Round 4, 2015
St Kilda 5.3, 8.6, 10.8, 12.9 (81)
Carlton 1.2, 6.4, 12.9, 18.13 (121)
Crowd: 12,125 at Westpac Stadium, Saturday, April 25th at 1.10pm NZST
When you’re back at bottom of the shit heap you’re reminded about it in myriad ways.
In our case, we can even go to another country in which no one should know of our woeful, woeful history but we’ll still get found out.
Last year the New Zealand experiment featured a crowd of 13,409, down exactly 9,137 from the previous year.
That match saw us put in what would classically be described as a piss-weak performance, against a team that was 0-5 and in a game which presented a huge opportunity to go 4-2 (not that it really would have done that much for the rest of the season, let’s be honest), and after all the pre-match hype both here and locally, by the end of the night the venture was looking like this.
This year we apparently got to 12,125, and that might have been affected by two slop teams playing on a weekend which wasn’t padded out by a public holiday either side, but for the second year running the takeaway is we haven’t won a game in our apparently second home – now from three attempts – and we’ve again lost to a winless team.
You can have the annual Shane Savage Week, you can have a TV spot brazenly plugging the Saints in front of the opposing captain – or puff pieces with high-profile players of an opposing code, and you can personally give the locals a skills session, whatever. The $500,000 that Wellington tip in to the club for the game each probably doesn’t need that many people there for the broader local economy to get more back, but for the foreseeable future this game isn’t getting any bigger.
Look, you could look at the fixturing for this one and say, well, the AFL has given us a team that is probably a good chance to be the home of Darcy Parish come November, and given us a good chance to give the travelling fans, and any locals who got tickets thrust into their faces whilst they were minding their business during the week, a win in New Zealand on Anzac Day.
I don’t know, but in the long run sending two dodgy sides in a row to contend with our total dog’s balls-ness isn’t going to help in a “market” (welcome to Gold Coast & GWS-era basic, undisputed terminology) in which it’s not just about bringing a good “product” (fuck you Demetriou et al), but an actual “showcase” of said “product”. For as long as we’re going to be rebuilding/incompetent/whatever, we’re going to be letting that down by totally not holding up our own end.
Something decent at least after last week would be a start from every point of view, but fuck a duck I don’t know how much longer the NZ novelty factor will last for the crowds until we’re decent. There’s been some vague talk that this will be a permanent fixture (until the contract runs out, of course), so at best it will be treading water for the rest of it given where we are.
By then, I’m not sure how unique the game will actually be. Everyone’s probably been a little scared off by the crunch scheduling for this year given it’s on a Saturday, but it’s something that happens every few years so everyone calm the fuck down about it. The thing here is that Melbourne and Richmond are eyeing off the Anzac Day Eve timeslot, and over 58,000 there last night bodes well, considering Melbourne’s only going to get better and [insert Melbourne supporters turning up joke here]. Phil Davis also (probably under Head of Communications’ orders) just eased the prospect GWS-Gold Coast game also becoming an annual fixture into the media frame, and I’m sure the AFL would love that.
The New Zealand fixture for myself has always presented a few difficulties in terms of actually seeing the game. in 2013 I was in Cambodia with Mum and Dad, and whilst the Australia Channel had the Collingwood-Essendon game as part of its four weekly broadcast games, there was not a backpackers’ pub in site, even in the whitest of of touristy districts, that was showing the St Kilda-Sydney game. I ended up listening to the first half with the parents out of my iPhone at a bar over some rude cocktails, and then back at the hotel Dad and I watched the second half on a low-quality, totally not absolutely not very not legal stream of the game. Last year, my brother and I couldn’t find something similar but of decent quality enough and it was the iPhone again – this time via the hastily-subscribed AFL Live app – that gave me the early non-action, and we went up the street from his house past Sportscover to the Elsternwick where we watched arguably the most disappointing performance of the year.
This time, we decided to vaguely pre-plan things via a series of text messages close to 11pm, after I’d been in bed and slept for nearly two hours. We quickly found out the Anzac Day public holiday trading laws weren’t very conducive to the morning start so we ended up in Oakleigh at dear cousin Evan’s for some morning coffees and lagers and Red Rock Deli chips. Really not sure about the AFL’s approach to this game considering those trading laws and the fact this game remains stuck on Fox Footy – which a huge majority of people don’t have – and, uh, in a different country.
So fortunately Matt and I could rely on Evan and the family’s hospitality, and most importantly, Fox Footy connection. The brilliance of Melbourne’s public transport system meant we got there right on the start for Jarryn Geary’s debut as captain. With no My Favourite Hair in the AFL and Joey playing, the structure and inside work would be tested again after the dismal failure of last week.
Of course, we weren’t confronted with the scenario that Roo’s genuine late withdrawal gave us last week, which was essentially throw out our structural planning for the week less than an hour before the game. That Paddy came in was great, although depending on which forum called Saintsational you might read Josh Bruce wasn’t feeling too flash, to go with the fact that neither play the kind of footy that could cover Roo’s now roaming role.
However I think, perhaps ironically, that for Paddy’s statistical return of five touches he actually looked far more comfortable there yesterday, and gave showed us what he’d been sold on in the lead-up to the draft: he covered more ground more thoughtfully, was more physical when it came to marking contests, moved through traffic better and was cleaner down low than in his rushed debut. I don’t know about drawing the link between him being subbed off and our structure overall going to absolute arse, but in his second game as a big guy with a lot of responsibility for how the team set-up I’m not going to fault him too much.
The warning signs of the other side of the structural deficiencies were there from early on. This one’s more about application but once the Blues were over the first wave of pressure across our half-forward line is was down to them to screw things up for themselves. It was a similar pattern the previous week; after the decent start things opened up and in the end the 40-point margin reflected just how much the Blues sliced us open after we were out to a 26-point lead in the second quarter. The possession count reflected that too – 375 to a paltry 308.
The thing was, we were switched on in the first quarter and a half that the high pressure ploy really worked. It made Jack Steven’s good running and pocket banana opener and Sinclair’s really composed finish on the angle look extra sharp. Bruce’s dinky kick on the line was a replica of his sixth on the Gold Coast a fortnight earlier so the good vibes were there, but the second quarter difficulties seen in the two losses were still something to overcome.
It was perhaps incumbent on Membrey to play a more prominent role across half-forward, but eight touches – albeit with some pretty decent fend-offs and good urgency thrown in – and no scoreboard presence really doesn’t do his place in the side any favours. Fortunately for him Roo is no certainty at all to play next week, Paddy would probably be the first one to come out and Spencer is doing fark all for Sandy right now (and anything Tom Lee is doing is at the other end of the ground). I’m absolutely not writing him off, and like Paddy he might look a lot better with Roo straightening things up as well (we know he’s made impact with that set-up already). Yesterday was only his fifth game and he would have been better off spending the last two years playing in the EFL if he wanted to be primed for senior footy.
So, as it should have been expected, the first 100 seconds of play in the second quarter saw Carlton take the ball out of the centre twice for two goals. Soon after Jack Steven totally butchered a forward 50 entry on the rebound the Blues went straight back for Henderson to already have three on the board.
The deft move by Bruce to meet the ball at the top of the fifty, hold off the close handball and wait the extra second to give to Billings runnings past for the lovely running goal was probably the classiest we looked all day. Billings is still getting there obviously, but this moment was a timely reminder of why he was a pick 3.
Bruce didn’t dominate again but he kicked two goals, which means his return so far has been a healthy 2, 6, 2 and 2. Again, like Membrey and pre-emptively McCartin (for the short-term), he would be the beneficiary of Roo running around nearby or higher up; he certainly affected general play more with him in the side, apparent illness notwithstanding; and last week was probably not a good time to be wearing the white shorts and mostly-white clash jumper.
I’ll faff around with the subject more in my entirely unanticipated next volume of St Kilda Jumper Talk over the next week, but I thought this year’s New Zealand jumpers looked pretty good, if a bit busy. Not sure if they’re trying to build a theme with the red being essentially the bottom third of the jumper on the front and back over this year and last, with black panels either side of the middle white panel on the upper part. I think it’s a really mean look, and is basically a hybrid of the home jumper tri-panel and the hot-cross bun jumper.
It was the kind of day in which Billy Longer was having an impact around the ground. And by that I mean it was a weird day. He ended up with 20 possessions but already the game had turned enough to the point we were sitting there thinking if him being in our better players was a good thing or not. Billy got in on the pressure act and took some nice intercept marks across half-forward, and would venture back a couple of times to have a presence there also. A few hurried kicks when he found the footy in general play I think had to do more with him totally not being used to being near the ball at a stoppage. Either way, 20 touches might reflect one of the first real steps we see him take.
The umpires were letting just about everything go for some reason, but they did it so consistently it was genuinely enjoyable to see a bit of physicality in the game not taking away from its ebbs and flows. Perhaps the umpires were told to keep things flowing on the smaller field, and it worked whatever the motivation. But when Carlton busted down to their forward line for Liam Jones to have an easy shot at goal and then miss, I knew I couldn’t trust anyone out on that field to not pull out something dog’s balls through the second half or at a vital point late in the game – whether it be the umpires letting their guard down, Liam Jones or Billy Longer.
By half-time we could barely get past halfway with a decent possession, and the second half really is just a blur of party pies, Oscar sitting next to my head on the couch, beer and novelty soft drink (Schweppes’ “Fruit Tingler”, obviously named to evade copyright infringement, was actually OK). That Jack Lonie was the classiest thing that happened for us in that second half speaks volumes of Jack’s own talent and our own inconsistency.
I like the style of footy Richo is trying to get us to play, and we’ve seen it work at times very well this year. But whilst this team is young and we’re still sorting out the proverbial from the proverbial, when it drops off it’ll get ugly. Lonie’s pressure turned over the ball twice in the same short passage early in the third, ultimately ending up with a great kick from Billings to Bruce for an early goal, and when he bobbed up out of nowhere to win the ball and then found himself down the chain snapping a goal around the corner through traffic – with kind assistance from the bounce – all of a sudden we were lucky to be 14 points out. But then he kicked across goal and Andrejs Everitt duly accepted the gift and the Blues were up and about. They made sure Lonie knew about it and they didn’t look back.
Sure, there was Newnes giving Murphy a nice lovetap (more out of frustration I think in the relatively foreign and ineffective role), and Geary just pressing his head into the turf as well, but they came after Geary put in a soft effort going for a mark and Murphy was the one who really showed a captain’s qualities. Sure it was nice for Geary to be captain for the week, but there a few clangers in his game and based on admittedly a very small sample size I don’t think he’s quite the next in line.
It’s easy to criticise the backline but when our midfield is getting smashed or the forward press is breaking down far too easy then they’re going to have an unlimited supply to defend. The glaring part here is that guys like Dempster, Fisher, Gilbert and Ray probably can’t take up that many spots in the backline for much longer. Yes, we need to have the stability down there for a bit, but it’s one area that really is up in the air as far as the transition to youth goes. Goddard, Acres, Lee maybe, and Webster really need to start playing more often, and it’s fair to say Acres and Webster have certainly done enough to demand a senior spot very soon. They’ve shown natural smarts and pinpoint disposal, which is the kind of thing we’ll need with this style of footy. Roberton has improved on last year but I still think Shenton is ultimately a depth player at best.
So after a couple of quick Double-Coated Tim Tams and some Miced Volvos, it was back out into the cold and slight rain, to trek back across the city with most of the bleak afternoon left and already a St Kilda loss to show for our Saturday. Fortunately, there was some remarkable Australian Rules football to be broadcast still to come.
When St Kilda returns to its natural state, by definition it means clubs are inherently raised that little bit more, as well as getting the opportunity to showcase that domination no matter where they sit in their own journey. Take the winless Blues as the perfect example – holders of the greatest ever all-time wins-to-losses gap over an opponent (us of course), and with a list that’s possibly the worst of any – their sixth-gamer Patrick Cripps gathered 33 disposals and laid 11 tackles; Tom Bell barged his way to four goals after 22 across four seasons, and Lachie Henderson decides to kick five in one his occasional good performances, typically reserved for who else?
How do you keep selling this to a city in a foreign country? How many times can you try? “We’ve been successful here only once from 142 attempts; zero out of three isn’t so bad”? The idea is OK, but whether or not it’s successful really depends on what the AFL want and what the club want; we might be happy to just keep pocketing the money. The fact is until Corporate Stadium is in the AFL’s ownership and we’re not the League’s stress ball, we’ll need those dollars.