The quieter side

By Tom Briglia

After last week’s farceshambles it felt as though our collective care for this season had careered off a cliff and washed up in a bloody, broken mess on the jagged rocks below.

I couldn’t remember a bigger non-build up to a game than this, probably not since the early GT days. If the Ahmed Saad storey hadn’t broken I’m not sure we’d have actually realised we were playing this weekend.

This is what it feels like when your season has been winding down since May and results like those are thrown up in Round 18. After losing by a 100-plus point margin for the first time since 2002 we watched the Bulldogs the next day give their supporters more to be excited about, not just showing development as the season progresses but getting the results, too.

It didn’t help this game’s cause – not that humanity missed out on anything – that it was tucked away up at Brisbane on a Saturday night, with the Saints up against what has been arguably been the lowest-profile team in the competition in the last couple of seasons. This was new, upsettingly ghostly territory.

I’d gone into the city for a quick drink with a friend at Hell’s Kitchen, with the plan to walk around vaguely afterwards in the CBD and find a place to watch the game. I ended up going to Twitter for help, and Rich ended up telling me from our RWB account to go to the Imperial, so the Imperial it was.

I also ended up watching the game on my lonesome; Rich and Tamar were cooking up a storm for Rich’s folks at RWB’s Abbotsford headquarters; my Dad and brother were wisely staying at home to watch on the comfy confines of the couch, and it seemed everyone was staying at home themselves or tied up.

Rich titled his preview “The only way is up?”, but even with the question mark as a caveat this was tempting fate as only a supporter of the St Kilda Football Club can. After recent years, we look like we’ve won a premiership only because the Football Gods had an off day a while ago, rather than decided to help us out on one.

But for this week at least, it came off ok. This is how low we’ve slipped: “It came off ok” = a five goals loss. The margin did threaten to really blow out late in the game, and it could have been a 10 goal-plus margin.

As I’ve said, the thing that really struck me (kind of ironically, but not really) was the lack of any anticipation whatsoever. Not just during the week, but even during the day. I watched Sandy get rolled, and then on the tram into the city there was no excitement about anything at all. There was a guy on my tram with a Freo scarf which had red and green on it – that was the most exciting part of the tram ride, otherwise it was just cold and wet.

We’ve been rather spoiled in recent years, and I think we got used to having such high hopes (and quite reasonably, too) that right now it feels almost like there isn’t any footy being played at all by the Saints. These dead rubbers (for us anyway) feel beyond useless.

The game started off living up to the lack of hype. Jack Steven kicked the first, but he didn’t even get half the number of possessions he got against the Cats. That was a timely reminder that as exciting as he’s been this year there’s still some improvement to come in terms of consistency.

The Saints looked a bit more lively than last week, but it’s easy to forget we started that game quite well. Jonathan Brown hobbled off early for the game, and perhaps even for the final time in his career, but that didn’t really hurt the Lions. For all the Saints’ hard work there were blink-and-you’ll-miss-it goals to Rich and Merrett, and Docherty scored another goal on the rebound to have the Lions up at the first change.

One of St Kilda’s goals came from a great set shot kick to Ahmed, who incredibly came onto the emergency list for TDL. TDL and 2018 (or 2019) Premiership Captain Jack Newnes apparently were crook, so Ahmed was in. Jack’s Vice-Captain Big Ben was also affected, and apparently  a few in the team was, so that it would have been annoying to have the aisle seat on the plane.

My Favourite Hair in the AFL wasn’t getting on the end of any, and a stray kick from Dal on the quarter-time siren saw him crack the Ahmed Saads. Sammy Hamill, complete with slightly oversized polo, had to step in to calm him down.

The Imperial is more of an Association Football pub, and I was the only person there with a vested interest in the game, asides from one guy who had a Saints home jumper on under his hoodie (don’t know what year – couldn’t see the collar) but was there with his friend just as much watch the Liverpool-Olympiakos non-match. Seriously, how many matches does that sport want its teams playing? There are so many competitions and friendlies that the games lose a lot of meaning. How are Wigan Athletic fans meant to feel right now? What was the point of any of their achievements and follies in any competition last season? As they say in the classics, “Fark that”.

Armo had 30 touches for the game, which is the first time he’s had more than 25 since his supposed break-out game against GWS. He really did rack up the stats, but there were some glaring Tim Elliotts. The second term saw a passage that I thought really seemed to sum him up. He took a great contested mark on the wing as the Saints were coming wide out of defence, but kicked it straight to a Brisbane player (don’t actually know who it was, and that’s why I’m behind a keyboard). The player ran on but got caught by BIG RHYS BANDWAGON; the ball spilled and Armo, having run on and under a little heat, decided to take the advantage, collected the ball and fluffed the kick which went out of bounds. Soon after he put on a really boring hit on another Brisbane player (could have been the same one) that did donuts for anyone.

There was some genuinely good pressure applied in that quarter as well as the Rhys tackle. It was good to see Saunders put on a hard tackle, Tom Lee and Dal both caught Rich, allowing genuine space to open up and Milne – who had set the standard with a commendable effort on three Lions at the end of the first – to take the mark and goal.

As I put down my OK-ish cider and went to write a note I realised I wasn’t even thinking about the scoreboard. Have we been that deconditioned so quickly? Or is it just something inherent in us as St Kilda supporters? Is this the default setting?

It didn’t matter if I was caring about the score at this point, because Brisbane soon after got out the back to an open forward half and kicked a goal, before another from numbers running hard into the forward line.

There were both wasted opportunities at our end, although things were just breaking down anyway. Tom Lee hadn’t taken off yet and dropped a mark he should have taken; Roo was looking unfit, although as always he worked incredibly hard and he deserved the goals he finished with. That said, he continued cracking the Ahmed Saads throughout the game and I’m not sure how deserved it was? Curren kicked it real bullet to him at half forward, and then he totally went over the top of TOM LEE BANDWAGON who had put on a really good lead 40 metres out. I wonder if Tom cracked the shits with Roo?

The margin was only 19 but a really tired effort from Joey on the wing in metres of space to get to a low ball ended in the Sherrin trickling away out of bounds, and Rich kicked one of his great goals from the throw-in. Head Simpkin fumbled from the Lions’ forward 50 entry directly from the resulting bounce, and it looked like the cue was in deep conversation with the rack.

The deluge didn’t quite come then. Big Ben dicked CJ with an awful short centering pass in the middle, but CJ followed up further up the ground and kicked a most un-CJ like bullet to Tom Lee, but he had the arms out which forced the defender to hold him, and Saad took the loose ball, played the advantage and ran into an open goal. But I’d barely looked up from my cider and Merrett was lining up for goal.

A Jack Steven bullet from the centre bounce found Tom Lee again on the lead, but he went for the chest mark and the defender made things harder. He really learnt from that though and he had the arms out for the rest of the match.

For some reason in my head, before looking at the margin line again, the beginning of the end was Hanley and Rich goals. Hanley was all by himself goal side of the centrre circle and just needed to have the ball kicked to him and he was open from then on, and Rich kicked yet another monster.

There had been some good signs by half-time, certainly at least compared to the week before. The pressure and intent were up, as I’ve mentioned. Roberton put on a huge dumping tackle on Staker, and Dunell took a wonderful mark going back into oncoming traffic on half-back.

But by half-time the lead was four goals, BIG RHYS BANDWAGON had literally plummeted to earth and the Lions could always do things a little more easily. When a team is so low the sense of inevitability creeps in earlier and more surely.

I was already looking forward to going out from the Imperial, too. Someone was dicking around with TV in the course of putting on the Liverpool match on the main screen and instead of the half-time break I was left watching an idle input options screen. I eventually asked the manager to put it back on, but rather begrudgingly. Did I even want to stay around for this? It would also mean I’d have to end up writing about the WHOLE game. Whichever way you look at it, the manager happily obliged.

With the near blowout of the final term, even though the Saints won the third quarter my recollections of the second half are focused solely on some individual efforts. Dal’s four-bounce run and goal, Siposs getting low and setting Joey for another wonderful goal from tight on the boundary. I liked Simpkin hitting Green after the ball went out too.

I think most people’s highlight would have been Tom Lee. I’m well and truly on the TOM LEE BANDWAGON, and now the Big Rhys looks like he’s out for the year this bandwagon will be taking centre stage. It’s the fifth week in a row he’s kicked at least two goals, and he’d only played two games before that. But it’s his attack at the contest that was really exciting. I’m talking about the second half particularly – we’ve talked about Tom Lee dropping things – which is when he really lifted. Some great contested marks in the forward line and further up the ground weren’t just good in isolation, but he actually affected the game. Two goals in quick succession had the Saints right back in it, the second after a strong mark in a dangerous position and it wasn’t the first time he’d led to the right spot. Then there was his really good mark on the wing in the last, which showed an ability to lead up and provide a valuable target between the arcs.

He missed a goal trying to emulate Dal right after the fact, but he showed that he was comfortable and willing to take things on in circumstance he doesn’t usually find himself, i.e. with the footy coming out of the middle and with space up ahead.

Tom Curren and Jimmy Webster got plenty of the footy too. TC got plenty of the ball in his first game, which was a step in the right direction in translating his ball magnetism at VFL level to the top flight. He also disposed of the ball really nicely on a couple of occasions too, which has been a knock on him to an extent at Sandy. Two of those were straight to Roo on the lead, and one of those set up Roo’s first.

I didn’t mind Jimmy at one point holding on to the ball for a second longer and getting dumped on his arse, either. He also took on three Brisbane players wide off half-back, which set up the passage of play that ended up in Roo’s second goal. Wanting to take things on is a promising sign that early in anyone’s career.

But then there were the disappointing things. After having the momentum in the third, by the time the Lions had wrestled it back we’d only made up two goals. Some opportunities were wasted by senior guys in front of goal – Roo and Dal shanked consecutive shot at goal that came at a really crucial time in the game, and Armo wasted two opportunities well within range too. Roo and Dal are the most senior of players, and Armo is in one of the nine leadership groups, and they’re the kinds of moments that need to be seized if this side is going to win games and also for the kids to learn from – although they did have a number of good moments and performances to learn from on the night, it must be said.

There was also Milne kicking forward in the last quarter when the game was still thereto a two-on-one, with Saad as the one. He didn’t get near it, and it went straight up the other end to Staker close to goal. Milne knew it – he was in shot and put his hands to his head when Staker took the mark. He kicked one goal and had 12 touches, but I feel like that’s the kind of thing we’re expecting from him from now on? I don’t know if the end is very soon but – for so many reasons – it will more than likely end sadly.

I’m not sure where My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs is at the moment? Another quiet Saturday night for him. Schneider should come back in, and Ledger and Ross are knocking on the door, so there may be a couple of changes next week and he might be one of the first to go. I’d like to see him kept, and with Rhys out that opens a spot up at either end for him.

Fittingly, Goose Maguire scored the game breaker, and more so because it was his first goal for the Lions. He loved it, too – shrugging off Head and slotting through nicely from a good range.

I still don’t think the club should have let him go when they did, and I’m still bemused he wasn’t given a game when fit in 2009, despite his great VFL form. There’s nothing to lose for us right now, so I don’t mind saying it: so it should have been him to kick that goal. I feel a rush of anger towards the St Kilda Football Club when I say that. I think I’m angry that the club wasted an absolute gift of a chance to win a premiership, and the consequences we’re experiencing as a result,emotionally as supporters as well on the field.

I think Michael Voss has a sense of theatre. He threw Goose forward for much of the final quarter. But he can do that kind of thing – he’s captained three times more premierships than St Kilda has won in 140 years. He led a dynasty and created a legacy of strength and success at the Brisbane Lions. St Kilda – the club and the supporters – can’t tempt fate in that way. Look where it gets us.