the other, but ultimately falling heartbreakingly short.

Dad took me to my first game – a big loss to the Hawks at Waverley in Round 1 of 1994 – which makes this my 20th season of going to the footy with him, and he’s been there with me for all the bigger St Kilda matches and moments in that time. He’ll certainly be back to see the odd few games over the next few years, but those games will be sporadic and have short currency, as we know he’ll be heading back overseas very shortly after. This was the last hurrah for a constant in my life for the past two decades, and a constant of his much longer.

This match gave us a lot of talking points in terms of where it was won and lost, but like that West Coast game I can’t be arsed having a go at the umpires for too much. Some pretty rubbish decisions were paid but there were soft calls both ways, and I think if you’re going to find yourself 47 points down at any point then that’s what you’ve got to be looking at before anything else when deciding where things went wrong.

As a footy match, the game certainly exceeded its hype. Only 14,878 bothered turning up on a really, really wintery, cold, windy Melbourne night. Saints fans had obviously packed it in for the season, and not even having a roof to sit under was enough to entice them out to this one. Port are one of the smaller interstate clubs to begin with and they were only going to count for so many supporters, so this was entirely on the St Kilda fans.

That crowd number didn’t surprise me, certainly not after being in vicinity of the ground in the lead-up to the game. RWB’S OWN Richie Lee, his girlfriend Tamar, Matt and I went to the Colonial Hotel for some pre-match drinks after finding out Bar Humbug was booked out for the night. Matt ended up having a giant parma, but I was keen on a post-match Mac Attack so the rest of us just had a quick couple of beers/ciders/reds. Not sure what kind of pub it is but any danger of showing Australian Rules football on one the screens? All nine people in the venue were treated to two showings of the same Super 15’s match that I’m pretty sure no one cared about. We followed the Gold Coast-Collingwood game on Twitter and talked about the Saints’ young guys. After the last couple of weeks, we thought they were alright.

We might not have been feeling that by half-time, though, or at least until a few minutes out from the main break. When the Power have been on this year they’ve been pretty impressive, and whilst the Saints didn’t turn up until My Favourite Hair in the AFL dumped Boak on the boundary line, Port were looking good and were up and about straight away.

John Butcher had a busy opening few minutes, kicking a goal in the first 80 seconds and then sprinting off for the customary post-goal break. Surely sprinting off that hard for a break uses up the energy he would have preserved walking back 10 metres to the goal square? Nevermind, he was back a minute later though – presumably sprinting back on, too – to lead Head Simpkin to the ball and goal again.

Three Port clearances had the Saints nowhere near it until a sharp kick by LENNY to Roo, who turned around and did the same for Big Boy McEvoy, which resulted in the first Saints goal. It was actually pretty scrappy overall. Even the Power were prone to some faffin’; Hartlett tried driving the Power forward but he slipped back onto his arse and kicked his height instead.

Also custard was Jimmy Webster turning it over to ex-St Kilda supporter and co-matchwinner to-be Jasper Pittard, who goaled straight from the intercept. Doing wonders for Jimmy’s psyche was the scoreboard showing his stats on the big screen following the goal, rather than Pittard’s. Not sure if that was cheek on the part of the scoreboard control room, or just plain arseholery.

Either way, there really wasn’t much to enjoy in the first quarter: Seven goals to two, which turned into seven consecutive goals to Port into the second quarter; Saunders kicked a nice running goal but only after a free had been paid in the middle to Port, and gave away a 50-metre penalty which Lobbe kicked a goal from; Westhoff kicked a great one-two goal on the run early (before becoming co-matchwinner and saving the game twice later on); Schulz took a huge grab from an easy centre clearance soon after; TDL missed a set shot and then BIG RHYS BANDWAGON gave away a down-the-ground free as Port rebounded from the kick-in, and Schulz took another grab close to goal.

New levels of farce were reached when Dal, who finished up having a great game, put in a weak tackle attempt on Pittard coming off half-forward, before Pittard spilled it under pressure, only for Joey and Big Tom Hickey to get into each other’s way unopposed when trying to get the loose ball, and they managed to get it to Armo who got a soft 50 and missed from 20 metres out.

By quarter time all of 2018 (or 2019) Premiership Captain (The Title Formerly Known as 2017 Premiership Captain) Jack Newnes, Gwilt and Stanley hadn’t had a touch. I could make a joke along the lines of “And no, I didn’t mean Jordan Staley, I mean Rhys Stanley!” but Big Rhys has had a pretty lean few weeks so it’s maybe not a huge surprise, and the joke is pretty rubbish anyway.

Dad pointed out that the Saints hadn’t won any game under Swat after trailing at quarter-time, and with that fresh in mind the Power had a shot at goal within 15 seconds of the opening of the second term. It missed, but it got worse soon after anyway. Head tried to spoil a ball into Port’s forward line and completely missed it, leaving Monfries to mark by himself, kick a goal and in the process become the second Port player of the night to slip onto his arse as he kicked.

The Saints just didn’t look like they wanted to be out there. As a member of one of the seven leadership groups, however, Armo decided to stand up and put on a brilliant chase and tackle outside 50, only to shank the forward entry from the free kick and kick it straight to a defender. Not for the first time in the past several years, the Armitage Shanks’ toilet line/“commercial grade sanitaryware and fittings” entered into my mind, not for the first time in the past several years. The ball went up the other end and Head and Big Rhys (may be wrong on the latter – this is why I don’t get paid the big bucks for this) spoiled each other, only for Robbie Gray to run in and miss. Wingard made up for it soon afterwards with a long-range goal from Lobbe outmarking a soft effort from Big Ben. The Port supporters at this point were rightfully but embarrassingly making more noise than us.

That is, until the crowd got shitty with the players for kicking the ball sideways and backwards on the defensive side of the ground. Yeah, we want goals but sometimes there’s a bit more method to getting those goals than just bombing it onto Roo’s head. The members booed again went Saunders went backwards for the switch but all of a sudden started clapping when the switch came off via Dempster and CJ and the ground opened up. Funny that.

The members weren’t the only ones faffin’ about in the stands. Richie and Tamar were on the opposite flank in Aisle 10 grappling with being in the vicinity of some guy cracking the Ahmed Saads every time CJ got the ball, and yelling that Port should be removed from the competition because they wore “green”.

It was about this time that the game looked like it had officially Jumped the Shark. The Saints tried streaming forward from centre half-back and a handball slid out roughly into the same postcode as another Saints player, and Farren gave a half-hearted chase before deciding to cut everyone’s losses and tried booting it off the ground in a vaguely forward direction.

But then things changed, and the senior guys took a step up. Maybe they realised they weren’t even halfway through the game so they might as well try something different and enjoy themselves rather than spend the next 80 minutes being bored. Roo put on the huge dumping near the bench and got into a bit of push and shove with some Port guys and LENNY took a mark on the boundary nearly 50 out, thought “fark this” and booted the goal himself. TDL missed a set shot and Tom Lee got smacked in the face by a rogue handball on the goal line on the siren, but the Saints had slowly brought the game back onto their terms.

I must say it was disappointing when absolutely no-one bothered to have a crack at Jonas after he went past the ball and lined up Roberton. Those of you viewing from home were shortly after treated to the strange interview with Cameron Ling on half-time, which was a real failure of the Saints’ medical staff. I’m saying that regardless of what the AFL has officially come out and said today – surely you’d take the risk of delayed effects into account as a precaution anyway? I’m saying this from exactly zero years of medical experience, by the way.

Easy to say from afar the interview was a little comical – he almost looked like he was making up the ebbs and flows of the game from looking at the quarter-time and half-time score lines on the screen – but surely they can do better than letting some guy who has obviously had a heavy knock take an interview only a few minutes later?

It was still a long way back at that point, and I don’t think anyone was anticipating a comeback, but rather just hoping for a competitive second half. Matt, Dad and I certainly weren’t thinking about getting anywhere near the four points, and we took proceedings to one of those non-descript Axcess One bars on Level 2. The guy on the door kindly let us in too – none of us are still quite sure what Axcess One is, let alone have a pass for its bars.

We ended up sitting in there watching the game until early in the last quarter. The Saints made their charge – Big Ben kicked his third before a hospital pass to a really courageous Saunders, Lee, Roo (from a lucky 50-metre penalty), Milne and Steven all kicked goals and it really was game on by the end of the quarter.

In fact, the Saints had absolutely swamped the Power (not really sure that’s technically a “fact” but I’m gonna run with it). The disposal count read 127 to just 69. The midfield really lifted; they weren’t just getting the ball – Joey had 11 of those, Dal and Armo had nine each – but they were winning the clearances. Off half-back Jimmy Gwilt bought himself into the game, Farren got 10 touches and Jack Newnes nine.

Senior guys in Ben (perhaps still the frontrunner for 2018 Premiership Captain), Roo and Milne had hit the scoreboard, LENNY was LENNY, and Jack Steven began gearing himself for a huge final term.

But there’s a different feeling in this kind of context. As we walked out of the ground after the match, Matt put it simply: “In a season like this, the result doesn’t matter.” What matters is the kind of stuff that happened on the field and in the players’ minds that brought them back into the game after trailing by 47 points.

Most outlets had a similar roll-call for the Saints’ best: Dal, Roo, Steven, Joey and Big Ben. As it was these kinds of guys that turned things around late in the second half, they also piloted the come back from the midfield. That’s what you expect from your leaders, and that’s exactly why Swat has kept guys like that whilst bringing in a whole lot of kids and inexperienced guys. But what made the come back all the more enjoyable was that it was the latter that lifted, too.

The BIG RHYS BANDWAGON looks to have stalled a little and I’m just about set to get on board the BIG TOM LEE BANDWAGON. Both of his goals came from quality acts – both a strong contested mark and great respectively. Matt said his the set-shot goal in the last is the kind of thing that makes a player and sets them up for the next decade. Still too early to call either way, but I’m sure we’re feeling a lot better about what we did with pick 12.

Saunders going back with the flight was huge, Big Ben’s pretty bad kick notwithstanding. Saunders again got plenty of the ball, and his competitiveness is really exciting. In the first quarter one of the few desperate acts by a Saint was his attempt at a one-handed contested mark whilst from a high ball whilst trying to fend off an opponent. He almost got but the ball spilled away to a contest, but he followed it up, won the ball and forced a scrappy kick out. It didn’t lead to anything immense but that’s the kind of innate quality you want from a guy in his sixth game.

Big Ben himself kicked three goals to just about make up from knocking Saunders out, and finished with 34 touches, Jack Newnes willed himself into the game in the second half as the only member of the Hardarse Triumvirate playing, and Jimmy Webster and Head stepped on off half-back and won some important one-on-ones. Tom Curren had awesome hair and added some real zip around the ground and even kicked the goal the put the Saints in front in the last quarter. It’s exciting when you can easily justify all of these guys playing at the Cattery next week.

I know I threw Jack Steven into the “Yeah, obviously” group above but this game showed he’s still taking steps toward becoming a very good player. Three goals – all quality – in the second half, seven clearances and 12 touches in the final term alone showed he has the ability to step up and have a really big influence on a game when it’s in the balance.

On the flipside, there were two real disappointments. BIG RHYS BANDWAGON would be at a real risk of being dropped if The Last Man to Have Captained the Saints to a Premiership of Any Kind was a chance of coming back for his 200th. Big Tom Hickey played a quieter game that last week but still showed some good signs, and needs to be kept as he’s showing development. Rhys looks like he’s gone backwards a little, and was literally all over the place on Saturday night, starting up forward and being thrown back after not gathering a single possession in the first half. However, if Roberton is out with that concussion then a spot might open up for him in defence, although Wright and Dunell were very good for Sandy yesterday and could come back.

The other let down was TDL. Zero goals and three behinds isn’t enough for a small forward who’s only collecting eight touches, although he did put on five tackles. Terry was cruising for the Zebs yesterday but sadly hurt his ankle badly, and perhaps that keeps him in for another week. From reports Saad probably wasn’t busy enough to earn a recall, nor My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs, but Dunell could play up forward too. And then of course there’s Schneider, who collected 20+ touches in his return game, so it would come down to whether the club wants to bring him back so soon to AFL level.

There’s also the Milne issue. Prosecutors are presenting their case on Friday, although I don’t know just how much that will change his already uneasy situation to the point that he’ll be forced out of the side. He got a bit of a cheer when he got his first touch on the members’ wing on Saturday night, and I wasn’t too sure about that. Imagine what the Saints supporters would have done en masse if a Port player had been in that exact position? The cheer was only there because he plays for our club. That’s not right when it comes to rape charges. There’s nothing right about the whole thing, really.

The Only Ross at St Kilda put in another strong performance, as did Tom Ledger, and perhaps they could come in for either of Roberton or TDL. I’m loathe to drop Tom Curren – he showed too much in a half of football on debut to all of a sudden be dropped after two-and-a-half seasons of consistent good footy in the VFL. Also his hair is awesome.

So again, the Saints couldn’t see the game out. Misses when they had the momentum in the second half proved costly, but there’s such little room for error when you’re coming back from nearly eight goals down. There was still more than eight minutes left when Pittard put the Power back in front, but, again, like the Eagles game, the forward structures fell away when it really counted and the ‘Hoff was there to clean up the desperate high balls into the forward line. Two home games against two interstate teams with novelty songs have now in ended the kind of dull heartache you get when the game doesn’t count for anything in the wider scheme of things, but when the feeling of a win for a win’s sake is rare and prized. I’m sad they couldn’t get the win for Dad.

However, there’s a bigger a picture. We’re well on the way in this new era, whatever it brings, on and off the field. I won’t have Dad as a constant companion at the games for a while. Like the old guys guiding the kids into a new era, I’ll still have the familiar faces in Matt, dear cousin Evan, Richie and other friends to go to games and talk footy with. Like the younger guys, it’s now over to us to create our own traditions over the coming years. And in that time, those younger guys’ names will become part of our lexicon, and their images will represent the club. After Saturday night’s performance, there’s reason to feel positive about that.