2007 Posts

Same old jokes since 1873

Round 17, 2017
St Kilda 0.2, 2.6, 4.11, 7.15 (57)
Essendon 2.5, 6.10, 13.12, 17.16 (118)
Crowd: 47,156 at Etihad Stadium, Friday, July 14th at 7.50pm

Ever since I had this platform I’ve whinged about the mere prospect of playing the Bombers, and after Friday night I’ll continue to do so. They’ve always presented a challenge for us. Even when we were challenging in the mid-aughts and they were suffering a sustained struggle they still gave us all sorts of problems. It was a loss to them in mid-2005 that was the catalyst for our stirring run in the second half of the season; we squeaked past them by three points in 2006 at a sodden MCG; they knocked us off with some arsey specials in 2007. Never mind the incredible last match the of 2008 home-and-away season that saw us smash through by 108 points to finish fourth on percentage. Of course, of course, of course it was the mid-table Bombers that would hand us our first defeat in 2009 following My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s post-siren miss, and then they knocked us off twice in 2010, before a thumping early in 2011 that really signalled our post-Gand Finals comedown.

I remember leaving the ground after that 2009 loss thinking that despite the loss, we finally looked like a club that might shirk those moments. That “it won’t matter so much in six weeks”. I remember those specific words running through my head. But here we are.

Sure, we’d accounted for them over the past three years in varying degrees, but the Bombers are now back to playing the fast footy that has troubled us regardless of ladder positions for…ever. It could be this week, it could be last decade, or it could be the league’s maiden season of 1897. Zero prizes for guessing who the premiers and wooden spooners were that year. Their culture of arrogance, aggression and success is entirely at odds with our own. “The past never dies”.

That’s not to say that’s what last night was all about. The Bombers have knocked off some quality teams – Port and West Coast comprehensively, and the Cats. They’ve come close to GWS and Richmond, and had the Swans and Lions fall through their fingers in recent weeks.

Because of that – as well as the aforementioned historical aspect – I hadn’t been this fucking nervous going to game for a long time. Arguably the most even season in VFL/AFL history and the essential cliche of “one week at a time” be damned. The media is growing tired of talking teams up or down, but after four wins the interrobang of Richmond game a few sneaky hopes for 2017 might have crept into the periphery of our minds. We were due a close game at the Corporate Dome television set too.

On the Friday morning Billings had the feature article in The Age, which is probably not a good thing. I remember Robert Walls’ write up of Brent Guerra in the same paper after he’d kicked seven in our Round 9 thumping of West Coast in 2004. We were 9-0 and looked to have the perfect compliment to Milne mopping up after the G-Train, My Favourite Hair in the AFL, Hamill and Kosi, not to mention being raging flag favourites. Guerra was never the same again (but of course played in a premiership…with another club. Twice.). On the same day, in the same paper, Jake Carlisle got a write up too ahead of his 100th game his old club, so it promised to be a big day for him, just like it was for author Wayne Carey with the announcement of Simon Lethlean and Richard Simkiss being forced to resign etc. etc. etc. See how easy that shit is? I’m sure a few St Kilda schoolgirl jokes got a run this week with the selection of St Kilda schoolboy Josh Battle.

So we opened with our first goalless quarter of the year. The opening few minutes gave me the same impression those of our first Sydney game did this year – we’re not switched on. It was last week inverted – the Bombers had more numbers at each contest and running for each other. They set up quickly enough to at least worry us out of the kick into the middle from half-back to open up the game, and when they had the ball off half-back they pulled players wide and kept space open in the middle for that kick that opens the game up. The quality of disposal was on display, too.

There were a few things in those early moments that we could worry about in isolation. Are we missing the option of Membrey going forward? Are we missing Webster’s disposal off half-back? Will we be able to catch them coming off two six-day breaks if this keeps going? And, miraculously, are we missing Billy Longer?

The bluntness of Richo in the post-match press conference was itself an accurate reflection of the performance. None of the above mattered. No intent, no DARE® Iced Coffee with ball. Despite finding himself again in the stepladder role, Carlisle was the only one who looked like he was on a mission. He actually had a few kicked on him by Daniher, but I’m not going to blame him too much for that. It wasn’t just that we were beaten so badly across the ground that the delivery to Joe was of decent quality, it’s also that Joe’s becoming so good now he’s the type of player you almost just concede will kick a few when they run out.

But no one else turned up. Carlisle’s good-time media buddy Billings was missing, Ross was quiet, Steele was a no-show and Steven was vaguely present as Merrett and Zaharakis went bananas in the head-to-head, again, an inversion on the previous week, this time of the Cotchin and Martin match-ups. Jobe’s absence was negligible.

Essendon’s poor kicking at goal kept us in it for a time, but through the second term the gulf in intent and class widened. They hit harder and got lower and it took Carlisle’s presence in the air out of the contest. Brilliant passes to Joe and a slick finish from Zaharakis at the St Kilda cheer squad end were damning, as up the other the Essendon fans ensured the dynamic of the Corporate Dome-style faux sell-out was based around the Bombers. When Newnes missed an easy set shot at their end it became an Essendon home match. When St Kilda showed they’d decided to keep going with the post-match interview with a player on the stadium screen even after a loss, and specifically after the other team’s song had played, and then had the ground announcer say “Go Saints!” before Essendon’s song started again, we looked stupid.

We’d prided ourselves in recent weeks on keeping North to 2.6 at half-time and then Richmond to 1.4. On Friday night we were 2.6 at the main break ourselves. We were up 92 to 10 against the Tigers at half-time and didn’t even end up doubling their score. Essendon were 3.9 during the second quarter but took themselves to 6.10 by the siren and more than doubled ours by the end.

Where was…anyone? I had to ask myself again standing around in the members’ section on level 2, which was flat as fuck compared to six nights earlier. Bruce had marked and turned on the 50-metre arc for a great G-Train goal but that was where it began and ended. There wasn’t even any vaguely interesting inane chat from coming through in the direct audio feed from the broadcaster’s ad breaks, which we’re privy to in toilets of The Doorman. It’s the kind of useless garbage you don’t think about during the week until you actually hear it.

Hickey’s hit-out straight to Green in the last few seconds of the half for an easy Bombers goal was probably where the whole thing was at. It’s hard to say “Longer has finally won”, because Hickey was coming back into the team after three months, including a knee injury, and in a week where no one else decided to run out either. I genuinely felt bad for Trickey running around out there, though. Kind of bemused and infuriated, sure. Peak Longer was something we’d never thought we’d see but if Billy doesn’t come back in next week then I hope they give Trickey another shot. Watching him get shoved around in the ruck, miss an easy shot at goal and walk into the path of Carlisle’s lead, and be outmarked by Bellchambers in the goal square in front of Essendon’s cheer squad felt like we might have been watching someone’s career be extinguished in two hours of footy. I really, really, hope it’s not the case. Holmes has registered 62 hit-outs and 57 in recent weeks but we’d be looking at a Longer-style ruck purposes-only player.

Meanwhile, up the other end Josh Battle was heading towards a Will Johnson-type debut (sans concussion), or perhaps even Jackson Ferguson given he’d been called up in the same week as a pantsing. I’d duly melted on Wednesday night when a tweet with some inside info came through saying the other, other JB – My New Favourite Player – would be making his debut this week. Just minutes later, the club confirmed as much on the site. His first goal showed he could at least kick straight when just about no-one else could. I wouldn’t be totally down on him coming out this week – given he’s still finishing school this was one more game than I expected him to play. Brett Thomas pointed out during the week that he was the first school student debutant for the club since John Georgiou, which is great historically, but also very not great historically. However, Georgiou’s time with the Saints did give us some quintessential 1990s Australian television feature journalism.

Bringing in Marshall surely has to be on the cards this week. Even if Hickey plays again, he can bring in support for the forwards and as well relief ruck duties, and keeping in mind Richo noted he was elevated to the senior list during the week more so to cover for height in the backline. Carlisle ended up going forward as it was and didn’t look out of place, but that’s more of a contingency place.

I use the term “My New Favourite Player” for Josh Battle with trepidation. “My Favourite Player” was Arryn Siposs, but unfathomably my support alone was unable to take him to the heights I was hoping he’d reach as a roaming half-forward. He and his family were massive Saints supporters, too. It seemed to fit. For a time he was genuinely a bright spot in the cold, dark fall-out following the 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals. Instead, names like Siposs, as well as Simpkin, Murdoch and Curren have joined those of Murray, Wulf, Beetham and Moyle from that last generation; those that gave some moments of genuine optimism for the years ahead, but were never quite a part of the serious challenges. Hopefully my ill-structured, convoluted ramblings can make Josh Battle the superstar cult hero his name alone suggests he could be.

Before the game it was nice to think Mav, Membrey, Webster, Armitage, Longer (?), Dunstan, Acres, Goddard, McCartin and to a lesser extent Minchington and Wright weren’t out there. The depth is building slowly, but it’s the trend line you need to look at. If the team isn’t psychologically switched on and isn’t working to provide a weight of numbers across the ground, or take the game on with the ball in hand, I don’t think Richo himself can do much more until we trade for or draft in some more class and quality. Otherwise, we’re hoping for some Seb Ross-style development from a bunch of guys. We’ve seen it happen in a few guys this season already, namely Billings, Sinclair and Roberton, but we’ll need more of it before we can slice our way across the ground, peak-Hawthorn style.

Given the type of season it is, of course it’s easy to get carried away with the next 11 weeks and feel like might be a chance of snatching premiership if we could only just scrape into the eight. That might be true, The list of guys playing for Sandy and the type of performance we turned in was a reminder that this group is still developing, let alone incomplete given our strong hand going into the trade and draft periods this year.

That didn’t change the sting of the loss immediately afterwards. We would have been sitting in the top four at the end of the night – as we should have been the previous Saturday night – had we won. Instead we were reminded what it was like to lose a game that genuinely meant something in the context of the season. It had been a long time. Welcome back to that disappointment.

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.

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

St Kilda and Fremantle: The Bizarre Rivalry

Edit: This post has had an “update” with a couple of additional minutiae, in Grand Final Week of 2013, here.

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.

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