Round 1, 2018
St Kilda 6.4, 7.5, 11.8, 16.11 (107)
Brisbane Lions 3.3, 5.8, 9.10, 12.10 (82)
Crowd: 23,731 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, March 24th at 3.35pm
An official welcome to the first season within the endgame of the ROAD TO 2018 plan. This year we we finish in the top four, and then go to deliver a premiership by 2020, all the while being used as a dumping ground for the AFL’s “fan engagement” ideas.
The week saw the club return to Moorabbin AKA “RSEA Park”, which I seemed to hear a lot more of than the word “Moorabbin”. It’s worth celebrating – Moorabbin is where we saw the best and the worst of a club that has operated in extremes – and it’s worth acknowledging the colossal mistake that was leaving in the first place culturally, and that the facilities at Seaford weren’t what they were built up to be (in neither quality or quantity). A rare Saints-centric Scott Watters media appearance this week provided one of the more poignant recollections following My Favourite Hair on the Fox Footy Commentary Team’s smackdown of the place; Watters said that “for the senior players who had been through the Moorabbin experience and been through some Grand Finals, I think in the end, Seaford became a symbol for what they missed”.
On net balance of course it’s good to be back, and a relief, but we may have been tied up by the AFL in ways we weren’t expecting in getting back. At least, as Daniel Cherny described it, The Collection is more accessible to the fans.
Over the week I descended into incessant tweeting about the potential of a new club song after the horrific decision by the AFL to re-record them as an afterthought to Richmond’s request of changing one word. In demanding accountability from the club – switching vaguely randomly between my own personal account as well this blog’s – I felt just how much of a vacuum (potential Alan Richardson Word of the Year) Twitter, having mentally criticised the hot air others had blown around the place much in the same manner for years. By the end of game day I’d learned the club probably wouldn’t listen either way.
I’ll bang on about it further in a separate post but the new version of the song made a mockery of the “digital clarity” line trotted out by the AFL; at the ground it was actually harder to hear any part of it other than the weak bass overdub. As for the song itself, I said in a post earlier this week that, it sounds cheaply produced and outdated, and more hokey than the original versions ever will – more like Mike Brady Dodo commercial jingles. These are celebrated parts of our game. They’re what we associate with some of the most emotional moments of our lives as fans, whether it be nostalgia, the celebration of victory, or the feeling as the team has run before a Grand Final. The drum thump that heralds our song’s beginning has been reduced to a high school band rattle, the horns reduced to something borderline comical, and the vocals more appropriate for, well, a Dodo ad.
Someone on Twitter asked, “If it meant playing the new version post match would you take the four points”? Yes of course I would – those aren’t mutually exclusive and represent different parts of the experience of following a football club. Pardon the play on words or whatever, but given the responses of every other club, citing membership wishes and feedback, it was rather tone deaf change the song. No one asked for it, and they sided with indifference over the much more vocal and numerous opposition that actually have an attachment to the existing song. It was hypocritical of the club to spruik the wonderful Reimagine Moorabbin jumper with the line, “Moorabbin conjures up a powerful mix of nostalgia, passion, magic and belonging that is hard to explain”. The Fable Singers’ version of our club song has been our soundtrack to that. In a very oily move, it was the only club to not say anything publicly during the week about which song they would use.
Whilst being deflated by the use of the new song as the team ran out (WITH FIREWORKS), I was also thoroughly enjoying the jumper. Based on our excellent and bold 1893-1914 design, it was a curious choice given…we never actually wore it at Moorabbin, but clowns like myself will buy one and I guess that’s what counts. Obviously the candy stripe sells well in general (for good reason), and apart from the 1996 Round 7 (“Re-enactment Round”) design – extra points for the socks – we haven’t worn a mostly-black version of design since 1914.
We had the roof closed, meaning Corporate Dome was in TV studio set mode. And the club decided to take it to a new level with the awful, hideous and bemusing decision to blast “Chelsea Dagger” by 00s Britrock fodder The Fratellis after every goal. Even as Jack Steven propelled the team over the line, something very uneasy was stirring in me: I wasn’t enjoying the experience of being at the footy. And when I say “enjoy” I mean, get what I usually get out of going to the footy, which is following the ups, downs, hopes and everything in between and beyond that comes with the following the St Kilda Football Club.
The choice of the song itself, the length of the clip, and the volume it played all detracted from the dignity and the drama of the moment. What’s happening on the field should be enough to get us “pumped”. Watching Acres and Billings and Hunter Clark and Ben Long improving and taking the club into its next era is what should get us pumped. That’s the atmosphere. It’s already there, and this doesn’t add to it but throws a brick through it that no one called for.
Is the post-goal music meant to make us feel a little better when we kick a goal when we’re down? Is it meant to make us feel upbeat even if the Saints are eight goals behind we go home thinking we had a “good” time and were “entertained”. It’s telling me what to feel; it’s condescending; and it negates the reason why I go. There will be an eight-goal loss at some point, there will be a one-point loss at some point, and guess what? That’s part of following a club.
What a horrible feeling it was to have my own club turf the experience of buying a membership and coming to the games every week, with an inappropriate and outdated song that means nothing to anyone, while at the same time ditching the one song that actually did. I didn’t like going to the footy. I’ve never felt that before.
No Dunstan, Weller or Gilbert meant a different looking line-up to what most were probably expecting, and no Roo or Joey was an obvious big shift in this group’s development. Hunter Clark and his great hair were selected, although Nick Coffield wasn’t; the comparisons between them really just stem from the fact they were taken at picks 7 and 8 in the same draft and team balance came into the decision. The several high forward/mid-forward roles have been as revered as Seinfeld reservations, so Clark’s form was enough to put him ahead of Lonie, Weller and Wright with Minchington injured. Coffield had to contend with not just Gilbert but Roberton, Webster, Sav and Geary in the most settled part of the ground. That’s without getting into Rice, White, Phillips et al, and D-Mac who has become our new Ed Phillips in that the club appears to cover up any trace of their existence. On the pre-season form alone though I’d have him as very close. Interestingly, Dunstan had to swim through the Sandy practice match against Williamstown while Weller and Rowan Marshall were held over as emergencies.
Hunter didn’t get a lot of the footy but he appeared to be one of the most composed out there. Some quick work in the goal square made good of some of the more physical work Jack Billings will do and delivered his first goal, but his weighted kick to Jack Steven as the Lions led late in the third quarter was his best moment. His first tick was presenting in an attacking, angled position at the back of the centre square for Membrey’s kick out of defence wide, and then the awareness to get and go. Gresham was running with him and calling for it, but he looked ahead and deftly weighted a kick into the path of the running Jack Steven as he cut in, collected the footy without needing break stride of line and kicked a long goal that was the first of his pair that clearly lifted the side and put a 10-point buffer between the teams at the final change.
The game probably panned out as expected. Two teams not overly fancied in what can often be an awkward time of year, and as well as Hunter guys we were hoping would step up did so when they really needed to. Billings got his year going quickly with the bustling work through traffic and quick hands for Hunter’s goal, as well as a neat goal of his own in the pocket after some hard running onto a long ball that went over a pack – both of those represented builds on parts of his game he’s not yet recognised for. He still ended up with 2.3 after last year’s 29.36; a missed snap from close range in the third went straight up the other end for Cam Rayner’s first ever goal, and threatened to be a defining moment of the match. He’s still got a problem with kicking at least three goals in a game; aside from his five-straight (with 30 touches) against the Blues last year, his four two-goal games came at 2.4, 2.3, 2.3 and 2.2. But he appeared to cover more ground more effectively for his 26 touches and nine marks.
Blacres was another that had been singled out over summer as a potential bolter this year, and similarly he finished strong numbers, more impact across the ground and a hand in some key moments. Billings’ set-up of Clark was actually initiated by a bold Blacres smother on Mitch Robinson’s clearance attempt, having left his man, and he took the ball after its high bounce and found Billings in a tackle. Our only goal in the second term was started with a Seb Ross pivot and deep forward-mode Blacres took a strong mark after sticking out one hand and smartly working off Lewis Taylor (size was on his side), and the finish from the pocket was very neat. Even his post-match interview with new club MC Kosi (a very bright spot on a dark day for St Kilda Football Club Match Day Fan Engagement ®) on the site was more solid.
Said pivot was another mark of a player adding to their game. Every time I’ve watched Seb Ross play decently since he began I’ve assumed that’s his ceiling – I simply couldn’t imagine him doing anything else. The kick to Acres came from a confident Sam Mitchell-esque and 32 disposals and seven tackles showed he’s still just as busy.
One of the very knocks on Seb – it’s not so much a “knock” as an absence in his game – is that while he can be busy, he’s not the type of player who will put a team on their shoulders. The obvious star yesterday was Jack Steven; while he’s not the Joel Selwood or, dare I say it, Nick Riewoldt type, he can do that simply with his fervour. The team is faster and more frantic when he does hit the switch, although not necessarily more uncompromising. Disposal will forever be a small bugbear of his game, but the ability to burst through and away from traffic creates, and perhaps demands, movement in a way that most of our insider-heavy midfield is unable to. He’s also hits the scoreboard at critical times, and from the moment he ran onto the bounce of Hunter Clark’s kick in the third quarter the game was his.
Do we rely on Stuv too much? That’s what the rise of Billings and Acres, and maturity of guys like Gresham will have to address. Concerning is the pressure across the entire team dropping off and then being raised en masse. It’s great when everyone can do it, but if everyone’s going to relax it won’t take a good team long to break the game open. There are few guys that bring a manic attitude or relentlessness to every minute of the game.
Our disposal remains very fickle, but the intent and route across the ground was more purposeful and more effective. It was harped on about in the commentary during the second JLT Series game at Casey Fields but too often in the first half of that game we were too predictable or too safe – hoiking up the line, and rarely using the width of the ground to open up passages. But yesterday players were more ready in running at angles, or looking to change the angle with their disposal, whether it was a handball or a kick. Missed kicks and handballs made us work harder than we needed to for our goals while Lions were another opposition team to look a lot more effortless in hitting the scoreboard, coasting on the rebound too often.
When it did work, perhaps that was part of our goalkicking accuracy improving – 16.11 despite a few close misses and Membrey shanking three set shots on his own – because the build up allowed more movement ahead, more space up forward was more considered to options. Particularly in the second and third quarters that went missing.
The game might have been done but Ben Long’s goal at the end was probably underrated for the way he caressed the footy to his own advantage in the path of an oncoming Lion after an indifferent kick to his lead. Gresham kicked three and has quickly become one of our classiest and most creative players in an overly blue-collar side, and Long likewise provides a point of difference. His disposal was a little slack still but his speed and agility makes the side more dynamic. It’s only his fifth game and I would hope he stays in the side.
Paddy falls into the same category. The first goal was pretty much where it started and ended for him, but there’s nothing to be gained from now in him lining up for Sandy. He was overlooked as an option on a few times to go with his bizarre pass off to Josh Bruce in the third quarter after weighing up his own shot from close range or Sinclair, and then took the third option. Fortunately Bruce and Membrey were able to cover the ground throughout the game, and they kicked 6.3 between them so no point in changing that this week.
Any fan will tell you that there is no club like the club they support. If you are that close to a club then its narrative becomes intertwined with whatever is going on in your life, and there will always be that exceptionalism for you. St Kilda has an empirical history of ineptitude that means it sells hope above anything else. Round 1 – for fans of all clubs – offers the hype of hope, whilst the end game of that hope is tantalisingly close to being realised in some way. Any emotional attachment to what was happening during the game was consistently shat on by the club through the day. It gave the impression that it’s being used by the AFL as a plaything for the “matchday experience” experiment, and I don’t go to St Kilda matches to listen to the fucking Fratellis.
But there was one thing that was quite unexpected that happened during the day that really made me feel something that throwaway noise never will. It was unexpected in that it came from Leigh Montagna, who was never the most emotionally open or eloquent footballer. At half-time he did a lap – which after a turn into the second left became a half-lap – for the fans (well, half of them) as he didn’t get a proper send-off. Maybe I needed it for myself in that moment, coming to terms with the prospect of an important part of my life being pillaged. It was a reminder that there was a shared experience that remained. MC Kosi said a few words on the big screen before handing the microphone over Joey. “Be patient,” he said to St Kilda fans as he finished his thank-you message. “One day our luck will turn, and we’ll have all the fun in the world.”