Capacity

By Tom Briglia

Round 8, 2019
St Kilda 2.1, 4.5, 6.8, 10.10 (70)
West Coast Eagles 3.3, 5.6, 11.8, 12.16 (88)
Crowd: The AFL site is lying, Saturday, May 11th at 7.25pm

Sometimes I just really can’t be fucked writing up this shit. For my personal whingebag reasons I write as a diary of following this club because I’m wired a bit oddly and St Kilda makes me feel too many things too extremely. More pragmatically, I know the blog stands up better (not necessarily as “good” – just better) as an entity if I keep this tight and have something every week, along with the St Kilda Jumper State of the Union (yesterday made it a whole lot more interesting), cracking the shits over the club song being changed, and end of year bullshit thrown in.

Usually it’s a lot easier to write things up when the club is in a shitty state. It’s more cathartic, particularly in its historical context. This club’s journey is more conducive to my whingebag brain – sad, anxious, depressed, drenched in nostalgia for what could have been, you get the idea. It’s also fucking exhausting whichever way. I don’t write efficiently, and I don’t write it efficiently.

The point of all of that is: the most difficult weeks to write something up are these. This game offered around the mark of fuck all. These aren’t the types of games that bring revelation, but they are just as much of Bob Murphy’s rhythm of the season as any other. They reinforce, they reaffirm, they drain, they exhaust, they steel. Among all the moments and the matches we recall or that shape our story as supporters – for better or worse – games and trips home and days and weeks like these are what happens in between. They sit around the periphery, they fill in the cracks, they inform the subconscious. These are the “every week” in the “every week” that we turn up.

Given the start we’d had to the season, this was the first real reminder of the week-to-week grind of a footy season, and I specifically do mean grind. The media cycle(s), the review, the mid-week faff chat, The Footy Show actually getting cancelled, the build up to match itself, and a slide into, for now, irrelevance. It’s a long way from The Age’s “story of the year”, but at least that’s on them.

***

As always, my brother Matt offered a more succinct, accurate take than anything you’ll get on here: “Nothing happened other than very bad umpiring.”

The loneliest place in winter is the Concrete Dome when you’re watching the Saints play an interstate team in front of seven other people, it’s a little bit too cold, this is your Saturday night, the players look kind of capable at most and the umpiring is going against you. Two first half goals to the Eagles from nothing free kicks equals Nathan Brown’s gif-conducive exasperation. That came with a string of soft frees against in general play, which was absurd enough before Tom Browne brought up a Shane Warne tweet as part of a question to Richo during a tepid post-match press conference.

This was the type of game in which the players just needed to physically appear on the ground, do whatever they had to do and we could all check it off and go home if we were bored enough to turn up in the first place. Yep, West Coast is better; yep, we’re still struggling with actually using an Australian Rules football correctly.

***

Something is wrong with our forward line, and in a Diet 2018 fashion our game was (mostly) littered with ill-directed or kicks down the line that had no purpose, manic pressure that left opposition players free for the next kick or handball, and absurd forward 50 entries and shots on goal. Our scores this year have come in at 13.7, 10.16, 9.12, 10.14, 15.5, 10.8, 10.10, and 10.10 again, i.e. we’ve kicked 10 goals or less in six out of eight games, and we haven’t hit 100 yet this year. All you need to do is kick more than the opposition, and we’ve been keeping the opposition to low scores for most of the year, which looks kind of cool and a little evil when it works. Somehow, we were still in this in the final term, despite apparently being played off the park by a clearly more skilled and successful football team. But at some point the weight of numbers suggests that while we’re sort of in the game a lot, or in a lot of games, we’re simply not winning them. In the same way that that’s ok if you win enough of those, it’s not ok if you don’t. While we restricted a team to a vaguely respectable number of goals, but like we rue our own chances, they had several in the opening minutes of the final quarter that should have made sure our faux-comeback wasn’t in any place to be conceived. But we didn’t kick those goals, and they’d kicked enough. We’re likely to go 4-5 this week.

Nice for Richo to acknowledge that execution is bad etc. etc. and there was weirdly plenty of time when Parker and Newnes scuffed their shots at goal. The Billings snap with around 90 seconds was an excellent example of him playing on instinct rather than having too much to think and scuffing a shot in time and space from 35 out. For all our ridiculous waste, as well as Billings’ goal we had Savage kick one of the better goals you’ll see this year with a classic running banana from the pocket, and Dean Kent seemed to secure another several weeks two goals including a set shot banana goal of his own. When we were making a charge in the third quarter Kent was wildly responsible for running into goal and cannoning the ball across the face of goal from close range, not dissimilar to Matthew Parker doing the best fan engagement work from the club in Round 1. What was worse for Kent is that he’s still shanking shots at goal and he had a teammate on their own directly in front of goal when said wayward cannon was launched.

***

This wasn’t the most the most classic-laden set-list of the 2018 Reunion Tour but we did get the associated stripping away of players’ individual qualities. Gresham signing a four-year deal during the week happened to land in the middle of his two career-worst performances with the ball. He twice had shots at goal from around 35 metres out while running perpendicular to the goal face and kicking across his body, rather than thinking for the second he had each time and using his balance and the space around him.

Parker had another important set shot at goal that he fluffed, but he’s allowed a quiet week I guess. In the “quiet several games category” is Ben Long, who like Parker and Gresham – and to a point Billings over the past couple of weeks – have lost their X-factor. Sinclair upped his, pulling out a ridiculous through the legs and deft handball move on the boundary line that US MAJOR LEAGUE SPORTS fetishists and Night Grand Final Enthusiasts would have creamed themselves over.

This year’s “Oh yeah, him” guy is Ed Phillips, taking D-Mac’s role from 2018 as the human who gets picked several weeks into the season without dominating at VFL level. He obviously didn’t need to – he was more energetic than most and popped up in a lot of places within passages. I never thought I’d say this, but in the same vein, where the hell is Jack Lonie when we need him?

Josh Battle is now vaguely our best player. He’s doing it all at the moment, and kind of because he just has to. No one else seems to be doing a whole lot of stuff. A huge tackle on Liam Ryan, being one of the few players to keep their shit together within 75 metres of goal, disposing of the ball with above-average skill and intelligence everywhere else. In the same way that Matthew Parker is un-St Kilda like for his aggression and X-factor, so is Josh Battle for his no-nonsense excellence.

Also in the incredibly slim, small, minute, tiny positives column was the bemusing return of Josh Bruce’s ability to take contested marks. The stranger thing was that it happened during the game after he’d dropped a couple of sitters, and not after an entire week of working himself up and managing to land in the zone on game day. Seven contested marks right across the front half, all the way up to the wing, in one of the best marking displays of someone wearing a St Kilda jumper for several years. If that happens every week then Josh Battle and his loud green car will just have to back up a little, but that would be a monumental shift for this club.

Worth noting that Membrey got a mention in Richo’s post-match press conference. Really? Happy to be corrected but I think it might have been Richo jumping to comfort us all that something is sort of working in the front half.

***

There’s been a push-pull as supporters over whether we consider the club to we reset over the off-season – and subsequently how much of an out we give the coaches and players – but there are still too many recurring themes popping up from last year. Maybe it’s working. Maybe it’s not. Maybe we just have to wait and see. We need to get hungry and and get angry. Tell the fans about it. Tell the opposition it’s not appreciated. We haven’t said much for a couple of weeks now. Instead we’re squabbling with our own heads. The anxiety with the footy’s back.

Have injuries taken the toll so much that we can’t play a certain way? Apparently so. This is a weird holding pattern in the season. Weathering the storm, whatever cliché you want to shit out, we’re basically ticking over until the the bye period and waiting for injured players to come back whilst Sandy goes and tempts fate with the “keepingupwithKing” hashtag.
We’re also waiting to get through this tough draw period of three back-to-back premiership fancies before the, uh, “easier” part of our draw, but time will tell. If you’re good enough, the draw’s not too tough. If you’d smattered these three weeks across the season and were told we’d lose them, you wouldn’t care. If you put them together then all of a sudden we’re at 4-4 and likely to go 4-5 unless the coaches can get the players to remember what was going on three weeks ago.
***
This is one of the very few times of the year when “there’s something going around” is actually applicable, and I’ve been hovering around the arse end of it. For those of us with rentals in Brunswick West that don’t boast central heating, the trips to the bathroom and the kitchen are a little colder. The energy bill jumps up because of my crappy heater in my room that I haven’t bothered upgrading in three years (when prospects were brighter and 2019 was part of what seemed to be a correctly-routed Road to 2018 that was actually a Road to 2020). The head hurts a little more, the muscles are a little slower, the nasal passage is a little more blocked, the throat sharper. Echinacea is flying off the shelves. The will is dwindling.

Saturday night are the nights that you really live it. That we really get a reminder of what we do and don’t get out of this. Our home ground is an office building that is also now a Concrete Disney Store, we’ve caught ourselves forgiving the club for five wasted years, and no amount of Association Football-style individual player introductions pre-match will genuinely enthuse anyone. Barely more than 20,000 showed up, and I don’t blame them. But also for fuck’s sake, someone’s got to make the first move, otherwise we’re gonna be the ones shipped off to Tasmania in 2026.