“Come Armageddon, come”…Oh no wait, it’s ok, sort of.

By Tom Briglia

Round 10, 2016
St Kilda 5.4, 6.8, 7.9, 15.11 (101)
Fremantle 3.0, 7.1, 10.4, 10.7 (67)
Crowd: 17,927 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, May 28 at 4.35pm

I began last week’s review talking about my dread of coming up against the Bombers, who always seem to dick us no matter our respective situations on and off the field are at the time.

Whilst the prospect of playing Fremantle immediately after the Bombers presented two pretty similar assignments – two opportunities for a young team to redeem themselves against depleted, unfancied opposition somewhat after a pasting by the Eagles – Freo presented its own psychological difficulties for Saints fans (on top of simply being ravaged by everything that goes with being a Saints fan).

My dread for playing Freo this week was simple – the Saints and Dockers are the combatants for the ridiculous and not very wonderful Bizarro Rivalry. The Dockers were incredibly on the precipice of becoming the equal-record holders for worst start to a season by a previous season’s top four finisher (certainly outright for a minor premier), but who better to save them from sharing that record than their Bizarro rivals, the historically pathetic Saints?

The clubs are into the 22nd year of weird shit happening, with a bunch historical coincidences sprinkled over the top. Fremantle played their first ever official game against the Saints in 1995 in the opening round of the pre-season, which remains their only official game in Fremantle; an ANZAC Day showdown with Freo winning by a goal in 1997; Stewart Loewe knocking himself out and Peter Everitt kicking the clumsiest goal of the year contender in 1998; umpire Peter Carey taking a mark in 1999; the Saints winning their last game under Malcolm Blight win Robert Harvey doing his knee and a young Milne kicking three goals in 2001; The Dockers coming back and snatching a late win with a long bomb in the first game St Kilda wore the hot cross bun jumper as an away jumper in the home and away season, and then winning the return bout at a home game at Princes Park in 2002; the Saints winning in Perth to go to 7-0 for the first time since 1966 and looking odds-on for a premiership, and then the Dockers wearing their white clash jumper for the first time ever  and playing for a finals spot in the last match of 2004 against the Saints; St Kilda winning by a point in Tasmania after a dubious late free kick to Aaron Hamill in Round 2 and then Troy Longmuir’s winning goal after the siren in the “Whispers in the Sky” match in 2005; Sirengate in 2006, which in isolation was the difference between Freo’s first top four finish and St Kilda’s sixth and first-week final exit; Steven Baker and Jeff Farmer’s clash and Baker’s long suspension in 2007; one of the worst games ever as Milne and Dal Santo were dropped and McEvoy, Eddy and Allen all debuted and the last quarter went for 23.56 in 2008; St Kilda holding Freo to what was at the time the equal-lowest Corporate Dome score, shared with…St Kilda…in 2009; And so on and so forth. This is without mentioning Ross Lyon, Zac Dawson, and the 2013 and 2014 pastings St Kilda gave premiership-fancies Freo, and that each club made their first Grand Final appearances 100 years apart.

***

Ok look I’ll get this out of the way. Sam Landsberger’s pathetic article about Nick Riewoldt post-match last week – and his equally pathetic responses to criticism of it online – as well as the Herald Sun’s glorifying of it, in the same week that Brad Hill was charged with assault and received fuck all coverage was really disappointing. At no point did Sam address why he included a whole section talking about St Kilda’s bid for a women’s team and the appointment of Peta Searle, instead deciding to step back from the article when it was convenient and saying “your words, not mine” when challenged on why he attempted to make it appear that either Nick or the club has an inherent problem with treating females, as well as saying “End of story” in one tweet simply to outline that the event had happened, and that therefore it deserved his story. Which it doesn’t; something simply happening doesn’t necessarily warrant a warped story and the pushing it received by the newspaper. He also took editorial duties and said “filthy remarks on innocent StK staff disgusting”, although no one else in the footy world seemed to particularly make a big deal of it. I outlined last year the clear bias against St Kilda that the Herald Sun had during the trade period and the Carlisle saga, which I think is worth mentioning given his involvement in that as well as this.

Interestingly, it seemed as though there was some contrition on the Herald Sun’s part. Their coverage of the match including an inset photo of Roo taking a selfie post-match with a fan and Gresh – with no irony or mention of the week’s “news” and by Sunday afternoon Landsberger had selectively tweeted about Armo talking on Triple M about Roo winning a seventh best and fairest this year and playing on in 2018, as well pointing out the strength of his stats this season himself.

The whole thing actually reminded me that I may or may not recall a current Herald Sun footy journo possibly calling Nick Riewoldt a “retard” repeatedly in the 2010 Preliminary Final. Anyway.

***

So a young team on their way up but with the inconsistencies that come with this awkward early development phase, coming off a relatively unconvincing 46-point win – albeit one that featured performances from three young forwards that gave cause for feverish optimism – up against a coach who for all intents and purposes should have held up our second premiership cup with our current captain, and his team trying to avoid some very unwanted history. On a cold and wet Saturday as winter storms along, hidden away in the 4.35 timeslot (Who decided on “4.35”?), in the mostly empty confines of the Concrete/Corporate Dome. It reeked of the depressing depths of a long footy reason, so Freo ftw, surely. So like last week, I used my massive $10 bonus bet on a weakened opposition to at least salvage something out of the potential wreckage, because I work hard and I play hard.

Hotline and Webster were suspect outs this week; at least that was my not-so-hot-take on it until I remembered Billings indeed ended up in the rooms at some point during the match against the Bombers before playing it out with not too much effect. Webster on the other hand already has a conveniently-timed illness because I dare say he was close to being dropped, and is hanging out with at his gf’s house on club’s orders. I’d love to be told to do that but I’m desperately, desperately alone.

Discussing the ins and outs with my dad over the phone on Friday, in my infinite wisdom I declared Brodie Murdoch would be playing probably across half-forward and pushing up the ground, completely unaware that Richo that morning had specifically said at the presser that he’d be playing across half-back. Sinclair, the other inclusion, would obviously be floating around the forward half and has been underrated a little this year I think in his value as a link player pushing up the ground as well as playing his usual small forward role.

The 55 tram ride into the ground from Brunswick West is always a little strange, having grown up with the St Kilda fervour that accompanies the train ride in along the Frankston line. In fact on the 55 there’s none at all and there are as likely to be many GWS fans on it as St Kilda fans (i.e. fan, singular; i.e. me) as there were for the Round 5 match. Given the time this weekend’s match and the weather on the day there was barely anyone on the tram at all, let alone a bunch of people on their way to see a C-grade match in the nothing hours of a grey Saturday.

Richie is away enjoying Europe for a few weeks, hence why all four of you RWB readers are stuck with me for a few weeks, and Evan was getting his second round of 21st birthday celebrations underway, so it was an opportune time for dad to rejoin the match day line-up of myself and Matt after he decided family was important enough to miss out on a terrible match of footy last Sunday. We reprised the Kangaroos pre-match build-up of burgers and drinks at the Savoy before it was time to take a deep breath and take the field as the next team with the pressure of “just don’t fuck it up” coming from the rest of the AFL world; which was still waiting to burst into laughter at the expense of whoever had to listen to an outdated pop-rock intro and then “FREO, WAY TO GO” after the final siren.

Like last week, the raging battle of nausea vs apathy threatened to consume us all at half-time as Essendon planted themselves within reaching distance at half-time. With the comfort of hindsight, as nausea vs apathy played itself out at half-time we were bracing ourselves for the possibility of nausea followed by apathy, or perhaps nausea followed by a sickly mix of more nausea with apathy. At three-quarter time the buckets were ready. No amount of Ativan would be able to cover this. As Matt and I talked about late in the game, we were both psychologically preparing ourselves for a best result of a close win, and having to simply prepare ourselves from the point of Paddy’s smart goal late in the third quarter of around 45 minutes of feeling sick and partially not enjoying living for that amount of time, with the expectation that it was happening, that St Kilda would be St Kilda and gift Fremantle their first win of the season. And out into the cold, unfriendly Saturday night we would go.

The early stages of the match felt a long way away by that time. Shane Savage ran out onto the ground with his son for his 100th game. He was one of the players that really needed to lift last week after half-time and actually did. He’s come a long way after being VFL fodder for a club hurtling towards its 27th wooden spoon two years ago. Maybe his new half-back partner Brodie in time could present us with a similar case of improvement, and the prospect of having two booming kicks off half-back – albeit belonging to two very different types of players – was an interesting prospect for the bigger forwards working up the ground, as well as providing that extra option for the long kick at goal just beyond the arc. Brodie put that on show with a brilliant sausage in the first quarter.

That’s not to say Webster doesn’t have a huge kick, but the upside of his possessions is based more on precision and it felt as though he’d been missing a little in general of late. The pressure on the players to perform from an individual aspect given Richo talked up Billings’ and Webster’s prospects of coming straight into the team would surely give guys like Brodie and Sinclair a bit of jolt, right? RIGHT?

Well it seemed to work because Brodie was heavily involved in the first half, beyond his great goal. It came after a couple of Freo goals which had followed a blistering start that had us up 4.3 to 0.0 and some guy behind us having a ball constantly yelling all things anti-Ross (Lyon) and things vaguely based on “Owen 10/0 and 10” etc. I wouldn’t have gone there myself but the start really was entertaining, highlighted by Membrey and Paddy looking to pick up from last week’s performance. Membrey smartly found space on the lead and kicked the our third, whilst Paddy followed with number four from a brilliant one-handed finish on the way down from a marking contest.

The midfield wasn’t world beating but the pressure was up early, and even though Freo scored three of the last four goals of the quarter, including Walters frustratingly kicking one in the fi nal seconds, we still looked dangerous. Despite leading the possession count 118-79, some goalscoring opportunities were hurriedly missed or poorly thought-out under pressure which meant the 5.4 return from just 11 entries could have been far more devastating. It said a lot that most of the that possession count came from guys in the back half who were weathering Freo’s entries – Gilbert started well and equalled last week’s seven-possession full-game tally by the first break; Fisher was on his way to doing a solid job on Pavlich, Roberton was roaming around doing whatever it is he does and has 12 touches; Joey had his regulation sevens and Newnes (including a goal) and Savage had six apiece.

Even as Fremantle were closing in the second quarter Matt and I agreed that it was Brodie Murdoch who we felt safest with ball in hand. He looked composed with the ball and kept things moving without trying anything beyond his capabilities. The strange thing about the term was that we were only a goal or two away for much of it from really blowing open the game and getting the lead out to around the five-goal mark, but more wasted opportunities in front of goal and Freo’s pressure in the back half meant we crawled to half-time with 6.8 as Lachie Weller and Ed Langdon kicked a combined three goals in just over four minutes to have Freo within a point at the main break.

Freo were playing old-style Ross Lyon footy and it was working; I remember thinking in Round 4 of 2012 when Freo played the Saints at the Concrete Dome for the first time post-Ross exit how it was like watching St Kilda play St Kilda in Fremantle jumpers. I felt a little similar at times on Saturday, as Freo found patience and kept control of the ball in the back-half, waiting to pick apart the Saints at the right time and make their move forward. If they didn’t score directly from the entry it was a massive battle for the Saints to get it out of there and the longer it stayed in there the more the Dockers’ confidence grew in what they were doing, as well as the risk that the Saints would concede.

Some days you just think, this is not our day, and by equal measures others things happen where you think, this is their day. Lachie Neale talking a mark above his head at the edge of the goal square is a sure sign that things are working for Freo, but when Matt Taberner is pulling the old one-two and kicking goals on the run off-balance from 45 metres out for Freo’s tenth of the last 12 goals for the game to give them a three goal lead in third-quarter then surely, surely this was their day. We could only sit and watch and take it in; this was happening. In the shadows of three-quarter time we were headed for Sam Landsberger’s favourite day of his life.

Paddy’s quick thinking on the goal line to poach back a major just before three-quarter time – keep in mind Lachie Weller missed a snap shot less than a minute later – at the very least arrested the Dockers’ control and relieved the scoreboard pressure (easier to have that idea in hindsight). Thirteen points to claw back from the final change, and by then Barlow, Pearce, Neale and Hill had been dominating the midfield battle for essentially two quarters with Mayne busy across half-forward and there was no reason to think they’d be going anywhere. Their team defence was stifling any movement from the Saints out of the back half and it felt that it was rare and difficult opportunities like that presented to Paddy late in the quarter that needed to taken.

So somehow we kicked eight goals in the last quarter with charged home for a 34-point win. Where the hell do you start with that? I guess as per Richo’s post-match you see that forwards were isolated against their opponents one-on-one more often, rather than the bomb-and-hope mentality we were forced into in quarters two and three. This was owing to a huge last-quarter performance from David Armitage, who had 13 touches and got the midfield going along with Jack Steven and Seb Ross, who wasn’t as prolific as the week before but was still just as smart with the footy. Armo probably won’t be the elite mid we’d hoped he’d be 100% of the time but elite-grade quarters like that – not to mention the 17 tackles he had throughout the game – to go with Steven’s usual busy performance and the emergence of Seb Ross all of a sudden make the midfield bat a lot deeper. There’s still Nathan Freeman to come in potentially, and as I say every week I dare say we’ll be bringing in an elite mid via trade or free agency either this year or next.

My Favourite Hair in the AFL stepped up as well, finding the ball 10 times the length and breadth of the ground in the quarter and kicking 2.1 amidst it all. In another great performance playing across the ground, he ended up with 24 touches. He looks as fit as he’s ever been and again, it’s testament to his longevity, dedication and skill that he’s put himself in this position, one that benefits the team from his own presence across the ground whilst allowing the next gen forwards in Bruce, Paddy and Membrey game time, and importantly game time with each other to fast-track their development and cohesion.

Bruce finished with two after having fark-all to do with it for three-quarters; ironically his first goal out the back of Paddy’s one-on-one was one of the very few occasions in the game where one of our forwards was at the drop of the ball near goal, let alone actually do something. His run-in goal as a result smacked of the G-Train at his cheekiest, and he was able to charge to the right spot in space late in the game following Steven’s soccer of the ground to Paddy on his own, who lowered his eyes instead of blazing away and hit Bruce on the chest close to goal.

Paddy only finished with nine touches but again, many of those touches were quality. I’ve mentioned his mark in the first quarter and his creative second goal which would prove to be the first of the last nine goals of the match we’d kick. Not only did he hold his position in the contest, but he reacted immediately for the next move. In the final term he had a contested mark on the flank bemusingly disallowed for being touched, but under pressure from two Dockers he managed to fire out a handball which ended up with a goal. His lead and mark on the opposite flank as the team was surging was met with a huge reaction from the members’ wing, but he just overcooked the centreing kick. He made up for soon after, however, with his composure on the way to setting up Bruce. It was pleasing to say he had a genuinely positive impact on the game, and up against much more fancied opposition next week will be a great test for him. Really promising signs for another week though, but on top of it all I’ll always be terrified of Petracca.

It’s harder to underrate than overrate younger and more inexperienced guys but Tim Membrey came out of the grind and the whirlwind again as the team’s leading goalkicker on the day with three. He’s kicked 14.8 in five games since coming into the team this year, and, if you’re like Richo and would like to “park the West Coast game”, he’s kicked 14.6 in four games. Over all games since he came in Bruce has kicked 13 goals, Riewoldt eight and Paddy four. One thing which wasn’t so obvious on Saturday were his efforts in contests high up the ground, particularly with ball close to to the deck, and the number of times he was able to force it to a teammates’ advantage or get it out directly to a teammate. His 15 possessions, six marks, four tackles and 3.2 reflected another very decent all-round game.

It seems as though the tall forward triumvirate is the key way to go, with the small forward stocks going through a bit of a momentary shuffle. Gresham has grown with every game, which he showed with his run, bounce, rebalance and perfectly-weighted left-hand handball over traffic on the way to Weller putting the Saints in front (Roo naturally a key part of that chain higher up the ground). “Only” 13 possessions in his seventh game, but with seven tackles and the last goal of the match – from a rare genuine crumbing effort from a small forward – were the icing. Like Billings he’s very composed with the ball and is quickly learning to press up the ground effectively, and I’d to think this week his disposal effectiveness had picked up overall as well. With Billings to come back in, assuming his ankle is ok, you would think Sinclair would be the one to come out after failing to hit the scoreboard and picking up only nine forgettable touches (including zero in the final quarter – the siren sounded with the ball in his hands). Not sure if Webster comes in for Murdoch, who did quieten down in the second half. With Sandy not playing due to the state league representative games it’s difficult to get a gauge on the what the coaches might be thinking should the injury slate be clean come Thursday. Weller had had a few lean weeks but made some important contests as a lead-up forward when we made our move early, and again when we made our move late, kicking the goal that put us in front.

So, ultimately it was an incredible relief. The nausea and apathy battle, with a lot of parallels with the week before, simply gave way to a pleasant exhaustion.

It’s important to have some sort of empathy in this situation. Not particularly for Ross Lyon, but for Freo fans. Their club is only in its 22nd season but are shaping up to be the kind of club St Kilda was in the 20th Century (and, well, to the current day too. And including from establishment in 1873 to joining the VFL for the inaugural 1897 season. So uh, be the kind of club St Kilda is).

A couple of weeks ago in concluding my review of our thrashing by the Eagles’ I said now’s not the time to take anything for granted. But really, no time is. I remember how awful the 2011 season felt, particularly after the media found us easy targets in the off-season for the “Schoolgirl” “story” now that we weren’t a premiership team (again, compare this to the Hawthorn coverage in the trade period against the St Kilda bashing, and again this week with the Herald Sun’s difference in coverage to the Riewoldt “story” and Brad Hill being charged with assault. If you’re not winners you’re dispensed as roadkill, and whilst they haven’t had quite the same off-field dramas as we had, Freo and their fans are there right now. After three seasons of being a red-hot premiership chance, and perhaps four if you include the fact that they were 10-points away from playing off in a Preliminary Final in 2012, it’s an awful, awful time when your fingers slip, you lose grasp and you’re on the way down. That was us five years ago and it still hurts to think about. As fans there’s only so much you can do about it, but it’s a brutal competition and really, you can’t take anything for granted wherever you might be.

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 10
David Armitage – 2
Tim Membrey – 2
Nick Riewoldt – 2
Jack Steven – 2
Sam Fisher – 1
Paddy McCartin – 1

Totals
Nick Riewoldt – 17
Jack Steven – 16
Seb Ross – 9
Leigh Montagna – 8
David Armitage – 7
Tim Membrey – 6
Jack Newnes – 6
Sam Fisher – 5
Tom Hickey – 5
Jack Billings – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Blake Acres – 3
Josh Bruce – 3
Paddy McCartin – 2
Shane Savage – 2
Sean Dempster – 1
Jade Gresham – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1
Mav Weller – 1

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

    “So a young team on their way up”. See, this is the thing I have to keep doing a double take on. When taking a helicopter view of the saints near future, how much have we actually transition to the new generation? This is a team that is still distinctly older than it makes out. Roo, Joey, Gilbert, Dempster, Fisher. There are oodles of games (and class) between them, and of course it’s a credit to them that they’re still playing at such a high level, but when you sit out list beside the likes of the Bulldogs and Dees (those who we are routinely compared against) we are still distinctly older and distinctly more reliant on this bunch to produce quality performances in order for us to win games. Yes, Bob Murpht was a big loss for the Dogs, but most conversations about them these days begin with The Bont and The Package; the Dogs still continue to win without their inspirational leader.

    What I’m saying is, I think it’s key for Saints fans to continue to look at the 2018-2020 view. If we don’t win another game for the rest of the year, it actually doesn’t matter much. I don’t doubt the knowledge and wisdom that the likes of that Lyon-era core have been able to impress upon the youngsters, but the match committee needs to be strong on looking at the main, big picture.

    Goddard, Mackenzie and Acres, at the very least, need to become fixtures come the early rounds of next year.

  • Harry

    Tom, The Saints/Freo history is a great read and now more interesting because of Ross the Boss. Thanks for updating the Medal votes; but a little sad that Rooey and Jack Stevens are holding top spots. We need Armo and Jack Newnes to come through and make a run for top spot.