Clicked off

By Tom Briglia

Round 6
St Kilda 3.6, 5.6, 8.7, 10.8 (68)
Adelaide Crows 3.0, 8.1, 10.6, 15.7 (97)
Crowd: 28,404 at Marvel Stadium, Saturday, April 27th at 4.35pm

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Shit appears hot sometimes. We all want that comfort we felt in the better times. In 2004 and 2005 the future looked endless; in 2009 it looked like the promises made would be kept, and 2010 when we were powerful enough to toy with teams and not care too much otherwise until the time came for history.

We know what that much looks like. For the first 15-and-a-half minutes yesterday we were there again. The 2020s were looking like the next 2000s, and maybe 2019 would play a timestamp bookend and mess up our cultural reference points in the same way 2010 did for the previous decade. For the next seven days, the 2010s are a dark slide with a flickering light at the end of a tunnel with questionable structural integrity.

Matthew Parker’s ridiculous banana goal – a lot of journos appeared to miss that aspect from their Docklands side of the ground – might have been the final roar of an early season spike that made these unseasonably warm March and April days even brighter. A scoreline of 3.3 to 1.0 was shown up to me a symptom of unsustainably manic pressure and ball movement that was a bad cover version of the 2018 classics, much as club continues to use a bad cover version of the club song.

***

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Worries about Adelaide being played back into form by Gold Coast or Eddie kicking another six were null and void. There were better concerns, and they were to be directed at the St Kilda Football Club. Could the team back up their first week “being good” and the attention onslaught? Unprompted positive mentions of St Kilda and their personnel throughout the week were a wild fantasy and possibly personal joke becoming very real. Gerard describing as us “sustainable” on 360, Ben Paton getting a shout-out from Robbo (who pronounced it “Pay-ton”), Roo talking up Hunter Clark and Nick Coffield on SEN and Fox Footy gameday coverage, Damien Barrett jumping the shark a little bit for Sliding Doors, and Talking Footy booking in Richo for this week; all before the bandwagon slammed into Saturday with the entirety of the back page of The Age and a double-page spread dedicated to “How St Kilda turned themselves into the story of the year”. Yes, this was before the game had been played. The game in Round 6. Needless to say this is something much more conducive to post-premiership wash-up and maybe a shortage of material for October Saturdays than April analysis. In other words, are you fucking kidding me?

More astute interpretation – however accidental – may well have come from Andy Maher on The Front Bar which had a stretch dedicated to Jack Steele frisbeeing the lid down Linton Street and dropping “finals” and “raised expectations” in the mid-week press conference. “That is the moment that St Kilda’s season went off the rails,” Andy Maher declared. If it was in jest it didn’t matter. Maybe we’d ordered jugs of Moorabbin toilet water; we looked bloated and sad.

***

My brother Matt is usually my confidence barometer. Wherever we peg our expectations of where the Saints are at, he’s always going to be closer. He had been not just more confident relative to me over the off-season, but confident. He didn’t think we were that far away even in the latter parts of 2018 as the crime scene analysts were setting up the tape around the season’s corpse. Matt believed in Blake Acres and Jack Billings more than I did, and in the positive effect of a lot of players becoming fathers in the off-season, and in the list more generally. A short text message from him on Thursday that simply read, “Nervous about this week” was all that I needed to feel justified in my constant state of paranoia.

For 15 minutes and 23 seconds, St Kilda something that mattered within the AFL. Anticipation was noticeably high among the problematically low crowd of 28,000 given the start to the season. The players looked like they were  Long had kicked the opener and put on some hefty tackles, Lonie was everywhere, Gresham was getting his hands on the ball and hitting tackles harder than he usually would. By game’s end, Lonie was on crutches, Long had been moved to half-back, and Gresham was reduced from a classy, quick outside player to a classy, quick outside player in a team that didn’t know how to move the ball, let alone win it. Billings was never in the game for the same reason.

Maybe the players were wound up. Maybe things worked too well in those first stages. They were playing like millionaires, or at least a club that never left its home base for no reason and then took on a multi-million dollar debt coming back. Newnes was walking around the wing like it was Wednesday night futsal, Longer dropped a chest mark in defence on his own for Billy Longer reasons, Brown got lost playing off Greenwood. There was too much handballing. Goal kicking is something we apparently don’t get much of a choice over when it counts. Within a minute, Lonie missed a snap shot that he’s in the team to kick, and then tried a right foot snap from the pocket as he hurtled towards the fence at pace instead of doing anything else; Stuv missed a set shot goal after a nice snap goal of his own; and a quarter time score of 3.6 to 3.0 was taken to 4.6 against 8.1 just a few moments before the main break.

***

As the game was put onto low flame, it became apparent the personality had been sucked out of the team. The no-response from players after Laird’s late push threw Lonie off balance and led to a potentially very awful knee injury (somehow he’ll only miss a few weeks) was suss. Of course Laird didn’t mean for that to happen, and that kind of incident happens countless times on a weekend. Players around Lonie understandably looked concerned, but where was the aggression immediately afterwards towards the opposition that we’d seen taken out in the first five weeks?

It had probably fallen out of the back of the team’s match day goods trailer, strewn across Nepean Highway along with considered ball movement, decent disposal, enthusiasm and a Plan B. According to Seb during the week, during meetings Richo often picks out moments in a game, pauses the footage and asks, “How many players have we got on the screen?” The answer for much of yesterday would have been probably enough, but were they actually doing anything? Adelaide’s midfield had done to ours what Melbourne’s threatened to do for the first part of last week, and their sharper ball use going forward – whether it was from a stoppage or on the rebound – took out the aerial impact of Brown and Wilkie, and Newnes, Paton, Savage, and Webster weren’t given the chance to tidy up and shank the kicks on the rebound in open play. On the occasions we did, the 2018 skills were back to make us all feel that quality St Kilda mixer of four parts of bemusement to one part of frustration, with disappointment to taste.

Once the ball was stationary in our hands in defence the old 2018 adage of “kick it down the line I guess” was back. There were our own players set up for the switch often enough, but the widest Adelaide player set up inside the centre square apparently put the players off every time. Kicking down the line’s ok if you’re wanting to create a stoppage or you have a competent marking target, but then you actually need players at the fall of the ball to create the stoppage or work the ball out to bring guys like Billings and Gresham into the game, or have a competent marking target. No one looked willing to take the switch even if just to get some movement around the ground happening.

Bruce being injured had been floated on respected news source BigFooty later in the week, and Richo confirmed as much in the post-match press conference. Richo didn’t bother toying with the question given Bruce was that ineffective. Not sure why we didn’t take the lessons over the past year or two in playing injured guys including Bruce himself, as well as Longer, to a lesser extent Newnes, and Mav the year before. Granted, Bruce and Membrey yesterday were given the hard task of trying to do something with balls constantly being dropped from the roof to zero advantage. A quick glance at my screenshot of the FootyLive app half-time stats show Bruce had four touches and Membrey five, while Billings had had just nine. Long had disappeared and Kent hadn’t shown up

Adelaide didn’t look threatened around the fall of the ball. They didn’t need anything too wild or any party tricks to get the ball moving quickly forward or into dangerous parts of the ground. Brown leaving Tex to spoil Betts at one point in the second quarter was described by Garry Lyon as “Rance-like”, but it didn’t take long for Brown and the defence to get found out. An ugly moment for all sorts of reasons left Seb and Steele looking at each other and then arguing after they were split by a spearing Crows inside 50 entry hitting a lead.

***

Never mind Josh Jenkins using our no-show policy interstate to look like a hero. This week it was Elliot Himmelberg and Lachlan Murphy’s turn. People will ask, “Where did he get his start” of either, and just like Luke Ryan people will nod and simply utter “Saints”. Murphy was so pleased with himself he did a post-match interview for Fox Footy in his Crows-colours jocks. It’s nice we can bring an air of arrogance to others.

Gibbs’ late withdrawal (insert Anzac Day function reference here) was countered by Rowan Marshall’s own, and for the first time this year the injury toll looked like a genuine drag on the team. Lonie’s pressure was gone (his inaccuracy also), Carlisle’s absence has meant our most promising forward and Top 5 Hair nominee Josh Battle’s marking and kicking ability has been used in defence (Battle got the Carlisle 2018 treatment of being thrown forward late when the game looked done); Roberton’s likewise, not to mention the ball use. Geary’s attack at the ball and at ground level was rudely missed, Paddy’s ability to take a mark on the lead if Battle’s going to be used down back. Marshall’s value to the team was very apparent. Billy took a few marks around the ground, sure, but Marshall brings a follow-up effort in ruck contests and an ability to drop forward and back, as well as take a mark across the ground as the team comes out of defence. Billy’s point of difference, apart from the fresh airing the mark attempt in defence, was going the 1990s-style random direction punch whenever he got space in a ruck contest.

Watching back over the highlights I have no fucking clue how we were nine points down late in the third quarter when Paton kicked his very nice running goal. The best-case scenario was the “fittest team in the comp” notion was going to grapple the game back by stealth as per against Hawthorn. There was nothing to sustain the players’ defensive efforts; current captain Seb missed a shot at goal on the run, and it seemed about right.

In the short period left between Paton’s goal and the final change, Tex had to chances to really dick us but curiously fluffed them both, taking a run in front of the St Kilda members and then spraying the shot, and then doing the same with a set shot from another tidy lead and mark. Former St Kilda Fan and St Kilda Player Tom Lynch actually kicked the ball through the big sticks moments later, but the siren had sounded one second before his boot hit the ball. The Three Get Out of Jail Free cards counted for nothing

***

Matthew Parker had kept us in the game on his own by three-quarter time. He’d kicked three goals – each of them a feature highlight in any game – out of our eight. His first may prove to be the season’s highest point, while the second and third came from what might literally be his own. They might actually not be, though; he’s the kind of player you almost expect to take mark of the year one day.

Each of the moments were probably only possible through him. The mark just before half-time kept us in the game and was psychologically a big moment given Adelaide had kicked seven of the last eight goals. I don’t think anyone in the crowd was ready for anything good to happen by then because the mark was met with confusion over whether he’d taken it, and then affable surprise rather than any real intensity. His third goal was different, happening at the St Kilda end. On a frustrating day it was one of the few moments after his first goal that really brought the crowd into the game, beyond the bizarre umpiring both ways.

Parker also played a central role in two moments that went the other way that put him as this week’s embodiment of the club. Passing off to Billings from a gettable set shot wasn’t so much of a sin, but the kick was tepid at hottest and fell directly into the path of Talia on the mark. In the same quarter he almost tried too hard to barrel Tex as he wound up for goal. For all the times I’ve watched the replay of it, I don’t know how he missed him, but he did, and collected Battle instead. Tex recovered from the momentary intrusion and kicked it.

That was the closest thing to a sliding doors moment, but wouldn’t have changed the way we kicked or attempted to move the ball. Only Parker and Battle’s work across half-back were salvageable from a game that fans otherwise have no need to remember, but over time add to the weight of following St Kilda.

***

Again, if you look hard enough you’ll find some nice conspiratorial signs that remind us of what has and has not been. Adelaide fittingly ended with a score of 97, and we ended up with 68, the score we kicked in both the 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals. A decade on from 2009, we again have a Ross the Boss; last week, as it was 10 years ago, Geelong and St Kilda occupied the top two positions on the ladder; and this week, as it was 10 years ago, Geelong and Ross Lyon occupy the top two positions on the ladder. Geelong held a 10-year anniversary event for the 2009 premiership this weekend. We held a public reality check. Richo and the club and the media can keep bringing up the two pre-season wins as much as they like. It’s been long enough since they happened, and they definitely don’t add anything to 4-2 going into three of the toughest games as the next week becomes the focus again, rather than anything beyond. We now reacquaint ourselves with our winter wardrobes and bidding farewell to daylight halfway through an afternoon as we enter the Concrete Disney Store. Sitting in the heat at the MCG last week felt like we’d wandered into into the future, or perhaps hopped back onto the worldline that we were on before we turned 2017 into an arm wrestle with ourselves, and then played last year as a season-length equivalent of sitting in our room all winter, occasionally prone to outbursts of anxiety or depression spirals. Evidently, those are still never far away. Take a number and get in line.

  • Campbell

    Great write up Tom.

    I didn’t have the pleasure of watching the match this week…and a quick glance at the stats tells me i shouldn’t bother. Your anguish and frustration is dripping from this report. It’s understandable given our start but we just don’t have the cattle to roll up to every game and get it done. Insert ‘competition is too even’ here. We’ll hopefully rattle one of GWS, Collingwood or West Coast in this difficult run of games. I’m not holding my breath though. They have Greene’s, De Goeys et al and Yeo’s. We have Bruce’s and Longer’s. Nuff said.

    We’ll know we’re through the other side of the rebuild when we’ve beaten WCE, Adelaide, Sydney and Port Adelaide. The 4 teams that seem to use us a either a training run or percentage boost or both since 2013. My trepidation at facing those teams will only subside once we’ve beaten them, until then finals and a flag a just mere dreams as far as i’m concerned.

  • Tom Briglia

    Thanks as always Campbell.

    This week is presenting as a week-by-week for fans – the focus has shifted from fantasies of this year being something of a landmark over the past week, back to “hopefully there’s a good effort this week”. The prospects of that is a lot greater this year, which is definitely something, but it’s still the space we’re in (…for this week, anyway), especially against three of the better teams.

    “They have Greene’s, De Goeys et al and Yeo’s. We have Bruce’s and Longer’s. Nuff said.” The injury toll is really exposing us, but even then we haven’t quite developed nor recruited those players. I’m hoping the manner in which we play isn’t dictated too much by who we’re missing (the results are another thing, and a lot more understandable).