Sucked in

By Tom Briglia

Round 19, 2017
Port Adelaide 2.3, 3.5, 5.7, 9.9 (63)
St Kilda 1.3, 2.8, 3.12, 8.13 (61)
Crowd: 30,335 at Adelaide Oval, Saturday, July 30th at 4.15pm CST

2017 r19

When the three-quarter time siren sounded we’d kicked 2.12. Blacres, having had the wet weather show up any intent to play physically, had taken a contested mark. He kicked the goal and somehow it felt as though we were a chance of winning the game.

I wrote into my notes on the phone, “Acres on the siren wtf. Potential to be a curveball moment for the season.” He wasn’t the only one to be found wanting for presence at contests in the dour conditions, but twice in the final minute he would be on the wrong end of respective moments that crushed our season.

He also wasn’t the one to find themselves in moments that upended either their own good work or the hard work of everyone else. But St Kilda is about extremes and symbolic moments that ensure the heartbreak – no matter how good we are – outweighs the rarer better moments. A famous win in was shat on and decayed in seconds to an infamous, embarrassing loss.

It’s our turn as supporters for the football world and Nathan Brown with his Channel 9 big screen and David King with his Fox Footy graphics to ask “what the fucking fuck were you thinking?” to most of the players in the last 59 seconds. We all thought we were stupidly lucky when Jimmy Toumpas trailed Joey through the forward line in the last 25 seconds two years ago, and a bunch of people thought Richmond losing three games in a row earlier this year was funny, but now we’re the ones who have moved into membership destruction territory. So let’s get this over and done; let’s combine our zero games of experience, take an amateur look at things ourselves, and get really annoyed at some humans.

Richo said the coaches were happy with the set-up at the final stoppage. As the umpire throws the ball in, Acres is actually guarding in the space the Gray runs through just a couple of seconds later. Ryder and Longer are a very long way inboard for the throw in, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryder’s done that because he knows he can outpace Billy to the fall of the ball. Billy’s in defensive mode and will just want to follow him, and it opens up that space because Billy’s trailing Ryder, enough to not effect the ruck contest but too close to react to Ryder hitting back to where they were.

Seb was the one on Gray and is goalside of him at the mouth of the ruck contest. He’s immediately responsible for Gray and it’s on him to be able to nullify, you know, his own player. As an aside – Seb was one of our best, but was also the one who coughed up the ball straight to the Power up the other end before they came back for the Young goal, by kicking forward without looking, rather than handballing inside to Lonie who had plenty of space and runners around him.

Dunstan and Billings are on the other side of the contest, on Wines and Polec respectively. As the ball is in the air, Dunstan pushes Wines to get him off balance for the stoppage and make sure he stays goalside of him. Polec moves slightly inboard and Billings goes with with him to make sure he doesn’t get the kind of run Gray is about to enjoy.

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Gray knows exactly what Ryder is doing and runs around Ryder to the open space left by the movement of the rucks, and has gotten rid Seb in no time. Dunstan – also one of our best, and who put us in front in the last quarter – is caught ball watching and flat-footed, having just turned from Wines, and Gray runs right past him.

By the time Gray runs onto Ryder’s tap Acres has run, incredibly, bemusingly, to goalside of the mouth of where the ruck “contest” was two seconds earlier. Billings at least had to worry about leaving Polec and opening him up for a handball from Gray and an open chance, either at goal (he’s a long kick) or at least hitting someone up.

That’s why Billings was closest to Gray when Gray kicked the goal, not because he shirked anything. Billings was reacting to a) Longer not even getting to the fall of the ball; b) Seb not quite going with Gray; c) seeing that Acres had left the space open and; d) Dunstan ball-watching not moving. He was the only one who actually did react to Gray.

It’s worth pointing out Acres getting in sucked in to this contest as well his incredibly soft effort 40 seconds of play earlier that allowed Young’s goal. Carlisle didn’t quite make a contest at the fall of Geary’s spoil, which has probably the only thing he did wrong in a herculean performance in defence. Young came through to knock the ball as Westhoff and Acres were next in line. Westhoff reacted – let alone having the will at that point to bend over far enough and then quickly manoeuvre out of Acres’s awful attempt at a tackle – and gave off the handball to Young who finished neatly.

So this week Ryder and Gray enjoy another week in the spotlight thrown to them by the St Kilda Football Club. Last week it was Callum Sinclair breezing through the best game he’ll ever play. It’s a service we provide.

How much more do I have to pay for my fucking Ultimate social club membership for the players to get paid more than the literally hundreds of thousands of dollars they’re already paid to not create a huge space for arguably the best player in the competition to run through and kick a goal? Or to fucking kick straight? More terrifyingly, what if the club doesn’t owe me anything at all? At what point do they owe me anything if they ever do? How does someone who has followed the club for twice as long as I’ve been alive feel when they see this kind of thing?

 ***

Shout-out to the barracking of the Fox Footy commentary team, and also the lazy Fox Footy coverage in general – not one cut to St Kilda players after about 30 seconds following the siren. The emotion of these moments, games and results is just as much about the losers as it is the winners. That’s why the high of victory is what it is.

(Also whilst we’re doing shout-outs even though no-one reads this, shout-out to BigFooty user RWBlyf who’s taken licence with our moniker and Twitter profile image, and who’s posts on the forum almost certainly get a bigger readership than the rambling tripe I post on this.)

There’s a lot of hurt on different fronts. As frustrating as it is to think about that last play, it just fucking hurts to think about Membrey kicking that goal to put us up by 10 points and his reaction and the reaction of the players. They thought they had it won; we thought we had it won. Membrey was huge. Great contests in the front half, an ability to actually hold marks and fucking finish in front of goal, and in pressure situations. His game and his contribution deserved a much better result. In true St Kilda style, he was the one backing into the forward 50 entry that ended with Young’s goal, and his teammates made sure he was the one on the goal line who got to stretch, reach, strive in vain to get to Gray’s kick in the final seconds.

On a more macro perspective we’d pissed the game away a long time before that. We were 2.12 at the final change and simply not using the ball purposefully or effectively when we had it. We had so much of it, too. Richo didn’t trot out the “we’ll just keep practicing line” about the goalkicking. It’s cost us this season and right now it doesn’t fucking matter until March next year.

As good as Bruce was, he kicked 0.3. I feel bad for going near potting him, because his effort was hard to fault. You could give the bigger guys an out due to the weather, but how many of those marks that he dropped or goals that he missed would have turned out differently in dry conditions or under the roof? Richo went on the record earlier this year to say Bruce had been dropped because he wasn’t finishing – he wasn’t holding his marks and he wasn’t kicking the goals. He’s invented ways to miss goals in the last few weeks. I’m absolutely not saying he should be dropped. But at what point does it become a liability? If it is, how much of a liability is it? I still don’t think we can get a decent idea until we stop kicking high and long towards goal for no-one to be at the fall of the ball.

Billings shanked a couple for 0.2 and a host of other chances blah blah blah. He’s kicked 17.26 this year. The memory of Billings moving into something bordering on elite has already become a distant “What? Oh. Yeah.” I dunno. Sometimes it’s hard to keep giving a shit.

***

Obviously the nature of the result is cause to highlight this further; similar occurred in the West Coast loss in Round 2. We let four of their nine goals go through in the last 47 seconds of the first quarter and the last 59 seconds of the match. That’s either awful coaching or the players are lacking something severe – take your pick. But it’s a fucking problem.

How do we feel about Richo right now? I wasn’t sure about his public demeanour immediately after the game. I think he didn’t quite know what to do, so I fucking hope he gets it right. There’s four more games and then we’re in the season that the club publicly declared its intentions to be a top-four team by.

It’s easy and obvious to say this, but I didn’t think Richo was angry enough publicly. I understand the need to talk up effort blah blah blah, and early on in the press conference he pointed out that “when the game was at its most important” Port were able to get it done. In his members’ message video he said, “We had a good day at clearance against a very good clearance team.” Cool. He was afforded the same unchallenged comment in the press conference. He’s obviously on good terms with Michaelangelo Rucci following some time spent in a one-paper, two-team city, but when you’re as shitty as most of us would have been with the last two minutes. Effort and basic stuff like that are a given. Surely we’re at that point in our development by now?

Also mentioned in Richo’s video message – and absolutely not his fault, but he was nonetheless put in the place to be the one to apologise for it – was that the club had a “mix-up with time” and got out early to training, them “that meant some fans that had travelled a fair way missed out”. Great work.

The elimination of the Development League this week, and the Sandringham leadership group’s proposal to the board – not to mention Danny Corcoran’s comments – has the clock is ticking on the alignment lot closer to midnight. Playing without Montagna and Riewoldt, and to a lesser extent Gilbert and Armitage, obviously wasn’t a hindrance to giving a vague effort nor missing goals as we usually do. Given that we decided to kick our season away around the ground and in front of goal over a number of weeks, we’ve also in turn wasted a lot of time not putting game time into White and D-Mac, who were really competitive last night, Marshall, who only missed out because of some weather and will probably be shunted out next week; and maybe Ben Long. Mav came straight back into them and did fuck all for his 10 possessions. I’d forgotten that he’d played.

So we know now the club was just as seduced by the second half of last year as we the fans were. Given the type of week and weekend it’s been, it was nice of Sandy to replicate the seniors this afternoon and have posted 2.8 themselves after the entire first half of footy. But why can Port recruit someone like Powell-Pepper who’s not just barrelling through Newnes in his first season, but willing to do it, and we’ve got Acres, Sinclair, Lonie and Billings being thrown around like seagulls in a breeze? Dunstan’s great form over the two weeks, in response to being dropped yet again, has been lost amongst the poor results, sure. But I don’t think four or five games for Marshall, White and Long is worth a season of finishing 11th or 12th.

The Zebs don’t want to exist as several players topping up a St Kilda VFL team, which is fair enough because the AFL should have thought about destroying a league with an amazing history and its clubs for its own benefit. The $500,000 or so that it costs to run a standalone reserves team was meant to be going to the Moorabbin redevelopment and perhaps an AFLW team, and now we might have stalled our development because we got a little bit too excited. We’re literally not a club that can afford to do that kind of thing. Maybe if we kick straight the next time we’re playing in the 2009 Grand Final we might not have yet again found ourselves in a shitty situation like this.

***

If we’re good enough, then this coach and this team and this administration will take us to a much, much better situation – specifically, a second premiership – regardless of whether we won last night or not.

As members and supporters it hurts because there’s no instant payoff. We’re not privy to, nor to do we feel or take on any of the learning or development that the players get in the post-match review, nor do we know it even exists until we see it put into practice on game day. Furthermore, those lessons count for nothing if all this development business just ends up with no premiership and another rebuild. As fans we’re staring the down the barrel of a lifetime as St Kilda supporters, and moments like these feel awful because we pay for memberships, we take the time out to watch the game, or whatever, and we need to be reminded why we do that sometimes. Game day is where we get that pay-off, whether through effort, or through the result. Those things differ from week to week and year to year.

Amongst the slow burn over decades of heartbreak of following St Kilda, these are the moments when you really feel like you get your hands dirty as a supporter. This is not our time. That’s just part of our development, and all the draft picks and trades over the past few years weren’t about building towards last night. Ultimately, it shouldn’t depend on last night’s outcome. It’s an experience for the players, for the coaches, and us as well.

  • Janine burdeu

    This Is Soooo depressing. And soo bloody true. Can we please ensure that this blog is read by the players and the coach. In fact the entire St Kilda football administration? I think I’ve been supporting the Saints a lot longer than you Tom and I never thought it would come to this, but I’m slowly giving up. Everything you said from where we thought we’d be his year to the weak effort of Acres and others rings true. Thank you for these weekly blogs it keeps us all going.

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

    Janine and Tom –
    For a second at least it’s worth taking a breath to acknowledge that (unfortunately) we are probably about where we were forecast to be in terms of win-loss. Last year was a step forward, but with the way the fixture is done these days, we were always going to be up against to go better this year with a much tougher fixture.

    Our wins last year came against: Cats, Dees x2, Dons x2, Magpies, Dockers, Bulldogs, Tigers, Lions, Blues x2

    There’s only really two wins of real merit in there.

    What I’m trying to say is – Tom, your point about getting carried about the second half of last year is correct. And that’s why it’s not time for everyone to microwave their membership, just like it’s not time to say “we’re only a Dusty away from being a threat”.

    The points about Acres are harsh, but they’re accurate and their symptomatic of what has been a problem for quite a while – not just with him but with a few of those young guys. Guys like Acres, Billings, Sinclair, Lonie – can anyone picture them standing up when the whips are cracking against top shelf opposition? If Grant thomas was coaching he’d be slamming them for their lack of mental toughness. I don’t think GT was a guru but he was correct in highlighting players’ need to be able to mentally stand up.

    One thing that will make me throw up is if the usual media circles highlight as the team’s need to have the stalwarts (Roo etc) in the team. Garbage. Whilst the team is seriously flawed, it’s well mature enough with the old guard to perform.

  • Campbell

    We feel the frustration Tom. It’s unavoidable. More broadly, I presume we’re of a similar age and have been let down by this club of ours repeatedly over the years. I don’t know how to succinctly summize the heart ache that we tortured Saints fan have endured. I too thought this rebuild would bring an end to the misery. It may, and if I’m honest I still think it will. Not sure how at this stage!

    Patience and a level head that you’ve seemingly kept up until a few weeks ago (amusingly) throughout the rebuild is required. In our heart of hearts we knew this wasn’t our year. We all knew we were short some classy players. Successful teams are taught harsh lessons before they reach the top. This won’t be the last time I almost put my head through the TV in disgust. You’ll know doubt be inspired to write with venom a few more times in the coming years.

    But you know all of this. I guess it doesn’t ease the frustration.

  • Campbell
  • Campbell

    …the Temple of Acres. If anyone (almost every poster on BF!) ever wanted to know why he doesn’t get time in the guts, just watch the last few minutes of the game. He oozes talent but he’s an absolute liability defensively. He has no idea where to go and when or he simply doesnt care. Either way, he needs to learn and learn fast if we’re to make big gains next year.

    And Billings… What are the chances of him winning a contested ball?! His mate Sincs has flown past him I’m the last month of footy.

  • Harry

    Tom. Great review and you are justified in the emotional response to the loss. It sure hurts when it is us rather than Richmond. That this 1 minute will effectively define the season is a killer blow. But I will have no doubt that Richo and the coaching team would have been brutal at the match review.

    OK. To make the 8 we need 4 out of 4, and they are all winnable. But that doesn’t say that we will win them. Richard is close to the mark when he says that we are about where we should be. We still have the lack of class players and it shows out even more when Jack Steven is checked.

    What the AFL is doing to the VFL development League is unbelievable; supposedly in the name of saving $1 million. What a joke. Big ramifications for Sandy and Saints.

    Earlier this year I wrote to the club suggesting that they enhance their reputation and create some club support in our strategic zone of Bayside byt donating $250k to Frankston to help the Dolfins get back on their feet. Didn’t receive a reply. Opportunity missed.

  • Tom Briglia

    As much as the move to Seaford didn’t make sense in the first place, once we were there I assumed in the back of my head we’d shift over from Sandy eventually and really try and further entrench ourselves in the grassroots of that south-east bayside region. Surprised it didn’t happen, but I dare say once Archie Fraser, etc. were out, the plans were already being drawn up for a return to Moorabbin. Either way, they’d be a great embodiment of the “Port Melbourne to Portsea” line the club likes to use.
    Also I think it’s excellent that you took time to engage with the club personally. I feel like that’s something more fans should do (rather than people like myself potting the players on this blog). But to hear they didn’t reply at all is very disappointing.

  • Tom Briglia

    Campbell your comments are always, always welcome, and I should apologise for not always getting back to them – I’ve tried to rectify that of late.

    You’re absolutely right – this isn’t the last time we’ll lose a game and feel like this – no club magically never loses again once it wins a premiership, and so on. I think it was a little more galling (if that’s possible for a home and away match) because we hadn’t experienced a close loss like that in an important game for such a long time. Certainly the last few weeks were more disappointing (for me, anyway) because of that aspect, but to lose this way specifically was something else.

    And you’re also absolutely right again. Deep down, no one was really, genuinely expecting this to be the year. Rebuilds are designed for sustained success, and I think we all assumed this would be another step towards that, but not necessarily of it.

  • Tom Briglia

    Rich and Campbell – these were an interesting couple of comments to read back to back, if only for the realisation that we were shown up to be not physical enough too often, when this is a side that is also seen to be not classy enough overall.

    Of course, it’s comparing apples and oranges, but Rich I thought about your GT comment and Campbell your specific mentioning of Acres and Billings. The St Kilda teams of 2004 and 2005 weren’t known for their physical toughness defensively in the way Swans of the time were (and, can you believe it for a team that’s won two premierships since that time, still is). But there was an edge in those Saints that complemented the talent. Hamill, Powell, Guerra, Thompson, Hayes, Baker and Maguire all brought something that Koby and Carlisle bring, Mav thinks he brings and Steele doesn’t bring often enough (albeit early in his career). We may yet find it in others as they develop (Dunstan has had a great two weeks overall since coming back and D-Mac is a great competitor), but can a coach like Richo bring that out in the way that a GT, who didn’t come from an era of such tactical, structured, mechanical environments was able to (and able to harness for the most part)?

  • Tom Briglia

    Thanks for the kind comment Janine.

    It’s not just that these things are frustrating for me as someone who has seen Preliminary Finals and Grand Finals that have been kicked away, bounced away or just…evaporated. It’s the fact that since I’ve been lucid enough to take all this in as a kid that I’ve actually seen St Kilda have relatively successful periods, albeit ones that ended in heartbreak and cold, cold comedowns. What about the supporters like you, my dad, relatives of mine, whoever it might be, that had to sit through the drop of the 1970s and the awful 1980s? I have no idea how you take another rebuild after the last one ended so sadly, and you how take these specific games and moments that are really drive at what why we, you, I, anyone keeps doing this, why we take the time out to go to the games, and feel rubbish in the hour, and hours, and days after a loss – all the day-to-day things that make up an entire week between games, and the months between seasons. I feel like this week we really felt that aspect of it.

    After all that, I’m definitely going to be there on Sunday though. Maybe begrudgingly, and I still haven’t been on the ride nearly as long as so many supporters (yourself included).