Or it is not

By Tom Briglia

Round 22, 2019
Carlton  2.4, 5.5, 8.11, 11.12 (78)
St Kilda  3.3, 7.4, 8.8, 10.8 (68)
Crowd: 51,876 at the MCG, Saturday, August 18th at 1.45pm

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Much like all the wild fantasies and scandals we might have conjured up for the Ladder Predictor, including weird shifts in form and blow-out margins that wouldn’t have matched what actually happened, the scandalous storylines that open the pathway for a bemusing fairytale to unfold at this club are gone. Brett Ratten to Carlton? Brett Ratten to North Melbourne? Clarko to us? Ross Lyon to Carlton, and then we play them in the Grand Final in a couple of years? Which could mean maybe Robert Harvey to us? Or maybe Ross Lyon straight to us? Omg Lenny? IS GT COMING BACK? HOLY FUCKING SHIT MAYBE IT IS ROSS.

Whatever grown-over, baited pathway that lies beyond the Road to 2018 isn’t going to suddenly become apparent and neatly paved because of a late-season change of coach. There’s no Teague Train charging through the Frankston line to Moorabbin station. There was no McKay or Walsh or Cripps or Curnow or Curnow or Dow or McGovern or Setterfield or Casboult or whoever waiting to be rearranged in a large navy blue jigsaw and unlock the code to reawaken a giant club that had laid dormant since the Semi Final weekend of 2001, with intermittent disturbances.

***

Just like our Saturday match-up against Melbourne at the MCG earlier this year, this game offered a glimpse of an early 2020s Grand Final match-up featuring St Kilda and another emerging or Secure Long-Term Future club. For some reason we’re wearing our clash jumper as we did in 2010, but preferably a version of the candy stripe, or maybe what we have now. This weekend it was the 2022 Grand Final Day jumper match up. St Kilda’s clash jumpers are far more “St Kilda” than Carlton’s clash jumpers are “Carlton”, or Melbourne’s jumpers are “Melbourne”. For that reason I can’t quite imagine a Grand Final in which St Kilda is playing Carlton with the Blues in a clash jumper, or the Dees in theirs. The 2017 match-up was a test for the AFL but I’m sure they would step in and make us wear white shorts with the home jumper? But that’s a conversation for a different dimension.

Saturday afternoon at the MCG with two founding clubs of the competition. There’s nothing quite like it. For as long as the roof remains closed at the Concrete Disney Store who knows where or when we are? If Saturday’s game had been played there, the roof would have been closed. Sunshine for one day. I said the other week some moments feel like they’re made for the seat you’re sitting in. The play or the moment unfolds and you have the perfect view. Some days at the footy feel like they’re made for wherever your life might be at that point.

***

There was anticipation around the ground as I walked in a stupor at 12.15pm from Wellington Parade to Gate 2. There were already queues of Carlton fans outside of the ground waiting to pick up tickets. People had already got their hands on the navy blue hand sign wavy things. Out in the sunshine, to watch a game in the actual weather. Remember that? People are still doing this. Walking around outside the ground was a much needed reminder that all of this was still a thing. It was a relief.

Of the 51,000 crowd, 80% would have been Carlton fans. This was the awkwardly presented membership make-up game for Shanghai, and having the city end entirely for St Kilda looked great, but that was basically it. If just about any other club was playing there would have been 65,000. Keep in mind the stakes for this one were zero.

***

Before a game of such stature, nothing short of the classics on the big screen at the MCG would suffice. And so, Carlton’s match day humans presented us with St Kilda vs Carlton in Wellington on Anzac Day of 2015; early in a year that saw the teams finish 14th and 18th respectively. The most striking thing about the game was the aesthetics – St Kilda in one of the three one-off NZ jumpers (this was the one with grey), and Carlton in their weird sort-of panelled clash jumper in front of a stadium one large tier of yellow seats. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yncPGRsy2KY

***

If you hadn’t bothered keeping track of anything this year, there were a few hallmarks of a late season dead rubber, and that’s beyond the mincing of disposal and non-physicality. Cripps trying to kick a goal out of mid-air, Hind trying to dribble one from the pocket. Footy back to its purest form. Nice to have the run around. Nice to be out of the house.

Membrey set the tone with a set shot miss from a clinical opening bounce clearance and mark on the lead. Nothing was going to be easy. Let’s take a 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)
11.7 (73)
8.9 (57)
17.14 (116)
15.14 (104)
10.10 (70)
10.12 (72)
10.8 (68)

Acres probably opened with three specifically bad kicks out of four, including two terrible forward entries. No rhythm and no momentum in this one. Bruce and Stuv ran into goal and messed it up. Bruce’s captain’s moment never came, Stuv was clearly struggling second up.

Eventually Nick Hind decided to take four bounces and floated a goal through against the flow. Like Stuv last week, it was a reminder of how rare it is that one of our own players will seem to physically break through the will and gravity of a match. What else did we have? Very quietly, not much really. It was a meek sign-off. Long’s goal? Oh yeah, I remember when he did that when our season mattered. Hunter Clark’s finesse, Rowan Marshall’s work out of the ruck before Kreuzer wore him down. In the way we could manufacture something the week before, we absolutely could not on Saturday. We kicked 3.4 in the second half.

Casboult at one end, to the lead of McKay, to the threat of McGovern. Simpson charging through the middle in the last quarter had the air of Ablett’s charge out of the centre in our last game at the MCG last decade. McKay’s wheel around and goal; Daisy’s side step; Casboult’s goliath protection at the top of our goal square. This was their day, and their time is coming. Never mind the noise when Jack Billings’ post-siren goal sailed through in Round 5 as we sat on top of the ladder. Did you hear that roar when ? It wasn’t just for this game, it was an affirmation that the Blues are back. That the appointment of David Teague was more than just riding the 2019 caretaker’s momentum.

This went into the file of watching a team run over the top of the Saints at the MCG, and feeling that the ground was simply too grand and too much for this club. Round 21 of 2002 against Collingwood, a shock loss to the Bulldogs in Round 12 of 2004, the 2005 Preliminary Final, the 2006 Elimination Final, Round 14 of 2007 against Collingwood (featuring Daisy Thomas), the 2009 Grand Final. You have that feeling in your core sometimes – not today, whatever the stakes.

***

Really, I’d forgotten what it was like to go the footy and enjoy the fucking day. Artificial light. I had a great day out with Matt and Dad. Dad and I spoke on the phone the next day and specifically talked about how much we liked the MCG and how nice it was to be out in the weather.

***

Melbourne loomed as our next vague rivals. Geelong and St Kilda was made for the early 21st century period of premiership drought breaking, and it made sense the Dees would be next after the Dogs and Tigers wiped out anything else beyond Carlton and Fremantle’s 1995. Our next rival appears to have already gone beyond us. The Carlton and Brisbane Lions that were a permanent fixture of derision and irrelevance look like the next big things (if the Lions aren’t there already), and perhaps what we refer to as the team of the 2020s later this century.

***

At what point is it late in the season? At what point does the early season feeling give way to the reflective nature of Rounds 20-plus? What were we doing or thinking in Round 15 or Round 16? The day-to-day reveals the banality of the actual lumps of dirt that make of the earth of the season – we’ve been filing out of this season for a couple of months now, and games have become a little bit more of an impost to the rest of the weekend. There is more relief now when a season is done than ever before. Footy season is a state of being. All of sudden this is the last rushed minute left to grab the membership scarf and get everything together (which I had all morning to sort out) before ungracefully rushing to the 58 tram. The last tram ride into the city, the last Saturday afternoon to watch the Saints play in actual weather and the actual earth’s atmosphere. This Saturday, the season will disappear in anonymity.