You’ll be famous

By Tom Briglia

Gold Coast Suns 2.1, 6.5, 8.7, 11.8 (74)
St Kilda 3.2, 6.2, 9.4, 12.6 (78)
Crowd: 3,095 at Metricon Stadium, Thursday, August 8th at 8.10pm

Back in the open fields of the Channel 7 broadcast, for the Gold Coast Suns’ first-ever prime-time match on free-to-air. The coverage began at the curfew specific time of 8pm, leading into the 8.10pm bounce, and after Collingwood and Sydney played at the Gabba at 5.40pm. On a Thursday. Yes, there must be a pandemic.

The rhythm of the season that Bob Murphy salutes simply does not exist this year. Hopefully this is the closest we get to the type of fixture US MAJOR SPORTS fetishisers in the media/tacky light show enthusiast Karl Langdon have always wanted. Footy all the time, prime time, double-headers, reduced to a made-for-boys television show that the NRL prides itself on being. Dan Andrews’ daily press conferences have become a more reliable understanding of where the day is at (unless there’s some extra-fucked-up shit going on).

At this time of year we’re usually we’re plotting results in our head for the ladder predictor going into the final few rounds. For us St Kilda supporters specifically, maybe looking forward to getting some rest. Take in the finals. September still is special. Remind ourselves of what two genuinely good teams going head to head looks like.

***

If we win, we’re in second spot. Pretty simple stuff. Rarefied air, but it’s demanded Channel 7 coverage of our games next weekend and the weekend following. Still incredible to think Bruce or JB or anyone of these guys know who Hunter Clark or Max King or Nick Coffield are, let alone being impressed by them.

Like their Port Adelaide Homecoming Event broadcast, Channel 7 really set this one up for a focus on the Gold Coast. This one never quite felt in control. Any lead or momentum felt like a luxury. There is something about the way Gold Coast plays, and something about the way we play. They match up too well on each other. They are young teams bashing down their own paths. We might just be the first rival of the Gold Coast Suns. Who else would it have been? We have the Bizarro Rivalry with the aesthetic joke that is Fremantle. We had our Team of Champions ultimately humbled by the Champion Team of Geelong – another VFL foundation club – throughout the early 2000s and into the early 2010s. Let’s swing back to the novelty route, the anonymous fun-time let’s-go-to-the-beach boys that stubbornly continues to wear the most boring jumper in the league. Much like the new plastic cover version of our song, no one ever specifically asked for the Gold Coast Suns. They still haven’t shirked their Sydney 2000 “Let’s Go Australia!” cloak of a bunch of athletes being supported mostly by their immediate families, with some occasional bandwagoning. They and the AFL just need some other club to take the hit of having their next rival not being able to fill out Docklands, let alone the MCG. Of course it’s going to be us. Rankine, Ben King (come home, Ben), Collins, Lukosius, Rowell, Anderson, Touk Miller, Lachie Weller – we might have to start getting used to these names, in the way Chapman, Johnson, Scarlett, Ablett et. al. were always in the periphery. Rankine, in just his fifth game, had a crack at Kent when Powell took a mark near goal in the last.

The bedding has been sorted – four games out of four that have been decided by 2, 1, 4 and 4 points, and with very similar scores – 80-78, 85-84, 80-76, and 78-74. St Kilda is not the kind of team that puts together these kinds of streaks. I tweeted after Butler’s fourth goal “Ok let’s not pull a Port 2017.” A few seconds later, Rankine kicked his second incredible goal to set up a frantic final two minutes. That felt like a reminder enough – there might be a lot more of these types of games against the Suns. This probably won’t go away quietly, but as supporters we’ve been waiting to get our hands dirty with something on the line.

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Two leads of 18 and 15 points isn’t quite giving up leads of 31 and 37 points. It isn’t wildly far off. Momentum swings were broken by small lapses in concentration and by moments of brilliance. A dodgy kick in during the third gifted Steele a goal, and then Marshall was able to beat Witts out of the middle and the long roost fell to Butler for a thundering snap around the corner. It felt like that might have been enough and the Suns might have made their run. Phillips had felt about 15% out of sync with the team (understandable, given it’s his first game) but a undid some hard running on the rebound with a wildly sloppy handball. From the turnover, Rankine took a hanger over Steele on the wing to get the crowd and Bruce and JB back into the game, and then pulled off a slick running goal from just inside 50. It was the first of four goals to the Suns either side of the final change.

There were a lot of periods in the game in which we looked lacking in the usual older, or maybe just wiser heads leadership. No Geary, Ross, Hannebery, Roberton, Nathan Brown (at all). Membrey hasn’t quite made an impact in the last few weeks. Hill is still needing to get into games (perhaps literally short-changed by the shorter quarters). It’s worth noting there were no players out of the five-man 2018 leadership group playing last night.

Twice the Suns kicked four goals in succession and we looked unable to halt the momentum. Have we become too used to waiting for a Riewoldt or a Lenny to pull us out of it? Of course we’ll be a better team for this. Steele and Billings and Carlisle – all in different contexts – had a chance to really take charge.

What did getting out of those holes look like? What did actually winning the game look like? The long balls forward weren’t always working. St Kilda’s Messiah Complex has often centred around high flyers or tall forwards. Max King is the Heir, but Dan Butler played a kind of game we simply haven’t seen in a St Kilda jumper for nearly a decade. The game is always changing, and we’d missed out in the 2010s of human highlights reels in the uber modern game. This is what it looked like. Four goals, all of them the best goal anyone else would kick in any other game. Two either side of half-time, the first off a step from the first genuine space Paddy got from Witts to show off some tap work (albeit in open play) with a comically nonchalant celebration. He had Hind to thank for some quick footwork to get the ball out of congestion that opened it up for a banana goal to get us back within a kick during the last quarter, and then had the game understanding, the speed and composure to make his run as Paddy got down to the ball on the break with less than three minutes left, burn off Lachie Weller and run into goal.

Leadership was players understanding what they needed to do in moment. Carlisle was a big presence particularly in the first half, and there’s something calming about the way he deals with higher balls and his underrated field kicking. He always looks like he’s just lit a cigarette or cracked open a can at the park and a stray Sherrin has bounced over his way.

Hind made the decision to use his pace when the game looked sunken. Paddy Ryder was quelled by Witts all night and the Suns’ midfield had smashed our own, but he was still up to controlling the low ball that set up Butler. Battle took the responsibility to run and launch for a big contested mark, and went back and put us in front. Max pulled down a high mark to soak up most of the final minute.

Hunter Clark entrenched himself further in this club’s journey with some deft steps. Wherewithal to move through traffic is one thing, it’s another to do it multiple times in the final minutes of a tight game in defence. Parting the seas, Scott Pendlebury-like, whatever you want to call it. Three times in defence across the broadcast side he was involved in safely getting and guiding himself and the ball out of harm’s way, ultimately leading to Butler’s final goal. Side-stepping four opponents in the back pocket, never flinching, finding space, and getting low, turning and stepping out of a contest on the defensive 50 (after Carlisle had worked hard for a smother to make up for his own poor kick), and sending the ball forward that ended with Paddy and then Butler. He wanted the ball in those moments. Players are able to express themselves.

***

Is anyone else worried that we’re going to do it in front of 8,000 at the Gabba? Yes, I am still thinking about it and it still worries me. We keep learning what footy can mean to us in such a dour time. Footy concerns still rise up during a pandemic, contained within its own sphere, but it’s a prominent star in this shit-fest galaxy. A young St Kilda team in second place on the ladder feels like a luxury at any time.

Of course, it was nice to finally win a close one too. Arguably even better to have held them out for the final two minutes. A great fucking game of footy, and a great fucking St Kilda win.