Reach for the stars

By Tom Briglia

Round 17, 2018
St Kilda 4.5, 8.10, 14.14, 16.20 (116)
Carlton 3.3, 5.5, 6.8, 7.10 (52)
Crowd: 33,780 at Etihad Stadium, Friday, July 13th at 7.50pm

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Seventeen years to the day since an 18-year old Nick Riewoldt made his debut, we were still stuck with one premiership and playing the support role in making people to crack the shits at the AFL for fixturing two lumps of coal on a Friday night. A few Saints fans took some glee in beating Melbourne the other week, and more so after some things their players apparently said to our own after last year’s game were reported. Some just liked beating Melbourne and watching their fans be shitty about it, but a fortnight later we’re being universally lambasted because we’re shitty. We’re well and truly back to being at the arse end if jokes far and wide for being shit. For all the faux-success I’ve seen during my lifetime, it still feels like home.

Freeman was left out of the emergencies so there was no chance of a Paddy-style zero-hype debut (after the hype early in the week), but it also made for a zero-hype game unless you’re on strapped in on the Rowan Marshall bandwagon as much as I am. Even when we were playing particularly well through 2008 to 2010 we were disliked for not being overly entertaining, so we stood fuck all chance of being welcomed as a Friday night prospect. Perilously close to the kind of gags Carlton is now subject to about Friday nights, but that’s a quirk of the AFL not being able to let go of their connections with Carlton high rollers, and a media hype-machine that has made Friday night games seem to count for more than four points.

The club itself was critiqued for flogging seats at low, low prices, which I didn’t mind – maybe the league should take a couple of bucks off tickets across the board and pay less for shitty re-recordings of the club songs and AFLX.

Using the Concrete TV set as a footy ground would help too, although the club was at fault on Friday as it continues stamping the saliva-drenched cigarette butt of our home games into the cracked concrete pavement. The “Camry Crows”-as-theme has been rightly derided by supporters across the league for 25 years. Our club decided to really show off that not only had it not learned anything from the blowback of the new versions of club songs on offer at the start of the year, but that it hadn’t learned anything one quarter of a century on from Adelaide shitting on of one of the most beloved components of out game.

Before the match, we chucked out what appeared to be a live big band in what might have been an earnest attempt to bring some realism to the new version of the club song. Instead, horribly, it was a front for a pre-recorded Dare-themed club song (“When the Saints All Drink it Through”) as the team came out behind the band, who split and lined up either side of the path towards the banner alongside the usual flagwavers. Whoever decided on this whole thing either didn’t really think about the cut to the actual song and a very awkward crossfade revealed that the new version of the club song actually isn’t very different to what was a hastily put-together jingle for a coffee flavouring and sugar drink. But yeah sure, go ahead, turf the song that we’ve become attached to for a few generations. Who the fuck’s idea was that at the club to sign off on any of this? What were the reasons that they signed off on it? (Yes, money, I get it, but I’m keen on dignity too.) A horrible year has been that much worse by these kinds of things, and at a time when the club certainly, and literally, can’t afford it, it’s been bemusedly and depressingly alienating.

I remember after a win in the second half of 2016 when the song came on, my brother saying very contentedly, “I fucking love this song”. He and my Dad have stopped going to games over the last couple of months, as going to the footy at our home games this year became a lot less like going to the footy.

***

On a more positive note, the club looks to have turfed the music after goals, four months into the season. This was the best footy experience by some distance at our “home” ground this year. To go with the comfortable victory, and much of the spectacle aside, this was a better fucking time at the footy.

On a certainly more negative note, the Marvel branding the stadium has already begun, and yes, it’s going to be more of a Marvel outlet than the 50-ish square metre actual Marvel outlet that will be at the ground. Rather than think about the experience of going to the footy, anyone and everyone involved in this trash – i.e. the stadium’s owners, the AFL – have doubled down on their Concrete TV set and American Sportsball Outlet dreams.

***

Bizarrely, the first quarter turned out to be one of the most involving of this season. Two teams that were at least attempting to take the game on, some attempted party tricks in lieu of real quality, and some spite emanating from the Cripps and Steele match-up that got everyone randy after the macho bullshit from last year. No need for any music to hype things up, no need to award Player of the Series to the sentimental favourite because you’re trying to create your own legends. I thought for a fleeting moment that we’d stalled our rebuild so much that maybe Carlton will be our next rival instead of Melbourne, following last decade’s Geelong rivalry. Cripps went straight to Steele after he kicked the goal to get something going, and unsurprisingly was the best player on the ground. Maybe Steele taking the run-with role benefits his own game because chances are he’s going to be drawn to the action more often – it’s worked for two weeks in a row; along with Stuv he was second on the ground for disposals with 33, behind Cripps’s 35, and last week he finished with 26. They’re his two highest totals this year, to go with 10 tackles and a goal himself. While it one of Steele’s better games from an offensive perspective, Richo gave him a backhander in the press conference for the lockdown perspective, and again it was nice to see Richo pretty consistent in tone regardless of the result.

Marshall was looming large in place of Paddy and Battle from the start but like Paddy, had missed a chance for multiple goals early (specifically more than two), and had 1.2 at quarter time. Gresh had shanked a couple of kicks from around 50 metres, although one ended up with a strong mark to Roma right in front goal for the first, Billings was quiet, and Sinclair’s disposal was messy, so the heightened intensity and pressure wasn’t quite getting the reward on the turnover as much as it could have. Maybe it was the added build-to up what was called a “mockbuster” (when it wasn’t subject to Friday the 13th references), but maybe it’s because we’re still really inconsistent at being good at footy.

For the first time since My Favourite Hair in the Fox Footy Commentary Box drew the ire of opposition supporters for some reason, Jake Carlisle proved to be our only player good enough and with enough presence to be booed. The push and shove after Cripps’s goal might have quietly been Carlisle’s favourite thing to happen this year and from memory the booing began after that scuffle (in front of the Carlton cheer squad), but otherwise he wasn’t needed a huge amount through the night. The pressure across the ground stayed up and the Australian Rules football itself eventually sorted things out. Steele probably looked a bit too happy with things when he barrelled one through late in the second, and it was sandwiched between Zac Fisher and Charlie Curnow goals leading into half-time – we got a let-off when Liam Jones hit the post soon after Curnow’s – but that only drew the contest on the scoreboard out a little.

It took until early in the third quarter to get going but Billings ended up having 20 touches in the second half, and kicked a great snap goal out of a stoppage to move things our way early in the third. This was the kind of game in which he could have kicked a small bag at least, after five against the Blues last year. A wasted snap from 30 out with ample time and space going across the body when a nice drop punt of his would have been more than sufficient – definitely not the first time he’s missed one of those since the start of last season – and then a set shot from the 50-metre arc near the boundary didn’t go near it. Early on in his career those appeared to be somewhat of a specialty of his, but I think might have been something imprinted in our minds following the Round 6, 2015 comeback against the Bulldogs. Latte kicked a similar goal to that third quarter snap against GWS in the final quarter earlier this year, and his first goal had charging through a stoppage in the second. Maybe the less time he has to think about things the better, and the role higher up the ground when things are moving around and ahead of him focuses him. His value is growing in the goal assists and score involvements. He finished with 30 touches (the first time this year and just the sixth time in 79 games he’s ended up with 30-plus), 2.1 and seven marks. Of those 30 touches, 13 were score involvements. His influence on the game might not be made up entirely of highlights-reel worthy snaps and raking long shots, but over the last month he’s become a creative part of chain the can crash through (yes, Billings) and get a quick, neat handball out to Newnes in front of goal, and square a ball up neatly by foot from out wide to players in better positions near goal, which is how Weller and Newnes kicked our two final-term goals.

Hoping for Novelty Bags is a part of the weekly grind of going to watch a developing side, and really we’ve been hoping for them since 2014, if only to reassure our St Kilda messiah complex we’ve got someone to pin a turnaround of 145 years of failure onto. Gresh kicking five in Roo’s last game might have been something of an omen, and Gresh’s six against Richmond was a Novelty Bag due to size, and ideally he’ll keep doing it to the point where that’s just a thing that happens as part of a good St Kilda team (Membrey is in a similar situation, while Bruce may be back to square one from the start of next year). Rich and I were in Aisle 33 hoping for at least one of Roma or Billings to kick five, and they could have ended up with three-plus. Paddy probably would have had his best chance of breaking the two-goal barrier for just the second time in his career, while Battle could have taken a shit on the ground and I would have talked it up anyway.

Newnes kicked three, almost matching his Novelty Bag of 4.2 against Collingwood, and moves closer to being a viable permanent forward – particularly given he’s only played a few games down there since both he and Richo shuffled positions during the Freo game. He’s kicked 13.10 in the nine games inclusive of then, and 27 tackles, after going with 0.5 and four tackles in the first eight games.

The Novelty Bag never eventuated. Roma may well have offered the only real lesson, in that he could genuine alternative up forward, otherwise a lot of this performance had an enjoyable asterisk next to it. Kreuzer going off early in worrying circumstances certainly created inflated ruck numbers for both him and Hickey, but the team looked more mobile as result. Perhaps the spell at Sandy worked – his hands were stronger (his two goals game from nice grabs), and his impressive follow-up work defensively and down low across the forward line was something you can’t take anything away from, regardless of opposition. A return of 2.2, eight marks, 16 touches and 23 hit-outs certainly looks excellent on paper. Richo said he was “terrific” and his goal celebrations were the happiest anyone has looked wearing a St Kilda jumper this year. We’ve had plenty of time to come to terms with this season being a waste, and I think the team has maybe had some of that weight lifted a little.

***

Carlisle was back and was hard to get past when it actually went near him, although he looked like he’d hurt his ribs again after thumping into Jarrod Pickett in the last quarter. That didn’t help when Roaming Brian tried getting his attention with a few pats right to the spot following “AFLSaintsBrowns”, and right after he’d taken the guard off. “Oh boy, sorry about that, come this way.” This happened shortly after BT had asked Jack Steven why he always went to the same spot in the rooms after a game – “It’s my locker”. Wowee.

In one of the more bemusing performances of the year, Gresh got nowhere near it. He was moved higher up the ground during the game – almost in Sinclair territory – in the second half but he just couldn’t find the ball very meaningfully. I thought he might have been thrown right into the middle but it just never seemed to happen. “Fined for wrestling” feels like something out of the mid-1990s and that threatened to be his most notable contribution; in the end it was having his eyes clawed at by Jed Lamb in said wrestle. Part of developing a good team is that you’ll have guys that cover the quieter days, and we had nine guys contribute to 16.20.

***

Lots of people got lots of the ball on Friday. Aside from Steele in the midfield, Stuv kicked two very nice goals in very un-St Kilda-like fashion, and Armo was confusingly good again, aside from taking an easy dive for a couple of frees. I think he thinks he’s pulling off some footy smarts thing (see Hawthorn 2011-15), but he’s actually just going to ground for no reason. Dunstan played his best game for a couple of months, including some huge tackles that really punctuated the team’s pressure game.

When was the last time we had a comfortable win? When was the last time we said “we should have won by 80 points?” Regardless of the opposition, take it in and make the most of it, because it’s been more than a year since we could relax just a little and enjoy a win.

  • Campbell

    Great write up Tom.

    A win’s a win. That was probably the hardest 60 point win i’ve ever watched i reckon. There wasn’t a heap to get excited about on Friday with the exception of Roma and Steele. They were shining lights. Outside of those two our boys were fairly vanilla. Not helped by Carlton who were potentially the worst melbourne based team since melbourne circa 2011-13.

    For what it’s worth, Paddy ain’t in our best team anymore. Coffield should definitely be playing at this stage of the season; i can’t think a valid reason why we wouldn’t be getting games into him.