9 to 5

By Tom Briglia

Round 7, 2020
Adelaide Crows 1.2, 4.2, 5.6, 8.7 (55)
St Kilda 3.2, 7.4, 8.4, 12.6 (78)
Crowd: More Than the Other Games So Far This Season at the Adelaide Oval, Monday, 7.40pm EST

In the way pandemics are a byproduct of the natural world, the seasons still do take their course. Brighter days during the week showed that the sun is beginning to change its path through the sky. It’s a little bit brighter and higher sooner. It’s still cold, but winter is still moving through its natural course. Usually we know this as a sign of the final weeks of the home and away season, where we start to think about enjoying the spring and a break from the faffin’ about of the St Kilda Football Club, or if we go back just a little further, perhaps the impending history we wanted to be see made. Instead, we’ve just played Round 7 on a Monday night in a hastily arranged match against the Crows, are back at Adelaide Oval again on Saturday night against Port, and we haven’t been to the footy yet this year.

***

The Saints bandwagon had been dismantled and sold off for scrap. The part of me that was asking “What if this is the year?” had not just gotten quieter but had stood up and promptly and meekly left my braincase. The midweek (and weekend) anticipation was gone. Who cares what the ins and outs are? Instead of a chance to go 5-2 (and you could easily argue we should have been 5-1 going into this), we’re looking more vulnerable against a winless team, in front of their fans for the first time this year, and  facing back-to-back trips from Noosa to Adelaide (so much for a hub) comeback.

“Fremantle on the Gold Coast” should have been a bigger red flag than I thought it would. After the Carrara calamity we’d been bumped off the neutral media coverage in favour of a Sunday afternoon of terrible footy. Appearances on front page of The Age website were now for the off-field curios of Jarryn Geary and Jake Carlisle potentially having their partners fly up to give birth, and club doctor Ian Stone having a laptop with player records stolen, giving Hugh Goddard being stretchered off in Candy Stripe #2 a rare non-COVID prime place.

Adelaide had never started a season 0-7, and would be hitting 10 losses in a row. St Kilda are made for teams to create heroes or folklore for other teams that are positive. The numbers smacked too much of us not being able to win 10 in a row in 1997. The Fox Footy pre-match went from highlight of Lockett’s return in Round 7, 1991 to highlights of Jarman in the 1997 Grand Final (Ronnie Byrnes highlight against the Saints, Roo pointed it out, obviously didn’t like the Jarman highlights, nor the 2010 Grand Final Replay comparisons bought up the night before while he was in the box). Time for Tex Walker to pull out a vintage performance and Tim Doedee to be become an Adelaide hero as captain in his 27th game, against the best jumper cables of them all.

***

The first quarter started and finished with what were probably the two cleanest parts of the match (and both featured Zak Jones coming clean out of the middle). Butler had a shot as he was dragged down in the opening seconds but ended up snapping a goal from the throw in, already looking the smoothest of all players just in that short few moments. After the start last week (let alone the whole first quarter), it wasn’t worth getting overly excited about. The game settled into a genuinely competitive battle of contested pressure and Josh Battle getting his handsome face split open by Paddy Ryder. The Fox Footy pressure gauge (???) was right into that green bit (???). As the minutes ticked by it became apparent St Kilda were either not trying to move the ball as fast as they had, or Adelaide had blocked off space around the ground.

Jones provided a circuit-breaker hard against the boundary that triggered a genuine slingshot action. Not sure how many people 12 months ago would have tipped Dan Butler, Jarryn Geary and Jack Lonie being the three St Kilda players breaking forward ahead of their opponents, but yes, it is 2020 and yes, stranger things have happened. Nonetheless, it was still strange how clinically the passage unfolded – Lonie reacted to the high bounce, slapping the ball over his head to Geary, who gave off to Butler in the square.

As he did at the opener, Jones took the ball out of the middle from the resulting bounce and hit King on the lead, who took a classic leading mark with his arms out in front. Making up for a simple mark he’d dropped a few minutes before, he nailed the goal and continued his hard work of bringing back the early 2019 Billy Slater-initiated big goal celebrations.

These were the types of moments that allowed for a win. Lonie’s slap, King utilising his height and reach to take marks on the lead and then at the highest point and take his opportunities with straight set shots, Dougal Howard’s side-step, acceleration and goal from 55, Steele’s snap in the pocket, Gresham wheeling around on his low centre of gravity and Seb Ross’s knock down in the goal square against two players to Butler against all the momentum in the third quarter. This wasn’t a full team performance in the sense that there was the incredible cohesion and sharing of the ball and running in numbers that we’d seen in the better periods. It never looked like it.

***

Despite apparently having done fuck all we were up by two goals at quarter time. A little like the Carlton and Fremantle games, it appeared as though the most decadent moments represented a peak in the players’ minds that they themselves didn’t think they could back up. Butler’s running goal against the Blues, Butler’s solo effort and arrogant snap and celebration against the Dockers, and then last night the cheeky Jake Carlisle handball and the Dougal Howard running goal into Jack Steele’s snap from the forward pocket throw-in.

No matter what the lead, no matter how, I’m not going to be comfortable any time watching St Kilda soon. I remember my housemate (also Tom) early in the Carlton match saying “just enjoy it” whilst I quietly shat my pants watching the Saints skip out to a lead. He goes for Hawthorn, and rightfully couldn’t quite comprehend why I wasn’t relaxing.

The commentary team tempted fate by referencing Gerard and Johnno the previous week saying maybe this was the week Max kicks six. Howard was doing it all at both ends but in scenes both wildly familiar and unexpected, the forward entries just…disappeared. At half-time the mark and play on rate was down from around 32% to 18%, so there might have been some method to it, to a point.

Tex had already kicked two by early in the second. His first may have been the softest free kick known to science (also marking the fast return of the hometown whistle) and set off a wild night of wild umpiring. Ben Keays got into some push and shove with Gresham, Hill and Steele very early and loomed as the designated supervillain with a sharp haircut. Tom Doedee was slowly becoming a presence across half back. We didn’t have the flashy Hill and Butler et al. passages going forward; we did have Steele putting together a mountainous performance and Coffield (and subtly, Carlisle) repeatedly mopping up in defence.

Freo had revelled in the whole man or two down business a week earlier. What were we gonna do when Battle went down early? While he was getting a gash in his face attended to, I had problems of my own at Brunswick West HQ – I’d got a spatter of my chilli tuna salad in my eye.

A string of Adelaide  misses either side of half-time – effectively a run that continued until McAdam’s goal after the three-quarter time siren – appeared to have cost them a genuine shot, given we’d pulled one out of our arse the other way courtesy of Gresham’s low centre of gravity. Somehow St Kilda finds a way, and Geary was given holding the ball in the final seconds, tackled after a touched mark. We couldn’t even get away with the curio stat of a goalless quarter against.

The pressure appeared to be getting to the players. The crowd could sense something. It was getting increasingly vocal, and there was a combination of the size, dispersal around the ground, and the Fox Footy ground microphones that had it sounding like a rollicking suburban ground. Dougal Howard was the serving up multiple contenders for the greatest cracking of shits since Max Hudghton in Round 6 of 2008 against Port Adelaide (or perhaps Leigh Montagna in the 2010 intra-club match at Moorabbin when Milne opted for a difficult snap at goal from the boundary instead of a handball). Dougal got Wilkie in the third, Jones in the last and the umpire too, who gave a 50 metre penalty against for another Shane McAdam goal.

Tex got dicked by the umpiring with what should have been an excellent mark but got one back with a soft dive to bring them within nine points. It was happening. Leads of 31 points, 36 points and now 26 points, and Adelaide Oval looked set to snuff out another season. When the breaks came, Kent and Membrey stood up with straight set shots. Nothing was pretty about them, but they were important and they were enough. Sometimes it is as mundane as that.

***

Enough disappointment (in a St Kilda sense) has happened this season to not get carried away with a first-ever win at Adelaide Oval, and a first win over Adelaide since 2011. However. In an ugly period, St Kilda winning ugly still feels satisfying. Watching a young St Kilda team learning to win ugly in a raucous environment interstate maybe a little more so. Yet again, there has been barely enough time to enjoy this, and the only constant at the moment – and still, how fleeting – will be the Saints wearing the excellent new clash jumper at the Adelaide Oval. See you back here (well, there) in a few days, and from then, every few days.