Brisbane Lions Posts

Zero?

Round 23, 2016
St Kilda 5.5, 11.7, 17.8, 25.11 (161)
Brisbane Lions 3.4, 6.8, 9.11, 15.13 (103)
Crowd: “19,000 approx” at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, August 28th at 1.10pm

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Nostalgia plays a varying but key role in our individual relationships with footy and the clubs we support. It follows that the warming weather of August is unmistakably tied to all that goes with final stages of a footy season.

Chances are you’ve seen enough complete seasons in which the milder temperatures and later sunsets either represented the impending breather you could take after the home-and-away season, or it beckoned you to run further into it and see your club achieve something that you may not be sure you’ll see again – or, for St Kilda fans, get painfully close to achieving something that they may not ever actually achieve in your time. The first drought was 93 years; this one is 50 and counting.

Regardless of how your season is placed at this point of year, there is always some sense of looking forward and some sense of reflection. How, and why, are we here? Where are we going? (And, if you’re lucky enough – is this it?)

Of course, seasons like the one we’ve enjoyed in 2016 aren’t looked back on in true favour until we know that it led to something positive. The 2003 season we look at now with positivity because it was the stepping stone out of the dark ages of the 1997 Grand Final fallout and Tim Watson era, and into the heady days of 2004-onwards in which the eve of every season felt like the eve of a potential premiership tilt. Some proved to be more so than others.

By the end of Sunday the season would become the the third out of 10 we’d finished ninth; all that was left to be revealed was if it was by percentage or by a game. Hindsight’s 20/20 but given we know now it was percentage, the results of the Hawthorn, (first) North Melbourne and Gold Coast games all become that much more poignant.

Nevertheless, it was important that we end the season on a positive note. Plenty of goodwill had been created a on Saturday at the Captain’s Run at Moorabbin, with a massive turnout that demonstrated the growing sense of anticipation at the club and amongst its players generated through this year

Matt, Evan and I were queued up at the Saints Shop sale so we could make our annual purchase of player issue jumpers; we just ended up getting a whole lot more than usual to add to our growing collections. Tim Membrey clash, Seb Ross home and Blacres NAB Cup for me; Paddy clash and Gresh home for Matt, D-Mac home for dad, Josh Bruce clash for Rich, and Mav clash for Evan and David Armitage clash for his brother James.

Dad is a huge fan of D-Mac’s and so for an early Fathers’ Day present we grabbed his player issue home jumper and shoved a bunch of kids on the fence out of the way to make sure we got pole position on the fence to get it signed for him. D-Mac was one of the first players over to the crowd on the fence but quickly realised no one was actually jostling for his signature (unlike Jade Gresham, Josh Bruce and Mav nearby who saluted for Matt, Rich and Evan respectively) and looked a bit flat and was about to walk further along the boundary for someone to recognise who he actually was. However, I chimed in with bloke-ised “Oi, D-Mac” his face lit up. I asked if he could make it out to to my Dad and he very kindly (and neatly) made it out to him with the “Go Saints!” tag as well, and his signature at the top of white panel. Matt and I couldn’t give it to Dad quickly enough afterwards and I’d like to think, ignoring D-Mac’s clear development over the past few weeks anyway, that my visible desperation to get his signature only further boosted his ego and carried him to one of this best matches in his early career on Sunday, and set him on the path for a long, fruitful career at the Saints.

Everyone would have been pretty flat if we dropped this one to arguably the most irrelevant team in the competition. The “Bad News Bears” was one thing but the current version, having a three-peat in its cabinet, is now just a large mess that represents an expansion club from a tacky city that for no particular reason over one the competition’s oldest and historical clubs in Fitzroy, and is slowly taking the Lion down with it.

A pretty free-flowing game – 24 goals to 15, with 14 goals kicked in the last quarter – would prove to be Leppitsch’s last game, but it was probably always going to be no matter the result. It also happened to be the same game that his cousin Brandon White debuted in, and against the side he grew up supporting.

Following the respective trouncings the previous day of fellow also-rans Melbourne and Richmond when the Lions booted two quick early goals you might have thought we were in for a real raffle, with all prior form truly out the door. But the pressure eventually lifted and matched the intent that the pictures from the rooms before the game indicated – each player embracing one another individually, and all players linked together in a circle for some final words from Richo.

Slowly the tide shifted but it wasn’t until My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s brilliant second quarter did we look absolutely sure things.

I’ve said on this thing a few times that a lot of the talk in these reviews isn’t so much focused on the better players. In the past Lenny, Dal and Joey never got a lot of airtime here, and right now our better players are probably getting a bit more of a mention than usual because it’s someone like Blacres or Ross that have shown quite pronounced development or improvement, and it’s a talking point amongst Saints fans. There’s not so much of a point to saying “oh and Nick Riewoldt played well” because no shit, of course he did. I must say, Riewoldt has been mentioned here often so I can just say “My Favourite Hair in the AFL” and because he does so much stuff in general, and this year may be a bit more than usual given his value to the team in his new role. But all those mentions, throughout this year and previous seasons certainly belie what he brings to this club.

I spend far more time talking about Gresh or Ross or Blacres or Membrey than the guy who has effectively led this team from 2005 (2006 under Luke Ball was quite forgettable) and probably has worked harder to develop his game year-on-year than anyone else. And so after a season in which he dropped a bunch of kilos for so he could preserve his knee and play a new role up and around the ground to allow Bruce, Membrey and Paddy to develop their own games, in the final game he pulled out a nine-goal, 26 possession, 21-mark effort. On what was a really relaxed day out at the footy only he could somehow manage to spark a sense of urgency around the ground – the one figure synonymous with the extremes of what should have been a premiership era – the last couple of minutes had the ground wanting goal number 10, but it was fitting that Armo in his 150th would take his shot late when he had it within range and kicked the goal (cheeky smile aside after he took the mark, which had us half-expecting him to pop it over the top to Roo). What will we do without him? We’re not quite ready for him to go – I mean that from a football sense; we’re a better team developmentally with him out there and we’re a better team overall with him out there.

There was a bit of party atmosphere by the end the match. It wasn’t quite the same as 2013, which was tinged with a bit of sadness in what was Milne, Kosi and Jason Blake’s farewell games. I bring that up because the focus was on three guys whose careers we had ridden from start to finish, and for all intents and purposes should have been part of the group that delivered the club its second premiership. However, on that day – against a Fremantle team of mostly second-rate part-timers we recorded the most ever disposals by a team and players lined up for shots at goal at will (Kosi four times after coming on as the sub), with Milne and Blake’s late goals genuinely nice moments (as was Kosi’s poster, which as he revealed recently was known to be a poster only by him and the umpire upstairs before it was overturned).

But on Sunday, Riewoldt’s nine goals was a (rather large) microcosm of the mix of reflection and forward-looking of the day. Assuming his body can hold up, then surely there’s two years left in him. It was somewhere between a reminder of what he’s done for this club – and perhaps what his standing would be had we won a premiership in his time – but also that he’s not done yet. And that was just a starting point to what else Sunday offered – what might be in store longer-term for this club as the younger guys continue their development.

So this was ultimately a party of optimism, knowing that we could bank today and Riewoldt’s nine goals and the performances of Seb Ross, Blake Acres, D-Mac, Jack Newnes and even Brandon White – and everything else that had happened in the last two-thirds of the season – and have the entire off-season rest up and think about all the things that could be in the coming years. We might need that rest, too, because if things develop as we hope they do than at this time next year, and hopefully for a number of years afterwards, we’re gonna be very anxious a lot of the time because we might be nearing something big, or something heartbreaking. The 2004-2011 period, for all sorts of reasons, were nothing if not exhausting.

That said, there’s an energy around the club at the moment. We’re ready to go again. You can see it on the field in the way the players all went to Brandon White after he kicked his goal, you can see it in D-Mac and Blacres naturally finding themselves exactly where they need to be, you can see it in the follow-up work of Membrey and Bruce and even Paddy when he’s out there. You can see it in Jade Gresham dancing through traffic. We don’t know how it all ends for this team, but right now we are at the point of richest optimism, youth and hope before – if plans come to fruition – the future we’ve been waiting for becomes the now.

It’s quite accurate in 2016 to say “Morrissey says a lot of things”. But once he said, “Six months is a long time” (yes, I’m about to relate a Smiths quote to footy). Every season, even if part of a broader journey, is its own story.

Of course, seasons like this aren’t looked back on favour until we know that it led to something positive. The 2003 season we look at now with some positivity because it was the stepping stone out of the dark ages of the 1997 Grand Final fallout and into the heady days of 2004-onwards, in which every season until after the Grand Final Replay represented a potential premiership tilt. Some proved to be more so than others.

Even the heartbreak of 2009 isn’t contextually complete without knowing and acknowledging what happened the following year, and then the difficulties of 2011 onwards – right up until this day, thinking about what happened over the past weekend and thinking about Carlisle returning, thinking about how the young guys will go next year and thinking about what will happen over the trade and draft periods.

We won’t know what all of this counts for a while. But right now – as strange as it feels to say it – feels good. It feels like we’re about to start something.

Still that thing you remember

2016 NAB Challenge, Game 2

The genuine, provable exceptionalism that applies to the St Kilda Football Club is one that has been mostly of its own making, but with more than enough added fire and brimstone from the footballing gods. Some footballing atheism does need apply here to keep a Saint sane (enough).

Some easy, recent examples: a goal umpire bemusingly calling a clear Tom Hawkins poster in the 2009 Grand Final a goal; the bounce of the ball from Lenny Hayes’ desperate forward foray one year later. Where we all need to focus here ultimately, are elsewhere – if we put our destiny back within our own autonomy and take the will of the gods out of it, then we needed to kick straight in that crucial second quarter of the 2009 final stanza as we made our move (not to mention the final quarter); in 2010 no matter where Lenny’s kick bounced – whether through for a goal via luck or Stephen Milne – there’s still time on the clock for anything to happen. Again, this is not to mention the ball bouncing the other way and Milne’s opponent running off with it with Collingwood one point up – just as likely as either the ball bouncing through for a goal, or the outcome that did transpire. And again, if we’d stayed in touch in the second quarter rather than let their lead blow out, the challenge that presented itself in the second half would have been significantly reduced.

But these are moments in history reserved for a different time of year. For conversations throughout the finals series, and more pointedly, Grand Final week when we become reflective and think about where the game has led us to on the eve of the pending season’s showdown. Right now, we’re still waking up from the off-season and getting used to thinking about on-field matters – new players, player and team development, interchange rotation changes, whatever it might be, rather than the arduous grabbing at fark-knows-what for stories and content in the hotter months.

However, this is the St Kilda Football Club we’re here to whinge about, and football atheist or not let’s take this to the modern-day pre-season, in which the weather’s played some weird games with us specifically in this decade in a specifically otherwise forgettable format of the game.

The Saints and Lions have met several times in the pre-season in the past ten pre-seasons inclusive (surely there’s a weird conspiracy there but that’s one for the actual authoritarians on this level). Three out of three played up north in that time took place in novelty football Queensland locations (the Gold Coast still qualified for this in 2009) in either the wet or ridiculous heat, and so it was probably only a matter of time (maybe some football atheism required here) in which scheduling a match in a near-tropical part of a climatically unstable (and growing more unstable) planet would result in tonight’s, uh, result: nothing, because there was way too much extreme weather.

The irony here is that the only way this game could have received less attention would be if it actually went ahead – 3.40pm on a Sunday in Mackay (local time) in early March technically doesn’t even exist in the VFL/AFL world, let alone as a black hole time-and-place in the season proper. As recent history would suggest, throw St Kilda into the mix though and the weather will follow. This, more specifically, is where the football gods would come into it and you can’t do much about it.

In 2010, when the competition was in its final year as a straight-up knockout competition, it was St Kilda and stranger-than-fiction bedfellows Fremantle who almost had their semi-final cancelled because a sudden storm damaged Corporate Stadium enough to at least postpone the match after thorough ground checks and the teams ran out and began the game in an empty stadium. Two years later, the pre-constant headline Bombers had their Cessnas (I guess?) turned back because of stormy weather, and the Saints (half of them in Murray Bushrangers jumpers) ended up playing a rain-soaked intra-club match.

Two years later (sensing any patterns?), the weather came along again just before ran out to play against the Bulldogs in Geelong for some reason; on this occasion the game actually went ahead and the heavy conditions gave us two Eli Templeton specials on which he still largely pins his reputation to.

And so, two years later, here we are again – definitely not wet, because we were nowhere near it – but matchless and with an extra two or so hours in our lives all of a sudden. Football gods or whatever your divine beliefs may be, wtf. The only takeaway here is that whether it’s after five months of waiting for the season or 50 years for a premiership (or 93 for those that were there from the start), no matter what we do this is still unmistakably the St Kilda Football Club.

Safe, successful returns from the vortex

Round 9, 2015
Brisbane Lions 7.1, 8.2, 11.6, 13.8 (86)
St Kilda 2.3, 9.6, 12.9, 16.12 (108)
Crowd: 16,898 at the Gabba, Sunday, May 31st at 1.10pm

As Brisbane has faded into obscurity over the past decade, tragically taking the Fitzroy Lion with it, the Gabba itself has become somewhat of a footy vortex.

Somehow, despite the pandering that began in the 90s, they’ve become forgotten by the AFL. Their Queensland cousins the Gold Coast obviously took top billing when it came to the draft concessions race, with GWS likewise and the Swans the perennial Schwerer Gustav of AFL HQ’s turf war against Ray Warren and co.

By proxy, games at the Gabba have now sunk down to the small-font billing of Aurora Stadium status. Not much really happens there now – they’re usually just the games buried in the nothing time slots. Remember when they came back from 52 points down against the Cats? You do, but you only remember finding out later that night, because the game was played in a rarely explored land and a time well after the relevant weekend of footy had ended.

It’s a sense that has been compounded for Saints fans purely by virtue of the St Kilda Football Club being the St Kilda Football Club, with the national expansion of the VFL allowing us to take our historically freakish ineptness across the country. The Gabba was famously a holiday destination for St Kilda players and their talents for a number of years, going without a win there from 1991 until the last round of the weird 2006 season, made weirder by Barry Brooks kicking three goals and being hailed as trade bait. It was a place where we either got smacked or something remarkable happened as we lost. The Grand Final year of 1997 saw us smacked by the appropriate margin of 97 points as we stunk it up early on, and then the following season saw our incredible late-season capitulation highlighted by a one-point loss at the Gabba to the Lions in the final round. The Lions had only won three games to that point (one against us), and had we won relatively comfortably as we should have, we would have finished fourth. This was the game that finished with Stewart Loewe kicking a goal from a metre or two out a second or two after the final siren sounded . Having been first after Round 14 and equal first until Round 17 we instead dropped to sixth. It effectively ended the Alves era, and the  resulting Watson era began with an 89-point loss against the same opposition at the same ground.

Fast forward to the next tilt, to the penultimate round of 2004, and we were blown away after quarter time by the first team to replace us on top of the ladder as The Streak petered out. This match was set to determine who would host the qualifying final a fortnight later, and needless to say the Lions belted the proverbial out of us in the return bout, with the margin blowing out to 100 points in the final quarter. Season 2005 was arguably the most turbulent in the club’s history, and it began with the night at the Gabba in which the brutish physicality of the Lions era roared its last, with Nick on the receiving end.

Easy wins to the Lions in 2007 (52 points) and 2008 (46 points; 69 at three-quarter time) were almost pedestrian affairs, before we registered unconvincing wins in the second Grand Final year of 2010 and 2011, an actually decent win with 2012 heroes Siposs and Saad starring, and then back to the usual tripe in 2013.

Right now, Brisbane’s lack of success in recent years has consigned them to the lowest profile team in the league. The kind of team Hawthorn plays against in Tassie because who would know and who would care? The AFL certainly could never be farked honouring their promises to Roys fans signed off on as part of the merger then so why bother now? I dare say the mailboxes initially and now inboxes at AFL HQ have become progressively lighter nearly two decades on, and those at reception are consciously relieved about it.

So what do the Lions do about this weird crisis? They brought the old Fitzroy Lion back to the jumper, which is a great start but it shouldn’t have gone anywhere in the first place. Certainly the old Fitzroy jumper is just about the best ever worn by any club, but Brisbane is still stuck with dogshit re-recording of what was probably the best song in the league as well.

They wanted to have an actual Lion hanging out on the field pre-match, but instead they decided to ditch the statesmanlike tradition of running through the banner in favour of running out an inflatable Lion’s head.

The Saints Twitter has upped its pre-match banter of late, but you still feel like it could only reflect the club’s on-field fortunes – it could never be as intimidating or brutal or arseholey as an Essendon, for an instance. The account tried to take on Brion this week by drawing attention to our own giant, weird, far more freako mouth. In the end I wasn’t sure what the point was. Who has the biggest, giantest weird mouth thing?

The 1.10pm Sunday timeslot is an odd one. If the game’s in Victoria then some people might remember it exists, but if it’s a match-up actually worthy of wider attention it would be in the 3.20 Channel 7 News airstrip slot. Remember the 2002-2006 TV rights deal, and the blanket Channel 7 coverage before that? The 1.10pm game (for as long as it’s been around) has been broadcast live, mostly as an interstate game, but if it’s an interstate game now it’s on Fox Footy  and the silence can be nearly as deathly as the 4.40 slot later in the day (or even the 4.40 slot on the Saturday). Most people are either watching Footy Flashbacks or the neither-here-not-there TAC Cup Future Stars, and sometimes the players themselves – specifically Tom Hickey – will appear as a guest on the latter being asked about his Schneiderman appearance rather his own team playing in the timeslot.

It’s certainly an odd timeslot when you’re walking through North Road in Ormond at 12 noon and it’s heavily overcast and ridiculously quiet. Hardly the place for a decent build-up – not that the game warranted one – and I’d trekked from Brunswick West for it, but my brother had moved back on the Saturday to the Motherland six weeks ahead of my parents’ return from their UK tenure, and as first duty Fox Footy had been connected.

Carlton Draughts (or were they Mids?) were going down thick and fast in the first quarter as it was evident traditional Gabba form had been flown up and the Lions kicked the first five goals. I got sucked in to the Rohan Connolly theory following their late 2014 season form and had them as a smokey for the eight this year, whilst they’d remembered how to play footy in previous weeks they still showed themselves up as a young work in progress. They do have one of the best younger midfields in the competition, but in trying to gather what was going on through the broadcast, struggling namely Dwayne Russell’s words and resident Lions fan Jonathon Brown, I was led to think we were just really, really not switched on enough.

Matthew Leuenberger was once the future “Best Ruckman of All Time” but on Sunday he was one of those players closer to washed up then next-best-thing who decided to use the Saints as a canvas for some of their arsiest work. He was involved up forward a few times and early and for all the talk of Brisbane barely fielding a forward line, particularly with McStay out, Leuenberger’s involvement and five goals to none said otherwise.

Concerningly, the manner in which those goals and forward thrusts in general were being cultivated was reminiscent of the more negative footy we’d played this year. Hickey led hard up the ground and took a good mark in the middle before wheeling around and having it chopped and the Lions went up forward and kicked a goal, and Bruce and Hickey went up for the same mark in the 50 and with no one down and soft pressure on the Lions running out defence they went all the way up again, with Zorko completely on his own on one flank and finding Daniel Rich on his own for his second goal. Rich had made Panther and Geary look silly close to goal earlier en route to his first, so that percentage shaved off the intensity was all across the ground. That intensity was arguably reflective of the jumper design, and even though I’ll be covering this in more detail in the scarcely-anticipated next edition of St Kilda Jumper Talk, I’m not going to ditch an opportunity to talk about footy jumper minutiae. So let’s do it.

Ah, Indigenous Round. The weekend where every club wears a questionable jumper with genuine concepts behind them that have been filtered down by the whim of jumper manufacturers and whether you’re wearing your home or clash jumper to begin – as we were, and we ended up wearing something that looked like a spider’s web with braces, if you could actually make out anything on top of the entirely white canvas, with the 2009/2010 clash jumper faux-panels on the side.

But this year’s jumper if anything was more so shades of the infamous 2007/08 clash jumper, or should I say FADES of the infamous 2007/08 jumper? I’ve never felt a woman’s touch.

The Lions’ fifth goal came after Paparone outdid Riewoldt in a one-on-one, Hickey laid a huge tackle straight after and then Dunstan missed the resulting shot. The Lions went straight up the other end that fifth came as the clock ticked over just 10 minutes of play.

It would be easy to say “and then the intensity lifted, and the rest if history”, but that’s essentially what happened. And I don’t mean to say that as in we’re that good that we can just turn it on and off. That’s what we did in 2010, when fans bemusingly went ape droppings about “boring” football, not recognising the fact that the coach and the team, for the first time in the club’s then-138 year history, were that good we could choose when and how to win games. This is a completely different stage of development (obviously), so we’re rightfully getting off on these guys not settling for a competitive loss even on the road and in what’s essentially been a St Kilda Football Club black hole.

“Gallant” or “honourable” showings in previous weeks were enough to have the Josh Bruce Hype-O-Meter given the Warrior treatment. Hutchy’s understudy suggested Bruce could kick eight or nine against the Lions. He did essentially the opposite – strangely, in our two-highest scoring games this year we’ve kicked 16.12 (Sunday) and 16.11 (against the Gold Coast) and he’s kicked his equal-lowest (1.3) and highest (6.1) totals respectively. Not sure what the odds are on a gradual fade-out this season given how inexperienced he is and how hard he works, but it’s the latter that’s made him what he is so far this year and he’ll get somewhere at least on that alone.

Bruce was next to unsighted in the first half, caught under the ball often (as Roo and Hickey were) and it was hard to tell if a lead was rarely offered (by him or anyone) or the guys further up were too hasty in bombing it forward. He comically found himself on his own and on the lead in the last few seconds of the first half but dropped an absolute sitter 30 metres out. But he worked his way into the game in the second half and despite the inaccurate return was the one who kept the forward line stable in the final quarter when the Lions needed to be shut out.

Maybe everyone was just trying to remember what it was like to have Roo up forward for so much of the game but it seemed like he, Bruce and Hickey all got caught under the ball a lot and in the same contests in the first half – even the second quarter onslaught was mostly driven by Armo, Dunstan, Lonie etc. Was it just me or was Bruce playing more of the 2015 Roo role than Roo was? I’m not complaining in so far as Roo kicked four goals, but it felt like all of a sudden Bruce and Hickey were relegated a little and couldn’t have the impact they’ve been able to in the last few games. I don’t know if it was simply poor kicking, poor planning or poor movement on their part – probably a combination of both – but fortunately a lot of the smaller guys took some responsibility and we finished with our highest score for the year. It’s probably worth point out too that the better teams would have up to any of several bigger guys that can deliver on any given day up forward – look at our new neighbours the Hawks, who in recent years have had all of Gunston, Roughead, Buddy and Hale as talls alone – and this day it was Roo that finished with the goals.

So yes, the comeback was vaguely built around Roo but it didn’t feel like there was consistent structural anchor throughout the game that he, Bruce or Hickey have provided through the season. Two things about the Hickey and Longer “experiment”: firstly, it’s only as good as the weaker player, and secondly they’re both still very inexperienced so I’ve got billions of years’ worth of time for them. It’s just a part of a young team developing. Either way, it was the smalls and mids in the front half that took control of the game on Sunday.

Dunstan was probably the one that took the biggest step up this week, kicking two really good crumbing goals and laying six tackles in a role mostly confined to the front half. His dip in output over the past couple of months had seen him pushed to the brink of what you’d deem a “rest” (from the outside anyway) for a player of his experience and promise, so this simplified role allowed to him to show off his physicality and his decent mid’s goal sense. Lonie and Sinclair when he came on both brought their spark which feels like a natural component of this side already, only nine matches into their time with the club, Billings continued to rack up his 15+ quality possessions per week and Schneider played probably his best game of the year. Whatever you think of him, make the most of the contribution he makes out on the field because he’ll be gone very, very soon, back to the rookie list and that might well be it.

Armo continued his eponymous Fest 2015 with another 31 touches and an impact all around the ground, inside and out, and all the other things that people say about mids that play good games like that. He’s currently at point that Roo/Joey/Dal/BJ/Lenny consistently operated at over the past few years, in which I totally CBF writing about them in these reviews because everyone knows what they did and that they did it well. This time around, the talking point was that he kicked two really quality goals in the second quarter to wrestle the momentum from the Lions and send us on our way.

Like Armo, Mav finished with two goals at a crucial time in the game as a midfielder, volleying Billings’ great kick from just beyond the 50 metre arc and then reading the contest in the goal square best from the resulting centre bounce. Unfortunately he smacked Bewick in the head and was lucky to not get more than the one week offered to him by this week’s MRP Lotto Supervisors. Like Dunstan, I thought his output had tapered off a little over the last few weeks but a lot of players really took turns to stand up when someone needed to. Coming back from 29 points is one thing, and whilst the Best columns would feature senior guys in Roo, Joey, Schneider and Dempster just about every player – right down to D-Mac, one of the lesser lights on the day, taking a huge hit from behind whilst holding a tough overhead mark on the wing in the last quarter.

Martin replicated what Bennell did at a similar point further south in the state in Round 2 and really we were safe. Richie felt differently but Matt and I were talking about relatively confident we were through the second half. “Relatively” is the operative word – I wasn’t thinking we were going to shit it in or necessarily win but I felt much better about the prospects of giving it a shake through to the end, and a decent shake at that, as opposed to the last couple of years.

So two out of three wins this year in Queensland. Whilst the Gold Coast win was great at the time, particularly with the Bruce factor turned up to 11, using the arsey tool of hindsight it was probably the result that should have happened. This one had a lot more fight, and with the Lions flicking the switch in the last few weeks the poor start at our least favourite ground actually made some sense. But we’re hitting the point of the season now in which we can see clear hallmarks that each side is displaying in the 2015 season. Pleasantly, this side has been instilled with a real fighting aspect and a pride in both performance and application. To go with that we’ve been lucky that young guys in Billings, Sinclair, Lonie, Bruce, and so on have all improved their contributions, but it all starts with watching a young team working hard and really giving a shit about what they’re doing.

Saints wear new clash jumper (and play meaningless game)

2015 NAB Challenge, Round 1
Brisbane Lions 0.2.5, 0.4.11, 0.7.15, 0.7.16 (58)
St Kilda 0.2.1, 0.4.1, 0.6.4, 0.8.7 (55)
Crowd: Dunno, 150? at Moreton Bay Central Sports Complex, Saturday, February 28th at 3.10pm EST

Right, so Australian Rules football is officially back, notwithstanding the bizarre and unexplained match I walked past in the backstreets of Ivanhoe on a couple of Wednesday evenings ago. (And of course the NTFL, but that operates strictly within its own calendar.)

Uh, yeah. So naturally it was off to Moreton Bay on Saturday to kick things off in a competition which really has been reduced from a legitimate cause for celebration to “glorified practice matches” and I think this year might have finally hit “glorified match simulation drills” (BUT WITH 9-POINTERS *FLASHING LIGHTS*).

I’m not going to do an entire off-season/pre-season wrap right here and now but before anything else it would be remiss of me to not say anything about Madeleine Riewoldt. The occasional Twitter comments exchanged were the most interaction I had with her – like probably a few you reading this did with her, in fact –  but for the one post I feel I actually did OK with amongst the bloated slop I write for this blog she said some really nice things. The point of me bringing this up is that the post centred around family and the context of following the club and having those closest to you around you. During the day of that particular match I was at a club function and was sat next to her and Nick’s father Joe Riewoldt (Nick was there and spoke briefly as he were playing that night) and I featured it in the match review – Joe was incredibly warm and personable, and sensing I was a perhaps a little uneasy made me feel included at the table and in conversation. Madeleine took an interest in the piece when I mentioned Joe’s name in the Twitter post; she also said to me passed the piece on to him and he “loved it” – although to be honest I could never tell if he actually did read it or she was simply just saying that to be nice. Either is lovely.

Short story long, my very, very brief interaction with the Riewoldt family came at a particularly momentous point for my own family. So my reaction to hearing of her passing ranged somewhere between awful sadness for her family, as well as the hopeless dismay you feel when terrible things happen to decent people. And then you might listlessly put your hands up and say “Fuck. That.” It’s crass, but how else to frame it?

* * *

To get the 2015 pre-season underway, convention dictates that everyone has to agree on what time the game actually starts. Twitterers, Facebook users, forum posters and football clubs all struggled with the concept of daylight savings time before figuring out that the first bounce was at 4.10pm AEDT (as opposed to the temporarily redundant hunk-of-junk AEST).

For the most part it didn’t seem as if it would matter because until the day before; this was one of the few ultra-dud pre-season games which Fox Footy wouldn’t bother with. In fact if you looked at this and then our broadcast schedule for 2015 you’d think we’d gone down the Falcons’ route and slapped a giant Channel 9 logo across the tri-panel and Candy Stripe #2.

The AFL broadcast agreement apparently decided that no one was allowed to see anything if Fox Footy (or Channel 7) weren’t gonna be there, but announced the day before the game that there would indeed be streamed video with Crocmedia’s AFL Live commentary on club sites for the non-broadcast games. Look, I’m being very cynical here, but did anyone think this was a nice little PR stunt the AFL executed so as to seem another empowerment-of-the-fans move on the eve of the game – once people have actually realised they won’t be able to see the game and cracked the shits – rather than several months ago when the Corporate Challenge draw is announced and no-one’s paying attention?

Either way, we were left with a single camera on the wing – that’s fine, that’s all you need for this – but no replays, and then anywhere between one and several small children and their parents wandering loudly around crowd microphones throughout the game, and in one of the more absurd broadcast in brief history AFL live stream history, “Do You Remember” by Phil Collins cutting through loud and clear for extended periods in the second quarter (bonus: the second time it cut through it was in higher quality than the first, and I’m sure it wasn’t the broadcast audio overall).

It was out to Oakleigh for the game (pre-relative’s 21st, which incidentally required driving past what’s left of Waverley to get to) to be bunkered down at dear cousin Evan’s and strap ourselves in for all the half-hearted thrills and spills that the NAB Challenge has to offer.

Sub-standard footy with sub-standard broadcasting with sub-standard picture quality (we had the stream up on the TV via HDMI) – it had all the making of a sub-standard teaser for the real thing. And so it was. Now, the only thing that was amazing about this was the new clash jumper. In short: I love it, and it’s one of the best jumpers this club has ever had. But I will save the usual extended drivel on that and this year’s other jumpers for my usual removal of pants re: St Kilda jumpers in St Kilda Jumper Talk Vol. One Billion.

It was great to see Jason Holmes in actual St Kilda jumper, and not blue, gold and black. He didn’t have much impact as one of the subs (and also in his first vaguely AFL game obviously). His awareness in terms of actually knowing where to be to get involved in the play will required some further development. He took he a nice mark near half-back; Roberton was aware that Holmes can’t really kick an Australian Rules football and looked for the give-off but Robinson was onto it, so Holmes had to kick the thing and hit the target, I guess.

Again, Bruce has flown under the radar in his potential to importantly shore up our structure. But it might be because he’s not that good at football. I hope he does, because right now he’s sitting at number two of My Favourite Hair at the St Kilda Football Club, and I want it out there. There were a couple of soft efforts early, and the one time he looked really excited was when he got goalside of his opponent on the wing against the line and took off, hoping the boundary umpire didn’t notice the ball was 10 rows back when he gathered it.

He actually took a really nice mark on the outer wing, but dropped a relatively easy one after Saad (welcome back) gave us a rare good kick forward. Off the ball, Bruce’s tackle on Paparone late was exactly the kind of aggression you’d want to see from him in his role up forward, but Saturday’s effort or not I still feel like he’d struggle to get a spot if Roo, Paddy, Spencer and Lee are all available.

Of course, with no Roo or Spencer it was a very new forward line overall. Spencer only signed a one-year deal and I dare say his manager’s picked him out as one he can get a massive commission from. Fine by me if Spencer can’t be arsed playing here but we don’t know that yet. Strangely he didn’t get a run at all in this one and isn’t playing this week.

We did get some Big Tommy Lee and Paddy action though. Paddy moved exactly as I thought he would – direct at all the ball and he looks physically solid enough to get going from Round 1 if he stays in the action. I’m quietly really excited about him, particularly owing to the seasonal good words about his attitude coming from the club and the players. He finished with the most casual goal known to science after a 50-metre penalty and five marks which is certainly a tick at this ridiculously early stage.

Tommy Lee again showed himself to be haphazard at times and, as always, an easy dropped mark punctuated his day as much as anything else. But a couple of well thought-out centering kicks (including to Paddy on the lead for his second shot at goal) showed a little bit of maturity on his part.

On a day when slick skills were as rare as St Kilda premierships (cheers), Jack Lonie provided some much needed spark. Otherwise it was all pretty dour – two teams with only 11 wins between them out of a combined 44 games last year probably weren’t going to dish up anything more palatable at this stage of the year, and probably not at this stage of their development.

As good as it was to see Armo, Steven and Geary get involved in some really tough contest, and Jack Newnes kick a real captain’s goal – OR SHOULD I SAY 2018-2028 PREMIERSHIP CAPTAIN’S GOAL? – even though he’s not the captain yet, everyone’s dream is to see their entire team walk off the ground after a pre-season match injury-free. But lo and behold, Andrew Wallis casually revealed to us that Farren’s out for 12 weeks (hamstring), Jimmy Webster for six, Sav for a monthish (another hamstring), as well Jack Billings (yet another hamstring) taking all of 30 seconds to ruin his next four weeks. Roberton’s  done something to his hamstring as well and is going to miss too (I can hear you all shrugging). We do potentially get to see St Kilda’s Own Stephen Merchant in Tom Hickey, Luke Dunstan and Hugh Goddard play this Saturday though, and Minchington, Wright and Sinclair have all been named in the squad.

Ultimately, what do we get out of this one? In reality, just another essentially meaningless Brisbane vs St Kilda match in Queensland in the first game of the pre-season, and another narrow win by the Lions – by seven points in 2007, nine in 2009 and three in 2015. But who remembers any of that?

St Kilda 79, Brisbane Lions 82

Losing to the winless, bottom team. Cool. This is how the Wellington experiment is going:

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Photo: Justine Walker/AFL Media

Review (by me) should be up over the next day or so.