…Do we have Patrick McCartin yet?

By Tom Briglia

Round 16, 2014
Carlton 6.2, 10.2, 17.6, 24.7 (151)
St Kilda 2.0, 7.5, 9.5, 10.6 (66)
Crowd: 29,997 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, July 6th at 1.10pm

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“He said, ‘Every day’s a curse
And the curse just gets worse.'”
– Chad Vangaalen, “Hangman’s Son”

Why do we go to the footy?

I say “we” referring to St Kilda supporters. Why, right now, do we go to the footy? Who went today? Why did you go?

People of my age – in and around their mid-20s, up to those who can remember the early 1990s – who began following the club from an early age have mostly known good times. And I mean “Holy shit, this might be it” times.

Times where I’d be on the way to the bathroom or to the bar at the ground between quarters thinking “shit, we might be on the way”. Footy’s typically a communal thing, and in those unique few moments of leaving my dad, brother and cousin and being on my own at the ground between the opening and final sirens, I could afford myself the most optimistic of dawnings and ponderings. Whilst you can still smell the grass on the field and spilt beer, and with the adrenaline and emotion of the match in progress still peaking.

I don’t question whether I go to the footy or not every week. I’m not sure why it’s a given right now, but I know that it won’t change. It’s the same for many, but certainly not too many Saints at the moment. It’s hard to define genuine involvement in a club when it’s not purely based on boorish aggression. I can tell you that I will be going to the footy to watch St Kilda play regardless of their form because of a mixture of deep nostalgia and sense of both unfinished business with the pure, pure hope that we will witness something special one day that I suggest all St Kilda supporters share. But, like so many of those fellow supporters, that basic assumption doesn’t to justice to how we feel feel now, and how felt at so many differing times over the past decade or so.

In successful times it’s all easier for everyone, from the most hardened, long-term member to the bandwagoners in all their forms. Every season is a long, amazing story regardless of what happens; years are their own journey. In the good times you feel a heightened sense of anticipation going to watch high quality footy in higher quality games, and you (often) leave feeling good and with your optimism boosted a little more. Those few hours felt like they might have had a purpose towards something bigger at the end of that journey.

There’s fark all of any of that right now. This week I had every moment of the game to myself. It wasn’t even alcohol assisted – I’d driven the entire way from Sydney back home to Melbourne on Saturday and got home very late, so I needed to keep things simple yesterday. Turns out a drink or few might have helped. Whatever. It was the first time this year I’d been this year to a game on my own. The isolation of watching a team, on your own, that is essentially irrelevant, featuring a whole number of players that are merely filling in until we draft or recruit the guys who will be there to push us upwards was confronting.

It was confronting because in this era of expecting to lose and lose comfortably, I’d gone to games with a social aspect. I’d been with my brother, or RWB cohort Rich (and with his father the last couple of weeks), which is the usual clique now Matt and I’s parents are living in the UK. You would be right in saying I went to watch us lose. That’s true, I didn’t give us a chance. I haven’t for weeks and probably won’t for weeks. I just went. A whole bunch of us did. As I said, not many, but a whole bunch of us. Whether or not these are good or bad times, ultimately they’re part of the same journey. 

The week leading up to this one had suitable little fanfare. In the St Kilda world, it was largely about Armo’s 100th, but it felt a little…moot? I don’t know if that’s the right idea. We don’t know if he’ll be at the club next year, let alone in a few years when the club is supposedly meant to be fulfilling the loftier goals of the “2018-but-not-really-2018″ plan. Right now he’s the number nine pick in the 2006 draft that by his own admission ran around just happy being there in 2009 and 2010 in a team that was down by one goal when the siren went in the Grand Final one year and level the next.

I still think he’s got improvement in him and the general buzz around him is that he’s a more professional and hard-working player. From my non-vantage point I think it shows; even his media appearances are stronger more rounded. Yesterday he was fittingly one of our best. The improvement he will get from now will be more about consistency and doing what he does more often. His disposal won’t improve too much if at all and the contest he provides is really valuable. He might be our captain soon. I’m still backing the Newnes/Dunstan pairing to be the club’s 2018-2022 Premiership Captain.

In the wider footy world, the only real mention about St Kilda, beyond Billy Longer’s stellar performance in the newest edition of Press Pass (Schneiderman Lite), was Scott Watters’ first proper media interview since his sacking. Obviously the termination and  payout conditions came with a six-month confidentiality clause, but even then I thought he played a pretty straight bat. He certainly talked down Pelchen and some elements of the way the club is run, but that wasn’t anything new at all, even in the full version aired on The Sunday Footy Show shown close to the opening bounce on Channel 9. I think that one’s simply going to be the kind of thing remembered depending on which camp you’re in.

On a more macroscopic level, Saints fans don’t turn up to away games in huge numbers anywhere, and that includes Corporate Stadium. I’d love to know the breakdown of the just under 30,000 that were there on Sunday; my guess is it would have genuinely been and 85-15 split Carlton’s way, which is really the kind of ratio you expect interstate teams to offer in Melbourne.

So it’s always that strange feeling of not-quite-home when the Saints are wearing their clash jumper there, which takes me to the massive merchandise clearance sale the club had last week. There have been vague rumours floating around that the Saints may be moving on from ISC at year’s end, and with the clash jumper having completed the standard two-year clash jumper tenure by then I think we’re odds-on for a change. The thing is, this is just about the best we’ll get in a clash jumper in terms of it replicating the tri-panel home design. I also love that it incorporates the cross motif, so I wouldn’t be surprised that if there were any changes next seasons, regardless of manufacturer, they were minimal. Hopefully we don’t just splatter a bit of red, white and black on a huge white canvass. It’s been one of the best.

Darren Jolly made an appearance early in the day in the rooms, although I wasn’t sure if it was to help out Billy Longer and Rhys or, as my RWB cohort Rich said, was there to assist the club with their match day interior design.

And then, unfortunately, the match began.

My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s goal off the ground early (insert World Cup reference) was a nice little highlight (which is largely the best we can expect), but again we went into quarter time with the game just about reach.

Just as Lloydy wished, Roo began pushing high up the ground but it still took a lucky free and Newnes and Ross not crashing into each other to get it to Rhys on the lead and goaling from on 50. In an as-perfect-as-possible-from-here world, that’s how most passages of play would read.

There wasn’t time to get too excited about any of it though, because the Blues went straight out of the middle for a goal. Dempster immediately cracked the Ahmed Saads and gave away a free kick in front of goal for the Blues to all of a sudden be out by 25 points.

Sadly that’s how quickly our hopes can be dashed. The margin for error is tiny, and just like that the St Kilda end was flat. It got flatter when the good work to catch pressure Daisy at one end led to Gwilt completely missing Roo on the lead up forward, and then a nice chain featuring Newnes, Billings and Dunstan finished in the same way.

Things were bordering on “really weird” territory six minutes into the second, when Everitt, Judd and Menzel had all kicked goals. Roo had pushed all the way up to half back and it actually looked better than any other set up we had – he had three touches in the the first three minutes and showed that he’s a better field kick than just about anyone else in the side. But things broke down further up the chain; Shenton being too slow to make up his mind caught a whole lot of guys who’d pushed up right out and the Blues stormed back the other way for the Everitt goal.

Then something genuinely weird happened – St Kilda turned it on. It started pretty inauspiciously. Sav with one of the best bullet passes you’ll see off half-back, which was appropriately dropped by Minchington under minimal pressure. The footy came back into defence with interest, Sav’s attack at the ball saved the Saints.

Again, we had to get an odd free – this one off the ball – to actually get a shot on goal, which Billings missed. Then TDL intercepted the kick in and hit the post.

Right, so those two paragraphs instantly throw up a few of things. Firstly, Sav. I can’t say I’d written him off after only a few poor outings, but in the past the three weeks he’s all of a sudden become a genuinely effective running half-back. As I just mentioned, he showed just how good his disposal can be over a decent distance (some dodgy forward 50 entries last week week notwithstanding) and he also kicked two huge running goals from on the 50 metre arc from give-offs from Billings and Dunstan. That’s that exact kind of stuff we recruited him for, and since playing starting off half-back he’s getting his hands on the footy (he had the most disposals for us on Sunday) and it’s coming together.

Also doing a whole bunch of stuff on the scoreboard (or at least vaguely around the goals) and higher up was Billings. He finished with 1.2 and one on the full, demonstrating yet again that for the brilliant kick he’s shown to have (he’s not Mr. 100 for nothing) he’s got some weird yips thing that decides to appear once every couple of weeks. But otherwise, he displayed why he’s a number three pick – he ended up with seven marks (a team high) as a legitimate target across half-forward and took some really strong marks under duress (see the give-off for Sav’s first). He also finished the game in the centre, probably owing to necessity as much as anything given the state of the game, but it’s at least partially a sign the coaches think he’s ready to have a crack in there.

I don’t think anyone was surprised but it didn’t end well for TDL. He worked hard at the start, tracking from the forward line all the way to half-back to apply pressure, but the soda he missed on half-time to bring to within 10 points and really boost things going into half-time was a massive sapper. I swear every player in white on the ground paused for a brief second when that kick went wide. Within five minutes of the resumption Carlton was out to a 29-point, and it would have been 30 had Lachie Henderson not done a TDL himself from close range – but Carlton had the goal within a minute. By the time he was subbed out of the game for Dunell, Carlton had kicked 7.4 to 2.0, and it had taken us 22 minutes to score. Last year’s Virgin Australia Film Festival video has just about officially claimed another two victims; TDL as well as Dunell who I don’t even remember doing any things (although he was given the most minimal chance possible). They look set to join Jay Lever, Jordan Staley, Jackson Ferguson and Saad as the video’s collateral. Even Big Ben was shipped off after those performances. Co-stars Tommy Lee, Spencer White and Daniel Markworth have all had injury-interrupted seasons, but White should be playing soon and it looks like Lee and Markworth will be there next year.

At half-time we might have been up and about but in hindsight, knowing how the second half panned out, it’s hard to know what to make of those positive things in that term. Billy Longer spent some time forward and took a really nice mark (before Schneider hit the post with the give off), Delaney pushed up to grab the ball forward of the wing and tee up Minch who kicked a huge goal, and Rhys completed a nice passage started in the backline by Roo, who was doing it all at both ends, then Newnes with the nice pass.

They were really just decent moments though. Meanwhile, Joey had just five touches and Jack Steven was on par with him; both with just eight at final change, although we’ve just learnt today that Jack will miss the next games with a thigh injury so I dare say he was playing under some duress. Armo had 18 touches at half-time, but I’m using him as an example that if I’m going to pan him for a quiet second half, I might as well give it to the entire side.

The last quarter was simply atrocious. It felt not just like that the team went missing but the supporters being there all of sudden seemed so idle. We were on the way to losing to a team on four wins and 10 losses by 85 points, with Casboult being made to look like the most imposing forward in the game, a defender kicking four goals, and Menzel earning the Rising Star nomination.

We’ve never seen Richo the way he was post-match. Angry and frustrated, it looked like for the first time the difficulty of this whole task had really smacked him one. He let out a huge f-bomb in the box in the third quarter when Casboult appeared to outmark about twelve St Kilda defenders with ease. Go over the tapes – that might well have been his first real one.

This was the kind of thing in which you don’t know where to start. But the forward line is the obvious one; we haven’t cracked 100 this year and we haven’t looked like cracking it at all. Delivery into the forward line is key too, of course, but I thought it was telling that the whole set up looked a little more solid the more Roo pushed up. As I said, he’s one of our best field kicks by the length of the Spencer Street bridge, and he provided a calm and physically imposing presence.

It also allowed BIG RHYS BANDWAGON to have a crack at being the only option parked up forward. He hit the scoreboard again, but is there a clause in his contract in which he can’t kick three goals or more? He’s played 51 games now, predominantly as a forward, and whilst it looks like he’s found his place on the field he really needs to up that. Would be nice if he held a few more though – four marks simply isn’t enough if he’s going to contribute to a halfway decent team, but we know he’s a taking a few more than that regularly now.

Season-ending shoulder surgery for Big Tommy Lee and Big Beau Maister, as well as My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs also hurting his shoulder on the weekend (three forwards in one week doing shoulders – wtf?) basically means we’re down to Roo and Rhys. The way Richo spoke after the game suggested Spencer White will come in a little earlier than expected because of it, and Josh Bruce might return as a forward after racking up some good numbers (although kicking 2.4) in the forward half for Sandy. Otherwise, Richo mentioned Hickey and Longer playing forward also. As they should anyway, but I dare say he meant for more extended periods – particularly if both of them and Rhys are playing.

I think Spencer White  – regardless of what you think of him right now – could be the missing, not mention forgotten, piece here. I don’t mean to say that he’ll come in and everything will be wonderful. Rather, I mean that the kind of player he is in the future could be missing piece to the side structurally, and feature the best of both worlds between someone like Rhys playing higher up and guys playing deeper, like Tom Lee, or *melodramatic pause*…Patrick McCartin.

Richo’s already effectively confirmed that Spencer will be there for sure next year whatever happens throughout the rest of the season. He’s mobile already and can take a strong mark, and the forward line could be far more dynamic with a player like that complimenting Rhys and a deeper full-forward like McCartin. But who knows? McCartin might be getting a game for this club before Spencer does. But for the first time, Spencer looks some actual chance playing for St Kilda rather than Sandringham.

It was quarter time and I was in the standing room at the St Kilda end amidst zero atmosphere. It was about this time, after nudging this territory a few times during the quarter, that I began to really think, “What the hell am I doing here?” I didn’t just mean the slop being dished out in front of me in the previous half hour. I meant after everything that happened in the past decade, what the hell am I doing here?

I think about the 2004-2010 era and I’m still not sure that it’s registered with me that what happened really did happen. Perhaps naturally a little now that becomes  a part of our past; not just because time has passed but in the context of this club it really is a past era. Sunday felt like an entirely different world to those times. Days like those make it hard to wrestle with the reality that that’s exactly what it is.

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

    Brilliant report, Tom. Loved it.

    I think I mentioned this in the last couple of weeks already but…

    Since about 07/08 we’ve relied too much on Roo up forward.

    Since then we’ve recruited Stanley, Cahill, Maister, White, Lee.

    Between Rhys and Lee you currently get about 0.75 of a good AFL, consistent forward.

    Good to see White finally showing some promise, but Stanley and Lee are still currently flops, despite Rhys having considerably improved this year.

    (And I didn’t even mention: Siposs, Charlie Gardiner, Ryan Gamble or Jordan staley – who were all recruited as forwards)

    Having said all that, I think our biggest, general weakness is through the midfield. Think about it: we genuinely haven’t had one midfielder this year who you could say has had “a good season”, in any sort of context. Mac Weller has been great the last few weeks but, he’s only played about 6-8 games (correct me if I’m wrong). Steven’s year has been derailed by fitness; Joey has been tagged out of games and hasn’t had his usual work rate; Lenny is just getting on. Of course, Dunstan has been a great find, but he’s struggled big time the last few weeks – which isn’t a knock, just a reflection of his youth.

  • Harry

    Tom, another great report and congratulations for sticking fat with the Saints. There were many dark times in the late 1970’s to early 1980’s, then along came a succession of great players – Peckett, Daniels, Bourke, Frawley, Lockett, Loewe, Winmar, Harvey. McAdam, Grant etc; can it happen again under a different system.

    I hope the board is starting to understand that when you agree to let high quality senior players leave you can put the whole club into a downward spiral – lose games, members drop off, crowds decline, sponsors are harder to keep/obtain and financial problems arise. And how many of those missing members and supporters will come back when performance picks up?

    Such is the life of a Saints tragic.