The People v GWS [No 142] (2018)

By Tom Briglia

Round 5, 2018
St Kilda 2.2, 5.8, 6.12, 10.13 (73)
GWS Giants 2.5, 4.9, 7.15, 9.19 (73)
Crowd: 14,956 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, April 21st at 1.45pm

stkilda gws 2018

Ok, yeah, wow. Let’s get the Carlisle-Davis marking contest thing out of the way first, keeping in mind all of these things are able to co-exist, many don’t necessarily preclude the others.

  • Jack Steven (by his own admission) shouldn’t have put the pass up so high
  • (Carlisle is 202cm tall to begin with). All he had to do was put it in front of him; anywhere from slightly lower to where he kicked it, even if Carlisle had to get done and slide to it. It would have taken Davis out of the equation and guess what? This is the kind thing that had dicked us all day, all year so far, all year last year, and a lot of the year before.
  • Jake Carlisle (by his own admission) should have taken the mark, despite the loose kick.
  • Carlisle had already dropped the ball, so Davis doesn’t really impact the outcome of the contest – if Carlisle had held on to it and Davis crashed into him, then at we’d at least have been in the territory of the umpire paying the mark straight up.
  • The umpire is on the other side to Davis’s arm so he wouldn’t have seen it (similar to the TV angle); the members saw what Davis’s arm come over Carlisle’s left shoulder so were rightful to go ape droppings.
  • Unless the AFL comes out and makes a statement saying the call was incorrect, then the umpires can’t pay this kind of thing for the rest of the year. And I think if they actually did that, we’d probably prefer it. The chopping of the arms rule has been one of the greyer areas of umpire interpretation since it was introduced last decade, but I doubt this will set a precedent beyond a possible one week crackdown.
  • Go back to when there’s 40 seconds left and watch Luke Dunstan fall right into the back of Callan Ward on the GWS 50-metre arc.
  • We had 67 inside 50s to 47.

If you’re good enough, you won’t have to rely on weird shit happening for things to go your way. We’ve all seen how much the delivery forward (quite specifically) has cost us over the past few years, and now we have it all summed up in one solitary play, involving arguably our two best players.

***

The Round 4 match down the highway went a similar way as the pantsing in Round 4, 2002, also on a Sunday at the same venue. The 166-44 scoreline punctuated a torrid few weeks for the Saints and was an awkwardly mashed-up foreteller of the paths the two would-be rivals would take in the coming years, featuring what would remain St Kilda’s growing legend of 1966, and Geelong breaking a 44-year premiership drought a few years later before adding to that against Guess Bloody Who two years later. That match and the blowback gave way to the infamous GT uber-flood the following week against the Swans; a bizarre draw known for the half-time scoreline of 2.2 to 1.4, Nick Riewoldt’s arrival (12 marks across centre half-back), the Swans’ last quarter comeback, Daniel Wulf running into goal the snatch back the game and hitting the post, and second-gamer Nick Dal Santo not making the distance from a free kick after the siren.

On Saturday, the GIANTS®©™ played the role of the Sydney Swans; and the tick under 15,000 there were the 21,000 that dotted the Concrete Dome on that cold Saturday night. St Kilda was played by St Kilda, coming from a Geelong smacking and playing a bunch of young guys. The role of Stephen Milne’s late snap goal from the pocket on the rebound was played mostly by Ben Long’s solo effort, with Jade Gresham (wearing just one 4) somewhere between Milne’s goal and Daniel Wulf (wearing 40), having the late shot to put the Saints in front by five points, but levelling the scores instead. Jake Carlisle was almost Nick Dal Santo having a shot after the siren, but along with Gresham and perhaps Jack Steven’s pass, made up for the balance of Wulf’s role. The role of Nick Riewoldt’s break-out game was shared by, let’s say, Paddy and Long.

In a really trying week, the club might have played up the contract extensions of Clark and Coffield a little bit too much, with what felt like a season’s worth of episodes posted to the club site. I really thought we’d moved on from looking for flashes of hope for the “future” from young guys; of course the line-up still allows for that, but we weren’t thinking it would be the centrepiece of positivity in 2018.

Having punched my seat a couple of times after the siren and screamed profanities at the umpires after seeing the Carlisle contest from the pro-free kick angle, over the next hour, and then through a night out down the road at Howler and certainly by the next morning, the anger and frustration thundering through my head had made a little room for diplomacy and optimism.

***

Injury had shaped recent personnel changes as much as incompetence, and in more varied and unfortunate circumstances – Roberton (heart) and Marshall (Billings) – and only Membrey’s return prevented the novelty line-up filth of a Battle and Paddy attack running out, as Josh Bruce’s newly shaved head settled into an extended period out.

The club was building up to the game with the line, “It’s time Jack the Giant Slayer got a sequel”, which says a lot about how well 2017 didn’t go and how poor the start to this year has been; we’re really holding on to two wins that happened once. When Stuv lifted in the third it brought the underlying sense that we’d at least be in touch for some time, but in an excellent surprise it wasn’t because he was carrying everyone else.

For a team that has rightfully been accused of being vanilla, and has been playing in a way that slashes the edges of the creativity that brings out the best of Billings, Gresham and Acres, the line-up changes and a more aggressive approach brought a much different look. The intent was flagged early with Sav – having been panned by My Favourite Hair in the Fox Footy Commentary Box twice last week – winning a two-on-one, Stuv got it out to Ben Long who ran off through half-forward and speared a kick to the advantage of Gresham one-on-one in the goal square. That was more precise than anything that had happened this year, and unfortunately would prove to be for the afternoon.

***

It didn’t take long for it the game to turn into a scrap. Really, we just looked like a bunch of annoying bump-intos at a party as the Giants tried to get through the crowd to their friends in the quieter part. Eventually the pressure and sort-of linking up grew to a stranglehold during second quarter, but yielded a typically wayward and inefficient 3.6. Yes, the same issue that has plagued us for more than two seasons now would prove to be costly again.

At half-time Billings had kicked 0.3 (by game’s end he had 3.8 this year and 26.44 since the start of 2017), as well as finding himself with all the time and space in the world near the 50-metre arc and for some reason getting confused by the situation (to the confusion of everyone else), before skewing the kick in a way that it was unclear what he was actually trying to do. We used pick 3 on him specifically because of the X-factor qualities and class he’s supposed to have, whether with or without that time or space. Hopefully his goal in the last square tweaked something for him.

He was the profligacy headliner for the first-half but had a solid supporting cast. Acres kicked straight into a waiting smother instead of to Paddy standing in the arc on his own; Gresham more than once tried turning into traffic more instead of giving off an easy handball to a player nearby and the second time resulted in a GWS goal, prompting the first admonishment given during a game by Ben Long.

Several times throughout the second quarter we threatened to blow the game open but the moment passed us in taking advantage of the momentum and the atmosphere, and went into half-time at 5.8 to 4.9. The quarter’s best moments saw what might be the emergence of Paddy in earnest, making the game his own for several minutes. It was also the best advertisement for getting more games into the younger humans on our list; this was the first time he had played five games in a row (partially for reasons outside of the match committee’s control, of course). His first attempt at goal came from leading into the space close to the sticks and Hickey and Gresham got into some push and shove that turned the heat up in the TV Dome, but Paddy sprayed it right. A free kick just seconds later in a similar position had Paddy turf the Goalkicking By CentreBet handbook and go the banana instead – which worked – followed by a goal on the run from just inside 50 after outbodying and peeling off Davis from Sinclair’s kick forward – Carlisle had started it by slicing the ground open from the back pocket with a ball to Hickey at centre half-back. Paddy’s acknowledgement to the crowd felt like a small nod between player and fans that something good might be coming in the future. He delivered on that in the short-term with a strong mark and goal in final minutes.

Amongst an otherwise rollicking performance, we got the staple Mav the Hero attempt from long range when Paddy was one-out in the goal square, but Mav’s great set shot goal in the final term and a wealth of front-half pressure made his return a success. Paddy wasn’t done, attacking a low ball on the wing with zero fear for his incredibly concussion-prone being, and for all the wasted opportunities going forward Dunstan kicked a massive set-shot goal from the point of the 50-metre arc and boundary line. Slowly, some real moments of leadership are beginning to emerge.

Acres had 19 touches at half-time, but it simply wasn’t his best showing. Ross had looked injured a few weeks ago and he was still racking up possessions, and I still feel like he’s not quite at full capacity (he did get the 10 AFL Coaches Association votes. What would I know?). Billings and Gresham were out of sorts, but had their moments for varying results. Sinclair, playing higher the up the ground, continued to purr his way up the rankings as one of our best players (not bad for a rookie selection), moving through traffic and knowing when to hold on to the ball just that little bit longer to allow the movement around him to open up options. Broadly, there’s still a gap on his spectrum between “slick” and “kicking directly into the opposition player just a couple of metres away”, but on days when he keeps that tight he is very important, and perhaps still underrated by even St Kilda fans. Numbers of 23 touches and 11 tackles didn’t reflect how much he can open up the field.

Part of the half-forward revolving door last year, Long played his fifth game in a row (like Paddy) and backed up his neat showing last week wonderfully. The last quarter goal is a potential landmark moment for anyone; a kid who had genuinely changed the dynamic of the team by playing his own game, backing himself in the final minutes to run around the GWS captain on the mark and curl a goal around from an angle and only just inside 50. His composure and slick dish-off (not to mention his instruction immediately after) in the final seconds opened up the final foray forward; these moments had a number of exclamations marks prepared for them throughout the game. Perhaps instructively, the one time he didn’t decide to do things himself, running through half forward towards goal early in the third, it fell apart. Eight tackles to go with it all.

White had also been kept in the side after a mysterious disappearance through last year that basically lasted until Round 1. It was just his seventh game but he knows how to use his body to good effect. Coffield off half-back – and to a point Clark on occasion higher up the ground – showed more composure than most, and their awareness allowed for constructive and instinctive quick movement of the ball to dangerous areas around the ground in a side that had become turgid and stagnant.

***

What to say about Carlisle? “He dropped a couple he probably should have taken”? For once, his move forward actually came at a time when the game was well and truly in the balance and he had again been imposing in defence, and it should have paid off. Our view in the members had Davis appear much closer to him than he actually was, but I think looking more realistically at the space between them on the replay reflects more poorly on Jack Steven’s kick.

We don’t really have many of the senior Harvey, Thompson, Peckett, Hamill, Gehrig types that the last en-masse rebuild side had to shepherd them whilst playing their own vital roles, and that’s where Steven and Carlisle need to be stepping up (they have for the most part). Sole Survivor Gilbert delivered in key moments, combining with Geary in the last when the game looked done to make something out of nothing, running hard up on the boundary line to force the ball forward for Ross and Billings to combine, and he pushed up and took the mark from an errant GWS kick out of defence and centred the ball to Paddy for the final goal.

Membrey seemed pretty flat on return. He presented up well but just wasn’t as sure with his hands. Hickey didn’t quite have an impact up forward in lieu of Marshall but indeed this feels like his second (third? fourth?) coming. Competitive in the air, he used his body cleverly when the ball was low and in general play (see the Gilbert-Geary combo), and finished with 18 touches himself.

***

They ended up with 9.19, but three GWS goals in the third quarter showed how class can be a weapon even if you’re being largely outworked across the ground. Deledio’s snap and Shiel and Greene’s goals from opposite pockets were quality that we don’t have right now, or certainly of a type that either hasn’t been developed and either way isn’t shown consistently enough at the moment. Around the ground, that’s where Long, Coffield, Billings, Sinclair, Gresham, Acres and Clark, hopefully, come in.

Gresham was unlucky in his moment given Ross could managed a tired tumble kick forward, when all that was needed as a drop punt that would bounce vaguely expectedly. Ross made up for it to a point in the final passage by willing himself to wheel around the GWS player and get the ball moving in our direction.

***

It felt that this was the first time this rebuild (?) that we were purely looking to young guys to guide us out of a difficult situation; premiership fancies constantly threatening to break the game open, and then being one more mistake and one less shanked kick at goal from having the game lost. And young guys did good things, unexpected things, inspirational things. Long’s output rose as the situation grew greater; McCartin willed himself to be a presence when the game was a scrap and when it was boiling; the composure of Clark and Coffield; Billings had been carrying his inaccuracy around his neck but took it on himself to kick around the corner and goal at a time in the last quarter when there was no margin for error. Not only that, but in that moment he showed the maturity to point at and go straight to Seb Ross for the excellent handball he’d dished out.

As fans, dramatic situations and trying circumstances in games like that get you attached to these guys. And perhaps not getting the result more so – we’ve all copped that hit with them, they as players, we as fans, and perhaps fosters more empathy than winning does. The final moment aside, the crowd had been incensed by the umpiring all day, and as the afternoon wore on it felt as thought we were willing these new young guys against the AFL and their plans for sporting landscape domination.

A final crowd total of 14,956 was maybe generous, but for the moments late in the game when Long’s kick began curling, Paddy’s own held its line, and Stuv was running into attack the noise was incredible.

It confirmed – not that it needed to be – that it is the game itself and the crowd that creates the atmosphere. We don’t need music playing over the top of everyone after a goal, and while the club had turned the volume down a little it was still competing for ownership of the moment through the game. The idiotic addition doesn’t add anything – lass than 15,000 people in a tin can proved that – but it can take something away. Hopefully the club learned something.

***

AFL.com.au (i.e. the AFL’s) Matt Thompson reflected the organisation’s frustration with any subtlety and genuine drama with a ridiculous tweet using dangerously presumptive language for someone in a very high-profile position: “Surprised by the amount of love for the draw. Why don’t we just get rid of it.” He went back at it with one of the most ridiculous AFL-related tweets of all-time, and then thought the agreement of handsomely-paid guys on Talking Footy was the logical end of the discussion.

Like his position on the changing of club songs, he ran with either the AFL line (the “diminishing quality” nonsensical argument), or with the position of high-profile media commentators, but at no point did he take into consideration the opinions of the fans – who don’t necessarily enjoy the perks of getting paid to go to the footy, or have a media megaphone – let alone actually coming up with a reason why it should be shunted. The AFL does its best to manufacture drama, but the draw has a power over everyone that forces hard questions in a situation that isn’t so clear. Yes, it’s a result, and it’s remarkable.

***

The club was hurtling back to the classic St Kilda jokes about simply being shit, as opposed to the jokes the club had to carefully craft while being in front in time-on of successive Grand Finals about never being able to win a second premiership. Realistically, this was one game that the team built on the an oft-used world-against-us template. Whether or not this translates into something more sustainable is something that isn’t answered yet, even if we’d won. Either way, it felt like something we’d seen before.

  • Campbell

    Great write up Tom.

    The non-loss was a welcome relief. I desperately hope that our attack on the football, in particular Ben Long, Brandon White and Top Gun, remains at that level for the rest of the season.

    There was some suggestion post match that the players and coaches had a bit of pow-wow with respect to game style in the lead up to the game. It’s hard to know what exactly changed given that the effort and intensity was unrecognisable compared to previous rounds. Notwithstanding, there was a marked shift in most facets of our game with the exception of our inside 50 entries…shock horror! Well done to Richo and the players for ‘doing something about it’.

  • Tom Briglia

    Thanks as always for your comment Campbell.

    Richo and co certainly changed things around – the personnel is different to the end of 2017 and there was a lot more purposeful and productive movement across the ground (Carlisle’s kick out of the back pocket to Hickey which ended with Paddy’s running goal was a great example).

    The thing is, we’re playing more inexperienced guys, so the incumbent pressure on the coach/es to maintain that throughout the year as per 2017, certainly in this moment, might have shifted over to whether or there is something more sustainable evident in how the young players are developing, and the way they’re playing together. As Richo would I say, I think I’ve parked my expectations for results at the moment, as I don’t know if we can bring that quarter to quarter, let alone week to week.