2004 Posts

*Heaps of symbolism*

Round 1, 2017
St Kilda 6.2, 7.8, 9.9, 13.12 (90)
Melbourne 2.3, 9.4, 15.7, 18.12 (120)
Crowd: 36,249 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, March 25th at 4.35pm

In short: it’s one game and there are other rounds and seasons. In long: Here is way too much ranting, featuring probably way too much symbolism.

Ok, so.

How did you feel late on the Saturday night of Round 1, 2004?

If you’re a St Kilda supporter and old enough to have been aware of what was going on, then the answer was probably “pretty fucking great”.

The Saints had trounced the Cats in the far more valuable sequel to the Wizard Cup Final a fortnight earlier, and had stamped themselves as the most fashionable new team with the brightest future in the league. After a few lean development years – with the 1997 Grand Final ensuring the hallmarks of the Saints were retained going into the new millennium – the St Kilda Football Club looked set to be transformed by one of the most exciting and damaging collection of players in the league. The future looked good, and it looked endless.

We look back now and note (and feel, of course) that the Cats added three premierships to their cabinet since and have only dipped out of the top eight twice. Meanwhile, we continue to build the mythology around 1966, and theoretically the club is only now barely coming out of the rebuild following the heartbreaks of the GT and Ross Lyon eras.

It’s worth noting that the idea of the Geelong-St Kilda rivalry seems to have been mostly shed by Geelong and its fans. They moved onto bigger and better things. The notion still exists for us, but mostly as a representation of what never was. The 2004 meetings in particular between the teams promised both a long-term rivalry between two burgeoning juggernauts, and the likely ending of two long premiership droughts. The 2009 Grand Final appeared written to deliver both the epic showdown that had been promised for so many years – it certainly did, and was a fitting end to the decade – and given what had transpired during the season, that second element also: a premiership for St Kilda to go with Geelong’s own drought-breaker two years before.

When the Saints turned the 2010 finals series on its head over Geelong in the 2nd Qualifying Final, it put the Cats on a collision course with the Magpies in a Preliminary Final. Their comprehensive loss and the departure of Mark Thompson looked certain to bring what was already an incredible era for their club to a close. Somehow, they backed the whole thing up and won a third premiership in five years, as we endured a painful, cold come down from coming so close over a long time – don’t discount the added wear and tear of 2004, 2005 and 2008 (not to mention the 2006 ride and its fallout). It was apparent that everyone from the fans through to the players had been heavily scarred.

Geelong’s story was ultimately written with a key but much reduced role from St Kilda compared to what was in the initial drafts of the script. Sydney ended their 72-year drought as the rivalry built; for the young St Kilda team that has been put together over the past several years the Bulldogs have delivered in similar time after 62 years (both the longest droughts in the game at the time). Melbourne has emerged as the Geelong rival equivalent to the team put together featuring Riewoldt, Hayes, Ball, Dal Santo, Koschitzke, et al. Again, two founding teams with similar premiership droughts, except the pairing of 1963 and 1966 is now 1964 and 1966.

In the time since that opening round of 2004, those Melbourne and St Kilda waits have become the longest in the game. Sydney, the Cats and the Bulldogs all had longer droughts at that point; all have saluted since. It’s worth mentioning alone for anyone who cares about historical coincidences and miscellany, but this is all an important reminder for the fall-out of Saturday evening.

I’m sitting here running through this shoddy exercise because we now know that we will see My Favourite Hair in the AFL take the field again. It wasn’t until after we’d left our new seats on Level 2 well after the siren that I checked Twitter for any updates that I found the first pieces of positive news starting to filter out of the club. Until that point we’d sweated in the humidity, been wowed briefly before being systematically overwhelmed, and then finally crushed when Riewoldt went down. Otherwise this would be mostly be a hastily cobbled requiem for not just the career of arguably the best Saint, but an era in itself.

Instead, it’s firmly about the future. The Geelong comparison matters when trying to process what the hell happened after quarter time on Saturday. I’m not saying there will be a period of time in the near future in which we’ll win three premierships in five years and watch Melbourne flounder. Likewise, I’m not saying Melbourne will miss out in the way we did over the last 13 seasons.

Of course, there was a huge build-up to this one, an opening match between the two most fashionable new kids with the brightest futures with what appeared to be clear demarcation points in their narratives – Melbourne with a new coach and about to step into the finals; St Kilda improving with a coach that had grown with them and about to step in the finals.

The fact that we hadn’t lost to Melbourne since the 2006 2nd Elimination Final – a very dirty night for us for a lot of reasons – is only an anomaly and one that will be quickly forgotten. It didn’t mean we won a premiership in that time, nor was it the reason Melbourne and its fans suffered so much in that decade. Their win right now symbolically says plenty and at this point in time might enhance a pending rivalry, but it isn’t what it will be ultimately remembered for (should that rivalry indeed emerge). What does Round 1, 2004 mean for Geelong fans? They wouldn’t particularly remember it, nor care for it if they did.

If we’re good enough then the players will learn from it and be better for it, and it will be a small step in much, much bigger journey. I joke that I have Melbourne and us pencilled in for the 2019 Grand Final, but for now that’s all it amounts to. There are no facts in the future.

***

What caused the turnaround after the first break? I was sweating profusely from the comfort of our level two seats; I have no idea how the players were feeling. But Melbourne ran out the three quarters incredibly well, all the more considering Joel Smith (as far as I know, no relation to Joel Smith) had his game ended in the first quarter, leaving the Dees a player short for the bulk of the match. To put it succinctly, it seemed there was simply little movement from our players after quarter time both with and without the ball; Richo’s post-match description of the players as “reactionary” is probably a more accurate way of putting it. But why did it happen? Surely you don’t train all pre-season and give the JLT a good shake to just run out of gas 40 minutes into Round 1? We were underdone for Round 1 last year and still managed to play 85 minutes of good footy interstate.

The midfield was smashed – Max had it all over Man’s Best Friend host Tom Hickey at the throw-ups courtesy of Adele, and Melbourne’s mids racked up ridiculous numbers as they worked in numbers together around just about every contest. Even when Hickey won a hit-out the Melbourne mids were first at the fall. In fact it took the otherwise-unseen Seb Ross in the final quarter to actually win a decent hit-out against Max from a stoppage, and from there the Dees still ran away with it and kicked a goal. Their pressure was good when we had the ball, their run and spread was good when they had it, at stoppages and in open play.

Hickey was a shadow of the player that found the ball 29 times in the final practice match, and a shadow of the ruckman that had been one of the few to handle Max decently in the past couple of years. Hickey wasn’t the only one in that category, and Max just might have taken another massive step in his career, but you can only write that kind of thing off so many times.

Melbourne’s approach in expanding their midfield numbers with their high draft picks is looking like it will pay off handsomely. Never mind Viney and Stretch being handy father-son picks; the input of Oliver, Lewis, Vince, Brayshaw, Petracca, Neal-Bullen, Jetta and Salem reflected shrewd drafting and recruiting. Steven needs someone else to breakaway from traffic, Steele had a good debut, Armitage might have peaked, Ross was nowhere, Dunstan likewise. It would have been nice to see Billings and Gresham at more stoppages, but Billings’ game in particular suffered once we were shut down in close.

Petracca got to enjoy a couple of goals (including one immediately after Riewoldt was taken off) and found the ball 23 touches, and his celebration in the third quarter of his goal was the first roar in this conflict proper. The comparisons between him and Paddy will be endless – do 21-possession, three-goal games from Hogan influence the debate at all? For all the rumours Petracca’s character issues had him fall behind Paddy, we might be waiting a longer to be feeling OK about our Billings/Bont and and Paddy/Petracca draft choices in successive years. The 2001 selection in hindsight is enough to make any Saint go the big vom, and not enough people are aware we chose McEvoy at number nine with Dangerfield going 10 in 2007.

Paddy was a late out this time; rumoured to be a hamstring. Richo described it as hamstring “awareness”, and introduced the “fit to play”/”fit to perform” debate into more public footy lexicon. Last year Paddy was a late withdrawal for our first game against the Dees as well all felt spooked by the debut of Petracca, and the inclusion Membrey kicked five. Acres won a Rising Star nomination with 28 touches and two goals, but Membrey’s disappeared since the first few minutes of the JLT series and Blacres apparently can’t hit targets and so suited up in the black, yellow and blue alongside Paddy yesterday. Lonie was the in for Paddy; obviously they wanted some pressure but Jesus Christ I don’t know if Lonie realistically passes the disposal accuracy test. He’s still somewhere between Milne and the worst of Schneider – tries to do a lot, has a wayward left foot when the goals beckon. He needs to spend more time with Gresham, who with three goals was one of our best. His solo effort from the Gresham pocket (with a cameo from Membrey) was all class and composure, something that was severely lacking for the balance of the match.

As for the draft concern in Billings, his race with the Bont is over. Marcus has already won a best and fairest in a premiership season. The external pressure and comparisons are over. Billings is now left to do what he was drafted to do and in the Corporate Name Community Series appeared to have stepped up, and he kicked a brilliant long-range goal to open our game and season’s account. As I said before, his game appeared to be reliant on the rest of the team’s, and he was drafted specifically because he is creative, not to compliment our inside mids in the event that they’re winning their battle against the opposition’s. Until Melbourne turned things around, he was very busy across the ground, but that’s not enough. Hindsight is the proverbial USC eyesight reference value, but we could have had Bontempelli and Petracca. If I’m going to listen to myself though, Billings hasn’t turned 22 and Paddy hasn’t turned 21.

Richo will be facing his own tests in the coming weeks, probably for the first time in his career. A trip to Perth will quickly shift the players’ focus over to rectifying whatever the hell it was that went on after they got on a plane last year. No Riewoldt for a week or two (after all that – lol), Paddy should come in after three goals in the first half as the Zebras coasted through a practice match against Port Melbourne; Rowan Marshall kicked five and My Future Favourite Player Josh Battle four but for varying reasons don’t expect to see them any time soon. Sinclair found the ball 27 times in three quarters and looks an obvious replacement for one of Wright or Lonie, although Lonie led our tackle count with six. Wright is more hardened than the other smaller forward-half players but did fark all and I feel as though the others (Lonie included) have a higher ceiling than he does.

Carlisle and Brown look cute wearing 2 and 22 respectively and watching them work together to cover off players when Melbourne’s mids charged forward again showed they’re already building an understanding. There’s obviously work to be done individually and from the perspective of settling into the team, and Dempster might well be required given the task at hand against the Eagles, but just give them a second. I’d also hope we’re in a position to not have to select players based on the likelihood of our mids getting towelled again. Both Brown and Wright had knocks to the head so there might be an easy reasoning to take them out for next week.

We got a small taste of games actually meaning something in the back half of last year, but this time we’re starting fresh and (almost) anything can happen. To strip away the symbolism this result may well bode as very important come the end of season, with both us and the Dees expected to be jostling for a top eight spot. The build-up to the game certainly was a welcome reminder of what it means to partake in a relevant game of Australian Rules football. Riewoldt’s four goals in the absence of Paddy and effective games from Bruce and Membrey was a stark reminder of how important he still is for us. We really felt we had to confront a post-Nick Riewoldt world for a time on Saturday, and I don’t think we were quite ready. Certainly not at the moment. Geary opened his captaincy by dropping a clean mark on his own. He got a bit of the ball but I’m not sure exactly what he did; although I’m not sure what anyone did really apart from a few.

Assuming we are actually stepping up from last year, I didn’t know if I was ready for us to be good again. But I won’t hold my breath. The 2010 Replay was seven years ago now, which is the same distance that 2004 is from 1997. But I really don’t think anyone was or should have been expecting a 2004 leap, despite us finishing on top of the JLT series ladder and going in against our up and coming rivals in Round 1 (to throw in a final 2004 comparison). It was an incredibly deflating experience being at the game, but now that Riewoldt is OK how do we feel? A lot happens in footy, and we can always read too much into it.

St Kilda 2004 Season Highlights DVD

The distance in time between the 1997 Grand Final and 2004 is the same as the time lapsed between 2010 and this year, so I guess there’s some synergy in putting this up now.

*Disclaimer – you can read me whinge about Sports Delivered and talk about these productions in more bleating depth here.

img_7299This production for this was spearheaded by Channel 9, who was one of the broadcasters at the time, complete with match-day intro sequence and Brownlow Medal round highlights graphics. Like anything Channel 9 does in a promotional vein, it glosses over a lot of the negatives of the 2004 season – some losses simply aren’t mentioned at all, and the bloketastic element is filled by the hosting of Michael Roberts, who is obviously a mate of the much-featured Grant Thomas – a huge bonus for GT fans, although he probably doesn’t steal the show in the same Ken Sheldon does in the 1991 and 1992 Season Highlights productions. He certainly does say some interesting things – his admission that he hadn’t prepared the team well enough for the Qualifying Final against Brisbane, and more bemusingly, that the team has structured itself differently in the Round 21 and Qualifying Final games at the same ground against the same opposition in case they met the Lions in the Grand Final.

Whilst a lot of the focus of what’s in there is the Wizard Cup final and then the 10-game winning streak to open the season, at a running time of more than 116 minutes this is about 75 minutes longer and 61 minutes longer than the 2009 and 2010 Season Highlights DVDs respectively, and around more than 116 minutes longer than the 2005 Season Highlights DVD, which would have been a genuine ride (again, for more of my dismay at the producers of Sports Delivered and the Visual Entertainment Group, see above).

It’s easy to forget just how good the G-Train was outside of simply kicking for goal, how impressively athletic Roo was, and just what we missed out on due to Aaron Hamill’s injuries not just in key parts of 2004 but in 2005, 2006, 2007 and perhaps beyond, not to mention Heath Black after his departure (see his stirring goal in the final seconds of the third quarter of the Preliminary Final), further injuries to Luke Penny and the inconsistency of Brent Guerra.

The 2004 season was truly a unique experience for St Kilda fans. Never before had the club looked to potent, and the youth brigade had us feeling that anything could happen, with no end in site. I remember thinking at the time as a 16 year old that I couldn’t imagine a point beyond this team – we were getting attached to the players that themselves were coming through together as a close-knit group. It’s incredible to think the journey we still find ourselves on could well and truly have been completed in this season. Either way, surely it was to be the beginning of an era that would change the club forever. It was, but not in the way we hoped.

How we didn’t necessarily want to be

Recently turning 25 came with it an expected yet still slightly painful quarter-life crisis.

From 24 to 25 feels like you’ve aged at least nine to 10 times that overnight and it requires an honest look at yourself in a glass coated with metal amalgam, or as many people refer to it; a mirror. You assess your finances, relationship status, career progression and then naturally of course you weigh up whether or not you will ever witness a St Kilda premiership. Now no longer at the tender age of 24, this plight had been turned up a proverbial notch almost instantaneously. Amongst brushing up my resume, Google searching “community work” and signing up to eHarmony, came the thought of what the last 25 years has been and meant on this earth, and a large a part of that has revolved around being a St Kilda supporter.

When you’re a kid and you attend Auskick – or, as my junior football club’s program was very controversially named, “Midgets” – you’re happy just running around in a team’s colours courtesy of Dad; for me a traditional long sleeve Saints guernsey with Aussie Jones’ number 5 on the back. You’d hear a result and maybe care about it for all of 15 seconds before you’re chasing a footy around again worrying about your own very important career. This was more often than not made up of deliberately tightening angles for goals to have a shot at momentary glory. When Tom and I were little, we couldn’t wait to play for St Kilda when we were older, it was going to be fantastic. It turned out for us that the selection process was sufficiently more stringent than we could have ever possibly anticipated; our playing careers teetered out (not without serious injuries) and our success as footballers would now have to be fulfilled vicariously through the St Kilda Football Club, the passion no longer exerted on the field would have to be inflicted from the stands. That transition from being a child and being given a St Kilda jumper, to it being 100% apart of me: well, this was now complete.

Too young to appreciate, but I still observed the trail of destruction left by 1997; I sat there and watched but couldn’t really understand Stewart Loewe’s goal kicking yips, Joel Smith’s broken leg, Peter Everitt’s collarbone. I then saw Tim Watson and Malcolm Blight come and go; I saw Max Hudghton cry, Caydn Beetham lose the passion, I witnessed Daniel Wulf run in and hit the post, I watched Steven Baker suffer “amnesia”, Justin Peckett getting run down from behind with Troy Longmuir the beneficiary, Justin Koschitzke get blindsided by Daniel Giansiracusa, a nastily snapped Matt Maguire leg; I listened to the media circles of Grant Thomas being too friendly with the players, I’d seen Ross Lyon stop the other teams from scoring, I’d seen Luke Ball walk; I’d seen a toe-poke and I’d seen the unexpected bounce of obscurely shaped ball on the biggest stage.

On the contrary I’d watched Jason Heatley kick a few bags, Aussie Jones tear down the wing, and Troy Schwarze bang home a winner against Brisbane. I’d watched Robert Harvey, Nathan Burke and Lenny Hayes; Barry Hall’s winner after the siren against Hawthorn, Fraser Gehrig’s 100th goal in a season, Clint Jones run down Buddy Franklin; I’d seen Michael Gardiner come from nowhere, Nick Riewoldt’s soccer goal in the 2009 preliminary final; I’d seen a 55-point comeback, a last-minute Montagna goal, and the highlight: sharing a few lanes of bowling with Andrew Thompson, Justin Koschitzke and Justin Peckett in Moorabbin (watching elite athletes plough through my bucket of hot chips was slightly disheartening on the eve of the season but it was still a highlight).

I had ridden the St. Kilda wave since 1997 and upon reflection in the metal amalgam-coated glass, I was spat out the back witnessing 0 premierships. Regardless, on the eve of entering my 18th season as a member, despite the amount of times we have uttered profanities under our breathe to ourselves and sometimes regrettably out loud in front of families and children, there is never any doubt we’ll be walking through the gates again, daring to dream of the very best outcomes; even possibly putting our heads on our pillows at night and hoping we are the Leicester City of the AFL. We’ve witnessed the “How I Want to Be” slogans, and whilst we didn’t necessarily choose our own destiny, the first quarter has been one hell of an opening.

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.

Don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again

“Arise, Rhys Stanley, and lead us to salvation.”

So I facetiously wrote three years ago after another blonde forward and messiah-to-be, Tommy Walsh, was traded out to Sydney in the final stages of the post-2011 season trade week. Barker, Lockett, Harvey, Riewoldt, Blight, Goddard, Ross the ex-Boss – was Big Rhys next in line after Tommy’s exit? When a club has such lean team success, it’s easy to put anyone on a pedestal too quickly.

Perhaps looking for a quick fix after the GT/Ross decade had drawn to a close, Tommy Walsh presented us with a potential get-out-of-jail-free card: some tantalising performances at VFL level – VFL, yes, but he couldn’t have done more without being picked at senior level – but coming from the strongest Gaelic background in his early career, and in a season in which we physically and psychologically looked ruined and couldn’t be farked, simply bombing it uselessly to My Favourite Hair when going forward. Needless to say, Roo was typically outnumbered and even though we won nine of our last 11, I think some sort of weight was lifted from our shoulders when the final siren sounded to end the Elimination Final. But St Kilda’s Messiah Complex was never more excruciatingly present.

It wasn’t quite Scott Watters who could fulfill the desires; however it’s hard to believe that should a few minor things have gone the other way in four of the five games St Kilda lost by 13 points or less in 2012, we’d have finished in the top four (reverse all five and it’s top three). Instead we endure seasons such as 2013 and 2014, where the worst fears of the 2010 Grand Final Replay post-mortem were realised.

This was the year we officially returned to our natural habitat, anchored at the bottom of the ladder. Nature’s order has been restored. As we watch Hawthorn and Geelong continue their long-term challenges – and with the luxury of recent premierships already banked and to still enjoy – we now have to work our way from the bottom up again as we did 14 years ago.

In fact, this year marked 10 years since the juggernaut-to-be awoke after multiple seasons of assembly. In those surreal days of early 2004, footy seemed timeless. Milne, Ball, Hayes, Maguire, Koschitzke, under the guidance of Riewoldt – they were kids and they were going to guide us to all kinds of glory for an indefinite period of time. St Kilda, at last, was going to be a genuine force.

That we are now back in this position and without a premiership to show for everything put in place for a long-term challenge is a classically St Kilda outcome. We were given the chance on a platter for the second premiership, as well as any and all of the establishment of long-term on-field success, membership and the improvement of facilities. And the club dropped the lot in the most heartbreaking and emphatic ways possible.

When all of a sudden you’re scrapping to win a quarter rather than a premiership as we did in 2014, it takes some time to getting used to the thought that what you’re witnessing doesn’t mean something potentially historic. That the players you’re watching might not go down in St Kilda history as remarkable cogs of the elusive second premiership, or at the least of the path towards it.

Which brings me back to Rhys. His fits and spurts of brilliant form in 2014 had us thinking that he might just be the next big thing for us; the one with the biggest presence on the ground; St Kilda fans anticipating his involvement from a kick ahead as we do with Roo. Rhys suffered a little from David Armitage Syndrome – poised for a breakout season every year, but he only made frustratingly incremental progress with a relatively anticlimactic ceiling becoming fast apparent.

But as the trade period is wont to do in the ultra-modern era, the Big Rhys Bandwagon had taken off down the Highway for the Cattery. Those glimpses mean nothing now (for us, anyway). The Herculean efforts in the wins against Essendon and Fremantle are purely to service what may or may not happen for him in blue and white hoops.

There’s a couple of points in all of this. The first is that others will also fall by the wayside as we endeavour to make it out of the homeland and find better territory, and this is what periods that 2014 represent are equally notable for. Shenton, Curren, Minchington; will they turn out to be the Begley, Beetham and Davis of this generation? How much of this year will we actually remember in a decade from now?

The other is itself two-fold. A key (and necessary) part of this period is the club selling that we will actually reach those better times. The best way to do that right now is to put on show and talk up the young guys and their potential, and that goes into turbo mode when you have the number one pick at the National Draft. Once that was clear, the St Kilda Messiah Complex was back in fashion in a big way.

By proxy, another crossroad in our meagre history was reached, with apparently a one-sided, two-horse race finishing against the majority’s . Once Sam McClure turned everyone’s opinions and predictions on their head on the Monday of trade week saying Patrick McCartin would be taken by us at pick one, it was easy to raise Ball-Judd comparisons from the 2001 Draft.

I get the feeling that people are pre-emptively disappointed in McCartin because he’s a number one draft pick and a key forward, but not one quite of Nick Riewoldt’s presence nor overall talent. They’re actually both 193cm, but Paddy won’t be affecting games in as many parts of the ground and as often as Roo. He also doesn’t have the blonde hair.

Hugh Goddard does have the blonde hair, but it’s his name alone gets people more excited. We’ve seen positive glimpses already from Billings, Dustan and Eli from the 2013 draft alone. Add to that Newnes, who is looking all of captaincy material without dominating games in the way a Selwood or a Hodge do. This feels like a much more evenly-spread rebuild – Spencer hype notwithstanding (watch blow right out if he brings back the topknot) – and speaks to the “champion team vs. team of champions” debate fought out with Geelong through the aughts, which the Cats comprehensively won over several years.

Late in the final public training session before the 2010 Grand Final, Ross Lyon was coming off the ground. Someone near the old Moorabbin wire race called out to enthusiastic cheers and applause, “Bring ‘em home, Ross”, which he gave a typically understated nod and wave to in response. Needless to say it was a poignant moment. But it also raised something that rarely as St Kilda supporters do we face. I’ve described finishing on the bottom of the ladder as being in our “natural habitat”, and as part of “nature’s order”. Of course it’s awful for us to have the entire club in this dire position after what we experienced over the past decade, and it’s something that’s very familiar to us. We understand it and can get by with it somehow. But it’s not home, and in this year more than any did we realise that. Home is somewhere we don’t know nearly well enough.

Once again, we are faced with the opportunity on and off the field to shake the St Kilda Messiah Complex once and for all, although we are a very, very long way from anywhere ideal. For now, nature’s order has us down and way out, where it’s merely about the hope that rather than just one hero lifting us off the canvas or kicking that one extra goal, that every representative of a strong St Kilda Football Club will take us home to the promised land.