Welcome to winter

By Tom Briglia

Round 11, 2016
Adelaide Crows 6.5, 11.11, 16.14, 19.19 (133)
St Kilda 1.2, 4.2, 5.5, 6.9 (45)
Crowd: 40,896 at Adelaide Oval, Sunday, June 5th at 4.10pm CST

And with that spitting, hissing performance, winter began.

Australian football is seen as a “winter” game but winter really just covers the second half of the home and away season; during which St Kilda seasons typically break down, decay and disappear into the pool of our collective memories of the one long journey we’re on to see that second premiership. Sometimes we’ve made it through winter, but we know that even when it seems the stars have aligned for us and the spring sunshine promises what we’ve been waiting for it doesn’t necessarily come.

The 2016 season may well now have established a distinctive first half and a distinctive second half. The finals are effectively out of reach now as a mid-season slumpline begins to form and the injury list. This week also marked the official establishment of that first half – one down week, followed by two up weeks:

  • Round 1 – up I guess; a bit of an outlier given the contrast between the frisst three quarters and last in the wake of a shortened pre-season
  • Round 2 – down; smacked without a whimper by the Bulldogs
  • Round 3 – up; a stirring a win against Collingwood
  • Round 4 – up; pushed Hawthorn all the way
  • Round 5 – down; squashed by GWS
  • Round 6 – up; strong win against Melbourne
  • Round 7 – up; almost knocked off the undefeated North Melbourne
  • Round 8 – down; the West Coast match
  • Round 9 – up; a third quarter for the future setting up an eventually comfortable win
  • Round 10 – up; not without panic attacks but an admirable final quarter
  • Round 11 – down; the Adelaide match

Once you move out of the “always-rubbish” phase to “still occasionally rubbish but capable of a good win” phase it can actually play on your mind a little more. At least when you’re always going to dish up slop you know what’s going to happen and you can enjoy the social aspect of watching a game a little more, whether from what suddenly appear to be overpriced membership seats or the confines of the lounge room with ham and salami puff pastry pin-wheels and Virgin Marys.

I say “Virgin Marys” instead of beers (or indeed, Bloody Marys) because I’d decided to try and test out a ride on the wagon for a bit. At least if things went south quickly again after the long trip from Brunswick West – sans usable headphones after one of the rubber things decided to stay at home – I’d have something novel to (want to) throw across the room (I would never have the guile to actually do that).

Fisher was one of this week’s victims of the club again trumpeting it’s clean bill of health before multiple players went down. His injury at training on Thursday might well be the beginning of the end, being the second hamstring injury he’s had in the space of a few weeks. Potential future captain Goddard got a clear shot at a month or so if he could just do enough to stay in with Tommy Lee also circling.

Later in the week it also emerged Longer was having sustained symptoms of concussion and would also be out for a month; Freeman was pulled out of the Sandy development squad on Friday with hamstring tightness (as opposed to the “awareness” a few weeks ago) and then would you believe it, D-Mac is a late out with “illness” with Jimmy Webster coming in. Both Webster and Lee had been photoed at the airport on the way there with the rest of the team but the club had specifically posted a shot of D-Mac on social media at training the day before the game (“jet fuel can’t melt steel beams” fans go bananas with that).

The game was set to be a match-off between the two forward lines given the relative lack of quality key defenders on each line. Fisher out hurt but like the West Coast game – which he also missed – it wouldn’t matter if our midfield was getting smashed and we did have him and Carlisle in; if the ball use going in his unpressured and the forwards are moving smartly there’s no stopping that. So the midfield battle would be big, and probably as Richo had mentioned earlier in the year the key would be to create turnovers in play and keep the game moving rather than for in stoppages and winning the ball from those. From the start, there wasn’t even a battle. Instead of Kennedy et al getting the clean runs it was Jenkins, McGovern and Tex.

The last time I trekked the hour-plus from Brunswick West to Casa de Briglia in Ormond was just three weeks ago and we’d lost the game within six minutes of play. There’s not much I can really do personally once the Saints have run out – I can’t really say, “and I was determined to not let it happen again” because basically I just have to sit on my arse and hope we’re not rubbish.

Like the West Coast game that day there wasn’t much to say about anything or anyone; unlike the West Coast game no kicked a goal in the first six minutes, but 22 scoring shots to 4.2 at half-time made that a moot point. Last week I wrote 4,000 words about I’m not sure what. After this, I barely have it in me to crap on for half of that.

My Favourite Hair in the AFL was already off barely by the time you could register what was what after Tom Hickey decided to get take his Stephen Merchant impression out on to the ground and take out our captain and best player within a minute or two.

Gresham again showed genuine skill and composure for his great snap goal from the pocket but even that in itself presented a troubling mirroring component to the Eagles game. His goal was the only for the quarter as the Crows held the ball in their half of the ground dangerously for a large majority of the quarter. Rather than being patient and working hard to create an option switch the play or create movement in or through the middle of the ground, it felt like every possession out of the defensive 50 was a high kick to a pack featuring Hickey and maybe Bruce and whilst Bruce took a few marks when he got some sort of split on his opponent throughout the game the up-and-unders gave us fark all. The more it happened the more you wondered what different outcome would magically present itself but hey, these guys get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to do this so who would I do be to question any of that.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a St Kilda belting (particularly in an unforgiving interstate venue) without some comedic relief. Murdoch tried to intercept a sharp ball towards the Adelaide goalsquare and on the less-than-50% chance he would get it at full stretch instead created an even-more-chaos ball, a gift which Charlie Cameron duly honoured with another Adelaide goal. It came just a few minutes after McGovern took a towering mark at the top of the goalsquare with his direct opponent Webster caught somewhere between the pack and the top of the hill, and Josh Bruce of all people the nearest to the target trying so many ways in vain to affect a spoil.

Armitage had two possession and Matt Crouch had 17 at quarter-time and whilst the Armo lifted a little the damage was done. Mum in her Steven Baker 2009 white player issue training jumper, Matt in his 2008 apron clash retail issue, me and in my David Armitage 2014 New Zealand player issue jumper, and dad in his Tom Murphy Gold Coast player issue home jumper, home shorts and clash socks (???), and Evan in some grey hoodie. The mood was flat and the Virgin Marys could only do so much (Mum was on the Bloody Marys so was probably coping better than the rest of us).

Before Hugh went down the second quarter was punctuated by how many times Adelaide turned over the ball and so easily got a scoring shot out of it. There was simply no endeavour; the players were surely at one of the airports still or the plane hadn’t landed. Dempster rolled out some of the St Kilda-style character-based comedy by spooling Geary, which Dwayne exacerbated in the commentary by marking down the spoil to Tex.

I’m not sure what make of Geary essentially being our best player on the night. He kept Eddie Betts to 1.2 in a side that kicked 19.19 and to little influence otherwise. I mean, people talking about Roo and Joey being our best being somewhat of a problem is understandable but also is aaa nod to their longevity. This is something else; a lot of people would have struggled to have Geary in the 22 for much of the last couple of years.

By half-time, Hugh’s season was over. An innocuous turn that screamed “ACL” given he hit the deck immediately and seemed to be holding the right (i.e. wrong) spot. The shot of him watching the game from the boundary in a moonboot brought only temporary relief – it wasn’t an ACL, it was a ruptured achilles; but he will miss 12 months anyway.

It was a night in which amongst the general hammering we lost our young forward and back future pillars in respectively sickening ways. Hugh had endured a horror return to the side in Jackson Ferguson-style as Cameron and Lynch supported Jenkins (whose 7.3 matched our 6.9), McGovern and Tex with ease and he wouldn’t have known where to look. All of a sudden he was on the ground with a face of devastation and the Adelaide crowd’s commendable reaction as he departed from the field a reminder that this was just a shitty thing happening in front of us, regardless of what jumper they wore.

Paddy’s was a bit different. Somehow Jack Newnes’ handsome face steamed through Paddy’s skull before it copped another knock to the back of the head in the traffic. To see him lying motionless with his arms raised but his eyes opened and several very concerned medicos around him was sickening. Hugh’s injury in the shadows of half-time had sucked whatever little was left out of the game; if you didn’t already feel slightly nauseous watching the horror show then this definitely brought the buckets out. Continuing to pay watch the game from that point felt like some form of perversion, whether it was hoping for a 100-point loss to add extra heat to the blowtorch or wincing at any physical contact, lest there be another Paddy collision, or any St Kilda player moving slightly, lest there be another Hugh rupture.

All of a sudden the immediate future of one of our most exciting players is in doubt, and the others’ has been ruined beyond that. Riewoldt and Dempster might join Fisher on the sidelines, Jarryn Geary is our best player and Luke Delaney may have to be reminded he is a St Kilda listed player.  The second half of the season will most likely see a refresh in this year’s exercise of younger or inexperienced guys getting games put into them – probably Tom Lee and maybe even Delaney, as well as D-Mac, Marshall Mathers, Blacres, Lonie and Eli. Footy moves fast, wherever you might be on the ladder or in your development.

Then we had our forward line coach Aaron Hamill to look forward to reiterating on Open Mike why it was no coincidence we’ve won one premiership since 1873. And probably a reminder that this whole journey could – and possibly should – have been over in 2004.

The way home on Sunday night was a rare silent journey, with my headphones out of action. Sunday felt like a changing of seasons, so to speak, for the 2016 season itself, right on the completion of its first half. Injuries for the next month at least will force a mini restart in giving young and inexperienced guys games. How close we were to being 6-4 with major scalps has given way to looking towards another high draft pick and reading up on the countless articles that may or may not gives us some vague indication about which guys could possibly but probably not fulfill our most pressing need, or another need altogether.

The silence of the trip home in the chill and the dark felt like an appropriate moment to take a breather rather than go over the game and stew in something by Braids or Marissa Nadler. Winter is here, and there are some cold months ahead.

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 11

Jarryn Geary – 2
Shane Savage – 2
Jack Steven – 2
David Armitage – 1
Tim Membrey – 1
Josh Bruce – 1
Jade Gresham – 1

Jack Steven – 18
Nick Riewoldt – 17
Seb Ross – 9
David Armitage – 8
Leigh Montagna – 8
Tim Membrey – 7
Jack Newnes – 6
Sam Fisher – 5
Tom Hickey – 5
Jack Billings – 4
Josh Bruce – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Blake Acres – 3
Jade Gresham – 2
Paddy McCartin – 2
Jarryn Geary – 2
Sean Dempster – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1
Mav Weller – 1

  • Campbell

    We’ll written Tom.
    What a disappointing game. There’s an internal fragility in a number of our players. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that, the day we start testing out big teams in front of parochial crowds will be the day we know we’re at through the next phase of development. I think the game certainly confirmed that we are about 5 key players away from being a genuine shot at 2019/20. It’s hard to watch a guy like Montagna have 12 touches and no tackles as a defender when you lose by 90 points, it symptomatic of a team that doesn’t do enough when things aren’t going out way. All of sudden the clear steps of progression we’ve made this year are being undermined by an increasingly large average losing margin!

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

    I’m not sure about internal fragility, but for me it definitely throws up major red flags on the leadership qualities of Armo and Steven. Sure, Steven (it seemed) tried hard, but Armo too often doesn’t step up to the plate against quality opposition. I still only rate his performance vs Hawthorn as the one that holds a candle to his early 2015 form.

    As much as its damn frustrating to witness games where the ass just completely falls out of the team, these peaks and troughs are usually par for the course when you’ve got a bunch of young guys in the side.

    The midfield is still my main concern with the list.

  • Campbell

    The sides actually not as young as what we all believe actually. Adelaide had a younger average age, and to be honest, it was guys like Crouch, Lever and McGovern that were putting us to the sword.

    Re mental fragility. I’m surprised your unsure. It may need a different categorization but as soon as a team runs hot against this team, we have no answers. Sure, our big losses; Ade, Wce and Wbd, were against good teams, but our self belief just evaporates ten minutes into the first or second quarter. I genuinely wonder whether some of our players believe we can win certain games.