“They just plain sucked.”

By Tom Briglia

Round 2, 2016
St Kilda 1.1, 3.4, 4.5, 5.6 (36)
Western Bulldogs 3.6, 7.6, 9.13, 13.15 (93)
Crowd: “approx 37,353” at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, April 2nd at 7.25pm

The story of the St Kilda Football Club has had one of its most tumultuous chapters – at once faux-successful and arduous – written under the stewardship of the man who for all intents and purposes was to lead it to its second premiership.

On the night that the St Kilda family celebrated Nick Riewoldt’s 300th match, the St Kilda team turned in one of its more pathetic performances under examination from a Bulldogs side that is headed for a second premiership of their own.

Given the performances of both teams the week before, a Bulldogs victory looked the most likely outcome, but perhaps not with the meek surrender of the Saints in mind. But Essendon had won earlier in the day, and Collingwood kicked three goals in the last few minutes of play the night before to snatch a one-point win so anything could happen, right? Wrong. Not when it comes to St Kilda. The footy weekend’s magic had well and truly been used up by Saturday night, and we should be happy to see those hard-luck clubs and their long-suffering supporters blessed with such great moments.

The weight of the occasion was enough for the family to coax my Mum into coming along. She had come to Maddie’s Match last year and wanted to make it an annual event, so I had bought two decent seats on level two above our cheersquad to compliment our new officially five-prong membership coterie of Rich, Evan, Dad, Matt and myself.

Evan’s brother James came to a couple of games last year, including the the last-gasp “I ONLY WANT TWO FORWARDS” win against Melbourne, as part of our ongoing efforts to set him up for a lifetime of ultimate failure and heartbreak. He was the second human to be gifted a seat to the shittest show in town, which on our part was probably a step too far.

We were at Platform 28 pre-match for some reason, which I assume is named after where a platform 28 at Southern Cross would actually be (apparently it’s a former railway shed thing). It was absolutely packed at 5.30 and gave me early hopes for a massive crowd, but the two lower-tier-of-everything clubs could only squeak out an official crowd “approx 37,353” to the Concrete Dome. It’s almost certainly the token time this year we’ll come out better than even from a match at the venue, and it wasn’t even that decent a shake.

As we casually dined on two bowls of chips and apparently some squid (yes, I would have absolutely loved some of the squid that I bought for everyone, thanks, cheers) it hit us at the gradual speed of Josh Bruce applying forward pressure that footy was back. I say that because the realisation for us Saints fans probably dragged out for a fortnight; last week was an easing-back-into-the-abyss, being interstate and against not the most fancied opposition of a two-team state. This was to be our first proper smelling of the beer and the concrete and the beer-on-concrete of match day for the season.

We were to rotate between our membership seats and the level 2 seats, and I offered myself up to reintroduce Mum to the Australian Football League by sitting up on the latter with her in the pre-match and first quarter. She was very happy to watch My Favourite Hair in the AFL run out for his 300th game with me but the slopfest was to begin almost immediately, and coupled with the culturally irrelevant and/or outdated and unfunny boring chat between two humans behind us – Saints supporters that had forked out $65 a pop to sit there but didn’t know who Josh Bruce, 2018-2022 Premiership Captain Jack Newnes nor Paddy McCartin were – the game quickly became a tiresome affair just to be in the vicinity of.

The lack of polish was evident from the start, and by game’s end we’d walk away thinking the Dogs could have won by a scarier amount had they taken their chances more often in front of goal. Their profligate first quarter only extended the inevitable, particularly their first period of dominance, with which we could only meekly reply to with a Jack Newnes goal, Josh Bruce snap which he should have kicked and a Paddy McCartin (bugalugs’ mates) out on the full shank that was also a good goal kicking opportunity.

Paddy actually appeared to start strongly, taking a couple of good marks both high up and closer to goal (including before said shank) but disappeared completely, only to re-emerge late in the game on his own near goal for Lonie to completely botch an easy pass to him.

Josh Bruce actually looks like a genuinely decent player now, as in, a guy you who is reliably in the right spot as a link-up big man with effective follow-up efforts, and will put himself in positions to have shots at goal as well as he did last week. Problem was that last night that he returned 1.4, which didn’t do justice to how effective he was across the ground and the intent he brought to the contest with and without the ball, despite not being the fastest player known to science. I still can’t take Richo’s comments that he’s a potential future captain seriously though, but I never thought he’d get close to what he is now.

The other piece of the forward line triumvirate, Mr. 300 himself, spent plenty of time away from goal as promised through the pre-season. His misses in the first half were costly when the game was still there to be won – particularly given the Dogs’ wastefulness – and it’s sapping when your senior players are the ones not taking the opportunities. Sure, Gresham’s shitty handball that was cut off by Johannisen and executed expertly in conjunction with the String was painful, but it was worse seeing Joey miss two players with a short kick inboard across half-back and for the Dogs to kick an immediate goal from also.

Roo kicked two in the second half, both from strong contested marks and the first threatened to bring some atmosphere to the game, but the game was effectively done by then anyway. After the second the players came from everywhere to get around him, but it would have been better if they got around him 90 minutes earlier by executing basic Australian Rules football skills and putting on effective tackles. He finished with 23 possessions, 14 marks and 2.2, which were overall the most impressive collection of numbers of any Saint.

The numbers would have also told you Joey mostly off half-back collected 31 touches and Jack Steven buzzed around for 29. Two guys that really had a crack but for different reasons reflect how far the list has to go before it can match that of the Dogs and GWS in the coming seasons. Joey I mentioned already for his haphazard turnover featured a couple of times in the blooper reel, and Jack Steven is simply unreliable when it comes to what he’s going to do with the ball. You can look at last year’s Melbourne win in the final seconds, and notice immediately that the entire passage is essentially Jack’s work. His game depends on his work ethic more than the quality of his disposal, and last night was one of his lesser performances when it came to disposal effectiveness. Armo surely has hit his ceiling and is more about keeping his performances consistently at that level from here (which certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing at all), but between him and Steven for a host of reasons there is still a large gap waiting to be filled by a mid with explosive speed – which may or may not be Freeman – and/or a mid with elite skill levels. This is year our free agency and trade targeting will really come into play.

We have young guys like Billings and Gresham coming through who have pinpoint accuracy and don’t shit themselves when they have the ball, but in Billings that makes him look either lackadaisical or still unfit (are you sure he got 19 touches?) and with Gresham it leads to exhilarating 12-point plays against. Billings will be awesome if they don’t fark up his shins and Gresham (are you sure he got 13 touches?) will be likewise over time but FFS you forget they’re out there for most of the game. Billings has the benefit of an extra couple of years’ experience and the chance to run through the midfield and add some polish in there, so Gresh will find himself in and out more regularly through the year, but if Richo is going to say Acres isn’t consistent then I’m not quite sure what criteria they’re using for Billings and Gresh. Gresh is a certain out this week, particularly after Minchington backed up his 44 possession, three-goal performance against Box Hill with a five-goal performance on the weekend, but there’s zero reason to be concerned in the short-term about that.

But we also have guys like Gilbert running through our midfield doing fark knows what. Seven touches, featuring the double-edged sword of an equal-team-high six tackles and four free kicks against, and we have Acres collecting 27 touches and a goal after being shunted back into the VFL following 22 touches and some real intent in his game last week against Port.

Ross and Dunstan are quickly getting to points in their careers in which we have to start asking what their individual game would look like when we’re walking away from a ground in the next couple of years saying “Ross/Dunstan dominated today”. Ross has certainly improved his positioning and awareness but is still slow, and both are good for leading the tackle count themselves but like Armo and Steven their builds and lack of pace leave plenty wanting in the midfield. If anything Ross’s improvement and Dunstan’s natural improvement over the next couple of seasons (as he catches up to Ross) and Mav Weller’s token two or three superhuman efforts per game has made us look more solid in close but it obviously counted for fark all last night, particularly when you’re comprehensively beaten on the inside and the outside. Hickey still not being able to tie two good games together certainly didn’t help.

So it was small mercy at best that the Dogs didn’t make the most of their opportunities in the forward half. Their 3.6 in the first and 2.7 in the third could easily have been reversed given the types of opportunities they had. Richo pointed out Geary and Dempster for their good performances on Dahlhaus and Stringer respectively; Geary can’t dispose of the Australian Rules football appropriately but Dahlhaus wasn’t as effective as usual, but the String kicked 2.2 from 18 touches eight marks, which is only a relatively quiet night for him. I guess Fisher takes credit for keeping Boyd’s output low – and I’m certainly not going to mark Boyd’s million-dollar performance staging for the free kick late in the game which got him his third against any St Kilda defender – but FFS someone throw Hugh Goddard in there ASAP.

The meekness with which we gave up the game as soon as it started was way too reminiscent of those home games in 2000 and 2001 in this very jumper, or at least the original version of this slightly warped version of the hot cross bun jumper, already improved upon in the 2009 training jumpers and to an extent this year’s NAB Challenge design. The answer to a perfect modern version of it lies in an amalgam of the two, but I’ll save that for the St Kilda Jumper State of the Union over the next week or so. For now, I think Saturday night might have tempered any 1990s/early 2000s nostalgia-fuelled calls for the design to come back, given the reminder of what state we were in in its latter days.

By the time Caleb Daniel danced past three of our defenders and snapped a(nother) sealing goal early in the last my mum and dad had well and truly entrenched themselves in Livewire (who wants prime seats to this shitshow?), leaving Matt, Rich, Evan, James and I to talk absolute shit about the slop we were being dished up with. Billy Longer wears his heart on his sleeve so should come in for Hickey, who won’t turn up if he has Saturday night plans, according to Matt, and according to Matt Tom Hickey had Saturday night plans on Saturday night. But Richo (not Rich, but also Rich) won’t take out Hickey unless Longer had a ripper for the Zebs, and he certainly wasn’t in their best on Saturday (did he even play in the seniors’ practice match?). The whole scenario goes for Holmes also, particularly given McCartin is back into the team and offers an extra target up forward rather than having to take Hickey out of the ruck and into a spot up forward and throwing a part-timer such as Bruce in.

It’s also worth pointing out that by the time the final siren went the Dogs had guys like Lachie Hunter and Jack Macrae rack up 35 and 30 decent touches respectively, Johannisen had finished with 27, Wallis and Liberatore 26 and all three had kicked goals, and Marcus Adams had another day out in the back half in his second game (read that back to yourself carefully). There’s youth and rebuilding and good recruiting and good development, and there’s youth and rebuilding and recruiting and development. There’s something special about this Dogs team and I really do think it’s on its way to a premiership. Given its youth it has essentially set itself up for a decade, and I dare say we might see the 60-plus year drought broken within two or three seasons. I haven’t mentioned Boyd’s development, nor that of Bontempelli, Stringer, Dahlhaus, Stevens, Redpath, Biggs, Dale, et al.

Game’s end had the same on-field club-affiliated presenter as the human who said directly to Alan Richardson’s face before the Hawthorn game last year “Josh Smith” instead of “Josh Bruce” trying to get Nick to talk about career highlights and what it means to play 300 games immediately after he and his side had just been pantsed in his 300th game. A billion cheers to the wonderful Bob Murphy for his clear willingness to bring his team over to form a guard of honour for Roo as he was chaired off by Fisher and Dempster, to the hopes of all Hugh Goddardphiles that he ruined one of their shoulders and/or Fisher’s lower back/hamstring buckled under his weight, or maybe that at least Dylan Roberton did an ankle shaking hands with Dogs players after the match.

So for all the build-up during the week and the occasion itself, Saints fans left the ground as disappointed as they should have been with any effort perhaps since the 2010 Grand Final Replay. Milestone matches aren’t finals but FFS has anyone changed the club in the way this guy has? We’d spent a week in in the spotlight – something we haven’t been used to in the lean years, where the build up to any game is negligible. But it felt the tide had turned a little; we’re looking forward rather than experiencing withdrawals from the Ross era, and Roo spoke optimistically through the week (and yes, after the game) about playing a part in a St Kilda finals campaign in the not-too-distant future. But it was a sapping experience. The talk and interviews with Nick and others from the club AFL 360, The Footy Show, Talking Footy, on 3AW and SEN, the articles on the AFL site and in The Age and the Herald Sun. And of course the “Hats Off” video which did the rounds on just about all of the above.

You’re not to know this but I cried a little bit when I watched it. I’d say “Yeah, well Nick Riewoldt said on Talking Footy that he cried when he watched it too” but he is very specifically Nick Riewoldt, and I am very specifically not. I actually watched it a bunch of times because I was so interested as to why it moved me so much.

My feelings of being overwhelmed by the video came from the fact that Ross, BJ, Dal and Luke Ball are all in it – with Collingwood Assistant Coach Robert Harvey in it too – but let’s focus on those first few guys. Roo for all intents and purposes was meant the man who would this club to its second premiership. And, barring a miracle over the next couple of seasons, his reputation will forever be tied to that. And as St Kilda supporters that hurts. It hurts because we feel he deserves more and we had so much hope for so long and we were so close to all of that being realised. And what did we end up with? A lot of heartache and not much else. The way down was embarrassing. It was humiliating. It still hurts and it will hurt until we see a premiership, and that’s in no way a guarantee.

But to have these guys in this video holds a different light to it. It meant something. And it still means something to people even though they’ve moved on with their lives. There were moments in that era that were good. Some were great. And Roo was responsible for a lot of them. You can’t wipe out the good and just take the bad, nor the reverse. You need to take that period in our lives as St Kilda supporters as a whole.

The to flipside of the ultimate outcome of that era, the journey itself was punctuated by belief and by hope. They are enough to have kept this club with an inexcusably and exceptionally pathetic record over 143 years afloat. They are enough to have made that ultimately painful era liveable day-to-day. Roo led that then, and Roo now gives us hope that this club has been changed under his stewardship permanently for the better, whether or not the’s there for the next tilt.

And what do we have to follow all of this up? The 50th Anniversary “celebrations” of the 1966 premiership, which will no doubt double as the 6th Anniversary celebrations of Collingwood 2010 premiership. The utmost of rare occasions, when the St Kilda Football Club celebrates a club success rather than an individual’s, and it couldn’t have been a better time to remind us all of what this Club couldn’t achieve under Riewoldt. It’s a sad irony that it be done this week. Despite it being a home game, Collingwood supporters will outnumber us Saints fans by intimidating levels. We’re not feeling so good about this young team this week, but young, rebuilding clubs are a week-to-week proposition. And whilst we will be looking for more development and maturity from Billings, Paddy, Josh Bruce, et al., we know that Roo will be overseeing it all. For as long as we can enjoy having him, that gives us some comfort.

RWB 2016 Best Player Votes
Nick Riewoldt – 4
Jack Steven – 2
Leigh Montagna – 2
Josh Bruce – 1
Jack Newnes – 1

Jack Steven – 5
Tom Hickey – 4
Nick Riewoldt – 4
Jack Newnes – 2
Leigh Montagna – 2
David Armitage – 1
Josh Bruce – 1
Sam Gilbert – 1

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

    Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this game was the fact that Roo was our best performer on the night.

  • Harry

    Tom, Thanks for the very entertaining and insightful review of the horrible effort by the Saints. Many but not all delivered an insult to Nick Riewoldt. You should never be beaten so easily on workrate and effort.

    A great effort and career by Nick, a great servant to the Club, they do not come any better. He was the Saints best player and just a pity that he did not slot those 2 shots in the 2nd quarter. But he still kicked 40% of the team score.

    On to Collingwood and a much better effort required and a couple of changes at the selection table.

  • Campbell

    An incredibly disappointing result. I take issue with people just stating that we weren’t hard or hungry enough; we clearly were! What was evident within about 20 minutes of football was the gulf in class and composure with the ball, the work off the (with and without the ball) and the ability to lay a tackle that actually retards the opponent. The dogs executed almost all core components of their game to a high level, we did not!

    There’s been an almost hysterical reaction to the loss, which is understandable given the significance of the game to the club but also because a large portion of the supporter base truly believed we weren’t that far from the dogs in terms of development as pundits have as believe. I’m not yet ready to concede that the rebuild has been built on faulty foundations or we’re being mislead, i think it was certainly a reality check for the type of skill execution we will need to get to if we’re to compete in a year or two’s time though.

    Great write up Tom.

    Where do you see Webster and Roberton in two years time?

  • Tom Briglia

    Very well said Campbell, although I would still rate the effort overall as poor for what we’re capable of, all things considered. This was a good illustration of where the two teams are at, really – not just our stage of development (although the Bulldogs have recruited and developed their players exceptionally well), but also it exposed us for what we’re inherently lacking, which as you said is class and composure. Some of that will come in time with the natural growth of players, but some of it can’t be taught or learnt.

    Webster is one of the few players we have that does have some natural class and composure, i.e. one of the few we have than can execute a pinpoint pass through the movement of play. Roberton had some really poor moments but it was below his average game. He’s proved he can be a handy player, but what does his best game look like? Let alone can he string that kind of performance (whatever it may be) together week-to-week? No idea about him in two years, but I think Webster definitely has a place.

  • Tom Briglia

    Well we have the obvious personnel change in Gresham out and Minchington in (although no room for Acres somehow), and we’ll need to bring a change in mindset as well – a positive one that lasts for much more of the four quarters.

  • Campbell

    I guess my question regarding Roberton was raised because i feel at times he’s glorified by his statistics. Particularly his DE statistic. It’s certainly higher at times than I feel it should be. That’s purely a manifestation of how that statistic is actually calculated. I think he’s guilty of delivery the pill to a team-mate often without regard for what he’s then going to be able to do with it. I acknowledge that this isn’t always the case; though I think occurs more often than what most people acknowledge. He’s not a pure kick of the footy, his kick’s lack penetration and float a little; lick Joey’s. I was just interested to see if people are as frustrated with DR as I am. I’m hoping Webster really starts to take the game on, as you mentioned he is a classy play, but isn’t classy enough of the time at the moment.