Clay bodies

By Tom Briglia

Round 7, 2018
St Kilda  2.5, 3.8, 7.10, 9.13 (67)
Melbourne 5.1, 8.6, 13.10, 16.10 (106)
Crowd: 25,496 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, May 6th at 3.20pm

r7 2018

As the season heads into the depths of winter, and St Kilda into the deepest, darkest trenches of ineptitude, the footy can take a place towards the back of stage. This was probably the leanest build-up to a game in two years. The CEO did come out at the start of the week and have a crack at Richo for the “completely unacceptable” performances this year, but given he extended Richo’s contract when no-one would have been after him we’ll have to guess that it’s a much safer line than “full support of the board” or “we chat with Malcolm fairly often”.

One week ago we came back across Bass Strait promising to work on our Australian Rules football skills. Now, we’re looking at the prospect of tanking when we’re already the most useless side in the league. Paddy fought off his two nemeses – diabetes (via hypoglycaemia) and concussion, only to be whiplashed out for the game for a few weeks; Gilbert hurt his ankle, Long is out for up to three months somehow, and they join Roberton, Stevens and Bruce (and Minchington I guess) on the sidelines. Nathan Freeman is in with a shot of being our best player in a few weeks.

Sinclair was out somehow, Armitage was in, White was dropped, Marshall came in. Clark came in too. Was all this for class? Some toughness? Marshall presenting decently in the final quarter when Paddy came off sure aside, I’m now sure what Sinclair was doing so wrong or being so neglectful about to be dropped. Let’s have a look at Billings or ol’ Four Tackles Newnes first. Acres was being “managed”, which Lethlean let slip was a sore groin, and all of a sudden we’ve got Sunstan, Armo, Steele and Seb Ross making up one of the most one-paced midfields in the comp. If we weren’t going to win with competent disposal of the Australian Rules football, then we’d do it by grinding the opposition down to our level. Our average score of 7.13ish this year was in danger of being dragged down further. That didn’t happen, of course – we just stayed down in our pit. No St Kilda team since 1960 has scored fewer goals in the first seven rounds.

Mick Malthouse had a double-page spread in the Herald Sun saying he have no brand, but our brand of ineptitude, calamity and heartbreak is second to none, thanks very much. Matt and I met on the bridge on a beautiful sunny day and entered The Ground That Was Built The Wrong Way, which was TV-set mode, meaning 3pm on Sunday marked the end of natural light for the weekend (and also another garbage performance by St Kilda).

***

We finally had the Paddy-Petracca Plate up for grabs. It had taken until their fourth season in the AFL to play in the same game, and I’m looking forward to losing the Billings-Bontempelli Bowl in Round 20. We were all feeling a little better over the past 12 months as Billings became a more influential player (KEEPING IN MIND BONTEMPELLI HAD JUST WON A BEST AND FAIREST IN A PREMIERSHIP YEAR), but he’s kicked his way out of that conversation and into the “is he an active liability?” thread.

Billings (and Newnes’ tackle count) is probably the best representative of where this team is at. He’s nothing on the player he was in 2014. Four years later we have him with all the time in the world not making the distance from 35 metres out, never mind making the distance and finishing with 0.3, and then backing out of marking contests in defence. You can hear the murmurs on the broadcast in the seconds following it, before Jimmy Webster goes back with the flight and puts the spoil ahead of his own balance and as a result hits the ground horizontally with no time to brace. That so many teammates ran over to him was excellent, and how embarrassing for Billings to have been one of them – he could only pat him on the back briefly – just seconds after one of the softest, saddest efforts. And I mean that with some sympathy. He looked sad turning up to Moorabbin yesterday with the press camped out in the car park.

Do you remember where you were when whoever it was (Sam McClure?) broke the news in draft week of 2014 that we’d be going with Paddy? I’d been sold on him mid-year, but I was seduced like many others by Petracca’s finish to the season and accepted he was probably the best young player, Tom Boyd godfather deal or not. Of course, of course, of course, Paddy’s been unfortunate with the concussions, and in the PPP on Sunday that was appropriately taken to new levels. He’d actually started pretty well, with involvements in the first three scores, although two were his own behinds, and the first a set shot after Jack Steven professionally executed a drop punt to his lead, just like a real AFL team. It was one of three that Stuv delivered during the day, either of which anyone would have traded for his overexcited tumble to Jake Carlisle in the final moments the other week. Where was it when it really mattered, let alone his entire career? Admittedly, apart from Ben Long and some Paddy and Acres, that was probably the only thing that someone has successfully corrected within this season.

Paddy hacked another behind from a half-chance but soon after he outbodied his opponent from a long Jimmy Webster bullet, and got low to dish off to Gresham for the first, and it looked like both might be on for a big day. How dare we even entertain the thought. He tried replicating his GWS skate-through but kicked it out of bounds, and then after working all the way up the ground wide and past the defensive side of centre, he dropped an uncontested chest mark that came from a magical Billings right-foot kick out of defence. You might genuinely be able to put down that down to hypoglycaemia.

He then got head knock which was more expected then unexpected, and certainly looked like concussion for the few moments he stayed on the ground and then unconvincingly tried keeping his position as the play unfolded, while occasionally turning towards the bench. Incredibly, he passed the testing to come back on and suffer whiplash that was so bad Richo had already ruled him out for at least one game by his weekly 360 grilling on Monday night.

Don’t let anyone tell you this is Paddy’s doing. The last few weeks showed what happens when he’s had continuity in his game – his GWS performance was arguably his best and he took seven marks across the ground in Launceston on a wet night; that was the first time he’d played five and then six consecutive games.

In a period that is seeing more public discussion about zoning than ever before, if we play uglier and uglier footy that might push the cause to introduce the type of zoning that allowed Paddy to play the way he did in the Under 18s. Who’s gonna stop him as a traditional full-forward type? For now, we have to deal with Petracca running into open goals at the cheer squad end directly after Paddy’s given away a free in our forward 50, and taking huge grabs in their forward line himself anyway. Right now, Bont and Petracca are better players, but they’re specifically the type of players we’ve needed, do need and will need.

***

Rowan Marshall provided us with one of the great St Kilda images of this decade (i.e. not much has happened since the 2010 Grand Final Draw), but he was eventually reduced to our level in the way Billings, Gresham and Newnes have. He had three consecutive shots at goal in the last quarter and finished with 0.3. There was a mass exodus after his third miss, right in front of goal – I’ve never heard such an audible sigh and rush to leave a game of footy after that kind of moment in a game. Maybe after an opposition goal to seal the game, or make things more embarrassing. Maybe a lot of people were thinking that if he kicked it then this tall athletic guy who was looking decent up forward could at least give us some possum shit-sized positive. But nah.

I actually thought he showed more than any of our forwards – he’s taller and he’s quicker and appears to cover a lot more ground that any of them. That goes for him in the ruck too, but he looks more suited as a forward that rests in the ruck with Hickey in the team, who has made the spot undoubtedly his own for now. With Paddy out there’s every chance we have Marshall and Battle in the team next week, which is some top-shelf novelty line-up smut. But Marshall – perhaps like Billings – might enjoy the bigger spaces of Optus Stadium on Saturday night, and possibly the discotheque they have from the final siren, as only Fremantle would do.

***

In excellently St Kilda fashion, our biggest positive of this year to date is now out for up to three months with an injury no one knew he had. It’s not quite coming home to “Lenny’s out for the year with a knee” one weeknight in May 2006, but for fuck’s sake especially in this team he really was standing out. His pressure game I think can really go missing occasionally, but otherwise he’s kicking goals and he’s creating more than anyone else in this bemusing team.

A bit has been made by wannabe Fox Footy War Room hosts like myself about “spitters” that Port Adelaide made fashionable in 2014. Melksham was coming off the back of the square for Melbourne for much of the first half at least (it was hard to keep caring beyond Hunter Clark’s miss early in the third) and managed to get a very clean clearance in the second quarter purely because Long tracked him from the edge of the square and then didn’t put any pressure on him when he got the ball, almost bizarrely so. That kind of thing certainly wasn’t the reason why we lost, but I’m not sure if it was actually an improvement on the first quarter when Melksham ran off the back of the centre square all the way to the Melbourne goal square to be at the fall of the contest without anyone going near him.

Long did back that up almost immediately with a high leap over the of a contest up the ground to get the ball moving forward, and followed it up with a neat shepherd before Armo shanked the entry to Newnes by himself, who was apparently playing the Blacres resting forward role. He certainly wasn’t the only one, but Long fluffed his lines again amid a lot of hard work to keep the ball inside 50 before Seb got the free for holding the ball and, uh, missed the set shot. Some more good pressure, a shanked kick to Mav, and it only meant the next wasted opportunity was closer. Armo missed a shot from the Petracca free and 50-metre penalty, Seb missed the shot on the right, and we were at 2.8. Nothing was really quite syncing up.

***

The members really became restless when no one went up on the goal-line for Petracca’s set shot (after his great mark), and the short pass resulting from the mark ended up with Nathan Jones right in front. Paddy smacked heads with Jetta soon after and Dom Tyson kicked a very goal from the pocket for the Dees. Quickly, this had become normal, again.

Armo finished the game with a neat goal, and just as it had all day, and as it has all year, the club continued to play music after goals, which no one ever asked for. The GWS game showed that the music doesn’t add anything, and when it played after Armo’s goal, comically long and comically loudly, it was embarrassing.

Matt had summed it up in a far more pure moment earlier in the last quarter. There was he and I sitting among a bunch of empty seatsl Weidemann hadn’t don’t anything all day but piped up with goals with side of the final change to put the game beyond doubt. “Our rebuild has been a joke. We’ve ended up with nothing.”

I turn 30 at the end of next week, and Matt is 27. Anyone slightly older than us and younger has spent most of their St Kilda supporting lives with St Kilda being a joke because they couldn’t win a second premiership – despite everything going our way in 1997, “The Streak”, and the fact the club promoted it as “The Streak” in 2004, the capitulation in the final quarter of the 2005 Preliminary Final to a team that showed us what spirit actually looked like; 2009 and 2010, of course, and then the nightmare-into-black hole of 2011. Our narrative as supporters and members is shifting to what those much older than us would find more recognisable – St Kilda is a club that is incompetent from the top down. As far as St Kilda supporters go, maybe we’ve been lucky. Maybe the club doesn’t owe us that we turn up to the footy expecting that they did everything they could and were transparent about shifting around the “Road to 2018” plan/PR strategy. Maybe I shouldn’t expect to pay for a membership and make the effort of going to the footy every week and not have the experience – win, lose, or indeed, draw – shat on by hideous “fan engagement” initiatives, in an attempt to soften the pain of seeing the team and the last several years turn into a loose piece of rubbish, caught in the run-off on the edge of a storm drain.

  • Alastair Pitts

    I’m in the same age bracket and I think this probably the first time I’ve begun to despair at the short/medium-term direction of the club.

    I just can’t understand how the playing list can go backwards so quickly. You could make the strong case that only 4-5 players are having better seasons than previous (Long, Paddy, White, Webster & maybe Dunstan), maybe 3-4 are at a similar level (Carlisle, Geary, Steven) and the rest have gone backwards (Newnes & Billings the most agregious examples).

    They have to drop Billings & Newnes, they look utterly devoid of confidence. The moment you highlighted with Billings squibbing that mark in defence was emblematic of everything that’s wrong with this team… On the defensive, roughly in the right position to defend, confidence fucks the execution.

    I’ll keep trudging along, but I can’t really see myself staying for entire games if they keep serving up the tripe they are (I left after the 1st 2 goals to Melb in the last qtr).

  • Campbell

    Flat. So unbelievably flat.

    Apparently we’re paying 95% of the $13 odd million salary cap….

    Just process that.

  • Janine burdeu

    So depressing. I’m in the much older age group (much much) and I do remember the shocking seventies, the even worse eighties and the promising nineties. I have tried to avoid the “sack the coach” mob but it definitely looks like something is terribly wrong from within the club. To go from where we were last year to where we are now is indicative of coaching/administration breakdown.

    As bad as it was in the eighties, we still marvelled at the leaping Barker, the tough as nuts Burns and the marvel of George Young. Later we all got such a kick out of watching the development of Harvey, Burke, Lowe and the brilliance of Plugger. Unfortunately today I just don’t know where to look, I see nothing to inspire, nothing.

  • Tom Briglia

    If they want someone to shank kicks around goal I’ll do it. I’ll be low maintenance, I’ll do a bunch of marketing and advertising, I’ll happily give them unwarranted advice on the club song and the fan engagement garbage.

  • Tom Briglia

    A lot of others would be with you on that one I think. Certainly for the crowd around me in the members section, it felt like Sunday was confirming that this is the shitty situation we’re stuck in the foreseeable future. There was a lot of exasperation and frustration, maybe as a last throes of a rage before accepting what’s going on. I really couldn’t believed how many people left specifically after Marshall missed the third shot at goal. In the moment, it was a lot more pointed at the club itself rather than at the performance in a match when the opposition kicks the sealer or kicks away.

    I agree on your improvers – I’d probably throw in Acres and Marshall, but too, too many after stagnated or gone backwards. Arguably our best player per position/role is Carlisle and he was developed at another club.

  • Tom Briglia

    That’s a terrifying – but true – point you make. The development aspect that we enjoyed over recent years has been turfed for the moment, and we don’t have champions. Riewoldt (and Joey’s) retirement ended the overlapping careers of a number of players that rose above this club’s history and their surrounds, or that took the club to a place that should have been a platform for the next generation. I would hate to think that the Riewoldt, Lenny, Joey et al generation’s legacy would be wasted by the club from the top down, but it’s yet to show what that counted for.

  • Campbell

    Hahaha.. You can’t miss more than JB

  • Harry

    Hi Tom. Enjoyed your review and the depressing, but on the money, discussion below. I’m with Janine; the Saints still have a way to go to reach the depths of the 1980’s. I think in one year, either 1982 or 1983, when Tony Jewell was coach we lost the first 3 games of the year by more than 100 points. 5 wooden spoons and 2 second lasts in 8 years. There is no doubt, evidenced by the Club’s record, that St Kilda has been the worst managed club in the history of the VFL/AFL. And the recent history, I think, reflects what one very bad decision can do to a club; in our case the decision to leave Moorabbin for Seaford (meant to be Frankston). Less said about it the better.
    As B Obama would have said, Can we beat Freo and bring this nightmere to an end? Yes we can. Cheers.