Good, bad, ugly, etc.

By Tom Briglia

Round 8, 2017
St Kilda 4.3, 6.5, 9.8, 12.13 (85)
Carlton 4.0, 6.1, 9.3, 10.6 (66)
Crowd: 38,014 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, May 13th at 2.10pm

 

Version 2

 

Saturday afternoon, the roof was open, two founding VFL teams with plenty of youth and on the improve. A huge crowd expected after last year’s sell-out, and fair to say both teams have shown further improvement since then. What more could you ask for?

By Monday’s wash-up we had the captain and coach apologising on behalf of the St Kilda Football Club to the Carlton captain for some pretty sordid sledging, whilst the latter had gone over to a player lying on the ground injured and had a crack at them.

It might have been the day we saw the genuine break-out game from Jack Billings, but certainly for now this one’s in a weird category – certainly for Saints fans – all on its own. There was the good, the bad, the ugly, etc.

For about 15 or 20 minutes we might have been sitting around thinking, “Well, we’re good now.” Weitering had blatantly shoved Jimmy Webster in the back en route to the opener but for a period after then we were looking at a Saturday afternoon stroll with all the extravagant thoughts that come with being 5-3 after years of dishing up garbage. In 1997 we were 4-4, in 2005 we were 4-4, and in 2010 we were 5-3. What does that mean? Nothing, because in 2009 and 2010 we were in front in time-on of both Grand Finals and came up with donuts.

So, uh, Saturday. Our midfield weren’t just working hard but they looked slick after their huge performance last week, albeit against not quite the same opposition. The around us heading into the weekend was about the maturity of the group and it could handle backing up a huge performance like that. After HUMAN OF THE DAY Jack Billings snapped our first we were witness to probably the cleanest break out of the middle for a goal we’ve seen in a very long time – Longer with a clean hit-out to Steele, who kept composure and importantly, his arms free in a tackle to give off to Newnes running past, and he bulleted the kick to Bruce on the lead who managed to actually hold on to the grab and kick the goal. It looked like we were gonna be fine.

Carlisle was looking ominous. Playing off Weitering after a contested mark he set up the first goal, and Billy Longer was already looking more than competitive at the stoppages.

By the time Brown’s punching kick down the middle was cleaned up with a smart knock-on by Sinclair to Dunstan, who kicked long to the advantage of Membrey (almost spoiled by Acres who was looking to get involved ASAP after last week) and rewarded the work with a goal

But that was as comfortable as it would look for the rest of the day, really. Even when Billings kicked his fifth and took us out to a four-goal lead in the third there was an expectation that Carlton would hit back again, as they had around the midway point of each quarter.

It wasn’t until after the Blues’ quick flurry of chances early in the last that we were able to put a clamp on their kicking game that Bolton seems to have brought over from Hawthorn. The Blues have a lot of young guys they’re well drilled, patient and disciplined, and they didn’t go away. Once the ebb and flow of the game was in their favour they were able to control the ball across the ground, working hard to provide options for each other coming out of the back half.

Even once we put the brakes on in the last quarter we still had to work hard to keep them at arm’s length. The inside 50s read 41-24 at three-quarter time, and the handball count 161-83. They were some clues as to why we were only five points up, and Carlton were up and about after a melee that is now infamous amongst melees. Cool. We’ll get to that.

***

I don’t know exactly how Leigh Montagna will go down in the annals of St Kilda history, but before Saturday he was the only Saint alongside Darrel Baldock in 1965 to have kicked five goals and collected 30 possessions or more in a game.

In his 50th match, Jack Billings joined them. It was the game we’d been waiting for him to play since he led the comeback against the Bulldogs early in 2015. He’d started this season as whipping boy but within two months he’d been threatening to do just this, whilst having a growing impact along the way. He was more than the difference between the two sides – five goals, 30 possessions and 12 marks in a 19-point win. Four goals out of six at half-time; five goals out of a team total of 12 on a day in which we spent much of it burning opportunities going forward. A strong team doesn’t only mean everyone always contributes evenly – it also means different players will take responsibility to pick up the slack when an off day hits.

It was a long way from the first three games earlier this season in which his borderline-seagull performances had him getting easy touches off half-back and having the Diet Caffeine-Free Billings impact we were worried was going to linger. It hit a low against the Lions – 14 touches and not much else, and I would have had him in line for being dropped ahead of Paddy that week. The switch to a more forward-focused role was still to be tried in earnest this year though, and I’m sure that if it was obvious to me then people actually professionally involved and invested in his development would have been all over it.

When we as Saints fans talk about what he’s capable of our reference point is that comeback game in 2015. On that particular Saturday afternoon he kicked 4.2, including some very, very classy finishes in key moments, to go with 22 touches and seven marks. Our next reference point would be his 30-possession, two goal, 10-mark game against Collingwood in Round 3 last year – it was the first time he looked really comfortable moving much higher up the ground, but he had the scoreboard impact as well. Like Saturday, the common links are that he provides a marking target across the ground as well as hitting the scoreboard.

The Collingwood match saw him start either closer to or in the forward line, and it immediately gave him more focus and more purpose: a goal-kicking or goal-assisting target anywhere from close to goal (see his goal from a pack mark in the square) up to around the 50-metre arc, otherwise a target when going forward which allowed him to offer his smarts across the ground to move into position as well as use his disposal, rather than just cruising past a stationary player and using only one half of that package. Until the weekend, however, his kicking in front of goal was borderline comical and showed there was, for this stretch anyway, one part of his game that his confidence was still a little shaken. His return was 4.12 from a mix of set shots and snaps this season. We’d taken him at pick 3 to have the composure not just across the ground but in dangerous positions to create goals and opportunities, or finish them off. Finally, it clicked.

It’s become common knowledge that he went to the coaches and players in the off-season to go about improving his game, and was in turn challenged by his teammates. Saturday provides landmark performance for him, but doesn’t represent a normal performance for him, or anyone really. Perhaps it might give him a confidence in front of goal that lifts his accuracy, which would certainly make some of his games this year all of a sudden much better. Otherwise we’re looking for him to ultimately improve in the same way players like Ross, Webster, Roberton, etc. have shown. The class and skill he brings to the side will come to the fore with that progression. It felt for a long time – I’ve come this far without mentioning The Bont – that the onus has been on him to deliver on his potential, particularly given we’d taken him before, uh, a best-and-fairest winner in a premiership year player. The often-agreed 50th game milestone as a gateway to the next phase of a player’s career might have proved to be on the money with this one. He might have blown that so far out of the H20 on Saturday that the onus might have been flipped onto us, to not get too carried away and to temper our expectations. We as Saints fans are traditionally prone to a Messiah complex.

***

Murphy and Carlisle have provided the tabloid story of the week via a smack in the nuts and some sledging, about, uh, other stuff tabloids like. There’s a bunch of things I take away from it and my head ended up forming more of a rant than what I usually put down on this blog. I’ve put it in point form more for myself than the reader, but it certainly should help. They’re all pretty hard and fast.

  • If the roles were reversed, each club’s supporters would be reacting in the same way as the opposition’s are right now.
  • I think the sledging was pretty shit. Sure, it’s part of the game and all of that. But is that the kind of thing that you really measure someone by, or challenge someone on? What about yourself?
  • People using the word “cuck” to describe Marc Murphy is fucking gross (see above).
  • Running over to a player on the ground who’s in pain and/or injured and giving them a spray is lame, whether you’re the captain or not.
  • Someone from the Blues obviously wanted to throw some good old-fashioned 20th Century Carlton Football Club weight around and get a better story for them out to the press immediately and the media were keen. The Age ran with Murphy won’t “pursue action” over the comments. Whatever you think of the sledging, I don’t know what “action” he would technically be able to “pursue”. With no-one in the media saying much on what the sledging was about until Monday evening then wording like that on the part of editors it opens St Kilda players to being guilty of far more reprehensible stuff. The article also said that “The Saints and Blues have both privately accepted some fault after the heated encounter”. The Herald Sun went with the old “media identity says a thing which is now news because we said so” line of “Premiership coach Paul Roos says St Kilda’s personal sledging of Carlton captain Marc Murphy is a blight on the entire club”. Easy one for the paper to go with without their dislike of the Saints coming technically from their own mouth, but then it would go on to say, “The Herald Sun understands neither club wants to take the issue further, given there was sledging from both sides. A Carlton spokesman said Murphy would not be putting in a complaint, intent on moving on from the incident.” (Might be worth pointing out they have had Landsberger writing some specifically positive stories in the past few months).
  • I don’t know if a specific player code needs to implemented, but perhaps I’m being too generous on players’ standards. It should be pretty evident what’s a dog shit thing to go after a player about and what’s not.
  • Geary and Richo apologising is a welcome change. I say that with many asterisks a lot of mixed feelings. As a club we’ve been hung in the media much more painfully for a lot less in the past – and perhaps not as much for a lot worse.

I deleted a tweet about Murphy and his captaincy that I shat out in anger at three-quarter time, after I yelled things including calling him a “fucking dog” and “weak prick” immediately afterwards (with the small child directly in front of our membership seats present). I didn’t know whether to leave the tweet up for posterity once I learned more about what has happened. It said, “You’re ***amazing*** Marc Murphy. Great captain, leadership, etc. etc.” and ended with “#clown”. I’m still happy about Geary’s response to Murphy going over to Carlisle, followed by Steele and then…pretty much everyone else. But with more context the tweet becomes tribalistic. None of the things that happened on the field cancelled each other out; they all add up on top of each other. It felt spiteful in the seats for much of the game, but perhaps I’m in hindsight only colouring the frustration that we felt about how the match itself was panning out.

After the game I only saw Geary and Joey shake hands with Murphy (Joey might have been having words though). They had a chat and Geary gave Murphy a pat once they were done. Comments from SEN presenters were again used as news fodder to feed the, uh, SEN news cycle. There might actually be something to be learned out of it – even Damien Barrett was sounding considered today – but yet again some parts of the media made themselves the news. Before Geary commented publicly the Herald Sun we running a story based on something Wayne Carey said. And so it goes.

***

I don’t know if it was just me but as we were all sitting there wound up at the final change – Saints and Blues supporters for different reasons in that particular moment – I think the “Saints in the Seats” or whatever the fuck segment on the big screen kind of sapped the atmosphere. I was already having a ball with the roof open, allowing us to enjoy the Concrete Dome as a footy ground rather than a TV set on a Saturday afternoon watching two clubs with a combined 297 years of history. It was a fierce contest and then we get match-day presenter Emma Davenport being told to talk to a three-year old at realistically the one point in the day the crowd was totally not up for that kind of thing. Obviously it was pre-planned but I would hope even by today’s standards we’re invested enough in the game by that point to not need that kind of thing.

Also for the Seinfeld files, I’m not liking the club’s decision to play the song once after the win and then go to the faux-crowd chant version immediately afterwards, and then Emma for a player interview before going back to the song. They’re really trying hard with this chant thing but I’m still under the impression that if they took it away it would never be sung by the fans as an organic expression. Before the game I think it’s actually pretty good – for those of you 1. still reading for some reason (Hello Campbell and Harry) and 2. who haven’t experienced it, the chant is played as the players come out onto the ground and goes straight into the traditional club song as the players break through the banner. The timing could be a little better, as they go to the song maybe a few seconds too late, but it’s a much, much better build-up than some name-a-hit early 2000s track. Post-game is a bit different at the moment. Playing the song once and then going to something that the fans really aren’t sure about (and then a player interview) really drags on the atmosphere. It’s fooled Andy Maher and I’m pretty sure if fooled Ben Dixon after the game too when he was talking to Junior Burger for the Fox Footy broadcast, but otherwise I think that’s it. It’s best kept for the pre-match.

(Bonus Garbage: Fortunately the club has ended its pretty bizarre experiment of taking out the drum roll at the beginning of the song. My dream is to be at the MCG on Grand Final Day for a St Kilda premiership, and for the final siren to be followed immediately and loudly by the drum roll intro of the club song. You can crush my dreams by throwing away leads late in consecutive Grand Finals, but don’t take away my dream with a weird admin decision.)

***

The context of this week’s win is only complete sitting after the previous week. This was the first time this group has claimed a genuine scalp and had it on them to prove their mettle as a serious team. They were headed in the second half last week by a juggernaut-to-be that had several times demonstrated superior class and talent. The response was players like Acres, Gresham, Sinclair and Ross to step up and outwork their more fancied, fashionable opposition. This week they were being pushed by a young team who were sticking to a plan and responding effectively to each other and their coach. This time, the response was to will themselves to a win without too many highs to cover over the come down from last week. Again, it was achieved by hard work and on a day where so much was created by ourselves, let alone a buoyant opponent.

The three-quarter time siren going when it did was probably a good thing. It was probably the best thing at quarter time and half time, too. Carlton’s youth has brought a lot of energy and so much out of players like Murphy, Gibbs and Kreuzer. Once they wrestled the momentum back during the quarters it was tough for the Saints to take back – they kicked the last three of the first quarter, two of the last three (albeit out of four in total) in the second, and the last three in a threatening five minutes just before the final change. We’re making a habit of games being decided by final quarters. We’d better get really good at this.

Billings aside, and perhaps Ross’s goal in the last, the highlights reel probably belonged more to the Blues. Alex Silvagni’s smother on Robertson, Williamson’s goal and the team reaction, the presence and skill in a number of moments from Cripps and Charlie Curnow. The reaction from Geary to go to Murphy was exactly what you want, too, but the darker undertones of the game are what will resonate most for the wider football public. We’ve long been a club that lacked enough of a hardarse factor; on Saturday we went too far in searching for it.

Indeed both clubs were looking to get it out of sight and out of mind as soon as possible amidst the public fall-out. From a footballing sense it wasn’t a memorable match, although it might prove to be as important a win as last week’s. But can you really completely separate the game from the psychological and the emotional?

  • Dools

    Love your articles as a long suffering passionate saints fan.
    Roof open on Saturday always terrible from at ground and TV viewing.
    The clubs ‘activations’ with interviews (fans and players) really add nothing to the experience, but then again pretty much every mid game player interview comes up with the same boring ‘got to work hard and win more of the ball’ etc responses. The after goal slow try and get the crowd to chant along is embarrassing.
    Anyway thanks for taking the time to write another interesting article.

  • Ted McDonnell

    This club has a rancid culture. From alleged Rape (read sexual assault convictions); that the club covered up for years and worked with corrupt cops; to Riewoldt raising money to support the sexual assaulter (re alleged rapist); to the school girl disgrace were players were having sex with an underage girl. Now, a level of sledging that is just disgusting. It’s a club that does not deserve success.They might well be playing good football but who cares. It’s footy. This mob are a community joke and disgrace. St Kilda has a list of disgraceful events that out weighs any on-field success they have ever had in the past; and most likely in the future. They’re a poor excuse for men.

  • Campbell

    Thanks for your contribution Ted. Seem like a ripping bloke….

  • Campbell

    Nice write up Tom.

    I’m in furious agreement with you as per usual. I felt this game was a huge game, it was a game where we had to deal with external expectations. Something others in a rebuild are struggling with. I was pleased that we were able to win and win ugly with a number of players down. It’s time for Roo to have a break, let’s have a look at rice or dmac and one of paddy or Marshall.

  • Ted McDonnell

    Well, I have more standards than ppl like Jake Campbell. What a grot! But Saints fans will accept this rubbish because its”footy mate”… and they are desperate!

  • Harry

    Tom, I didn’t get to see the game or hear it on the radio so very much appreciated your write up. But it was obviously a struggle, but as you say an important back-up win. Interested to read your thoughts on Billings; lets hope that it all up from here for him. Also interesting to note that his mate Nick O’Kearney has been in the best couple at Sandy the last 2 weeks. The ugly stuff was not great from either side and a lot of media have just hung it all on the Saints. Three big games in a row will be a challenge and at least 1 win out of the 3 is needed to keep in touch with the 8.

  • Campbell

    It’s such a shame that so few of us are exposed to your intellectual prowess Ted! You’ve made such an impression. You should call a talk back station or post on footy forums so that you can disseminate your views to a wider population. Thanks again.

  • Ted McDonnell

    Don’t be so defensive. It shows you care. I’ve never had to downgrade myself and write football in my 30 odd years in the ‘real’ media… Stick to the keyboard son. You are better off hiding behind one!

  • Campbell

    …coming from the bloke who finds a small (yet distinguished) saints page to abuse the club and their supporters…. Keep firing shots mate!

  • Ted McDonnell

    Well, when my colleague writes such a good piece; and acknowledges the failures of his squalid; unsuccessful team I like to have a read and a chuckle;. However, far and above this week’s article you have given me the biggest laugh. Thank you!

  • Campbell

    It’s great that you’ve finally ‘downgraded’ yourself and willingly posted in the ‘fake’ media, particularly given that it’s on a forum that your colleague puts time into.

    Like I said, you seem like a ripping bloke, though I doubt this is the first time you ‘downgraded’ yourself, I’m glad I’ve entertained you.

  • Ted McDonnell

    Mate. Your reality is somewhat warped. You are a dick and a coward like a few of your Saints players… Past and present.

  • Tom Briglia

    Ted, please be quiet.

  • Tom Briglia

    Thank you very much Dools.
    The roof open/closed at Etihad is definitely a divisive one. Roof open might have been better if they’d built it at the correct/more appropriate angle! But I certainly acknowledge a large number of people (I think the majority as far as conversations I’ve had go?) prefer the roof closed.
    Really don’t like any interview with any player between the opening and final sirens – I’m sure they’ve better things to be worrying about right then and there.

  • Tom Briglia

    Thank you as always Campbell, and, uh, thanks for going in to bat in my absence from the comments section :D
    We get a look at Paddy and D-Mac this week but I am very much in agreeance with you – I thought Roo had again proved to the selectors he needs some time to get his ankle right after rolling it the other week, but they’ve gone with him in the team yet again. Maybe they’re hoping to get him to the bye but I don’t see the point. Paddy’s certainly earned his chance though and I’m looking forward to Josh Bruce’s response!

  • Tom Briglia

    Thanks very much Harry. I feel like Nick O’Kearney is something of a forgotten figure at the club. He’s often getting a lot of touches and I think the knock on him (I’m going from others’ reports) is that he hadn’t been too damaging, but he seems to have improved this year. He’s still on the rookie list though and Rowan Marshall might be the first choice to be upgraded should/when the time come this season but NOK just might be the type to have flown under the radar a little.
    Three big games in a row indeed, and hopefully the bye wedged in there will give Roo’s ankle a chance to heal as they’re not going to rest him before then.

  • Ted McDonnell

    haha