Just asking

By Tom Briglia

Round 17, 2020
St Kilda 3.5, 3.5, 3.9, 6.14 (50)
West Coast Eagles 2.1, 5.6, 5.9, 9.11 (65)
Crowd: At least several humans at the Gabba, Thursday, September 10th at 7.10pm

Even at this very, very late stage of a lengthened season, St Kilda is creating new and horrifying novelty ways to lose games. In the newest, most 2020-flavoured edition, we get run over by a wildly depleted team playing its 5th game in 19 days, one of their few remaining top-line players injured, and on a ground at least two states and/or territories away from both sides.

Need to create some heroes? Create your own legends? The St Kilda Football Club is your canvas. The St Kilda Football Club is the centre of our footballing world, but when you see even just a few seconds of Adam Simpson’s press conference we’re reminded that we’re just the jumper in the background of players and teams celebrating big moments. Simpson said it was one of the best wins in his time at the club; this is a team that was made two Grand Finals and won a premiership in that period.

This one had the same formula as most games following the Gold Coast win. Maximum effort for little reward. Hurried, anxious ball movement forward, few shots at goal in time or space, or from close range. At one stage we led 2.3 to 0.0, and aside from the early final quarter flurry, West Coast’s moments against the weight of momentum were more damaging. No Shuey, Yeo, Redden, or Sheed, and down McGovern. They always had an extra gear to go to. You need to repeat it to make you’re feeling the magnitude of the opportunity spurned. Maybe we’re tired. We’re definitely not good enough. This year has been long and exhausting. We don’t need 28 games next year.

***

At the final change, some of our bellwethers had made little impact. Butler had five touches in his Brent Guerra 2004 season, Marshall had his moments but just seven touches as the ruck battle truly has handed over to Nic Nat and Paddy (The Age already used up the names in the rhyme during the week), Battle had three, although twice putting his body on the line on the wing were among the best St Kilda moments of the game.

Really, that was the problem – not Battle so much, but that so rarely in the past several games have we had extended periods in which we play the we clearly want to, i.e. those irresistible patches up. Moments are sticking out just a little too much. There’s too much weight on them. They have to be right. We can’t rely on Lonie having to go a rushed banana on his left (in my head I’d already screamed “get a right”), Membrey missing the mark, Barrass missing the ball and Butler missing the kick on the line (BT during the review: “The guy in the goal square”, to go with “Jack Zones” and, after several months of calling St Kilda games, “Ben Payton”).

The rain came, but it didn’t really matter. Our turn in the third quarter lasted all of a couple of minutes – Hunter flunked a shot on the run, and then with a nearly calamitous turnover Battle gave us a Flyin’ Ryan vs Dougal Howard dash that echoed Eric Mackenzie vs Beau Maister in the dying minutes of a very dark 2013 afternoon.

From the beginning of the final term Sinclair added to an already creative with a mark going back with the flight. Steele’s kick to a Membrey lead was good, Sinclair at the fall of the ball at that next ball, and his quick kick forward was expertly crumbed by Ross. Two minutes later Butler took a touch in the goal square and soccered another through. The rush had started. The Eagles looked tired. The weight of five games in 19 days and losing one of their most important players was going to be the difference. A first finals appearance in nine years.

Marshall bobbed up with a typically calm head, taking the extra second and small piece of space he knew had parted around him to balance himself and snap the goal. We had the game on our terms and were vaguely playing how we wanted to play, but the entries forward were taken for granted. Still high, still manic, and for all the good forward pressure the cluttered defence meant any half-shots were just that. There were just more of them. Max King had made almost every contest he could during the night but had barely held one. He missed twice in a minute, including a set shot, taking his tally for the night 0.4. They took the margin to six points, and then seven. The margin should have been taken beyond two goals. Hill ran in with a hurried banana shot from close range and missed. Brett Ratten said in the press conference that that would probably have been the game. When BT said the Eagles didn’t look like getting it to their end from the resulting kick out you knew it was coming.

Some deft knock-ons had the ball race down the other end to Kennedy, who no one had bothered to pick up, and despite looking sore still made sure to take the opportunity. West Coast’s leaders stepped up. Nic Nat engineered the clearance, and Kelly made up for the one he missed before half-time. Just like that, the Eagles were back in front. They never really looked challenged from that points. Where did it go?

***

The inability to close out close games says more about the mechanics of the team rather than “if only x had happened”, in this case “if only Brad Hill had kicked the goal”. The sample size is much, much too big now. Repeated high dump kicks are rarely going to be a substitute for the quicker, slicker ball movement that allowed the talls and smalls just that little more space to work with earlier in the season. Max King had kicked 15.5 at the end of the Gold Coast game, when we sat second on the ladder. He’s kicked 4.9 since, which probably says more about the rushed high dump kicks forward. Across that same six-week block, we have kicked 4.10, 10.8, 6.14, 7.7, 11.14 and 6.14. At no point in those consecutive close losses to Brisbane and Melbourne did it feel as though we had real control of the game for that reason.

For a few moments this looked like it could be a repeat of the Port Adelaide finish, but it ended up being a horrible child produced by the St Kilda teams that played against Geelong and then Brisbane. Shown up when a top class team stepped up and showed off what they do, and heavily wasteful and anxiety-ridden when we had the glut of possession.

As usual, the joke’s on us. The tacky 1980s US hyper-capitalist Rock and Roll and Sport and Major Events aesthetic hangover that is the West Coast Eagles, complete with their college jocks line-up and WTF song had the last laugh. A massive pile-on with the boys, celebrating a goal on the siren from an arsey Perth Home Town Whistle-style free kick.

One more shot.