The People v GWS [No 155] (2018)

By Tom Briglia

Round 19, 2018
Greater Western Sydney 2.0, 5.2, 11.5, 13.8 (86)
St Kilda 1.6, 3.10, 6.11, 8.13 (61)
Crowd: 12,014 at Spotless Stadium, Saturday, July 28th at 4.35pm

The weather turned in Melbourne over Friday and Saturday. Having passed the halfway mark of winter during the week, it is around this time of year you notice there is a little more sunlight, the mornings aren’t getting colder and pushing harder each day against the enthusiasm for getting out of bed. The winter chill was gone and tripped the subconscious understanding that the weather will be more comfortable and September is soon, which means for some finals and hope, but for us, a rest. In whatever ways this season is looked back on in the future, right now there is relief creeping in that we’re almost done.

It’s been a fucking grind. Simon Lethlean’s interview – produced by the club and posted on social media, but curiously hidden from the main page – was a comprehensive statement from the club itself that change is coming. During this season the most we’ve been able to see is a shuffling of younger guys and senior guys in and out of the team while we feel the weight of realisation much of the last half-decade may well have been wasted, and the holding pattern that the systemic change so obviously needed at the club can’t come until the home and away season is done. Richo said “we’ll work on it” every week, and we certainly didn’t a get a change in game style or sustained change in the outcome, from the kick in individual passages of play to wins and losses.

We were shunted back into the black hole time slot of 4.35pm interstate after ruining two consecutive Friday nights for people that fetishise American Major League Sportsballs. So ahead of the 2018 Farewell Residency at Docklands for the final month of the home and away season, we delivered a fantastical encapsulation of our inability to play decent Australian Rules football once within 60 metres of goal.

***

The St Kilda banner was a bit of a fucking reach, a bit with a dig at the GWS song:
“Let’s play Saints footy
Tough. fierce and strong
So we don’t have to hear
The GWS Russian folk song”
Get fucked. The GWS song is bold and brash in the same way the Richmond song was, and like the Richmond song (the original) is instantly associated with a club that is arrogant and has a fuck you attitude to the rest of the competition. I don’t care who exactly put it together, how dare the club even try that kind of line after going out of its way to choose “reworked” version, put together as an afterthought after Richmond’s bizarre gaffe that their fans can’t stand. Our song sounds like the Dodo ad jingle and the club didn’t ask anyone, and then they had the team run out to a Dare jingle the other week. The “Camry Crows” is still a joke 25 years on, this club is a shitty joke 145 years on.

***

Shopping For Lonie proved a flop last October, and in the 10 months since it’s felt like he was playing out time, pissing off fans when selected. Earlier in the season we were thinking about guys who’d gone backwards since 2015 and 2016, and he has been among names like Billings, Bruce, Newnes, Weller, Hickey (Dunstan?) and, for a time, D-Mac. Lonie’s promising 2015, which included wasteful kicking at goal as per his tutelage under Adam Schneider, was followed with no real specific development in his game. He still gets knocked off the ball too easily in contest, he has an input for a few minutes in the opening quarter and then disappears, he misses shots on goals, he tried to make something out of nothing when he can’t quite.

Like the difference in the team’s best and worst footy pre-Carrara this year, Lonie turned everything up on Saturday; a more manic version of the good, the bad and everything in between and either side. All in all, this was his best game. For the first time for a couple of years he maintained a presence throughout the match, he sprayed stupid shots against the boundary line in opposite pockets, he tackled and harassed with more purpose and more effect, he shanked goals he should have kicked. He finished with 2.4 to be one of the chief architects of the wasted opportunities – he had 0.3 before kicking a couple of nice goals. His career statistics are ridiculous – 12.17 in 2015, 10.8 in 2016, 6.14 in 2017, and 7.9 this year, for a total of 35.48 from 46 games. Like Paddy, he seems to have default setting that basically prevents him from kicking three goals in one game; for all those shots on goal he’s only managed to kick three goals twice.

A career-best 21 possessions were littered with extremes. He set up our first goal from an excellent kick inboard to Gresham after a turnover; he harassed Whitfield out of bounds with a great chase in the pocket, the boundary umpire didn’t see it, and the ball came back and he found an arsey free and hit the post. Having had all the play, with 11 to three inside 50s for just a 1.4 to 1.0 lead, he gave away 50 which resulted in Lobbe’s crumbing goal (only the against the Saints). He took us to 1.5 with a banana from the boundary he really had no business in trying without having had some sort of look inboard first.

Some of his follow-up showed some development in that space, as well as how much more of the ground he appeared to cover. Another free from jumping on the low ball that skittled off Membrey’s boot did justice to his kick off half-back that got it to Membrey in the first place, and he was still there doing some over-caffeinated things in the final quarter; a give and get going forward to set the tone when the game was still there to be won looked good until what should have been a simple kick floated over Gresham’s head. Lonie got a lucky free a bit later – despite dropping the ball before being landed on in the back, and missed again.

That was followed up by Membrey hitting the post to take his own game to 2.3, and burning the chance to being us within 19 points with more than seven minutes left. He returned to his mid-sized herculean role around the ground, surrounded by very raw support in Marshall and Battle up forward, pulling in 10 marks while looking like he didn’t want to kick a goal. That final poster, from a relatively simple angle and distance, was the last chance to stay in touch. It was a pointed summary of the night; Battle had worked to get to the ball to Gresham, who danced around a couple of opponents outside 50 with a bounce included and perfectly weighted the pass to Membrey from his left boot. We’re at Round 20 this week and again, we’re working on it. Himmelberg kicked 4.0 in his 17th game, Daniels nabbed a couple and Langdon kicked a monster from the meeting point of the 50 metre arc and the boundary.

Gresham took another step on his way to being our best player, and there were a couple of things in this game that reminded us that he’s just in his third year and is still developing his own game. That it was novelty that he started in the middle at the opening bounce was more than a wink. He should only get fitter with more pre-seasons, but given what’s happened to Billings et al maybe expect him to lose the capacity to kick a goal if there’s more than half a second of time to think.

Until time on in the second quarter he was the only one to have the composure to finish in front of goal, having kicked his two goals from a set shot and moving with the ball. His second quarter goal was probably the best singular offensive and defensive effort in his career to date, and again that he’s still on a development curve. A near one-on-one mark was followed up by a chase and harass that we don’t typically associate him with; Marshall’s effort to get down low and get the ball out should be noted too, and Gresham finished neatly.

His possession count is growing too as he covers more space and spends more time through the middle, and he’s the type of player in which that makes a different to the team and to the game given his creativity and class, which are two words I’ve used together I think in every review this year, due to a remarkable lack of them or the novelty of when they were displayed by a St Kilda player. He equalled his career-high 25 possessions to go with his two goals.

***

Aside from the Jack Billings being (one of) the face(s) of AFLX in the lead-up to the Gillon McLachlan and Steve Hocking’s faecal and flagellation matter as legacy attempt that he didn’t even end up playing in, Gresh is bit-by-bit cropping up as the most visible player for the club to the wider competition. Things like appearing on a GameDay (why was I watching?) graphic among the players who have kicked goals in the most respective games this year (he’s equal second with 16), and then Gerard and Robbo going out of their way to talk about him with Richo after another week of gushing about the Cats before awkwardly addressing another game pissed away by junior footy errors en masse.

Billings played a rather strange game for Billings, in that he was quite physical. I do mean that as a backhanded compliment, but with a little more sugar than I might be letting on. A missed shot on the run in the final seconds of the second quarter, with more space and time than ever necessary, right now is now well and truly, sadly, the expectation from him. He’s put together a decent body of work this year that seems to show the more time he has to think around goal he appears he to get cluttered.

This became one of several games he’s had a decent amount of the ball (by his standards), but heavily weighted to handballs – 7 kicks and 15 handballs, after 8 and 12 last week, but for just the second time this year he registered five tackles after a season-best six last week. Several times he hit the ball hard low to the ground, including a decent moment on centre wing in which he pounced on the ground ball and had the composure under pressure to suss out options on his left and then right hand; and by the third quarter he was flying for a couple of marks and leading across half forward with his arms up, which was a good sign given he’s rarely committed to contests in that way – I’m assuming it’s something to do with having had his shoulder strapped for some time now.

***

One clear development in-season is Steele’s move to playing defensive roles. Another good run-with job, this time on Ward, had him collect 24 touches while keeping Ward to 11 until three quarter time before the tag was dropped. Where does that leave the midfield otherwise? Incredibly, Richo dropped his mate Dave while Weller stayed in, but Acres came back in and looked at home after a long layoff despite slowing down as the game wore on. An early contested mark and goal would have been outrageous, but we had to settle for an early contested mark and miss, but that didn’t stop Acres carrying what Rich rightly described as “irrational swag” for the rest of the quarter.

Dunstan’s game was one of his few that were carried by decent moments rather than ticking over contested ball efforts. A couple of well-weighted kicks into the forward 50, to Marshall in the first and then Membrey in the second both led the forwards turfing his good work and spraying both. He went back with the flight of a Jack Steven forward 50 entry in the second and almost wiped out Battle on the lead, but barrelled a couple of Giants instead, got the ball and got it out, which found Lonie who finally kicked a goal.

Going by Richo’s post match presser, in response to what was the closest thing you’ll get to a Dorothy Dixer on game day,outside of the mid-week press conferences which suspiciously have a St Kilda and Dare-branded mic a little too prominently, he mentioned Dunstan, Steele, Acres, Gresham, D-Mac and Webster specifically as guys taking the team forward, so I don’t think Dunstan is going anywhere anytime soon.

Freeman had 37 touches and 13 marks for Sandy on Saturday in the Channel 7 free-to-air game, to go with a very neat goal. After two games against arguably the likely Grand Finalists, the 2018 Farewell Residency at the Concrete TV set starting on Saturday night against mid-tier teams presents the best opportunity for some feel-good PR for the club without having it entirely shat on on the scoreboard, or on the alleged “big stage” of Friday night. But maybe Richo’s Mate Dave comes in instead, and Mav Weller keeps his place after another mesmerising nine touches and 0.0.

The VFL broadcast situation was the making of the AFL and Channel 7’s self-serving TV rights agreement. It was actually incredibly that Robbo blasted the “floating” fixture of the final round and called it a TV program, and even noting the asterisk that he himself is employed by Fox Footy which is party to the deal. On the 7 side they cut the number of free-to-air games as Gil’s brother can maximise his public presence; Gil and Steve are now trying to get some more goals happening per match so they can create more of “the most valuable 30 seconds of screen real estate in Australian television”, while Tim Worner can keep paying his way out of trashy behaviour. In the Fox corner, Gil told everyone to “Go to the pub”, in what will probably go down as an historical quote that illustrates the disconnect between the AFL and its fans. That’s not helped by Gil and Steve henchjournos like Jon Ralph, see here and here that try and butter up (i.e. shut up) fans.

And as for Saturday’s game at the MCG, who’d have thought a massively important match between two huge teams could have an amazing atmosphere and care for the actual game itself, even without being moved to a night timeslot and fireworks and a celebrity appearance before the match.

***

D-Mac’s reanimation continued. He was tasked with curbing Toby Greene and did a decent job, but what really stood out was twice he went back under high balls to take strong marks, in the same way that brought him concussions a couple of times early on in his career. One of the very few positives of this year has been his form since three-quarter time at Carrara.

For the inside 50 dominance in the first half – 40 to 18 entries at half-time – The Captain of the St Kilda Football Club, Jarryn Geary made far too much of a contribution tothe poor return. He collected at least 30 possessions for just the third time in his career – in his 179th game – after doing it for the second time against Richmond at the MCG this year. It makes sense he could play as a small forward from a pressure and aggression perspective, but he contributed for too many dodgy kicks at least going forward in a game that was notable for how often he was involved in the front half. Two forward 50 entries within a matter of moments early in the first quarter were royally shanked, missing Hickey near the goal square first and then Steele as we peppered the forward line and grabbed handfuls of air around the GWS throat. He blazed away going forward early in the second to set specifically the example we need a whole lot less of; when were pressing in the third with consecutive goals, he found the ball in heavy traffic inside our 50 and rushed a kick around the corner, rather than look back for the handball to a couple of players, and GWS took it up the other end for a goal against the run of play. A few minutes later he scuffed a kick going forward to Billings, and Zac Langdon thumped through the long set shot goal up the other end. Captains aren’t the ones who are supposed to sap the team of any will to football. He’s not the only one but that goes to show how much of a train wreck the place is before the Lethlean accident scene management and removal services comes in for a sweep.

Also in the Concerning Leaders group is Seb Ross, who continues to find the ball in large quantities without doing anything overly damaging with it. You could perhaps say he’s trying to settle into a changed role as he spends more time off half back (at least when Webster is out), but it doesn’t account for useless kicks up the line when he’s running on the wing and Gresh is yelling at him, in space a couple of metres inboard, to get the ball back and keep running. A few times earlier this year we watched Seb live off the ball and I’m sure he looked injured; the small bursts away from opponents simply haven’t been there this year, and his on-field temperament sparks but never really takes into verbally challenging leader.

Over this final month of the season we’ll be looking to Goddard and Freeman getting games, as the club teases Hugh’s return with Sandy highlights packages, and teases us by ignoring Freeman altogether. They’re heading towards Matt Maguire circa 2009 and Tommy Walsh circa 2011 territory right now. It’s time to find out a few things that for no clear reason we’re still unsure of. We’ve waited five seasons for this development period to show results. I don’t know what the club is waiting for.

  • Campbell

    Great write up Tom.

    I didn’t actually watch this game as i’m now in the ‘i know how we’re going to lose this week’ territory every week.

    For me, Jack Newnes is the symbol of Richo’s coaching reign. He peaked two years ago and has been faffing about ever since. He plays every week yet seems to be totally unaccountable for his performances. He’s a limited footballer but clearly well liked and being a st kilda player, it appears as though that’s enough for us.

    Richo, peaked two years ago, his developmental style has worked in so far as we’re competitive against most teams with the odd blowout. However, as this week and almost every week has showed, he can’t address flaws. An inability to convert i50s is a flaw in either his plan or his development methods. As a coach his role is to address the flaw. He hasn’t. It’s been going on for two years. But…..he’s a nice bloke and so we better give him another year. FFS.

    Thank f&%$ Lethlean is around. He doesn’t seem to be a St Kilda person. He’s too surly on the surface. I think he may end up being Gil’s greatest gift to our club.

  • Tom Briglia

    Thank you as always Campbell.

    Lethlean certainly was a gift; Finnis too (slightly different circumstances) and he got us out of a few holes when he came in. But Lethlean is the non-St Kilda person hard-arse the club has needed for decades to shove things around and throw things out.

    Newnes and Weller I feel like have morphed into very similar types of players – Mav and the club have the half-excuse of Mav’s ankle injury last year, but both have to take blame for playing him through the season with the injury. It looks like it’s upended his career. Newnes at least is proven to be capable of hitting the scoreboard, but this whole thing has become such a slimey mess it’s hard to pick out what are genuinely good signs of development or versatility. We’re 4 and a half wins going into the final month of the season and it’s still strange to be highlighting those as “wins”, maybe.