Tom Briglia Posts

Just asking

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

One more shot.

Scattered in the mud

Round 16, 2020
St Kilda 4.4, 5.8, 7.13, 11.14 (80)
Hawthorn 5.1, 5.5, 6.6, 9.12 (66)
Crowd: Some humans at Metricon Stadium, Sunday, September 6th at 1.05pm

Daniel Cherny was absolutely not thinking about me when he noted that there were fans of then-second-placed St Kilda who were worried about how they might physically make it to the Grand Final given Victoria and state border restrictions ahead of a towelling to Geelong on a Monday night. However, I was absolutely feeling a small pang of cheeky guilt. This is St Kilda, and the most St Kilda thing possible would be to win a second premiership this year. Today, we learned that we might not even be allowed to watch the month-delayed Grand Final with more than one other human.

No matter. In the time following those heady few days and a string of Channel 7 games, the Travelling Dan Butler, Max King, Hunter Clark, and High Kickin’ Tim Membrey Show had conked out and disappeared from cultural reference points in a fast-deeping bog of slow ball movement, poor forward line entries, shots at goal from wide angles and close losses. A Soft 1998, if you will, the Saints falling from grace with some anxiety induced footy and a barrage of awkward losses interstate, except this one is (theoretically for now) at the beginning of this team’s arc, a marker of development and the development required, rather than marking the beginning of the end. We hope this is more of a return to brief anonymity than anything else.

Back to the depths of Fox Footy for a Round 16 game that meant no more and no less than fuck all to one participating team and to most neutrals. Harder to engage than most pandemic-era matches given the Dan Andrews press conference immediately before. Many St Kilda fans wouldn’t have noted we actually managed to sneak in a bye during the week. Anonymously anonymous.

***

I’m a sucker for novelty stats, scores and so on and Hawthorn really let down bored freaks like myself by allowing the Crows the chance to keep Fitzroy’s 1964 the most recent instance of a winless season. The Saints are probably the ideal team to make amends against, of course.

So maybe it wasn’t wildly horrifying that the first three goals went the Hawks’ way. This was going to be a long afternoon of shanked kicks forward and not much coherent footy, probably about as long as Metricon was playing music for after goals. “Get Lucky” after Jack Gunston blasted through Hawthorn’s second felt wildly out of place given most fans of the two Victorian teams had just been told they were going nowhere fast and facing a greater chance of psychological and financial trauma.

For much of the first quarter we really only had some pressure acts by Jack Lonie to feel good about, while the Hawks had Dylan Moore pulling off a neat one-two to run in for their third. The step taken from being encouraged by efforts or moments from inexperienced or younger guys, to being encouraged by matches and wins created by inexperienced or younger guys can be long and dour. The step back can be a very quick stumble, landing weirdly on your arse, and yes, everyone did see it. The inaccuracy, the hurried kicks. Marshall broke through with a strong mark on the lead and kick around the corner, and quickly this became a high-scoring match (by 2020 standards at the very least). But only in the way that this was two teams fumbling around at a pre-season intensity.

Breust won a free kick on the siren but kicked right into the man of the mark. Paddy Ryder made sure the celebration for that alone was big and tried getting the team up. He was able to break through and turn around a broken-down game against the Bombers. It was a rare moment of intiative.

***

High-scoring, free-wheelin’ footy was absolutely not going to last beyond the coaches’ first face to face interaction with the players. Not in 2020. A modern-day tale of Tiring Young Once-Challengers against Tiring Also-Rans was unfolding. It was going to be ugly. While the Hawks were kept to 1.5 over the second and third quarters, we could only manage 3.9 in that time. No frenetic pressure, no overly slick football, just occasions in which one team was slightly quicker and a little cleaner in traffic, enough to find someone on the outside, and if it went forward there wasn’t going to be anything overly clean.

Individuals rarely stood out. During the second quarter, Brad Hill took control of how the ball was moved with more creativity. In his best moment on the broadcast side he sliced through three Hawks players on the wing and cut inside with a neat kick that quickly found Lonie for the only goal of the quarter. Dan Butler showed off some of his own hard running. Ben Long won a hard ball and a free kick, also on the wing and a few moments later, floated across a park running hard across the ground and took a delightful mark. On the day of the first absence of Max King, Marshall played as a full-forward and deserved more than 2.2 for several strong grabs in attack – the type we’re hoping Max King will be taking in due course – as  well as his work up the ground.

For all of those, we also had Jack Steele prop up a neat pass straight to James Frawley, whose quick didn’t get past Steele’s reach, and Ed Philips’ handball (shortly after his calamity squirt on the left that trickled out of bounds) meant the Hawks were away. Breust took too long on his snap and a behind was the result.

Marshall and Battle loomed as a big threats after a run of behinds that took us to 5.12, but yielded mixed results. Dodgy set shots from all angles took the posters count to four (was it five?). Billings’ comically high snap on the siren wobbled its way through. He snuck the kick in just before the siren after the umpire called play on. A critical mass of small mercies and Dan Butler sprints and Nick Coffield intercepts would be the difference.

Hawthorn’s tilt really reached its end with four spurned shots on goal early in the last quarter. Mitchell Lewis’s kick from a big mark and was flipped to a Butler-generated goal to Battle, and three quick misses from different positions ended with Rowan Marshall minting his influence with a low collect and handball, and Jonathan Marsh contributing one of the better moments of the match, a bullocking burst away from two opponents and a handball that opened up the forward line and finished with Paddy Ryder on the goal line.

***

The absence of footy’s weekly grind this year was crowned during the week with confirmation that the Gabba would be hosting the Grand Final. (Tacky lightshow enthusiasts and “Because we need to be like US sports” fetishists were given some good news and bad news, with the game not being in Perth but probably at night. People with lots of money and no care at Channel 7 will do what they can to keep it that way, no matter how it actually plays out.)

I remember the day of the Grand Final Replay. The heat. The sun shining at an angle not usually seen when Collingwood and St Kilda are on the MCG. The exhaustion, obviously – not just the week before, but the everything that had happened through the GT and Ross era. I think about Bob Murphy’s rhythm of the season. The song has stopped by then. It felt like we’d maxed out, and by “we” I mean the footy community. We shouldn’t be at the MCG watching a game of footy at that time of year.

Footy frames the calendar year. In any other year this would be the first weekend of the finals series. We still might return to the finals in 2020, but this young team is tiring. We’ve been programmed to have been done with our St Kilda duties by now. Time to get on with our lives, or whatever, but usually familiarise ourselves with what two genuinely good teams going all out looks like. High pressure, decent footy, taken in pressure-free. Maybe even watch some VFL or VFLW or local footy finals, too. Soak up the changing of seasons. The sun shining at this angle usually tells me we’ve done what we need to do. We’ve made it through winter. Spring is here. This has been a long season. A long year. And it’s going to get longer.

Reached out

Round 13, 2020
Brisbane Lions 2.5, 3.6, 6.13, 6.14 (50)
St Kilda 1.0, 3.2, 6.3, 7.6 (48)
Crowd: 13,750 at the Gabba, Sunday, August 23rd at 3.35pm

Remember playing Games That Actually Matter during the home and away season? And I mean actually matter. The back end of 2011 – the last year in which we made finals – had some important games, but that season was a dour journey and always felt like just too much. You’d have to go back to the second half of 2010 – playing for top place against Collingwood, and then taking on a Hawthorn team reloading for their three-peat – as well as just having to win late in the season to keep the dream of a second premiership in tact.

In the way that we probably really forgot what genuinely good players looked like, and what genuinely good teams looked like, too, over that decade we’ve definitely forgotten what it’s like to play a home and away game that actually counted for something. Not just a trifling lower top eight spot (although we did only finish two places below the 2016 premiers), but for a top four spot against another team with premiership aspirations, in front of their home crowd. About 13,750 coming through on the wider shots on 7 never looked like so many humans. This felt like too much of an event to be wasted on a home and away match, on the same bill as “Gold Coast Suns vs Carlton” and “Fremantle vs Sydney Swans”. Never mind the weekly pressure that comes with having to win constantly and comprehensively. What, To be good you have be doing this all the time?

***

The returned pressure of an actual home crowd – yes, they were actual humans – instantly brought back the wobbly, anxious interstate St Kilda we knew and absolutely did not love during the mid- and late-1990s, no matter how high we were planning to fall down the ladder in calamitous circumstances:

Rowan Marshall went out of the air from a Stephen Milne 2010 Lite against Port Adelaide, but Membrey, who had worked off his opponent to the goal line, bemusingly, wildly kept the ball in on the goal line for no reason, and held firmly onto it while Billings tried soccering through on the line. Very Adam Dale tackled by Brendan Julian at cover in a tight 1998/99 tri-series match against England at the Adelaide Oval.

Sure, the rest of the game didn’t quite play entirely out that way. This was more admirable, a messy grind that showed a young team had learned something after being pantsed by a genuinely good, seasoned team. There was a lot of luck involved in being anywhere near touching distance.

Aside from the Membrey double-barrel, the first few minutes were pretty good, although in a game that is largely played entirely in momentum swings and being able to absorb or maximise those periods, that probably wasn’t going to mean too much for too long. Steele had already taken to strong mark early to give us the magic on the goal line, and a rude kick into attack fell with Butler for the first and he tried to get himself out of the Brent Guerra 2004 double-page feature-sized hole.

Membrey instantly set off on a two-hour mission to make up for it, and put in a comedy-laden but commendable performance that actually put him among our best by game’s end. Whether it was Brisbane’s set-up across the ground or our own anxiety-fuelled disposal, easier shots at goal from close range were reduced to difficult, scrappy chances. Membrey worked hard on the boundary and allowed Sinclair to run into space in the 50, but instead of hitting King at the top of the goal square with a straightforward pass the kick was off and King’s difficult day had officially started.

From then on, Brisbane played the game on their terms. I know I just talked up momentum shifts but rarely did the game stay from this pattern until the final quarter. Fullarton, McCarthy and Bailey all missed shots and Hipwood began a curious game of shanked set host. Lachie Neale’s disposals read 0 kicks and 4 handballs, but the quarter-time scoreline was 2.5 to 1.0 and a repeat performance of the Cats seemed the most likely course for the Sunday afternoon.

Cam Rayner missed another relatively straightforward set shot, but we weren’t doing ourselves any favours. Max King did his tall guy agility stuff and ran in to goal via the pocket for a banana shot but it was blasted across the face and landed in the forward pocket at Metricon. Some talky talk words from Harris Andrews were on their way, and outmarked King just a few minutes later. King’s big moments – strong marks in the third and final quarters – would yield shanks. Membrey’s redemption mission found the next goal, Some half-hearted decisions had Josh Battle taking a set shot out wide on the 50. This was a St Kilda 2020 team out of its comfort zone. Butler’s cheeky pull kick to a clever Kent lead in front somehow took us to the lead. We didn’t feel like the better team.

A dodgy high free kick on the opposite wing and an unlucky ricochet off Ben Long’s shin quickly gave Charlie Cameron a chance from the boundary. As it always seems – we’d know from our last few years – the Lions were probably going to get the tough ones. That’s all it took. Membrey ran hard to take a mark out of defence on the wing, but his kick into the corridor went right over the head of a teammate. Just a few moments later he won a free kick via holding ball free. Zak Jones was willing his way through traffic repeatedly, keeping the ball moving in a game in which it was rare anyone was able to generate or find movement. King dropped another couple of marks, Marshall and Steele missed shots, and the half ended with the ball bouncing around our front half with no reward. Kent was flagrantly pushed in the back in a ruck contest from a throw-in close to goal. Nothing. One of those friendless days interstate.

***

To make up for the chain that led to the Charlie Cameron goal, Marshall got a very cheap free at the start of the third and we were back in front. The Lions got the game back on their terms but only had 1.4 to show for their flurry. You could sympathise with them. Maybe. Maybe if they lost. But there was no time, not on the couch in Stage 4 Lockdown. There was a sense of competition we hadn’t felt for years. It was also time for the BUTLER BUTLER BUTLER rebound goal that weekly threatens to be our Either-Side-of-Half-Time Peak. Hill went harder than Zorko at a loose ball on the defensive 50 and wheeled around and picked out the runners. Steele and Sinclair got it through the middle and Butler clawed his way back into the season. Again, it didn’t last. Fullarton got his first for the Lions’ feel-good moment. They went out of the middle and Berry snapped one from out of the middle. The game rightfully felt like it was out our grasp. The Lions out of the middle again, Hipwood a big mark and for all intents and purposes it was party time. But he stabbed at it.

A rare break out of defence a couple of minutes later, and Steele snapped a wild goal out of traffic. The game felt as if it had swung back when Max finally grabbed one, this out of the middle and above his head on a hot lead. He missed. Another Brisbane behind, and then some slightly too slow movement on the wing, a scramble out wide and a hurried kicked forward had the siren sound just before the ball landed in Membrey’s hands. Too many 1998 areas.

***

By now the shadows at the Gabba had faded and it became easier to tell the teams apart (and that’s absolutely not an indictment on the jumpers themselves.). A red collar was a fun novelty, but the idea of red collar and cuffs is more appropriate for a mostly white clash jumper, to provide more contrast against the mostly black or navy or generally darker teams we clash with. The black cuffs were back, and perhaps this might have been a neat little test run ahead of signing with a new jumper manufacturer. Wearing the home jumper with the white shorts and clash socks is fun. I don’t know why Brisbane don’t wear a darker blue all the time as it is.

***

Brisbane only had one point left in them. The talls traded behinds – Hipwood first, and then Max took another excellent grab but hooked it. Billings was sent forward with only six touches to his name at the final change. Brisbane were tired. They were probably deflated too. Think of all the times we saw those chances pile up and thrown away.

The Royal Decree had it that we play on more. How much did we miss Hunter Clark in a game in which neat disposal and a cool head was at a premium? Coffield played out his most mature performance and became a central figure. King was able to get low and be clean in traffic to Billings who rammed through a tight shot against the goal line to bring the margin under a goal. The Billings that was flying for marks that we were introduced to in the early part of his career was back. Nine touches across the front half. The Lions didn’t have much left. We had our own problems. We had the play, but nothing had really changed. The easy shots close to goal still weren’t happening. The Lions still had their high pressure game going. Shots were repeatedly smothered. Hurried chances were sprayed. Battle missed another wide shot. A player was missed on their own in the goal square. Marshall’s huge effort on the rebound found Butler and we ran into attack on an angle ad scuffed the kick to King. This was the same game – more movement, sure – but with just as much anxiousness. “The next goal” never arrived,

***

Just like that 1998 game, we kicked more goals than the Lions, but lost. (Vaguely interesting sidenote – Brisbane “lost” by one second in the 2003 match, 90 to 85, in the way we lost that 1998 match by one second, with a scoreline of 12.20.92 to 13.13.91. In the Troy Schwarze game in 2004, we won by kicking less goals with the same points total reversed – 13.14.92 to 14.7.91).

Adam Schneider is quoted in The Mission as saying “Give me Grand Final nerves any day”. This was re-energising, whichever way you looked at. Yes, I want that pressure again, even though it’s just me stress-eating Kettle chips and Twiggies on the couch. This was the equivalent of getting our hands dirty as supporters. Of course there is disappointment. There was reassurance too, although that reassurance requires faith in what happens beyond this year. It’s latent, it feels organic, it is building on something more tangible. As far as this season goes, however, top four is most likely out of the question given the run home. Realistically, making the finals altogether will be a battle. It would be terribly disappointing should we miss. Heading into the game against the Cats two weeks ago, we were second on the ladder. Either way, something is at stake again. Watching Coffield walk off, knowing that arguably his best game to date counted for nought, King with his repeated contests that yielded mostly missed opportunities, Billings with almost but not really, not quite, a heroic last quarter, Steele and Jones and all their work in close, Membrey’s almost (and wtf) moments. They bind us to a team.

Isn’t it a miracle

Round 12, 2020
St Kilda 4.4, 7.5, 9.5, 10.8 (68)
Essendon 1.0, 2.0, 4.1, 5.3 (33)
Crowd: Some? at the Gabba on Sunday, August 16th at 3.35pm

Each time this 2020 team has been handed a loss, it has been quick to make amends. The Round 3 loss against Collingwood was an outlier until last Monday, when an upstart team was exposed by a team en route to establishing themselves as a genuine premiership contender.

Our four-day turnaround could offer some blame for the performance. Maybe the young guys were finding it hard to get back up, having never been acclimatised to the paces of an AFL season, let alone this one. But Geelong had their own four-day break and on Friday knocked off the top team on the ladder. Like our own, the Bombers had gone all the way with Gold Coast before having to quickly butter up for a Sunday afternoon against St Kilda at *checks notes* the Gabba.

***

We might be only be 12 rounds in to this era but there is an established formula. Start strong, peak with a moment of Butler magic, maybe or maybe not weather a comeback during the third quarter.

The dominance in the first quarter looked borderline arrogant by early in third. Max King appearing on the field in a St Kilda jumper still remains a weird luxury (as does anyone that is genuinely good or genuinely promising, but boy oh boy). He kicked the first two but then entered Nick Riewoldt areas by taking a(nother) strong mark at the top of the goal square, playing on and getting caught, whilst also entering the Paddy McCartin 2 Goal Limit areas that he’s struggled to stray outside of himself. As soon as it happened it looked like that would be the momentum shift. All that was missing was Gerard Healy and Brad Johnson coaxing fate and still saying that this would be the day he’d kick six.

Even this year a quarter-time lead of 22 points isn’t overly sizeable. Not for us anyway. We’d done very well to bottle up Essendon when they had the play – which ended up feeling like most of the second term – and forcing them to repeatedly go short and wide, and then drive an inoffensive long ball forward. Fortuitous moments had gone our way to keep the scoreboard pressure on. Josh Battle was mopping up in most places and found himself in the right spot from a wayward Begley kick across goal. Membrey milked everything he could from the kind of holding the man free kick only paid in contests close to goal. Otherwise, it looked like we were happy to just shut down the Bombers and not expend too much energy the other way until a real break was made. Coffield and Battle and Howard and Wilkie and Clark seemed to be holding up fine (even without Carlisle, although given some of the entries I think I might have taken one).

Fantastically and also ominously, Butler popped up for a classy running goal to finish up some neat teamwork. Butler has strayed in Brent Guerra 2004 territory after the footy world fawned over his Far Too Professional and Slick for a St Kilda Jumper performance against Gold Coast. A double-page spread on Guerra in The Age by Robert Walls followed a demolition of West Coast in Round 9 in which he’s kicked seven goals, taking his season total to 22.2 from six games. He kicked 7.3 for the rest of the year. Everyone was down against the Cats last Monday, granted, but Butler had been near unsighted for nearly six quarters and I was, uh, starting to worry. Good news for fans of St Kilda’s very-short-term future arrived, terrible news for omen watchers and Anxiety Havers. A free kick to Long at half-back broke the flow of play and a slick transition featuring Geary (twice, including a dropped mark), Jones (twice, and who again showed how important he is to this team) and Bytel (the best 0 kicks 13 handballs game you’ll ever see), and Butler from the BUTLER BUTLER BUTLER position took the margin out to 47 to 6.

There was only one way it would go from there. Cue three goals to Essendon at half-time, cue the sinking feeling of another potential Max King breakout game being scuppered and Essendon fans en masse talking like they’d personally taken the field to see to it St Kilda stayed in its place. Who would be more appropriate than the Bombers to join North and Fremantle in the Comeback Club this year? We weren’t going to be able to gloat that King had taken a bag. Begley kicked one just before half-time to turn things and we couldn’t even go to half-time with the opposition at a novelty score of 1.0.

There is no opposition team to St Kilda quite the Bombers. A menacing red and black jumper (good luck catching anything that happened out there with that jumper match-up, though), the (equal-)most premierships, expectations, arrogance, aggression and confidence. St Kilda has been a consistent source of good times and laughter for them, even in times during which we’ve been up and they’ve been down. Nothing terrifies me more than the prospect of a roaring Essendon crowd and slick Bombers side bearing down on a vulnerable St Kilda team in a close game, and Essendon has played in a suspicious amount of close games this year. Saad and Townsend kicked the first two goals of the third quarter. The ball was moving around. We’d wasted another chance to put the foot on the throat. Was 41 going to join 31 and 37?

Weathering the storm against the Swans and seeing the team over the Suns was brought to you by players producing big moments when it was required of them. Leadership has been an awkward spot for this team, although in a Phantom GT Rotational Policy that does put a good kind of pressure on players to take responsibility between weeks and within games. Who stands up this week? What does leadership look like? This week it was Paddy fucking Ryder, wearing a fucking St Kilda jumper. I remember in Round 8 of 2010 a young ruckman/forward in the Essendon jumper athletically kicking three goals to back up the Bombers’ ending of our 2009 run, and taking our redemption-attempt season from 4-0 to 5-3 with a very heavy sinking feeling. I also remember him playing a pivotal role in the Robbie Gray goal at the Adelaide Oval in 2017 that sank the Richo era. He always seemed just a little too fantastic for St Kilda. This is a different time indeed. First, a vital mark from high kick out of defence, which meant the ball could move to our forward half for a chance slow the game to a stop and ice any Essendon movement. But the Bombers were the momentum incumbents and we’d gone arse-up from this position before. The ball was forced out wide again and from a hurried Parish kick, and Paddy he took another tall mark, almost in the same position. The ball found its way into attack via Hill taking on the game and a good grab by Membrey. It never got out. Membrey’s weighted kick was too cute and the ball came back but from the throw-in, Paddy roved his own ruck contest and won the clearance, driving the ball forward again, and from another pressured rebound took the intercept mark. On an afternoon when goalkicking accuracy wasn’t quite what it has been on better days – we didn’t have shots close to goal on tap this week – his kick from 50 metres sailed through.

***

King eventually got his third goal in the final minutes, also throwing in a low pick-up, spin and clean hands on the wing during the last quarter. (Many and profuse thanks to the Gabba for playing The Fable Singers versions of all club songs.) The storm had been weathered, and the margin had only ever been cut back to 23 points. It’s rare that a St Kilda team genuinely gets hold of any Bombers outfit. Never without a struggle or a scare. Even in victory we just want a quick and quiet exit. We’re not after any trouble. Maybe it was all a lot louder in our heads, i.e. maybe it was a lot louder in my head. Maybe I should tap into this breathing business the team was running with again, this after a late arrival to the ground. There may be a pandemic, but it’s almost a relief that being stuck in traffic and St Kilda playing against Essendon can still be stressful.

You’ll be famous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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