Without a fight

By Tom Briglia

Round 22, 2015
St Kilda 1.5, 3.9, 4.12, 4.14 (38)
Sydney Swans 4.3, 10.6, 15.10, 20.15 (135)
Crowd: 27,856 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, August 30th at 3.20pm

In the character-based comedy stylings of the St Kilda Football Club Adam Schneider was farewelled today with the opposition supporters having infinitely more reason to be thankful for his services.

He was not just a part of the history-making Swans outfit that broke the longest VFL/AFL premiership drought in 2005, but he was also pivotal the week before in which the Swans won their first final at the MCG for 69 years. Of Course, who else would it be against? (Just as a further tease, the same number of years the Saints took to win out first and still only flag).

That 2005 season would go down as one of the most tumultuous in St Kilda history, and one that for a brief fortnight appeared could be the one that delivered its second flag. Instead the unfancied Swans – whilst they’d finished above us on the ladder in third spot, they were lucky to be there due to Nick Davis’ heroics – ran away with the Preliminary Final in the final quarter. Schneider finished with three straight as the Swans kicked 7.0 to 0.4 in the final term.

I’ve only ever seen one highlight from that game, one day being daring enough to bring myself to watch some footage from it (a YouTube that has since been taken down, but a couple of more in-depth highlights videos of that night have been posted). That on passage is Schneider’s third goal halfway through in the final term to seal the deal once and for all. Tim Lane’s commentary befits the mood and context of that moment wonderfully.

Obviously not the best way to ingratiate yourself to an opposing club’s fans but it was a very popular trade indeed that brought him and Dempster to the club. Curiously (as pointed out in Herald Sun yesterday), the only three players remaining from that match are Goodes and the St Kilda duo.

Schneider brought a slickness to the side that we really needed more of; a goalsneak foil to Milne but one that could play higher up the ground and use pinpoint disposal going into attack.

But so it will be that the 2009 Grand Final will be the defining point of his St Kilda career. Going into the day he’d already banked a premiership as a 21 year-old in just his third season, and for all intents and purposes he should have had a second. He wasn’t the only villain on the day the Saints kicked themselves out of a premiership – Milne, McQualter, Gram and Dempster all wasted multiple gettable chances – but he was the ringleader.

His return of 2.3 doesn’t tell you that his first chance at goal was a snap from directly in front to give us our first major but, as we saw close-up from the Punt Road end pocket he tried kicking the proverbial off the Sherrin and missed. Nor does it tell you about the moment that will be branded painfully, searingly into my memory will be his miss in the last quarter that would have set the tone and put breathing space between ourselves and the Cats. At the time it was another miss we feared might come back to hurt us in the worst possible way, and now it hurts immensely.

I’ve never seen footage from the game; I still turn away when a highlight appears on TV and I know it’s from the game (including when watching the 2009 Season Highlights DVD). And so I’ve seen Scarlett in the seconds before “the toepoke” but I still don’t exactly know what it looks like (likewise Chapman’s goal). But this Schneider moment is still clear in my mind, from the viewpoint of our seats at the other end of the ground. It’s as much the feeling I had at the time as well as the visual memory itself. When he broke clear into space, well inside range, the first instinct was that he would kick it. But in the wider context of what the kick meant this was a completely foreign position to be in. When he broke clear, I remember thinking…well, I don’t know if I want to say I felt “this is it”, because the goal in itself wasn’t going to win it at that point, rather, that if he kicked it we would be very difficult to shake from there. But for that brief moment before he physically kicked it we were going to be in that incredible position in the last quarter of a Grand Final. His getting the ball and heading for goal on his own seemed to represent the situation we were in: there were no obstacles; no thunderbolts from the footy gods, no personal hang-ups. It was only space; I guess “weightless” is the best way to describe how I felt. The only thing standing in our way from this point would be ourselves. And within seconds, so it proved to be. The kick curled to the right and missed.

Maybe it was the 21 year-old frame of mind I was in at the time, but in writing this even now I can feel myself getting worked up about how I felt. There are few singular moments in St Kilda’s history I personally feel so pained about; so simply sad about. For a few seconds I thought we were on our way. But we gave it up and ultimately lost it. That’s a long way down.

From that point on his key contribution was set in stone, officially so after the Grand Final Replay and the team was psychologically ruined. Time would run out for him well before he would make it anywhere near another Grand Final in which he could atone for that day. It raised its head again this year against the Bombers early in the season. A missed set shot from directly in front to put us up by over a goal with several minutes left; the resulting kick-out was taken straight up the other end for what proved to be Travis Colyer’s winning goal. It didn’t prove to be as much until after Schneider missed from 15 metres out directly in front.

Every player from the 2004-2010 era who retires feels like a victory for everyone that enjoyed seeing the Saints fail to win a premiership throughout it, and for those who thoroughly enjoyed the St Kilda schoolgirl saga to bookend it (as an entree to the dour awful 2011 season). We’re that far away from those Grand Finals now that we’re more prone to thanking Schneider for his work with Lonie (surely he takes #13?), Sinclair and Minchington in the immediate sense of what we’re losing. Unfortunately, as a St Kilda supporter, his career will be defined by that moment on that amazing, awful, defeating day. In a wider context, his career’s peak will have come with the Sydney Swans as part of their 2005 premiership, with him personally disposing of St Kilda en route.

Hard to review a (non-retiring) player’s game at this stage of the year without turning it into a faux-season review, or “Where are they at?” BigFooty-style irrationality convention. It’s hard to review anything with this one in that light because I went to the Savoy for lunch and drinks with RWB cohort Rich, Dad, Lewis and family friend Jim, but we already know the Savoy will have to echo it’s comeback act from the time that construction begins on the 68-floor tower on its site.

I keep coming back to this but I always will – Mum and Dad returning to the country gave a welcome expanded dynamic to gameday. The problem was that they so late in the season and only now I was getting used to the pre- and post- match drinks, burgers and chats, let alone the games themselves. And just like that, with next week a meaningless match over in Perth, the season is essentially over for the supporters.

The takeaway from last week was the performance of J Holmes; big leaps, good hit-out numbers and some tapwork that gave our midfield its best service for years. Holmes opened up early with a big leap and healthy tap, Armo winded from hit, Schneider caught immediately

Holmes looked quite lost for much of the game, with Mike Pyke the beneficiary. Pyke floating forward on his own was a dreaded but predictable outcome, and Tippett helped himself at the right time of year to plenty of the action as the ruck foil and up forward.

The signs weren’t that good whichever way you looked at it. Even our better passages were wasted. Holmes out of the ruck to Armo, to Ross, to Murdoch and then to dicking around should simply have been a straightforward entry to the advantage of a moving forward in 50. Instead, the Swans forced a stoppage and went straight to the other end and a chance to reset at a throw in next to their own goals.

Tom Hickey obviously either got comfortable or injured after signing a two-year deal last week, doing fark all and subbed out just after half-time with leaner numbers than J Holmes. Playing as a forward he kicked one behind and elsewhere he was disappointing, punctuated by weak efforts in a marking contest against Grundy in front of the members and then a weak tackle on Pyke, which ended with Riewoldt flying back into a marking contest and Tippett goaling immediately.

Novelty team line-ups mean novelty passages of play. Anything featuring Murdoch (like the above) probably qualifies, but he and the poorly-haired Seb Ross were busy across the ground early, linking up for Ross to hit the post. Other behinds registered at quarter-time were barely decent opportunities (e.g. Gilbert off the ground from 12 rows back behind the goals), but such was Sydney’s pressure and our ability to execute, pressured or not.

Armo didn’t kick a great chance for goal on the run after some good work from a Schneider and Sav double team, and the footy went straight up for Mike Pyke running into goal with Holmes nowhere near it. What could have been a three-point margin was now 15, and moments later 21, despite the Swans leading the scoring shots count 9 to 8 at that point.

Things were looking really droll when Dempster came out of defence and just vaguely kicked it out of play. No tact, no cunning, no plan from the wider team to give him something further down the ground. But we plummeted further with some more St Kilda comedy gold as Armo strolled in to goal and missed, Webster dropped an easy mark in defence and Tippett and Goodes goaled immediately afterwards. Murdoch’s nice kick after goal the half-time siren was barely sugar coating.

As far as those booing Goodes goes, several points to make. Firstly, a few are jumping to their own defence or that of others that they’re booing him because he’s a “thug”, “diver”, “cheat”, etc. They would then have to argue that people have begun booing him en masse in recent times for all of those things specifically, and just purely coincidentally after he called out someone making a racist comment directed at him and then after performing an indigenous culture-themed war dance on field. Because no crowd ever booed him in the past unless after he’d done something specific during a game, as all players are susceptible to (and you’ll be hard-pressed to find too many of those games). I can guarantee you no St Kilda crowd has ever booed him like that before any on-field incident involving Goodes and race (and I invite anyone to prove otherwise). Goodes was clearly booed the first time he went near the ball, with muted boos the following couple of instances. But it was back in the second half, particularly after a free kick decision in front of the members wing went against St Kilda, as if he made the decision himself. Rather, this was about a number of people feeling they had been justified booing because in their mind this was loosely linked to the “diver” theory, even though he actually hadn’t played for the free (and didn’t for the entirety of the game). This carried on clearly to the end of the game (see Goodes’s touch in the final seconds), and people were still trying to at least bat it away as something they could barely hear at the ground (again, refer to the video). This is something that happened, whether you did it or not. This is what a St Kilda crowd sounded like. And I hated every second of it. I don’t think the club will acknowledge it, quietly putting it down to a minority of supporters that caused a minor stir that will disappear if no one mentions it. That would be an awful shame and a rather hypocritical stance given the wonderful work the club has put into involvement in the annual Pride March and launching a “Pride Match”. If you’re accusing me of putting words in their mouth then please tell me what kind of take no comment would reflect on the club’s behalf.

By three-quarter time the game was ready for some more comedy and the club decided for whatever reason to play Tex Perkins’ version of the club song, which was met with exactly zero fanfare considering we were about to endure another quarter Sydney mopping the floor with us.

We just didn’t look like it all day, and specifically Josh Bruce didn’t look like it all day. Lest We Forget his 20-game streak of kicking at least one goal in each game. He wasted his own chances, whether they were dropped marks and his shot with time and space in the last quarter. There was also his mark a second after the three-quarter time siren within range, and also his give-off to the running Webster who didn’t even kick for goal.

So what the hell to say for a dirty day all round? This season deserved a better send-off for the members and fans, and a number of those let themselves down on the day. On the field this was more along the lines of 2014, and it’s easy to feel for a moment like we’re back amongst the bottom few wondering where the hell we’re going. Next Saturday looms as another forgettable match in an era which is purely for bridging purposes; to get us to the other side. That’s all well and good when you think of watching a team develop over a season and seeing the improvement of players week to week, but sometimes we just need to get to the end of a season and have a rest. One week to go.

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

    Aside from this game having the feeling of one side really ramping up their form and their mentality in preparation for The Pointy End of the year *versus* one team begging for the finish line to appear before it, and showing various signs of fatigue/cbf, (aside from that) this was essentially Week 3 after the Saints pushed the “Time to have a look at guys” button.

    And the results of that haven’t been that promising.

    Seb Ross (not that we haven’t seem him much previously) really isn’t showing the improvement that needs to be showing. Brodie Murdoch hasn’t done quite enough yet to show that he’s going to make it. Saunders gave one of the most anonymous performances of all time last week. Tom Hickey as forward-ruck (rather than ruck-forward) still seems unconvincing most of the time.

    But I guess that’s good in a way? That’s what “having a look at guys” is supposed to determine I suppose.