Tom Briglia Posts

Dizzy spells

Round 9, 2019
Collingwood  3.1, 6.2, 11.4, 17.10 (112)
St Kilda 1.3, 4.9, 9.11, 10.11 (71)
Crowd: 60,702 at the MCG, Saturday, May 18th at 1.45pm

Version 2

I hadn’t watched Luke Beveridge’s press conference following the announcement of the Tom Boyd’s retirement until I was on the train to the game. I am unapologetic about my feelings towards the exceptionalism of Australian Rules, in how its history is respected, kept and acknowledged, and the magnificence of how it is played, and how that is far more conducive to a range of emotions and reflection. One my favourite things in life is a Saturday afternoon at the MCG. There wasn’t quite anything like stepping off the train and taking that walk from Jolimont Station to the ground in the natural air and the natural light. Not purely for how pleasant it was – I’d only just taken out my headphones and put my phone in my pocket after watching Luke Beveridge in tears talking about a 23 year old’s life being upended by mental illness – but for how human it was.

It’s why a day Grand Final makes everything feel that much more exposed. It’s a life event that takes place in natural light, at the mercy of the weather. Every Grand Final is literally viewed through the conditions it is played in. For St Kilda fans, the 1997 Grand Final isn’t as eerie without the context of it being so dark in the afternoon. The 2009 Grand Final isn’t the same game without the wild and harsh fluctuations in light and rain throughout the battle. The 2010 Grand Final and the Replay are distinguishable by the slightly-too-hot sun in the latter (as well as Collingwood playing us off the park for four quarters, as opposed to just two). It’s all real. The alternative is the Concrete Disney Dome; an office building and multinational corporation’s retail outlet nestled among other office buildings, where on winter weekends you say goodbye to the day (and perhaps the weekend) anywhere between 1.30pm and 3pm because for some reason you’re about to head inside to a glorified TV set to watch the footy, largely because people with hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal managed to botch one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the state’s history.

***

Well done to any of the players for not shitting directly into their pants because that was the biggest crowd I think anyone associated with the St Kilda football club would have seen since Nick Riewoldt’s last game. Quite literally more people turned up than could ever fit in our Concrete Dome home ground, and the stadium was still 40% empty (Was any official reason ever given as to why Docklands was built to a circa 55,000 capacity?). That doesn’t necessitate that a high-quality event will take place, but it’s strange and wonderful how 60,702 people will still congregate for something that really did threaten to be unmemorable given our recent form (and with no need for questionable crowd figures – the match day attendance against West Coast was given at barely one-third of that, at just over 20,000, but is listed as more than 24,000 on the AFL site).

While we might be feeling a little better about the broader direction of the club, there are moments when it’s hard to not take notice of Geelong, Hawthorn and Sydney’s sustained success having won premierships themselves during the GT and Ross eras. Right now, the Cats and Collingwood are now a decent chance of reprising the 2011 The Joke’s On St Kilda Grand Final match-up, and we’re still trying find salvation in individual VFL performances. It’s a little bit harder to not take notice of those narratives still when you’re sitting around at the MCG in 2019 before a match, minding your own business, and The Final Draw starts playing on the big screen.

The club as receded from “Story of the Year” back to the periphery of the competition. Where has the noise gone? I would have asked “Where has Lethlean gone?”, but he popped up on Saturday to tell everyone that we’re a destination club now with the best facilities in the league. Well, something has gotta start happening, as in, literally this week, because Hawthorn’s future home at Dingley is as commendable as it is suspiciously (threateningly?) located close to Moorabbin. Where is Slater? Was the opening period of the season just a freak prolonged event that coincided with some good early-season PR? Aren’t we the fittest team of the comp? Where was Parker or Steele or Gresham or Billings roughing up Varcoe after he smacked Ed Phillips in the head? Where did the goal celebrations go? We need to get hungry and and get angry. Tell the fans about it. Tell the opposition it’s not appreciated. We haven’t said much for over a month now. We’re squabbling with ourselves and our own 2018-echo game plan. The anxiety with the footy’s back, and it’s taken Jade Gresham and Jack Newnes and Blake Acres with it.

***

Not much movement around the ground in first quarter meant we were wheeling out the 2018 Special of long kicks down the line to nothing in particular. Rarely was a contest in the air being halved – certainly not won – so there weren’t even stoppages to reset for. Some of the more considered ball use we’ve seen in our better periods this year eventually returned, and some of the full ground defence was back, but something stinks with our forward line, and something stinks with how we move the ball. It’s hard to tell what or who or which is at fault when everything is slightly broken. Maybe it’s slightly everything. A ridiculous stretch of 15 consecutive inside 50s during the second quarter yielded fuck all; no other team could pull that kind of thing off. We added only three goals and six behinds for the entire quarter. Young deserved a goal (he at least created an opportunity out of nothing with relentless pace and chasing), and another week saw Seb Ross miss yet another chance for a captain’s goal. Collingwood couldn’t get the ball into their front half but we had no clue going forward how to provide nor find a decent target in a dangerous spot. Just because Marshall belted through a shot from 50 doesn’t mean the plan is working; it reflects on how he’s a lot better than a lot of our guys but that’s it. Otherwise it was too many shots were under pressure or from difficult positions.

Membrey kicked four goals straight but Bruce again got lost in the fog of confused Australian Rules football. His excellent marking display one week earlier needed to be a new normal, not a once-every-two-months event. When he led up and kicked the first goal it appeared as though Josh Bruce was back, but in actuality Josh Bruce was back, and by Josh Bruce I mean the Josh Bruce of vaguely recently; the futsal ring-in who we still haven’t really known what to make of since the start of 2015.

Robbie Young was one of the few things in attack that did work and marked yet another bizarre pick-up by our recruiters purely for the reason that they’re interesting to watch. His stats with the ball were pretty lean, but he kicked two goals, including an excellent raking left-foot goal from near the 50-metre arc, and set up Membrey for another all in the third quarter as we looked to make a move when the game opened up. His first kick that set up Bruce for the opening goal of the game might have been our best forward 50 entry of the day. Like Parker, he is never out of the play. Always hunting. Un-St Kilda like. His chase-down tackle in the second quarter deserved a goal, but he more than made up for it in the third.

Dean Kent played another curio game, not quite enough to have nailed his magnet to the coaches’ board and perhaps leaving himself at the mercy of Ben Long and Bailey Rice’s performances for Sandy. Matt Parker had a second quieter week with the ball but he’s still too dangerous when he’s in the general area. All we got from the final quarter was a Josh Battle mark with 90 seconds left. Josh Battle is quickly turning into this year’s Jake Carlisle – not only has he effectively taken his place in defence, but Richo and the coaches are also using him as the default “we tried something different” move, three goals to the opposition in the game too late. Battle will almost certainly return to the forward line (RIGHT?!) after his Riewoldt-style education is done, but why not give him the responsibility of needing to make an impact up forward while the game is still alive? He arguably showed more promise as a forward than anyone else did last year; do it for the team’s sake, as well as his own.

***

The Magpies got the inevitable easy goal before the final change as we placed our face firmly in the path of the psychological blow of having done all the hard work to not even have the lead. Through the third quarter we were hitting eerie 2009 Grand Final scoreline areas, and a scoreline at the final change of 9.11 to 11.4 would tell you that we’d blown it. There is plausible theory that the MCG brings out the best of this team. Two of our better performances last year – against Richmond, including Gresham kicking six, and a win against Melbourne – followed by a match last year that some of us dared believe was a landmark event for this team. The last quarter only confirmed what most suspected with a bigger 2019 sample size at our disposal; that for all the work St Kilda did in breaking down the opposition it didn’t actually know what to do with the game when it had it in its hands. Collingwood were never far away from lifting a small gear that would create a broad, ugly gulf between the two teams. This game was set up at the final change as a perfect test to see where our supposedly new system and being the fittest team in the comp would get us. It just showed us up for having a midfield that is severely beneath the better brigades in the competition. Dunstan was great for another week but neither him nor Seb Ross can be the headline act of a successful team’s midfield, and Blake Acres isn’t quite what we thought he would be this year.

There was some comfort in being prepared for a 0-3 result from the past three weeks. A string of three premiership fancies was itself a constant low-pressure release valve. Let’s see what we’ve got. The answer was not much. We didn’t have many players left. But things matter now. No more burners. This was a difficult period we just had to get through, and then the rest of the draw won’t be so tough. Right? Josh Bruce danced with the idea during the week, in the way Jack Steele danced with the idea of finals after Round 5. One month after that evening at the MCG, we left the same ground having not won since. Jack Billings’ post-siren goal seemed a long time ago; as if it was part of a different world line. Now we’re just ticking down to a vague time in the near future in which Carlisle, Steven, Hannebery, Webster, Geary and Lonie are all in the team. On Sunday, away from any cameras or Dwayne Russell’s yelling, Max King added his name to that list.

Capacity

Round 8, 2019
St Kilda 2.1, 4.5, 6.8, 10.10 (70)
West Coast Eagles 3.3, 5.6, 11.8, 12.16 (88)
Crowd: The AFL site is lying, Saturday, May 11th at 7.25pm

Sometimes I just really can’t be fucked writing up this shit. For my personal whingebag reasons I write as a diary of following this club because I’m wired a bit oddly and St Kilda makes me feel too many things too extremely. More pragmatically, I know the blog stands up better (not necessarily as “good” – just better) as an entity if I keep this tight and have something every week, along with the St Kilda Jumper State of the Union (yesterday made it a whole lot more interesting), cracking the shits over the club song being changed, and end of year bullshit thrown in.

Usually it’s a lot easier to write things up when the club is in a shitty state. It’s more cathartic, particularly in its historical context. This club’s journey is more conducive to my whingebag brain – sad, anxious, depressed, drenched in nostalgia for what could have been, you get the idea. It’s also fucking exhausting whichever way. I don’t write efficiently, and I don’t write it efficiently.

The point of all of that is: the most difficult weeks to write something up are these. This game offered around the mark of fuck all. These aren’t the types of games that bring revelation, but they are just as much of Bob Murphy’s rhythm of the season as any other. They reinforce, they reaffirm, they drain, they exhaust, they steel. Among all the moments and the matches we recall or that shape our story as supporters – for better or worse – games and trips home and days and weeks like these are what happens in between. They sit around the periphery, they fill in the cracks, they inform the subconscious. These are the “every week” in the “every week” that we turn up.

Given the start we’d had to the season, this was the first real reminder of the week-to-week grind of a footy season, and I specifically do mean grind. The media cycle(s), the review, the mid-week faff chat, The Footy Show actually getting cancelled, the build up to match itself, and a slide into, for now, irrelevance. It’s a long way from The Age’s “story of the year”, but at least that’s on them.

***

As always, my brother Matt offered a more succinct, accurate take than anything you’ll get on here: “Nothing happened other than very bad umpiring.”

The loneliest place in winter is the Concrete Dome when you’re watching the Saints play an interstate team in front of seven other people, it’s a little bit too cold, this is your Saturday night, the players look kind of capable at most and the umpiring is going against you. Two first half goals to the Eagles from nothing free kicks equals Nathan Brown’s gif-conducive exasperation. That came with a string of soft frees against in general play, which was absurd enough before Tom Browne brought up a Shane Warne tweet as part of a question to Richo during a tepid post-match press conference.

This was the type of game in which the players just needed to physically appear on the ground, do whatever they had to do and we could all check it off and go home if we were bored enough to turn up in the first place. Yep, West Coast is better; yep, we’re still struggling with actually using an Australian Rules football correctly.

***

Something is wrong with our forward line, and in a Diet 2018 fashion our game was (mostly) littered with ill-directed or kicks down the line that had no purpose, manic pressure that left opposition players free for the next kick or handball, and absurd forward 50 entries and shots on goal. Our scores this year have come in at 13.7, 10.16, 9.12, 10.14, 15.5, 10.8, 10.10, and 10.10 again, i.e. we’ve kicked 10 goals or less in six out of eight games, and we haven’t hit 100 yet this year. All you need to do is kick more than the opposition, and we’ve been keeping the opposition to low scores for most of the year, which looks kind of cool and a little evil when it works. Somehow, we were still in this in the final term, despite apparently being played off the park by a clearly more skilled and successful football team. But at some point the weight of numbers suggests that while we’re sort of in the game a lot, or in a lot of games, we’re simply not winning them. In the same way that that’s ok if you win enough of those, it’s not ok if you don’t. While we restricted a team to a vaguely respectable number of goals, but like we rue our own chances, they had several in the opening minutes of the final quarter that should have made sure our faux-comeback wasn’t in any place to be conceived. But we didn’t kick those goals, and they’d kicked enough. We’re likely to go 4-5 this week.

Nice for Richo to acknowledge that execution is bad etc. etc. and there was weirdly plenty of time when Parker and Newnes scuffed their shots at goal. The Billings snap with around 90 seconds was an excellent example of him playing on instinct rather than having too much to think and scuffing a shot in time and space from 35 out. For all our ridiculous waste, as well as Billings’ goal we had Savage kick one of the better goals you’ll see this year with a classic running banana from the pocket, and Dean Kent seemed to secure another several weeks two goals including a set shot banana goal of his own. When we were making a charge in the third quarter Kent was wildly responsible for running into goal and cannoning the ball across the face of goal from close range, not dissimilar to Matthew Parker doing the best fan engagement work from the club in Round 1. What was worse for Kent is that he’s still shanking shots at goal and he had a teammate on their own directly in front of goal when said wayward cannon was launched.

***

This wasn’t the most the most classic-laden set-list of the 2018 Reunion Tour but we did get the associated stripping away of players’ individual qualities. Gresham signing a four-year deal during the week happened to land in the middle of his two career-worst performances with the ball. He twice had shots at goal from around 35 metres out while running perpendicular to the goal face and kicking across his body, rather than thinking for the second he had each time and using his balance and the space around him.

Parker had another important set shot at goal that he fluffed, but he’s allowed a quiet week I guess. In the “quiet several games category” is Ben Long, who like Parker and Gresham – and to a point Billings over the past couple of weeks – have lost their X-factor. Sinclair upped his, pulling out a ridiculous through the legs and deft handball move on the boundary line that US MAJOR LEAGUE SPORTS fetishists and Night Grand Final Enthusiasts would have creamed themselves over.

This year’s “Oh yeah, him” guy is Ed Phillips, taking D-Mac’s role from 2018 as the human who gets picked several weeks into the season without dominating at VFL level. He obviously didn’t need to – he was more energetic than most and popped up in a lot of places within passages. I never thought I’d say this, but in the same vein, where the hell is Jack Lonie when we need him?

Josh Battle is now vaguely our best player. He’s doing it all at the moment, and kind of because he just has to. No one else seems to be doing a whole lot of stuff. A huge tackle on Liam Ryan, being one of the few players to keep their shit together within 75 metres of goal, disposing of the ball with above-average skill and intelligence everywhere else. In the same way that Matthew Parker is un-St Kilda like for his aggression and X-factor, so is Josh Battle for his no-nonsense excellence.

Also in the incredibly slim, small, minute, tiny positives column was the bemusing return of Josh Bruce’s ability to take contested marks. The stranger thing was that it happened during the game after he’d dropped a couple of sitters, and not after an entire week of working himself up and managing to land in the zone on game day. Seven contested marks right across the front half, all the way up to the wing, in one of the best marking displays of someone wearing a St Kilda jumper for several years. If that happens every week then Josh Battle and his loud green car will just have to back up a little, but that would be a monumental shift for this club.

Worth noting that Membrey got a mention in Richo’s post-match press conference. Really? Happy to be corrected but I think it might have been Richo jumping to comfort us all that something is sort of working in the front half.

***

There’s been a push-pull as supporters over whether we consider the club to we reset over the off-season – and subsequently how much of an out we give the coaches and players – but there are still too many recurring themes popping up from last year. Maybe it’s working. Maybe it’s not. Maybe we just have to wait and see. We need to get hungry and and get angry. Tell the fans about it. Tell the opposition it’s not appreciated. We haven’t said much for a couple of weeks now. Instead we’re squabbling with our own heads. The anxiety with the footy’s back.

Have injuries taken the toll so much that we can’t play a certain way? Apparently so. This is a weird holding pattern in the season. Weathering the storm, whatever cliché you want to shit out, we’re basically ticking over until the the bye period and waiting for injured players to come back whilst Sandy goes and tempts fate with the “keepingupwithKing” hashtag.
We’re also waiting to get through this tough draw period of three back-to-back premiership fancies before the, uh, “easier” part of our draw, but time will tell. If you’re good enough, the draw’s not too tough. If you’d smattered these three weeks across the season and were told we’d lose them, you wouldn’t care. If you put them together then all of a sudden we’re at 4-4 and likely to go 4-5 unless the coaches can get the players to remember what was going on three weeks ago.
***
This is one of the very few times of the year when “there’s something going around” is actually applicable, and I’ve been hovering around the arse end of it. For those of us with rentals in Brunswick West that don’t boast central heating, the trips to the bathroom and the kitchen are a little colder. The energy bill jumps up because of my crappy heater in my room that I haven’t bothered upgrading in three years (when prospects were brighter and 2019 was part of what seemed to be a correctly-routed Road to 2018 that was actually a Road to 2020). The head hurts a little more, the muscles are a little slower, the nasal passage is a little more blocked, the throat sharper. Echinacea is flying off the shelves. The will is dwindling.

Saturday night are the nights that you really live it. That we really get a reminder of what we do and don’t get out of this. Our home ground is an office building that is also now a Concrete Disney Store, we’ve caught ourselves forgiving the club for five wasted years, and no amount of Association Football-style individual player introductions pre-match will genuinely enthuse anyone. Barely more than 20,000 showed up, and I don’t blame them. But also for fuck’s sake, someone’s got to make the first move, otherwise we’re gonna be the ones shipped off to Tasmania in 2026.

Out the flame

Round 7, 2019
GWS Giants  8.2, 9.4, 13.6, 18.6 (114)
St Kilda 2.1, 5.4, 7.8, 10.10 (70) 
Crowd: 12,633 at UNSW Canberra Oval, Saturday, May 4th at 1.45pm

Screen Shot 2019-05-07 at 7.59.21 pm

Bob Murphy likes to use the term “rhythm” when it comes to describing the day-to-day and week-to-week machinations of a season. What the AFL has done superbly well is maintain that a season’s journey jerks and wanders and dreams and terrifies on the way to one very specific week, event, life experience, which is Grand Final Day.

By demarcation of hemispheres and seasons and the Gregorian calendar we can neatly attribute moving from the hope emerges as we do from a summer stupor into a new year, designated with a still-fresh new number that will be branded in some part of our pattern-seeking mammal minds with a season’s journey confined entirely within it.

The re-emergence of the broader world from lazy sun into the more comfortable conditions of Autumn gives way to plumbing the depths of the season in those cold, dark, isolating days in a Concrete Disney Store or in the swirling wind at the MCG. The weather turns again and spring springs for those who toiled hardest and structured up most effectively and efficiently, with the brighter days gesturing towards the promise of a new way of life should you salute at the end September.

May is typically when we find ourselves settling in to the rhythm of the season. Sample sizes of each club are big enough to get some idea of a bottoms, potential, and prospects for the year. Matches begin to emerge as season-shaping, assuming all four points are equal, while others are already designated as dead rubbers. Unseasonably, eerily warm weather was hanging around in Melbourne, but by the weekend it was feeling like late autumn again. Warm showers are warmer, and the comfort foods that help us deal with the cold are back. Three-star meats are in demand.

***

 By quarter time we were cannoning towards a 2014 season arc redux, via a 2018-style anxiety and boredom-induced on-field redux. Richo’s first season began with wins against the the-then lowly Demons and GWS, and a raft of new guys – Eli, Billings, Dunstan – brought some reminder of what is living was like to a club in the throes of wild depression. A dramatic Saturday night win against Essendon in Round 5 took us to 3-2 with the winless Lions ahead in New Zealand the following week, which turned out like this. One week later, on a Saturday afternoon at a sodden MCG, we lost to Hawthorn by 145 points. Four years after a decade-long journey ended short of the summit, St Kilda delivered its 27th wooden spoon.

Five years and one day, a failed Road to 2018, and several awful injuries to key personnel later, our 2019 season was in danger of falling away completely.

We’ve followed up our most comprehensive, optimism-inducing performance in several years with two uninspired outings copy-pasted from a season that was supposed to mark a “Hey, let’s not do that again” point for this club. The quarter-time scoreline of 8.2 to 2.1 didn’t reflect how hard we were working to make a mess of our own efforts, and GWS looked like a team keen to hand out the 100-plus point smackings in return for the string of pantsings they received in their formative years. Those included a 128-point belting from ourselves, which barring a bemusing third quarter should have been by some distance the biggest winning margin of our 146-year history. Even beyond the $12 million debt, there’s always something to pay back at Moorabbin.

AFL Corp FC is again the premiership threat it promised to be when its parent company earlier this decade put most of the best young footballers on a direct flight to Blacktown. Charcoal for the suit, white for the shirt, orange for that on-trend colour flourish. They are a business and they mean business. They trade in wins and losses and TV ratings.

You wouldn’t have noticed they were missing Kelly and Whitfield and Davis, and that Jeremy Cameron’s shoulder is still dodgy, and that Dylan Shiel actually plays for a different club now. You would have noticed that we were missing Steven, Roberton, Carlisle, Geary, and Paddy, as well as Lonie, and that Webster did an owies to his hand. The injuries appear to take a much greater toll when we resort to 2018-style Saints Footy. The care and method we showed off against the Dees that is far more injury-proof has disappeared, and two things come to mind very quickly. Firstly, this team is still effectively giving up games interstate in the first quarter; secondly; and, the team has again wilted after a week of positive attention – see Round 17 of 2017 onwards. Throughout 2018 that Richmond win was seen as a calling card for what the team was capable of, but it wasn’t what was normal. It was a freak event. The footy that was described as “sustainable” two weeks ago is gone. That’s not normal anymore, not when three out of seven games have been played so bored and anxiously.

***

Not sure if it technically counts but for the first time since Round 22 of 2008 – the last home and away game of the season, in which we beat Essendon by 108 points after a string of ridiculous results across the weekend saw us trip fantastically into the top four – we wore our clash jumper with home socks. Both teams had a patterning on their socks acknowledging relationships with Soldier On, so this curio might have an asterisk to it, but I’m a sucker for mostly-white jumpers with dark or coloured shorts and/or dark or coloured socks; see the St Kilda teams of the 1940s and 1950s.

It represents another jumper against the Giants; we were the first team they wore their current clash jumper against in 2016, and in our first match against them we wore the members’ thank you jumper, AKA a newspaper. Extra points to Jonathan Marsh in his St Kilda debut for running around with his socks up, although they’d gone down after half-time.

***

A sense of considered game plan with vague results was apparently early. Wide stoppages in the front half, deeper entries, but it was apparent the forward line was disjointed. Marsh looked a little lost at full forward early on. When we play like this, who doesn’t? More pointedly, whose fault is it? Something is slightly wrong with everything; the ball isn’t won in close enough, there isn’t enough movement around the ball or at the fall of the ball; the disposal going forward isn’t clean enough; there isn’t enough movement up the ground.

When they weren’t walking it out of the centre themselves, the Giants just needed us to physically move the Australian Rules football into their defence before they breezed from one end of the ground to other, giving some variation to their training drills. We were being dicked by a Himmelberg for the second week in a row, and Finlayson was toying with Wilkie and providing and an effective foil for Cameron who was making a mockery of our key position stocks, or us in general, really. While Brown’s omission was a curious one, I don’t know how much of a difference that would have made to the game. But if for whatever weird weird reason you were hellbent on making Darragh feel uncomfortable, there are more efficient ways of doing it than upending the team’s defensive stocks, putting him on a flight to Canberra and making him play on the country’s best key forward.

Like we did in Round 1, he and Wilkie simply couldn’t provide enough pure defensive grit or grunt or whatever the fuck you want to call it on their own. Wilkie ended up on Cameron himself, but I don’t think that’s quite either of their roles in the first place, and both are better when Brown is in the team.

***

In the way that the trajectory of the Fremantle, Hawthorn and Melbourne games slowly turned, GWS goals became scarce in the second quarter. Marsh’s aggression was starting to impact the play, rare composure was shown by Acres to hold on to the ball running through the pocket and then give off to Parker his second out of our three goals.

Apprentice Captain Seb might have been trying a little too hard if anything. Commendable, but frustrating when he’s getting caught trying to do too much or pull off one extra move with the footy several times. He put in a great captain’s miss as a lack of class and leadership started to tell. Gresh put in one of his worst games; he very uncharacteristically looked like he was trying to kick the ball too hard, and if he wasn’t, then he was rushing his kicks, Bruce was nowhere (for fuck’s sake, if he’s injured, don’t play him) and Billings was back to his sad 2018 form.

Some big efforts from Marsh yielded 1.1 and a very sweet celebration, and Marshall got 50 for a 50 after a huge mark going back with the flight at half-back and kicked the goal. Marshall might be our most important player at the moment. We’ve seen the difference of him being in the team and not being in the team back-to-back now; there is an extra body putting on serious pressure at ground level, he positions himself smartly and holds onto marks, and his skills – both by hand and boot – are actually quite slick. His first major contribution to the game was completely missing the bounce of a wayward Finlayson kick deep into attack that bounced through for a goal, but he was one of the few guys that played a genuinely good game, rather than just upping their output as the game wore on.

Communication is key these days and Richo wanted to bring a personal touch so came down to the boundary line, and Seb Ross have the Apprentice Captain’s orders at half-time before the team came off the ground. GWS had been subdued, but if you thought 1.2 to 3.3 in the quarter wasn’t reward enough then I hope something came up and you missed the second half.

***

Parker was a few centimetres away from a second consecutive three-goal bag in as many weeks, but there’s probably not too much weight to give to his poster other than what the fuck else are you expecting from St Kilda more broadly. Sure, it would have got us within 10 points and with all the momentum, but when we play the way we did it’s just a matter of time before it saps away the X-factor and the aggression. Did you see what we were actually doing with all the play either of side of that? Were the long, rushed kicks into attack to outnumbered stationary forwards the plan?

GWS went up the other end after Parker’s miss, Cameron marked in front of Wilkie and got a 50-metre penalty and began a run of four goals. Bed kicking is bad footy. There are a lot ways to play footy that could be described as bad, and we’ve made this manic garbage our own.

Vaguely more positively, how the fuck did we end up with Parker and Wilkie? Their games deserved better than to be plonked right in its inflection point. In what dimension do we pluck them out of the state leagues and have them play the way they have from the start? I don’t know what our season would look like without them in the team this year, nor how we’re feeling about the club beyond just 2019.

The quarter was highlighted by trademark moments such as Seb really backing himself for a frankly weird long bomb into the forward line, Gresham Nick Heyne-ing a left foot entry, Savage lining up from 50 and not making the distance, Gresham again hitting the belly of the ball and blasting it out on the full, and Dean Kent missing shots. The one chance we did get to pass to a forward on their own had Sav poking an easy 15 metre kick over the top of a stationary Billings. Also, Darragh Joyce kicked a long banana.

 

At one point, GWS had kicked four goal from four inside 50s either side of seven inside 50s of our own for exactly zero goals. Inside 50s were a ridiculous 61-39 when Kent kicked his second and sealed his spot for another couple of weeks.

***

The Age’s “Story of the year” proclamation may be framed overlooking a case display of “The Streak” in St Kilda’s Amazon warehouse-sized Hall of Shame, Infamy and Sadness. As I’ve said in the past few weeks, any statistical or circumstantial coincidences you may find, or any lofty predictions or bold declarations you may make or hear, will sink its teeth firmly into your St Kilda supporting glutes. If it sounds like it’s tempting fate, then St Kilda offers the comfort of security we all crave deep down.

My birthday is in May. I turn 31 this month, and for anyone around my age, this decade – the 2010s – will represent a nasty, long head cold as the fallout of not just 2009 and 2010, but the several years leading up to it. Stretching back to 1997, anyone in my generation, really, has seen a lot faux-success but chiefly hope, which is what St Kilda trades on in lieu of actual success. We have a strange arc as supporters of being used to strong St Kilda teams with bold leaders and personalities and, the promise of seeing that second premiership, with the weight of a pathetic and dark history over 146 years dragging us down and stomping when we thought it was time for the club to shed that and become something more.

As we settle in to another season that is quickly evaporating, for the first time I’m reaching a point in which the meek and messy is far more familiar as a lived experience. We remembered what being good was like for about a week, but now the morning chill bites a little harder on weekdays. Injuries are piling up and the opposition isn’t straying far from “premiership contender” any time soon. Best to dress sensibly for the weather, so bring a jacket.

Clicked off

Round 6
St Kilda 3.6, 5.6, 8.7, 10.8 (68)
Adelaide Crows 3.0, 8.1, 10.6, 15.7 (97)
Crowd: 28,404 at Marvel Stadium, Saturday, April 27th at 4.35pm

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Shit appears hot sometimes. We all want that comfort we felt in the better times. In 2004 and 2005 the future looked endless; in 2009 it looked like the promises made would be kept, and 2010 when we were powerful enough to toy with teams and not care too much otherwise until the time came for history.

We know what that much looks like. For the first 15-and-a-half minutes yesterday we were there again. The 2020s were looking like the next 2000s, and maybe 2019 would play a timestamp bookend and mess up our cultural reference points in the same way 2010 did for the previous decade. For the next seven days, the 2010s are a dark slide with a flickering light at the end of a tunnel with questionable structural integrity.

Matthew Parker’s ridiculous banana goal – a lot of journos appeared to miss that aspect from their Docklands side of the ground – might have been the final roar of an early season spike that made these unseasonably warm March and April days even brighter. A scoreline of 3.3 to 1.0 was shown up to me a symptom of unsustainably manic pressure and ball movement that was a bad cover version of the 2018 classics, much as club continues to use a bad cover version of the club song.

***

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Worries about Adelaide being played back into form by Gold Coast or Eddie kicking another six were null and void. There were better concerns, and they were to be directed at the St Kilda Football Club. Could the team back up their first week “being good” and the attention onslaught? Unprompted positive mentions of St Kilda and their personnel throughout the week were a wild fantasy and possibly personal joke becoming very real. Gerard describing as us “sustainable” on 360, Ben Paton getting a shout-out from Robbo (who pronounced it “Pay-ton”), Roo talking up Hunter Clark and Nick Coffield on SEN and Fox Footy gameday coverage, Damien Barrett jumping the shark a little bit for Sliding Doors, and Talking Footy booking in Richo for this week; all before the bandwagon slammed into Saturday with the entirety of the back page of The Age and a double-page spread dedicated to “How St Kilda turned themselves into the story of the year”. Yes, this was before the game had been played. The game in Round 6. Needless to say this is something much more conducive to post-premiership wash-up and maybe a shortage of material for October Saturdays than April analysis. In other words, are you fucking kidding me?

More astute interpretation – however accidental – may well have come from Andy Maher on The Front Bar which had a stretch dedicated to Jack Steele frisbeeing the lid down Linton Street and dropping “finals” and “raised expectations” in the mid-week press conference. “That is the moment that St Kilda’s season went off the rails,” Andy Maher declared. If it was in jest it didn’t matter. Maybe we’d ordered jugs of Moorabbin toilet water; we looked bloated and sad.

***

My brother Matt is usually my confidence barometer. Wherever we peg our expectations of where the Saints are at, he’s always going to be closer. He had been not just more confident relative to me over the off-season, but confident. He didn’t think we were that far away even in the latter parts of 2018 as the crime scene analysts were setting up the tape around the season’s corpse. Matt believed in Blake Acres and Jack Billings more than I did, and in the positive effect of a lot of players becoming fathers in the off-season, and in the list more generally. A short text message from him on Thursday that simply read, “Nervous about this week” was all that I needed to feel justified in my constant state of paranoia.

For 15 minutes and 23 seconds, St Kilda something that mattered within the AFL. Anticipation was noticeably high among the problematically low crowd of 28,000 given the start to the season. The players looked like they were  Long had kicked the opener and put on some hefty tackles, Lonie was everywhere, Gresham was getting his hands on the ball and hitting tackles harder than he usually would. By game’s end, Lonie was on crutches, Long had been moved to half-back, and Gresham was reduced from a classy, quick outside player to a classy, quick outside player in a team that didn’t know how to move the ball, let alone win it. Billings was never in the game for the same reason.

Maybe the players were wound up. Maybe things worked too well in those first stages. They were playing like millionaires, or at least a club that never left its home base for no reason and then took on a multi-million dollar debt coming back. Newnes was walking around the wing like it was Wednesday night futsal, Longer dropped a chest mark in defence on his own for Billy Longer reasons, Brown got lost playing off Greenwood. There was too much handballing. Goal kicking is something we apparently don’t get much of a choice over when it counts. Within a minute, Lonie missed a snap shot that he’s in the team to kick, and then tried a right foot snap from the pocket as he hurtled towards the fence at pace instead of doing anything else; Stuv missed a set shot goal after a nice snap goal of his own; and a quarter time score of 3.6 to 3.0 was taken to 4.6 against 8.1 just a few moments before the main break.

***

As the game was put onto low flame, it became apparent the personality had been sucked out of the team. The no-response from players after Laird’s late push threw Lonie off balance and led to a potentially very awful knee injury (somehow he’ll only miss a few weeks) was suss. Of course Laird didn’t mean for that to happen, and that kind of incident happens countless times on a weekend. Players around Lonie understandably looked concerned, but where was the aggression immediately afterwards towards the opposition that we’d seen taken out in the first five weeks?

It had probably fallen out of the back of the team’s match day goods trailer, strewn across Nepean Highway along with considered ball movement, decent disposal, enthusiasm and a Plan B. According to Seb during the week, during meetings Richo often picks out moments in a game, pauses the footage and asks, “How many players have we got on the screen?” The answer for much of yesterday would have been probably enough, but were they actually doing anything? Adelaide’s midfield had done to ours what Melbourne’s threatened to do for the first part of last week, and their sharper ball use going forward – whether it was from a stoppage or on the rebound – took out the aerial impact of Brown and Wilkie, and Newnes, Paton, Savage, and Webster weren’t given the chance to tidy up and shank the kicks on the rebound in open play. On the occasions we did, the 2018 skills were back to make us all feel that quality St Kilda mixer of four parts of bemusement to one part of frustration, with disappointment to taste.

Once the ball was stationary in our hands in defence the old 2018 adage of “kick it down the line I guess” was back. There were our own players set up for the switch often enough, but the widest Adelaide player set up inside the centre square apparently put the players off every time. Kicking down the line’s ok if you’re wanting to create a stoppage or you have a competent marking target, but then you actually need players at the fall of the ball to create the stoppage or work the ball out to bring guys like Billings and Gresham into the game, or have a competent marking target. No one looked willing to take the switch even if just to get some movement around the ground happening.

Bruce being injured had been floated on respected news source BigFooty later in the week, and Richo confirmed as much in the post-match press conference. Richo didn’t bother toying with the question given Bruce was that ineffective. Not sure why we didn’t take the lessons over the past year or two in playing injured guys including Bruce himself, as well as Longer, to a lesser extent Newnes, and Mav the year before. Granted, Bruce and Membrey yesterday were given the hard task of trying to do something with balls constantly being dropped from the roof to zero advantage. A quick glance at my screenshot of the FootyLive app half-time stats show Bruce had four touches and Membrey five, while Billings had had just nine. Long had disappeared and Kent hadn’t shown up

Adelaide didn’t look threatened around the fall of the ball. They didn’t need anything too wild or any party tricks to get the ball moving quickly forward or into dangerous parts of the ground. Brown leaving Tex to spoil Betts at one point in the second quarter was described by Garry Lyon as “Rance-like”, but it didn’t take long for Brown and the defence to get found out. An ugly moment for all sorts of reasons left Seb and Steele looking at each other and then arguing after they were split by a spearing Crows inside 50 entry hitting a lead.

***

Never mind Josh Jenkins using our no-show policy interstate to look like a hero. This week it was Elliot Himmelberg and Lachlan Murphy’s turn. People will ask, “Where did he get his start” of either, and just like Luke Ryan people will nod and simply utter “Saints”. Murphy was so pleased with himself he did a post-match interview for Fox Footy in his Crows-colours jocks. It’s nice we can bring an air of arrogance to others.

Gibbs’ late withdrawal (insert Anzac Day function reference here) was countered by Rowan Marshall’s own, and for the first time this year the injury toll looked like a genuine drag on the team. Lonie’s pressure was gone (his inaccuracy also), Carlisle’s absence has meant our most promising forward and Top 5 Hair nominee Josh Battle’s marking and kicking ability has been used in defence (Battle got the Carlisle 2018 treatment of being thrown forward late when the game looked done); Roberton’s likewise, not to mention the ball use. Geary’s attack at the ball and at ground level was rudely missed, Paddy’s ability to take a mark on the lead if Battle’s going to be used down back. Marshall’s value to the team was very apparent. Billy took a few marks around the ground, sure, but Marshall brings a follow-up effort in ruck contests and an ability to drop forward and back, as well as take a mark across the ground as the team comes out of defence. Billy’s point of difference, apart from the fresh airing the mark attempt in defence, was going the 1990s-style random direction punch whenever he got space in a ruck contest.

Watching back over the highlights I have no fucking clue how we were nine points down late in the third quarter when Paton kicked his very nice running goal. The best-case scenario was the “fittest team in the comp” notion was going to grapple the game back by stealth as per against Hawthorn. There was nothing to sustain the players’ defensive efforts; current captain Seb missed a shot at goal on the run, and it seemed about right.

In the short period left between Paton’s goal and the final change, Tex had to chances to really dick us but curiously fluffed them both, taking a run in front of the St Kilda members and then spraying the shot, and then doing the same with a set shot from another tidy lead and mark. Former St Kilda Fan and St Kilda Player Tom Lynch actually kicked the ball through the big sticks moments later, but the siren had sounded one second before his boot hit the ball. The Three Get Out of Jail Free cards counted for nothing

***

Matthew Parker had kept us in the game on his own by three-quarter time. He’d kicked three goals – each of them a feature highlight in any game – out of our eight. His first may prove to be the season’s highest point, while the second and third came from what might literally be his own. They might actually not be, though; he’s the kind of player you almost expect to take mark of the year one day.

Each of the moments were probably only possible through him. The mark just before half-time kept us in the game and was psychologically a big moment given Adelaide had kicked seven of the last eight goals. I don’t think anyone in the crowd was ready for anything good to happen by then because the mark was met with confusion over whether he’d taken it, and then affable surprise rather than any real intensity. His third goal was different, happening at the St Kilda end. On a frustrating day it was one of the few moments after his first goal that really brought the crowd into the game, beyond the bizarre umpiring both ways.

Parker also played a central role in two moments that went the other way that put him as this week’s embodiment of the club. Passing off to Billings from a gettable set shot wasn’t so much of a sin, but the kick was tepid at hottest and fell directly into the path of Talia on the mark. In the same quarter he almost tried too hard to barrel Tex as he wound up for goal. For all the times I’ve watched the replay of it, I don’t know how he missed him, but he did, and collected Battle instead. Tex recovered from the momentary intrusion and kicked it.

That was the closest thing to a sliding doors moment, but wouldn’t have changed the way we kicked or attempted to move the ball. Only Parker and Battle’s work across half-back were salvageable from a game that fans otherwise have no need to remember, but over time add to the weight of following St Kilda.

***

Again, if you look hard enough you’ll find some nice conspiratorial signs that remind us of what has and has not been. Adelaide fittingly ended with a score of 97, and we ended up with 68, the score we kicked in both the 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals. A decade on from 2009, we again have a Ross the Boss; last week, as it was 10 years ago, Geelong and St Kilda occupied the top two positions on the ladder; and this week, as it was 10 years ago, Geelong and Ross Lyon occupy the top two positions on the ladder. Geelong held a 10-year anniversary event for the 2009 premiership this weekend. We held a public reality check. Richo and the club and the media can keep bringing up the two pre-season wins as much as they like. It’s been long enough since they happened, and they definitely don’t add anything to 4-2 going into three of the toughest games as the next week becomes the focus again, rather than anything beyond. We now reacquaint ourselves with our winter wardrobes and bidding farewell to daylight halfway through an afternoon as we enter the Concrete Disney Store. Sitting in the heat at the MCG last week felt like we’d wandered into into the future, or perhaps hopped back onto the worldline that we were on before we turned 2017 into an arm wrestle with ourselves, and then played last year as a season-length equivalent of sitting in our room all winter, occasionally prone to outbursts of anxiety or depression spirals. Evidently, those are still never far away. Take a number and get in line.

Work the dancefloor

Round 5, 2019
Melbourne 3.3, 4.5, 4.8. 7.13 (55)
St Kilda 4.1, 7.2, 12.5, 15.5 (95)
Crowd: 35,558 at the MCG, Saturday, April 20th at 4.35pm

Version 2

A warm sunny day of waiting around in the stands at the MCG usually means being on the precipice of a big vom ahead of a final, but after opening to the season and unfamiliar positivity through the week, mid-afternoon on Saturday felt like a massive tease. I’d ended up wearing my membership scarf despite the conditions. How else would people know who I go for? They need to to know I’m paid-up, too. I’m not here just to wind up Melbourne folk, I’m here to have an in-game meltdown about the mighty Saints.

With the Bulldogs and Richmond saluting in the past few years it has left, aptly, the Demons and the Saints isolated with long-term premiership droughts of 55 and 53 years respectively, and we’ve locked in a Diet Caffeine-Free version of the St Kilda and Geelong rivalry of last decade. Melbourne and St Kilda could still build to something greater in the coming years; I very facetiously posted last week a photo of a (seemingly) packed MCG from two years ago with the Saints in the clash jumper and referred to it as a photo from the 2020 Grand Final. My theory is that Melbourne would finish top and we might get into the four and make our way through, and we would be playing in our clash jumper as we had to in 2010. Given Saturday’s game was played in the Saturday twilight slot at the MCG and with that jumper arrangement, I might suggest this was a training run for the 2023 Grand Final, as Tim Worner continues to decide how and when footy is played, has eliminated defenders from the game and ensured the Grand Final has pre-match, quarter-time, half-time, three-quarter time and post-match entertainment, and has Perth’s late 80s USA fetish light show and fireworks going off after the final siren to ruin the moment that supporters have been waiting their whole lives to experience and embrace.

But we had to get through Round 5 of 2019 first.

***

Melbourne showed a lot of fight that they’d been criticised for lacking against the Swans. Given where both clubs were coming from, it felt like too much of an ask for a club like St Kilda to go 4-1 while the closest thing we have to a rival went 1-4 as a result. I said last week any coincidences typically are weighted to something saddening or morose when it comes to St Kilda. I remember going into Robert Harvey’s club games record-breaking game in Round 7 against the Cats in 2006, thinking a win was just too far because it meant the Cats would have gone 2-5. Not on our watch.

We were due to really stink up the joint too. Four games, three wins and a five-point loss, and a higher-profile game to be exposed in, as the young Lions endured on Thursday night.

In another sign that everyone at the club cares again, any supporters who got there early enough would have seen the group meeting on the MCG turf, with the players, emergencies and coaches. Any runaway thoughts during the week of the Saints being “back” were thrown to reality when the Dees ominously took out the first clearance and hit Preuss on the lead for the opener in the first minute;

Preuss backed up the two early goals against the Swans last week with another pair that bookended the first quarter. Our defence had held up well for much of the quarter, but let one slip in the final seconds and Preuss nailed a massive kick from outside 50 on the run.

The inside 50 count read 17-6 at quarter time, and we’d done well going the other way to kick 4.1 from that. Membrey had two; one from close range and another from a strong contested mark on 50, and an excellent set shot kick that still remains a St Kilda novelty despite the broader changes in fortune so far this year. Kent’s first two set shots at goal brought his royal shank run to three (although he set up Membrey’s first). For the third consecutive match Acres kicked an opening quarter goal before making his presence felt across the middle of the ground later on, while a slick gather from Our New Best Player Jack Billings and a long kick inbound to Newnes found Kent in the goalsquare for an easy nerve-calmer. He literally kicked it over the Melbourne cheer squad and into the top deck of the Southern Stand, and watching back on the replay Dwayne Russell actually played it down with an “Puts into row 15” rather than a “THAT COULD BE BALL”-style shout.

While our best two individual defenders have been taken out of the team – add the captain to that for a month or so now – the number of entries coming in from Melbourne’s midfield threatened to break that down. That wasn’t unexpected; our midfield remains a concern on paper and Jack Steven was understandably rusty in his return. Never mind our own efficiency going forward, that counts for fark all if you can’t get the footy and we didn’t look anywhere near it over the first several minutes of the second quarter.

While the broader Melbourne re-emergence has aligned with our Road to 2018(*2020), the 2014 draft has loomed as a flashpoint. Our Paddy, promising, improving but banged up and maybe done, and their bullocking Petracca and brave Brayshaw. Regardless of what you think of the draft, Brayshaw is clearly having the best impact of the three. Watching him go around in the helmet as a permanent marker of where he’s been, and continue to will himself to contests, is the same I feel watching Paddy now. (Newnes vacuously ripped the helmet from his head and threw it away in the first quarter, but I also secretly enjoyed it from the perspective of watching this team’s attitude and expression evolve.)

As well as getting plenty of the ball, Brayshaw had kicked a classy goal off a few steps from 45 in the first quarter, and then two slick combinations with Petracca within moments of each other early in the second were rather sinister. A bullet pass from the top of the 50 arc to Petracca’s lead came first, but he wildly sliced the kick from 30 metres out. It was fine that he missed that one, sure, but it only looked like their mids would keep giving them options; a few moments later Brayshaw ran onto the ball hard up against the boundary in the pocket and quickly chipped a curling pass right into the middle of three Demons. Petracca took the mark and didn’t make a mistake, and Melbourne had worked their way into the lead.

***

Just as Hawthorn did not kick a goal following what appeared to be a moment of supremacy established the previous week, from that moment Melbourne’s goals column was held hostage by defence headed by Wilkie, Battle, Geary and Paton. Melbourne didn’t kick one following that Petracca shot – five minutes into the second quarter – until Melksham’s two minutes into the final term.

One of the components of the Saints this year has been the ability to change the dynamic of the game when challenged, and not in the way that happened so often last year in which the game was most likely over and Richo would front a press conference saying he was please with the way we played out another tepid game.

But three times in the three weeks now we’ve wrestled the ascendancy from the opposition. There was no obvious moment in which it “started”; the team defence slowly had started to press down on the throat before you knew it had a stranglehold. While the hit-out count remained expectedly lopsided, the pressure in close from Steele, Ross, Steven and even Marshall brought in the games of guys like Billings, Gresham and Sinclair (who had a double-page spread in the Herald Sun that morning for some reason). A period of more than 11 minutes saw just two behinds scored, before a rush of players close to goal ended with Lonie dribbling one through, signalling the start of an eight-goal run.

***

A couple of stats-heavy articles during the week had armchair clowns like myself thinking we were Kingy in the War Room. We’ve gone from 17th to fourth in the competition for marks, and from first in the competition (more than 40%) to 17th for playing on after marks (just over 205 going into Saturday). Long kicks were up 12th to fourth to bring in the pressure aspect of the game, but that can also look like the 2018-style kicks down the line to nothing or to ill-positioned forwards with no support at ground level. As we saw in the better moments of the pre-season, setting up deeper across the ground became much more apparent and numbers were readily available for a switch or kick forward; either way we were able to create more options for the player with the ball, and the decisions could be made with more purpose. On the flipside, Richo mentioned during the week that “we’re not wanting to be as slow and as deliberate” as we’d been, and we ended up with a play-on percentage closer to last year’s numbers, and this was helped by positioning and hard work of the runners around the play.

It also meant that when we were forced to defend, there were more players readily back, and Wilkie, Battle, Webster and Brown were able to shut down any higher balls, and Bonus Human Ben Paton, Geary, Savage and Newnes were positioned to work the ball away. During the extended trajectory one of particular long, high ball into Melbourne’s forward line in the third quarter, I caught myself expecting the St Kilda defence to shut it down. And that there would be players at the fall of the ball who would be willing and able to neatly find their way out of the traffic and to safety. When was the last time you had implicit trust in the St Kilda team you were watching, if only for a moment?

***

Three consecutive goals in a dominant third term all came from a similar move and said a lot about the day. I don’t write this blog to tell you what we can all watch on the replay, but for my own sake needs documentation should this day become the landmark I (we) hope it does.

The first came from the kick-out after Geary’s crunching effort to force a behind as Hunt ran onto the ball at the top of the Melbourne goal square. The act means yet another test of a senior player in defence missing, but they left some very clear instructions on their way out. Webster’s long kick-out had four Saints already streaming off the half-back flank on the southern stand side and Ross steadied and handballed back to Lonie. John sized up his options and showed off his underrated field kicking with a clean pass to the running Kent, who was in the throes of the kind of game circumstance can draw out of a player. Long was waiting for him further ahead, 60 out on the boundary line, and had enough space to move onto the right and kick to the pocket where Bruce took a very strong mark overhead under pressure from Frost, and with little margin for error given he was on the boundary line. In another welcome set shot triumph, he stepped around the corner onto his left and curled the ball in.

Melbourne’s next foray forward was interrupted by Blacres running back with the flight and enjoying the magic of outstretched arms. The ball was taken up the MCC side and met with another strong overhead mark, this time from Parker. Realising the number of Saints set up behind and laterally, he wisely gave it off to Webster for Webster to kick long across the ground to Wilkie. Sav was running past and kicked to Paton on the opposite half-back flank, with Acres running for him next down the line. Sav could have gone to Acres in the first place, but kicking to Paton drew Viney away from Acres and to Paton – as well as Paton’s direct opponent Spargo – and it meant Acres was now out on his own. Steele was nearby with Melksham, who moved to Acres, Steele got the ball and his kick found Long again wide near the 50 metre arc, and this time Long went for goal himself. I said last week that his quick, clinical snap goal in the first quarter looked like the product of a good team would do, even if it was just one player’s act. This was all of that and more – including the audacity to have the shot at all. At that point (courtesy of catching Gary Lyon’s comments on the replay), we’d had 17 shots – five hadn’t scored – from 23 inside 50s.

Completing the trilogy was a very happy Dean Kent, and again from a chain featuring Ben Long. Parker, Paton (twice), Savage and Marshall exchanged short passes from a shallow Melbourne entry that hit the ground, and Geary saw Other GOAT Wilkie moving for the pass out wide. His kick was good enough and Acres again took a mark under heat, and Long was running past. The handball hit him and instead of going short to Gresh or Stuv he kicked long into pocket into the path of Kent, who ran onto it and burned his man cutting the angle in something of a cross between Adam Schneider’s goals in the 2008 Semi Final and the 2010 Preliminary Final, each time marking a team making its move.

The 2009 and 2010 teams are easy reference points because they were the last genuinely decent St Kilda teams, but there are a lot of aspects across the ground that physically and logistically appear similar. This isn’t a team built on the direct, fast-paced ball movement that the Geelong side of that time flaunted, but rather pressure and contested possession. This looks like something from the Ross Lyon school of reducing the opposition to a staggering, wheezing husk.

***

Bruce is creating a habit of stepping up and creating a moment for himself, and then making the most of it. Important leads, marks and set shots in the past couple of weeks when each were at a premium were followed on Saturday with the mark in the pocket, and then to put the cream on the quarter with another straight kick from another overhead mark on the lead from a difficult Stuv tumble punt that threatened anything from a half-volley to a rude falcon.

Last Monday’s Robbo’s Monday Hero Callum Wilkie is the new GOAT, following in Blacres’ footsteps as randomly anointed GOAT. He plays somewhere between Jason Blake and Sam Fisher in the air and moves onto his left like James Gwilt, a patchwork of more easy reference points that have made him recognisable but also a bizarre novelty. In what dimension did we end up with someone like him, not to mention the circumstances ?

The same can be said of Matthew Parker, who with Long forms a dangerous pairing across the forward half. Both bring edges to a team that flipped between bored and anxious last year. Lonie and Long were barely sighted through that season for different reasons and almost feel like new recruits – not to mention Bruce missing effectively the entire year – and with Kent and Parker our forward line is a very new entity.

***

Seb Ross last week warned (rather cheerily, given it was after a tight win) there would be more close games this year. Perhaps three of the four previous results had a lot to do with our goal kicking accuracy; Saturday is what it looks like when the goal kicking accuracy is there, and in each of Rounds 2, 3 and 4 we had more scoring shots. For all of the domination and the decent highlights reel that Saturday produced, we never quite put them away, although bombing it long to forwards looks okish when the opposition doesn’t look capable of a clean string of possessions. It’s very easy and very tempting to get swept up in any positive media commentary around the Saints right now. Robbo’s Monday Hero (Callum Wilkie and, this week, Richo), the 360 dedicated chat in which Gerard talked about how we’re playing a “sustainable” style of footy that shares elements with recent successful teams; news reports about Jarryn Geary’s injury as if it might impact on the AFL season rather than just our own; Caro talking on 3AW about the club holding up its end on its pre-season promises; the general reporting around the newspapers.

There will be lulls too – Parker, Battle, Long, Wilkie, Paton and Marshall have all played less than 20 games and will get tired, and the team will experience the natural ebbs and flows that all do over the distance of one season. But a demarcation line has been drawn. This is how we play now. There might be something beyond just this week. Something more sustainable.

***

As per usual, don’t rely on the people and organisations with the endless money and resources to get shit right. The stadium PA started playing the club song (you know, the tacky, watered-down cover version that no-one asked for) before Jack Billings had taken his shot after the siren. The operator (not sure if that’s the actual term) then cut the song, and then faded it back in really clumsily following the kick. It diluted what should have been a really excellent moment for the club with some awkwardness.

So leave it to the organic and the spontaneous and the genuine. Hearing the St Kilda song break out late in the game through three separate sections of the MCG – the cheer squad, the Punt Road/Southern Stand pocket, and in the MCC – expressed and broke open optimism for the journey the club is on more than music after goals or a re-recorded song ever will. After the slightly-turned-down club song played after the game (once it got going again), the supporters at the city end started the singing the song themselves. The last time I saw that at the MCG was on a Saturday night – in the first year of this decade – because we would be playing in a Grand Final seven days later. At the end of the 2010s, several generations of St Kilda fans still don’t really know what a premiership means or how it changes your life. What we look to from the club is reflective of what we hope for in our day-to-day lives: that there might be a better time ahead. Billings fittingly finished another best-on-ground performance with that post-siren goal, and the roar as it sailed through might have been from the club itself.