Just a loser who likes it again and again

By Tom Briglia

Round 12, 2018
St Kilda 1.1, 3.8, 4.10, 7.13 (55)
Sydney Swans 9.1, 14.3, 17.7, 19.12 (126)
Crowd: 27,569 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, June 9th at 7.25pm

stk syd 2018

The appetite for a change of key personnel at the club – coaches or board members, or at least dropping a bunch of players – has grown into something louder and more desperate since Saturday night. For all of the poor performances this year, Saturday night was different. There was a meekness that wasn’t really there before. Sydney’s a great team, no shit, but the idea that the players were still having a crack and playing for the coach despite kicking ourselves out of relevance was no longer something apparent. We’re just going to have to take their word for it at the moment, and the club has moved to get a few comments out there already.

The disarming ease of the Swans’ movement of the ball from half-back that ended up with Zak Jones’ goal late in the first quarter was incredible to watch live. Kennedy (?) could afford himself a fumble on the rebound after our botched entry forward, McCartin (T), Kennedy (again?) and Lloyd walked and scrubbed it up into the forward line, before it was poked back out to Jones who was by himself just inside the 50-metre arc. I don’t think he could quite believe that he was in so much space and he actually paused for a second before slamming through a goal from a step. I don’t think the members’ section could quite believe it, and on the quarter time siren there were a few Saints fans who booed, but it felt like most were either too exhausted or shocked to conjure up any sort of active response. What could we really actively do anyway, apart from throwing away our Saturday night and turning up to the concrete TV set, and hand over our banking details to the club and allow them to take the monthly membership payment instalment?

***

Sydney kicked 9.1 from 12 entries in the first quarter, and we’d finished with 1.1. We’d gone from seven goals to one in the last quarter the week before to being on the wrong side of nine to goals to one. For all of the fap material one quarter of footy gave us through the week – we’ve somehow downgraded from talking about two wins that happened sometime during last season to single quarters – it ultimately showed up that final term in Perth for what it was: a premiership contender not bothering to waste its time or energy on a dysfunctional mess, after toying with it for three quarters when the game was actually on the line.

In the same extraneous way that statistically we have the highest disposal efficiency in the competition, we ended up with more inside 50s than the Swans (including in that first quarter). While they glided across the ground and made it seem as vast as the MCG – with BigFooty’s Callum Sinclair Cup on its way to being retained as sub-plot – we decided to throw away our entires by continuing Old Four Tackles’ trick from last week of the faux long-bomb from just outside 50. It failed so spectacularly that first time around but at least added some variety to how we butcher our opportunities. Newnes repeated it this week, and was followed by Clark and Sinclair; a set-shot from just beyond the player’s range that turns into a 40-ish metre kick to zero genuine leads but plenty of defenders.

For what it’s worth (which to many people right now is very little), Richo said that he pointed out Gresham and Battle as the only ones “at the level” during his quarter time, spray. Our first goal came in the last couple of minutes of the first quarter courtesy of a handball from Gresham over this shoulder hard up against the boundary in the forward pocket, which went via Weller to Membrey, for a composed centring kick to the top of the goalsquare, and Battle reached out to take it with his right hand. Players have dropped much simpler marks this year in the forward line, and have missed simpler goals.

Battle proved to be the only positive, really, now that we’ve regressed back the “exciting game by a young player” as the reason we go to footy stage. He was the one that was in the right place for the first, and he motored up the ground and without hesitation put his head over the footy under pressure in an act that ultimately ended up with Sinclair’s goal from the pocket.

He followed that up with a mark at centre half-back and a bullet to Newnes, which ended with Paddy on the lead and a goal in what was one of the better passages of play this season. A few minutes later Battle ran down Callum Sinclair on the defensive side of the wing with a tackle rare in its aggression for the Saints this season, let alone this night. His kick down the line ended up with Dunstan, who delivered to Paddy and the opportunity was there to not just stamp himself on the game, but to generate some sort of momentum. Paddy missed, taking his tally to 1.2 – all from set shots – and the Swans took the ball wide from the kick-out, Callum Sinclair galloped away from a throw-in on the wing and Buddy took a stupidly easy mark one-on-one against Brown, and goaled.

Richo use the word “sacrifice” in talking about the way Battle used his body throughout the game. The club’s certainly gone out of its way to do that to him, throwing him into the side for its weakest performances two years in a row. But he was talented enough and worked hard enough to be among our best on a night we returned to our circa-7.13 scoring average. I was glad Battle he kicked a second goal. Membrey had cost him a gimme by kicking into the oncoming when all he had to do was get it past to Battle by himself 30 metres out. He narrowly missed one during the last quarter, but in the final minutes managed to kick one on the run from 50 metres and on his wrong foot.

***

Webster was again our best, offering solid defence and actually direct and purposeful kicking, but it was a blight on our team that something we consider to be a key trait of one of the two most likely best and fairest winners is commonplace throughout the Sydney team.

Outside of Battle and Webster, for any positives amongst this steaming hot pile of rubbish you’d need to grab moments from Phillips, Rice, Clark, and yes, Paddy, who I think still qualifies in this group because it’s only his 32nd game. Paddy’s performance could have looked a lot different; it wouldn’t have taken much to change the outcome of the calamity with Gresham in the goalsquare in the final quarter, and a couple of missed set shots. My secret wish for a 2005 Captain Kosi-style appointment as captain in Geary’s absence was scuppered by the much more expected appointment of Seb Ross. Maybe one day.

Phillips again ran hard across the ground off half-back and Bailey Rice showed come nice composure; Hunter Clark pulled off a spin out of trouble and handball and hit some contests really hard. But there wasn’t that much else.

David King’s about players not creating “space for team mates through unrewarded running or positioning”, being “selfish”, that we “didn’t play team first footy”, including “senior core types”. I don’t know if it was specifically what he was talking about, but one of the first things I noticed watching the highlights back for the first time was Newnes covering off space wide in defence for fuck-knows-what as the Swans went forward again the first quarter, and then he didn’t work hard enough to get in the way anyway when Buddy ran off Nathan Brown to the obvious space in line between the kick and the goals. Brown is one of the few guys that has shown demonstrable leadership on the field this year and immediately told Four Tackles off.

***

I left the ground wearing my Pride scarf, covered in shame and dandruff, thinking we’d just seen the kind of match we look back on in the future as a turning point for this team, or this era. Those can be good or bad (see Brisbane 2004 for the positive version); this was felt like confirmation (not that we particularly needed it by now) that the past half-decade was lost. The guys we drafted up to five years ago that we said would be “awesome” and “could be the next captain” were supposed to be those now, but we’re still saying the same things about them. Billings was dropped in a Dal and Milne-style statement that came after the Round 12 loss to Sydney in 2008; the comparison ends there, because that was a side that was on its way to a Preliminary Final, having been considered premiership fancies for the previous four seasons, in effectively a mirror image to this situation.

How do we differentiate a loss that is simply going to happen when you play a young team like that, coming off two decent showings against the top two teams and a trip to Perth, with a loss that is simply…shit? It’s a two-step process; first, we have to acknowledge we’re in a second rebuild, which is a failure on the part of everyone at the club, and then through that lens we consider how to view this match, which would a bunch of kids in a rebuilding team getting pantsed by a perennial premiership threat. It makes Saturday night make a lot more sense, and it becomes just part of what happens when you play kids.

But of course, be angry. Be disappointed and shattered about the state the club is in. We’ve won three games out of 19 since the Richmond win last year. What does the board see in Richo, in his fifth year as coach, that makes him the person above anyone else to oversee a rebuild again, having already overseen a failed attempt over an extended period? You could further that and say that sticking with the coach brought Geelong and Richmond great things, but again, they were teams that had come close to Grand Finals or had played finals and were reasonably expected to give their premiership droughts a good shake. For all the good work the club has done off the field – specifically on Saturday with the Pride Match, and then more broadly things like getting back to Moorabbin and securing the Good Friday time slot – there are footy-related reasons why no-one wants to turn up to watch the Saints at the moment, and why we’re probably no chance of getting that free agency “big fish” the club spent so much time telling us we’d get while it tried to quell our anxieties as we plummeted from Grand Final Days to irrelevancy.

***

Billings embraced #feelthezeal on Sunday and collected 53 disposals and three goals through the midfield and across the wing, in a win against our ruck coach’s team and VFLW partner club. Freeman eased himself back in with 26 touches (just play him FFS, who gives a shit anymore) and Richo would have pleased that his mate Dave got 37, although I think I might collected 15 or 20 myself from sitting around in the RWB Brunswick West HQ. Bruce kicked four, but there’s no reason to bring him in just yet, both for his own sake and that Battle and Paddy just have to play at the moment. Maybe Billings comes in and plays in the midfield or something or rather.

While Richo sounded pretty lost in his 3AW interview with Tim Lane et al on Sunday, Luke Dunstan was picked out by Channel 9 at Trevor Barker for a quick interview and came out with the rather emphatic statement, “We trust him and love him as a coach. We’ve got to start holding up our end of the bargain and playing some better footy”. Not sure if he was able to get onto the media manager between the time he was asked for a few words and that being recorded. It was at least consistent with what the board has said through the year, but notable for it being the first real public comment on Richo from someone at the club after that match. Then today, Seb Ross today said players “feel sorry for Richo”, and we’ve got Jake Carlisle as the bemusing special guest for tonight’s Talking Footy, and Richo may or may not be going head-to-head with My Favourite Hair in the Fox Footy Commentary Box on AFL360 tonight, and after going down the slide as Robbo at the MCG today for the Freeze MND cause I think he would have got a pretty soft run from the panel either way. I don’t think he’s going anywhere anytime too soon. Until it becomes apparent either way we need to reconcile with being in a second consecutive rebuild at the moment. It would have been an incredible piece of trivia if Richo’s last act as St Kilda coach was sliding into a pool of ice wearing a bald cap and fake goatee. There’s form, though. The last guy phoned up SEN as a talkback caller to tell everyone his job was safe.

  • Campbell

    Great write up Tom.

    “It would have been an incredible piece of trivia if Richo’s last act as St Kilda coach was sliding into a pool of ice wearing a bald cap and fake goatee. There’s form, though. The last guy phoned up SEN as a talkback caller to tell everyone his job was safe.”

    Absolutely killed me!

    This administration, this coaching group and this team are challenging the loyalty of the most loyal supporter base. We’ve taken some hits over the years but somehow this feels like we’re at our lowest ebb barring a mishap on the Gold Coast… which we are clearly more than capable of.

    I watched a quarter and that was enough.

    It is sickening to watch how pathetic we are. It is sickening to hear the constant talk about Richo and players.

    The only positive in that game was the seeing young Josh Battle go full J-Web and attack the ball and the man like he desperately wanted to win and beat his opponent.

    Gee whiz… what a debacle this year has been.

  • Tom Briglia

    Thanks Campbell. That Watters finish felt so unceremonious and was packed with so many weird odds and ends and hearsay.

    If there’s anything to take out of this year – this week’s selection aside – it’s that specifically guys like Battle, Phillips, Coffield, Clark and Rice are bringing the composure and class that the team was missing more so through the early part of this year when “vanilla” quickly emerged as our key attribute. I really got onto the Battle bandwagon from the start because of a) the name and b) the St Kilda Messiah complex and I thought he was like-for-like closer to a Riewoldt type and we all like the big forwards, but I was genuinely impressed by his performance on Saturday night. Physical, smart, and skilled, and it really stood out above the rest of the side.

    This week will be fascinating.