Falling water

By Tom Briglia

Round 22, 2018
St Kilda 4.4, 6.6, 10.9, 11.10 (76)
Hawthorn 1.3, 7.5, 12.6, 12.8 (80)
Crowd: 24,795 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, August 18th at 7.25pm

The vaguely decent aspect of the Farewell Residency is that it’s a residency, and we don’t have to travel too far for this meaningless garbage. Freo would have been thinking why they’d bothered travelling across the width of Australia and then getting on a bus for a one-hour drive to get hailed on, and then comprehensively shat on by the Cats. They certainly played like it.

It wasn’t the most attractive door of possibilities to open. The percentage factor in Hawthorn’s finals finish was ramped up, perhaps more by the Collingwood win, and a team playing for a top-four spot against a club in a sombre mood that has plummeted to 15th could have taken this one anywhere. Geelong had completed their smashing in the rain and hail, and Richo’s seventh game in charge came against the premiership-bound Hawks in the wet at the MCG that ended as a 145-point loss.

The Saints hadn’t appeared to try and salvage anything from the final matches, but rather bake in the sun as it slowly set on the season before actual change could happen off the field, beyond moving on some assistants.

Summers’ article with Robbo in the Herald Sun on game day morning actually felt like it did a decent job of quelling the high pressures around the club as stories of board room spats and spills ran around. Turns out the most accurate reporting I got on it until the press went to the source (all carefully prepared statements in any pre-arranged interview aside) was a BigFooty post a couple of months ago that flagged board members were already planning tidy transitions.

***

The shift in momentum that saw us collapse in two consecutive second quarters in the previous two weeks was delayed to the third, but was surprisingly arrested just as Hawthorn looked ready to run away. Of all people it was Lonie who stepped up and shut out his three-goal phobia to kick four for the first time in his career – three of those came in the third quarter alone – and deliver the latest Novelty Bag of 2018. He kicked goals from set shots, his trademark playing for a free kick, and his best was a snap on the run after Gresham took on McEvoy across half-forward, showing off the kind of trait that Richo noted in the post-match press conference was part of the reason why they’d drafted him; “to create something out of nothing”, and our forward line looked better for it if it means Gresham and Billings can create opportunities higher up the ground that someone can finish off too.

While Gresham’s goal early in the last came from Blacres pouncing on a wayward Ben Stratton kick in defence, Lonie was the one who was on the mark in the first place and charged forward to pick up the tumbling ball and poke the kick through to Gresham. If anything, he got too high on confidence and went from “I can do this” to “I’m a leader” and after taking an excellent contested mark in the pocket a few minutes later, decided to centre the ball, but didn’t hit the kick quite right and chance was lost.

I’m very happily surprised at how good his form has been since he came back into the team. I was very convinced that his career was done. He’d shopped himself around at the end of last year and no one was keen, and the club gave him a one-year contract and he had showed fuck all by the time he was bemusingly called up for Round 17. He has impacted games more consistently with the ball as he, Billings, Gresham and Sinclair work in more complementary parts of the ground together, and his pressure is up, although he remains incredibly slight.

In the five games since coming back into the team, he’s kicked 11.6 (four of those behinds in his 2.4 against GWS), registered his highest disposal count in a game and then matched it, his equal-highest tackle count, his highest number of marks, and of course last night his most goals.

***

From the comfortable seats on Level 2 and without having graced a blade of grass as a footballer in any relevant capacity to AFL level, last night seemed to be the best Lonie, Billings and Gresham – you can throw Sinclair in there too – had worked across the ground with each other. That would be the kind of thing that changes during quarters, between quarters, and over weeks, and I think last night – aside from the Melbourne game at the MCG (Lonie didn’t play in that one) – was one of the best displays of each playing creative roles across the match against strong opposition, in a way that impacted a game. For how much I’m talking that aspect of it up, paradoxically the game didn’t really feel like it featured many highlights, but it felt like a big part of the mechanics otherwise.

Billings did some of his best work across half-back. The highlight was the corrected kick on the rebound that hit Paton at the other end of the centre square who finished with an expert running goal. He managed to snaffle a goal in the second quarter as well, recovering after fluffing his timing at a high ball in the marking contest to follow up, and collected 27 possessions to take his average to 26 over his past nine games, frustrating lows in that run (goal kicking specifically) aside.

The kick to Paton has come from a rebound that started with Hugh running off his man in defence and trapping the ball, then shovelling off and quick handball to Ross. Aside from that, a comprehensive tackle early in the game were among the few highlights, but Richo seemed vaguely impressed with what he saw going by he post-match. Hugh looked slow but what the fuck do you expect from a 197cm guy that had played one game since the end of 2015?

***

The number 23 at St Kilda has had a pretty wild ride since Stewart Loewe took it on in 1987 (he was number 50 for his first eight games, in 1986 – I think the last person to wear 50 for St Kilda was Nicky Winmar in Round 16 of 1997 when he got blood on his number 7). After being handed the number by Loewe, Kosi’s enigmatic career took it through to one of the greater enigmas in The Next Buddy, Spencer White, who had spent a short time as number 18 after past and possible future Saints Brendon Goddard left. White, for a range of reasons, never really got his career going and Hugh is the next tall guy to wear the number, and arguably the next enigma given his mid-2014 touting as pick 1 in the draft, and what he showed in 2015 before two very innocuous but difficult injuries.

In the disappointment of the moments after the game it was encouraging to see Richo’s Mate Dave talking Hugh through positioning across the ground. The lack of leadership has been apparent, and displays of senior guys openly demonstrating something vaguely in the vein of a leader have been few and far between; Seb’s near-spray but then non-spray against Port Adelaide was bemusing, visibly demonstration of something that isn’t actually there. Otherwise there was Jarryn Geary on Saturday night running into goal and kicking the ball directly into player five metres in front of him.

Armo played a fair chunk of the game down back. Not sure how much we got out of that – he took a great mark out wide from a Billings kick), and the switch over the other side via Gresham recovering from a spoil ended with Armo marking the ball at the other end in front of goal – but he missed. On the same night, Big Boy McEvoy took two strong marks in front of goal and nailed big shots; hindsight is 20/20 etc. but it highlighted the difference in guys we held onto and guys we traded out post-Grand Finals. McEvoy was traded for Savage, who was out injured on Saturday and isn’t overly vital going forward if he’s not going to try hitting targets; the pick we got with it gave us 18, to go with our 19; whichever way you wanted to look at it, we used 18 on Dunstan who has gone from future captain to playing in the VFL, while Acres was slipping and sliding and in the final minutes with part of his mind on going home to Western Australia. Dunstan might join him on the way out.

***

While we might have done something about the collapses of the previous weeks, that was replaced by another specific malady beyond being an Australian Rules football team that just isn’t good at Australian Rules football. On Saturday night, it was giving up goals immediately after kicking our own. Steele might have done an excellent job on Mitchell and tempered O’Meara, but that didn’t stop some pitiful centre bounce work. Gunston finding himself with a snap right in front of goal immediately after Paton’s on the run was it particularly glaring given there were just seconds left until half-time – was there any plan in place to defend that? – and it gave the lead back to Hawthorn and sucked all of the goodwill and mirage or momentum that one of the season’s better moments appeared to have created. Gunston shut off a chance to put some sort of gap between us to positive after Newnes kicked the first of the second half, and Breust even snuck in one between Lonie’s three goals in six minutes in the third.

***

Game that felt strangely devoid of any real highlights – even the last quarter featured just four scoring shots, and for all the dour dominance we had for the much of the quarter we could still only manage 1.1 to 0.2. No one looked overly keen on winning the game. Maybe they got word the Gold Coast were up the gills against the Lions and didn’t want to jeopardise the chance of avoiding being pushed down in the order at the top of the draft by the priority pick the Suns will almost certainly get for Tom Lynch. A haphazard, awkwardly blistering run off half-back was the best chance with players running free either side by the time we got the ball to the 50-metre arc, but Paton simply didn’t have the wherewithal in his second game to get the ball off at the right time, and the ball was turned over. Gresham’s snap in the final 90 seconds probably deserved more for his ability to create the opportunity in a high-pressure, (relatively) high-stakes situation, but the shot was nowhere near it. As well as creating Lonie’s goal in the third by deciding to take on Big Boy from the mark, he was the only player to kick a goal in the final quarter (with 18 minutes left on the clock, for the record).

***

Just about everyone stopped on the siren, partially from exhaustion, partially from not really getting beyond the adrenaline and desperation required beyond the pre-match warm-up, in which Sinclair and Newnes managed to false-start in our short team sprints. The Hawks and their supporters would have been pleased to escape the ignominy of repeating their folly in the final round of 2001; St Kilda people felt like that might have been our last chance to experience a win for at least six months. What I noticed after the siren was Gilbert lying on the ground and it was hard not to draw a lot of wild conclusions from it. He’d shanked a kick into the forward line out on the full in the final quarter, but from that point there was something about him that looked like he wanted to atone for it, and he competed admirably in a couple of one-on-ones. It’s the kind of trait you can pick up on in the crowd and something that’s been missing. Maybe he felt like he’d cost us, maybe he felt like it was his last chance for a win as a player. Six months is a long time. Right now feels a long time away from six months ago and what we thought we might be in for this year, and its a long way from what this club will probably be on and off the field six months from now. For the moment, there’s one week left of this weird shit of a season.