A new high: Peak Longer

By Richard Lee

You know it’s just your night when Jack Lonie is doing checkside passes over his shoulder onto the chest of forwards. You know it’s your night when William Longer imitates a Lockett set-shot that then triggers an avalanche. You know it’s your night not even Mav Weller can spoil it.

If the win over the Giants game was to set the table for a big year, then this may have been the unctuous main course. Who knows when or what the dessert will bring?

I am, of course, indulging in the kool-aid of gazumping, thumping, K-Oing the reigning 9th place finisher. Wait – what.

Look, it was just darned enjoyable. The bar of the social club, on the second level of Corporate Whatever Rich Company Paid For Naming Rights Stadium, was over-bubbling in joyous footy chat. Half-time guest speakers Jimmy Webster and Mav Weller were met barely met with a shrug. As far as anyone was concerned, they were surplus – for one evening at least – seeing as they had not partaken in the onslaught that we had witnessed in the first half.

And it was an onslaught.

The un-tagged Jack Steven was back to his dashing, daring and deceptive best. He had 14 touches in the second quarter alone – as well as a goal. Billy Longer had the football game of his laugh, and managed to resist giving away a childish 50 meter penalty. Lonie was a pest as always, sucking Cotching into a first quarter tummy punch, but also managed to fit in time to play some good Australian Rules football. His checkside pass to Hotline Billings is genuinely a contender for Assist Of The Year (naming rights pending). Koby Stevens toasted himself to a great Saturday night, with his dazzling snap after a series of Robert Harvey dummies and shimmies.

The highlights were numerous, and they weren’t all forward specific either. I’ve never seen our back six mark the ball, particularly in contested situations, as they did on Saturday night. Aside from a few schoolboy gaffes from Daniel McKenzie, the performance from the defense was faultless.

Of course their effectiveness, as has been highlighted before, is reliant upon the cogs of the team defense machine turning over, and whirring along, like a Swiss watch. And on this night, it was on point. The Tigers squad of fleet forwards was rendered useless, and only on a couple of occasions in the first quarter did they have the half-chance to slingshot forward.

Instead, it was the likes of Newnes, Lonie, and Billings who were darting into space in the first term. Thanks to the great work of Longer, Ross, Steven and Koby the center square was ours, and as a result the forwards were loving the opportunity to operate in space.

Like I mentioned earlier, it was Longers best game since forever. I’m not ready to forgive against his wrap sheet of crimes against ball sports, but it was an undoubted step in the right direction.

An undoubted step in the right direction, and a big confidence boost are two things that really sum up the takeaways from the game.

For those ready to plan out their Grand Final Day right now, perhaps press pause. We played the Giants, and we conquered – on Friday Night Footy no less. And where did it get us? Not. Very. Far. It didn’t stop us from getting embarrassed on Adelaide Oval, nor did it stop us from laying out the red carpet for the reigning premiers or from getting out-foxed by the savvy Swans.

To say that the Tigers were off their game would be to completely dismiss the Saints. St Kilda was great. The challenge is for a performance like this to actually raise the bar of the side. Post-Giants win we fell right back into the pit that is the middle of the road of the competition. Suddenly finals felt like wishful thinking, the hopes were fading. Individual’s form was wobbling. Possible starlets like Acres, Billings, Dunstan were all being put back in the gun; Richo’s stock, in the fans eyes, had never been lower. And everyone was taking his or her frustration out on luckless Paddy McCartin too.

As much as I’m not ready to anoint Alan Richardson as the next Norm Smith, or Alastair Clarkson, I think he won’t be hoodwinked by Saturday night’s win. It was a new high point, a new bar to keep reaching for, but the challenges remain in front of us. We need to find the edge, the sharpness and that ruthlessness more frequently and against quality opposition.

Is Lonie all of a sudden the next Eddie Betts? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m unsure whether he will hold down his spot until the seasons end. The confidence that can be garnered from a win like that though can be significant, and for some players it can spin things on their head – in a good way.

Take Seb Ross for example. He seems three inches taller, and three steps quicker since that Friday Night win over the Giants.

And whilst we’re talking about Ross, it’s time to pay tribute to the midfield. The midfield has been my biggest concern about this side ever since the first steps of this rebuild. Yes, the depth has improved this year. Sinclair has added a new infusion of class and composure; Koby Stevens and Steele have reinforced a hardened edge; and Jack Newnes just keeps on running. Hard. On paper, they’re never going to make the juggernauts of the league quiver in their boots, but I’m not sure they fear any of the opposing engine rooms either, for that matter.

Billy Longer’s presence in this side has been a big bone of contention, particularly on this blog. He continues to divide the fans, yet games like Saturday Night will win him more fans no doubt. Billy definitely helped set the tone via some great tap work from the center bounces. I will continue to have a problem with Billy or any player, whereby we’re meant to do somersaults about when they make the effort to compete. If you’re an AFL player, competing and putting your body on the line should not just be a pre-requisite but be something that you relish. And so when I see players who don’t fall in line with that, it’s a complete red flag.

And so, they’re the standards that the Saints need to reaching and exceeding. As good as Saturday night, you don’t get any trophies for beating Richmond in July. Will this win be remembered fondly in a Troy Schwarz kind of way? Or is it a springboard to something more significant?