Not-so-memorable moments

By Tom Briglia

Round 4, 2017
Collingwood 2.6, 3.7, 5.8, 7.13 (55)
St Kilda 1.3, 4.7, 8.12, 9.15 (69) 
Crowd: 36,650 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, April 16th at 3.20pm

docklandsstreisand

“You don’t introduce new products in August.”

Whilst the fate of 7.49 billion people was in the hands of a few narcissistic psychopaths and sociopaths, we had a questionable game of footy to go to.

Drawing Collingwood at 3.20pm under the Corporate Stadium roof on Easter Sunday surely had to be another trademark move from the AFL as part of its long-term plan to eliminate daytime football and crowds in general.

On the surface it might have looked like the AFL was giving Collingwood a quick breather from four out of five prime time slots – Friday night, Thursday night, Friday night and ANZAC Day, but all of a sudden they’ll be having a farkload of eyeballs on them on TV. The move of a Collingwood home game to Etihad clearly wasn’t to let a huge crowd in.

Only 36,650 showed up in the end, despite the regular announcements at stadium in the lead-up to the game for people to make sure there weren’t any spare single seats dotted throughout “so we can fit a huge crowd in”. I don’t know what management was planning for but, no, that’s ok, I’ll take the space thanks.

Looking around the ground at about 3pm It did appear that a decent crowd might eventuate – until you hit the prime four bays on the broadcast wing on level three that at its maximum were half-full. Collingwood’s wealth of membership numbers meant those bays are allocated as reserved seats for their home games, but that certainly didn’t get in the way of anyone turning up Medallion Club-style. Realistically this was never going to be about a huge crowd watching from the stands/concrete slopes, despite the stadium announcements and Jon Ralph proclaiming there would be 52,000 there.

Collingwood still managed to make it feel like a Collingwood home game more so than St Kilda ever does, but perhaps it was just as much about the presence and profile of the Magpies entity – the club, the team, its fans. The old MCG crowd-made fence signs in digital form – “Collingwood domination envy of the nation” looked great in front of the cheersquad and was ultimately just a reminder – if only for a brief period – of how tight the ground controls are to make sure nothing interferes with the visibility of the fence advertising (which fucking moves around during the game for fuck’s sake), and how much it has stripped away a really interesting and engaging aspect of the atmosphere at footy grounds. They really can’t save a few panels to keep something like that up for the game in front of the cheer squads? Or on part of the members’ wing? Really?

The Pies stayed true to stereotypes by going the American sports lowest-common denominator route at half-time with Kiss Cam, and then a thunder-clapper-fucking annoying blow-up stick “make the loudest noise” contest between Saints fans and Collingwood fans courtesy of precious lifeblood rebottlers Pump. Despite those, their ground announcer human did something I haven’t seen any other club do before (and if other clubs do it I’m assuming it’s rare) – a Welcome to Country and Acknowledge of Traditional Owners to the Wurundjeri Tribe.

St Kilda obviously got permission from the AFL to run out onto the ground after the home team in a break of typical proceedings before a match, in which the away team runs out first. Fortunately we made it out on time, taking us to three from four this year. Usually that kind of thing is a given, but when you’re talking about a club that’s won one premiership in its 144 years you’re operating to a different set of benchmarks.

The week had seen Ameet Bains go from likely next Hawthorn CEO to withdrawing from the process; probably a reasonable thing if only to save himself from the extra frost from new colleagues seeing he took their first-round draft pick this year and gave it to us. Officially he’s staying mostly so he could oversee things until the transition to Moorabbin was complete, and during the week I quietly threw in a “but also to secure further incredible trade deals and allow us waste more key picks come the National Draft”.

Paddy had been dropped from the team and if it wasn’t him we would have expected Billings to be next in line. Watching Bontempelli move sveltely through traffic on Friday and kicking a goal on the run from just inside 50 was one thing; watching Petracca bulldoze through traffic for his first goal and then take it on himself to find space and kick a goal from outside 50 late in a close game had me wanting to go the big vom: chocolate bunny edition. Another Billings seagull performance would surely complete the process. Somehow Mr February had stayed in the side after an indifferent start to the season; Paddy hadn’t after one quiet game in which the delivery forward remained garbage, and I thought Billings had to have been next in line.

Speaking to Dad on the phone during the week I suggested Billings might be best to play forward of the ball, if only to freshen him up or give him a more focused task. I also asked Dad whether anyone outside of a football club, in conversation with family, friends and/or acquaintances had ever suggested anything genuinely useful about their team that the coach and the assistants would actually say yes to. Billings ended up playing mostly in the front half, but I’d loathe to call it because a) I think anyone would have suggested this was a possible option and b) who gives a shit what I said on a phone call during the week.

Whichever way, it really got a result out of him albeit not until the second half. Three missed shots from gettable positions in the first half had me thinking it might have backfired and shot his already limp and pale confidence. Rich astutely noted Mav was getting political now that he’s in the leadership group and already moving to edge Billings back into trade talk calculations in the latest edition of “Mav’s World”. Turns out Mav is the one that right now is closer to the outer and maybe he knew it was looming, setting Billings up with the classic ambush question of “Easter eggs or hot cross buns?” . He knew it would be all too much for a shy Billings in front of camera. Billings could only squeak out a meek “…both?” and Mav dialled up his malcontent for a biting “Just choose one”. Billings chose chocolate hot cross buns.

But his pack mark and goal in the third tweaked something in his mind and he finished with 28 touches around the ground and 1.4 to be amongst our best. It’s not quite on the scale of the Easter resurrection, but fuck a duck it’s a nice surprise and a relief, and particularly encouraging that he was able to turn things in his favour during the match.

The composure aspect remains a problem but hopefully that will come back with time – he’s demonstrated it before. He often found himself not quite getting the balance right between hanging onto the ball and taking the player on; and disposing of the ball quickly and neatly. He was drafted at pick 3 to do both with class, but he had at least three kicks the were blasted into the player coming across him for the smother and your X-factor types are meant to navigate those situations kick goals from the quick snaps the set shots from the arc. Ideally it’s in the near future he’ll be kicking 4.1 from the kinds of shots he had. Nice of him to trade missed set shots with Dunstan following last week’s pass-off though.

Billings ended up floating up the ground a fair bit and collected disposals at will. The pressure was well up and we had a monopoly on territory and possession for nearly the entirety of the second half, and Billings ended up doing his bit sending the ball forward as well as being on the end of the work up the ground. His score return reflected the team’s inability to finish off a team, echoing what had happened in Perth a fortnight earlier and what they eventually had to work hard to rectify last week against the Lions.

As for his high draft pick stablemate, Paddy he took 10 marks and kicked two goals for Sandy but Richo didn’t seem very sure in his press conference that he’d be coming back in as soon as next week. Their time is slowly nearing but Billings and Paddy weren’t recruited to be key parts of our team in 2017. But as any St Kilda supporter would feel, FFS humour me.

It wasn’t until late in the second quarter that it felt as though we’d settled into what we needed to be doing and wrestled the game into our hands. Although the team looked solid once they could pressure Collingwood’s disposal coming off half-back, it was still only a 4.7 to 3.7 half-time lead.

At that point our half-back line had kept us right in it – for all the chances we’d created and wasted Collingwood had done similar. Roberton had chalked up 20 touches and seven marks at that point, and Geary seven marks likewise. Roberton’s reading of the play was one of the things players and Richo highlighted when talking about his (at the time bemusing) inclusion into the leadership group over summer, but his footy smarts are more evident, with his intercepting and rebounding taking his game to a new level. On top of that he’s consistently finding more of the ball, too – 32 possessions and 12 marks was his return by game’s end. He continued to stand out as the rest of the team lifted their own input, and in a wider context it’s important for the club for players like this to improve in this way.

Whilst we were waiting for some guys to click into gear Carlisle was providing a huge presence in the back half to allow Roberton to play his rebounding game to better effect, as well as Gilbert, Geary and Newnes. Carlisle took eight marks, including a couple of handy contested grabs, but his body work when the ball was in dispute, even low down, allowed time for support to arrive or simply for a clean win. Whilst the Collingwood forward line isn’t functioning all too well at the moment – I felt for Darcy Moore getting the Bronx cheers in the same way I felt for Paddy last week when he copped the same, because it wasn’t entirely either’s fault at all. Nathan Brown still had an important role to play and executed some very good one-on-one efforts. All of a sudden the growing synergy down back is the buzz around Seaford/St Kilda/Moorabbin.

Geary (C) looked a bit overwhelmed in the first couple of weeks by the situation he’d found himself in, but yesterday all of a sudden he became the Geary we thought he’d be this year. A couple of vital contested marks, even when outsized, and some daring decisions to leave his man to create a contest in the air against a bigger opponent had him looking more maniacal than ever. He and Roberton were complemented handsomely by stand-in club song leader Jimmy Webster. One of the more symbolic moments of the day came in the second quarter as we’d begun to take control – a Taylor Adams kick tumbling towards the top of the arc had Geary just subtly edge Travis Varcoe off balance, and allowed Webster to break through and pass the ball to Ben Long in the middle. Despite having watched his teammates blaze away into the 50 at every opportunity for Bruce, Membrey and Riewoldt to be outnumbered or not presenting a lead, or for the kick to simply be rubbish, he decided to lower his eyes in the short moment he had and found Mav. A quick give off to Blacres had him going long, but that extra second created by Long had allowed a deeper entry from Acres and time for Gresham to get to the fall of the ball and kick a textbook roving goal. It was the last time for the day we’d trail.

A lot to unpack out of that one. But I think that was the beauty for St Kilda fans to take of the ugly win – the team worked so well together to break Collingwood down and have the game played on our terms. It was the forwards that on paper were lacking at half-time: Gresham, Long, Lonie and Membrey had all had four touches. Each had made some contribution although there was obviously scope for a much bigger input from each (Or output? They kind of mean the same thing here). Membrey would end up responsible for probably the only two direct, low bullet passes into the forward line to hit up leads on the day, and I’m hard pressed to think of any others this year. He ended with two goals from 12 touches and eight marks, including standing up in the final minutes to take a contested grab in front of goal as Collingwood made a late charge and converting from a spot he’d made a habit of missing from lately.

I’m not sure if Ben Long will stay in due to the sustained excellent form of Minchington and Sinclair in the VFL, but Lonie is the one who’s had multiple chances to impress outside of pressure acts – whatever they are he and Long returned numbers second only to Jack Steele on Sunday. Lonie can’t be faulted for the pressure he puts on and he’s always busy in trying to create something from nothing, but he has to actually start getting more of the ball and not going the Suckling shanks, let alone hitting the scoreboard, otherwise we’ve just got a really fast McQualter or Robert Eddy. Just 11 touches and 0.1 has him on the outer, and he’s only kicked 3.5 from four games this year.

Long played an uncompromising pressure game in the forward half and higher up. Like Lonie, his numbers probably didn’t reflect the kind of presence he has around the ball and the opposition. Collingwood’s success in taking the ball from half-back to scoring opportunities gave a good reason to bring him in and lump the pressure on the Magpies’ disposal out of defence. He was part of the chain for first goal, working hard through traffic back of centre to force the ball forward. It took the 30-somethings Roo and Joey to team-up and finish the chain for our first goal with only a couple of minutes left in the opening quarter and we might have been thinking we’re treading water with the development side. That didn’t eventuate, but there’s always plenty of time to be disappointed with this club.

My Favourite Hair in the AFL had just six touches and no score at the main break, but like most others stepped up in the second half. He remains, uh, how to say this…incredibly good. Another 22 touches, 12 marks and a goal after being nearly unsighted for a half. It’s ok if he’s in your top couple of most important players a) because he’s a once in a generation player and not everyone we recruit will be Nick Riewoldt, even when he’s 34, b) if they’re really, really good then yes of course it’s good to have them, and c) if everyone else is on board. Mav had collected seven at half-time, but even his slim numbers probably oversold his contribution. At that point he’d had a shot at goal from close range smothered, completely missed a teammate with a handball, dropped an easy mark at half-forward and after waiting for options inside 50 casually kicking to a player all on their own. Unfortunately it was a Collingwood player. He looked to have almost traded spots a little with Billings by half-time, working to half-back more often as Billings became more prone to drifting deeper forward. His defensive side was a little more solid and he cracked in a little harder at contests in the second half, with his seven tackles alongside Dunstan second to Steele.

Steele “only” had 20 touches – 15 of them handballs – and nine tackles but he’s providing an incredibly important link between the inside and the outside. It’s only an alternative to the pace of Jack Steven and [insert  but it’s just as important when things get tight and it stood out. Seb Ross likewise – most people thought he opened with a stinker or two but he finished with 36 touches.

Conversely, I don’t know if Dunstan stays in right now when he’s only picked up 11 touches – albeit with seven tackles – when you’ve got Koby Stevens bashing down the door alongside Minchington and Sinclair, not to mention Jack Steven coming back next week. Richo gave Dunstan a brief mention in the post-match though so I’m not sure what’s going on there. The lack of pace in the midfield has been obvious over the past two weeks. Armitage was able to get the ball out of traffic but he’s not the one to look to for speed and going by how sore he was by game’s end according to Richo he might need another week or two off. All’s well that ends well if you can grind a team down with those kinds of players but you’re not going to be able to get away with it all the time and you’re going to need to be a bit more dynamic. Acres is more of a Goddard #1 type (“Utility”) and Newnes is more of a wing – they were both pretty impressive and Newnes might yet be our next premiership captain if everything goes right but we’re not looking to them to fill the gaps in our midfield.

What remains ridiculous and with no apparent change to method is the idea of players bombing the ball long going forward. What are they expecting to happen? Nice to be direct and put the opposition under pressure but if you’re putting players under the ball or the forwards aren’t leading then it’s a lot easier to defend. Bruce and Membrey combined for four out of nine goals but that kind of sentence won’t matter too much most weeks, and certainly not next week against the Cats. It’s great if Gresham can charge in for the drive-by goal but that doesn’t seem to be the most common occurrence either. Who’s at fault? Right now it’s a little bit of everyone, but I thought we looked best when Membrey punched those two kicks forward to Riewoldt and Bruce, and when Ben Long took in everything that was ahead of him and pulled the kick to Mav. It looked creative, flexible and smart. It ended well, too, despite Acres looking like he wanted to hit the roof and putting the Sherrin on top of Roo’s head rather than out in front of him. Again, who’s fault is that? A look at the vision would show no one between 15 metres out and the 50-metre arc – i.e. lots of space for everyone to lead into – so I don’t know what’s going on there. I would refer myself back to my conversation with Dad. Has anything I’ve said actually said been of any genuine worth to the coaches or players? Has anything you, or anyone else said been of any genuine worth to the coaches or players? Surely it’s not as easy as “they just need to lead into that space I saw on the replay”. Or “just kick straight when you’re having a shot at goal”. Or “just look for the lead instead of blazing away”. We’ve kicked 36.57 in the last three weeks. Never mind missing the finals by percentage last year, we threw away a Grand Final in 2009 with this kind of plan.

Perhaps because of Collingwood’s fast finish there was a lot of jubilation from the fans, on the siren, although the players looked pretty happy themselves. It was our lowest score of the year but it was probably the best team performance and what might prove to be a template of sorts for this group – it was evident that at least a large part of the plan had been executed well.

Only the people that were there would remember this one. So many of these games are played every week that are buried on the GWS/Gold Coast Saturday twilight specialty time slot, or that only deserve a progress score check from the bored neutral, and are never thought of again. Keep this one in the back of your mind if you’re a Saints supporter though. It might prove to be one of the more important development markers.

  • Harry

    I agree that a very well executed and necessary win. Since Sunday the media has been besotted with why Collingwood threw the game away, without giving any credit at all for the Saints simply outplaying them. Such is the life of the upper and lower echelons of the footy world.

    The season is now back on track at 2/2. They say that little change happens to the final 8 after Round 8; so we have to at least be 4/4 by that point or preferable 5/3. Geelong, Hawthorn (in Tassie), GWS and Carlton; can we win 2 of this quartet to go to 4/4 or even 3

    After watching Geelong demolish the Hawks on the TV, this weeks game will be a real litmus test for the Saints and tell us exactly where we are at. And yes, Tom’s questions around the midfield and small forwards will be crucial. Jack Steven has to come in and then it is Lonie and Dunstan against Stevens and Minchington.