Frostbiter

By Tom Briglia

Round 16, 2018
Port Adelaide 3.1, 5.6, 8.12, 12.14 (86)
St Kilda 0.5, 2.6, 4.6, 7.8 (50)
Crowd: 36,253 at Adelaide Oval, Saturday, July 6th at 4.35pm EST

After stealing a two-point win, a week off to enjoy it, and crawling through the last 163 seconds at the MCG for another two-point win, it was time for the 2018 streak to come to end.

As enjoyable as parts of those five quarters of footy were, I don’t think we were expecting to be so low that this would constitute a peak, no matter the adrenaline rush that comes with consecutive wins of such small margins (regardless of where you are on the ladder).

Three weeks after saving our coach’s and Billy Longer’s jobs, we were shoved back into the black hole fixture interstate at 4.35pm EST. Playing against a team who was gunning for second place, at a venue we’ve never won at, and the set of probably our worst moment of 2017 was simply too much of a feel-good story for this club, so we thrust ourselves beyond the event horizon and went back to scoring 60ish or less, back to looking like the park footballers that AFLX is designed to be played by, back to reality.

If we were going to salvage anything from this one at three-quarter time, we’d have to come back from the same paltry score of 30 as last year’s incredible loss. The Power had shanked their way to 60, though, and we’d almost certainly have to endure another tense finish in the unlikely event of getting a result, and this proved well beyond running over the top of Gold Coast at Carrara. We spent the last few seconds of the first couple of quarters trying to hold off their forays forward but the drills weren’t required.

Outside of the final few minutes the margin wasn’t actually that dire, but the most dangerous we looked was when Jared Polec speared a kick to Gresh in front of goal. Charlie Dixon managed some rude self-satisfaction in the last few minutes with three goals as we folded under the weight of our own shitty kicking forward. Richo’s Mate Dave managed to kick his third amongst all that, meaning four of the game’s 19 goals were scored in the last few minutes.

***

The Power defence held up incredibly well. While the cliché “we threw everything at them” isn’t much to be feared if it’s coming from the St Kilda Football Club, it was still a lot of high balls that they nullified comprehensively, not just deep in attack (particularly in the last quarter) but when they were pressing up to keep it locked in their front half.

Who would want to be Paddy or Membrey? Paddy had little influence after a few early touches, and he should have just been taken off after injuring his foot in the first few minutes, but like any other player I doubt he would have said he wanted to stay off. Apart from his short-lived career in defence (two momentary forays during the game), he ended up playing the role of our deeper forward having Sherrins landing sort-of in their vicinity while being outnumbered. The result was what you’d expect, and if he still has critics this deep into the season then I’d assume you’d saved your time and not bothered watching the Saints much this year, and all of a sudden the joke’s on me.

Membrey played higher up the ground but Port pressed up very effectively and their defence was set-up solidly, and somehow all of the wrong-footed sky balls weren’t landing directly between several Port defenders and on his chest. Last week I pondered if we could call Jade Gresham good yet, rather than saying he’s going to be good. Is it too early to say we missed Josh Battle? This was the kind of week where Richo’s “disconnect between the kickers and the catchers” was all on the kickers, though.

I felt bad for Nathan Wright. Surely playing for his career, playing as a forward and he starts the final quarter with exactly zero kicks. He was playing in a team that was set up to lose. Maybe our own weather forecasters messed it up but we needed a taller option to give us an option if we’re just going to bust it out of defence instead of trying to work in numbers up the ground. Marshall ended up as the best for Sandy and the club started their soft selection PR campaign for this week quickly by naming Goddard immediately behind him (although that has since shifted to Freezer. JUST PLAY HIM FFS. WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT.).

***


I remember a feeling of injustice as Ken Hinkley arrogantly beamed his way through the press conference last year, talking up how good Ryder and Gray were at the game-winning stoppage. For fuck’s sake, I thought, that was Blake Acres and Billy Longer being their airhead selves and not respecting their spaces, and Seb Ross switching off, just as much as the no-shit hit inboard by Ryder was. We control our own shitful destiny through our shitness, thanks very much. That said, Hinkley managed to shit out a “we were never going to lose” this time, but there was no comeback for that.

Perhaps scarred by what happened last year, and also due to common sense a lot of effort seemed to have been put into curbing Robbie Gray’s influence. There were moments of immense physical pressure on him in the first quarter. Jimmy Webster on his return didn’t have the same attacking prowess but was significantly massive in a one-on-one duel with Gray along the boundary deep in the Port forward line. It showed off footy nous on top of just being fit enough run out a game. Seb Ross, his direct opponent at the (in)famous stoppage last year, caught him holding the ball through a large tackle as he was again spent plenty of time in the back half. It must have done something to rattle Gray a little – he passed off a shot near goal after an unforced Gilbert error and caused a turnover, and then meekly (by his standards, normal by ours) squirted a set shot wide. He still finished with 1.4 and was a general menace through his 21 disposals, but even with his influence below his lofty best and Jack Steele keeping Ollie Wines to 18 touches, the Power have that much depth this year it wasn’t noticeable in the end result, bar their inaccuracy. Jack Watts threatened to take BigFooty’s Callum Sinclair Cup, but you could take it or leave it by the end.

***


Shout-out to Richo’s Mate Dave for pulling off some of the arsey stuff that players in good teams are considered geniuses for doing. He sort-of-not-really pulled off a backheel through his legs in a short burst through the second quarter in which he kicked our first two goals to when no one else looked like that actually wanted to. There were was five minutes left exactly when we kicked out first. At 3.5 to 0.5 we didn’t look like getting it out of defence; Darragh couldn’t even get the ball past Robbie Gray and back over the boundary line from his kick following a mark out side.
Dave also fooled the umpire twice at the Noise of Affirmation’s second-favourite venue, playing his way to frees on the wing and then for his second goal in one of those “the forward seems slightly discomforted, so I’ll pay it” decisions.

There were two sides two his game. This was the Armitage we thought we had from Round 3 of 2013, and that we did have for much of 2015. Three goals and 30 touches, and surely a free pass for the rest of the season, providing the leadership of tough, repeat efforts and smarts and seniority on the ground that Roo and Joey did without ever reaching their heights.

It’s not really his job – his is more the contest by contest – but where Gresh created and embraced the moments in which something special was needed, particularly late, Armo had the chance to break open the play off half-back and instead of kicking to either Stuv running laterally or Newnes coming forward out wide, he split them and the Power went straight up for a scoring shot. Moments like that, added with the pending return of Acres and Freeman’s potential debut this week, make louder the question of how many of Dunstan and Mav (who actually looked better coming off half-back rather than playing forward of the ball) and Dave and Steele and Seb we can have in this mess.

There was a moment during the game in which Seb turned from a kick that didn’t quite hit him and had gone out of bounds, and he was about to crack the shits as the camera did a soft zoom-in but he stopped himself. He really needed to crack the shits in that moment. Someone needs to crack the shits more.

Speaking of captains that never quite became a captain, what is with Jack Newnes’? Since he kicked 4.2 he’s turned into a Mav type, a faux hard guy that loves the tough stuff but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when they show it and to what effect. Last year he averaged a shade under 23 touches per game; this year it’s just over 16 and while the move forward has been alright at some points, and may well give both himself the team some versatility in the future, when he goes missing he really goes missing.

***

Gresham only got 17 disposals but he played with class and spark that no one else really brought (is he our best player at football?), but otherwise the movement across the ground was stodgy and Billings and Sinclair, who were all highlighted for their work across the ground the week before, simply didn’t quite provide the same movement and spark. If Billings is going to end up with 22 and we’re going to be shitty with it, that’s a good start. But a few of those were massive wind-up kicks that were smothered by or kicked straight into the nearest player. Not sure if it was the kickers or catchers for that one.

Was it the midfield? The ball spent a lot of time in the Power’s front half, and the inside 50s were a ridiculous 67 to 46 in their favour. Austin played another good game (considering he’s only played a handful at all) but fuck a duck we missed Carlisle. Maybe it’s the club’s PR department doing too good a job with their article on him this week but he might quietly be moving into captaincy calculations. Aside from Gresham, he’s probably our best player at football also.

***

We’d dragged down the Sandringham Football Club to our own level a few weeks ago, taking the proud and successful club to its lowest score ever. On the day when North managed to beat (or lose to?) that with 0.7.7 at Casey Fields, which is the modern day Waverley, we only managed to draw with winless (and drawless Coburg), thanks to a lucky, and frankly awful 50-metre penalty just before the siren. Whereas in the past couple of years there have been times when we just wouldn’t take the game on and “become too conservative with our ball movement”, this was one of those days we’ve grown used to in 2018 – and perhaps last year too – in which we just have to assume we actually actually trying to move things and open up the game, but we didn’t because we can’t fucking kick.

For one week we could claim fast-paced movement, the pressure we supposedly prided ourselves on for a few not-actually-successful seasons, some skill and some grunt right across the ground. This was how 2018 was meant to be. It didn’t take much at all to bring us back to an irrelevancy that’s at least equally as hideous as the plummet we took through until three-quarter time at Carrara. We were back to being bad, and no-one particularly cared about even that anymore, and we’re only half a game and a little bit of percentage from being 17th (who knows what’s going to happen this week?). One year ago, at half-time, we were inside the top four. Maybe it’s the depths of winter, but this shitshow has been a slow, disheartening grind, and I can’t wait for it to be done.