Yesterday’s problem

By Tom Briglia

St Kilda 4.3, 6.5, 8.7, 10.12 (72)
Fremantle
2.3, 6.4, 9.8, 10.9 (69)
Crowd: 17,715 at Marvel Stadium, Sunday, August 11th at 1.10pm

Screen Shot 2019-08-12 at 11.26.35 pm

By the end of Saturday night, Round 21 had seen GWS reduced to their lowest score in the eight years in the competition, and then North Melbourne to theirs since joining the VFL in 1925. Essendon had kicked a goal within 19 seconds of their game starting, but at the 21-minute mark of the last quarter were 1.8. Melbourne had kicked 3.8 at the final change that afternoon. Carlton were 1.6 at half-time on Sunday.

Of course, Essendon kicked three arsey goals to let novelty scores and stats enthusiasts down and somehow, somehow, temper the loss with the last three goals. Teams like that will always find some angle, some cushioning. That deserved to be 1.8 at the end. . It’s often not mentioned that Port kicked the last 1.3 of the 2007 Grand Final – the margin had stretched out to 128 points. That does make a difference. The Bulldogs at one stage led 137 to 14. It was still their biggest loss to the Bulldogs ever, sure, but it just wasn’t the empirical freak occurrence it could have been, that belonged in the tired, very off-white pages of the copy of Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Australian Rules Football, But Couldn’t Be Bothered Asking that my Mum bought home for me when I was seven, and endlessly fascinated and partially terrified me with its odd font and strange tales about scorelines and happenstances that belonged to a time when freak occurrences maybe weren’t such freak occurrences, but were still of the same century.

The laboured point being is that this was the kind of game that might just well yield a only a couple of goals for each team on any weekend, let alone one that was already drenched in anomaly. Like those weekends where all the games are weirdly close, but usually the effects have worn off over the Saturday night. The close game aspect was one that felt likely, and to the point where I was more expectant of close piss-away of the type we saw in Round 3. We almost got something very similar – before Josh Bruce’s kick floated left we had kicked the same score as that shitty Sunday evening, and Freo were up by three points instead of five. Watching Ross Lyon’s Dockers in Round 4 of 2012 was like watching the same team play against each other on a video game, and watching the Saints over the past couple of years has been like watching a not-as-good, then briefly better, then worse version of Ross Lyon’s Dockers of the late 2010s. Perhaps fairly, both games this year were decided either way by less than a kick, and that is a very St Kilda and Fremantle thing to say when usually that sentence is applied to the Swans and West Coast and the 2005 and 2006 Grand Finals.

 ***

Anonymity is the lot of a team who is watching their season and another heavy-hearted decade quietly move to a close. The crescendo of 2019, really, was reached a few weeks ago, and opened the epilogue pages in Adelaide last week. No one has cause to mention the Saints for any good reason. All Australian squads, Brownlow tips, under 22 all Australian squads, a smattering of media awards, let alone anything relevant to finals or a premiership. No one has cause to mentioned the Saints for any bad reason. We just sacked our second-longest serving coach in an event no one really wanted to happen, but was inevitable, and is now in the past. The most we could hope for came via Channel 9 Adelaide this week in a piece about crowds being down throughout the year: Port Adelaide crowds by more than 3,000, Adelaide’s by around 1,270, “Torrential rain, bad time slots and match-ups <cut to footage of Adelaide vs St Kilda> all blamed”. Last week was the third-lowest Crows home crowd at Adelaide Oval.

No, high scoring doesn’t necessitate quality football, but the scoring of zeitgeist of 1919 had returned a century later, through snow or Concrete Dome conditions, and the latest edition of the Bizarro Rivalry had suitably been scheduled for two teams known for not being overly keen on kicking goals this year, or for much of the past decade, by design, by incompetence, and seemingly in some cases, both. Another look the board, please:
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)
11.7 (73)
8.9 (57)
17.14 (116)
15.14 (104)
10.10 (70)
10.12 (72)

***

Jade Gresham was the latest edition to the 2019 Surprise, Unusual and Bad Injuries List, and we’d brought in two midfielders that are probably our best players but have played about 30 seconds of footy this year. The Best Player in the AFL Since Round 11, Rowan Marshall nearly joined the group after a collision with two Dockers coming from different directions that actually looked like a computer glitch from our view on the opposite wing. Matt and Dad and I had said less than a minute earlier that we’d had all the play for not much return on the scoreboard. Very quickly, Marshall had come off and 2020 was ruined. The game quite obviously shifted in that moment. Marshall is clearly our most important player. Welcome to the next rebuild.

Being the St Kilda Football Club meant the door was open and delicious food laid out for the opposition, and Walters was brought into the game within moments to kick Freo’s first. The Coff’s shoulder fell out a few minutes later and Fyfe (in clash arm sleeve) kicked a goal around the corner. There are clear differences in talent and careers built here, but Freo’s best players were now making an impact as some of the few highlights we had left in 2019 were quickly dropping off. Freo supporters continued ensuring their club remains an aesthetic 1990s bad novelty with the “Olé, olé, olé, olé” chant after goals. Cool.

The difference in leaders and star quality was slowly looking like it would take hold. That isn’t actually that much across the two teams right now, but that’s all it might take when you’ve got two teams that aren’t overly keen on scoring. Hannebery’s two goals were forgotten, and Stuv’s smart body work one-on-one that had contributed to a Membrey mark and goal then set off an excellent chain which ended with a long kick to Josh Bruce out the back tripping over himself. Freo took it up the other end for a goal, and Bruce – one of the few guys who has actually been playing like a captain – rewarded the neat work from Dunstan to open up the ground, and then some rare clean ball movement through Hannebery, Stuv and Lonie, with a missed set shot. Freo went up the other end again for a Fyfe goal. The Ross Effect had taken hold, Freo had unassumingly hit the front and Fyfe at that point had 17 touches and two goals.

Decent looks at goal were rare, which made Hannebery’s snaps in the first quarter that much more valuable. He wasn’t quite pacing Fyfe but two goals and 14 touches might have been in the classier of halves played by a Saint this year. No fuss, no worry, no problem. He clearly wasn’t developed at this club. Uncompromising usually is a byword to toughness, and he has that, but he doesn’t need to think too hard about his disposal and intent. He knows what needs to be done, and he does it.

Marshall had been reduced to the Freo-style set-and-forget ruck, which only works heading into the 2020s if you literally, literally, literally are the tallest player to have ever played. Stuv’s goal and the celebration was an excellent moment that was brashly interrupted by the recorded Jack Steven chant over the PA. I don’t know if the club knows this, but that ascending tone that played at the MCG was one of the last in-game ground announcements and that kind of thing really is going to make the crowd stop and listen. The ground announcer and the club (I know we’re not the only ones doing this) can’t help themselves and are still running with the soccer-style individual player announcements before the game. They really built this one up after zero responses for any players number 1 to 26 and went for JOSH *vague “ooooooo” crow noise for “Bruce”* which just ended up as JOSH SILENCE. And they did the captain last, like it’s fucking Craig Willis after the fucking Grand Final.

When music was played after a late, meaningless goal in Round 3 of 2018 that visibly pissed off people who were only just coming to terms with the rebuild failing, I really wondered in that moment if the club would care or think about this kind of stuff. After the game and the crappy version of the song was played a few times they tried something different and went for the replay of Bruce’s winner with BONUS GROUND ANNOUNCER EXCITED VOICE and built up the crowd but they just still don’t understand the disconnect and went to that “you’re the best” song instead of the club song and people started leaving immediately. Yes, it did matter and it did make a difference in that moment.

***

That second quarter featured a string of Acres, Long, Battle and Paton that may have been the saddest handball chain of the professional era, and was immediately followed on the turnover into Freo’s forward line by a scuffed kick to Walters who was good enough to handball over his head to Fyfe. The skied kick meant an awkward dance shared by Carlisle and Sean Darcy, a dribbling ball towards goal and a weird attempted spoil by Battle with his boot via an awkward lunge. We talk about all the highlights of a season, but what is it that makes a season? It’s all the shit in between that builds up bit-by-bit.

Barging through the idea of Dunstan going for a checkside goal instead of a drop punt because he didn’t learn from the first time because he actually kicked the goal was Stuv. The one-on-one mark in front of goal lifted the crowd in a game that had become all about which side could reduce the other to the lowest score. By the time Acres, Lonie and Long had all shat directly into their pants in front of goal late in the game it was then about to which side could reduce themselves to the lowest score.  For all intents and purposes we were done before Stuv’s third goal. It might have just been too good to be true if he’d wheeled around for his fourth to put us in front shortly after, but it would have made sense in that moment, in the way the game was being played and the way that he appeared to break through the gravity of the dour game itself. Was he this good the whole time? Maybe we didn’t use him properly, if that’s possible. Maybe he should have played in the forward line more often. He outbodied his opponent and turned to look for a teammate, or indeed the goals, that made him our best small forward. He did start his career  off in that role – for many our first introduction to him may have been kicking the winner in the second round of the 2008 NAB Cup against the Cats, but more loudly the three goals against Geelong in Round 13 of 2010 as the search for redemption really got going. In the way that these stints in attack were out of necessity, so might the last few years have been. Too much class in the midfield to break into initially, and then in a slow and one-paced team crashing down the ladder, how do you take out your best midfielder? We might not have a choice pretty soon, but I think we’re going to be more than ok with that if that’s best for him.

Bruce eventually had his captain’s moment. He’d burned a few options earlier to take a set shot from outside 50 and didn’t score, but this is someone who has wanted to take responsibility whatever the game situation has been. Right to the end, when Josh Battle made the kind of play that really endears supporters to a young player.

***

There was just over 17,000 at the Concrete Disney Store for the last home game of the year. Secretly, yay. This was branded as “Saints Say Thanks” round, after we’d been “called upon” at the start of year as if we were still owing favours after decades of memberships and shitty winter trips to and from shitty games at shitty home grounds. I tweeted that I’d trade the free chips offered for having turned up to every home game for The Fable Singers version of the club song being returned (Rory: “I’ll have the chips … and the song returned too”, which was a more appropriate and reasonable response to be honest). There was no real response from the club, which brought us to 514 days since the new songs were “revealed” and St Kilda has not publicly referenced the change, nor publicly nor privately given any reason as to why, nor why they didn’t actually ask anyone about the change, nor why they didn’t say anything at all about it, now why it’s been so long that they didn’t. Thank you, Saints. I didn’t even get the fucking chips.

Another weird, shitty season under the YEAR 2000 lights of Incubating Disneyland Melbourne, where the seasons are forgotten. The changing in the angle of the sun is forgotten. Part of the journey of a footy season is that it tracks the path of our day-to-day lives from the tail of summer, as we reacquaint ourselves with reality, through the depths of winter, and then, if you’re lucky enough, spring springs for you in September as the weather warms and the sun shines heading to the final stretch of the year, which has soon enough become the year that was. Every game played at Docklands is an aesthetic duplicate now; no real record of a time or place other than a link between Disney and a Western Bulldogs board member, and the idiocy or fuckwittery of people who had every number of resources and dollar amounts available to them when designing and constructing a new stadium. So many games are played in this concrete dome – including most of ours – and it means so many games across the competition look and sound the same. The crappy echo of the unnecessary roof, the shitty grey, the same artificial lighting forever.

 

 

  • Campbell

    Great write up Tom.

    It was a good win for our club. We’re starting to look like a half decent football team. We were out of ideas only to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. They had everything in their favour the whole afternoon and yet we pinched it with our season done and dusted. It’s a really positive sign moving forward. Imagine the result if Carlisle and Battle played good games instead just good quarters. Likewise, Hanners was cooked at the half and coffield played for 25 minutes.

    Clark is just a joy to watch.

    As a side note, have you listened to the Sacked Podcast with Scott Watters?

  • Tom Briglia

    “We were out of ideas only to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. They had everything in their favour the whole afternoon and yet we pinched it with our season done and dusted.”
    That’s the exact kind of shift you want in how the club plays and how a team creates an identity.

    I did listen to Sacked! It was a little consistent with what people have said about Watters trying to be involved with things beyond the actually coaching of a footy team, but I guess coaches need to do that now – it’s more about how much and how they do that.

    At the very least good it was good to hear in depth his side of it. Not that I’m running 100% with anyone’s side of it, but the entire narrative, for better or for worse, has been written from the club’s end, or the senior players’ end, and now we have something else to take into account for an era that is increasingly the separation point between the GT and Ross eras and the post-Grand Finals era.

    What did you think about it?

  • Campbell

    It was funny listening to it. He’s been painted as an ego-maniac and somebody who embellishes his stories to meet the narrative he’s spinning. I always liked his frankness and found his assessment of most situations to be precise and accurate. I was really hopeful that he would help arrest the slide left by Ross’ era. I recall being stunned when he was sacked and the manner in which it occurred. It’s funny, i could talk on the period of ’11 to ’19 for hours on end. The one thing that i can’t get past is how the club put all of our chips in the Pelican basket; seemingly at the expense of virtually everyone else. He certainly seems to have been backed at the expense of Watters. I think Watters, with a different board, in a more stable environment, would have flourished. I’m really confident of that. It seems like a ‘wrong place, wrong time’ scenario for him. Regardless, Richo was the right appointment at the time. Whoever took the reigns from Ross would have failed; that much is clear. But Pelican and it looks like Trout, made an absolute meal out of ’11 through ’14. I think the Pelican was gone by the ’14 period.