Brodie Murdoch Posts

“Come Armageddon, come”…Oh no wait, it’s ok, sort of.

Round 10, 2016
St Kilda 5.4, 6.8, 7.9, 15.11 (101)
Fremantle 3.0, 7.1, 10.4, 10.7 (67)
Crowd: 17,927 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, May 28 at 4.35pm

I began last week’s review talking about my dread of coming up against the Bombers, who always seem to dick us no matter our respective situations on and off the field are at the time.

Whilst the prospect of playing Fremantle immediately after the Bombers presented two pretty similar assignments – two opportunities for a young team to redeem themselves against depleted, unfancied opposition somewhat after a pasting by the Eagles – Freo presented its own psychological difficulties for Saints fans (on top of simply being ravaged by everything that goes with being a Saints fan).

My dread for playing Freo this week was simple – the Saints and Dockers are the combatants for the ridiculous and not very wonderful Bizarro Rivalry. The Dockers were incredibly on the precipice of becoming the equal-record holders for worst start to a season by a previous season’s top four finisher (certainly outright for a minor premier), but who better to save them from sharing that record than their Bizarro rivals, the historically pathetic Saints?

The clubs are into the 22nd year of weird shit happening, with a bunch historical coincidences sprinkled over the top. Fremantle played their first ever official game against the Saints in 1995 in the opening round of the pre-season, which remains their only official game in Fremantle; an ANZAC Day showdown with Freo winning by a goal in 1997; Stewart Loewe knocking himself out and Peter Everitt kicking the clumsiest goal of the year contender in 1998; umpire Peter Carey taking a mark in 1999; the Saints winning their last game under Malcolm Blight win Robert Harvey doing his knee and a young Milne kicking three goals in 2001; The Dockers coming back and snatching a late win with a long bomb in the first game St Kilda wore the hot cross bun jumper as an away jumper in the home and away season, and then winning the return bout at a home game at Princes Park in 2002; the Saints winning in Perth to go to 7-0 for the first time since 1966 and looking odds-on for a premiership, and then the Dockers wearing their white clash jumper for the first time ever  and playing for a finals spot in the last match of 2004 against the Saints; St Kilda winning by a point in Tasmania after a dubious late free kick to Aaron Hamill in Round 2 and then Troy Longmuir’s winning goal after the siren in the “Whispers in the Sky” match in 2005; Sirengate in 2006, which in isolation was the difference between Freo’s first top four finish and St Kilda’s sixth and first-week final exit; Steven Baker and Jeff Farmer’s clash and Baker’s long suspension in 2007; one of the worst games ever as Milne and Dal Santo were dropped and McEvoy, Eddy and Allen all debuted and the last quarter went for 23.56 in 2008; St Kilda holding Freo to what was at the time the equal-lowest Corporate Dome score, shared with…St Kilda…in 2009; And so on and so forth. This is without mentioning Ross Lyon, Zac Dawson, and the 2013 and 2014 pastings St Kilda gave premiership-fancies Freo, and that each club made their first Grand Final appearances 100 years apart.

***

Ok look I’ll get this out of the way. Sam Landsberger’s pathetic article about Nick Riewoldt post-match last week – and his equally pathetic responses to criticism of it online – as well as the Herald Sun’s glorifying of it, in the same week that Brad Hill was charged with assault and received fuck all coverage was really disappointing. At no point did Sam address why he included a whole section talking about St Kilda’s bid for a women’s team and the appointment of Peta Searle, instead deciding to step back from the article when it was convenient and saying “your words, not mine” when challenged on why he attempted to make it appear that either Nick or the club has an inherent problem with treating females, as well as saying “End of story” in one tweet simply to outline that the event had happened, and that therefore it deserved his story. Which it doesn’t; something simply happening doesn’t necessarily warrant a warped story and the pushing it received by the newspaper. He also took editorial duties and said “filthy remarks on innocent StK staff disgusting”, although no one else in the footy world seemed to particularly make a big deal of it. I outlined last year the clear bias against St Kilda that the Herald Sun had during the trade period and the Carlisle saga, which I think is worth mentioning given his involvement in that as well as this.

Interestingly, it seemed as though there was some contrition on the Herald Sun’s part. Their coverage of the match including an inset photo of Roo taking a selfie post-match with a fan and Gresh – with no irony or mention of the week’s “news” and by Sunday afternoon Landsberger had selectively tweeted about Armo talking on Triple M about Roo winning a seventh best and fairest this year and playing on in 2018, as well pointing out the strength of his stats this season himself.

The whole thing actually reminded me that I may or may not recall a current Herald Sun footy journo possibly calling Nick Riewoldt a “retard” repeatedly in the 2010 Preliminary Final. Anyway.

***

So a young team on their way up but with the inconsistencies that come with this awkward early development phase, coming off a relatively unconvincing 46-point win – albeit one that featured performances from three young forwards that gave cause for feverish optimism – up against a coach who for all intents and purposes should have held up our second premiership cup with our current captain, and his team trying to avoid some very unwanted history. On a cold and wet Saturday as winter storms along, hidden away in the 4.35 timeslot (Who decided on “4.35”?), in the mostly empty confines of the Concrete/Corporate Dome. It reeked of the depressing depths of a long footy reason, so Freo ftw, surely. So like last week, I used my massive $10 bonus bet on a weakened opposition to at least salvage something out of the potential wreckage, because I work hard and I play hard.

Hotline and Webster were suspect outs this week; at least that was my not-so-hot-take on it until I remembered Billings indeed ended up in the rooms at some point during the match against the Bombers before playing it out with not too much effect. Webster on the other hand already has a conveniently-timed illness because I dare say he was close to being dropped, and is hanging out with at his gf’s house on club’s orders. I’d love to be told to do that but I’m desperately, desperately alone.

Discussing the ins and outs with my dad over the phone on Friday, in my infinite wisdom I declared Brodie Murdoch would be playing probably across half-forward and pushing up the ground, completely unaware that Richo that morning had specifically said at the presser that he’d be playing across half-back. Sinclair, the other inclusion, would obviously be floating around the forward half and has been underrated a little this year I think in his value as a link player pushing up the ground as well as playing his usual small forward role.

The 55 tram ride into the ground from Brunswick West is always a little strange, having grown up with the St Kilda fervour that accompanies the train ride in along the Frankston line. In fact on the 55 there’s none at all and there are as likely to be many GWS fans on it as St Kilda fans (i.e. fan, singular; i.e. me) as there were for the Round 5 match. Given the time this weekend’s match and the weather on the day there was barely anyone on the tram at all, let alone a bunch of people on their way to see a C-grade match in the nothing hours of a grey Saturday.

Richie is away enjoying Europe for a few weeks, hence why all four of you RWB readers are stuck with me for a few weeks, and Evan was getting his second round of 21st birthday celebrations underway, so it was an opportune time for dad to rejoin the match day line-up of myself and Matt after he decided family was important enough to miss out on a terrible match of footy last Sunday. We reprised the Kangaroos pre-match build-up of burgers and drinks at the Savoy before it was time to take a deep breath and take the field as the next team with the pressure of “just don’t fuck it up” coming from the rest of the AFL world; which was still waiting to burst into laughter at the expense of whoever had to listen to an outdated pop-rock intro and then “FREO, WAY TO GO” after the final siren.

Like last week, the raging battle of nausea vs apathy threatened to consume us all at half-time as Essendon planted themselves within reaching distance at half-time. With the comfort of hindsight, as nausea vs apathy played itself out at half-time we were bracing ourselves for the possibility of nausea followed by apathy, or perhaps nausea followed by a sickly mix of more nausea with apathy. At three-quarter time the buckets were ready. No amount of Ativan would be able to cover this. As Matt and I talked about late in the game, we were both psychologically preparing ourselves for a best result of a close win, and having to simply prepare ourselves from the point of Paddy’s smart goal late in the third quarter of around 45 minutes of feeling sick and partially not enjoying living for that amount of time, with the expectation that it was happening, that St Kilda would be St Kilda and gift Fremantle their first win of the season. And out into the cold, unfriendly Saturday night we would go.

The early stages of the match felt a long way away by that time. Shane Savage ran out onto the ground with his son for his 100th game. He was one of the players that really needed to lift last week after half-time and actually did. He’s come a long way after being VFL fodder for a club hurtling towards its 27th wooden spoon two years ago. Maybe his new half-back partner Brodie in time could present us with a similar case of improvement, and the prospect of having two booming kicks off half-back – albeit belonging to two very different types of players – was an interesting prospect for the bigger forwards working up the ground, as well as providing that extra option for the long kick at goal just beyond the arc. Brodie put that on show with a brilliant sausage in the first quarter.

That’s not to say Webster doesn’t have a huge kick, but the upside of his possessions is based more on precision and it felt as though he’d been missing a little in general of late. The pressure on the players to perform from an individual aspect given Richo talked up Billings’ and Webster’s prospects of coming straight into the team would surely give guys like Brodie and Sinclair a bit of jolt, right? RIGHT?

Well it seemed to work because Brodie was heavily involved in the first half, beyond his great goal. It came after a couple of Freo goals which had followed a blistering start that had us up 4.3 to 0.0 and some guy behind us having a ball constantly yelling all things anti-Ross (Lyon) and things vaguely based on “Owen 10/0 and 10” etc. I wouldn’t have gone there myself but the start really was entertaining, highlighted by Membrey and Paddy looking to pick up from last week’s performance. Membrey smartly found space on the lead and kicked the our third, whilst Paddy followed with number four from a brilliant one-handed finish on the way down from a marking contest.

The midfield wasn’t world beating but the pressure was up early, and even though Freo scored three of the last four goals of the quarter, including Walters frustratingly kicking one in the fi nal seconds, we still looked dangerous. Despite leading the possession count 118-79, some goalscoring opportunities were hurriedly missed or poorly thought-out under pressure which meant the 5.4 return from just 11 entries could have been far more devastating. It said a lot that most of the that possession count came from guys in the back half who were weathering Freo’s entries – Gilbert started well and equalled last week’s seven-possession full-game tally by the first break; Fisher was on his way to doing a solid job on Pavlich, Roberton was roaming around doing whatever it is he does and has 12 touches; Joey had his regulation sevens and Newnes (including a goal) and Savage had six apiece.

Even as Fremantle were closing in the second quarter Matt and I agreed that it was Brodie Murdoch who we felt safest with ball in hand. He looked composed with the ball and kept things moving without trying anything beyond his capabilities. The strange thing about the term was that we were only a goal or two away for much of it from really blowing open the game and getting the lead out to around the five-goal mark, but more wasted opportunities in front of goal and Freo’s pressure in the back half meant we crawled to half-time with 6.8 as Lachie Weller and Ed Langdon kicked a combined three goals in just over four minutes to have Freo within a point at the main break.

Freo were playing old-style Ross Lyon footy and it was working; I remember thinking in Round 4 of 2012 when Freo played the Saints at the Concrete Dome for the first time post-Ross exit how it was like watching St Kilda play St Kilda in Fremantle jumpers. I felt a little similar at times on Saturday, as Freo found patience and kept control of the ball in the back-half, waiting to pick apart the Saints at the right time and make their move forward. If they didn’t score directly from the entry it was a massive battle for the Saints to get it out of there and the longer it stayed in there the more the Dockers’ confidence grew in what they were doing, as well as the risk that the Saints would concede.

Some days you just think, this is not our day, and by equal measures others things happen where you think, this is their day. Lachie Neale talking a mark above his head at the edge of the goal square is a sure sign that things are working for Freo, but when Matt Taberner is pulling the old one-two and kicking goals on the run off-balance from 45 metres out for Freo’s tenth of the last 12 goals for the game to give them a three goal lead in third-quarter then surely, surely this was their day. We could only sit and watch and take it in; this was happening. In the shadows of three-quarter time we were headed for Sam Landsberger’s favourite day of his life.

Paddy’s quick thinking on the goal line to poach back a major just before three-quarter time – keep in mind Lachie Weller missed a snap shot less than a minute later – at the very least arrested the Dockers’ control and relieved the scoreboard pressure (easier to have that idea in hindsight). Thirteen points to claw back from the final change, and by then Barlow, Pearce, Neale and Hill had been dominating the midfield battle for essentially two quarters with Mayne busy across half-forward and there was no reason to think they’d be going anywhere. Their team defence was stifling any movement from the Saints out of the back half and it felt that it was rare and difficult opportunities like that presented to Paddy late in the quarter that needed to taken.

So somehow we kicked eight goals in the last quarter with charged home for a 34-point win. Where the hell do you start with that? I guess as per Richo’s post-match you see that forwards were isolated against their opponents one-on-one more often, rather than the bomb-and-hope mentality we were forced into in quarters two and three. This was owing to a huge last-quarter performance from David Armitage, who had 13 touches and got the midfield going along with Jack Steven and Seb Ross, who wasn’t as prolific as the week before but was still just as smart with the footy. Armo probably won’t be the elite mid we’d hoped he’d be 100% of the time but elite-grade quarters like that – not to mention the 17 tackles he had throughout the game – to go with Steven’s usual busy performance and the emergence of Seb Ross all of a sudden make the midfield bat a lot deeper. There’s still Nathan Freeman to come in potentially, and as I say every week I dare say we’ll be bringing in an elite mid via trade or free agency either this year or next.

My Favourite Hair in the AFL stepped up as well, finding the ball 10 times the length and breadth of the ground in the quarter and kicking 2.1 amidst it all. In another great performance playing across the ground, he ended up with 24 touches. He looks as fit as he’s ever been and again, it’s testament to his longevity, dedication and skill that he’s put himself in this position, one that benefits the team from his own presence across the ground whilst allowing the next gen forwards in Bruce, Paddy and Membrey game time, and importantly game time with each other to fast-track their development and cohesion.

Bruce finished with two after having fark-all to do with it for three-quarters; ironically his first goal out the back of Paddy’s one-on-one was one of the very few occasions in the game where one of our forwards was at the drop of the ball near goal, let alone actually do something. His run-in goal as a result smacked of the G-Train at his cheekiest, and he was able to charge to the right spot in space late in the game following Steven’s soccer of the ground to Paddy on his own, who lowered his eyes instead of blazing away and hit Bruce on the chest close to goal.

Paddy only finished with nine touches but again, many of those touches were quality. I’ve mentioned his mark in the first quarter and his creative second goal which would prove to be the first of the last nine goals of the match we’d kick. Not only did he hold his position in the contest, but he reacted immediately for the next move. In the final term he had a contested mark on the flank bemusingly disallowed for being touched, but under pressure from two Dockers he managed to fire out a handball which ended up with a goal. His lead and mark on the opposite flank as the team was surging was met with a huge reaction from the members’ wing, but he just overcooked the centreing kick. He made up for soon after, however, with his composure on the way to setting up Bruce. It was pleasing to say he had a genuinely positive impact on the game, and up against much more fancied opposition next week will be a great test for him. Really promising signs for another week though, but on top of it all I’ll always be terrified of Petracca.

It’s harder to underrate than overrate younger and more inexperienced guys but Tim Membrey came out of the grind and the whirlwind again as the team’s leading goalkicker on the day with three. He’s kicked 14.8 in five games since coming into the team this year, and, if you’re like Richo and would like to “park the West Coast game”, he’s kicked 14.6 in four games. Over all games since he came in Bruce has kicked 13 goals, Riewoldt eight and Paddy four. One thing which wasn’t so obvious on Saturday were his efforts in contests high up the ground, particularly with ball close to to the deck, and the number of times he was able to force it to a teammates’ advantage or get it out directly to a teammate. His 15 possessions, six marks, four tackles and 3.2 reflected another very decent all-round game.

It seems as though the tall forward triumvirate is the key way to go, with the small forward stocks going through a bit of a momentary shuffle. Gresham has grown with every game, which he showed with his run, bounce, rebalance and perfectly-weighted left-hand handball over traffic on the way to Weller putting the Saints in front (Roo naturally a key part of that chain higher up the ground). “Only” 13 possessions in his seventh game, but with seven tackles and the last goal of the match – from a rare genuine crumbing effort from a small forward – were the icing. Like Billings he’s very composed with the ball and is quickly learning to press up the ground effectively, and I’d to think this week his disposal effectiveness had picked up overall as well. With Billings to come back in, assuming his ankle is ok, you would think Sinclair would be the one to come out after failing to hit the scoreboard and picking up only nine forgettable touches (including zero in the final quarter – the siren sounded with the ball in his hands). Not sure if Webster comes in for Murdoch, who did quieten down in the second half. With Sandy not playing due to the state league representative games it’s difficult to get a gauge on the what the coaches might be thinking should the injury slate be clean come Thursday. Weller had had a few lean weeks but made some important contests as a lead-up forward when we made our move early, and again when we made our move late, kicking the goal that put us in front.

So, ultimately it was an incredible relief. The nausea and apathy battle, with a lot of parallels with the week before, simply gave way to a pleasant exhaustion.

It’s important to have some sort of empathy in this situation. Not particularly for Ross Lyon, but for Freo fans. Their club is only in its 22nd season but are shaping up to be the kind of club St Kilda was in the 20th Century (and, well, to the current day too. And including from establishment in 1873 to joining the VFL for the inaugural 1897 season. So uh, be the kind of club St Kilda is).

A couple of weeks ago in concluding my review of our thrashing by the Eagles’ I said now’s not the time to take anything for granted. But really, no time is. I remember how awful the 2011 season felt, particularly after the media found us easy targets in the off-season for the “Schoolgirl” “story” now that we weren’t a premiership team (again, compare this to the Hawthorn coverage in the trade period against the St Kilda bashing, and again this week with the Herald Sun’s difference in coverage to the Riewoldt “story” and Brad Hill being charged with assault. If you’re not winners you’re dispensed as roadkill, and whilst they haven’t had quite the same off-field dramas as we had, Freo and their fans are there right now. After three seasons of being a red-hot premiership chance, and perhaps four if you include the fact that they were 10-points away from playing off in a Preliminary Final in 2012, it’s an awful, awful time when your fingers slip, you lose grasp and you’re on the way down. That was us five years ago and it still hurts to think about. As fans there’s only so much you can do about it, but it’s a brutal competition and really, you can’t take anything for granted wherever you might be.

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 10
David Armitage – 2
Tim Membrey – 2
Nick Riewoldt – 2
Jack Steven – 2
Sam Fisher – 1
Paddy McCartin – 1

Totals
Nick Riewoldt – 17
Jack Steven – 16
Seb Ross – 9
Leigh Montagna – 8
David Armitage – 7
Tim Membrey – 6
Jack Newnes – 6
Sam Fisher – 5
Tom Hickey – 5
Jack Billings – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Blake Acres – 3
Josh Bruce – 3
Paddy McCartin – 2
Shane Savage – 2
Sean Dempster – 1
Jade Gresham – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1
Mav Weller – 1

Without a fight

Round 22, 2015
St Kilda 1.5, 3.9, 4.12, 4.14 (38)
Sydney Swans 4.3, 10.6, 15.10, 20.15 (135)
Crowd: 27,856 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, August 30th at 3.20pm

In the character-based comedy stylings of the St Kilda Football Club Adam Schneider was farewelled today with the opposition supporters having infinitely more reason to be thankful for his services.

He was not just a part of the history-making Swans outfit that broke the longest VFL/AFL premiership drought in 2005, but he was also pivotal the week before in which the Swans won their first final at the MCG for 69 years. Of Course, who else would it be against? (Just as a further tease, the same number of years the Saints took to win out first and still only flag).

That 2005 season would go down as one of the most tumultuous in St Kilda history, and one that for a brief fortnight appeared could be the one that delivered its second flag. Instead the unfancied Swans – whilst they’d finished above us on the ladder in third spot, they were lucky to be there due to Nick Davis’ heroics – ran away with the Preliminary Final in the final quarter. Schneider finished with three straight as the Swans kicked 7.0 to 0.4 in the final term.

I’ve only ever seen one highlight from that game, one day being daring enough to bring myself to watch some footage from it (a YouTube that has since been taken down, but a couple of more in-depth highlights videos of that night have been posted). That on passage is Schneider’s third goal halfway through in the final term to seal the deal once and for all. Tim Lane’s commentary befits the mood and context of that moment wonderfully.

Obviously not the best way to ingratiate yourself to an opposing club’s fans but it was a very popular trade indeed that brought him and Dempster to the club. Curiously (as pointed out in Herald Sun yesterday), the only three players remaining from that match are Goodes and the St Kilda duo.

Schneider brought a slickness to the side that we really needed more of; a goalsneak foil to Milne but one that could play higher up the ground and use pinpoint disposal going into attack.

But so it will be that the 2009 Grand Final will be the defining point of his St Kilda career. Going into the day he’d already banked a premiership as a 21 year-old in just his third season, and for all intents and purposes he should have had a second. He wasn’t the only villain on the day the Saints kicked themselves out of a premiership – Milne, McQualter, Gram and Dempster all wasted multiple gettable chances – but he was the ringleader.

His return of 2.3 doesn’t tell you that his first chance at goal was a snap from directly in front to give us our first major but, as we saw close-up from the Punt Road end pocket he tried kicking the proverbial off the Sherrin and missed. Nor does it tell you about the moment that will be branded painfully, searingly into my memory will be his miss in the last quarter that would have set the tone and put breathing space between ourselves and the Cats. At the time it was another miss we feared might come back to hurt us in the worst possible way, and now it hurts immensely.

I’ve never seen footage from the game; I still turn away when a highlight appears on TV and I know it’s from the game (including when watching the 2009 Season Highlights DVD). And so I’ve seen Scarlett in the seconds before “the toepoke” but I still don’t exactly know what it looks like (likewise Chapman’s goal). But this Schneider moment is still clear in my mind, from the viewpoint of our seats at the other end of the ground. It’s as much the feeling I had at the time as well as the visual memory itself. When he broke clear into space, well inside range, the first instinct was that he would kick it. But in the wider context of what the kick meant this was a completely foreign position to be in. When he broke clear, I remember thinking…well, I don’t know if I want to say I felt “this is it”, because the goal in itself wasn’t going to win it at that point, rather, that if he kicked it we would be very difficult to shake from there. But for that brief moment before he physically kicked it we were going to be in that incredible position in the last quarter of a Grand Final. His getting the ball and heading for goal on his own seemed to represent the situation we were in: there were no obstacles; no thunderbolts from the footy gods, no personal hang-ups. It was only space; I guess “weightless” is the best way to describe how I felt. The only thing standing in our way from this point would be ourselves. And within seconds, so it proved to be. The kick curled to the right and missed.

Maybe it was the 21 year-old frame of mind I was in at the time, but in writing this even now I can feel myself getting worked up about how I felt. There are few singular moments in St Kilda’s history I personally feel so pained about; so simply sad about. For a few seconds I thought we were on our way. But we gave it up and ultimately lost it. That’s a long way down.

From that point on his key contribution was set in stone, officially so after the Grand Final Replay and the team was psychologically ruined. Time would run out for him well before he would make it anywhere near another Grand Final in which he could atone for that day. It raised its head again this year against the Bombers early in the season. A missed set shot from directly in front to put us up by over a goal with several minutes left; the resulting kick-out was taken straight up the other end for what proved to be Travis Colyer’s winning goal. It didn’t prove to be as much until after Schneider missed from 15 metres out directly in front.

Every player from the 2004-2010 era who retires feels like a victory for everyone that enjoyed seeing the Saints fail to win a premiership throughout it, and for those who thoroughly enjoyed the St Kilda schoolgirl saga to bookend it (as an entree to the dour awful 2011 season). We’re that far away from those Grand Finals now that we’re more prone to thanking Schneider for his work with Lonie (surely he takes #13?), Sinclair and Minchington in the immediate sense of what we’re losing. Unfortunately, as a St Kilda supporter, his career will be defined by that moment on that amazing, awful, defeating day. In a wider context, his career’s peak will have come with the Sydney Swans as part of their 2005 premiership, with him personally disposing of St Kilda en route.

Hard to review a (non-retiring) player’s game at this stage of the year without turning it into a faux-season review, or “Where are they at?” BigFooty-style irrationality convention. It’s hard to review anything with this one in that light because I went to the Savoy for lunch and drinks with RWB cohort Rich, Dad, Lewis and family friend Jim, but we already know the Savoy will have to echo it’s comeback act from the time that construction begins on the 68-floor tower on its site.

I keep coming back to this but I always will – Mum and Dad returning to the country gave a welcome expanded dynamic to gameday. The problem was that they so late in the season and only now I was getting used to the pre- and post- match drinks, burgers and chats, let alone the games themselves. And just like that, with next week a meaningless match over in Perth, the season is essentially over for the supporters.

The takeaway from last week was the performance of J Holmes; big leaps, good hit-out numbers and some tapwork that gave our midfield its best service for years. Holmes opened up early with a big leap and healthy tap, Armo winded from hit, Schneider caught immediately

Holmes looked quite lost for much of the game, with Mike Pyke the beneficiary. Pyke floating forward on his own was a dreaded but predictable outcome, and Tippett helped himself at the right time of year to plenty of the action as the ruck foil and up forward.

The signs weren’t that good whichever way you looked at it. Even our better passages were wasted. Holmes out of the ruck to Armo, to Ross, to Murdoch and then to dicking around should simply have been a straightforward entry to the advantage of a moving forward in 50. Instead, the Swans forced a stoppage and went straight to the other end and a chance to reset at a throw in next to their own goals.

Tom Hickey obviously either got comfortable or injured after signing a two-year deal last week, doing fark all and subbed out just after half-time with leaner numbers than J Holmes. Playing as a forward he kicked one behind and elsewhere he was disappointing, punctuated by weak efforts in a marking contest against Grundy in front of the members and then a weak tackle on Pyke, which ended with Riewoldt flying back into a marking contest and Tippett goaling immediately.

Novelty team line-ups mean novelty passages of play. Anything featuring Murdoch (like the above) probably qualifies, but he and the poorly-haired Seb Ross were busy across the ground early, linking up for Ross to hit the post. Other behinds registered at quarter-time were barely decent opportunities (e.g. Gilbert off the ground from 12 rows back behind the goals), but such was Sydney’s pressure and our ability to execute, pressured or not.

Armo didn’t kick a great chance for goal on the run after some good work from a Schneider and Sav double team, and the footy went straight up for Mike Pyke running into goal with Holmes nowhere near it. What could have been a three-point margin was now 15, and moments later 21, despite the Swans leading the scoring shots count 9 to 8 at that point.

Things were looking really droll when Dempster came out of defence and just vaguely kicked it out of play. No tact, no cunning, no plan from the wider team to give him something further down the ground. But we plummeted further with some more St Kilda comedy gold as Armo strolled in to goal and missed, Webster dropped an easy mark in defence and Tippett and Goodes goaled immediately afterwards. Murdoch’s nice kick after goal the half-time siren was barely sugar coating.

As far as those booing Goodes goes, several points to make. Firstly, a few are jumping to their own defence or that of others that they’re booing him because he’s a “thug”, “diver”, “cheat”, etc. They would then have to argue that people have begun booing him en masse in recent times for all of those things specifically, and just purely coincidentally after he called out someone making a racist comment directed at him and then after performing an indigenous culture-themed war dance on field. Because no crowd ever booed him in the past unless after he’d done something specific during a game, as all players are susceptible to (and you’ll be hard-pressed to find too many of those games). I can guarantee you no St Kilda crowd has ever booed him like that before any on-field incident involving Goodes and race (and I invite anyone to prove otherwise). Goodes was clearly booed the first time he went near the ball, with muted boos the following couple of instances. But it was back in the second half, particularly after a free kick decision in front of the members wing went against St Kilda, as if he made the decision himself. Rather, this was about a number of people feeling they had been justified booing because in their mind this was loosely linked to the “diver” theory, even though he actually hadn’t played for the free (and didn’t for the entirety of the game). This carried on clearly to the end of the game (see Goodes’s touch in the final seconds), and people were still trying to at least bat it away as something they could barely hear at the ground (again, refer to the video). This is something that happened, whether you did it or not. This is what a St Kilda crowd sounded like. And I hated every second of it. I don’t think the club will acknowledge it, quietly putting it down to a minority of supporters that caused a minor stir that will disappear if no one mentions it. That would be an awful shame and a rather hypocritical stance given the wonderful work the club has put into involvement in the annual Pride March and launching a “Pride Match”. If you’re accusing me of putting words in their mouth then please tell me what kind of take no comment would reflect on the club’s behalf.

By three-quarter time the game was ready for some more comedy and the club decided for whatever reason to play Tex Perkins’ version of the club song, which was met with exactly zero fanfare considering we were about to endure another quarter Sydney mopping the floor with us.

We just didn’t look like it all day, and specifically Josh Bruce didn’t look like it all day. Lest We Forget his 20-game streak of kicking at least one goal in each game. He wasted his own chances, whether they were dropped marks and his shot with time and space in the last quarter. There was also his mark a second after the three-quarter time siren within range, and also his give-off to the running Webster who didn’t even kick for goal.

So what the hell to say for a dirty day all round? This season deserved a better send-off for the members and fans, and a number of those let themselves down on the day. On the field this was more along the lines of 2014, and it’s easy to feel for a moment like we’re back amongst the bottom few wondering where the hell we’re going. Next Saturday looms as another forgettable match in an era which is purely for bridging purposes; to get us to the other side. That’s all well and good when you think of watching a team develop over a season and seeing the improvement of players week to week, but sometimes we just need to get to the end of a season and have a rest. One week to go.

The fondest of farewells

Round 23, 2014
Adelaide Crows 4.2, 11.5, 15.5, 22.9 (141)
St Kilda 2.2, 3.3, 8.7, 9.8 (62)
Crowd: 44,969 at Adelaide Oval, Sunday, August 31st at 2.50pm CST

Ok right, so before I start there’s probably a couple of things to point out.

Firstly, as I touched on in last week’s review, it’s difficult to not make a post at this point in a season like this a de facto season review. That’s mostly for the questionable podcasts that Rich and I put together. We’ll have time to produce some faff in the coming weeks.

Secondly, I don’t want this to be entirely about Lenny, because really Rich and I can post whatever we want whenever we want and I’d rather give Lenny a devoted post but I might not, although this will probably end up revolving around him anyway.

Richmond was the feel-good story of the round (and potentially the year), but their win also rendered the rest of the weekend – i.e. this and the Suns-Eagles match on the Sunday as dead rubbers. Otherwise, given West Coast’s sizeable victory, we would have been set up somewhat for a revenge opportunity for Adelaide. It was in the final game of 2008 that we stormed to a 108-point win over Essendon – Robert Harvey’s final home-and-away match – to knock Adelaide from fourth spot and grab the double chance for ourselves, having been 5-7 after Round 12. Had the Tigers lost on Sunday and the Eagles won by the margin they did, the Crows would have needed to win by something in the order of 126 points to make the eight. Given their style of play, firepower up forward and St Kilda’s lowly state it wouldn’t have been utterly impossible. But ultimately, just like this entire paragraph, it was moot.

Indeed, it would have been reasonable to expect that Adelaide would come out a little flat now that their season was cooked, although they’d been pretty inconsistent even when their season was still alive. Probably the closest thing we were going to get to a win was Lenny taking the record for the most tackles by any player; he needed seven to equal and eight to break the all-time record set by Jude Bolton. Lenny’s ferocious start with six tackles in the first quarter made him a monty to break it, and by game’s end Bolton’s record had stood for less than 12 months. Given the tackle numbers of others currently playing the record will stand for at least a couple of years.

Otherwise the game eventually turned out as expected. One of the first passages of play forecast St Kilda’s day, really – Lenny knocked it out to Jack Steven, who kicked nicely to Rhys leading low just out from the 50-metre arc, and he kicked terribly to no-one. So many times throughout the day we would see Lenny on the inside, Jack running through the middle and then, uh, maybe Rhys on the lead too, sure, if he was around, but the point is that either the kick inside 50 would be off or there’d simply be not much on offer.

Indeed, within two minutes we’d resorted to Plan ZZ and were bombing it to Clint Jones inside 50. Whilst we actually had a fair amount of the play for much of the quarter it took a holding free to SPENCER WHITE ROADSHOW to get things going. Again, like last week, he had a touch of the G-Trains about him: the barely-there follow through with the kick, and the resulting floating and swinging drop punt kick. The ball barely crossed the line and had to go to a goal review, but the hype machine was gearing up early.

He would have another couple of shots – both coming from handsomely placed kicks from My Favourite Hair in the AFL to good leads – but both were hard against the boundary and on the wrong side for a left-footer. One went through but was touched off the boot, and the second didn’t score. Spencer didn’t trouble the scorers throughout the rest of the game (not many did) but I thought he moved alright across attack and the supply certainly wasn’t outstanding in either quality or quantity.

His co-young tall forward in Big Rhys Bandwagon (is it still a Bandwagon? I think Spencer is the Money Man right now) started well and took some strong marks (particularly pushing up high on the wing), but was still prone to spilling a simpler grab. I think the important thing was that he got to a lot of contest right around the ground, all the way up to half-back – his contest started off the chain that resulted in a really good coast-to-coast goal featuring Faz putting in some really hard running and a lovely finish.

From the couch one thing I noticed properly this week was Dylan Roberton’s new haircut. It’s rather disappointing; he began in Round 1 with the tight ponytail/bun, but now he’s just a questionable footballer. Matt texted me to point out that Josh Bruce had supplanted him as the club’s OK-but-not-great cool player.

As I said, quality going forward – indeed, quality anywhere – was in short supply for the most part. Sadly, wistfull, wonderfully it was Lenny that put in the most direct, slick hit up forward, and it was to his old mate Roo. That was the kick that went out to Spencer for touched kick, and curiously Channel 7 cut to Andrew Welsh on the boundary interviewing a heavily breathing Joey for about six seconds. Not sure if I’d seen that before and I’m completely against in-match interviews, but not doing them all year obviously didn’t help anyway.

The Crows looked very hesitant moving the ball but once Delaney slipped onto his arse and Tex ran away from him to kick the Crows’ first it was one-way traffic. Despite the best efforts of Newnes, Fisher and Dempster in defence, the Crows went from trailing at the 25.34 mark of the first quarter – the quarter went for 29 minutes and 51 seconds – to leading by six goals just 6.36 into the second.

Bruce and the team couldn’t stop talking about Lenny’s tackle count, nor hometown retiree Truck Rutten, and were officially counting down to a game that actually mattered when Bruce described Jack Steven as “all buzzy”.

Jack was really good – one of the very few Saints who had a presence throughout the entirety of the match, and who looked like getting things really moving the right way. His brilliant run through the middle with a few bounces was capped off with a brilliantly placed kick that turned Talia inside out more than Roo did, and he in turn capped that off with one of the worst set shots of his career. It was that kind of day; Wright went to ground as the ball came into defence and got collected by Delaney as Eddie mopped up and kicked a goal; Shenton was having an absolute cock of a game and twice turnovers goalside of the centre circle that should have led to scoring opportunities went awry purely through our own doing.

Things were so dire that we went back to Plan ZZ. Mav hit CJ’s lead and he leant back and actually kicked a really nice goal from the angle. What would turn out to be CJ’s final game had some up and down moments. Roo was getting increasingly frustrated – he pushed up twice out of attack to be met with a kick out on the full and then, for old times’ sake, another CJ special. CJ then kicked well to Rhys, who went to Lenny and another great kick of his to Roo pushing up on the wing saw Roo’s urge to kill fading, as for his sake we anxiously counted down towards the end of the season.

I actually liked Mav’s game. His numbers say 17 touches and six tackles, which aren’t world beating but reflect the kind of game he plays. He did some hard running and attacked the ball and the contest pretty well, and his six tackles were bettered only by You Know Who. He almost created play of the day, chasing after his own errant handball at half-back, pushing past his opponent in the process, fending off and then his good kick to Rhys subsequently fluffed.

Likewise, Seb Ross found the ball in all parts of the ground seemed to be a lot more settled with the ball (although many had better numbers). The commentary team were going ape droppings for him, but I think they wanted to be nice because it’s Tim’s nephew.

Billy Longer was subbed off at half-time for Brodie Murdoch. I’m not sure that it said too much about anything though. Brodie was probably stiff to not have actually started a game, but he took his chance and had a really impressive third quarter. It was the first time he really consistently used his size and his boot to take marks (he took six in half a game) and really gain some ground. Again, he looked most dangerous up forward but floated higher up. If he can improve his tank enough to do that repeatedly then that boot can be put to good use in a lot of parts of the ground.

Gwilt started forward in his final half for the club, and I was ready to advise the club to get a new name for the club’s irreverent player interview series because I thought Schneider might be joining him. But Roo combined with Spencer, who gave it off near the flank to Schneids and he expertly broke through two Crows for a goal.

It’s all about how many of these senior guys setting the example you can have. Schneider just doesn’t consistently have the same kind of output as guys like Roo, Joey or Dempster to outweight the opportunity that could be given to a younger guy. I have to admit, the difficult part about writing that sentence just then was that I couldn’t use Lenny’s name.

Fisher is another senior guy in the “may or may not be there” category for 2015, but he was just about our best player yesterday. The fact that he’s gone from seemingly semi-retired to one of our best and certainly most reliable says a lot about his ability and I wouldn’t hesitate giving him another year. He’s certainly not moving as if he’s hampered by any of those recent injuries, so if they’re not going to be chronic you’d back him in.

But not so for CJ and Gwilt. Their departure was a decision made for them on the preceding Tuesday, and the word is they wonderfully, admirably chose to not make it public so as not to take anything away from Lenny. Regardless of whether they find a home at an AFL club next year – CJ exited in the manner of someone retiring, and the news this week ironically has Gwilt tied to the Crows from next year – these are players integral to the 2009 and 2010 campaigns which, whether we like it or not, will remember throughout our lives. Neither was blessed with natural talent; CJ may well remain for many years the only AFL player who couldn’t kick an Australian Rules football. But they did what any person who describes themselves as both reasonable and ambitious yearns to do, and that is first and foremost get the absolute best out of themselves. In Ross they found the coach who could mould the team that allowed them to find a football home in, and against expectation they thrived and were deeply respected.

Seeing CJ in the arms of his partner was at once sad and touching, and there was something appropriate that CJ would go out with no fanfare outside of the club and those closest to him. Likewise Gwilt; the image of him carrying Lenny off with Roo is far more dynamic in hindsight, with the knowledge that he and the players around him knew it would be his last time in a St Kilda jumper.

Absurdly, had we kicked straight in the third term we might have gone into the last quarter with a very faint sniff. But by the end the arse had really fallen out and we essentially got given a taste of our own barnstorming send-off last year, with Eddie (Betts) giving off to Truck Rutten who kicked a goal on the run in the final minutes. It wasn’t great viewing from a St Kilda perspective but any Saints fan at the ground for last year’s day out will understand what a nice moment that was for the Adelaide players and fans.

And so, with that, the St Kilda Football Club finished a season on the bottom for the 27th time. No-one has done that half as many times, and the football world collectively sees us being back where we belong.

The heavy tone of reminiscing that comes with a retiring great of what Jake Niall called the “Riewoldt Generation” is different. The surreal party last year in which Kosi, Milne and Blake all retired was in the lingering shadows of the 2010 Grand Finals jsut three years previous, and (rather incredibly) had the Saints swept the string of close games they lost in 2012 they would have finished in the top four (it was also a year in which only a two-goal third quarter deprived the Saints from easily eclipsing the club’s all-time greatest winning margin).

But time and circumstance have changed the way we think about and understand those years, and indeed the entire decade of back-to-back five-year periods under GT and Ross respectively that form probably the most incredible (in the true sense of the word) and otherwise second most successful period in the club’s 141-year history.

This time last year we were looking back on the Grand Finals (and some other choice moments) as part of an era that was still raw in the memory, and the three retirees represented the club’s movement to deeper into a new time with new faces on and off the field. Lenny’s retirement has been a little different. Very quickly stalwarts such as Dal, BJ and (to a much lesser extent) Big Ben all moved home, and the faces of those who took the field in those Grand Finals are now few and far between. Now that period seems distant, and Lenny and co. have been swamped by new faces who ideally will forge incredible memories for the club and those invested in it. His retirement tour was a celebration of his career that was synonymous with those better times and bookended by the club’s 25th and 26th wooden spoons, beginning just before the initial trough of 2000 and ending with the subsequent 2014 crash.

Writing for this blog, and perhaps ironically for someone so enwrapped in the fortunes and trials and tribulations of the club, I spend far less time talking about the consistently good players than I do all others. I certainly like the idea of being irreverent or realistic and it’s an easier to be facetious and stay grounded that way; I don’t do it to muckrake or sensationalise or whinge. I also do it because, quite simply, it’s naturally more interesting week in, week out to write and read about in depth the talking points. Because we know that Joey is going to rack up a whole lot of possessions and show the younger guys how to go about things professionally. We know that Jack Steven can get plenty of the footy and give us some real pace. We know that Roo will ignore everything he hears from over the fence and will himself to another contest when he can’t. And we know Lenny is going to give his heart and soul no matter what the situation.

These are the things I’ve certainly taken for granted in writing any piece for this blog. I think it’s something I’ve taken for granted anyway. I will miss him terribly as a St Kilda player. We all will. The enduring image of Lenny Hayes is that of measured celebration and focus after his goal to bring the Saints within eight points in the final quarter of 2010 Grand Final Draw.  It sums him up well – that he knew there was always hard work to be done. Over the years it will probably prove to be the most enduring positive image of the club’s 2009 and 2010 campaigns; the slow motion, the face stern, the AFL Grand Final logo peeling off the clash jumper. That he’s a Norm Smith Medalist makes fans proud, but mournfully reminded that he, Riewoldt and co. never played in a premiership.

I don’t know Lenny personally so I can’t talk with any authority about what a great guy he is, or whatever. I’ll leave that to his teammates, his opponents and those closest to him. But I watched him play for St Kilda nearly every week for 16 years; long enough for younger fans to not know a St Kilda Football Club without Lenny Hayes. The way he played showed that he was always reliable and had a huge heart. In a footballer, or indeed in any person, what more could you want? How wonderful it was to have had him.

Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer

Aaand here we go.

Spencer White will make his debut. A guy most people thought was a myth will hog most of the pre-match spotlight, rather than a legend who is playing his final game in the club’s home state.

It wasn’t the case until yesterday’s naming of the final team. Until, the week (from a St Kilda perspective, remember) had been all about Jason Holmes starring in the club’s entry into this year’s Virgin Australia Film Contest, which seems to be some vague annual competition open to about four AFL teams.

The most striking thing about this year was that it was a dramatic shift in tone to last year’s, which was so ridiculous it had claimed the St Kilda careers of Scott Watters, Jordan Staley, Jay Lever, Ahmed Saad, Ben McEvoy and Jackson Ferguson within weeks.

It was full of bad acting, but they weren’t given much choice with the script. This year, Jason Holmes somehow demonstrates that it’s possible for an AFL footballer to put in a convincing performance in the voiceover booth, as well as on camera. As melodramatic as it is, I actually like the last blurred shot of him in the background walking out onto Corporate Stadium in a St Kilda uniform – something we actually haven’t seen before.

Likewise Spencer White. For all the hype Saints fans have built up around him – and even members of the wider footy public – the only highlights and imagery we have of him so far are in the black and gold stripes and blue collar and cuffs of Sandringham (and occasionally the sky-bordering-on-highlighter blue clash, or the unnecessarily mostly-white clash).

What are we expecting from Spencer this Sunday? Last week aside, we’ve recently gone in with the attack set-up of the My Favourite-Bandwagon Alliance complimented by Josh Bruce hanging around doing stuff. Spencer in his first game probably won’t have the physical presence Bruce would and you’d expect his natural game ideally to be somewhere between Roo’s and and Rhys’s games – quicker than Roo and can play deep, press up or run back into open space. Dare I say it…like Buddy? I think the problem with that comparison is more to do with people’s reaction to it – they think he’s actually going to be as good as Buddy. Rather, it’s more his style is like Franklin’s, although at pick 25 and with some of the bits and pieces we’ve seen we realise he could be anything (for better or worse). Also, he’s 19 FFS.

The knock’s been on his defensive work so as anyone from the club who’s commented on him this week has said, Sunday will be all about providing a contest, whether it be at the ball or off the ball. Simple, I guess.

Unfortunately Shane Savage fractured his arm in TWO places at TRAINING on Friday. Fark knows how that happens, but it means Brodie Murdoch comes in. Fine by me in the sense that it’s a great chance for Brodie (who kicked his goal with a banana set-shot kick at the MCG against Richmond in a 4.40pm Sunday game last year), but geez that’s tough for Sav. Over the past eight games he’s almost been in our best in seven of those, and regardless of Friday’s mishap all of a sudden we feel like we have a long-term option off half-back.

Also into the side, perhaps bemusingly, is CJ. In a week in which Richo talked about really changing up the list after the season, surely a 30 year-old who has trouble kicking an Australian Rules football is being brought in for his last chance?

Jimmy Gwilt wasn’t so fortunate. If you’re in his position and you’re getting dropped for Round 22 when your side is on the bottom of the ladder, I think it says a lot about the club’s plans for him. I think we’ve all got a soft spot for Jimmy too – he was one of the few guys to really step up in 2010 and improve on the previous year when for so many that season seemed to be simply about doing just enough.

And uh, yeah, let’s not forget the opposition, considering that’s who we’re playing against and so on. The Tigers are roaring (and so on) and fark, they may well be in the eight by the end of the round. Dusty’s out with a hamstring though, and whilst that’s a huge blow overall I don’t think it will make or break them this Sunday night. They’re looking every bit of the team that was finished just outside the four last season, and rather strangely, if they do sneak in and lose the first week then they’ll have finished exactly where they did last year.

Look, unless the entire Richmond team broke out in awful acne and were put on Minocycline and they all came down with unpredictable but violent diarrhea (just a hypothetical scenario I thought up), no selection decisions are really going to influence this one. Barring a Bizarro game echoing the Freo day out (yes, that actually happened), you’d expect Cotchin to have another day out against the Saints and Deledio and Ellis to use a lot of footy to good effect. Look out for Jack Riewoldt trying to get St Kilda back to personal bunny status too.

Ultimately, for St Kilda fans this match will be about a chance to see one of the greatest Saints in person for the final time. The hype around Spencer from some may suggest we may also be witnessing the dawn of a juggernaut, but we won’t know that for a long time. What we do know is this is the last time we go to the ground to see Lenny play, so soak that up if nothing else.

Well, that was weird

Round 18, 2014
St Kilda 4.3, 9.6, 15.14, 17.16 (118)
Fremantle 1.1, 3.2, 5.6, 9.6 (60)
Crowd: 16,594 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, 18th July at 4.40pm

We’d reached a point last week where you we genuinely looked like we wouldn’t win another game this year. And that was after 11 consecutive losses, with the general consensus being that next year will be just as difficult. We were at the point where you’re so far into the dark times you can neither look forward and will yourself towards the light, nor look back to the light coming from the good times in your past.

I was resigned to exhausting myself again by writing another draining review, in which we get completely broken down – by at least one of the opposition or ourselves – and talk about how the future is still essentially an ominous question mark. But instead I’ve been sitting here trying to soak in as much post-match coverage, replays, interviews and ill-advised forum posts as I can. Because St Kilda tore apart premiership fancy Fremantle by 58 points, and in the process became one of only two teams to have beaten a side 16 places above them on the ladder. The last time we were on the bottom of the ladder and beat the team in 2nd spot was in 1985 against the Bulldogs, and there were only 12 teams in the competition then.

Obviously the incredible thing about this win is…well, yes, it was incredible that St Kilda won in the first place, but the way they completely blanketed the Dockers and scored heavily themselves (reaching over 100 for the first time this year) was simply unbelievable, and more to the point, bemusing. This review isn’t going to take you through the epic ebbs and flows of the drama that was St Kilda’s first win in three months (to the day). I thought that if/when it ever came, it would be against the odds and take everything to barely get over the line. But this one just took off and get going. Stuff just kept happening.

Corporate Stadium can be  a putrid game to watch the footy, and this was the least popular match in a round in which the fixturing had already pleased no one. One of only two games or not, the 4.40pm time slot is arguably more of a black hole than any other – lost between Saturday afternoon and Saturday night, when people are in transition, heading out, eating dinner, or taking a disco nap. On top of this particular Saturday being particularly bleak, having the Concrete Monolith roof closed anywhere near daylight hours – or ever, really – makes for a woefully sterile atmosphere in low drawing games. There’s no charm aesthetically to the place; there’s no history behind it. It’s just a lot of overpriced, grey seats and the Medallion Club, which thinks it’s the MCC and whose staff try to match their counterparts for tightarsery. The Perth Stadium plans this week revealed intentions for a 60,000-seater, with the potential to expand that to 80,000. That is what Etihad Stadium well and truly should have been in the first place. Too small for anyone to be enthusiastic about it for bigger or finals matches; too small to be an inclusive stadium in which it’s easy to get a decent seat for those bigger games. That’s before we get to the stadium deals forced upon the clubs. And that’s the only option the AFL gave us as a stage for this game in Melbourne away from the MCG, to be shared by 10 Victorian clubs.

Easier to say all this when just about every home game you go to now as a Saints supporter is mostly empty. When it’s going off it can be a cauldron, but this is St Kilda in a post-2009/10 Grand Finals world. Aside from myself, Freo supporters on the route 55 tram into the ground outnumbered St Kilda supporters 1-0. I’ve said before that obviously Brunswick West and Royal Park aren’t St Kilda heartland, but you realise there are problems when the Dockers more of a presence there (or anywhere here, really). There was more purple around Spencer Street and Bourke Street too in the lead up to the game, and I was starting to really get worried. Perhaps that 2001 record for our lowest home crowd there was really under threat. Having somehow cleared that against the Gold Coast, with the expected result against a state’s second side and in the dud time slot I thought the next challenge to that would be the Dockers. (Fun fact: Fremantle logos registered with IP Australia during the formation of the club include Fremantle Dolphins, Fremantle Courage (?) and Fremantle Hammer (??))

The wonderful goodwill generated by Lenny’s retirement I thought might have dragged a few more of our 30,000 members to the game, but it seems like it took dodgy ground management to save us from our own worst turnout, declaring a dubious total of 16,594. The Lenny wave instead rocketed the team itself to ridiculous heights that no one saw coming, and gave us a timely reminder of what it feels like to have anticipation and momentum throughout a game of footy.

Because unlike the last time we won, which was literally billions of years ago, this match didn’t need be rescued before we could even think about taking home the four points. In fact, when was the last time a game wasn’t in a perilous position early? How familiar the feeling of the game being over so soon has become, with for so many weeks the quarter time siren as good as the final siren.

The sign of intent that the side was switched on from the start was embodied in Dempster dropping back into the oncoming Pavlich tractor and getting knocked out. He was out before he hit the ground, and for those of us who didn’t get a clear view of the actual contact (I certainly didn’t and it happened near where I was sitting, so I assume that goes for just about everyone) it was a nervous few moments as he remained without movement. As it was mentioned post-match, his effort was spoken about in the quarter time huddle as an example of the what was expected and required of the players if they wanted to continue on with the work.

Whilst Dempster was down, the play had gone on and My Favourite Hair in the AFL had taken a mark before things were halted. It took more than five minutes for Dempster to be looked at properly and taken from the field but everyone managed to remember what had happened and Roo resumed his place and kicked the goal.

Good start, aside from the fact we’d lost one of the cornerstones of the defence (regardless of what you think of that fact). And I mean “good start” in the sense that we’d kicked the first goal. Cool. We did that against the Cats, remember.

The crowd got a sniff of the intent of side over the next few minutes, with the side in turn getting a sniff that Freo might have been a little complacent. Lenny’s tackles in defence brought the crowd into it, and then Billings hunted down Sutcliffe on half-forward in front of the members but Leigh Fisher was giving his old side donuts and didn’t pay anything. Armo earned a free kick with his own tackle soon after, and his give off saw Newnes bullet a pass to Murdoch on the 50-metre arc.

Murdoch kicked the goal with a really nice long shot. I like him playing in the front half because he’s got a solid body and a good set of hands, and he has a huge kick on him. Those qualities mean he’s more dangerous as a scoring threat across more of the attacking area, with I think three of his four shots from long range. He finished with 1.3 but together with 11 touches and six marks the numbers aren’t bad for a kid playing his 13th game. If he can hit the scoreboard that often it would go a huge way to fleshing out the versatility in his game. (I just hope this isn’t another kid who’s constantly gonna tighten up in front of goal.)

Dunstan was next, again rewarded for a good tackle and again kicking the goal from a decent range. He actually kicked both of his goals from a good distance, one set shot and one on the run at the peak of the third quarter onslaught. I don’t think we think of him of him as the guy who’s going to kick long, but rather the inside mid who might kick 40 at best on the rare occasion they’re called on to get some decent distance. Probably his only real knock at draft time was his kicking, so the way he scored the two goals were a pleasant surprise. He finished with 26 touches, too, following a period in which his output had dipped a little (he hadn’t had 20+ touches since the Port game in Round 12). It was a timely reminder of what he’s already capable of.

In fact, Richo’s on his bandwagon too (who isn’t?), having to stop himself from saying outright this morning on SEN that Luke would be captain of the club at some point in the future. Jack Newnes didn’t do any harm to his own prospects of being 2018-2022 Premiership Captain, with 25 touches off half-back and across the wing and eight tackles, but Richo obviously has his money on Dunstan being the man. I’d still be keen on the co-captaincy and for the next potentially successful era to forever come under the banner of the “Newnes-Dunstan Era”. So I think the wider consensus is we’ve got Dunstan, then Newnes, with Armitage not far behind. Geary is the smokey, unless he ends up at the Cats. I never, ever, ever thought I would say that sentence.

Speaking of bandwagons, how about the BIG RHYS BANDWAGON? A few weeks ago it had broken down and some were questioning why the trade-in to Port wasn’t taken up at the end of last year. If anything it’s broken down now because it’s under the weight of all 16,000 at the ground and anyone watching at home trying to grab a seat. I’ve unashamedly been on his bandwagon since I watched him win the 2009 Grand Final Sprint, although I can at least say that, like many Saints supporters and unlike just about everyone outside of the club, I actually followed him closely instead of just reading up on that solitary dot point on his CV.

So it was brilliant to see him kicking his goals from his shots, but more importantly knowing exactly where to work to across half-forward. It’s clearly, clearly the best way use him, allowing him to use his pace and reach to run off his opponent get a set of clear hands to the footy. As I said with Murdoch – but it’s much more important to the side in Rhys’s case – his ability to find that space and mark across half-forward and kick well over 50 metres (and accurately, as he did on Saturday) means he’s a scoreboard threat in more parts of the forward line.

And again, as it proved a fortnight ago against Carlton, when Roo was freed to move higher up the ground it meant the side had arguably their best field kicker distributing the ball and allowed Rhys to take responsibility in being the focal point, as well as other players being able to move into dangerous positions, rather than being terrified of treading into the path of My Favourite Hair. The best example of this came shortly after quarter time, when Roo led wide outside of the arc and took the mark. He waited patiently for an option to open up, and I dare say if it was someone else with the footy they would have quickly tried plonking it on top of his sensational hair with two other guys next to him. But Roo waited, and if you watch the replay you’ll see Rhys standing just off his man and subtly pointing to the small space he’s about to run to. Just as Sir Robert and Lenny had done so many times for him, Roo placed a short pass perfectly into Rhys’s path and Rhys finished it off nicely.

It was brilliant to see the Favourite Hair-Bandwagon set up finally working in a meaningful way. Oh yeah, and Roo had 30 touches and kicked four goals. Cheers.

I’m not ready to call it that Rhys has “arrived”, but 14 marks, 19 touches and three goals (all in the first half) was a great return. His third goal, from the fifty metre penalty in the shadow of half-time to put us up by 40 points was a rocket and well and truly stamped his impact on the game when it was there to be taken by the proverbial.

It was also that goal that sealed the surrealism of the situation. For the first half, anyway – by that time I was absolutely shitting myself because the crowd was so up and about and the margin big enough for people to be feeling great about things, but still not enough that Freo couldn’t reign it in in the second half. One of the tough things about the plummet to the bottom of the ladder is knowing that just about no lead is safe.

I’d been sitting in my seats in Aisle 33 on my own for the first half, sharing observations and cynical feelings about St Kilda’s prospects for the rest of the game with the woman a couple of seats down from my brother’s and mine. “They must be letting us win,” she said wryly, between our glances of “How is this happening?”. Something had to be up. We were leading by 40 points at half-time, and the idea that Ross had told them to sit back a little seemed more likely than us genuinely outplaying and out-willing a Fremantle side looking to win their ninth in a row and shore up a place in the top two.

I joined Rich for a beer at the Locker Room at half-time, which turned into out vantage point for the third quarter onslaught. And that was our onslaught, by the way – not the expected Fremantle comeback. I hadn’t been that nervous at a game as I was at half-time for a long, long while. I needed that (next) drink desperately (I’d already had one or two at my seats but, you know, I needed heaps more). Was this going to be this generation’s Round 9, 2000 loss to the Bulldogs, when the winless side gave up a 31-point lead at the final change and left Max Hudghton in tears? I remember as an almost-12-year-old watching on TV with my Dad and brother, and going to bed just before quarter time because I was too nervous, only to wake up the next day, go outside and fetch The Age, and see in disbelief (and then through my own tears) the brief on the front page bearing the crushing news. Or perhaps its Round 5, 2002 match against the Swans? I still remember Dee Dee (Dunleavy, as in Grubby & Dee Dee), who we sat behind in the members on Level 2 for several years, saying at three-quarter time to her family, “I’d hate to think what would happen if we lost”. We watched as the young side faltered and relinquished the lead late, only to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory. Those games were part of a lowly era in which we couldn’t be sure that the players would see out any lead, nor keep calm when challenged and guide things home safely.

And so it was that I expected a nerve wracking second half. Even if we held on, surely it would be just that, and if not, well…

But Armo quickly snapped a goal from an angle close to where he kicked his third term goal against the Demons in the opening round. Out to 46 points. Surely not? Pav with the quick reply brought things back to earth at least a little, before Jack Billings fumbled in the pocket but his quick thinking saw the ball end up with Roo in the goal square for another.

That Pav goal was the last of us staying tethered to our status as wooden spoon heirs for the afternoon. What happened through the remainder of the term will almost certainly remain the highlight of a lean season; ideally one we can look back on, however, and say that it went a long way to making this club a power again. For now, that’s a long way off.

We saw the absolute best of this season compacted into this quarter. Throughout this game, too, but this is where it took off. Indeed, we can almost boast the embarrassing riches of being able to say “we should have won by more” with a tinge of lament in our tone; 6.8 for the quarter with many of those shots very gettable.

It was interesting that a few guys (namely Lenny, Richo and Armo on The Sunday Footy Show) mentioned that the previous week had seen a few decent signs. Look, if I’m honest, wouldn’t have thought so. You wouldn’t to with a quick look at the score – had Armo missed that shot at goal with 90 seconds we would have been at 2.16, which would have had us pacing another effort from the wooden spoon year of 1985 – 2.17 against Carlton in Round 2 in 140-point loss at Moorabbin. Not to mention North had kicked 13.14 themselves, and had the game sewn up at the first change.

The willingness to compete and hunt in numbers was what ultimately separated the teams. Ours certainly isn’t blessed to too much skill, but it went above and beyond in being first at the ball when it was in dispute and spreading hard into space when we had the ball. Without Sandi the Freo midfield were furthermore on the back foot, and even without Jack Steven ours still dominated from the centre and across the ground. Dunstan, Lenny, Joey and Armo all racked up big numbers, with Lenny and Armo finIshing with 17 tackles between them. Mav Weller had six tackles and made an impact up forward, setting up Joey for his snap goal in the third quarter with a deft handball back over his head out of traffic.

Probably a strange thing to note, but should that third quarter burst go down as the peak of this season, then Farren Ray’s two goals within 30 seconds play are the summit. The high, curling ball was followed by a quick break out of the middle, with the chain featuring Mav and Sav, and a snap from the left pocket. Faz has returned to some of his better form at times throughout this season, and he did it in just about every part of the ground on Saturday. Amazing how he seems to slip under everybody’s radar; I think he might be worth more around the club than we give him credit for.

I mentioned Sav in there; he actually finished the game with the equal most disposals, alongside My Favourite Hair. Again, a revelation that came out of the wash-up, but Richo and Armo spoke about Sav getting a dressing down from the group and how he’d taken it on himself since then to get himself right. It also helped that Richo started him further back, allowing him to be get his hands on the footy and use his run and long kicking to set things up from there, not to mention to push up and supply the forwards also (see Faz’s second goal where he’s received the ball charging off half-back just forward of centre). Things will change at the other end I’m sure, but right now – even with Acres having an injury-interrupted season – the McEvoy trade is paying off.

Which brings us to the ruck situation (at least for the purposes of the flow of this review). Longer enjoyed the closest to free reign at stoppages we’ve seen a St Kilda ruckman enjoy for several years. I’m somewhere in between with Longer and Hickey playing in the same team. They certainly couldn’t now, as neither as probably quite developed enough just yet across the ground. Interestingly, it’s the third forward that for the time being is so important. Is Bruce, for instance, effective enough that Billy can drop forward whilst Rhys gives him a chop-out, and the forward line can still function effectively? Whether or not Billy and Hickey can provide a decent target up forward, or at least have a presence around the ground, it will effect the forward set up also. We won’t know for a while though due to Hickey’s injury. Or injuries, rather. I must say I’m just starting to get a little worried about that.

I quite liked Bruce up forward. Hair-wise, it’s a great complement to Roo. As Richo said, he didn’t get huge numbers but simply his presence (particularly the third quarter) was enough to worry Fremantle, as well as allow for more space to Roo and Rhys. Hopefully he can develop his own influence on the scoreboard.

I think special mention needs to go to Sam Fisher also. He said on the club website that he would play for another two or three years if the body could hold up for him, and if he could maintain the kind of impact he had on Saturday. He’s a very necessary calm influence on a side that is still going to get a lot of pressure coming the wrong way for a while yet.

But yes, it’s easy to get carried away with a performance like that. Everyone played well, really. It was a great day at the footy for a St Kilda supporter. It was three months to the day since that Saturday night in April when the Saints stormed over the top of the Bombers in the second half to put at three wins from the first five games. At the time, facing a winless Brisbane outfit the following Friday, it felt like we might already be on our way back up. That we might have avoided the cliff that everyone told us we were heading for.

Well six days later we certainly found that cliff. Instead of 4-2, we’re now 4-13 and 18th. I really don’t know how much closer we are to being on our way back because of Saturday. We certainly shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves over this one. Freak occurrence? Sign of things to come? Lenny-inspired effort? I think it’s all of those things, but I don’t know how much of each. So for now, just enjoy Rhys running around grabbing everything and kicking goals. Enjoy Dunstan willing himself at contests. Enjoy Newnes setting things up and looking to put on another tackle. More than anything, enjoy Lenny, because he won’t be there much longer. Fuck it, just enjoy it.