AFL Posts

Messrs February

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The intra-club is always an unusual exercise. If your forwards fire that could just highlight a gaping hole in your defence. If one midfield dominates it suggests a lack of depth, and if your defence play well then everyone would blame Paddy. But the weather was nice and I’m a poor student who couldn’t afford to do anything better, so I went anyway. And after AFLX (put it in the bin) what could actually be worse?

I parked my car out in the proverbial back paddock (a strange sign that people still support this club) and attempted to cast my most biased intra-club eye. My initial thoughts were that RSEA Park actually resembled an establishment where a professional sporting team might reside, however I feel as though a giant St Kilda shield should be plastered on the exterior to be seen from the playing deck (after listening to the Saints Insider Podcast this might still be on the way).

From inside, the set-up is fresh and clean. One of the large LED screens had a pixel issue but this was still a long way from the stale beer-carpet smell we all once enjoyed. With new people working inside the set-up, Ratten, Lade, Slater and Bassett (and still Lethlean to an extent), you could sense the optimism and the thirst from the fans for a fresh slate.

It was touted as a family fun day, however a few highly audible expletives starting with “f” and ending with “k” from a disgruntled ruckman put that to a quick and fast end. Already more passion shown for the entirety of 2018 (fist pump). The first-half appeared to be a St Kilda team taking on a Zebras team (plus Blake Acres). Billings, Gresham, Steele, Membrey, Hannebery, Steven, Webster, Carlisle and Long all sat out so some polish wasn’t quite there. Armitage didn’t play (for excellent reasons) and I couldn’t remember if he was still an AFL player (following a quick Google search it turns out he is).

Wearing last year’s light green training jumpers, the Zebras team (as we affectionately referred to them) didn’t do your eyes any favours. Trying to make out what number they had on their backs while competing with the sun glare was a tricky exercise, but pre-seasons aren’t meant to be easy or else everybody would be doing them, right?

VERY loud pop-music from 2016 played in between breaks, and this limited the capacity to express any thoughts to your counterparts.

Josh Battle has assumed cult status quickly and the Moorabbin faithful took a further liking to him, gushing over his seamless transition into the back half. He did look natural, however time playing on Bailey Rice probably helped his cause aerially. New recruit Matthew Parker was the other who had fans frothing. He kicked a few goals and immediately assumed “don’t mess with me” status with his tough-guy tatts, as opposed to AFLX winner and Gatorade Gamechanger® Tim Membrey’s skater-guy tatts. We want him to play Round 1.

I’m somewhat surprised (respectfully of course) Ben Dixon maintained his post as goalkicking guru post-2018. The goalkicking was still mediocre, both from the spot and in open play. In his defence I’m not sure how many of the players he is working closely with in his reduced role were actually playing. Good luck to Ben with his endeavours at the club.

Paddy was putting his head in dangerous places as he always does. He sprayed a few kicks around the ground but was fit and lively and found a lot of the footy, and break-out year may be written in the tea-leaves. He got angry in the final quarter; the entries into the forward 50 were sloppy and he was man-handled by Darragh Joyce and received no assistance from the umpires and made sure he had a word with them. Overall, he made a solid impact and looked as comfortable as we’ve seen him (minus the helmet, which does not look comfortable).

Bruce played a typical Bruce game, kicked a FEW goals, jagged a FEW marks but didn’t finish off quite a few of his marks after doing all the hard work. Blake Acres’ cause wasn’t helped by his selection on the Zebras team in the first half as the opposition won the majority of the clearances and controlled the play.

The ruck stocks are lean. Resident LARPer and former Pokémon GO enthusiast Billy Longer didn’t play, so he had a similar impact around the ground to when he does play. Rowan Marshall was at the contest but was a little slow getting rid of the ball and the opposition caught him out a few times. The Prospect strikes me as the 14-year-old kid in juniors who hasn’t fully grown into his body yet, and who has upside if he doesn’t pursue other interests. Lewis Pierce looked ok and showed emotion, while Equal-Tallest Player Ever Sam Alabakis is still learning.

Dean Kent assumed the Mav Weller role incredibly well by playing “okish”, we need to see more of him. We liked Hunter Clarke and we liked Luke Dunstan, Robbie Young had a turn of foot, no certainty to see him debut though.

Overall, an ok day. The biggest plot twist was the players doing run-throughs after the game that they didn’t know were going to happen. Let’s see what happens against actual opposition out at Chirnside Park next weekend.

We’ll let you know

Round 5, 2017
St Kilda 4.1, 8.5, 12.7, 13.10 (88)
Geelong Cats 6.1, 8.3, 11.8, 19.12 (126)
Crowd: 33,884 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, April 23rd at 3.20pm

The St Kilda website ran the video feature “Love the moment: R14 2009 vs Geelong” as part of the week’s lead-in to the game.

I don’t know how people can watch this without an overwhelming sense of sadness, or why the club would put this up (intentions of the campaign aside). Yes, I understand it was a great moment but post-Grand Final Day 2009 the memory has been shat on. It’s just a reminder of how good this team was and how in typical St Kilda fashion it failed to deliver a premiership. Posting it felt a little symptomatic of a club enamoured with individual moments, individual players, and indeed, individual premierships won by individual points.

The kicking for goal against the Cats in that Grand Final cost this club the best chance to heavily reinvent itself. Given our issues in front of goal this year, posting highlights from that match as part of the build-up was probably tempting fate. But given this club’s history, you could mention almost anything and there’s a chance the club has done something wrong related to it in some way.

Since that day, Geelong has remained competitive and become an entirely different club on and off the field. They won three premierships in that era and have remained a flag threat since, barring 2015. We kicked one away one and couldn’t snatch another (not to mentioned a few failed Preliminary Finals) and we still had to literally bottom out and work our way back up. Until we do get back up, we can’t say we actually did get back up.

The spectre of that era and that Grand Final still looms large for St Kilda fans, but for Geelong fans it gave way to bigger and better rivalries; rivalries that were more relevant to clubs that win premierships and create genuine success. As we tumbled down the ladder their victories against the Saints grew in size, and that gap narrowed as we trekked further on our development path. They are truly a club that has a hold on us, symbolically and on the field. It feels as though we need to do a whole lot more than any other day to beat the Cats. Again on Sunday it proved too much.

Selection this week was headlined by the inclusion of Billy Longer for Tom Hickey, who was officially “managed”, even though Richo went on to say he would have been dropped anyway. Billy appeared to have trained his way to front of the growing ruck queue by the start of the pre-season but Trickey played his way back against the Swans in the JLT. A pantsing by Max was followed with a huge effort against the Eagles and some big tackles against the Lions, but Martin and Grundy gave more head-to-head. I think of Billy as a Lazar Vidovic reincarnate – bash and crash-type who’s there to be an enforcer rather than Hickey’s relative agility for his size – but as Rich said after the game, Billy’s gonna need to be both officially managed and officially dropped after this.

On paper he got 29 hit-outs but Jesus Christ you wouldn’t have known he was out there otherwise. One kick, seven handballs and five tackles of which zero had the force of several of Hickey’s. He just looks…slow? It was his first game for 600-plus days so you can cut him some slack, sure, but would you keep him in the team for next week? Richo’s response is the post-match presser to what he thought of Longer’s game featured a lot of pauses and half-arsed phrases about physicality and contest, i.e. “he was a large human wearing a St Kilda jumper turned up on time”.

Surely Rowan Marshall has pushed himself ahead into second place in the ruck queue behind Trickey? He and Holmes were taking photos with fans outside the ground before the bounce and Lewis Pierce was being interviewed by Tom Morris in the whatever bar it is on Level 2 at half-time. Trickey had the ignominy of finding himself on the big screen at the main break flogging some bottled water. That was probably the flattest known collective of four ruckmen by day’s end.

Before Sunday, it looked like Marshall was a sneaky chance to bound in front of all comers anyway with a few more sausages for Sandy. He’d kicked 12 goals across the practice games and followed up two goals in Round 1 with another pair on Saturday. He might even be a threat to Paddy at the minute, although Paddy kicked 3.1 and collected 10 marks and 19 possessions. Marshall kicked 2.2 and 18 touches and took eight marks.

What’s published on the club website has often been a good guide to future selection moves and Paddy’s leading this week’s VFL wrap. It also has Lindsay Gilbee saying, “We really liked the way Paddy and Marshall played together. Rowan kicked a couple of goals and worked hard for his eight marks, and we may be getting a glimpse of our future in attack there from a St Kilda point of view.” Can we call it in?

Are we at the point where dropping Josh Bruce isn’t totally outrageous yet? A missed shot from outside 50 on his own, a missed set-shot from close-range for 1.2 to go with all of 11 possessions, three marks, and three tackles. Yes, he’s in the team for reasons you can’t boil down to easy numbers like those but is he only in the team at the moment because of his height? Or is the fact that he’s unable to get a rest in lieu of second ruck duties taking away from his ability to work around the forward half of the ground?

To be fair, whilst it wasn’t as bad as other weeks but he still isn’t getting the best quality supply from further up. Of all people it was Joey who was running forward with the ball on his own at a key stage in the last quarter and simply decided to send down a loopy Joey special on top of Bruce and two other Cats; if he’d held onto the ball for a second or two longer and given Bruce a chance to work himself into a better position. What hope has Bruce got there otherwise? And would bringing in Paddy or Rowan Marshall for him make a difference if the slightly-better delivery remained the same next week? Something was obviously up when Carlisle went forward though.

He and Brown looked really competitive down back again but had their work cut out for them when the Cats’ mids ran rampant in the last. There’s only so much you can do about precise entries forward and Dangerfield kicking goals over your head from outside 50 on his wrong foot.

Strangely enough, early in the last quarter we were the more accurate of the two teams, with the scoreline reading 12.7 to 11.9. That gap between 60 metres out from goal and 10 metres just looked to have been bridged a little. Billings found the ball in third quarter as well really looked to make a move, and waited patiently and lowered his eyes rather than blazing away to the goalsquare or to an outnumbered forward and delivered beautifully to Bruce, who had been given a second to find a space to lead into. Both Acres and Newnes threw in some curve balls for the Cats’ defenders and scored goals from passaged in which they played as lead-up forwards. Seb Ross missed from a similar spot to Josh Bruce in the last quarter, just outside 50 on the run, but throw in his fantastic early goal from a similar situation at the other end and now there are players finding space around the 50-metre arc. Jack Steven and Dunstan opened the third quarter with great long-range goals after Stuv has almost created something similar in the second. He didn’t even give himself the chance to miss the shot when communications went haywire and he got mowed down.

With My Favourite Hair in the AFL having his first really tempered influence for the year and neither Bruce nor Membrey having huge contributions, it was going to be the smaller forwards and others who had to take responsibility for hitting the scoreboard. Minchington nailed a very specific triple-triple, with his third three-goal effort against the Cats from three games against them. He was the only player on the ground to kick three and he showed a whole lote more composure around goal than most this season. The third goal particularly was a good example of what a player who kick four goals and gets 28 possessions at VFL level can do; taking the ball tight in the pocket and knowing exactly where to run from a standing start to give himself the most time and space for a kick around the corner.

Gresham had a bad day. His dropped mark on the 50-metre arc in the last quarter turned into a Geelong goal, he slipped over with the footy on the wing in front of the members, his ridiculous attempt at a huge mark didn’t affect anything in the vicinity cost Ben Long his first goal in footy. His solo attempt at goal from deep in the pocket would have been spectacular if he nailed, but when it bounced wide he was rightly given a spray by Membrey who was calling for the footy by himself 15 metres in front. It seemed like he was trying a little too hard to keep up with the pace of the game, or perhaps he was trying to fill the gap left by Lonie’s omission.

The difference here is you can forgive that. Gresh earned himself a bad day – it’s part of any inexperienced player’s development, but from the start he’s shown enough composure (that word matters) and class (likewise) often to suggest not just that he will be a very good player for us, but the type of player we’re particularly lacking in. We can let this one slide.

Ben Long will probably get dropped for Sinclair but as any of the coaches or recruiters would say, he’s here for a career, not just this season. He’ll be better for the run at this level and has shown he can match it each time he goes up in grade. Sinclair surely has earned a recall – Sandy’s stats will tell you he had 35 touches and a goal and he’s been tracking at so far above VFL level for too long now to not a game. Richo said in the Coach’s Message video, “Sinclair’s had another strong game and I think that he’ll certainly push hard for selection this week.” I think you can lock him in for Tassie.

Gilbert’s best contribution was cruelly annulled by one of the many awful umpiring calls. I’ll make a quick deviation to make a point – yes, whilst Selwood got a free for being pushed by his own player maybe next time Josh Bruce should actually make the most of the small good fortune of receiving a bizarre free kick close to goal and kick straight. Gilbert bulleted a pass to the hampered My Favourite Hair in the AFL on a lead in what was probably our last decent chance to get ourselves back in the game, but the advantage call was pathetically not given…I don’t know what the fuck happened; given there was no stop in play the umpire I am entirely unsure why the umpire brought the ball back. If it’s a late hit then it’s downfield. But of you’re a good enough side then the player with the ball now has the chance to size up a bunch of options, and the forwards have a chance to provide something at the time when they need to the most. Gilbert’s kick went straight to a Geelong defender.

Geelong simply had far too much class, composure and run, and again hammered an opponent into the ground in a final quarter. Selwood’s intercept mark and give-off to Guthrie for a running goal in the final 12 seconds was a fitting finish. There was simply no answer for him – collectively we lacked the speed and grunt that their midfield brought when it counted, and they were far more polished with the ball and worked to space more efficiently around the ground. If we were to win it would have taken us working at more than capacity, and that would have brought no guarantees.

I didn’t mind Gresham being thrown into the middle in the last quarter. He was probably down a little on himself for the aforementioned reasons and he got chance to reset his focus as well as see up close what a true matchwinner looks like when the heat’s on. Almost bemusingly, perhaps, Glibert was in there too. I understand the need to have put a fresher, bigger body in at that point because we looked cooked right across the ground and Ross and Steven were being saved at certain points. I don’t question Gilbert’s intent for a second but the free he gave away for holding the man from a centre bounce was very clumsy; as if he just couldn’t react quick enough for the pace of the game. Again, he managed to put down a couple of marks as he did last week, or simply not impact an aerial contest in the way you would want him to. I’d suspect he’s close to a game for the Zebras, both on form and the logistics of playing youth, whether it’s to bring in a tall forward or someone like D-Mac (26 touches), Brandon White (26 – 22 kicks, five inside 50s and seven rebound 50s) who returned handsome numbers for Sandy on Saturday, and some positive reviews (Bailey Rice included) from the people good enough to take time and do some write-ups on BigFooty forums everywhere. The profile of Shane Savage I feel like has fallen off the face of the planet in less than a week, but 27 touches and six rebounds from defensive 50 shows he’s obviously got enough talent to be dropped to the VFL and immediately know what’s what.

Dunstan followed up his 11-possession game last week with…12 possessions and two tackles. If he hadn’t of kicked that goal then I don’t know what. He may get another chance though because Koby Stevens got a heavy knock after being very busy for the Zebs – he’d had 11 touches and seven tackles in about half a game.

Right now though I feel like he’s just not having the influence he should. Richo mentioned in the Coach’s Message that fourth and fifth-year players need to be having a “stronger impact on the game when it is things are slipping”. That seemed particularly aimed at Dunstan, Acres and Billings. I feel like right now there’s a bit of an analogue between Lonie versus Minchington, and Dunstan versus what we assume Koby Stevens would bring to the team – that is, the defensive and pressure acts side of things, but the latter bringing in some more actual football. Mav Weller

Armo might well be done. As much as he clearly gives when he’s out there this is the unfortunate circumstance of a player’s body letting them down. A few of his troubles have come from knocks and collisions (e.g. the knee slice against Paddy Dangerfield of the Adelaide Crows early in 2014), but his form was clearly affected for most of last year. Steele, Dunstan and perhaps Stevens have a chance to really contribute to this team.

Stuv looked like a really good player who’d missed a couple of weeks and was being thrown back in against one of the most potent midfield combinations in the game. He racked up good numbers and the addition of his pace was noticeable enough that Freeman looms as an ace up our sleeve if he works out. Perhaps surprisingly Richo said he wouldn’t expect to see him in the senior side before the second half of the year, but I don’t think any of us were expecting to see him ever? Luke Penny and Aaron Hamill never quite got back as their injuries piled on; Markworth was always coming back from a freak knock directly to his ACL; Jesse Smith was already injured when recruited alongside Andrew Lovett to add class to defensive aggression for the 2010 campaign. We’re used to this thing not quite working out.

Seb Ross played probably the best footy of his career as his odds to be the 2018-2022 Premiership Captain shortened. For one of the first times he also displayed a little bit of pace, and on a day in which he collected 33 touches there were some far more damaging disposals in there, and in much more dangerous parts of the ground. Some pinpoint field kicks to go with shots at goal that a) easily covered the distance from outside 50 and b) he wouldn’t have backed himself to kick two years ago. Not to mention the Sam Mitchell-esque pause and perfectly weighted kick to Dunstan for Luke’s goal. I don’t think many saw this development coming from Seb before last year, and it’s players like him that really need to take these steps is we’re going to be successful in the coming years. Right now he’s done that and more, and is looking good to be this club’s next captain.

Steele again was a handy complement as someone who can play inside and out and be smart with the ball both ways, but needs to get more of the ball. The asterisk to that is that it was only his 22nd game and is looking like a great pick-up. Good hair, too. Speaking of arbitrary asterisks, Pick #3 in the 2013 National Draft was Jack Billings. I feel like he’s still just got a faint asterisk next to his name, because before this season he’d only played 42 games and hadn’t really had a decent run at a pre-season, let alone a decent run at a proper season, with some pretty difficult injuries really hampering his ability to get some momentum through seasons. That’s not just playing several weeks of footy in a row, it’s about playing a few months of footy without missing a game. He got close to that in his first season but even then finished early, and missed large chunks of the last two seasons. His two back-to-back goal assists reminded us of why he was picked so high, and as far as my silly internet opinion goes why he should be played in the front half more often. I’ve mentioned both – the perfect pass to Bruce after some actual consideration, and the nicely weighted handball to Minchington in the pocket, who did it justice with the finish. He doesn’t need to get 30 touches a game and for all of them to be like that, but he needs to do those things more often before we can even speak of him as vaguely worth pick #3 ahead of the Bont. I think I might have been a bit harsher on Dunstan, who is only 11 games ahead of him in the same period, but that’s by the by – both need to start lifting their output.

McKenzie, Rice and White all were named in Sandy’s best, but where do they all fit in? Maybe it’s Gilbert that comes out. The past week was Dylan Roberton week, named for the player who is somehow now actually convincing us he’s a genuinely good footballer, has a genuinely good football brain and belongs in the leadership group, and he put in another strong performance. Webster continued his improvement, despite his expert bullet pass to a Nakia Cockatoo at the top of their goal square in the first quarter. He’s tough and his disposal is (usually) pretty good. We need more of that.

Geary (C) was the last one standing, let alone running for us in this one. A desperate spoil and follow-up in an attempt to get some semblance of run off half-back in the last minutes, together with bandaged head, had him above all others at the point. To paraphrase Van Jones, who was possibly doped-up at the time of his original comment, “He became captain of the St Kilda Football Club in that moment”.

Despite the loss it was the type of game you’d leave having felt as though you’d watched a tough, entertaining contest that saw the best players and the best team perform well and rewarded. It was probably some of the best footy the Saints had played in terms of going head-to-head with a genuinely good team for the production of an uncompromising game of footy. We also got a lesson on where we’re at right now. Geelong has a habit of doing that.

Shit, I thought we were gonna lose that

Round 16, 2016
St Kilda 4.3, 8.5, 12.7, 17.7 (109)
Essendon 2.3, 6.7, 10.10, 14.14 (98) 
Crowd: 25,204 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, July 10th at 4.40pm

After the Adelaide debacle I melodramatically declared in my rambling match review, “Winter is here, and there are some cold months ahead.”

No sooner had I finished whinging did we come back from the bye and produce arguably our two most enjoyable matches (certainly by the time the final siren sounded), in the form of wins against Carlton and then Geelong.

All of a sudden – for a week anyway – finals were a slim possibility, and there was also the possibility that maybe we’d taken a step up. Instead we trotted out in perfect weather and kicked 8.20, in the process showing the same conviction of that day’s election result. The rubbish dished up in Carrara last week ensured our two weeks up-one week down pattern seen throughout the year continued (if you follow the trail from our season starting with the second week up, albeit with the fade-out).

The lot of a middling and developing team is that you’re going to win games you shouldn’t and drop games you shouldn’t. It’s a self-revealing state to be in – beating Geelong and then losing to the Gold Coast the following week proved it, but at the same time proved nothing above what we already knew.

So going into a game against a club that I am perennially terrified of facing due to their usual taunting of us, specifically Essendon, it was a perfect opportunity to upset our two up-one down pattern on the day we were due to be back up, and of course it would be in the negative way rather than the third win in a row last week expected us to deliver.

It felt like something had gone away after that Gold Coast match. It might be back soon enough, but the genuine nerves and anticipation we held before that game won’t be returning until at least next year unless someone in the top 8 completely loses their shit. By 2pm on Sunday I was preparing for a cold Sunday in the standing room by myself with unwieldy Essendon supporters. Matt and Dad were content on the couch and Richie was flaunting convention and making the scene in the Medallion Club. Evan was flying a Cessna somewhere despite the rubbish weather.

Instead, I got the late call-up to the Medallion Club from joy boy Richie so I could watch the game in luxury from the extra-padded seats in Medallion Club with Rich, his dad and brother, surrounded by, unwieldy Essendon fans.

A quick pre-match non-alcoholic beverage at the Savoy with Rich and then it was the 21st Century equivalent of the footy weather gauntlet – a faux-dash across the bridge in a howling (probably) cold wind and bitter (maybe) sleet. At Waverley that was often just the walk from the car into the ground, let alone sitting in the gaping frost receptacle for the match itself, but on Sunday it was back into the TV set in a game probably rightfully hidden away in the 4.40pm timeslot.

I don’t say “rightfully” in the sense that I support or enjoy the timeslot in any way whatsoever, but this was probably the first game this year for us that was essentially a dead rubber (unless you’re an avid follower of the Hugh McCluggage/whoever the hell is going to the Number Whatever Pick Cup). Yes, we’ve reached that point of the year where the end really isn’t that far away, and you can feel the gears of the wind-down begin to creak. It’s in the faltering of the anticipation for your own team’s matches during the week, which for most perched in the bottom 10 is often slowly replaced by matters of the wider competition and what will happen come September (and some of October), and perhaps a sense of impending relief that we can take a rest for a while.

The comedown from the win over the Cats a fortnight ago looked like it had entered a second week, with Essendon registering the first 10 inside 50s, and even then our maiden official foray forward barely reached an arm’s length beyond the orange arc.

Without looking convincing we’d somehow etched out a two-goal lead by quarter-time. In lieu of Paddy (sigh) My Favourite Hair in the AFL looked like he was set for some more time up forward, finally kicking one straight after he nearly kicked one entirely from behinds at Carrara. It probably did rob us of something up the ground, but perhaps required as Josh Bruce was reprising his role of getting both hands to the footy at contests but never quite taking anything – at the moment he’s rarely actually beaten in a contest and he brings the ball to ground, but two things come from all that. Firstly, if our delivery forward was actually half-decent he might have had a better shot at a few contests; rather he was never quite in the right spot and on other occasions he didn’t help himself with his positioning under (or not under) the drop of the ball. Secondly, anything under his control from the above was working last year, and for much of the first part of this year too. He’s clearly down on something – form, obviously – but we can’t know unless we’re him if it’s confidence, or his role has changed a little (and then changed back) and unbalanced him as Paddy comes in and and out of the team and as Membrey emerges as an additional, effective focal point on a consistent basis.

I’m on the record via Facebook chat as saying during the game Bruce should be dropped, but thinking about it now that would be very harsh considering he’s still clearly busting a gut getting his hands to the ball, and the fact that when he did no-one was there when it hit the ground. In the last two weeks it’s more of a reflection of the poor disposal going forward not giving everyone else around him much of a chance for to set up, let alone the ball actually going to his advantage to give him a better shot at marking it in the first place. I don’t think dropping him would really do anything; he needs as much time playing with Paddy and Membrey as possible whilst My Favourite Hair is still around to coach them, and it allows the team to have Hair influencing things further up the ground.

Fortunately we did have Membrey up forward on Sunday because he was able to work himself into a good position and make the best of things when one-out several times. He’s kicked five goals three times this year now, as well as few threes, and whilst most of those have come in comfortable wins when the whole team was up this was a much-needed stellar individual performance on a day when most guys were off their game. Four goals in the second half were vital, and his snap goal from a tight spot in the third quarter after pouncing on a poor Bombers kick showed his versatility again, and what he can offer away from presenting as a marking forward.

What was painfully apparent again on Sunday is that we need players who can pull off some half-slick disposal, and Hotline and Jack Sinclair both conveniently dominated the VFL on Saturday (although not in conditions made specifically for slick footy). For all the good pressure work of Jack Steven, Ross and Dunstan we just didn’t look sharp going into attack. Steven and Ross are more than capable of some quality entries but otherwise I don’t know how good the disposal of guys like Dunstan, Armo, Newnes and so on will get over time (we know Armo’s ceiling has well and truly been reached). Looping long kick after looping long kick in helped no-one; Hickey and Bruce’s smart handballs together that set-up Steven for the sealer were sharper than most entries into attack. Hotline had 45 touches and two goals and Sinclair 36 and one for the Zebras and Richo could barely contain himself when asked about them coming in next week in. I’m assuming D-Mac and Wright come out – maybe Acres given the tough love the selectors have given him this year – but to have guys who can find the ball a lot more, in more parts of the ground and be more damaging with it (around the ground and on the scoreboard) surely makes us a better team straight off. It’s strange to think they’re not in the side as it is but when you’re dealing with guys as young as that you do need to teach them some discipline and about what it takes to deliver what is expected of them when they play for the seniors.

It wasn’t particularly a surprise that the Bomber started to get on top of us in the final quarter – we’d barely looked likely all night. Joe Daniher jumped onto Gilbert’s shoulders, and although he missed the shot only a few moments later we were seven points down more than halfway through the last quarter with the Essendon players and crowd up and about. Surely no season would be complete without an arsey Essendon win over us (not to mention the Bombers being the team to upset our two up-one down pattern to the negative).

I hesitate to say that to this point Mav Weller had done “fark all”; at the least it would only be convenient for the narrative. It was a game in which the ball bounced out of our forward line far too easily far too often, so the trap that decent disposal going forward might have set for the opposition once the ball hit the deck was never really there (Bruce’s game probably looked worse than what it was for a similar reason). Either way, it was one of those games where you kind of forget a player like that exists. They’re not “the guy” you’re anticipating to be there at the end of each entry, like a Bruce or increasingly Membrey (or “Membs”, as I indescribably blurted out at some point during the game), and he actually hadn’t touched it all by the first break. But just like the Geelong game, he powered his way into the game by kicking back-to-back goals. Whilst those against the Cats came as timely steadiers late in the third term, these came when the nearly the entire team was down and needed someone to stand up in the last few minutes of the game itself. He (almost) literally came out of nowhere for the first goal, barely a minute of play after Skunk/Membs kicked his fifth to bring us back to within a point, and put us in front by timing a sprint to perfection and cannoned through just as the ball spilled from the contest (Skunk/Membs) in the goal square.

Membrey and he combined a bit more purposefully for the next one, it must be said in large part thanks to potential future captain (but probably not now that Richo and Roo keep talking about Jack Steven) Jarryn Geary, who came up with St Kilda defensive play of the year, or as Rich described a few seconds later once the ball was safely in Roberton’s hands, “play of the year”. The dive across Mitch Brown saved an easy shot at goal to put the Bombers back in front and soon after Membrey had positioned himself smartly to take a mark on the 50 with Mav and Acres running towards goal with Gwilt between them. Membrey wheeled around onto his left and Mav has athletic enough to jump up in his stride, take the ball which had bounced awkwardly high, land, and snap on his own left boot around the corner under pressure from Gwilt to give us some breathing space.

Jack Steven was the one who played a nearly complete game – 41 touches, 13 in the last quarter, 12 tackles and the sealing goal which came when he was one of the few players left running close to maximum speed in the final few minutes, pushing forward into space and finished off the good work of Hickey and Bruce (the aforementioned two smart handballs from two big guys) further afield. It seems like the Jack Steven For Captain campaign is gaining momentum. He can still barely talk coherently but if anyone is leading this team by their actions right now, aside from the current captain, it’s him. He gets more involved in the play when the game is tight, he follows up every effort and he can hit the scoreboard too and do justice for the work up the ground, not to mention creating his own goals. I can’t imagine him holding up a premiership cup with Alan Richardson in the way I could imagine Riewoldt holding one up with GT, and then Ross, but then again that’s only ever applied to one of our captains in 143 years so let’s just wait and see if there’s even going to be a change for next year.

By the time of the final siren the game was safe but there was little celebration. For the supporters – for the most part – games like this are simply there as part of a mass collective. They’re not set up to be a memorable step forward that we look back on like the Brisbane Lions win in 2003 (by one second as much as by five points), and what we hope the Geelong win a fortnight ago will prove to be in time. However, like the heir apparent said afterwards, usually we would lose those. There was something to add to the ever-growing heap of lessons learned.

As we squeezed past the two people at the end of the row on our way out, the second person – visibly affected by alcohol – said to us, “Enjoy it, because that’s as good as it’s going to get”. I assumed she was an Essendon supporter, although at that moment it didn’t really matter who she barracked for. There were some things to take away from that game, both for individuals and the team, but by the end it was just about getting away from the scene unscathed.

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 16
Tim Membrey – 3
Jack Steven – 3
Seb Ross – 2
Mav Weller – 1
Jarryn Geary – 1

Totals
Jack Steven – 29
Nick Riewoldt – 20
Seb Ross – 17
Tim Membrey – 13
David Armitage – 8
Tom Hickey – 8
Leigh Montagna – 8
Jade Gresham – 6
Jack Newnes – 6
Blake Acres – 5
Sam Fisher – 5
Jack Billings – 4
Josh Bruce – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Jarryn Geary – 3
Mav Weller – 3
Paddy McCartin – 2
Luke Delaney – 1
Sean Dempster – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1

Wulf and Dwyer Awards update

We don’t give enough of a shit about these to even post the votes on time, so again I’d be surprised if you’re reading this at all. Here are the votes for the Round 5 (because I was “too busy”) and Round 6 games.

Round 5
Mick Dwyer Award
Rich
Armitage 7
Bruce 7
Dempster 7
Steven 6
Billings 2
Lonie

Tom
Bruce 8
Armitage 5
Steven 4
Lonie 4
Billings 3
Dempster 3
Dunstan 3

Daniel Wulf Award
Rich
Membrey -10
Savage -6
Geary -5
Schneider -3
St Kilda Fans -3
Fisher -2
Roberton -1

Tom
Schneider -15
Longer -6
Membrey -6
Sinclair -3

Round 6
Mick Dwyer Award
Rich
Armitage 9
Billings 8
Dempster 5
Sinclair 3
Hickey 2
Montagna 2
Lonie 1

Tom
Armitage 9
Billings 7
Fisher 3
Hickey 3
Steven 3
Dempster 2
Riewoldt 2

Daniel Wulf Award
Rich
Fisher -6
Dunstan -5
Roberton -5
Savage -5
Weller -5
Riewoldt -3
Longer -1

Tom
Longer -9
Bruce -6
Weller -5
Newnes -5
Webster -5

Running Totals
Mick Dwyer Award – Top 5
Armitage 70
Steven 46
Bruce 43
Billings 32
Lonie 22

Armitage solidifies his lead and I’m too scared to say he’s arrived because last time I thought he might have was two years ago and our season quickly turned to absolute rubbish, and he fell off the radar. Obviously this is binding in zero ways but I would have eaten my membership scarf if anyone’s pre-season top five after Round 6 looked like this.

Daniel Wulf Award – Top 5
Longer -56
Membrey -33
Curren -30
Saad -29
Schneider -26

Longer keeps polling steadily but I’m increasingly thinking he’s on a hiding to nothing given his role (and it’s worth mentioning he’s currently second in the competition for hit-outs). Schneider makes an appearance on the back of his late howlers against the Bombers – as a St Kilda supporter, how much can you outwardly articulate, “but hopefully he won’t do that again” before he does it again.

Remember feeling OKish?

Round 5, 2015
St Kilda 2.6, 6.7, 10.10, 11.14 (80)
Essendon 3.2, 6.6, 9.11, 11.16 (82)
Crowd: 29,869 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, May 3rd at 3.20pm

It was the corresponding round last year in which we beat the Bombers on a Saturday to go three wins from five. My overriding thought that night was that maybe – just maybe – we’d escaped an extended bottoming out and could at least be competitive as we rebuilt.

Of course, that didn’t eventuate. We threw away that 4-2 start that beckoned against the winless Lions in New Zealand the following week, and it would be three months until our next (very unexpected and bizarre) win.

So perhaps it’s strange that I walk away from this one feeling better than last year, as Rich aptly noted on our way out of the stadium. Not just that it was a loss, but that a) it was against Essendon, and b) it was a close loss against Essendon. It would be too easy to throw in “c) Schneider”, but I’ll get to that later.

For some reason Hulk Hogan was at Seaford this week, and I dare say being in Melbourne proper to begin with was a stretch for context for him. The Saints have a number of celebrity fans including the other type of Hulk, Erica Bana (who happened to be at Seaford himself last week), the guy next to him at the 2010 Grand Final Draw, AKA Michael Klim, Molly Meldrum, Peter Hitchener, Sandy Roberts, Shane Warne (if ex-players of sorts count), and a host of other (Tracey Grimshaw was sporting a Saints beanie on A Current Affair last night also). Hulk (Hogan), however, belongs more to the once-off line of celebrity supporters, infamously and awkwardly boasting Elle MacPherson.

The Hulk (the, uh, real not real one) was at least vaguely more animated than the life-size cardboard cut-outs of Delaney, Steven et al in the bemusingly recurring “feature” Battle Talk on the club site. Battle Talk ok, but they’re rarely going to say anything different about whoever they’re playing that week, and by that I mean they’re rarely going to read anything different off the autocue about whoever they’re playing that week.

Following the last fortnight a number of people would have thought Essendon would cruise through this one based on St Kilda’s form alone. The fact that the Bombers had beaten Hawthorn but hadn’t really shown much otherwise might have led a few (myself included) to think they were due to right the ship, and given the attacking footy they’re capable who better to that against, and via a very, very big margin?

A last minute call-up to the Medallion Club with very old family friend Andrew, his partner Emily and Rich was an appropriate way for myself to mark the 10-year anniversary of my first venture into the overrated section (specifically in the way it’s run, the ticketing and it’s thirst for actually being the MCC). That night, the second Fridaynight  of the split Round 13, suitably saw a lowly Essendon pull out an arsey win against us to leave us outside the top eight at 6-7. It was also the catalyst for the dramatic turnaround that at least should have seen us playing in the Grand Final; interestingly the following week we played the Bulldogs – as we do this week – and that match was the start of the career-best form of Kosi.

To further mark some arbitrary Essendon-St Kilda dates, 20 years ago saw the Bombers smack us by 116 points and then 76 points in our two meetings that season, and of course this is the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Grand Final, in which the Bombers came from 4th place to to beat us in the Grand Final after we finished on top of the ladder, something we’d repeat the next time we finished above the rest in 1997.

The Medallion Club also happened to be the site that Rich and I spent arguably the two darkest days of last year in. Losses to West Coast in Round 14 on the Sunday and then Richmond the following Saturday afternoon weren’t the biggest we had, but came after respective 86, 70 and 96-point losses. Billings may have christened himself Mr. 100% against the Eagles, but this pair of games were probably when we felt the heavy weight of the past had taken us as low as it could. This was the new normal, the cavernous Corporate Stadium playing host to not much in front of not many. The fact the roof is closed messes with my melatonin levels and it’s hard to not be extra depressed about everything once you enter the stadium at 2.30pm and your day is essentially over.

I’m not going to get carried away and say “and then on Sunday we were there for the turnaround”, but I really do hope we can look back on this as one of the first times this group really showed that it had a future together. But let’s go easy. Like it does within matches, more obviously we’ll swing from side to side between weeks, and there will certainly be repeats this year of the aforementioned drubbings.

The intent was really good from the start, and that loose sense of rejuvenation following a dog’s balls fortnight was heightened by Tom Hickey and debutant D-Mac getting involved early.

Hickey provided one of the biggest structural takeaways of the day (/night), playing essentially the Nick Riewoldt roaming role across half forward as the tall target. Given his size and that he was coming back from injury I assumed he’d spend a lot more time closer to goal, but instead he was pushing up to the wing within minutes to provide the kind of option we’d so painfully lacked in the absence of My Favourite Hair in the AFL. He was far more mobile than I thought he’d be, and perhaps more so than the three goals he kicked in Round 2 last year against GW$ his performance gave us the best example yet of why we were so keen to get him.

In fact he played so (relatively) athletically and nearly completely as a forward it swiftly put to rest for the time being whether we could carry two ruckmen in the same side. Whilst Billy Longer had a decent impact across the ground against the Blues the previous week as the sole really big guy – so much so the club put him on media duty for the first time ever – he only gathered six possessions in this one as his focus was more so to get to the stoppages and get the hit-out. Hickey, on the flipside, recorded only six hit-outs.

Our Very Own Stephen Merchant could have held on to a few more marks – he only took four for the day but seemed more capable in the air as the game progressed – but not only did he provide a contest coming out of defence, his 19 possessions reflected how hard and effectively he worked down low once the ball came off hands (often his own).

Richo didn’t have Hickey a certainty to play this week given Roo is coming back in (as is Joey), which would be astounding but when My Second Favourite Hair in the AFL Josh Bruce is also the Second Leading Goalkicker in the Competition and clearly has a better output when a tall target is playing higher up then perhaps it’s Membrey who comes out this week. He wasn’t given the most enthusiastic response by Richo but it’s folly for anyone to think that coaches aren’t going to send messages to their own players when speaking publicly about them, and further folly to think they exactly what that means. Given Hickey’s own game and the structure he allowed for Bruce to take advantage of, Membrey would seem to be most likely. Hickey is also ready for game time and getting some momentum into his career, whilst Membrey is still 20 and has played a grand total of six games – and five of those were in the last five weeks. He’s probably due for a spell with the Zebras just to get his head around a few things.

D-Mac looked very comfortable for a debutant, and probably started stronger than he finished. He registered a couple of smothers and was backing himself to go up in a few marking contests. He’s only 183cm but deceptively quick for his frame, which combined with his not-quite-on-trend hair and slightly slouch makes him look more like your St. Paul’s reserves forward lumbering around the 7-11 end of McKinnon Oval. With Joey returning you’d expect it’s him or perhaps Sinclair of the lighter brigade to come out, but given D-Mac showed more than enough intent and Sinclair might be experiencing a little wear (like Membrey), the latter might be due for a spell in the Peter Jackson.

The first quarter was defined by two things – Jack Lonie and inaccuracy, and unfortunately they’d be intertwined to Schneideresque proportions by game’s end. Whatever Schneider’s been doing in his mentoring role has worked almost too well, because he’s been able to convey just about everything of his game over to Lonie. I don’t know about you but I reckon Lonie plays his position just about more effectively than anyone else in our side at the moment. He set up Bruce with a great push and turn followed by a pinpoint left-foot pass to the top of the square, but then ended a chain of three gettable shots at goal from Roberton, Billings and himself with a wayward snap, leaving us at 1.5 to 1.0. That Essendon goal, by the way, echoed the worst of our leaky pressure from the previous two matches, and foreshadowed the two vital goals the Bombers would score in the final quarter.

Lonie, like he had in previous weeks, had a very strong reaction to missing the kind of shot at goal made for players like him but didn’t drop his head. In fact he probably held it too high if anything because he pushed right up the ground soon after and on the spread took on Fletcher and was completely monstered by him. Another behind soon after undid Jack Steven’s hard running and Dare Iced Coffee higher up. It was tempered by another left footer, Jimmy Webster, showing off his silky field kicking skills and hitting Dunstan in space close to goal after Dunstan was at risk of being ignored completely despite having the proverbial around him just 30 out from goal.

So some frustrations, but overall the effort, intent, whatever was all there. Of course, in the last two matches we’d kicked 6.3 in the first and led by 26 points during the second respectively, and gone on to lose by a combined 114 points. This week seemed a lot more cohesive though, and it proved to be such.

When I’d hit the top of the Bourke Street stairs (ok I took the escalator) just under an hour out from the game there was an actual crowd on the footbridge and I was genuinely taken aback. We’ve become accustomed to some woeful crowd numbers over the last couple of years, and whilst a lot of those there were Essendon fans (likewise most of the anticipation belonged to them), it was still strange for there to be some interest in a game involving ourselves. That said, the final crowd didn’t even hit 30,000 so the fact it felt that “full” probably shows just our far we’ve fallen. But don’t worry, now we’ve also got that MAKE SOME NOISE thing which is essentially a weird, ill-toned noise and big-screen graphic that comes on slightly too long after a goal and breaks up the organic anticipation of the resulting centre bounce (particularly when there’s some momentum our way). But for fuck’s sake why would we be at the footy then. A goal apparently doesn’t get us excited enough anymore. My suggestion is don’t feed it but perhaps people are getting more stupid and important people will tell us that they’ll have to find a way to make SOME MORE NOISE and en masse we won’t notice.

Very rarely do I have to deal with the Medallion Club amenities and shithead staff (that neutrally dark suit jacket will never be the MCC red, white and blue stripe standard, I’m sorry) but any danger of having more than one bar? Having queues out into the walkway as the next quarter is beginning is a mess. Fortunately, not that many more people would turn up in the section even to a sold out (“sold out”) game at that Concrete Dome so I guess it only gets so bad there.

It became apparent in the second quarter that Billings had stepped up after humming along through the first few games. He presented as a lead up forward and finished some good work from Schneider again, but I really do think his highlight was when Sean Marchetti interviewed him for the ground’s own coverage (which I’d never seen before and I don’t like the idea on networks to begin with). Billings seemed kind of frazzled by the situation himself but still interviews like a kid anyway (he still is one really), and Marchetti took the mic away from Jack’s mouth before he’d finished the answer. The finisher was the “what do we need to do in the second half” segue into everyone’s half-time, and Jack mentioned nothing more specific than maintaining effort “and we’ll see how that goes”. Uh, yeah. Terrible hair too, still. But he’s starting to show his class with the ball and off the ball he uses his body more smartly. What he could be after couple more pre-seasons is looking more and more befitting such a high pick.

The second quarter also saw a disparity between two guys at either end of the ground and at either end of their careers. For the first time, Sam Fisher is beginning to look slow. He still finished with 20 touches, a few marks and a few tackles, but there were some contests where in an attempt to apply physical pressure to a contest he looked like Josh Bruce pre-huge grab against GWS. Just vaguely there because a human body was required by laws of the game to be roughly in the vicinity. Not sure what I’m meant to be expecting from someone at that age and I’d certainly have him in the side, and ultimately there was a tinge of sadness to know that whilst he’ll still be making a decent contribution his floor might be getting a little lower a we might be seeing it more often.

And incidentally, that other player is Josh Bruce. I can’t tell you how  excited I am that someone with that hair plays for St Kilda AND is kicking a whole bunch of goals even though they look like they should be filling in for whoever’s playing against Rich and I at FutsalOz in Brunswick on a Monday night. In that sense, as a I mentioned a few weeks ago, there’s a lot of Fraser Gehrig about him. Nonchalant, very inward celebrations and a somewhat lackadaisical left-foot action and overall physical presence. With Hickey in the side Bruce was good enough to find space and then take some tough marks when required, and G-Train comparison for me was complete when he far-too-calmly wheeled around onto the left in the last quarter and off a step or two put us in front from 40 metres out on an angle.

But for the second week in a row we’d let a lead of at least 20 points slip away. Let’s cut the crap and go to Schneider. You could say this was his Daniel Wulf moment from Round 5, 2002 in the sense that he hit the post late in the game and messed up a chance to put us in front late in a match, in an era in which we’re following a bunch of kids that you simply can’t rely on to definitely do what’s required in a tight finish. Not necessarily because they’re rubbish, but because they’re kids. The pressure got to Lonie as well who appropriately sprayed a shot late as well, but he’s an 18 year-old playing his fifth game, and even then already looks to have a big future.

The problem with this one – aside from running into goal and hitting the post when you could have either kicked past the man with space to your right or just handballed to your left to Tim Membrey who’s by himself and even closer to goal – is that Schneider is specifically in the team for those moments. To guide things home cooly and calmly. Indeed, the set shot just a couple of minutes earlier with no angle could be argued to be an easier shot. You could say Lonie’s handball to him for the second kick was too heavy and he had to spend too much time getting control of the footy, but he’s an AFL footballer and that’s where it ends. A 10-point lead with a few minutes left? Nah, the ball goes straight up the other end, Travis Colyer burns everyone off from the halfway up the ground and still has the composure and class to finish from 50 metres out. A 5-point lead with two minutes left? Etc.

Sadly, like Daniel Wulf, Schneider may well be remembered for both of these moments above anything else. Added to his 2009 Grand Final performance, all of a sudden he’s a got the air of a serial offender. As much as he’s done for this team, and by all accounts continues to do off the field with the younger guys, I can certainly say the 2009 Grand Final is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of him. But this isn’t his generation, and it clearly wasn’t his day in a lot of respects. GT’s orders on that fateful Saturday night were to win at all costs following a 122-point loss at the Cattery, but obviously the über flood we served up against the Swans had nothing to do with the barnstorming style led by the G-Train, Roo, Milne, Hamill and co of 24 months later. On Sunday this team’s performance was owned by Bruce, Billings, Lonie, Steven, Armitage, Hickey et al. All these guys showed genuine promise playing their natural game and ideally will be there for the next tilt.

A narrow loss to the Bombers is one of my more intense fears as a St Kilda supporter, but I left the ground experiencing the now-foreign feeling of positivity. This is a young side and we’re going to have to some pretty off days between now and whenever it may be that we’re a threat again. But for the first time in a very long time, I can’t wait to go to the footy this week and watch the Saints.