lethal Posts

We’re not in Kansas anymore

Round 13, 2020
Melbourne 4.0, 5.1, 7.3, 8.4 (52)
St Kilda 1.3, 4.5, 6.6, 7.7 (49)
Crowd: ??? at TIO Traegar Park, Saturday, August 29th at 7.40pm

A really, really, really, really disappointing loss. Our fourth loss for the year by six points or less, but the reverberations of this one feel more pronounced.

Our razor-sharp attacking efficiency seems to have almost deserted us by this point. Jack Billings has gone into a listless funk, that hits him at one point or another during the year. The set shot yips are bobbing their head up. Local law-enforcement are still trying to trace Nicholas Hind; he may technically be a Missing Person by sundown. Captain Jarryn Geary’s on-field output is anyone’s guess.

Yeah the cracks are starting to appear.

Nah, nah. Scratch that. The cracks that have been slowly, splintering into our setup over the last 4-5 games are now actually biting us on the butt. There’s only so many Butler get-out-of-jail cards you can play over a pandemic season.

In the Brisbane Lions, and now the Melbourne Football Club, we’ve been staring down some quality opposition who also have finals places on the line. Steven May has had a ripper of a year, and unfortunately he handed Max King another valuable lesson. But us Saints fans have tossed away the development lens of watching the game way back in the dust several weeks ago. Finals has been front of mind for at least a month now, and so the developmental learnings of key planks like King, Bytel, Clark and Coffield have been shelved in the harsh light of wins and losses.

Given the stakes, for two sides that are desperate to represent in October (?), it’s not a great surprise that this contest became a slog. Labelling it as an arm wrestle seems kind of generous too. Nevertheless, the Dees’ had the two most influential dudes on the field. Petracca had four majors – there were only 15 for the night, mind – and Steven May took nine marks whilst marshalling the Dees defence. They were the two players that were a thorn in the Saints side all night, particularly May who seemed to feast on the Saints careless delivery into the forward line.

May’s 9 marks (mostly uncontested, I dare say) is on the back of Harris Andrews’ commanding performance against us last week, and Tom Stewart and Harry Taylor (and the rest of the gang) a couple of weeks prior to that. The connection between the midfield and the forwards just hasn’t been the same of late. And as convenient as it sounds, I think it’s both a mixture of putrid ball use and the forwards just been outmanoeuvred too often. Seb Ross’ lofted, sand-wedge kind of chip forward over the head of Max late in the last term, was met with visible derision by young Max. That was just one snapshot of how we managed to fritter away so many forward thrusts.

It’s that kind of kicking that had Saints kicking their television sets in across the nation. And as much as Brad Hill was one of our best, and he has been much more impactful over the last two weeks, would you rather 27 Hill touches at half-back or two-thirds as many in the front half? Hill was one of the players who was finishing the game full of run, trying to pry open a disciplined Demons defensive grid. It was a bright spot in what was a dour night. One could say though that Hill’s shift to the back half is reflective of St Kilda’s form seriously plateauing over the last 4 games or so.

On Saturday night we still managed to take 7 marks inside 50 – our season average is 9.3. Over the last five games (including Saturday night) we’ve accrued: 8, 7, 8, 8, and 7. So it’s not as if our inability to find targets is the one key to our form. The more worrying aspect to it in more recent times is the amount of times our forwards opponents are marking it. That has a major impact on two fronts: firstly, it limits the crumbing opportunities from which the likes of Hind, Kent and Butler salivate over. Secondly, it means we cannot create stoppages in the forward 50.

That second aspect is particularly telling because when we create those stoppages we bring into the game our ruck advantage – when you have a lineup with two ruckmen plus a giant in Max King, those forward 50 stoppages are often worth their weight in gold (see Battle’s snap goal on Saturday night from a Max King tap). And the other part to that is, those stoppages give you the opportune time to setup your defence behind the ball so you can keep the opposition under your thumb.

When your service to your forward line is lacking and wayward, Hill and Billings would be the two prime candidates that I’d look to to get the ball in the hands more often for our inside 50s. And yet, both of them have had their own woes.

Billings had a white-hot start to the year. On SuperCoach terms he was irrepressible, chalking up over 112 points in 4 of the first 5 rounds of the year. (His 24 disposals, 3 goal, 5 tackle, 4 inside 50 outing versus the Dogs on reflection could be the best Billings game we’ve ever seen). Bar a 124 outing against the Bombers 3 games ago, he’s clocked up zero since. His late cameo against the Lions was brave and a sharp reminder of his versatility, but he’s still coming up short in the area where we need him most. Even the most one-eyed Saint would agree that our midfield still is short of clubs in the bag. Between the arcs is where we need Billings more of his hands on the ball. I don’t think I saw him leave the forward 60 meters on Saturday night.

Hill’s 27 touches on Saturday night were a high for the game as a whole. His appetite to fly by for handball-receives as well as the smarts of his teammates to use him when appropriate seems to be becoming more natural and evident the last two weeks. Again though, it’s his kicking into the 50 where he’d be worth his weight in gold. In the twilight evening glowing across a rejuvenated Moorabbin Oval (RSEA Park) in February, we saw Hill for what was most fans’ first chance to see him play for the Saints. His effortless incisiveness heading into the 50 metre arc hasn’t dazzled as brightly since that night.

If you want to go full deductive, the Saints just don’t have enough of their best players in form. Aside from Steele, our classier cattle just haven’t been firing enough. Battle has struck form over the last 3 weeks or so, despite being shuffled across the ground from quarter-to-quarter and Coffield has been the Quarterback we never really had. But those three just don’t have enough players helping them carry the load. Gresham’s absence is being felt, if for nothing else but to be a spark plug. Zak Jones has been toiling away, but his kicking still lets him down too often for an experienced campaigner. Seb Ross’ great game against the Lions (as a tagger) remains just that – he hasn’t done much this year. In arm-wrestle-like contests like Saturday Night’s, you really need a weight of numbers effort to try and break the will of the opposition and we should be looking to our seasoned players to drive that push.

Most of the media attention has already started to swing onto poor Max King. He’s an easy target, and not just because of his extreme height. I think it would be much more appropriate for them to swing some of the spotlight onto the likes of Ross, Membrey, Billings, Jones, all of whom are in the prime of their careers and are coming up short at the moment. Sinclair had his moments on the weekend, but is he doing enough now that he’s a full-time midfielder now?

Having said that, King’s form is hard to ignore. I fully sympathise with him given the amount of times so-called passes were placed to his disadvantage, but on Saturday night he had a clear run at a couple that you thought he’d gobble with his eyes close. There was one at the top of the goal square, I’m pretty sure in the third term that he just failed to bring down. Surely some of it is down to his body trying to cope with his first AFL season, as well as having to battle through a period of playing against a string of some of the league’s best tall defenders. I would’ve advocated that we give him a game off to recuperate and recharge, but given Hawthorn’s recent struggles it might be best for him to lace-up and hopefully mark his way into form against a more vulnerable back six.

The backline, again, I don’t think was a big concern. Carlisle’s omission didn’t seem to have an impact, as Weideman had a quiet night – his only notable moment being a goal which he crumbed off the deck in the third term. Petracca was a constant threat, but that’s a match up that’s out of Jake’s wheelhouse in terms of athleticism. After quarter time the Dees kicked four goals: That should be a scoreline that’s more than easy enough to overcome.

Given the injury situation for the Saints, I get the feeling that by and large we’ll be riding out the year essentially with the 22 we saw versus the Dees. The health status of both Hannebery and Dunstan is worth keeping a very close eye on, as any fresh legs we can inject into the midfield could be vital in such a demanding schedule. Perhaps Lonie gets one last chance? Depending on the opposition, Carlisle may see action again. But there’s very little in the areas that we need help that can be injected from the fringes of the current 22.

And maybe that’s beside the point. This 22 has shown several times this year that it has good footy (against quality opposition too) in it, and sometimes it’s just about being better for longer. A bit more efficiency from Max King against the Lions, and some better set shot kicking versus the Dees, and we could be sitting here looking at a 3 game winning streak and a finals birth locked-in. Winning form isn’t that far away, but it’s now a race against the clock to unlock those elements of our team performance that are missing.

Ask me again in 2 months

St Kilda 2.1, 4.6, 4.8, 4.10 (34)
Geelong Cats 2.4, 7.5, 11.7, 14.9 (93)
Crowd: 3,093 at the GABBA, Thursday, August 10th at 6.10pm

Maybe it’s the calming background flow of the Yarra river water nearby in dormant Abbotsford, but I’m putting this loss down as a blip rather than a bust.

This season has been so much about the team defying every natural instinct or premonition that a Saints fan tends to default to, that I would’ve forgiven you for succumbing to some pre-emptive optimism for the Cats clash. A threshold had been crossed.

They have Danger; so what? Steele. I see your Hawkins, I raise you King. Dan Butler is kicking goals for fun.

The kool-aid tap had flipped on and the break-neck speed of the 2020 fixture hasn’t really allowed us to stop and look in the mirror.

In my immediate Saints circles I don’t think the lid had come off, but sub-consciously everyone had accepted that the W-L column is a real thing this year. And that the feeling of “we should win this game” suddenly was legitimate too. I definitely felt that for the Swans game. The Suns game? Not so much. Monday night versus the Cats? Nope. At the risk of being an massive apologist, the Saints were due.

Due for a downer. Due for a 10 goal loss? No.

That’s not to say that yours truly is plotting some sort of Shawshank Redemption-esque escape from Victoria to go north in anticipation of an appearance at The Big Dance, but the fact is that the team was running on fumes against the Suns. Butler kicked four of the finest, Battle swung forward with magic effect, Hunter Clark was shrugging off tackles like it was going out of fashion. Individuals came up big when the game was on the line. The four points aside, it was far from a convincing effort. Gold Coast huffed and puffed but ultimately couldn’t blow the Saints down. That was indicative of the Suns’ immaturity more than anything. And to his credit, Ratts has warned us before that we hadn’t been punished for our inadequate chunks of play to date.

The Geelong Cats are a different proposition. 400 uncontested marks (give or take) within the first 4 minutes of play underlined that this was a different beast to be dealt with; this isn’t an outfit that beats itself. It was kill or be killed.

With the Cats having a monopoly on possession, the 3 point margin at quarter time had me beaming through my mouthful of corn chips. The media has pumped-up on some of our flashy imports (see Butler, Jones, Howard), but the resilience of the side has been somewhat overlooked. And here again, St Kilda wasn’t budging. The second quarter felt a lot more like the wrestle that the Saints needed to force it to be. Finally we were getting our hands on the ball a little bit more, and though there was a lack of method in our forward thrusts, we were at least starting to land some jabs into their mid-riff. Missed set shots by King and Battle though, ultimately were extremely costly. The King miss became an 11 point swing that turned out to be a dagger. That was us effectively done for the night.


Earlier this year Ratts stated that consistency would make or break this team’s season. On that front the team has made big headway. The Pies game was a disaster, but we bounced back hard by dunking on the reigning premiers and then snapped our Adelaide Oval hoodoo against the flag favourites no less.

Not only did the side “look” different, but it felt like it actually was different.

And that’s probably what made Monday night so frustrating. This year has been different. Not just the bizarro fixture and the mostly empty stands. The side has had a newfound belief, and played with a purpose we just haven’t been used to for a long time. Yet this loss felt akin to some of the interstate soft kills we endured through the entire Richo era. That feeling that the opposition was is too bored to rub it in our face and high-fives after goals are in short supply in favour of preserving juice for games that are more worthwhile.

At one point in the call on Monday, Dermie called the Cats performance “surgical”. It felt pretty on the money. This is far from the Cats first rodeo; they have seen plenty of upstarts like the Saints come and go. Brad Scott’s game plan often seems as dull as dishwater, but it’s steadfast and it suits a group of hardened vets. And that’s exactly what these Cats are: Scrambling to try and patch-up why this so-called blockbuster had been one sided, the Fox Footy team were quick to hammer home how these Cats were one perhaps the most experienced side ever. I don’t have all the numbers in front of me, but it felt believable.

But as much as we talk about strategies, Xs and Os, magnets on boards, if you don’t win the ball then strategy kind of counts for nothing. And not only that but the Cats’ militant application kind of reduces the game back to it’s basics. Win the ball; tackles must stick; spoil hard; usher the ball over the boundary; if in doubt go wide; get numbers to every contest. The Saints, though learning fast, have been – by comparison – a lot more excitable and cavalier. And our iffy bits and pieces in between were completely laid bare on this occasion.

Geelong’s relentlessness found a razors edge come the third term. This quarter has been a real weak spot for the Saints and they were put to the sword this time. The ascendancy that Bytel (18 touches, 5 clearances) and others in the centre had swayed our way in the second term vanished when Paddy Football and co. leaped out of second gear and were whisking the ball away at will. As much as I think Hawkins is an overrated oaf, he’s going to be pretty hard to stop when the ball is raining down on you pressure-free. Carlisle may still be having nightmares about Tomahawk getting the wrong side of him.

Whether this game becomes a death knell or a building block for certain defenders (cough Carlisle *cough) will be something to revisit at the season’s conclusion. Carlisle, Paton, Coffield, Long, Wilkie, and Battle all had some regretful moments or more. Carlisle was simply out of his depth, particularly physically. Paton fought on but his naivety shone through at times. Coffield’s overt niceness came home to roost. Wilkie was athletically overmatched and Battle seemed to have mentally eviscerated any defensive learnings from 2019. Long was probably one of our best but is still prone to at least a couple of suicidal brain-fades per game.

Midfield pressure or no midfield pressure, 10 shots from 13 inside 50s is an embarrassing stat for any defense. To make matters worse I can think of at least 3 or 4 goals that felt uncontested from that goal mouth or near enough. Whatever slithers of time the team has to dedicate to actual football training this week might have to be dedicate to unlearn social distancing and embrace the idea of actually putting a body on someone. Steven Baker would’ve been spitting chips watching Monday Night

Brain fades and naivety are the sorts of things that teams of Geelong’s ilk just aren’t going to let pass by. A missed-kicked becomes a counter attack free for all; a ball not delicately ushered over the boundary line a tap-in. As much as it’s been thrilling to see how enthusiastic and daring our attack has been, this team still has a ways to go when it comes to battening down the hatches.

To be fair to our back six, our forwards didn’t cover themselves in glory either. I had to do a double-take when I saw King ended up with 3 marks. Harry Taylor (with ample help) taught him a lesson. Membrey was anonymous. Butler and Kent had 3 and 1 tackles respectively, and more importantly only one shot on goal – two if you count Butler’s speculative kick off the ground from 50m. If that went in, I probably would’ve just shrugged given the season that he has had to date.

I couldn’t help but think that the confidence accumulated by the likes of Hind and Gresham has gone way overboard. From week to week, it feels those two are gagging try their luck at Goal Of The Year like headless chooks. Granted, mercurial is Gresh’s middle name but I could appreciate if his colleagues didn’t have him on their Christmas Card list. Him and Hind operate with blinkers on. For Hind it left him with egg on his face when he instinctively burst onto a loose ball just inside 50 in the fourth quarter and slapped a low banana kick effort that didn’t make the distance and dribbled out over the line in the pocket. It was like a balloon being deflated, except that the jig had been up for a good half an hour by that point.

Look, cardinal sin number against the Cats is to let their defenders mark the footy and whilst none of their individuals were exactly prolific in that area, you’d say that Stewart and Taylor were probably in their best. (Tuohy was made to look like Chris Johnson in his GABBA heyday). Again, part of that is due to the naivety of Max. He’ll be better for the run; he’s been in the league for five minutes. Messiah complex or not, the Club should just be viewing his output this year as pure gravy.

You could count on one hand the amount of times we were able to get the ball into the forward 50 with semblance of coherence. Most of our surges forward, even during our stronger periods in the second quarter, were rushed, under pressure and haphazard. For all Geelong’s big names, the most impressive thing about their performance was their relentless pressure. Anytime the Saints looked to switch the ball, avenues and exit lanes shrunk and collapsed before their eyes. Brad Hill’s impact was the prime example of this


I don’t think it’s warranted to jump on this disappointment too harshly. Since the fade-out versus the Dockers the side has been impressively swift in it’s ability to balance out it’s run-and-gun attack, with some more measured passages of play. Both the Adelaide Oval wins, included bigger stretches of having to take our medicine and play the percentages when we had to.

Yet the loss is a sharp reminder of the weak spot that is our midfield. I have been steadfast in my reluctance to get drawn into the “Why didn’t we pick Petracca?” whinge chorus the last few years, but he would’ve been ideal on Monday night. That type of game, where winning stoppages and being strong over the ball is at an absolute premium is what he’s ideal for. On top of that, he’s the type of personality that you get the sense gets off on going up against some of the Competitions premier names. And that’s no disrespect to Steele. He has been magnificent this year and he was our best on Monday. 25 touches and a lot of quality ones at that. But like I had begun to touch on: there’s been an underlying understanding between a lot of the Saints faithful that the midfield is still lacking in class.

I mentioned to my Social Club Premium whatever cohorts prior to the bounce that I was surprised that we hadn’t rested more players. The Suns display was a tired and feeble one, and the side had been “up” for a good month or so. This game seemed like a chance to restock and reload before the Bombers and Lions game. In hindsight I’m thankful we didn’t play the Reserves side. We sorely missed Jones – and Ryder too. Jones’ irrational confidence would’ve been invaluable.

Breathing space

Round 13, 2018
Gold Coast 4.2, 9.7, 11.12, 11.12 (78)
St Kilda 3.2, 4.6, 6.11, 11.14 (80)
Crowd: 10,181 at Metricon Stadium, Saturday, June 16th at 4.25pm

Thanks to the likes of the Dees, Bombers and Carlton’s own demise, the hounds of the media had not been as frenzied as you would have expected when it came to a team that some pundits (I’m looking at you RoCo) had tipped to be finish as high as the top 5.

That said, the spotlight had been ratcheted up; anxious, cautious, loyal Saints fans usually reserved to ciggie breaks in the parking lot had suddenly found their voice even in the public spheres of talkback radio and such.

It must be said that, despite carrying along several fresh newbies, the side had at least – aside from the Swans game – stemmed the bleeding in a performance sense. Against the Pies, Tigers, and Eagles (in Perth), there were definite takeaways however vague.

And despite the debacle that was the Swans game, you felt that the side – and the Coaching team/Match Committee – had found a new course for this season. Ed Phillips? Yes. Hunter Clark? Yup. Throw in Josh Battle, Bailey Rice, Coffield, presumably Brandon White pending health and an un-concussed Paddy McCartin. There were suddenly some green buds from which could be nurtured, to give this side a whole new complexion. There was a sense of a small silver lining.

And it’s with that in mind that so many loyal fans were baffled beyond belief when the team sheet was handed in for the now critical Suns game. In some ways, it should have seemed predictable. With the wolves at the door, out goes Phillips and Coffield; and some of Richo’s faves slide back in.

In my mind at least, the significance of this game had been dulled down in previous weeks as I had mentally resolved that this was essentially, if not a “rebuild” year, then definitely a “rethink” and a shift of course. The W-L columns had receded into the background. It’s about finding players and, more importantly, developing them. Great, get a McCartin, get a Billings, but once they are there you have to do right by them; they’re not sea monkeys.

Granted, of course, the looming prospect of the issue of the coach coming to a head did amp up the hype leading into this game. My thoughts on Richo? Generally speaking, I don’t think he comes across with the conviction or the strength that the figurehead of an AFL club needs to exude. For the most part this year he has reflected the fans – a lot of head scratching. And to top it off, it would be easier to swallow or empathise with if not were it for the incessant positivity and hot air that was coming out his mouth (amongst others) about our Finals chances and the five year plan and bla bla, in the lead up to Round 1.

Three quarter-time. Staring down at a 31 point deficit. Somewhere between evacuating the homemade rosemary and mozzarella pizza out of the oven, and finishing off the sriracha honey sauce for the chicken nuggets, I overhear the gleeful cries that Daniel McKenzie has got us back within a kick of hitting the front.

A remarkable turnaround. And despite anything and everything, this was a marvellous display of character from a group who have been stamped accused of a lack of maturity, leadership, resilience, et al. Of course, whether this is a flash in the pan in that regard, only time will tell. And it has been well documented how insipid the Suns have been in last quarters this year.

This is a pocket of air, of much needed breathing space whilst the likes of Richo, Finnis, Hammill and the rest of the lackies around the football department flounder and grasp for life jackets whilst the Club is being turned upside by Lethlean (and god knows who else at City Hall etc). And for me, that’s that. As I mentioned before, in Phillips, Clark, Coffield, White, Battle (who again stood out on Saturday night) and to a lesser extent Rice, the Club has stumbled upon (not by design) some of the tonic or the pathway by which we can navigate out of this mess that we’ve created ourselves.

That works both ways too. The relative success of that shiny new bunch has only further underlined the shortcomings of the likes of Mav, Sav, Geary, Newnes, Dunstan, Lonie and the rest of the deadwood that I can’t even stomach conjuring up from the depths of my memory. With all due respect, it was damn telling (and plain nice) that it was Gresh and not Mav, who was able to kick the game clinching goal. For those playing along – Mav actually had a set shot from about 50 to put the Saints in front with about 1:45 left on the clock.

 

Troubling use of the air conveyance

Round 9, 2018
St Kilda  3.5, 7.7, 9.9, 10.12 (72)
Collingwood 3.3, 7.6, 14.7, 15.10 (100)
Crowd: 33,994 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, May 19th at 7.20pm

Script writers couldn’t have done it any better: one Rex Hunt was calling his final game on 3AW on Saturday night for St Kilda versus Collingwood. Rex has always been one to embellish and underline the weird, wonderful and pitiful in the game, and boy did he have some material to work with on Saturday night.

I believe he described people “playing chess at Pentridge” as having more fun than watching this game.

Having been there myself, yes it was darn ugly at times; and again highlighted the Saints plight. St Kilda continues to self sabotage it’s season via a thousand cuts in the form of woeful skills, spurned opportunities and half-baked contests.

Yet this was all set in motion at the selection table. Carlisle would be missing (concussion), McCartin wouldn’t be returning yet, Acres groin was worse than the original soreness diagnosis and so on, and so forth. So, to recap: that’s the runaway leader in the Trevor Barker Medal right now, the other bookend of the side and the Media’s selected darling all consigned to the medical room. And the injury list already had some noteworthy names mind you: Long, Gilbert, Bruce and medical room Gold Platinum Ultimate Elite member Nathan Freeman. In a nutshell, this was to be the weakest, most vulnerable Saints 22 put on the park in probably 3 years. 5 players with 10 games or less in experience, including newly minted debutant Bailey Rice.

And yet that didn’t stop them being ahead at the main break at Corporate Stadium.

Lonie and Newnes were spearheading a re-jigged, makeshift forward line – alongside Rohan Marshall. Little Jack kicked the first two – yet was a missing person thereafter – whilst Newnes finished the night with 7 shots on goal (4 converted).

Let me repeat that: Lonie and Newnes – alongside Marshall in his 6th game – spearheaded a the forward line. Lonie and Newnes. Welcome to 2018. Welcome to the End of The Road to 2018.

That’s not to give the players an out as such, and to be fair Newnes took the forward challenge head on. He was sharp in front of goal and made the most of a lot of one-on-one opportunities to notch up 4 majors. Up the other end Jimmy Webster was at his swashbuckling, decisive best and had ample help from the slick Hunter Clark and the zealous – yet naive – Coffield and debutant Bailey Rice. Dare I say it, the rearguard looked fluid and precise for stretches, particularly through the first half; even Nathan Brown was having a throwback performance, showing a steeliness that seemed to have pass him by. Yes they were aided by the fact that the Pies were sticking to their one tall forward structure, but for long periods they not only stood firm but also initiated a lot of great transition play for the side.

In the first half in particular, the makeshift nature of St Kilda’s forward setup seemed to almost force the players to lower their eyes and attempt to pick out realistic options, rather than blaze away to points on the oval that had been burnt into their retinas via numerous whiteboard sessions. Marshall epitomized this when he picked out Newnes with a lovely 20 meter pass in the first quarter; a complete departure from the panicked, crazed nature of our typical forays forward. And to go with this, Gresham and the reinstated Sinclair had the midfield humming with a bit more pizazz and verve. A team that was coming off of totals of 9.13 and 8.11 in it’s last two games, all of a sudden was chirping along with 7.7 at half time.

Unfortunately, the list of games in 2018 when the Saints had been able to sustain four quarters of effort and intensity is this: . And so when the game was opened up, and was played on more one-on-one terms in the second half, Collingwood seemed so much more at home. The Pies seemed to relish the extra running required; it cajoled them to life. The likes of Varcoe, Wells, Stephenson, Phillips et al had clear air to run into more often and they lapped it up like a dog hanging it’s head out the window. Suddenly, the Saints defenders were on the their heels on the regular.

To make matters much worse, Nathan Brown went off with a knee injury in the third term and subsequent the shuffling of the deck only accentuated the frayed nature with which the Saints tried to move the ball. With Marshall having been deployed to defence, the much needed escape valve ‘down the line’ was not there for the defenders, and so the Saints kept trying to play that bit faster, which seemed to buoy the Pies further.

That third term proved to be decisive. Frayed structure or not, Jordan De Goey was the biggest thorn in Richo’s side. The power, straight line speed and incisiveness was all on display and he again underscored what hot property he will be this off-season. He was pivotal in the Pies’ surging seven goal third quarter – to go with the 3 snags he snagged in the second term. Despite nimble backs in the ranks, Richo’s men had no answer for him. All of Coffield, Rice, Geary, and Webster only succeeded in providing life size training cones for him.

*****

Like I mentioned earlier, the state of the 22 is vulnerable to put it nicely right now. Granted, this is accentuated by the team’s collective confidence being lower than a snakes belly. Nine rounds in, and blind Freddy can tell you that the anointed Next Generation aren’t ready to shoulder the weight of leading The Club forward. The plight of the side has been deepened and accelerated though by the amount of inexperienced players that are a regular part of the team this year too.

Funnily enough, those newbies were have provided some of our brighter moments in the last couple of weeks. Hunter Clark played his best game for the Club, whilst second gamer Ed Phillips continued where he left off against the Dockers the week before. Bailey Rice certainly looked confident enough; Coffield had a tough night defensively yet still was a clear thinker with ball in hand. The youngest bunch are doing their bit; Clark and Coffield in particular allow us to dare to believe that we’re not a Bermuda Triangle for budding stars.

At the other end of the spectrum, the side continues to be plagued by a raft of players that are non-contributing zeroes right now. Billings, Armo, and Savage are the ones that immediately come to mind. Mav too had a stinker. Lonie only cemented his burgeoning reputation as a player almost too good for the VFL and nothing more. In this day and age of footy, it’s very difficult to carry such a number of these players.

Billings has been a repeat offender this year. The coaching staff’s latest ploy was to have him sit slightly behind the ball as a loose man for most of the first half. 21 disposals was his final tally for the day, yet it’s the stuff in between all his touches that seems to irk me most. Firstly, he looks completely off the pace fitness and intensity wise. It’s one thing to be out of form, but intensity, desire, supreme competitiveness – these are things that can’t waiver; they’re must haves. And they’re something that should have been pummeled into Billings by now.

As I may have mentioned before, I believe it’s oh so wrong for the coaching staff to repeatedly try and massage the structure of the side to get Billings some cheap touches. Nine games in and he’s played in every part of the ground. This proclivity to throw him around seems like a cop-out; Billings’ lack of work rate and intensity is going to undermine him wherever he’s plonked.

The boy they call Latte, of course, isn’t the only one who should be in the gun. One thing that’s quite common amongst all our Next Generation players is that generally speaking they’re soft. Acres, Billings and Gresham don’t strike fear into any opponent. All like to get on the end of the play rather than generate it themselves. And most would agree that they would look a million bucks in a well-coached, well-oiled system. That’s all well and good, but it speaks to the type of players and personalities that they’re not.

One player who over the journey has indeed carried himself as an alpha-dog is David Armitage. Armo had 8 disposals, five of which were clangers. Enough said. Sav too had 5 clangers – and he’s meant to be our version of Silk.

*****

What’s more worrying to me than the on-field results right now, is the kind of comments that are coming out of from the people that matter within the Club’s hierarchy right now. President Peter Summers and Simon Lethlean, have both in their own roundabout ways come out in the recent days to say that The Club:

  • Did not overestimate the list
  • Thinks the list is more than capable but is underperforming
  • Wholeheartedly believes that Alan Richardson is the man for the coaching job
  • Believes that the beginning to this season on-field has been completely unacceptable

Now. At least two of these points are completely wrong and/or at odds with the other points. I’ll let you connect those dots for yourself.

Though, while I’m at it, let me hone in on one thing. Why did the Club’s hierarchy believe we were so capable of reaching the finals this year? Apparently, it’s largely because of our victories over Richmond and GWS in 2017. Don’t get me wrong, they were enjoyable results. The Giants one did carry some weight, as not only was it a scalp, but it was under the bright lights of Friday night and it helped propel us forward towards the halfway point of the year. The Richmond result, was not a glitch, but anyone who saw the game objectively would acknowledge that the Tigers were not themselves that day. Indeed, Richo mentioned it clearly in the post-match press conference.

All that aside, it is utterly baffling and worrying that The Club can isolate two games and base their whole opinion of a list’s maturity, capabilities and readiness off of two games in a vacuum. That’s utterly absurd and speaks to a complete lack of insight and preparedness to judge the list as a whole. Were they not there to see the team get bent over by the other Grand Finalist again? Did they have memory loss regarding another systematic thumping at the hands of the Swans? Did they completely ignore the way the team folded like a pack of cards when the season was on the line against the Demons?

The examples of when the side has wilted in the face of any noteworthy pressure and intensity is extensive. We’ve seen the Saints lack of skill under pressure all through 2018. Yet it’s not a cold that the team just caught this winter; those symptoms have been at the surface for a good couple of years prior.

 

 

A new high: Peak Longer

You know it’s just your night when Jack Lonie is doing checkside passes over his shoulder onto the chest of forwards. You know it’s your night when William Longer imitates a Lockett set-shot that then triggers an avalanche. You know it’s your night not even Mav Weller can spoil it.

If the win over the Giants game was to set the table for a big year, then this may have been the unctuous main course. Who knows when or what the dessert will bring?

I am, of course, indulging in the kool-aid of gazumping, thumping, K-Oing the reigning 9th place finisher. Wait – what.

Look, it was just darned enjoyable. The bar of the social club, on the second level of Corporate Whatever Rich Company Paid For Naming Rights Stadium, was over-bubbling in joyous footy chat. Half-time guest speakers Jimmy Webster and Mav Weller were met barely met with a shrug. As far as anyone was concerned, they were surplus – for one evening at least – seeing as they had not partaken in the onslaught that we had witnessed in the first half.

And it was an onslaught.

The un-tagged Jack Steven was back to his dashing, daring and deceptive best. He had 14 touches in the second quarter alone – as well as a goal. Billy Longer had the football game of his laugh, and managed to resist giving away a childish 50 meter penalty. Lonie was a pest as always, sucking Cotching into a first quarter tummy punch, but also managed to fit in time to play some good Australian Rules football. His checkside pass to Hotline Billings is genuinely a contender for Assist Of The Year (naming rights pending). Koby Stevens toasted himself to a great Saturday night, with his dazzling snap after a series of Robert Harvey dummies and shimmies.

The highlights were numerous, and they weren’t all forward specific either. I’ve never seen our back six mark the ball, particularly in contested situations, as they did on Saturday night. Aside from a few schoolboy gaffes from Daniel McKenzie, the performance from the defense was faultless.

Of course their effectiveness, as has been highlighted before, is reliant upon the cogs of the team defense machine turning over, and whirring along, like a Swiss watch. And on this night, it was on point. The Tigers squad of fleet forwards was rendered useless, and only on a couple of occasions in the first quarter did they have the half-chance to slingshot forward.

Instead, it was the likes of Newnes, Lonie, and Billings who were darting into space in the first term. Thanks to the great work of Longer, Ross, Steven and Koby the center square was ours, and as a result the forwards were loving the opportunity to operate in space.

Like I mentioned earlier, it was Longers best game since forever. I’m not ready to forgive against his wrap sheet of crimes against ball sports, but it was an undoubted step in the right direction.

An undoubted step in the right direction, and a big confidence boost are two things that really sum up the takeaways from the game.

For those ready to plan out their Grand Final Day right now, perhaps press pause. We played the Giants, and we conquered – on Friday Night Footy no less. And where did it get us? Not. Very. Far. It didn’t stop us from getting embarrassed on Adelaide Oval, nor did it stop us from laying out the red carpet for the reigning premiers or from getting out-foxed by the savvy Swans.

To say that the Tigers were off their game would be to completely dismiss the Saints. St Kilda was great. The challenge is for a performance like this to actually raise the bar of the side. Post-Giants win we fell right back into the pit that is the middle of the road of the competition. Suddenly finals felt like wishful thinking, the hopes were fading. Individual’s form was wobbling. Possible starlets like Acres, Billings, Dunstan were all being put back in the gun; Richo’s stock, in the fans eyes, had never been lower. And everyone was taking his or her frustration out on luckless Paddy McCartin too.

As much as I’m not ready to anoint Alan Richardson as the next Norm Smith, or Alastair Clarkson, I think he won’t be hoodwinked by Saturday night’s win. It was a new high point, a new bar to keep reaching for, but the challenges remain in front of us. We need to find the edge, the sharpness and that ruthlessness more frequently and against quality opposition.

Is Lonie all of a sudden the next Eddie Betts? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m unsure whether he will hold down his spot until the seasons end. The confidence that can be garnered from a win like that though can be significant, and for some players it can spin things on their head – in a good way.

Take Seb Ross for example. He seems three inches taller, and three steps quicker since that Friday Night win over the Giants.

And whilst we’re talking about Ross, it’s time to pay tribute to the midfield. The midfield has been my biggest concern about this side ever since the first steps of this rebuild. Yes, the depth has improved this year. Sinclair has added a new infusion of class and composure; Koby Stevens and Steele have reinforced a hardened edge; and Jack Newnes just keeps on running. Hard. On paper, they’re never going to make the juggernauts of the league quiver in their boots, but I’m not sure they fear any of the opposing engine rooms either, for that matter.

Billy Longer’s presence in this side has been a big bone of contention, particularly on this blog. He continues to divide the fans, yet games like Saturday Night will win him more fans no doubt. Billy definitely helped set the tone via some great tap work from the center bounces. I will continue to have a problem with Billy or any player, whereby we’re meant to do somersaults about when they make the effort to compete. If you’re an AFL player, competing and putting your body on the line should not just be a pre-requisite but be something that you relish. And so when I see players who don’t fall in line with that, it’s a complete red flag.

And so, they’re the standards that the Saints need to reaching and exceeding. As good as Saturday night, you don’t get any trophies for beating Richmond in July. Will this win be remembered fondly in a Troy Schwarz kind of way? Or is it a springboard to something more significant?