Vessels

By Tom Briglia

Collingwood 5.3, 10.4, 11.7, 12.9 (81)
St Kilda 2.1, 4.2, 5.6, 5.7 (37)
Crowd: 0 at the MCG, June 18th at 4.35pm

Bad days can happen to anyone. Three teammates around a partially contested ball watching their opponents dig it out and run off, options in space ahead. No connection, no movement. There are different ways to describe the intangible missing element – spirit, urgency, Dare®. Too many low percentage handballs under pressure to a teammate already under pressure. Unsure kicks that become sure turnovers. As a contest between two sides, a game that feels like it only exists so the paperwork can be filed to show that Collingwood was dominant of St Kilda, that Collingwood started well again, that Collingwood’s defence across the ground kept their opponents to just five goals again, that St Kilda is still sorting things out as the Suns and Lions and maybe the Hawks and maybe North and maybe Essendon and maybe Carlton join the 53-year list of teams that go past us.

Bad days happen less often to some teams, and more often to some clubs. For some, they happen often enough that they define a team and then maybe a club by weight of numbers, over weeks, over years, over decades, over centuries. They happen in the decadence of a non-pandemic era, they can happen during a pandemic.

The momentum from the week carried right through to until about the time I turned onto the Nepean Highway towards Matt’s place in Elsternwick and my phone started rattling with messages about Connor McKenna and a press conference with Gil at 4. Until then, St Kilda was on trend, if only for a few days. This was the match that Robbo was looking forward to, Robbo had tipped us, The Age on Saturday morning ran a double-page spread about Hunter Clark, and the Saints, wearing the yellow hot-cross bun jumper (closer to the Pura Lightstart version that didn’t have the red detailing), outlasted the Magpies in a practice match at the Corporate Name Centre. Yet again, we sucked the life out ourselves as we did last year in the Saturday afternoon of Round 6, the same day The Age declared us “the story of the year”.

***

Momentum is at best fickle for Saints fans. Collingwood had Pat McAfee jump on their bandwagon during the week. I would be a little surprised if theirs was the only marketing team to move quickly to send him a jumper and some other bits and pieces, but how does a US sports celebrity knock back one of the biggest clubs in the league?

Never mind North Carolina’s Sports Night literally driving by St Kilda and choosing twice premiers of the last three years Richmond, who plays at the 100,000-capacity MCG and which has a membership base of more than 100,000.

McAfee retweeted the AFL’s final score graphic, introducing St Kilda’s lack of success to another continent. A decade on from the 2010 apex of the Riewoldt generation, Collingwood is wearing its 10-year Premiership Anniversary jumper, complete with the superfluous Adidas shitstains including the semi-circle on the back and collar bib. Collingwood is also wearing a 30-year 1990 premiership anniversary jumper as its clash (and which might actually be its best-ever jumper). They’re getting retweeted to MAJOR LEAGUE SPORTS enthusiasts. We’re fresh from a pledge drive.

***

From the moment Brett Ratten mentioned consistency post-match last week we should have been wary. He certainly was. This ended up being the kind of game that you don’t actually remember anything happening. We’re immediately back to looking for moments from young guys to make us feel like this is part of a journey that leads to somewhere better. There was Max King’s tall mark and excellent set shot goal, and that was about it. Even Jack Steele’s tackle and Ben Long’s hit on Taylor Adams didn’t have much of an effect on him once he got his breath back.

Marsh was in for Geary. Good to have a fast-moving big body in the wet, or too tall? Neither mattered – it was a beautiful winter’s day, and if you stand around watching your opponents it doesn’t matter who you are. Matt remains adamant that the St Kilda team that took the field wouldn’t have been able to win – not a team designed to be competitive enough around the ball, nor go with the Collingwood forwards leading to perfectly-weighted forward-50 entries. He’s probably right. Regulars weren’t helping out much. Dougal Howard got caught between deciding whether to compete with a teammate or completely miss a high ball into Collingwood’s attack, and Jack Lonie burned teammates as he tried affording himself the luxury of a snap around the corner on his favoured left boot in the middle of a competitive AFL-level match. If last week was all the things we’d been promised in the off-season, this was the payment that inevitably comes with a young St Kilda side with a bunch of decent recruits finding its way.

For a few days we thought we’d earned a free-to-air TV showing over some of the more fancied club, but score one for the AFL using up a rare chance for St Kilda fans to not bother going to the MCG twice in three weeks during a pandemic, making sure the big clubs can capitalise further on the marquee match-ups later on if the crowds are coming in (that’s a very flighty “if”).

Maybe we can forgive the inconsistencies from week to week. Fresh faces. Ratten might have warned us but he looked like he was only realising what he might be in for as the Fox Footy broadcast cut to him in the box. There’s a reset button of varying sizes, which really just gives us a slightly different look at something we’ve become used to.

***

Big day for St Kilda jumpers. The club promoted the game on social media with a graphic of Dan Butler wearing the red-heavy hot cross bun training jumper, and the Saints wore the yellow version in the practice match at the Holden Centre. At 4.35pm a very classy clash jumper based on designs throughout periods in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s was debuted against Collingwood at the MCG in Round 3, just as Candy Stripe #2 was in 2015 (and just like that night the team was barely sighted after quarter time).

This is the kind of jumper that would look even better with black shorts and black socks. Maybe it could do with slightly broader red and black panelling and, like all St Kilda jumpers, from a larger version of the club logo that the club itself appears to be trying to shrink. Like the 1997 Hot Cross Bun, the Candy Stripe #1 of the GT era and the 2009/2010 broad panel clash, we’re waiting for another signifier of a vaguely more successful era. The bedsheet-sized Deliveroo logos on both the home and clash jumpers threatens to spoil things.

In a week that Eddie McGuire’s really cracked the shits over Port Adelaide’s prison bars jumper, it’s worth noting he upended the 1970s-themed 2007 Heritage Round for Collingwood and St Kilda, because he wanted Collingwood to wear its “home” jumper at a home game rather than its, uh, “traditional” jumper. So, in Heritage Round on a Saturday afternoon at the MCG, we were treated to this.

***

I asked last week “what does St Kilda mean on this side” of the pandemic, and neglected to even try answering it, and also neglected to say that I wasn’t planning on answering that in that post. No one knows. We feel a lot further from finding out any time soon.

This season feels like following a season of AFL 98 without selecting a team, watching the whole year play out in refreshed round-by-round scoreboards. I keep expecting to hear that 90s studio session rock coming in at the end of a game, something which Fox Footy strayed dangerously close to playing its theme music on the final siren of Round 1 games. Add this to the case for a day Grand Final. Every game looks the same, whether it’s under the Concrete Disney Store Roof and artificial lighting, or played under the towers in a TV-friendly time at any other stadium. The same stock graphics for each team over the empty stands, and what have become quickly standardised club tarps behind each goal. A digital replica of a terribly flawed club in a digital replica of an unforgiving competition that feels made for everyone else.

  • http://www.redwhiteandblack.com.au Richard Lee

    Brill write-up, Tom!

    “Hindsight is 20/20” etc aside…we were always going to learn more from this game even after the promise of the Bulldogs win. The flag-contention hype around the Bulldogs is further proof (on top of the Media making us flavour of the week last week) that the Media is always gagging for a shiny new thing to bandy about.

    There were two main things that were alarming to me from the game…

    1) We looked soft in comparison to the Pies. Ratts hit it on the head post-game when he said we weren’t strong enough over the ball. The amount of times that guys got bumped off the ball, or went for it with one hand, or neglected to put a body on an opponent was completely maddening.

    2) The finger-pointing and willingness to drop their head in the final term. Just came across really immature and reflected a flakiness within the squad. Particularly saddening when some of the offenders are seasoned players (e.g. Jones, Ryder).

    Other side notes:
    – The jury is out Ben Long half back experiment
    – Dougall Howard is still an unknown quantity
    – Coffield also had a shocker; has to do more than show he’s a neat kick
    – Would be surprised if Ryder keeps his spot for much longer
    – Thought Marsh shouldn’t have been in the team but he was one of the few that didn’t seem intimidated by the contest

  • Campbell

    Great write up Tom.

    It was very disappointing. I thought we’d at least be a sniff. I don’t think i’ve seen Collingwood play such a complete game. They were hardened and ready for an upstart. We were not ready for a hardened, efficient and well drilled side. We were in easy kill. We looked like amateurs.

    To touch on Rich’s side notes FWIW:
    – Long’s not a half back’s $%&^hole – Webster must come in
    – Dougal is a worry. I was concerned after the first practice game – i’m more concerned now ( he couldn’t really get a game at Port in his preferred position and they were happy to let him go …. )
    – Coffield needs some time to develop in the 1s … he’s better than he’s showed
    – Ryder should keep his spot for Richmond – there’s only one Grundy
    – Marsh was terrific given the forward barely had a sniff