Mariana

By Tom Briglia

Round 8, 2018
Fremantle 3.2, 7.5, 9.9, 13.11 (89)
St Kilda 1.2, 1.5, 7.7, 8.11, (59)
Crowd: 41,752 at Optus Stadium, Saturday, May 12th at 6.10pm WST

There’s something about Fremantle and St Kilda. It’s the Bizarro Rivalry of the AFL; not made up of the Carlton and Collingwood juggernauts that created some of the greater formative moments of the league, nor of the Geelong and Hawthorn teams over the past decade that have managed to master the peaks and troughs the draft era was designed to bring.

Rather, it’s been made up of the bemusing, sensational, and incidental. We’ve talked about it a couple of times on this: Sirengate, Ross the ex-Boss, premiership droughts, busy colours, maiden Grand Finals in 2013 and 1913 respectively, Peter Carey’s mark. We could go on, and on this meltdown-via-incoherent ramble “blog” we already have a few times over the years. How appropriate it was that we would meet on the weekend as the two saddest teams in the AFL, St Kilda simply by being St Kilda, and the Dockers somehow besting us for scoring inability the previous week before more Ross the ex-Boss whispers became public. And I would have said “saddest” independent of the Ross off-field stuff, and before he specifically used the word “saddening” but I guess it made this whole thing a whole lot sadder. The AFL as an arbiter of justice is sad and messy to begin with.

Fremantle always came across as a bit of a clown club for a number of reasons – their tacky branding from formation, their colours, their players celebrating goals as if they’d cured cancer, their tacky branding now, and now their AC/DC Aussie rock post-match Perth-washed-in-1980s-Gold-Coast-big-showtime merged with a light show that was outdated as soon as it began; just like their inflatable anchors, just like their colours.

Inevitably, the purple discotheque was going to kick off on the final siren, as it became apparent that the rare decent gut feel I had during the day was probably the probiotics balancing out the olive leaf extract and the Minocycline for my perennially dodgy skin. Each time I’ve seen the post-match bullshit at Perth’s new Corporate dome I wonder which American sport fetishist’s idea it was to make sure any chance for the players to reflect – on whatever side of the result – is sucked out of the stadium by their fucking light show. How do you enjoy a win when the lights are all over the place, or look your teammates, or your opponents in the eye? As a fan, what are you watching, or listening to, or taking in, or experiencing in that space and time at that moment? [Edit: More info here from excellent St Kilda person Michael Egan]. There’s something very Fremantle about it. We had the decency to at least ignore Rod Butterss’ idea of stage lighting during games at the Corporate Dome in 2007, although the club has found ways to shit on our own game day more recently.

On one side of the Saturday, Freo’s President Dale Alcock insisted Ross had the “full support of the board”, and otherwise said nothing over and over again, one week after Matt Finnis labelled our performances “completely unacceptable”. By the Monday, we had heard from former coach Scott Watters make a rare St Kilda comment and suggest that maybe Finnis and President Summers should be sacked (“Ultimately what’s been set up at the club started 10 years ago”; “poor decision making around the list, poor decision making around the recruitment strategy”, and he called Richo a “working-class coach doing his best with a pretty average list at the moment”), and that was enough for Fox Footy to get Summers to say “We firmly believe Alan is the right person to continue to lead our group forward”.

***

Bizarrely, but maybe not surprisingly given our form, Richo declared Ed Phillips one of our most in-form players in the week leading up to his debut; i.e. the most in-form player at the St Kilda Football Club had played zero games for the St Kilda Football Club at the time of the statement. Turns out he actually might have been, and he probably is right now. Phillips was probably the most anonymous human on the list since being drafted at the end of 2016, before being switched in the Moorabbin underground bunker with Dan McKenzie during the off-season.

He’d been collecting disposals at will for the Zebras and according to the Club, he had the most possessions on debut for a Saint since Brodie Atkinson in 1993, before he was mysteriously delisted at year’s end. That’s nice, but like Coffield through this year and Clark (particularly for parts of Saturday night), he appeared to be one of the most composed with the ball.

His first possession didn’t come until well into the first quarter, and it was up there with Daniel Archer’s nomination for worst first kick of all time. But his no-nonsense, efficient and hard-working performance stood out amongst a team of players that for most look like they’re trying to play above their capabilities when they’re looking to kick to a teammate more than 20 metres away. Instructively, he was part of the most attractive passage of play for the year that appropriately ended up with a Tim Membrey shanked shot at goal; Coffield won a free kick on the back flank and went across to Sav, who’s kick to Phillips was a borderline hospital pass, but Phillips didn’t flinch and took the mark under heat and speared the kick forward to Billings, who did the same to Membrey.

I said a couple of weeks ago after the Hawthorn game that interstate matches allow you to subconsciously recalibrate how you feel about the team and where it is. This one was probably more about confirming how we felt about the team and where it is, and that is 16th after Round 8 and averaging 7.57 goals since the end of March. No-one looked like they wanted to kick a goal in the first 15 minutes, and then Freo had a small burst that saw them nail three goals pretty effortlessly in quick succession – Ballantyne a nice set shot, Pearce on the run and Sandilands exploiting the Gilbert-as-ruck match up and taking a lazy mark in front of goal – after a lot of pressure across the ground amounted to fuck all again for us.

Gilbert made it up with a free kick for holding the ball near goal a few minutes and looked visibly relieved when it went through that, for now, he hadn’t been infected with the wayward goalkicking virus that I’m not sure if CentreBet spruiker Ben Dixon has inflamed or introduced a new strain of to the club.

Richo hinted that Carlisle and Marshall would be spending most time up forward, but Marshall didn’t turn up until after half-time, and Carlisle had already been knocked out after a move forward for the first time this year when the game was up for grabs early. He was our best player by a long way up until then in his casual intercept defending role. He was welcomed to the forward line with Membrey burning him on the goal line in favour trying to kick a goal on his wrong foot from effectively behind the padding of the point post. A knee to the head and a short nap and crunching headache a few minutes later was what he got for being our best player. Being St Kilda’s best player has typically been a thankless role. The way he was moving on the boundary showed was obviously keen to come back on, and if they were going to make him (with the cameraman in tow) walk that far from the bench back to the rooms they might as well have kept him out there.

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Phillips had our equal-most touches at half-time with 14, but again we’re back in 2014 mode in which we hope some young guy makes us think the future might be better than this, and we were sitting at 1.5 (our worst half-time score since we tried replicating the GT uber-flood against Collingwood in 2002). A couple of Freo misses were enough to have us sort of-not really in the game, but this was quite an incredible exercise in flailing wildly and blundering our way out of the match. Freo didn’t appear to have periods of comprehensive dominance in possession or time in forward-half, rather they sat back and waiting for an errant kick to come their way and that was enough for them to scoot up the other end.

In my first use of graphics ever, I’ve got the scoreworm things from the AFL site from our six losses, which have come in sets of three – Round 2, 3 and 4 and then 5, 7, and 8 (does that mean we don’t lose this week?). I’ve flipped the home games over for the sake of consistency. There’s a pretty clear pattern to each and this was no different, in four phases (I’ve added the numbers for the Round 3 match against the Crows):
1. Opposition gets the jump, however gradually;
2. Opposition hits an evidently insurmountable peak before we claw things back;
3. The margin is brought back to touching distance before missed opportunities take their toll;
4. The opposition gets away/the end etc.

stkilda r234678 2018 copy

Don’t be sucked in by one quarter of decent footy against another poor opposition. This was really the same thing we’ve seen every other week. A stupidly low score at half-time featuring missed opportunities early to grab the game on our terms, the rally and more missed opportunities at critical moments to grab the game at all, before the other team scoots away having watched us shanking kicks and having to work extra hard to chase the wayward disposal and hating ourselves because there’s no reward for it. On Saturday it was Cerra and Tucker breezing through a couple while Membrey blew his own good work in the contest and around the ground and blunders his way to 1.5.

Tom Morris article pointed out that St Kilda is the most ineffective team inside 50 since Champion Data began in 1999. There are those who deride the reliance on Champion Data for rankings of teams or players, but show me a St Kilda supporter whose frustration levels don’t align with that. Membrey from nearly behind the padding of the point post instead of a handball to Carlisle in the square, Membrey from four other set shots, Billings from the top of the square.

What to say about Membrey’s game? He was great as a target around the ground and up forward, and could have kicked at least five goals, but instead was this week’s villain and kicked 1.5, including two set shots in the final quarter as we were set to pounce on the game. What do you say about that? Richo can’t do anything about that.

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Last year I fluked the call early in the season that Billings – Villain of 2018 – so farlooked best playing mostly in front of the ball. The dynamic of the team has shifted and is still shifting, obviously – it had to during the game on Saturday night with Carlisle going forward, then being knocked out, and then Rowan Marshall appearing – however, both he and Gresham looked much better when they were moved up the ground. Gresham more so, and he was able to have a creative impact – see the torp to set up Jack Steven in the third – and kick a couple of goals too, including the great snap in the third that seemed far too rare a kind of goal for a St Kilda player.

As I mentioned before, Billings part of probably the cleanest passage of play this year. For now, this was the best use of his skills rather than him missing from the top of the goal square at a crucial moment in the third, or shanking a set shot in the final quarter. He’d also flown for a couple of marks and really put his arms up with no concern for his landing, and despite a couple of heavy falls he kept going. His confidence right now isn’t going to come from continuously having shots at goal, or having the ball scrubbed vaguely in his direction when he’s in the forward line.

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Richo’s post-match comments included lines like, “when we play what we prepare for” and “kicking it to each other”, but have we sunk so low that we’re looking to one quarter of decent footy against another poor side for a positive about where we’re heading? We kicked 2.9 across three other quarters for fuck’s sake. How can we be this bad in the fifth season as coach?

Does anyone know what a genuinely good game of footy looks like? What two genuinely good, dangerous teams, that can rightfully dream of winning a premiership, playing against each other looks like? Does anyone remember?