2010 Posts

Spencer does some things; that’s pretty much it really

Round 22, 2014
Richmond 6.0, 8.3, 13.5, 15.8 (98)
St Kilda 2.2, 4.7, 5.9, 10.12 (72)
Crowd: 47,188 at the MCG, Sunday, 24th August ay 4.40pm

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As I left the MCG on Sunday night, I had a kind of junk food buzz from Spencer White’s three goals. Or perhaps the kind you get listening to Morrissey.

But the more I think about it the more clearly this was a stand-out element of the game. Partly because he finally played and actually kicked three goals, but also partly because come this point of the season – when all you’re playing for is to not get the number one pick – no one will remember much otherwise. I certainly can’t remember anything else.

Sunday evening, 4.40pm start, cool MCG, only a sprinkle of rain – not great circumstances for a match by any means, but it wasn’t overly bad and this one was only ever going to count for the Tigers. For me it was a chance to stamp my return to Melbourne life after three weeks visiting my parents in London. It wasn’t a long time but it was great to watch the Saints with Dad (albeit on my laptop screen); otherwise you really do feel a long way from the game when it’s summer over there (yes, they still have a summer of sorts) and the games are over by the time you’ve got your day up and going.

It was also a chance to use the MCC membership for the first time this season (the Hawks debacle fortunately one of the only Saints matches I’ve missed this year). Better late than never, although I do have nearly all of September to give it a run, too.

I sat with my brother goalside of the centre favouring the City End along with a few of his friends. It was an incredibly relaxed atmosphere (around us, anyway) and, as I’ve said before in this reviews, when the Saints are this bad the games still serve the purpose of a valued social outing with my brother. I really do get something even in sitting back and having a chat with him about the Saints and everything else (no beers this week though, being in the MCC – had to settle for the coffee).

A six-goal start to the Tigers meant yet another game this season which the Saints supporters would wait for all week, only to spend almost its entirety waiting for it to finish. Even when My Favourite Hair in the AFL kicked a lovely set shot goal from the boundary to bring us within seven points, and even though we ended up winning two out of the four quarters, I don’t think anyone at the ground felt the result was in doubt. Billy Longer’s reaction to Ben Griffiths’ early goal basically summed it up – a few minutes in and we’re already done.

It dare say it still feels strange at this time of year not going to the game with the idea that the team will be out there hunting for something serious. That the time just might be now. Instead, there were about 18 Saints supporters on hand to see not much at all.

The Lenny Hayes Farewell Tour entered its penultimate week to, I must say, what felt like little fanfare. He got a small cheer each time he received the ball, but overall it was a far cry from the Robert Harvey exit in front of 77,002 in a Preliminary Final. I know he had the home game devoted to him a few weeks ago but this was still the last time most of us would be able to see him live.

Honestly, it really did look like the players were playing for fark all. It wasn’t just a six goal start to the Tigers, but also that we didn’t look like scoring a goal.

You barely had time to sit down before Jack Riewoldt had begun resumption of regular proceedings and was on his way to taking his usual giant shit on St Kilda’s head. It was somewhere between “fitting” and “even more annoying” that half of his six goals came from arsey Geelong-style set-shot kicks from around the corner.

Armo inexplicably found the ball in traffic deep in defence and kicked it about 30 metres across goal, which my brother broke the bemused silence following with, “If you did that in the Under 12’s the coach would be pretty flat”.

This came after a Seb Ross nothing kick to Roo on a rare foray forward; a good Mav contest undone by his own poorly placed kick to Tom Curren, and then Newnes getting caught. There was a concerningly long list of “One of those days” moments.

Then the moment we’d all been waiting for – SPENCER WHITE DID A THING. A mark, and then – as often occurs – a kick, but the passage ended up with a Schneider (do we need him?) point.

It took a dubious but otherwise commendable Nathan Wright smother-tackle-handball effort to set up Shenton who atoned for his earlier miss (so he of all people ended up kicking both our first behind and goal). Strangely, it was the start of a chain of four goals which should have threatened to turn the match on its head, but when the aforementioned Favourite Hair brought us within seven points I don’t think anyone was seriously considering that some sort of highly competitive Australian Rules football match was about to unfold in front of them.

So it proved. The Tigers slowed it down, held possession and worked their way to Jack. It was a sign of the maturity of a Richmond team that were storming their way to eight wins in a row, after very nearly reaching the top four last season. A couple of steadying goals for the Tigers to round out the half and they were out to a 50-point lead deep into the third term (even the half-time scoreline of 8.3 to 4.7 showed an equal number of scoring shots). If it wasn’t for Richmond taking the foot off a little and three Spencer White goals  this could have been really ugly. When the final siren went, it hardly felt like the conclusion to a match decided by “only” 26 points.

Let’s get it out of the way. Spencer White. OK. Cool. How do we feel? We should be feeling half-decent I think. He didn’t get a whole lot of the footy but he clearly made the most of things when he did. His first goal came from some nice body work to get to the drop of the ball from My Favourite Hair pushing hard up the ground and giving off to Joey. It followed a Roo kick in which, after so many times of grilling teammates after poor delivery to him in recent years (and rightfully so, might I had), the skipper spotted the first-gamer on a hard lead and gave him an absolutely dog’s balls pass. But, as the captain should, he made up for it within minutes. Spencer reciprocated and calmly kicked the goal from 30 in front with his rather lackadaisical style.

Dare I say it, but combined with the manner in which he kicked his three goals off the left with the minimal follow-through of the boot, did it not recall the great G-Train? His second and third goals, wheeling onto his left foot, instantly reminded me of the G-Train’s specialty also. Likewise, his minimal celebrations capped off the quietly confident attitude he seems to have.

The second goal I really liked because he seemed to position himself for his teammates to do the right thing by their structural expectations. Once he got the footy his opponent was quickly on his hammer but he showed some real composure to turn around and kick the goal – also note that, again, despite the minimal follow-through the kick easily went about 50 metres. The third was lucky because Mav and TC were there to spill up the mark he should have taken in the first place, but again, he atoned for it by working himself into the space and finishing.

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Certainly from the reports of his VFL appearances his ability to get to the right position offensively and defensively have been key topics. There were a few occasions he did hang a bit off the packs, but given what else we saw of him you could easily put that down to a first gamer simply being unsure if that’s what he was meant to be doing – Roo was right next to him on a couple of occasions and I think that might have confused him a little. Because it wasn’t until Roo was pushed up the ground during the third quarter that Spencer all of sudden found himself confidently leading and putting himself in good spots in attack. Although he got caught his attempted burn along the boundary in the third was a good sign, too. He clearly needs a bit more muscle and to work on his tank, but he’s also 19 and has played one game.

I think the exciting thing about this is how much more promise he’s already shown than so many of the tried and failed tall(er) forwards this club has tried since the Gehrig/Riewoldt/Hamill/Koschitzke attack of a decade ago, when the club took the step up to being a consistently strong performer. The roll call is spectacular in its disappointment – Paul Cahill, Matthew Ferguson, Tom Lynch, Fergus Watts, Beau Maister, Tommy Walsh, Justin Sweeney, Ryan Gamble, Charlie Gardiner, Will Johnson, Daniel Archer. And that’s not to mention Tom Lee, My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs, Sam Dunell and even Josh Bruce and Tom Simpkin, who we’re all still waiting on. That’s without including all the briefly-tried-and-failed experiments of Barry Brooks, James Gwilt, Zac Dawson and Sam Gilbert, and the unfortunate Jarryd Allen.

Which, of course, brings us to the Big Rhys Bandwagon, which has clearly been lost in the Spencer White Roadshow’s rearview mirror. Unfortunately, but rather predictably, apart from the obvious this game will simply fall into the unconscious regions of our St Kilda supporting lives, and Rhys was no exception. He suffered the ignominy of being subbed out of the game with fark all impact, and in all honesty I only remember two things that he did, and one didn’t even happen during the game. That was to be the last Saints player off the ground, shaking hands with the Tigers players as they broke from their guard of honour. Which I thought was strange because it appeared as though Rhys of all people was representing the club in thanking the Tigers after their admirable show of respect to Lenny.

The other was actually a positive – Billy Longer, still quite fresh from his slightly overhyped and ultimately unsatisfying Schneiderman appearance, put in a softish effort going back with the footy just forward of centre wing, and Rhys came in with a big tackle on Billy’s opponent and then went in for a bit of push and shove immediately after. So, you ask, where the hell is that throughout the rest of the game? After the Fremantle game we were all jumping around celebrating the official arrival of Big Rhys, and after some of his form earlier this year you might have been forgiven for thinking that he’d played enough games to know how to recapture and then maintain that form. But this club doesn’t forgive, and it will let us down some way, somehow. For now, we’re just left with another question mark.

Question marks aplenty, really. Writing a report at this time of year is hard to morph into simply a season review for whoever I mention. I was just about to bring up Cam Shenton but what am I going to say that’s any different to what I’m going to say about him next week? Or in the season wrap faff we’ll no doubt produce throughout September? Well, he kicked our first goal and first behind through some hard running, and also took a nice contested mark on the wing which led to Roo’s goal from the boundary.

Nathan Wright’s game has similarities but I think Wright has a better head on his shoulders. He hits the contest harder and he’s probably more reliable structurally and with the ball in hand. Who comes out for Savage? What about Webster? Has Brodie Murdoch shown enough? Is Farren Ray still playing regularly when that time comes? Again, all questions on a more macro level, relevant to 2015 and beyond rather than next week.

It meant nothing really but it was at least nice to see the players gave enough of a shit – even if only for their own careers – to kick five goals to two in the final term. The Tigers fans had been singing their song for nearly 20 minutes by the time the final siren sounded.

It had also been some time since the throng of supporters around the St Kilda race had begun growing so fans could get their last glimpse in the flesh of Lenny in his St Kilda jumper. Like his most famous moment and most famous performance, it was in the St Kilda clash jumper – albeit a slightly different version – on the MCG. But Lenny was clearly embarrassed by the attention. He’ll never walk off the MCG a St Kilda premiership player. Indeed, he walked off the MCG on Sunday with St Kilda staring at its 27th wooden spoon. Whatever the task, however, there was still some hard work ahead. And before the memories could come flooding back, he was gone.

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

Kosi and I

I think I always followed Kosi a little more closely from the start.

I was always aware at a young age of what was seen as “mainstream” and “alternative” (when your mind works that simply and reductively), and I always leaned a little to the latter. Kosi was just that, relative to the chart topping My Favourite Hair in the AFL.

As number 1 pick and with the eye-catching blonde hair (indeed, as mentioned every week, My Favourite Hair-t0-be) Roo’s talent and impact felt a bit more of a given. Kosi, even though he was a pick number 2, went under the radar a little. He did win the Rising Star Award in 2001 at centre half-back, but he was always the underdog after he missed most of 2002 and Roo took out the Rising Star Award himself.

Our paths crossed (very loosely) in the pre-season of 2003. My family received a letter from the club to say my brother and I were off to Moorabbin Bowl to go ten-pin bowling alongside a few other junior members with a whole lot of Saints players. I still can’t remember why exactly we found ourselves in that situation; the first thing my memory fills in that blank with is “raffle”, although my brother and I obviously wouldn’t have both been drawn by chance, so either one of us won this raffle (no idea when or where it was held) and the club threw in the other one of us, or some kid members were just chosen at random – i.e., they didn’t bother with the whole “pulling something out of a hat/barrel” thing. I don’t think Mum kept those letters we got, so I’ll probably never know.

I was awkward and shy (and pimply) as all hell, not yet turned 15. I remember walking up Nepean Highway to the venue with mum and my brother beside myself with nerves. As always, I’d taken utmost care before we left to make sure my hair looked half-decent. A strong wind was blowing and by the time I caught my reflection in the automatic doors of Moorabbin Bowl the wind had blown my hair straight up and the gel (it was 2003) had set. I looked ridiculous. Cue enormous blushing (I hadn’t even met the players yet) and a quick dash to the bathrooms to get things sorted.

No sign of the players from where we were. In my head I thought we’d probably got the day wrong, or this was some elaborate joke on us. Seriously, why the hell would we be bowling with St Kilda players? (As per the above paragraph, technically I still don’t know the answer to that.) I was a pessimist from an early age and as we stood there looking around I was already building myself up for a mixture of disappointment and (more) embarrassment.

But no, I was wrong. The person behind the counter pointed us to the end lanes, and over there I could see some guys wearing polos amongst a smattering of red, white and black. They were there, and for whatever freak reason, we were meant to be over there too.

We were the first ones to arrive, so it was a little more daunting as all of the players looked over to just Matt and I as we approached. There was Nathan Burke, Stephen Powell, Andrew Thompson, Max Hudghton, Justin Peckett and, of course, Kosi.

The PR girl pointed me over to the seats next to Kosi and told me I was in his lane. I walked over and plonked myself down.

“Hi, what’s your name?”

“Tom.”

“I’m Justin,” he said warmly.

“I know,” I said, and smiled shyly. I genuinely said “I know” facetiously, but I’m not sure if that was noticeable through my radioactive blushing.

I didn’t have much to say at all that afternoon, really. I was too worried about making an idiot out of myself, so this isn’t one of those stories where I say “Yeah we spoke for ages about some bullshit”. But Kosi sensed that I was a bit spun out and he kept trying to bring me into things. I think my blushing nearly took the place into meltdown when he said to me about a girl in my lane, “”What about Claire? I think she’s alright”. Even with the (deliberately) cheesy stuff, he really did go out of his way to make me feel comfortable. It made being in that space comfortable and enjoyable.

But it was Matt that the players really liked of the 10 or 15 of us that were there. He had just turned 12 and he’s always been a “people person”. He was a bit more chatty and I remember his lanemates Thompson and Powell looking at each other after he’d cracked a bit of a gag. They liked him. In fact, it traversed lanes – he probably spoke more with Kosi than I did.

(I was actually surprised at how high the player to kid ratio was, but I think they might have genuinely enjoyed heading out for a bit of bowling on a pretty grey weeknight.)

A few weeks later it was Round 1 of the season and the Saints were away to the Kangaroos at the MCG. Kosi was out, though, and was spending the game in the coaches box with GT et al. The ground’s redevelopment had begun, with the Ponsford Stand levelled, but the old coaches’ boxes on the MCC wing were still in use. At half-time, GT and the staff had to come down to the field and walk along the boundary line towards the old players’ race near the Punt Road end.

Matt and I had been sitting close to the fence in the MCC, and I noticed Kosi in the group as they walked past our seats. He was just habitually scanning the crowd and saw Matt and I and, amongst GT and all the staff, yelled out to us.

“G’day Tommy and Matty, how’s the bowling going?” he said, accompanied with the bowling arm gesture.

I think I stood there blushing and smiling. I had trouble enough just talking to him face to face a few weeks earlier without having to scream at him over the fence and catch everyone’s attention (let alone yell out something not awkward). My brother just stood there as well, but I doubt he blushed.

I still can’t believe he did that. As just a 20 year-old, he could have raised the ire of the coaches for looking a little unprofessional, but amongst the senior staff he still went out of his way to do that. The thought of it now makes me want to tear up, for how good it made an awkward and self-doubting kid feel.

A whole eighteen weeks later – over four months later – Matt, his friend Nick and I were standing outside the rooms after the Saints had celebrated Nathan Burke’s last game  with 80-point drubbing over Richmond (it was also the first Heritage Round, and saw the rebirth of the candy stripe jumper). Kosi eventually walked out of the room and Nick caught his attention.

“Hey Kosi, do you remember these guys?” and he pointed to Matt and I.

“Yeah, bowling!” Kosi said, and he did the bowling gesture again.

I’m not writing this as a “OMG THIS HAPPENED TO ME” thing. I am a bit, but this is more about the fact that I always hoped that little bit more that Kosi would find what seemed to be his destined place alongside My Favourite Hair in the annals of St Kilda history. There were times when it looked set to happen. Round 14, 2005 at the MCG saw a brilliant, spiteful game against the Bulldogs that claimed Roo as a scalp with a collarbone injury for the second time that season. Kosi stepped into the role as key mobile forward, and in Roo’s subsequent absence was handed the captaincy. As we all know, he put in a sensational several weeks of footy that saw him become arguably the most dangerous player in the competition, but after a quad injury in the “Whispers in the Sky” match against Freo on the eve of the finals and the Giansiracusa head clash in 2006, he never played at that level of footy, nor that consistently again.

That perhaps is a bit harsh on the 48 goals he kicked in a great 2009 season, but it was well and truly in the “other” forward role, and in only a couple of games did he truly present a mobile threat to the opposition. It felt he was ultimately the beneficiary of the good work of those further up the ground. Even in another Grand Final year, in 2010, his output dipped to just 30 goals and decidedly less of a presence way from goal.

I really did hope Kosi and Roo would be the leading lights when the Saints won that second flag. Kosi was the victim of expectation, some of which came from being the number 2 draft pick, and some of which he created himself in that short run in 2005 and then throughout 2009. Life can take you to all sorts of places because of and despite expectations, as a player and as a fan. As a fan, I head to tomorrow’s game to enter a time in which I know, because it’s in my past, how Kosi turned out. I will miss him dearly.