The reigning premiers played against the reigning wooden spooners. What happened next was pedestrian and expected.

By Tom Briglia

Round 10, 2015
St Kilda 2.3, 3.5, 7.8, 10.9 (69)
Hawthorn 4.5, 8.10, 14.11, 20.12 (132)
Crowd: 33,886 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, June 7th at 4.40pm

alanrichardson_2015r10

I’m not sure what kind of state Sports Delivered is in right now. I’ve whinged about them before, still scarred by the fact they inexplicably didn’t make a 2005 Season Highlights DVD for the preliminary finalists as a once off, and then in 2009 conveniently decided to end them altogether outside of the premiers, leaving only Saints members with shorter than usual DVDs for the years in which saw sadly perhaps the defining seasons for some Saints fans and formative seasons for a whole new generation.

Sports Delivered have mostly traded on the Name-A-Game offering, a necessity of a bygone era in which individual games were purchased on VHS and then DVD at bemusingly inflated prices (and with a considerable lack of pre- and post- match coverage). All games should certainly be kept on record – that’s no secret – but I’m not sure about flogging some of the more pedestrian encounters. I always favoured the Seasons Highlights DVDs though; every season is a story and these documented from beginning to end the best and worst of a journey which meant a whole lot to supporters, whatever the outcome may have been. Sports Delivered decided that offering every single individual game was somehow more worthy. 

Sunday barely came close to passing the Name-A-Game test, and sub-editors in charge of shamelessly clickbaiting headlines on anything from Buzzfeed to The Age would face a near impossible task teasing you with this one. The Name-A-Game test is applicable here in the sense that they are supposedly there for posterity; when reflecting what we possibly might have learnt or the magnitude of what we witnessed. What is the historical value of this game? What did we see in terms of development? Certainly no real stellar moments, Acres’ mark and decision to run off his man late in the game aside. You can watch some passages or performances that place them on a few guys’ development curves (Billings, Ross, Webster), otherwise it’s a lot of them playing in far too much awe of the Hawks and being worried out of moving it forward too quickly. Or if we did manage to get it forward, a bunch of Sherrins bombed on top of or not near enough My 1st and 2nd Favourite Hair in the AFL respectively. And as far as the first 90% of the first half went, that was just the Saints.

Shane Crawford apparently writes an opinion piece in the Herald Sun, which I genuinely didn’t know until his article yesterday bobbed up on my Twitter feed, with “Why Saints can win flag in 3 years” as headline and a 2010 shot of Riewoldt in the white collar and cuffs far more reasonably holding that year’s yet-to-be awarded premiership cup. It wouldn’t quite have the same effect if he was holding this year’s, or even 2018’s because it hasn’t been made yet. In fact, there’s only one ever made in which it would really make total sense for any St Kilda person to be holding. For now we have to run with photos that are a half-decade old and simply sad to look at. 

Though it was a home game yesterday Matt and I found yet another way this year of sitting somewhere other than our members seats. We ended up on the top deck with Rich, dear cousin Evan, another good friend of mine/Hawthorn supporter (also Tom), Matt’s friend Angie and very special guest James, Evan’s younger brother. I’m making note of this because St Kilda-Hawthorn games happen to mark particular occasions in our wider family – Dad took me to my first game in round 1, 1994, and it was a Friday night game in round 21 two years ago that was the last we went to together before he and mum left for the UK. Evan’s first game was Round 9, 2003 (a rare home game at the MCG and Allan Murray kicked four in his first game for us). All were St Kilda-Hawthorn games. I took James to his first game before he’d turned eight in Round 3, 2009 in which we belted the Eagles, and he’d been to Round 16 of 2010 against Collingwood and that year’s Preliminary Final against the Bulldogs. Nothing in the five years since though despite our best efforts, but sitting next to him before the game started he said, “I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve been here. It’s so good to be here.” He was already talking up next Sunday immediately after the game despite the handsome belting, so it looks like a St Kilda-Hawthorn game has again provided the landmark occasion for another poor young soul being roped into a lifetime of disappointment and heartbreak.

Hawthorn had managed to go W-L this entire season, and who better to give you the opportunity to right your season than ours truly? A rare appearance from 2011 1st Preliminary Final anti-hero Luke Schoenmakers made things all the more ominous following his four goals on return last year against us (and just further demonstrate how comprehensive that loss was, take those away and we still lose by 121 points). After playing Round 23, 2013 anti-hero Ryan Lester into his best form last week, Schoey was the prime candidate for this week’s armchair treatment for a middling player from the St Kilda Football Club.

Obviously they’re coming from a different outcome over the past few/54 years, but it really feels like the Hawks are doing their version of what we experienced in 2010 – just keep teams at arm’s length throughout the season, because it’s all about getting to the last Saturday. Given the close losses to the Bombers and GWS in there, you’d think Clarko might have watched Bomber’s Open Mike interview and paid particular attention to what he said about the 2008 season, namely that they were that good they didn’t know what to do when Hawthorn challenged them on Grand Final Day, and should have engineered some closer results to test themselves against throughout the year. Watching their opening half – or at least until they broke the game open with three quick goals late – you would have thought that was the case. How many times as Roughy miskicked so wildly? Their kicking for goal had them at 5.10 at one stage, before they decided we weren’t coming along for their ride and represented the same opportunity for a percentage boost rather than competitive hit-out that Melbourne did a few weeks ago.

The early piece of play that saw some precise kicks hit up Bruce for a strong mark and the opening goal was probably the cleanest we’d look all day. Soon after Schneider backed up his kick into the man on the mark out of defence with a handball along the ground to Riewoldt on the rebound, there was Armo’s clown miss from 15 metres out from goal on his own, and Hickey fluffed a couple on the lead. For all of the always-reliable Roughy, Mitchell, Burgoyne and Smith all getting themselves in on the faux-Hawthorn faffin’, the charade was punctuated by moments of real class that really demonstrated the gulf that still clearly exists between the two sides, Crawf talking up a St Kilda premiership in the coming years or not. These were four quality goals by four different players; Jack Gunston showing his versatility and running onto a loose ball for the Hawk’s first first, Billy Hartung – who for what it’s worth many had going to us with either of the picks we used on Dunstan and Acres – wheeling around from nearly 40 out on an angle, Cyril in the second quarter taking the ball and running across goal before the snap as the Hawks looked to create a gap and then Taylor Duryea well and truly made it real from outside 50 late in the term.

Things reached the bottom of the crater made by the AFL’s meteor of novelty when Ahmed Saad got falconed mid-big screen interview at half-time by one of the inflatable beach balls that the crowd was smacking around, at the same time All-American superstar Jason Holmes was handing out Susan Day cakes. The new sponsor probably couldn’t believe their luck that someone in the PR department decided that Rita (Happy 100th Birthday Rita!) was keener on attending the match than training on the day of Richo and Jack Steven’s presser, and their “100th” cake found its way in front of the media with Josh Bruce and Dylan Roberton shyly presenting it.

Having to explain the nondescript versions of the Saints song by Ben Salter (played accidentally before the game after already being used several weeks ago?) and Dan Sultan (shown at half-time because they showed Ben Salter before the match?) was in itself exhausting. Almost as much as the ground presenter interviewing Richo before the game talked up some guy called “Josh Smith”. Marchetti was there with his beanie on and he seems to pretty popular at the moment. He’s done the post-match interviews on occasion (Holmesby, Luke was back behind the mic on Sunday), although after a loss it’s hard to take him seriously because of how affable and energetic he is, and he’s still wearing the beanie.

More symbolic shenanigans included Geary being interviewed by Marchetti as the players walked off at half-time and then Armo after the game by Cam Mooney for Fox Footy. What I liked about AFL was that, as opposed to Super 15s and the A-League, et al the losers weren’t interviewed after the game (or during it). I thought it was an element that represented something stoic that we believed about this game; that they cared enough about what they were doing and the club that they played for that they wouldn’t want to do a shitty media interview afterwards. They’re not just guys that go from city to city playing for a new club and perhaps in a new league every couple of years. Maybe not.

The result had been well and truly taken care of by the time Roo took on three guys in the square, almost completed the mark and then reacted quickest to get to the ball of the contest and snap a goal over his own shoulder from his left boot. Joey’s goal was both quality and laughable, but the AFL’s Facebook account was interestingly a lot more pointed in telling everyone their thoughts on it as opposed to, say, the rule enforcement merits involved in either of (this part’s important) Collingwood’s Jamie Elliott’s mark or goal earlier in the year.

One of the more frustrating elements on Sunday was seeing Josh Bruce work hard for nearly fark all return from teammates further up the ground that were apparently kicking it to him. That he finished with 15 touches, eight marks and 2.2 said far more about how hard he works than good movement of the footy. Yes, we were much slower than we have been for most of this year but there were a number of times when Bruce was one-out or in some space as we went forward and kick simply didn’t favour him, usually ending up coming straight down onto his opponent or what needlessly was a body-on-body one-on-one contest. And when the latter happened guys like Lonie and Schneider just weren’t around enough. Sinclair again showed how well he’s settled into the AFL standard, kicking two goals but having more of a presence away from goal also.

Lonie showed glimpses with slick disposal here and there, but I thought his kick which ended up as Joey’s “goal” summed up his and the team’s night. Had a crack sort of, didn’t come off definitely. From being 5.10 in the second term, Hawthorn kicked a ridiculously efficient 15.2 and that 5.10 could easily have been 10.5 given the ease of scoring shots by their standards. For all of the relatively positive air around us even after this one, it probably should have been a lot, lot worse.

One interesting little tidbit to come out of the game was Savage being played as a forward once he came on as the sub. He finished his previous game in a similar spot and in the limited time finished with two goals and 11 touched, although most of those were handballs and his kicking is the key aspect of his game. I don’t think it’s something that should be stuck to, because he can kick those longer goals when he’s in decent form anyway. On a day when Newnes is again a little quieter than you’d expect him to be, it would helped to have his drive off half-back.

Speaking of which, there seems to be a bit of a selection showdown looming around there. Sav as the sub won’t happen next week, and with Weller and Dunstan sure to come straight back in do you keep all of Ray, Shenton, Acres and Ross? Ray would be very unlucky to go out after 24 touches but is he quick enough and creative enough? A lot of people (myself included) had used him as the best St Kilda reference point for D-Mac’s type of game after last year’s draft, and with guys like him and Acres proving they can show something at AFL so early in their careers – not to mention Gilbert coming back at some point – then another selection bottleneck with senior guys pitted against youth featuring is looming. Shenton out is obvious one and Schneider’s clangers only dented the fans’ goodwill for him that will be called upon when he is taken back to the rookie list over the next week or so.

Acres again just hummed away doing his thing on Sunday, and he continues to remind me of a Goddard (B.) type, and not just in playing style. BJ was our whipping boy in 04/05, the number one draft pick who, unlike Roo, Ball, Dal etc. just didn’t seem to have the same immediate impact and with a premiership within touching distance the expectation was high. But Blacres has a good size, good kick and some speed about him and he’s already showing that he knows how to use them all together.

Speaking of humming away, Billings collected another 21 touches and Webster perhaps the lowest fanfare 27 touches I’ve ever seen a young player get. The clincher of this is that both are in our best handful of kicks – Webster’s howler of a kick-out notwithstanding – and both play in different parts of the field, which is a key element you want to build an entire team around.

As for Seb Ross, you probably didn’t notice him (again). I certainly didn’t. I still don’t know what a good game from him really would look like, but he’s quickly making a name for himself as the guy who’ll get the nuts and bolts of the inside stuff done and given it was his first game back I thought he did quite well. Armo was actually down on his output this year, but I never thought I’d say that after he’d picked up 24 touches. Ross would have been in there anyway, but having him in the middle after such a long lay off as well as Lonie and Sinclair certainly gave things a fresh edge. Longer wasn’t exactly the ruck beast he’s apparently become, but with Hickey being subbed out and against Hale and Ceglar he was up against it whichever way you look at it. I still think he’s a better player than Longer, but a statement like that is mostly null and void whilst he’d playing almost exclusively as a forward.

For all of that though, it was ultimately another forgettable game. We’re not going to remember Webster’s numbers or Acres’ dash or Josh Bruce’s leading. No-one will be ordering this on DVD and sitting down to watch it from the opening bounce to the final siren. Both teams had this in mind as a simple step in their separate missions. For the Hawks it was just about getting the job done to make sure they’re there when it counts. It was for us too, really, but from a much earlier time.

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

    I thought Richo made a really telling statement in the post-match presser, that pretty well summed-up our season (from one, surface layer angle) which was along the lines of: we’ve played some really strong footy at times this season in games – sometimes that’s resulted in us winning and sometimes that hasn’t happened.

    It might sound dumb in print but, he’s right: we’ve not had many 120 minute performances. The Essendon performance was probably our most solid bell-to-bell effort. Anyway, playing some really good patches – which I think we did actually do – was never going to get it done this time.

    I thought there were some good things to take away from the game. I thought Dempster and Delaney (along with Webster) had really good games. And it’s interesting that the back six (notwithstanding Panther) were rather good and look a bit more balanced without Fisher.

    Ray was probably in our best, but I’m still not sure if that’s necessarily a good thing.

    Richo is a big fan of Ross and I’m not certain Dunstan will come straight back in – maybe they will want to give him an extended layoff so he can really launch into the second half of the year post-BYE.

    I thought Bruce’s game was a real highlight. His mark in the second term (pretty sure it was) in the pocket against Lake was a beauty. And I just thought it really reflected well on him that his marking stood-up against really good quality opponents.

    One player who definitely deserves to be under the microscope more is Savage. He’s been disappointing.

    Another noteworthy point that Richo made was about our inability to get shots on goal within 30m. This was a problem against the Crows I believe as well. One: it says a lot about Hawks team defence – they forced us to go for less desirable passes. But it also just highlights how we’ve got to refine our attacking prowess – or just kicking skills in general.

    It may not have been a really noteworthy game for Saints spectators (or the Hawks for that matter), but I think the young Saints – as well as the coaches – would have gained more from that particular game than a bunch of the games we’ve already played.

  • Harry

    Enjoyable review Tom. Tomorrow is the challenge; many people actually expect the Saints to win.