Ditched

By Tom Briglia

Round 6, 2014
St Kilda 2.2, 4.4, 7.8, 11.13 (79)
Brisbane Lions 4.3, 8.5, 10.9, 12.10 (82)
Crowd: 13,409 at Westpac Stadium, Friday, April 25th at 7.30pm NZST

Well…shit.

What a real disappointment.

Again, we’re back to default positioning. There’s nothing to see here, anyone. The real show’s not starting for a while longer. Go back to what you’re doing.

Somehow the players got up and about for the Bombers, only to shit all over it with a rubbish effort against a winless side looking all kinds of pathetic so far this season. Who more appropriate to give them the first victory of the season?

Let’s get a useless stat out of the way – in Round 6 of 1995, the Saints and Lions (the actual, Fitzroy, Lions). The Lions were winless, and so were the Saints, but they were expected to win against an ailing club on life support. The Lions put in a similarly spirited performance as they did on Friday night and won their first game of the season, 12.12 to 10.13. Also similarly, Friday night’s final score was 12.10 to 11.13.

What’s happened in that time? Both teams have played in four Grand Finals, the Lions have won three premierships and St Kilda none, and even when they’re looking as bad as Melbourne teams of recent years they still knock us off. That’s partially what you get for being custard since 1873, then scaring the absolute shit out of everyone with the reality that you are a genuine premiership chance, only to shit all over it yourself and find yourself back near the bottom within three years with everyone loving every second of it.

Granted, that’s changed a little this year with some really competitive performances, some young guys that actually look like footballers and a universally respected coach. The constant, boorish criticism of the club has been tempered a little, and it feels good. But performances like Friday night will invite it right back, welcome it into our home, let it drink all of liquor, eat the few things we have in the cupboard and fridge and then at the end of it take a huge, messy dump in the can.

The build-up to this one was a mix between unprecedented praise for the team after the Essendon win and the hype around playing in New Zealand for a second year in a row. After the slogfest that was last year’s game I think the club and the AFL would have been hoping for weather allowing a more free-flowing game to show off to the locals, and I guess we got that to a point, so it was left to the clubs (i.e. St Kilda) to create their own mistakes and miss their own shots at goal.

The players went over on the Tuesday and spent a lot of time wandering the streets of Wellington and spreading the word, also seemingly handing out pamphlets assumedly titled, “‘Who the fuck are you?': Your quick guide to a team you’ve never heard of that plays a game you’re barely familiar with”. No doubt just about every one of the fans seen wearing Saints colours were fans that had flown over from Australia or expats, rather than converted locals so hooked after witnessing last year’s forgettable showdown.

Genuinely nice of local rag the Dominion Post to get involved, with a huge article on the Monday about the Essendon game (note the altered logo) and then the match dominating the back page on ANZAC Day (pictures via Michelle Clyne). The Saints were the flavour of the week in two countries:2014nz1

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I assume the “ARL” was meant to be “Australian Rules League” to keep things simple for locals not familiar with the code. They also included this handy guide to the game – spot the inaccuracies:

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So it wasn’t just that the spotlight was on the Saints this week, it was also that the young side were going into the game as clear favourites – a first particularly for the younger guys. And then James the Dog picked us, and things must have got really heavy for the group.

No Schneider was always going to effect us. Regardless of either team’s records going into the game, neither really had decent footskills across the board so whoever turned up more willing to do whatever it took to win the contested ball would probably win. Schneider, however, was a point of difference St Kilda had and he’d shown that against the Bombers. By the end of a game which was devoid of any real individual brilliance or polish we were rueing his brain fade the previous week that got him suspended.

There was plenty to get upset about really, and it’s particularly easy to take a swipe at the guys who botched the chances in front of goal in the second half, or the single moments of poor effort or brain fades across the ground. But then you’d be ignoring the fatal lack of effort and pressure across the ground in the first half that allowed the Lions – who’d clearly set themselves for this game – to skip away to a 32-point lead in windy, dewy conditions.

Do I dare suggest that the players actually got a little cocky hearing all these good things about themselves in the press, and sat back a little in the first half? Well, yeah? Maybe they did. It seems an extravagant accusation to make of a young team tipped for the wooden spoon by many after Round 5, despite a 3-2 record, wasn’t even in the eight. But it would account for the really poor effort across the ground in the first half, and the clearly different psychological approach to the game in the second half. The Lions simply outworked us in the contest and looked more willing to work hard and press both ways, and the Saints couldn’t reign them in.

We all heard what the club wants by 2018 – to be vaguely thereabouts of the top four but not necessarily winning a premiership, and to have 50,000 members here and 10,000 members in New Zealand. I don’t know how much the players really care about the club and all that kind of thing, but it was incredibly disappointing to see them put in an effort like that over there against a winless team, given the intentions. A crowd of over 13,409 was expected in the sense that it’s a lot less than last year’s crowd, but at 22,546 that was nearly 10,000 more than turned up on Friday night, and we’re talking a venue that only holds 34,500. What will happen between now and next year’s ANZAC Day match that will bring more people to the game? And more poignantly, what will happen that will bring more locals to that game?

To be honest I wasn’t entirely surprised by the performance. It seemed like a perfectly St Kilda thing to do – earn the respect of the football world and then casually throw it in the gutter the next weekend. Sometimes you just have a feeling about a game, whether a good, or apprehensive feeling, and just didn’t feel right about this. That feeling might also have been carrying a slab from the Elsternwick to my brother’s house early in the afternoon – I’d done a workout (of sorts) that morning and my arms were already cooked, and I spent most of the walk (which isn’t even that far) thinking about having to deal with a potential mess of glass and lost beer (only Carltons) in public (on Glen Huntly Road) whilst my arms felt searingly close to cramping.

I managed to get there OK in the end though. Spent the afternoon having drinks with Matt watching the Collingwood-Essendon game, before we headed back up to the Elsternwick. There were a few Saints supporters there watching too, it’s a little difficult for those who don’t have Foxtel to watch it. I understand that the club’s finances necessitate a play like that to be made, but there’s something a little contradictory about this game and its marketing. It’s built up as our marquee game for the season, but it’s in a different country and buried on Foxtel to start immediately after the Collingwood and Essendon game, when people are either already drunk or are about to make their next move for the day. The game is played specifically not for the existing members and fans.

Now, I can’t no mention the jumpers of both sides. This time around the Saints were wearing a markedly different jumper which I’ve written about before, and the Lions came to the dress up party with an a slightly altered jumper of their own which was closer to the old Fitzroy designs than the current Brisbane jumpers. With Brisbane returning to their original post-merger jumper as of next season, they’ve already started subtly using the image in promo material (such as their site background) and they used Friday night as another chance to employ it (the Paddle Pop lion usually stretches across the length of the jumper with the blue coming down the top border of the Lion). As for the Saints, I think the jumper looked a lot better on the ground. If you take away the spindly design over bottom half, clean up the back and have the white stripe go all the way down à la the home jumper middle panel, then I think you’ve actually got a really decent Saints jumper. Again, mostly red and black with minimal white is the best way to go for a St Kilda jumper design.

Shame it wasn’t a winning jumper, like the 140 Years jumper was last year. But the faffin’ they served up was getting them nowhere fast.

Things didn’t look good early. The Lions were blanketing the Saints, the Saints were flat and Eli’s arm was broken. It set the tone for the first half, complete with the broadcast showing a sad looking Eli in a blanket in the back of an ambulance inset. By half-time the Lions were in control, having broken down St Kilda by simply wanting it more. The Lions’ leaders stood up, and big Jono Brown was there for a few pivotal moments. The blaming of the goal review system for costing us the game by some on social media really is silly; there were bang on 10 minutes to go when the ball crossed the goal line and as I said, you’d be ignoring a really lame first half effort.

Let’s cut to the chase with the ins and outs of that final goal. What’s the point of having Joey down there if Delaney offers no contest? Joey is there for the spill of the ball, not to be the primary man defending the footy and goal mouth against a gorilla like JB. Delaney was made to look slow by big JB and really let him go at the last second which changed the dynamic of the contest. Joey wasn’t quite prepared for JB making the fall of the ball on his own at that last moment, and instantly had to change his approach from being there to mop up with space around him to being the third man up. It wasn’t enough time for him to right himself and really hit the contest hard.

Matt actually noted early in the match that the Saints had never seemed like a team that handled the goal line well. We obviously saw that a two-on-one couldn’t even keep a low-flying ball from going through at all. But it was just one of three pretty basic moments throughout the game that reflected how switched on St Kilda weren’t: there was also Aish’s high snap dealt with by no one and allowed to bounce the right way; and then no one was on the line for Curren’s shot at goal, which actually ended up being an uncontested mark to the Lions.

One for the rubbish trivia files – Joey won the ANZAC Day Medal for best on ground. It certainly won’t be spoken of in the way the ANZAC Medal is, which is bandied about by the sillier of media, and Collingwood and Essendon fans as if it’s something that should be noted next to a player’s CV, alongside “Brownlow/Norm Smith/Coleman Medalist” and “premiership player”. Joey was a senior player that did lead by example, and his numbers told the story: 37 possessions, two goals and six tackles.

As for My Favourite Hair in the AFL, he had by far his quietest game to date, evidently for a couple reasons. Firstly the supply, again, particularly in the first half, was either non-existent or custard. Brisbane did a great job in either pressuring the kicks forward to scramble the Saints’ structure and lead to hurried kicks into a 50-metre arc with little  space to lead into. In fact his first couple of touches came from him getting bored with teammates upfield dicking around with it and he ventured up the halfway point of the ground to work off Joel Patfull and provide a link. It’s seemed like a good thing to stick with before you remember he’d need to be kicking to himself in the forward line for it to work. Once things picked up after half-time, Patfull’s influence really came to the fore and it took a brilliant Seb Ross block in last quarter to momentarily negate his close-checking to the man who, had he finished with even the lowest number of goals he’d kicked in a single previous game this year, would have seen us over the line. Interestingly, Friday night saw the Saints kick the equal-most goals (10) and highest score overall minus Roo’s input (10.13) this season. Fittingly, Patfull finished the game with the ball in his hands.

Midfielders and smaller forwards took on the responsibility to kick those goals with only a two-tall forward line and Rhys playing higher up the ground, but the problem was those guys missed. The chief offenders here were Jacks Steven and Billings, and Lenny, who kicked 1.8 between them. Billings particularly (he hit the post from right in front) missed a couple of really gettable (he hit the post from right in front), important kicks in the second half (he hit the post from right in front), and Jack Steven’s kick into the defender on the goal line in the last quarter smacked of a lack of composure. It is hard to criticise Lenny and Jack Steven too much, because along with Joey it was these guys that really led the way in the stoppages in the second half to wrestle back control of the footy – they finished with 34 and 31 touches each. I can’t believe how well Lenny is playing this year and Jack’s fortunately on his way back to his 2013 form with a rocket, but likewise when in the contest you look to your leaders when they’re in attack to do the right thing.

Matt and I were discussing during the game how Patfull had won the last two Best and Fairests for Brisbane, but on screen was barely recognisable. I think it says something about the precariousness of the AFL’s expansion plans when the Brisbane Lions and their players currently have essentially zero profile certainly in Melbourne. Carting Fitzroy off to Brisbane was frankly a pathetic decision; merely an excuse by Ian Collins and co to knock off Fitzroy and for the AFL to rebrand a club whose aesthetics and image had become outdated incredibly quickly. People might get some enjoyment watching the younger Gold Coast and GWS guys taking on the game for the moment, but once they become successful they’ll be the target of resentment, whilst a Brisbane side potentially still in rebuild mode would be recognised only for anonymity, with Fitzroy’s Lion languishing there with it. The same will most likely happen once the Swans and expansion teams hit the bottom of the ladder and are without the draft and COLA hangover concessions, but who knows?

Similarly, St Kilda – though it may never be far from headlines for either good or bad – can’t afford, both on and off the field, to be a quiet or weak player in the competition. For now, we’ve got our own rebuild happening and our youngsters looking to make their mark on the game. Fortunately, so far this year a few have caught people’s attention and have a presence already in the general footy sphere, but Friday wasn’t their best night. Eli is obvious upsetting one – it means that along with Wright we now have two really promising young guys looking at up to three months out of the game. I mentioned Billings – he actually looked good aside from the really bad misses at goal. His precision pass to Dempster was a nice demonstration of why he’s so highly rated.

Like Billings, I’ve enjoyed having Dunstan in the side – in fact we all have – I think because we’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a new young player make an instant impact on the side. Of course, younger players typically take some time to have a genuine effect on games of footy, but these guys are already having at least some impact. For fans like us, who probably haven’t seen this for over a decade because such woeful recruiting, it’s like having a free player. Again, and I think I’ll be saying this every time a Dunstan, Billings, Newnes, et al play a good game, but it reinforces that the recruiting for so long has been so pathetic.

Again, it wasn’t their best night, although Newnes did some really strong stuff throughout the game, and it was great to see Dunstan very nearly flipped over early on and get back up and go about his business. Webster again displayed some really nice skills (I don’t think it’s a good indicator of recent recruiting when I’m that impressed by a young guy that can hit a target), and I think all those guys are humming along nicely with their development and are now continually warranting selection (Dunstan might be rested at some point, however). The interesting one for me is Seb Ross. He had 18 touches in his first full game for the season and while the Lions had the initiative in the contest for most of the game he did some good things in close. But does he have enough attributes to his game to make him at least a really good player? It seems he’s probably another pre-season or two away from being able to really press hard both ways consistently, an aspect exacerbated by the fact he’s not that quick at all. When he does have the footy, he’s still not the best or longest kick, either. With Maverick Weller tearing things up at VFL level consistently so far this year and with Eli now out and Wright opening up another spot on the LTI list as Lewis Pierce returns, Weller would be seen as the clear favourite to make his St Kilda debut sooner rather than later. That might mean Ross goes out, because Mav won’t be bringing much speed to a side that isn’t overly quick. But Mav can kick goals, accumulate the footy and tackle very well. Maybe CJ comes out? I can’t see it happening, and Tom Curren has done some good jobs on quality players already this season. Josh Saunders is probably looking at a stint in the VFL after some relatively quieter games, and might be the one to make way.

There were some rumblings that Hickey was already feeling some wear and tear, hence Billy Longer going over with the side. Billy also got interviewed for the site, and as it did with Savage, usually that means the player is a big show of playing that weekend. However, Hickey took to the field and although led all comers for hit-outs, the two things of his game I immediately remember are him letting the ball slip through his fingers in the goalsquare and immediately getting falconed, before CJ got the footy and immediately got polaxed (somehow I don’t think that counts as a goal assist), and then running out of the middle early in the final quarter and instead of kicking into holding on to the footy waiting for someone to run alongside him for the handball receive. I know he’s doing the team thing and thinking that there’s probably someone who can kick it further into the forward 50 than me, but the whole process of making the decision and then getting it done was incredibly slow.

I don’t want to get too excited and announce the return of BIG RHYS BANDWAGON, but I’m back on the BIG RHYS BANDWAGON. Yeah, yeah, only one goal but all of a sudden he’s playing consistent footy and seems to have found his role in the team and literal place on the field – as a forward pushing high up around a little beyond the arcs. He’s finally using his pace and height to take marks (which, importantly, he’s holding), and providing an important option for guys coming off half-back. He’s taken 30 marks in the last three games now, and it would be great if – like I said about Billings, Dunstan and Webster – he could just maintain this rate of improvement and form line. Once he’s done that the next would be to hit the scoreboard more often, and then he might be getting some way to living up to the hype that comes with winning the 2009 Grand Final Sprint.

Fittingly, it was Daniel Merrett that affected Farren’s final kick at goal. A typical occurrence involving a B-grade player in a D-grade team who managed to pull something out of their arse against the Saints (see also Trent West getting involved in the Lions’ run in the second quarter), and he arguably shouldn’t have been there in the first place – his forearm to Swallow’s head was worth far more than twice of Schneider’s tummy tap to Baguley. The really  disappointing part? That a quality senior player like Schneider who’d missed that much footy over an extended period of time would so easily give up his spot in a young side that’s looking to him to set an example.

After all that, as far as infuriating individual acts go, it was Shane Savage that finished things once and for all. Farren is meant to be a more senior player at the club, and he’s been great this year, but it was a really poor miss at goal. Sav, meanwhile, was the poster boy for this whole thing. Born in New Zealand, it was talked up as soon as he came to the club, he did the modelling for the jumper, then after one week in the VFL was taken over and put in front of the media before selection was announced and was perhaps unsurprisingly selected. He’d taken the mark after Roo had given away the free kick, and his throw back to Adcock was, despite the circumstances, comically nowhere near reaching Adcock on the full. I think he did enough to earn his place next week – he put on some really good tackles and his tally of seven was second only to Lenny’s eight – but Schneider will be back, and perhaps Mav Weller in too.

So, back to earth. Schneider to return next week, and maybe Fisher? I don’t think it matters, we’re playing Hawthorn. The brilliant scenario of us going into that game at 4-2, which I think we were all excited about after the Essendon win, is gone and at 3-3 the wrong end of the ledger will most likely begin to start getting away from us.

As Matt said as we left the Elsternwick, “You’re trying to build a fan base, and you lose to the bottom side.” This experiment is supposed to be club’s financial ace up the sleeve, allowing us to get all the things we like. Well, take another look – this is how the experiment is going:

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Photo: Justine Walker/AFL Media

  • Ted McDonnell

    An interesting Almanac on the Saints year so far and not a school girl in sight… Not a bad start at all…

    Having said that, let me say this. The football world has been lauding the start of the Saints football season in 2014… And what a start 3 – 2. 2014s Port Adelaide!

    Hello!

    Saints beat Melbourne. However, it was a lucky win. It was for the Demons to win but they did not know how to win… Enter Riewoldt… Win for the Saints.

    Game two and the Saints beat GWS… Or did they… The young GWS dominated all day and had the game won on several occasions.. GWS lost mostly thanks to another supreme performance by Riewoldt and a very inexperienced GWS.

    Saints loss to West Coast an admirable defeat. But where are the Eagles in 2014? Next round they lose by more than 10 goals to Geelong and the Saints get a football lesson from the Crows….

    New 2014 chapter: Kool Aid begins to turn warm?

    A solid win against The Bombers restores the faith… Port Power analogies are reborn. Certain naive sections of the popular media, mostly Fox commentators once again raise the Port Adelaide tag… Let’s forget that The Bombers we’re recovering for a virus; a trip to WA and a thought bubble that to win the Bombers did not need to turn up….

    And, the Lions in NZ. Haha… Bottom side ‘no worries, the Saints will go 4-2. People forgot that this is the Saints a side whom for decades had disappointed their supporters and consistently failed to live up to expectations … They did not let the cynics down.

    So, 3-3… The Saints may not win another game in 2014… They will probably win 5 or 6 for the season….

    They will be lucky to finish above Melbourne; and by season, send the blame game will once again begin, as is a Saints tradition … The question as to whether the Richardson experiment has worked will arise.

    The reality is the Saints are possibly doomed to failure. They hope to go to Junction Oval but Tassie would be more of a lifeline for their future now that the Frankston expedition has failed.

    It’s just a matter of time until the epitaph is written on this very ordinary club that has suffered from culture deficiencies for decades.

  • http://www.redwhiteandblack.com.au Richard Lee

    *The Richo Experiment* is already an undoubted success in my eyes. Put up the bronze statue already at Seaford/Frankston/Junction Oval/Homeland/Welling already.

    At the end of the day, I don’t *want* us to win more than 5 games for the year. Oh, the predicament of cheering for your side to get draft picks.

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