The wind picked up

By Tom Briglia

Round 17, 2019
Geelong Cats 4.4, 5.7, 8.8, 12.12 (84)
St Kilda 2.2, 6.3, 6.7, 8.9 (57)
Crowd: 24,035 at Kardinia Park, Saturday, July 13th at 7.25pm

Screen Shot 2019-07-15 at 9.00.58 pm

We were looking at four in a row for Geelong and St Kilda matches in the final year of a decade producing something bizarre or incredible or wonderful or awful or scarring:

  • Round 7, 1989 – Geelong kicks 35.18.228 to 16.13.109, Gavin Exell kicks eight goals, Geelong’s highest score at the time, and what remains the biggest score we’ve conceded.
  • Round 10, 1999 – Came back in the last quarter at the Cattery to go 7-3 and move into premiership favouritism. This was the last win before the Alves/Watson team collapsed. (Shout-out to Sebastian Hasset for reminding me that I’d missed in the 1998 win in my initial tweet about this.)
  • 2009. Twice. For all of the feel good memories the club and the media have tried producing around the recent 10-year anniversary of the Round 14 match, it’s just a sub-plot to the main story arc, in which Paul Chapman was ultimately proved right. No links required here. We all know it.
  • Bonus round:
    • Round 14, Corio Oval, August 12th, 1899 – The Cats win 16.23.119 to 0.2.2.
    • Sectional Round 3, Corio Oval, September 9th, 1899 – Geelong wins 23.24.162 to 0.1.1, which remains the lowest score in VFL/AFL history, against what at the time was the highest score to date (eclipsing Essendon’s 120, also kicked against the Saints)

What horrible delights awaited us at Kardinia Park on a cold Saturday night? In the 10-year anniversary meeting since the rivalry of the aughts came to a head, we got the absolute opposite. We didn’t even get the thrashing that 1899 nor 1989 teams received, nor for that matter those that went to Kardinia Park in 2002, 2013, and 2014. Rather, we saluted a decade in which we descended into mediocrity, and collapsed in a heap of disengagement and irrelevance with a match that no neutral would have cared for and no Cats nor Saints particularly needs to remember.

***

Another week of the bizarre “Win, and our season is still alive, lose and the coach is sacked”, but this is now moving into the, “Win, and we might keep our coach, lose and the coach is sacked” phase. This week did have something dangerous written over it; Adelaide are clearly capable of dishing out big defeats and we’ll need to deal with them in a few weeks, but top-of-the-ladder Geelong coming off a loss presented an immediate threat. We’re an off day in general away from requiring new coach, let alone an off day against the team on top of the ladder. Maybe we feel like our rage (or whinging) can be enough to move things at senior level. This felt like an ominously quiet week among supporters. For those actively wanting a change of coach this week presented the most likely chance for the footy to do the talking.

Geelong haven’t been great (relatively speaking) after the bye over the past two seasons, and despite all the available empirical data over this season and the past 146 years, I had a sick feeling during the week we would either win or lose a close game. The kind in which you get run over the top in front of a hostile one-sided crowd. That didn’t quite happen. However, we did play like we cared. The players were still responding to the coach. We just don’t have good enough players; perhaps this coach isn’t the right fit for this team. Guys a few years into their careers are going to weird places. Acres had four touches at three-quarter time, we don’t have a genuine midfielder that is an excellent user of the ball; Gresham is still playing a role in which he feels the need to quick the cover off the footy instead rather than using his agility and shorter kicking to open up the game; Membrey is lost; D-Mac was played up forward for some reason; Sinclair is still indifferent.

Bruce yet again played like one of the few guys that look close to a leader on the field. Something isn’t quite working between both he and Membrey. They’ll both benefit from Max King coming in. Otherwise, our best player right now just played his 27th game in a position he actually isn’t a full-timer in, and arguably is perversely our best midfielder. He’s also The Best Player in the AFL Since Round 11. A St Kilda Best and Fairest might yet have Rowan Marshall’s name on it, and I’d wonder how he’d go in the Brownlow (he obviously wouldn’t win it, but given the AFL’s official rankings and his position it would be a fun curio to keep tabs on one of the few St Kilda guys that genuinely impacts the play, and across all parts of the ground).

His bump on Dahlhaus was a rare moment since Round 6 onwards in which we took to it to the opposition. Steele went with him on that that, and Dunstan too, and that annoying/hardarse factor has been a bit of a bellwether. The run of four goals in the second quarter might have given us perverse, fleeting thoughts, immediately weighed down by acknowledgement this team most likely wouldn’t be capable of sustaining it for four quarters.

Not much as actually been said about what happened between the Melbourne and Adelaide games in April. The first few minutes of that Adelaide game may well have been the peak of the season. The crowd wasn’t big, but there was an anticipation in the moments leading up to the first bounce that hadn’t been felt since late 2010, and the feverish pressure in the opening minutes had me thinking that we might actually be a good football team. But as the first quarter unfolded, it was clear that was more in the maniacal style of 2017 and 2018, and it started to come undone too easily. As the second quarter unfolded on Saturday night, maybe we had finally returned to what happened before that. Maybe it was because Lonie was back. Maybe Jack Lonie was our spiritual leader this whole time. You might be able to make a direct correlation between the time he went down with a knee injury in that Adelaide game with our personality disappearing and our season turning to shit. Never mind, we lost and he had five touches.

***

Still, some mongrel was nice as opposed to zero mongrel, and the defensive pressuring was high-energy as well as efficient. There were players around the ball in the right spaces to make sure the ball got moving the other way, but the ball wasn’t used well, or there just wasn’t much ahead, but probably both. It made for a forgettable game in which Geelong couldn’t show off much and we once again farted out a score that provided more of a nuisance than anything else.

Watching on TV is always a very short and sharp experience. No build-up in physically going to the game and being among the crowd and getting a drink. In the lounge room, sometimes it can be hard to really absorb yourself in the game. The team is running out, a quick ad break, nothing changes in the lounge room aside from finishing off the Juanita Peaches delivery, the ball is bounced, quarter time, nothing really changes in the lounge room aside from an M&Ms refill, start of the second quarter, you get the idea. This was the depths of winter. Choosing to stay in on a cold, wet Saturday night to watch a public demonstration and confirmation that Geelong are better than us and can have this four points. We just needed it to be broadcast and to see what it would look like, for transparency.

Geelong weren’t quite 100% and we were on, but all it took to finish this was less than two minutes of a 35-year old injured Gary Ablett. Another three-quarter effort, but we were probably operating at capacity and Geelong could just pull it out when they needed to by choice. The different between this and the last few weeks was that we didn’t lose that outlier quarter by as much, but the numbers were instructive as any. With the season on the line, 14 entries for 0.4 for the third quarter, to Geelong’s nine entries for 3.1.

In a year of low and bizarrely consistent scores, this was a little surprisingly our lowest. After Long kicked his second goal 16 minutes and 44 seconds into the second quarter, we kicked 2.6 to 8.7, and no goals until Acres’ 12 minutes and 15 seconds into the final quarter. Again, much like this season, an isolated block of decent footy covers up a lot of benign kicking down the line and an inability to win contested ball, or trying to play on too fast and kick to not much. Outside of the 10 minutes and 31 seconds in the second quarter during which we kicked four straight, it was 4.9 to 12.12.

Unfortunately couldn’t add to the 11 out of 15 games coming in to this in which we’d scored between 66 and 76 points. Let’s take another look at the board:
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)
11.6 (72)
8.9 (57)

***

Broadly, this Australian Rules football team just isn’t that good at Australian Rules football. Maybe they’re too young, maybe the injuries did matter. It’s hard to feel overly proud of honourable losses as you’re watching a rebuild fail. The soft draw has turned into a string of games that just don’t matter any more. From here, we’re a minor roadblock to the 2019 aspirations of the Bulldogs, Adelaide, and maybe Freo. We are the soft draw.

The fact that the commentators were talking up how the last time we went into half-time in front at Kardinia Park was in 2004 – also a game that we lost (in a very handsome Heritage Round jumper) – was patronising enough. This came in within a couple of days of AFL.com.au publishing a glowing article about Geelong’s 2009 premiership 22 all still being still involved in the game. On the same day, Ross was coaching his 300th in Tasmania, on the same ground and against the same opposition we went 19-0 ten years ago; when it looked like the next seven weeks was written for us. I was secretly hoping chairing off a coach became a thing for one day, and specifically on Saturday, because the idea of Ross bashfully being chaired off the ground is objectively funny.

I was cleaning my room while listening to Kane and Dermie on Crunch Time on SEN late on Saturday morning to hear them talk about West Coast and Collingwood and they way they play, just to remind myself what talking about good footy teams sounds like, let alone what it looks like. How would you view us from a Geelong perspective? That would have been a “pedestrian” win for a Geelong fan, ticking down to the pointy end of another flag tilt. From a competition perspective? “Plucky” or “brave” if you wanted quickly scan an article the next morning, perhaps, but no neutral would seek to find out any more details about this game. No need to mention it again. How would you feel watching the game at home if it wasn’t the Saints playing? What would you think of the players? Or the game style? Or the club?

***

As far as footy goes, the coach is in charge of a lot of what dictates our emotions through the week and is a representative of the football club and its history and its current journey. We project how we’re feeling onto them, likewise the players. Alan Richardson the coach and public figure is a different entity to Alan Richardson the human. Sometimes that bleeds across how we might be feeling about the club and the team. Watching Richo on the siren was upsetting. Channel 7 cameras were poised for the moment. He looked upset. The players are still playing for him. The team’s effort was up and a lot of things went right. He’s handled himself excellently. But it just hasn’t been enough. He looked like he knew it was over. He looked like he didn’t want it to be. I didn’t want it to be, certainly in that moment. I don’t want it to be, if only for it being an official acknowledgement that this rebuild hasn’t worked (if we needed more than everything that has happened in the past 30 months). There’s still time for a little more thrashing about until it happens, of grabbing at anything that might be able to sedate things momentarily, or maybe stumbling upon something that could save him and this whole era. A way out of this that isn’t taking the jump to a new coach, and all the uncertainties that come with it. What if there was a genuine reason that this hadn’t worked that was out of Richo’s control? What if the injuries did actually matter? What if Paddy and Roberton could make it back? What if Acres and D-Mac and White are just another pre-season away? What if it’s just the goal kicking? What if it’s just a few small things misaligned? We probably won’t ever know.

  • Campbell

    Great write up Tom.

    It was a typical of our time under AR, all the effort in the world, not enough class to get over the line.

    I love Richo. Sad it didn’t work. The rebuild failed. Your musings were on the money! We’re staring down the barrel of a mini rebuild. One that’s needed it seems. Not enough talent or too much under developed talent.

  • Tom Briglia

    Thanks as always Campbell. Sorry I haven’t been overly responsive of late.

    It feels like we’re just slightly on the wrong side of mediocrity, or just always slightly pushing back the “now” of the rebuild so we’ve got something up our sleeve in future, in case whatever we’ve been doing in the moment isn’t working. Or whatever, I’m not sure.

    I’m sad it didn’t work. Richo actually felt like the most St Kilda person at the club by the end of it – he was the most constant presence throughout his six years, and there are no real champions or clear leaders taking us into the next era.