How would you feel

By Tom Briglia

Round 9, 2020
St Kilda 3.3, 7.4, 9.6, 15.11 (101)
Sydney Swans 2.1, 3.6, 5.10, 6.12 (48)
Crowd: Some on the Top Deck at the ‘Gabba, Saturday, August 1st at 5.10pm

Within a few minutes after the siren, a friend messaged me unprompted.

“How would you feel about a flag this year? If you couldn’t be there and it wasn’t at the G?”

St Kilda fans should be the last to be overly concerned about such matters. On top of the ladder, 15-7, or winning your first 19 games, rarely does this Australian Rules stuff really work out for the club.

But when a young team starts steamrolling through the hype as if it were the onion skins left on the chopping board from my tuna salad preparation, they at the very least create the illusion of a carefree, bold, brash and happy bunch beating down their own path. On their way until they’re not.

Maybe, for a few moments, that hype got too big for a young team. After a big pre-season and a big first half in Round 1. Again, a few weeks into the resumption, after a big couple of games, the first batch of whispers of a pandemic premiership and a 37-point lead early in the second quarter against another unfancied opponent.

Rather than making it about premierships, St Kilda fans would do well to make a sport of identifying fate tempting conduits over the past 147 years, although it’s pretty easy to join up dots that have appeared over that journey given they’ve just about all given us a picture of no success.

This time, it was much more recent history to overcome. The hype was back, on team and on individuals. Fourth position on the ladder is hard to ignore, and the most mature performance since 2010, perhaps 2011, in the open fields of the Channel 7 broadcast more so. Garry said we can do it this year. He said Ryder is the best tap ruckman in the competition. The stoppage work attracted another in-depth analysis piece. Tim Membrey’s freak goal found itself on Sports Centre. There was focus was on Jarryd Roughead’s different type of stay-at-home role, and he referred to St Kilda as “we” on 360. Our trade raid wasn’t done yet. I’m sure as hell none of us were expecting Spencer White to get a shout-out on Fox Footy during the week, perhaps matched only on Joshua Kitchen Bingo by Blake Acres getting a mention in Nathan Brown’s retirement speech.

Since 2012 we’d played extras in a droll film, rather than starring in the ongoing series of our eternal embarrassment. We are a club has always fallen through the cracks, struggling so much we couldn’t even afford to breach the salary cap. This is all still new. Do things come in threes? Or is it third time lucky?

Game day presented the ultimate challenge. A double-page spread in the Herald Sun for Jack Steele (a surprise contender for 2018-2022 Premiership Captain after failed bids from Hugh Goddard, Jack Newnes and Mav Weller, and probably Seb Ross and Luke Dunstan), while in The Age it was a feature interview with Zak Jones.

***

A few minutes into the first quarter something felt off. There were some uncharacteristic moments going into attack (uncharacteristic as far as nine games into the Ratten era goes). The Swans had the Bloods clamps on. The umpires were making up for the previous week. The Gabba never has been a comfortable stopover for the Saints. Were the interstate wobbles back? Some very deep defending had Butler charging out of defence and instead of looking for a teammate – or any teammates readily running with him – and he belted the ball long to nothing in particular (i.e. a Sydney defender). Something didn’t quite feel right. The ball went straight down the other end for a big mark by Blakey at full forward, who went back for a weird miss. That kind of thing was going to help later on.

The running and sharing game just wasn’t quite happening. Long balls forward never felt overly threatening. Ground level was busy enough as it was (previous estimates have shown as many as 75,000 players can be found in the Sydney defence in match held at the Gabba). We’d topped our behinds tally from the week’s previous record accuracy just after the five minute mark. Carlisle long throw back to McCartin brought on an old-style “throwing the ball too high” 50-metre penalty, and he was quickly getting into that shitty mood that we’ve associated with an interstate crowd comforted by our crappy first quarters booing and/or lolling at him, possibly moments before he’s moved forward when the game is out of reach.

You want physicality and aggression and occasionally being a fuckwit to be part of the team’s DNA. Not just an adrenaline rush that appears and burns out. There were a few ways this can present itself. It can be Butler’s eight tackles, it can be Jake Carlisle throwing the ball a little too high to a player, and then that very same Jake Carlisle (and Max King a little bit) smacking Dane Rampe’s Franklin baseball batting glove (shout-out to BigFooty user and St Kilda jumper and logo design connoisseur SFgiant). It can also be Paton and Marshall going back with the flight of the ball, or Dougal Howard thumping into the back of The Other McCartin in a marking contest late in the game. Or Zak Jones repeatedly getting into some push and shove and walking around with the equally old-style ripped sponsor patch/logo/number.

***

Outside of the back half of 2016 and the first five weeks of 2019, throughout the Richo era we got used to better performances evidently being the result of surges of adrenalin, or the players just by chance being “on” on the same day or night. Something that wasn’t sustainable week to week, and which evidently didn’t translate to interstate match preparation. Either way, when the team was flat, everyone was flat. When everyone was up and about, it was borderline manic, for better or worse. Players weren’t able to break through the gravity of how a game was being played and bend it towards a moment or a passage. Again, we have guys we’re simply not used to being in a St Kilda jumper – they’re young, or they’re from a different club, but mostly, because of how they play – doing just that.

How nice when it’s a player that has done it before. Nick Hind kicked three goals all from his non-preferred side, all of them quality snaps at important moments. His first came after 10 minutes of dominance from the Swans in the first quarter, and from the same fast reaction time at the fall of the ball that released Gresham at the beginning of the last quarter against Port. The second, at the same end, arrived with just over 30 seconds before the final change, the lightning rod for a big finish after Sydney had taken control of the game from the time Florent snuck in their only goal of the second quarter. A third goal effectively sealed it, part of four goals in four minutes and 14 seconds of play to open the last quarter. He was also fast enough to slap back a bouncing ball from the goal line into play that ultimately Butler grabbed and kicked the first of that last term.

Until his involvement late in the third quarter, 27 was looking like it could be added to 30 and 37, in the way 14th might be added to 16th and 17th. The moments that had brought us to that point, and those that saw us out of it, were brought to you by guys that some of us haven’t seen live play in a St Kilda jumper yet. Max King broke the self-imposed two goal limit that Paddy McCartin was mostly subject to, and added to his St Kilda Messiah Complex Heir Designate bow with a Paddy Ryder-style tap over the back from a boundary throw-in that Sinclair pounced on and linked up with Hunter Clark for one of the slicker moments of the game. Dan Butler is quietly equal fourth in the Coleman Medal race, and even more quietly Max King is three goals behind him. Zak Jones, Brad Hill and Dougal Howard haven’t played in front of a St Kilda home crowd yet. Paddy Ryder’s presence is becoming transformative for this team.

***

After the Fremantle mishap on the Gold Coast this side has strung together three mature performances, each in varying contexts, but with similar circumstances. Hugely challenged after half-time, we’re getting attached to guys watching them learn week to week to weather a storm and then send one the other way. We might finally be making good on Simon Lethlean’s promise heading into 2019 that we would run teams off their feet. Now, he specific Marvel Stadium, but this is the best chance we’ll get to learn to win anywhere, any time, and in any natural conditions.

This has been 12 days of doing things differently. Both Adelaide teams were beaten within five days of each other, both for the first time since 2011. A first-ever win at Adelaide Oval, Just a second win over the team sitting on the top of the ladder in a decade. Saturday ended a 10-game losing streak against the Swans. Our last win was Lenny’s 250th, and their wins since then over St Kilda have come at 29, 16, 59, 71, 97, 70, 50, 42, 71 and 45 points, and since Richo took over at an average of just over 63 points.

Also, the Gabba played The Fable Singers version of the club song.

So my answer two days later is: I still do not know how I would feel about a flag this year, if I couldn’t be there and it wasn’t at the MCG. It’s too early to think about it. But I am a St Kilda supporter, and it would at least take an event of plague proportions to alter the thinking of St Kilda supporters. I have thought about it, and I have worried about it. Fuck a duck, we’re third on the ladder, but we’re playing again in three days, and four days after that, and five days after that.