Shame about your neighbourhood

By Tom Briglia

Round 15, 2010
St Kilda 3.0, 7.0, 8.3, 10.10 (70)
Richmond 2.0, 6.2, 9.4, 16.7 (103)
Crowd: 40,962 at Marvel Stadium, Saturday, June 30th at 1.10pm

After last week’s super melt, it’s hard to pull on the Player Issue jumper (this week is Jack Newnes 2013 clash), sit at the desk looking over Dawson Street and again shit out an all-timer rant about the club’s lack of premierships, the Road to 2018’s existence and the awful new version of the club song. The past week was an exercise in how you feel about a club not necessitating that the club listens to you, or cares what you say (it’s now 473 days that the club has refused to publicly even acknowledge the existence of the new version of the song). Thankfully, they’re not going to sack a coach whether we want them to or not, but they sure as hell might extend their contract when they don’t need to and shunt us into a weird and upsetting corner later on. You can tweet directly @ the club, you can leave comments on their Facebook posts, you can call up SEN; the most it will get you is being quietly laughed at off-mic by Garry and Cornesy and maybe Huddo. Probably not Gerard. Maybe, but probably not.

The quiet shock (but not really shock) of last week’s third quarter gave way to begrudging acceptance and exasperation, and anything could have happened on Sunday. Have the stakes of a game been so manic? A win on Sunday, and our season was maybe, sort of, back on track. Lose, our coach might be sacked, but purely as paperwork to confirm the Road to 2018 was actually a bottle of piss. “Off days” are a fading back into foreign concept territory; they’re the default now, and they’re also a luxury that we simply can’t afford as a club, nor can certain people at the club, it seems. Richmond had plenty of excuses for their season but they’re still smokeys for a second premiership in three years. Did anyone actually believe we could outplay and beat Richmond because we’re a better team? Or simply because they were coming off the bye with seven inclusions? We can’t “the opposition had an off day” our way to success.

In the way the club would have been different forever if it had won any of the 2009 or 2010 Grand Finals, it is different forever for having not won any of them. Deny the culture problems all you want in the years since, deny any of this ever happened, deny our best line-up several of its best players through injury. A decade on, the waterline of disappointment and resentment and anxiety and paranoia has risen higher and higher. We can’t do the rage thing every week. We give the club too much (evidently not enough). Sometimes it’s hard to keep caring. And what better way to pump the whole situation full of Lexapro than one and three-quarter decent quarters from the team, and three-and-a-half decent showings from young guys.

***

Two years on, Maddie’s Match 2017 has become same anomaly as the first five weeks of this year. Probably too much of it played around the socials. The legend grows around the first half. In the top four on percentage at half-time with a 92-10 lead, there’s a reason why no one mentions the second half. A 95-point lead late in the third quarter – a score of 122-27 – ended up being 67 points by game’s end. We didn’t even double their score. Essendon more than doubled ours the next Friday night, and beat us by 61.

On Sunday, things started out Autumn 2019 enough. Shorter kicks, holding on to the footy, more willingness to be patient and switch, choosing the moments to go faster and more direct through the middle with purpose and confidence and structure was enough to make you nostalgic for the early part of the year. But we’re not that team worked for Collingwood, but we’re not Collingwood.

It might not actually have been as good as it looked. A slick rebound through the rebound that actually came off really only happened once or twice throughout the entire match for us – Bruce’s first, started by Clark winding up for a big day by making up for a moment that rightfully might have frazzled him, and the other one was more out of the Richmond playbook of moving the ball forward at any cost, and ended up with Complete Dairy Pin-Up Jack Sinclair curling a neat left-foot snap into Nick Hind.

Ben Long being involved both with the ball was decidedly un-St Kilda like. Getting the ball higher up in the front half is like being given a free, new player who can actually hit a target with a low kick. He loves a first quarter, but this week he was more present throughout the game. We forget easily that he’s only played two and a half seasons. The first goal came from Hunter Clark quickly making up from an awkward non-going-back-with-the-flight and wrestling a disputed ball at half-back and giving out a neat handball, and a slick take and dish from Long at centre half forward to Bruce, who did everything he could to still not kick a goal while still kicking it straight.

Maybe it was the new headband. Hunter Clark couldn’t not get the ball, and he couldn’t not look good and relaxed using it. All the pre-season directives from the PR team to make sure every player and coached being interview mentioned Hunter Clark finally made some sort of sense. Everyone’s Under 18s highlights package looks good in the few days either side of the draft and it took giving him a few games and playing him in a clear position to have it translate onto an AFL field. It took him actually doing it, too. Neat handballs, neat kicks, direct, well-weighted, calm

The Best Player in the AFL Since Round 11 Rowan Marshall was flushing 50-metre set shots, was stopping and propping outside 50 and hitting up guys on the lead, he was making a good contest in the ruck, he was a presence in defence, he’s simply too good to be playing at St Kilda. It’s not quite a Kosi 2005 streak but he secretly might be on his way to a Trevor Barker Award. Nick Hind kicked two quick goals and the second one was a smart turn and snap and it made some people in the crowd stand up. He’s not even a forward. The common thread here is the most interesting and exciting guys are the ones who have spent less time at this club.

The tackling was up. The harassing was more annoying. The physicality was back. Parker hit someone as they gave off the ball, Steele was pissing off Cotchin and Cotchin was giving away frees. That had been a barometer earlier in the season. It had disappeared when Lonie got shoved in a marking contest and hurt his knee and had rarely been sighted since. Goal kicking accuracy was back too, but that was more of an outright novelty.

***

 Some things were nagging away. Bruce pulled out a shithouse-in-the-office-on-the-wrong-hand handball when we should have had worry-free possession in the back half. Hannebery missed a kick to Paton who was running into 50 on his own, and then Battle forgot the short kick and mark thing and burned Paton on the lead with a high weird kick on the opposite wing, and Richmond went up the other end and Sydney Stack took a huge mark and now everyone’s talking about him and looking at the photo of the mark on top of Hunter Clark, no matter how many videos about young guys the Saints pump out on social media.

Richmond was weathering the storm. The burned opportunities were starting to build up. Fumbling in the forward 50, and the shorter passing around the ground became too conservative, and chances to change the angle more and open up the middle were ignored. Mabior Chol kicked three goals and took nine marks and had 16 touches. Their injuries didn’t seem to matter so much. Gresham kicked to three Richmond players inside our forward 50 on his way to nine clangers. He needs to keep his game shorter rather than kicking the cover off the ball, and I think his role is stretching him a little right now.

The day was actually over in one moment in the second quarter, and we were actually 23 points up. Dunstan running towards 50 in space and shanking the kick is the short way of putting it. Richmond went straight up the other end for a goal. They would always hit back in some way. The purpose and confidence and a clear plan was gone from then. For whatever reason, that could only be maintained for not quite one half of a game. The post-match line from the Tigers was that they simply set up deeper when we had the ball and looked to switch. Is that all it takes? The anxiety-ridden footy saw us out when it really counted. Billings was back to running towards goal on 50 and doing everything he could to not have a shot at goal. We kicked 3.10 in the second half, including 2.7 in the last quarter. After kicking the first three goals it was 7.10 to 16.7. Richmond kicked 7.3 in the last quarter. We remain the only team this year to not have scored 100 points in a game (EDIT: One of three, along with the Hawks and Gold Coast – thanks Alastair). Let’s take another look at our final scores for 2019 list:
13.7 (85)
10.16 (76)
9.12 (66)
10.14 (74)
15.5 (95)
10.8 (68)
10.10 (70)
10.10 (70)
10.11 (71)
9.14 (68)
9.15 (69)
11.14 (80)
8.11 (59)
10.10 (70)

***

Remember when we were the fittest team in the AFL? When players that weren’t Matt Parker or Nick Hind or Ben Long or Josh Bruce really celebrated kicking goals? Josh Bruce’s “decent stretch of games” has so far given us two wins against the bottom two teams, and three losses of 70, 56 and 33 points.

Richo moved into second position for most games coached at St Kilda on Sunday. This club has existed for 146 years. The widely held belief that a finals win would trigger another season for him might mean we have to wait before finals are a mathematical impossibility before anything happens, unless there is a calamitous event in the next few weeks. We’re stuttering and staggering towards a probably unhappy ending. Before we all start considering Richo’s legacy, he’s still the coach. But can you right now imagine a moment in which you find out his contract has been renewed? And what that would look like? A text from someone? Facebook post from the club? Tweet from Tom Morris saying press conference at Moorabbin at 2pm where Richo is expected to have an extension confirmed? It’s not going to be the final siren of an Elimination Final.

It feels uncomfortable to talk about this. It’s intensely personal and intensely public scrutiny. I don’t get any pleasure out of Newnes and Richo’s Mate Dave being dropped, nor the prospect that Richo might get sacked. There might be some relief that a period of uncertainty or unhappiness has come to an end, and maybe that will be a gateway to some sort if optimism. After seeing coach changes and rebuilds a few times now, and experiencing them really not work, at the moment that’s a moot point. This is getting dull and I’m not sure what we’re supposed to be looking forward to.

  • Campbell

    Great write up Tom.

    It saddens me to say that i’m making less of an effort on a weekly basis to watch our games. When i do watch our games i’m reminded why i needn’t have made the effort or would have been better looking at the bottom of my glass.

    It seems that Richo has become bambi. The narrative has changed from how could he keep his job to how could they not renew his contract? Well FMD…. what is going on here?

    We’re a complete laughing stock. Supporters are now impressed with a half of footy against a half-baked tiges on our home deck. We make sitters look difficult. We kick 7 straight then remember who we are. People were sad for Newnes…sad….the bloke has played 5 good games in about 3 seasons and we’re sad for him. He’s been getting $3-4k in match payments every game for 130 odd games and we’re sad for him?! Maybe we’re getting what we deserve.