1998 Posts

Safe, successful returns from the vortex

Round 9, 2015
Brisbane Lions 7.1, 8.2, 11.6, 13.8 (86)
St Kilda 2.3, 9.6, 12.9, 16.12 (108)
Crowd: 16,898 at the Gabba, Sunday, May 31st at 1.10pm

As Brisbane has faded into obscurity over the past decade, tragically taking the Fitzroy Lion with it, the Gabba itself has become somewhat of a footy vortex.

Somehow, despite the pandering that began in the 90s, they’ve become forgotten by the AFL. Their Queensland cousins the Gold Coast obviously took top billing when it came to the draft concessions race, with GWS likewise and the Swans the perennial Schwerer Gustav of AFL HQ’s turf war against Ray Warren and co.

By proxy, games at the Gabba have now sunk down to the small-font billing of Aurora Stadium status. Not much really happens there now – they’re usually just the games buried in the nothing time slots. Remember when they came back from 52 points down against the Cats? You do, but you only remember finding out later that night, because the game was played in a rarely explored land and a time well after the relevant weekend of footy had ended.

It’s a sense that has been compounded for Saints fans purely by virtue of the St Kilda Football Club being the St Kilda Football Club, with the national expansion of the VFL allowing us to take our historically freakish ineptness across the country. The Gabba was famously a holiday destination for St Kilda players and their talents for a number of years, going without a win there from 1991 until the last round of the weird 2006 season, made weirder by Barry Brooks kicking three goals and being hailed as trade bait. It was a place where we either got smacked or something remarkable happened as we lost. The Grand Final year of 1997 saw us smacked by the appropriate margin of 97 points as we stunk it up early on, and then the following season saw our incredible late-season capitulation highlighted by a one-point loss at the Gabba to the Lions in the final round. The Lions had only won three games to that point (one against us), and had we won relatively comfortably as we should have, we would have finished fourth. This was the game that finished with Stewart Loewe kicking a goal from a metre or two out a second or two after the final siren sounded . Having been first after Round 14 and equal first until Round 17 we instead dropped to sixth. It effectively ended the Alves era, and the  resulting Watson era began with an 89-point loss against the same opposition at the same ground.

Fast forward to the next tilt, to the penultimate round of 2004, and we were blown away after quarter time by the first team to replace us on top of the ladder as The Streak petered out. This match was set to determine who would host the qualifying final a fortnight later, and needless to say the Lions belted the proverbial out of us in the return bout, with the margin blowing out to 100 points in the final quarter. Season 2005 was arguably the most turbulent in the club’s history, and it began with the night at the Gabba in which the brutish physicality of the Lions era roared its last, with Nick on the receiving end.

Easy wins to the Lions in 2007 (52 points) and 2008 (46 points; 69 at three-quarter time) were almost pedestrian affairs, before we registered unconvincing wins in the second Grand Final year of 2010 and 2011, an actually decent win with 2012 heroes Siposs and Saad starring, and then back to the usual tripe in 2013.

Right now, Brisbane’s lack of success in recent years has consigned them to the lowest profile team in the league. The kind of team Hawthorn plays against in Tassie because who would know and who would care? The AFL certainly could never be farked honouring their promises to Roys fans signed off on as part of the merger then so why bother now? I dare say the mailboxes initially and now inboxes at AFL HQ have become progressively lighter nearly two decades on, and those at reception are consciously relieved about it.

So what do the Lions do about this weird crisis? They brought the old Fitzroy Lion back to the jumper, which is a great start but it shouldn’t have gone anywhere in the first place. Certainly the old Fitzroy jumper is just about the best ever worn by any club, but Brisbane is still stuck with dogshit re-recording of what was probably the best song in the league as well.

They wanted to have an actual Lion hanging out on the field pre-match, but instead they decided to ditch the statesmanlike tradition of running through the banner in favour of running out an inflatable Lion’s head.

The Saints Twitter has upped its pre-match banter of late, but you still feel like it could only reflect the club’s on-field fortunes – it could never be as intimidating or brutal or arseholey as an Essendon, for an instance. The account tried to take on Brion this week by drawing attention to our own giant, weird, far more freako mouth. In the end I wasn’t sure what the point was. Who has the biggest, giantest weird mouth thing?

The 1.10pm Sunday timeslot is an odd one. If the game’s in Victoria then some people might remember it exists, but if it’s a match-up actually worthy of wider attention it would be in the 3.20 Channel 7 News airstrip slot. Remember the 2002-2006 TV rights deal, and the blanket Channel 7 coverage before that? The 1.10pm game (for as long as it’s been around) has been broadcast live, mostly as an interstate game, but if it’s an interstate game now it’s on Fox Footy  and the silence can be nearly as deathly as the 4.40 slot later in the day (or even the 4.40 slot on the Saturday). Most people are either watching Footy Flashbacks or the neither-here-not-there TAC Cup Future Stars, and sometimes the players themselves – specifically Tom Hickey – will appear as a guest on the latter being asked about his Schneiderman appearance rather his own team playing in the timeslot.

It’s certainly an odd timeslot when you’re walking through North Road in Ormond at 12 noon and it’s heavily overcast and ridiculously quiet. Hardly the place for a decent build-up – not that the game warranted one – and I’d trekked from Brunswick West for it, but my brother had moved back on the Saturday to the Motherland six weeks ahead of my parents’ return from their UK tenure, and as first duty Fox Footy had been connected.

Carlton Draughts (or were they Mids?) were going down thick and fast in the first quarter as it was evident traditional Gabba form had been flown up and the Lions kicked the first five goals. I got sucked in to the Rohan Connolly theory following their late 2014 season form and had them as a smokey for the eight this year, whilst they’d remembered how to play footy in previous weeks they still showed themselves up as a young work in progress. They do have one of the best younger midfields in the competition, but in trying to gather what was going on through the broadcast, struggling namely Dwayne Russell’s words and resident Lions fan Jonathon Brown, I was led to think we were just really, really not switched on enough.

Matthew Leuenberger was once the future “Best Ruckman of All Time” but on Sunday he was one of those players closer to washed up then next-best-thing who decided to use the Saints as a canvas for some of their arsiest work. He was involved up forward a few times and early and for all the talk of Brisbane barely fielding a forward line, particularly with McStay out, Leuenberger’s involvement and five goals to none said otherwise.

Concerningly, the manner in which those goals and forward thrusts in general were being cultivated was reminiscent of the more negative footy we’d played this year. Hickey led hard up the ground and took a good mark in the middle before wheeling around and having it chopped and the Lions went up forward and kicked a goal, and Bruce and Hickey went up for the same mark in the 50 and with no one down and soft pressure on the Lions running out defence they went all the way up again, with Zorko completely on his own on one flank and finding Daniel Rich on his own for his second goal. Rich had made Panther and Geary look silly close to goal earlier en route to his first, so that percentage shaved off the intensity was all across the ground. That intensity was arguably reflective of the jumper design, and even though I’ll be covering this in more detail in the scarcely-anticipated next edition of St Kilda Jumper Talk, I’m not going to ditch an opportunity to talk about footy jumper minutiae. So let’s do it.

Ah, Indigenous Round. The weekend where every club wears a questionable jumper with genuine concepts behind them that have been filtered down by the whim of jumper manufacturers and whether you’re wearing your home or clash jumper to begin – as we were, and we ended up wearing something that looked like a spider’s web with braces, if you could actually make out anything on top of the entirely white canvas, with the 2009/2010 clash jumper faux-panels on the side.

But this year’s jumper if anything was more so shades of the infamous 2007/08 clash jumper, or should I say FADES of the infamous 2007/08 jumper? I’ve never felt a woman’s touch.

The Lions’ fifth goal came after Paparone outdid Riewoldt in a one-on-one, Hickey laid a huge tackle straight after and then Dunstan missed the resulting shot. The Lions went straight up the other end that fifth came as the clock ticked over just 10 minutes of play.

It would be easy to say “and then the intensity lifted, and the rest if history”, but that’s essentially what happened. And I don’t mean to say that as in we’re that good that we can just turn it on and off. That’s what we did in 2010, when fans bemusingly went ape droppings about “boring” football, not recognising the fact that the coach and the team, for the first time in the club’s then-138 year history, were that good we could choose when and how to win games. This is a completely different stage of development (obviously), so we’re rightfully getting off on these guys not settling for a competitive loss even on the road and in what’s essentially been a St Kilda Football Club black hole.

“Gallant” or “honourable” showings in previous weeks were enough to have the Josh Bruce Hype-O-Meter given the Warrior treatment. Hutchy’s understudy suggested Bruce could kick eight or nine against the Lions. He did essentially the opposite – strangely, in our two-highest scoring games this year we’ve kicked 16.12 (Sunday) and 16.11 (against the Gold Coast) and he’s kicked his equal-lowest (1.3) and highest (6.1) totals respectively. Not sure what the odds are on a gradual fade-out this season given how inexperienced he is and how hard he works, but it’s the latter that’s made him what he is so far this year and he’ll get somewhere at least on that alone.

Bruce was next to unsighted in the first half, caught under the ball often (as Roo and Hickey were) and it was hard to tell if a lead was rarely offered (by him or anyone) or the guys further up were too hasty in bombing it forward. He comically found himself on his own and on the lead in the last few seconds of the first half but dropped an absolute sitter 30 metres out. But he worked his way into the game in the second half and despite the inaccurate return was the one who kept the forward line stable in the final quarter when the Lions needed to be shut out.

Maybe everyone was just trying to remember what it was like to have Roo up forward for so much of the game but it seemed like he, Bruce and Hickey all got caught under the ball a lot and in the same contests in the first half – even the second quarter onslaught was mostly driven by Armo, Dunstan, Lonie etc. Was it just me or was Bruce playing more of the 2015 Roo role than Roo was? I’m not complaining in so far as Roo kicked four goals, but it felt like all of a sudden Bruce and Hickey were relegated a little and couldn’t have the impact they’ve been able to in the last few games. I don’t know if it was simply poor kicking, poor planning or poor movement on their part – probably a combination of both – but fortunately a lot of the smaller guys took some responsibility and we finished with our highest score for the year. It’s probably worth point out too that the better teams would have up to any of several bigger guys that can deliver on any given day up forward – look at our new neighbours the Hawks, who in recent years have had all of Gunston, Roughead, Buddy and Hale as talls alone – and this day it was Roo that finished with the goals.

So yes, the comeback was vaguely built around Roo but it didn’t feel like there was consistent structural anchor throughout the game that he, Bruce or Hickey have provided through the season. Two things about the Hickey and Longer “experiment”: firstly, it’s only as good as the weaker player, and secondly they’re both still very inexperienced so I’ve got billions of years’ worth of time for them. It’s just a part of a young team developing. Either way, it was the smalls and mids in the front half that took control of the game on Sunday.

Dunstan was probably the one that took the biggest step up this week, kicking two really good crumbing goals and laying six tackles in a role mostly confined to the front half. His dip in output over the past couple of months had seen him pushed to the brink of what you’d deem a “rest” (from the outside anyway) for a player of his experience and promise, so this simplified role allowed to him to show off his physicality and his decent mid’s goal sense. Lonie and Sinclair when he came on both brought their spark which feels like a natural component of this side already, only nine matches into their time with the club, Billings continued to rack up his 15+ quality possessions per week and Schneider played probably his best game of the year. Whatever you think of him, make the most of the contribution he makes out on the field because he’ll be gone very, very soon, back to the rookie list and that might well be it.

Armo continued his eponymous Fest 2015 with another 31 touches and an impact all around the ground, inside and out, and all the other things that people say about mids that play good games like that. He’s currently at point that Roo/Joey/Dal/BJ/Lenny consistently operated at over the past few years, in which I totally CBF writing about them in these reviews because everyone knows what they did and that they did it well. This time around, the talking point was that he kicked two really quality goals in the second quarter to wrestle the momentum from the Lions and send us on our way.

Like Armo, Mav finished with two goals at a crucial time in the game as a midfielder, volleying Billings’ great kick from just beyond the 50 metre arc and then reading the contest in the goal square best from the resulting centre bounce. Unfortunately he smacked Bewick in the head and was lucky to not get more than the one week offered to him by this week’s MRP Lotto Supervisors. Like Dunstan, I thought his output had tapered off a little over the last few weeks but a lot of players really took turns to stand up when someone needed to. Coming back from 29 points is one thing, and whilst the Best columns would feature senior guys in Roo, Joey, Schneider and Dempster just about every player – right down to D-Mac, one of the lesser lights on the day, taking a huge hit from behind whilst holding a tough overhead mark on the wing in the last quarter.

Martin replicated what Bennell did at a similar point further south in the state in Round 2 and really we were safe. Richie felt differently but Matt and I were talking about relatively confident we were through the second half. “Relatively” is the operative word – I wasn’t thinking we were going to shit it in or necessarily win but I felt much better about the prospects of giving it a shake through to the end, and a decent shake at that, as opposed to the last couple of years.

So two out of three wins this year in Queensland. Whilst the Gold Coast win was great at the time, particularly with the Bruce factor turned up to 11, using the arsey tool of hindsight it was probably the result that should have happened. This one had a lot more fight, and with the Lions flicking the switch in the last few weeks the poor start at our least favourite ground actually made some sense. But we’re hitting the point of the season now in which we can see clear hallmarks that each side is displaying in the 2015 season. Pleasantly, this side has been instilled with a real fighting aspect and a pride in both performance and application. To go with that we’ve been lucky that young guys in Billings, Sinclair, Lonie, Bruce, and so on have all improved their contributions, but it all starts with watching a young team working hard and really giving a shit about what they’re doing.

Saints wear new clash jumper again; lose

Round 7, 2015
Adelaide Crows 3.3, 9.3, 15.6, 18.13 (121)
St Kilda 3.3, 5.8, 7.12, 10.13 (73)
Crowd: 43,532 at Adelaide Oval, Saturday, May 16th at 1.15pm CST

Well I hope we enjoyed our Flavour of the Week status. Fortunately we didn’t give it over in borderline ridiculous circumstances as the Dogs did against us, but alas the ride is over.

Not that Richo would think of proclaiming anything that Malcolm Blight would. “Ride of Your Week”, certainly, but we’d banked some goodwill the prior week against the Bombers. Either way, following The Comeback we’ve got Tom Hickey on SEN, Jack Billings in the Triple M studio, Richo himself on Talking Footy and Billy Longer doing the lead-up press conference. It’s just that easy.

Before the Doggies game I suggested (just vaguely, and I’m not sure to who) that if we had a chance to knock them off it would have a lot to do with them being drained after their win against the Swans. I drew the parallel on everyone’s favourite Saintsational forum to our Round 7 performance in 1998, in which the bottom of the ladder Brisbane Lions knocked us off at Waverley the week after we’d stormed home against the Eagles at Subiaco the week before.

Obviously in the third quarter last week that thought was nowhere near my mind as it appeared regular programming had resumed, but given what what transpired then for the sake of consistency I had to say, well, the same would apply to us yesterday. I think the thing about yesterday’s performance was that you could have picked a result like this regardless of The Comeback ever occurring, let alone the week before and causing a massive hangover. The 46-point margin is certainly decent but it wasn’t the after grog bog it could have been.

In fact it was My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s awful collision that had him knocked out cold immediately that probably effected us more. Not that it was the difference between winning and losing, but rather we weren’t able to deal with the structural change and it clearly affected our ball movement.

Following last week and a number of people’s quite reasonable suggestions over the years, Roo was quite clearly playing high up the ground, and we had Hickey playing more mobile and several times found himself around contests with Longer. Bruce was anchored more so as per usual but wandered up to the wing early pre-Roo’s concussion.

There weren’t any signs of struggling to back up early because we kicked the first three goals and the pressure around the ground was right up. Newnes kicked the first from a 50-metre penalty, which would be the first of many the umpires paid throughout the day to both sides and for the most part reasonable. The hometown whistle is something any supporter of the visiting team to SA or Subi dreads, with every contest an apparent threat to all that is good and true. It only made a couple of appearances, glaringly for Charlie Cameron’s pair of goals in the second quarter, but we’d had Schneider get away with an arsey throw in the first and one to Billings in the second at the other end which neither were taken advantage of, so the decisions themselves certainly didn’t change the momentum or state of play.

Poor execution going forward became plagued our game throughout, and the signs were there early. Sinclair and Newnes put some really good pressure on the Crows at both ends and once we got it back up forward Hickey dropped a proverbial on the lead. Soon Roo in his new/old position provided the link out of the back half, and Eli’s great kick to My 2nd Favourite Hair in the AFL Josh Bruce in the goal square had things looking solid. To be reductive, the talls were in the right spots and the supporting cast – Eli, Sinclair, Schneider etc. were buzzing around and being generally annoying.

Speaking of which, I’d set up a lonely camp at the Great View Hotel after Matt and Evan were late withdrawals, and Richie was out of the country taking in much nicer weather through the week. It was just myself watching the Saints and then several gentlemen watching the other game on the other smaller screen but the benefit of audio. Most were inexplicably Hawthorn supporters, for no reason splashing out on the beers rather than a ticket to watch two Victorian teams at the MCG on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Baffling at best, but the real centrepiece was the one year-old’s birthday party going on in the function room (Happy Birthday, Lotta), which for some reason had the adjoining door open all door and thus parents, prams and an exorbitant variety of small children literally running around at all times. The talkative but seemingly kind and level-headed kid with the puppy balloon was the clear winner, otherwise it was a few Dads talking about their Supercoach teams spilling out also.

I’d had a slow start to the day so fortunately it was just a couple of blocks from my own home to get there and get back (something handy to have in hand should things end poorly). It was hard to get outwardly excited in my state but when Hickey got his chance to make amends and crumb a big contest in the goalsquare, with more than a guiding hand from Bruce, it was three goals to zip and a few cautiously excited texts started flying around.

That particular chain hard started a little earlier when had Bruce found himself making space in a marking contest for Longer close to half-back on the counter, and Schneider caught Sauce Jacobs out. The switch found Roo, and his kick ended up falling into the square where Bruce had worked all the way back to. Early yes, but Our Very Own Stephen Merchant’s rev up he gave Bruce and his fitness during the week was only just becoming evident.

Unfortunately that was just about the end of it. From that point is was 18 goals to 7, or more tellingly we only kicked one more goal than Eddie Betts from that point. Probably the other defining element of our games this season has been the ease with which the opposition can quickly move the ball out of our attack and hitting the scoreboard. I’ll get to Roo in a minute, but there’s no control group pre- or post- his and Lonie’s concussions. Geary and Montagna as late withdrawals hurt of course, but that wouldn’t have stopped the number of attacks launched by the Crows – particularly from our defence – that saw them shred through the middle for clean delivery to a one-out or forward in space. Often that was Betts, and whilst Geary was the man most suited to him Betts would have kicked a few of those anyway, just like Tex would have with or without Delaney in the team because there’s only so much the defender can do in those situations.

Let’s get to it. Roo’s concussion was sickening, particularly at the time given how long much extra care the trainers seemed to be giving him. It’s easier to talk about now that we’ve seen him up and about, and as always it’s really wonderful to see the crowd giving an injured opposition player a warm reception as they come off the ground, as well as the opposition trainers assisting in the post-injury care.

As I said, it hurt us more structurally than being one down did. Lonie had already been subbed off by this time with concussion, and given how relatively innocuous his incident looked (also an attempted tackle) with no sound at the bar I actually didn’t realise the hit had been that bad until after Roo had gone down. I don’t have any heat maps or anything but when we moving the ball it felt Roo’s presence was really lacking, and Hickey and Billy found themselves far too close together around the ground. The momentum had already swung Adelaide’s way, too – Eddie had taken a huge mark in the square following a debatably not being paid a mark in the pocket previously, and then Tex kicked a huge goal after the quarter time siren to level the scores after a weak Sav effort allowed the Crows to run away with the footy when we were a kick away from an attacking chance of our own.

By the siren we’d lost Joey, Geary, Lonie and Roo. It was time for someone to really make a statement, and Steven butchered the kick forward from the opening bounce of the second quarter. Then Hickey dropped another sitter and Billings missed the shot from the aforementioned reverse hometown whistle free, and who else but ex-Saints fan and ex-Saint Tom and first round draft pick to kick the next couple of goals and set the Crows up? Both goals came from two quality involvements from Tex further up; firstly a perfectly positioned kick to Lynch in the pocket which allowed him to draw the free, and then a one-motion take of the ball on the half-volley and sharp hands to Sauce Jacobs running past which again ended with Lynch.

In the end it was Josh Bruce who took it on himself to press up and provide an option. It looked like Lever was on him for much of it which probably helped him a little as Talia had (I’m sure) moved to Hickey, but that’s the benefit of having both Bruce and Hickey stepping up in the forward line and stretching the opposition defensive stocks, even when Roo isn’t there.

His five goals yesterday meant he’d kicked multiple goals in six of seven games this year. Perhaps ironically, the only match he kicked a single goal in was the Bulldogs game, in which he kicked 1.3, including the zero pressure shot after the siren. He also yesterday became the first St Kilda player to kick at least five goals three times in a six-game period since Riewoldt over the end of 2009 and early 2010, an overlapping period in 2009, Rounds 16-20 in 2008, and Rounds 16-21 in 2004 (to go with 9 goals in Round 15 that year). Milne did it over Rounds 8-13 in 2004 but that was the only time in his career, whilst you’d have to go back to the G-Train, who managed it in overlapping periods from Round 16, 2003 until Round 18, 2005 – as well as the last six games of his career (or at least before retiring the first time) – for any Saint to have done that with any regularity. I know it’s a very arbitrary criteria but I’m using it to compare the kind of return he’s given us in this period to what other Saints have over the past ten-plus years.

The most impressive thing about his game though was that he kicked five goals as well as consistently pushing up to the wing to make the contest, take the mark and provide that next link. How many times did we see him do it after quarter time, and several of those ended in serious attacking ventures (two of them Dunstan behinds, who at times is a bit of a Lenny in front of goal).

Incredibly we led the inside 50 count in the second quarter 16-11, but the Crows kicked 6.0 to 2.5. It was around this time that Channel 7 cut to a shot of Rory Sloane in the coaches’ box, next to David Teague’s questionable hair. The Adelaide Advertiser had run with a sensational back page, led by whispers of ex-Saints fan Rory going to what will probably be Moorabbin by year’s end. The story had built through the week, beginning with Matt Finnis on SEN early in the week and by the time Richo had talked about how outstanding everything about Rory is it had become the talking point leading into the game. Whilst it wasn’t necessarily the midfield that was our problem – but rather a lack of pressure and endeavour that allowed Adelaide to cut through far too easily from back of centre – I really do think the club would love one guy who be the real midfield general in three-to-five years’ time when theoretically we’ll be challenging.

Yes, obviously Armo could be that guy, whilst Steven still talks like a shy 12 year-old, but Rory is someone who’s been a class above most for a lot of his career and he’s still only 25. It’s also worth pointing out there is Weller, Dunstan, Billings, McKenzie and even Acres still coming through and will varying degrees of impact, whilst we still may get a top tier young guy in the next draft or two, or snaffle someone like Shiel to add some real A-class youth. Not sure what we’d need to give up for Sloane though, and I’d probably rather go to the draft if we end up with a top five pick again.

The midfield didn’t have the kind of supply this week – chiefly from Billy Longer given Hickey’s a forward at the moment – as Sauce Jacobs dominated the hit-out count and around the ground. He found the ball 23 teams and was a part of a number of counterattacks. Billy himself I actually didn’t think was terrible considering it’s his 32nd game and has just turned 22; he got to a lot of contests but perhaps fell back into his old habit of not being able to, you know, take a mark. When Charlie Cameron got his second weird free close to goal Billy looked like he was about fulfil the destiny I’ve imposed on him of going Lazar Vidovic on everyone around him, but unfortunately he managed to control his emotions.

Bruce couldn’t do it all, despite following Hickey’s lead and doing some nice crumbing in the goal square himself in the third and even then it’s still a novelty to watch him playing genuinely good Australian Rules football. With Hickey and Longer struggling with some of the fineries of the mark Bruce got in on the act, as well as missing a couple of shots at goal. It made his return of 5.1 and 12 marks seem all the more remarkable because it very, very easily could have been more.

We didn’t seem as dynamic going forward otherwise, and there were structural difficulty parallels again with Roo missing at short notice in the Collingwood game and after quarter-time in this one. Eli and Schneider were busy early but that was pretty much it and neither kicked a goal, Billings had a decent impact higher up but kicked 0.2, Lonie was out of the game before you realised he was there, Sinclair – in his temporary farewell game before going back onto the rookie list – just didn’t have a great day and the mids – Dunstan as I mentioned, Armo and Mav all missed their shots. Hickey obviously had a presence as far as the talls went but finished with 1.2, including a miss late after a gallant run through a couple of opponent and finding space which would have put us within four goals with a whole lot of momentum and plenty of time left. It was probably the closest I got to being clearly animated about the game, but the frustrating footy overall, a couple of pints and and a whole lot of small children had worn me down over the afternoon.

Not sure what to make of Sandy’s demolition over Frankston today. Saad kicked four but like Schneider will need to be back on the rookie list within a few weeks. Membrey kicked three, Tom Lee kicked a couple in what’s now a rare foray forward and Minchington kicked two. Minch is our forgotten guy who actually can bullet a pass and kick a couple of goals, whilst Lee might be a very slim chance if Roo doesn’t come up. Acres surely comes in after getting plenty of the ball and a couple of goals so there’s a few to come in, as well as potentially Montagna and Geary, for a few others both up forward and through the midfield. McKenzie might come out. His numbers will tell you he only had nine touches but his presence seems to offer a lot more than that. There’s no rush either way for him. Curren had 31 touches for the Zebs but I CBF.

Appropriately it was Betts who sealed the game with some slick hands and then cleverly finished a chain of possession close to goal after Sinclair up the other end put everything into a set shot but didn’t quite make the distance. Delaney gave away a free kick to Tex shortly after who delivered the icing. It wasn’t unexpected – and arguably it was inevitable – given everything that had happened through the afternoon, but the performance overall did leave what was perhaps a hollow feeling compared to the two games previous.

It’s difficult to tell what kind of team will turn up at the stage in development, and more so one that will again have a couple more changes. West Coast are second on the ladder for some reason and we play them on Saturday, and whilst I don’t think we’ll win I don’t exactly know what form that would take. For every memorable game like The Comeback – although not typically of that magnitude – there are countless in these leaner years that we simply forget. The team doesn’t turn up, or the young guys have an off-day en masse, or the disposal going forward is butchered. Roo’s hit and Bruce’s five might stand out for the minutiae in later years, but otherwise yesterday won’t be revisited too many times; banked in the back of the mind but rarely called upon.

St Kilda and Fremantle: The Bizarro Rivalry (update)

The Ross Lyon defection brokered a new sensational chapter in the ridiculous rivalry between St Kilda and Fremantle, which I’d written on in 2010.

Whilst Ross took things to a new level, this past weekend threw up a couple more very interesting links:
– St Kilda’s first Grand Final appearance was in 1913, against Fitzroy. Freo will make their first Grand Final appearance 100 years later.
– Freo’s strange decision to wear their clash jumper on Saturday makes them just the second club to do so in a Grand Final. The first team to wear a clash jumper in Grand Final was St Kilda – also under Ross – in 2010.

Here’s the original post, “St Kilda and Fremantle: The Bizarre Rivalry” (I’m not sure why I didn’t take the golden opportunity to throw in the Seinfeld reference then and there) from 2010:

St Kilda and Fremantle share one of the most bizarre “rivalries” in the AFL.

As the two least successful clubs in VFL/AFL history to date, it’s not all-important clashes between competition juggernauts that this rivalry has been based on.

Rather, it has been a mixture of the unique, incredible and questionable, with occasional flashes of both genuinely brilliant and sadly woeful football being played.

It began immediately – although inconspicuously – in 1995, when Fremantle played their debut AFL match in the Ansett Australia Cup against the Saints at East Fremantle Oval. Whilst the match itself was normal enough (St Kilda would win by 35 points), this would be the only time (to date) the Dockers would actually play in Fremantle in a competitive AFL match.

In Round 14 of the following season, St Kilda would break through for its first win at Subiaco, and in Western Australia – of course, against Fremantle – in a game which produced great goals from both sides.

The next clash between the two came on ANZAC Day of 1997, with Fremantle – in 10th place and the Saints in 16th – weathering a late St Kilda challenge to win by a straight kick. The return bout was played on a ridiculously blustery day at Waverley in Round 20 of that year, with Fremantle in 10th place (again) going into the match whilst St Kilda was second on percentage, on its way to a second minor premiership. The Saints that time won a scrappy game by 13 points after the Dockers got within a point in the final term.

St Kilda co-captain Stewart Loewe would be stretchered off in Round 9 of 1998 at the WACA after an awkward fall in which his head ended up making contact with his knee. Despite a thrilling running goal from ruckman Peter Everitt, the 4th-placed Saints were overrun by the 13th-placed Dockers in the final term.

After several years of minor quirks, things were about to get really weird.

Continue readingRound 15 of 1999 will be remembered for the mark that was taken by umpire Peter Carey. Early in the match, Docker (and former Saint) Adrian Fletcher centred a short pass to Brad Wira on the wing, only for the experienced Carey, who was in the path of the ball’s trajectory, to take the mark and call for a ball-up. Needless to say, the incident was a massive talking point in football circles, though ultimately it would take its place in VFL/AFL history as a wonderfully unique and humourous moment in a game that has a habit of throwing those up from time to time. The Dockers would go on to win the game by 23 points, and send St Kilda’s season into a further downward spiral.

By the time the two teams met in Round 12 of 2001, both teams had new coaches and were sharing 14th (St Kilda) and 16th (Fremantle) places on the ladder; by season’s end they would be 15th and 16th respectively. On this Saturday night at Subiaco, the Saints won their third game of the year after a young Stephen Milne sprang to life in the final term, on his way to kicking three goals and giving the Saints a 10-point win. However, captain Robert Harvey would seriously injure his knee in a gang tackle that continued well past its use-by date; with the ball locked up amongst the scrum, the umpire inexplicably chose to let play continue, long enough for the Dockers players to force Harvey to the turf as his knee buckled under him.

It would also be Malcolm Blight’s last victory as coach for the Saints, with his brief tenure at Moorabbin ending just three weeks later.

The next season threw up a couple more notable matches – in Round 2, the fast-finishing Dockers would roll the Saints by three points at home after trailing for much of the day, and in Round 17 St Kilda played a rare home match at Princes Park and defeat the Dockers in a dead-rubber in front of just 8,078 fans.

A skip to 2004 would find Brent Guerra breaking Docker Byran Schammer’s arm in a devastating bump as a barnstorming St Kilda extended their winning streak to seven to begin the season, as well as Fremantle wearing their predominantly white away/clash jumper for the first time in the return match in Round 22 at Docklands.

A trio of thrilling matches followed. Strange, thrilling matches.

In round 2 of 2005, St Kilda won their first match of the season by a solitary point at York Park in Tasmania. The Saints would overhaul the Dockers in trying conditions, with Aaron Hamill earning a free kick for holding the ball and scoring the winning point – but not before a final Fremantle charge into their forward line, with defender Luke Penny expertly safely punching the ball out of bounds in the final seconds from a marking contest.

The infamous “Whispers in the Sky” clash was a dire battle in Round 21 at Subiaco. St Kilda were pushing to solidify a top four spot after being outside of the 8 after Round 13, though tipped by many to win the premiership on the eve of the season. Skipper Nick Riewoldt has broken his collarbone in Round 14, and stand-in captain Justin Koschitzke had powered his way to stunning form and lead the Saints’ fight for redemption. He earned 11 Brownlow votes in just five matches, and with Riewoldt back, he was seen as a key component to St Kilda’s premiership hopes as September neared. Fremantle, meanwhile were hoping to return to finals action after St Kilda had knocked them out on the eve of the 2004 finals series.

What happened on that Friday night is now a part of St Kilda-Fremantle rivalry folklore. Awful and questionable umpiring decisions went Fremantle’s way all night, gifting the Dockers several goals and depriving the Saints of several chances of their own. Koschitzke would injure a quad muscle in the third quarter, and he would not be fit enough to return to the side, which bowed out in the preliminary final several weeks later (had St Kilda defeated Sydney in that match, he would have been a huge chance to return for the Grand Final).

The final term was an old-fashioned thriller. In the final minute, with the Saints up by a point, Justin Peckett was run down by Luke McPharlin just outside Fremantle’s 50-metre arc; the resulting kick forward saw Justin Longmuir take a spectacular mark over the top of the pack just 25 metres out from goal. His kick was straight, and the Dockers had won by five points, and were to face reigning premier Port Adelaide the following week in the final round for a spot in the finals.

Channel Nine reporter Tony Jones – travelling back to Melbourne from the game after Nine’s coverage – claimed that he heard umpire Matthew Head, who had made a number of the decisions that went Fremantle’s way remark, “Now I know what it feels like to have a victory”. Several other passengers made the same claim as Jones, but the AFL cleared Head of any wrongdoing after an investigation into the matter that week.

Though they would start strongly, Fremantle lost to Port Adelaide the following week and finish 10th as the Power clinched eighth spot. St Kilda would go on to record two amazing victories over the following two weeks – their biggest win in the club’s 132-year history over the Brisbane Lions, by 139 points, and a brave eight-point win over minor premiers Adelaide in the First Qualifying Final at AAMI Stadium, to secure a home Preliminary Final and a week’s rest.

But the centrepiece of this rivalry – so far, at least – came in Round 5, 2006; the final installment of this trilogy taking place where it started – at York Park (now Aurora Stadium) in Tasmania, referred to as “Sirengate”.

The Dockers were truly dangerous in 2006, and were only knocked out a week short of the Grand Final. Though notorious for poor interstate form, on this day they were all over an inept St Kilda, who were making another slow start to a season. Though the Saints would be in with a chance all day, that chance seemed to have disappeared as the clock counted down to zero as a desperate Dockers defence forced a stopped in the Saints forward line, with their team up by a point. The siren sounded, and Fremantle players around the ball began celebrating a hard-fought victory.

But the siren was quite faint, and umpire didn’t hear it – and play continued from the stoppage well after full-time. The Saints forced the ball to Steven Baker, whose flying shot at goal – a number of seconds after the siren – missed to the left, tying the scores. The umpire then awarded Baker a free kick for a hit he got as he kicked it, and so he was to take the kick again, with the first behind taken back, and the Saints again down by a point. As this was occurring, Fremantle officials had stormed on to the ground to remonstrate with the umpires, with coach Chris Connolly finding himself arguing with St Kilda player Lenny Hayes. Verbal stoushes were springing up between officials, umpires and players left, right and centre, and amongst it all, Baker missed again. The game was a draw.

St Kilda coach Grant Thomas declared the game “one for the blooper reel” in the post-match wash-up, whilst Connolly was understandably furious. Fremantle immediately took the issue to the AFL. Sensationally, the AFL overturned the result during the week, with final score officially at 13.15 (93) to 14.10 (94), the Dockers victorious by a point.

The sides would meet again at Subiaco in Round 20. To date, this match is the most important game the clubs have been involved in against each other, with a top four spot up for grabs. Fremantle trounced the Saints, with the only highlight for St Kilda being a goal kicked by Brendon Goddard from an enormous kick late in the match; from just inside the centre square, Goddard’s kick would go through the goals at post-height.

The Dockers would finish third on the ladder, with fellow Subiaco tenants West Coast in first place. Though they would lose the Second Qualifying Final to Adelaide away, they won their first final of any sort at home against Melbourne a week later. Sydney knocked them out a week later, otherwise the MCG would have been set for an all-Western Australian Grand Final.

Several things of note come out of this. Firstly, St Kilda would have finished third on superior percentage if the “Sirengate” result had stood, forcing eventual Grand Finalists Sydney out of the top four, and forcing a Western Derby as a First Qualifying Final. Instead, the Saints finished sixth and limped out of the finals series in the first week, losing to Melbourne in the Second Elimination Final. Of course, if the Saints had won that game – which was a good chance of happening through the final term – they would have faced Fremantle in a semi-final, bringing the two teams face-to-face in massive game; as it happened, Grant Thomas would be sacked just days after the loss to the Demons. The other point worth considering – albeit a hypothetical one – is if the AFL would have overturned the result the way it did had Baker actually kicked a goal from either of his shots, “winning” the game for St Kilda. It’s one thing to overturn a draw, but to  completely reverse the outcome of a match would have made this issue far, far greater, and a much more daunting prospect for the AFL.

The following season was a disappointment for both teams. When they squared off in Round 20, with the Saints hoping to snatch a finals spot under new coach Ross Lyon, a collision between Steven Baker and Jeff Farmer would be the talking point of the competition for the following week.

Farmer left the ground concussed, with blood pouring from his face, after evidently running into the back of Baker. No umpires nor cameras saw or captured the incident, but a Fremantle trainer said that Baker had been malicious in the collision, and this was influential in the seven-match suspension Baker received. The Saints appealed, but this fell on deaf ears from the AFL. The decision would prove costly for the Saints, who were now without their star tagger as they were coming up against West Coast the following week, a must-win game for the Saints. The Eagles’ midfield of Chris Judd, Ben Cousins and Daniel Kerr were able to run far more freely and eventually the Eagles would win by eight points; though St Kilda defeated Richmond in Round 22, they would finish the season in ninth position after Adelaide also won their final round match to knock St Kilda out of September calculations.

Round 13 of 2008 saw a spluttering Saints wielding the axe on senior players Nick Dal Santo and Stephen Milne after just three wins from the previous ten games of football. Ben McEvoy, Robert Eddy and Jarryd Allen would all debut for the Saints on a dogged Friday night, with the Saints prevailing by eight points. It would be the beginning of a remarkable turnaround for Ross Lyon and his men, who would win eight of their final ten matches in the home-and-away season to finish fourth, including the return game at Subiaco in Round 20 which Stephen Milne played out with a grotesquely swollen cheek. The Saints would fall one week short of the Grand Final.

The Saints would go one better in 2009, as Fremantle were again finding themselves at the wrong end of the ladder. In Round 4, the Saints crushed the Dockers by 88 points, and keeping the visitors to a scoreline of 4.4 (28), the joint-lowest score at Docklands. Of course, that record is shared with St Kilda, who could only manage 3.10 (28) against Collingwood in Round 6 of 2002.

Most recently, their 2010 NAB Cup semi-final match was nearly called off, after storms ravaged the Melbourne CBD, leaving Etihad Stadium with internal roofing damage. The players ran out for a later start to no crowd in attendance, and the 5,000+ fans were eventually let in over the first quarter, but only allowed to be seated on the bottom level. St Kilda would win a position in the Final easily, but would lose that to the Western Bulldogs, who were making their first Final appearance of any kind in 40 years.

And now on Sunday evening, the two teams will be squaring off, and coming into this round are occupying the top two positions on the ladder. It’s definitely the first time this has happened with these two clubs; Fremantle will be looking to be on top of the AFL ladder at the completion of any round for the first time in their history, whilst the Saints are going to be entering a lengthy period of time with injured captain Nick Riewoldt. The football world will be watching this intriguing clash, which will hopefully be remembered for some good football, promising individual performances and solid teamwork. As long as no umpires take marks or feel like “having a victory”, or the siren fails, or there are unseen and inconclusive clashes which result in massive suspensions, or storms unleash fury over Melbourne, then there’s a good chance that just might happen.

But who knows?

Links

Umpire Peter Carey takes a mark in Round 15, 1999

Justin Longmuir kicks a goal after the siren to win the game for the Dockers in the “Whispers in the Sky” match, in Round 20, 2005

“Sirengate” finish Part 1, Round 5, 2006

“Sirengate” finish Part 2

Brendon Goddard’s monster goal, Round 20, 2006

The day that David Armitage did heaps of good stuff

Has it finally happened? Was Saturday the day?

Did David Armitage finally play his first true game of delivering on the hype and expectation?

Or does it become this decade’s equivalent Gary Loft’s seven goals against South Melbourne at Moorabbin in Round 19 of 1978? Or Gordon Fode’s five goals against the Bombers in Round 3 of 1994? Or the 1998 triumvirate of Brett Knowles’ 30 possessions in his Round 3 debut, Daniel Healy’s six goals against the Eagles in Round 6, or Steven Sziller’s six against the Swans at the SCG in Round 10?

Armo’s played good games before, but this is the first time he’s dominated a game by way of collecting 31 possessions at 90% efficiency and kicking four goals. Yes, it was against GWS, but he hadn’t done this in the thrashings this club handed out even last year, against the Gold Coast (twice), Bulldogs (twice again), Essendon and the Giants. I really thought that if the Saints were to win – no certainty after the preceding few weeks – that the senior guys were going to really need to step up and lead by example, but it was Armo that was clearly the best player on the ground.

We’ve waited and waited for a performance like this from him. He not only did the inside-mid things he’s accustomed do but so many times a found space between the arcs and ran and carried the ball. That’s before noting his work rate that allowed saw him find space in the forward line on several occasions. He played like a pick #9 and a member of the leadership group.

Gerard Healy summed it up after Armo kicked his third goal: “Yes, you’ve got to have talent – that gets you, usually, a draft opportunity. But then you’ve got to turn yourself into an AFL player – that sometimes takes five minutes or sometimes it takes five years. And David Armitage has finally got there.”

Note that even then he was two years short of accurately measuring our wait.

There was a lot to like on the development side of things on Saturday; indeed, a number of younger or unheralded players really made their mark. This is one of those good weeks where we feel comfortable with the competitive development Swat preaches. Jack Steven worked really hard for his 32 touches, Big Ben backed up his great game last week, the BIG RHYS BANDWAGON gathered speed, Roberton played arguably his best career game (and got involved in some push and shove, too), Saad and Milera created all sorts of problems across the front half and, of course, Nathan Wright collected 22 possessions and worked incredibly hard, busting through traffic and supporting his teammates in his debut game.

Now, the tricky part – back it up against a good team on Saturday. And as far as Armo goes, the week after that, and the week after that, too. Then we can say a more confidently that David Armitage has finally got there.

In This Round…Round 11

On the Thursday of each week of St Kilda’s season, we take a stroll down memory lane and take a look at memorable clash in St Kilda history from the upcoming round.

St Kilda vs Richmond, Round 11, 1998
St Kilda 3.2, 9.4, 15.7, 21.11 (137)
Richmond 8.6, 10.9, 15.10, 16.14 (110)
Crowd: 71,488 at Waverley Park, Monday, June 8, 2.10pm

A gem of a game lost to Saints fans, after a devastating fall from grace in the latter half of the 1998 season shattered the expectation of another serious tilt at a second premiership to come later in September.

This match pitted St Kilda in third, at home to a resurgent Richmond who were sitting fifth on the ladder on the Monday of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. The crowd of over 71,000 saw people turned back at the gate, and remains the highest attendance at a St Kilda home game in the club’s 137-year history.

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