Bad behaviour

By Tom Briglia

Round 3, 2018
St Kilda 2.6, 3.9, 4.12, 7.13 (55)
Adelaide Crows 3.2. 5.7, 11.10, 15.14 (104)
Crowd: 19,324 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, April 8th at 7.25pm

IMG_1932

For the first time in this rebuild the club had been genuinely and publicly challenged about its direction. The high draft picks, the clean slate of the new coach, the Road to 2018. Last week looked like we’d hit the brakes and floored it in reverse. Or maybe things never really got going at all.

A terse Richo looked a bit taken aback during the week by the public scrutiny. We’d lost our last seven against the Crows going back to 2012 by margins of 4, 40, 86, 79, 46, 88, and 57 points. Those last five came in the Richo era (beginning with the wooden spoon season of 2014) at an average 71.2 points, and they’d just beaten the team they’d fallen to in last year’s Grand Final. Time to make a statement, time to show exactly what “Saints Footy” means since it started being used by anyone at the club after the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Was this going to be a Round 5, 2002 type performance? Round 14, 2005? Round 13, 2008? Somewhere in between? It would be none of them, and had turned to be a memorable game for whatever reason there was going to be more seagulls that could say they were there than actual humans.

***

White was taken out of the Moorabbin cryogenic freezer and brought in with Coffield for his debut. Long stayed in, Rowan Marshall was in for Billy, and Steele and Stevens were dropped and all of a sudden this was a more dynamic team. Well, it was until Membrey became the late withdrawal for Nathan Wright. Membrey had apparently hurt his knee at training and the BigFooty mail was that he was somewhere between “in doubt” for Saturday night to “6-8 weeks”. That grew to SEN and Daniel Cherny Tweets by the Saturday, and for some reason Wright was the replacement.

Broadly speaking, this was the kind of line-up we should have been playing last year – and perhaps to a point the year before, although there were senior guys obviously still having a pretty positive impact. But the club was seduced by the back half of 2016 and had a bet each-way last year, and we finished where we deserved to be if we’re playing an injured Mav Weller throughout the season.

It echoed the approach by North Melbourne through last decade that got it within a loud meeting of being shipped to the Gold Coast; we’re steaming at the very least towards a Southern Saints rebranding if the AFL continues to have its way with us and we remain so incompetent. Obviously we have the VFLW connection with Frankston and our ruck coach and ruckman are bizarrely their coach and ruckman, and it’s great that the Dolphins were able to get back into the VFL, but Matt Finnis tweeting from their return game while Sandy was playing at Small Beachside Windbowl added an extra layer of tinfoil to my hat.

***

A bit like last week, it’s hard to pick out specific guys for specific errors because there was just that fucking many, and Bruce, Paddy and whoever else was forward of the ball – apart from Billings, maybe, who just didn’t want to lead – really can’t be blamed for too much. This week’s winner is probably Armo for his last quarter kick out on the full in front of the members, which would have spent 90% of its trajectory on the wrong side of the boundary line. It was a fitting climax for a feature-length presentation of highly trained, professional stuntmen offering quality slapstick and non-stop laughs. Right from the opening bounce Gresham, Sinclair and Stuv scrubbed basic passes with the old Australian Rules football, there was weird handball from Billings, another Gresham scrub kick to Acres in the pocket, a probably injured Seb Ross floating a kick vaguely forward I’m not sure who, and Paddy returned the favour by kicking out of bounds to Seb’s lead.

Sinclair had a weight of numbers and a clear endeavour that stood out for the positive. He’d had nine touches and a goal within the first nine minutes, but aside from the aforementioned clownery his opening quarter also saw a passage had him running forward and kick directly into the Adelaide player in front of him, get it back so he could kick it poorly to Paddy in the pocket, and then chased after the resulting spill and Wright somehow ended up with it and quickly snapped a behind.

He was probably reflective of where the team was for the first half. A more manic version of last week, both with and without the ball, and that faded after half-time. It still only had us with 3.9 at half-time, with 29 forward 50 entries, as opposed to the previous week’s 2.10. That should tell you plenty about the skills and structure that we don’t have.

That faltered to 4.12 at three-quarter time as the Crows cut things open and kicked our entire score and sundries (we ended up at a one shot inverse to the previous week at the final change too, but somehow on the lower 5.11).

Sinclair was one of our best on the night, it must be said; for all the uh, errors, his running game and smarts were back to what they were last year when he was being played in a position that clearly benefited him. The flame beneath the vat of hot oil that Richo has been slowly lowered into simply due to turning up at the St Kilda Football Club in the first place was fanned further by people realising that as well some poor results, there had been questionable positioning of players under Richo’s watch.

It’s hard to tell exactly what kind of gameplan is going on beyond the faltering pressure en masse, random-setting disposal and curious decision making, other than the occasional changing of angles or opening up the ground (or at least the intention to). But all of a sudden Sinclair looked like the “Elite” player Champion Data ordained him as because he was back on the wing, with a licence to roam around much more than the opening two rounds. We saw the inverse last week with Steele being played forward too often instead of on the ball, and then Carlisle going forward in the second half and allowing Ben Brown to kick five goals, even though the forward targets themselves weren’t letting us down, and to that point Carlisle was our best player while nullifying the opposition’s most potent. It didn’t happen this week because he was cracking the shits at guys while the play was next to him instead (he’s still arguably our best player).

You could perhaps say Blacres’ had his own turn on Saturday night when he should have stayed on the ball. He’d rucked, he’d defended, and yes, he’d been put forward for occasional spell, but perhaps too much later on in the game. We were watching his every contribution grow in audacity as he became drunker and drunker on his own GOAT power. He brought his own fan engagement with his finger-in-the-air goal celebrations, he followed up his ruck contest from a throw-in with a brazen snap at goal, and then soon after his own head almost blew off as he was streaming into goal at the cheer squad end for another miss (he ended up with 1.3). It wasn’t as clear cut as playing the Carlisle forward “We’re Fucked” card, but when he was put forward in the second half we’d again taken one of our most damaging guys out of the play and into our very own Bermuda Triangle.

Ultimately, that wouldn’t have changed anything. Again, the entire side faltered together through the third quarter and there was no stopping the Crows, and, again, for all the hard work through much of the game to pressure and clean up our disposal errors, it was far too easy for them to take the ball from defence to attack and score. Webster’s calamitous dropped mark in the square and Seb’s non-commitment to a rushed behind at the same end was the cream on an absurd cake.

***

For someone who has dealt with the media in his role as coach for some time now – and is on TV every week for 20ish minutes – it was irresponsible of Richo to say in the press conference that “our forward line didn’t work”. He talked about a lack of pressure in the forward half and the basic skill errors further up the ground, but he also said some of the “looks” that the forwards got weren’t any different to those that Walker and Jenkins got. Sure, there might be an issue with presenting or getting space on their opponent but just about any forward in the game would be a poorer player for running with this team at Kardinia Park on Sunday evening, barring Buddy because he can just skip that last possession forward and kick the goal from 70 himself.

As for the pressure aspect, Wright’s existence was being criticised before the first bounce and he played like someone without any confidence. Not sure how much of a real chance he’s been given though. Yes, five touches, 0.1 and three tackles is fark all, but none of him, Long, Lonie, or Minchington have really been given a chance in their time at the club to work through a drop in form at the highest level.

That revolving door is probably going to keep turning. Wright’s numbers were simply too poor and he had no presence. Lonie’s four goals and 27 touches for Sandy continue to suggest he’s above VFL level, but he’s yet to get safely beyond the Robert Eddy or Eli Templeton zone between the two tiers.

Richo said he didn’t necessarily “wholesale” changes in the forward line but I’m assuming Wright comes out and Membrey doesn’t sound like he’ll be back next week. If Paddy wasn’t the number 1 pick would I be as willing as I am to just give him more game time? We’d have a better idea if guys weren’t constantly bombing the ball on top of his head. He’s not that type of player; I’m obviously not going to compare him to My Favourite Hair in the Fox Footy Commentary Team, but even he struggled when guys were going the high hit and hopes. Paddy’s not really that type of player, and he was never built up to be outside of the leading full-forward mould.

Perhaps there’s a slim chance that Josh Battle comes in – he didn’t add much to his three goals and 16 disposals at half-time at Sandy but he’d add an extra dynamic to the team, particularly with Membrey out. The other option is Rowan Marshall as a forward and Billy or Hickey come in. It was an incredible novelty to have a ruckman that could do so much around the ground and demand the ball and look to move to dangerous positions of their own accord. He tired and playing against Sam Jacobs in your second match isn’t overly easy but his output around the ground was too much to ignore; and he is built for the game more than Longer and Hickey are right now. Here’s hoping he’s not Rhys #2.

I’m acutely aware the previous paragraphs didn’t actually talk too much about what the forward line actually did on Saturday night, but it was incredibly non-existent. There were times when no one had actually gone forward quickly enough to present an option on a turnover, there were times when Billings was our deepest player, one-on-one at the top of the 50-metre arc and not moving when we had the ball not overly far away. I don’t know. I don’t know what they’d trained for over the summer and I don’t know what they actually spent their time doing during a supposedly intensive week on the track. Was the message just “try harder”?

***

Seb looked uncomfortable moving across the ground – his kicks were loose from the beginning, he fluffed the entries forward and even when walking his gait was laboured. It says something about him he still found the ball 32 times, albeit with an output that wasn’t just diminished, but at times a negative one. We did it with Mav last year, and we did it with Billy in the first two games – if someone’s carrying something then FFS play one of the kids you’ve been talking up for the past four years.

Jack Steven spent times in the room with an ankle issue – I thought he’d become the first guy for the season to do a hammy while taking a mark on a lead from another ill-directed pass – and Armo looks like he hadn’t played for three years. I don’t want him to be looking so jaded and I understand there’s not too many senior guys out there etc. but maybe the coaches and development staff should own that and try and give some younger guys the chance fill that gap themselves. Armo’s duck into the traffic of a couple of Crows looked tired; it looked as meek as the team did after Bruce’s goal in the third. Why these manic episodes happen across the entire 22 I’m not sure.

Of course Jacobs having the better of Marshall in the ruck gave Adelaide an advantage, but this was a pantsing across the park. Going off the 41 touches and any reports from people at the ground Steele has to come back in. Maybe Gresham should spend a bit of time in the middle too, given that’s what he naturally is, and maybe Billings. Get them involved somehow and shake up the dynamic the midfield. Fortunately Our First Ever AFLX Captain Luke Dunstan was able to come in and make and make a good impact right away. I think we were all a little surprised that he wasn’t in the team to begin with, and for the second time in less than a year he’s responded very nicely to being left out of the team. Jay Clark ran with the Dylan Shiel as-target line on Triple M so I guess that’s a vague potential event that might be talked about a whole lot at some point in the future?

The general garbage of the night didn’t quite allow White to show off his game as much as we would have liked, but Coffield was excellent in his debut, and with Acres, Dunstan and Marshall’s game offered one of the very few positives on the night. Composed, thoughtful and actually effective whether he was hitting up a target short or looking further around the ground. You wouldn’t believe it. He didn’t play safe and stay camped to one small part of the ground; he ended up kicking his goal because he’d backed himself to push up so high. Dunstan was one of the few guys we’ve picked in recent year that were able to come in and play an effective role (despite some indifferent periods since). Add Coffield to that list; it was an instructive reminder of how much class we’ve been lacking.

***

Much of the hype around the club before the season was perhaps driven from the club itself. Richo’s declaration that he thought we could win the premiership – although what the fuck else would you say (Simon Lethlean stepped in with the PR game on 3AW for that one) – is looking as astute a call as Peter Schwab’s about his Hawthorn team on the eve of the 2004 season. That did ultimately turn out alright for the club; either way we’re going to have to wait a little longer if anything decent is going to happen. Not only is this club an historical joke, but right now it’s playing like one.

I’ll bring it up again and maybe a bit more frustratedly – the club has been stupid in its replacement of the song and the playing of music after each goal. It strips the moment of any drama or dignity, and it played comically too loudly and for too long. They actually doubled down on the idea after Round 1, and played different songs and for longer, as if we needed more, or a different version of it to, you know, keep up the vibe. It has been so upsetting to have the club not listen to any supporters or members about either and make the decision that no one asked to be made in the first place. As St Kilda supporters we don’t have much to hold on to, and the club song is something that ties us and the players running out on any given week to the great players and landmark moments over the years.

Round 1 was the first time I didn’t enjoy being at the footy for the footy experience in my life, and it was specifically because the theatre of the game itself had been sucked out by event planners who don’t care for that. As the music played after each of the three goals in the final quarter on Saturday night, more and more people in my members section became visibly and audibly annoyed by it. Some of the speakers at the ground through level two were cutting in and out, there was a glitch happening on the second-level electronic advertising signage in the final quarter that had it flashing a nasty lime green, and the ground announcer was talking about our next home game over the top of the Adelaide song. It was pathetic. Now is not the time to be alienating supporters and members like that. No time is.

The Road to 2018 was a neat little spinner to make people feel comfortable about the future as the team plummeted to the bottom of the ladder with the 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals, and the departure of yet another coach ringing through our heads. They gave themselves the get-out clause of a second premiership by 2020  in the fineprint, but right now none of that even seems relevant. Nor does the target of 10,000 members based in New Zealand to go with 50,000 members in Australia. We quietly ticked over 40,000 during the week and only 19,324 turned up on Saturday. Sure, it’s school holidays, some people might be away. But after the Good Friday 2018 showing, that wasn’t what stopped thousands upon thousands of members turning up, let alone supporters that aren’t members. It’s an ongoing give and take relationship; on Saturday it was the club’s turn to give, as it was the supporters’ time to ask, “What do we get?”. We’re going to be asking that again this week.

  • Campbell

    Nice write up Tom.

    This is the first game in about 3 or 4 years that i didn’t watch and have absolutely no intention of watching. Having read between the lines on BF and reading your summary i feel like i know exactly what i’m going to see if i were to watch the replay.

    My frustration has turned into emptiness. Though i acknowledge that a few or one big scalp will most certainly do something to change the toxic environment the club finds itself in, it certainly won’t ease my larger concerns about the on-field direction of the club. I’m not so sure Richo will see out this season unless he manages to get the group back on the same page. That’s not even taking into account the primitive style he’s developed and instilled in the playing group. A style that’s taken 4 years to develop; one which the best teams can implement within the space of 30 seconds when they realise they need quick goals. A style that’s rinsed talented draftees of skill and decision making capabilities. A style that’s the easiest to defend. A style that our players simply no longer believe in.

    Gee whiz. We are in strife. We were never winning this game. But when you hear of tears in the rooms post match in a game that we lost by 50 odd points; you fear that short or medium term change is inevitable.

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

    Thanks for the report, Tom.

    A couple of things while I think of them…

    – I think from a more macro view the main issue with the Club right now is that it has overestimate it’s list and how far along the path it is. This isn’t necessarily a problem confined to the Saints – I think the Pies have been haunted by this issue for the last 3 years.

    THAT SAID, is this group playing to it’s capabilities right now? No it’s not. And that puts Richo under the microscope. Because as much as I have concerns about our playing group, they are still definitely better than what they’re showing right now.

    It’s not even necessarily about ”tactics” right now, as it is as much about leadership and Richo pulling everyone into line, galvanising the group.

    As much as John Worsfold has been getting some stick I was so struck at how he responded to Essendon’s loss to how meek and wishy washy Richo has been the last two weeks.

  • Harry

    Hi Tom. Again it is late in the week before I have been able to read your review. Great write up and full of emotion and concern. So the rest of the world has now caught up with what many Saints fans have known since the end of 2016. That our great finish to that year was due to us catching many teams off guard with our intensity around the contest and a relatively easy draw in the run home. 2017 and now 2018 have brought out these realities. I agree that it is impossible to know what the game plan is and the reason for this may be that the cog of the game plan is intensity around the contest and when you are losing this the rest of the game plan never comes into play.

    I agree with Richie that lack of on-field leaders is a real issue, but do not necessarily agree that the club has over-estimated the quality of its list. Richo and the assistant coaches are very experienced AFL level people and we would expect that they could gauge the quality of the list reasonably accurately. We should be cautious in placing too much reliance on some of the coach’s public comments, but the Peter Schwab matter does come to mind easily.

    Let’s hope for a strong showing this week.