Carlton Posts

Good, bad, ugly, etc.

Round 8, 2017
St Kilda 4.3, 6.5, 9.8, 12.13 (85)
Carlton 4.0, 6.1, 9.3, 10.6 (66)
Crowd: 38,014 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, May 13th at 2.10pm

 

Version 2

 

Saturday afternoon, the roof was open, two founding VFL teams with plenty of youth and on the improve. A huge crowd expected after last year’s sell-out, and fair to say both teams have shown further improvement since then. What more could you ask for?

By Monday’s wash-up we had the captain and coach apologising on behalf of the St Kilda Football Club to the Carlton captain for some pretty sordid sledging, whilst the latter had gone over to a player lying on the ground injured and had a crack at them.

It might have been the day we saw the genuine break-out game from Jack Billings, but certainly for now this one’s in a weird category – certainly for Saints fans – all on its own. There was the good, the bad, the ugly, etc.

For about 15 or 20 minutes we might have been sitting around thinking, “Well, we’re good now.” Weitering had blatantly shoved Jimmy Webster in the back en route to the opener but for a period after then we were looking at a Saturday afternoon stroll with all the extravagant thoughts that come with being 5-3 after years of dishing up garbage. In 1997 we were 4-4, in 2005 we were 4-4, and in 2010 we were 5-3. What does that mean? Nothing, because in 2009 and 2010 we were in front in time-on of both Grand Finals and came up with donuts.

So, uh, Saturday. Our midfield weren’t just working hard but they looked slick after their huge performance last week, albeit against not quite the same opposition. The around us heading into the weekend was about the maturity of the group and it could handle backing up a huge performance like that. After HUMAN OF THE DAY Jack Billings snapped our first we were witness to probably the cleanest break out of the middle for a goal we’ve seen in a very long time – Longer with a clean hit-out to Steele, who kept composure and importantly, his arms free in a tackle to give off to Newnes running past, and he bulleted the kick to Bruce on the lead who managed to actually hold on to the grab and kick the goal. It looked like we were gonna be fine.

Carlisle was looking ominous. Playing off Weitering after a contested mark he set up the first goal, and Billy Longer was already looking more than competitive at the stoppages.

By the time Brown’s punching kick down the middle was cleaned up with a smart knock-on by Sinclair to Dunstan, who kicked long to the advantage of Membrey (almost spoiled by Acres who was looking to get involved ASAP after last week) and rewarded the work with a goal

But that was as comfortable as it would look for the rest of the day, really. Even when Billings kicked his fifth and took us out to a four-goal lead in the third there was an expectation that Carlton would hit back again, as they had around the midway point of each quarter.

It wasn’t until after the Blues’ quick flurry of chances early in the last that we were able to put a clamp on their kicking game that Bolton seems to have brought over from Hawthorn. The Blues have a lot of young guys they’re well drilled, patient and disciplined, and they didn’t go away. Once the ebb and flow of the game was in their favour they were able to control the ball across the ground, working hard to provide options for each other coming out of the back half.

Even once we put the brakes on in the last quarter we still had to work hard to keep them at arm’s length. The inside 50s read 41-24 at three-quarter time, and the handball count 161-83. They were some clues as to why we were only five points up, and Carlton were up and about after a melee that is now infamous amongst melees. Cool. We’ll get to that.

***

I don’t know exactly how Leigh Montagna will go down in the annals of St Kilda history, but before Saturday he was the only Saint alongside Darrel Baldock in 1965 to have kicked five goals and collected 30 possessions or more in a game.

In his 50th match, Jack Billings joined them. It was the game we’d been waiting for him to play since he led the comeback against the Bulldogs early in 2015. He’d started this season as whipping boy but within two months he’d been threatening to do just this, whilst having a growing impact along the way. He was more than the difference between the two sides – five goals, 30 possessions and 12 marks in a 19-point win. Four goals out of six at half-time; five goals out of a team total of 12 on a day in which we spent much of it burning opportunities going forward. A strong team doesn’t only mean everyone always contributes evenly – it also means different players will take responsibility to pick up the slack when an off day hits.

It was a long way from the first three games earlier this season in which his borderline-seagull performances had him getting easy touches off half-back and having the Diet Caffeine-Free Billings impact we were worried was going to linger. It hit a low against the Lions – 14 touches and not much else, and I would have had him in line for being dropped ahead of Paddy that week. The switch to a more forward-focused role was still to be tried in earnest this year though, and I’m sure that if it was obvious to me then people actually professionally involved and invested in his development would have been all over it.

When we as Saints fans talk about what he’s capable of our reference point is that comeback game in 2015. On that particular Saturday afternoon he kicked 4.2, including some very, very classy finishes in key moments, to go with 22 touches and seven marks. Our next reference point would be his 30-possession, two goal, 10-mark game against Collingwood in Round 3 last year – it was the first time he looked really comfortable moving much higher up the ground, but he had the scoreboard impact as well. Like Saturday, the common links are that he provides a marking target across the ground as well as hitting the scoreboard.

The Collingwood match saw him start either closer to or in the forward line, and it immediately gave him more focus and more purpose: a goal-kicking or goal-assisting target anywhere from close to goal (see his goal from a pack mark in the square) up to around the 50-metre arc, otherwise a target when going forward which allowed him to offer his smarts across the ground to move into position as well as use his disposal, rather than just cruising past a stationary player and using only one half of that package. Until the weekend, however, his kicking in front of goal was borderline comical and showed there was, for this stretch anyway, one part of his game that his confidence was still a little shaken. His return was 4.12 from a mix of set shots and snaps this season. We’d taken him at pick 3 to have the composure not just across the ground but in dangerous positions to create goals and opportunities, or finish them off. Finally, it clicked.

It’s become common knowledge that he went to the coaches and players in the off-season to go about improving his game, and was in turn challenged by his teammates. Saturday provides landmark performance for him, but doesn’t represent a normal performance for him, or anyone really. Perhaps it might give him a confidence in front of goal that lifts his accuracy, which would certainly make some of his games this year all of a sudden much better. Otherwise we’re looking for him to ultimately improve in the same way players like Ross, Webster, Roberton, etc. have shown. The class and skill he brings to the side will come to the fore with that progression. It felt for a long time – I’ve come this far without mentioning The Bont – that the onus has been on him to deliver on his potential, particularly given we’d taken him before, uh, a best-and-fairest winner in a premiership year player. The often-agreed 50th game milestone as a gateway to the next phase of a player’s career might have proved to be on the money with this one. He might have blown that so far out of the H20 on Saturday that the onus might have been flipped onto us, to not get too carried away and to temper our expectations. We as Saints fans are traditionally prone to a Messiah complex.

***

Murphy and Carlisle have provided the tabloid story of the week via a smack in the nuts and some sledging, about, uh, other stuff tabloids like. There’s a bunch of things I take away from it and my head ended up forming more of a rant than what I usually put down on this blog. I’ve put it in point form more for myself than the reader, but it certainly should help. They’re all pretty hard and fast.

  • If the roles were reversed, each club’s supporters would be reacting in the same way as the opposition’s are right now.
  • I think the sledging was pretty shit. Sure, it’s part of the game and all of that. But is that the kind of thing that you really measure someone by, or challenge someone on? What about yourself?
  • People using the word “cuck” to describe Marc Murphy is fucking gross (see above).
  • Running over to a player on the ground who’s in pain and/or injured and giving them a spray is lame, whether you’re the captain or not.
  • Someone from the Blues obviously wanted to throw some good old-fashioned 20th Century Carlton Football Club weight around and get a better story for them out to the press immediately and the media were keen. The Age ran with Murphy won’t “pursue action” over the comments. Whatever you think of the sledging, I don’t know what “action” he would technically be able to “pursue”. With no-one in the media saying much on what the sledging was about until Monday evening then wording like that on the part of editors it opens St Kilda players to being guilty of far more reprehensible stuff. The article also said that “The Saints and Blues have both privately accepted some fault after the heated encounter”. The Herald Sun went with the old “media identity says a thing which is now news because we said so” line of “Premiership coach Paul Roos says St Kilda’s personal sledging of Carlton captain Marc Murphy is a blight on the entire club”. Easy one for the paper to go with without their dislike of the Saints coming technically from their own mouth, but then it would go on to say, “The Herald Sun understands neither club wants to take the issue further, given there was sledging from both sides. A Carlton spokesman said Murphy would not be putting in a complaint, intent on moving on from the incident.” (Might be worth pointing out they have had Landsberger writing some specifically positive stories in the past few months).
  • I don’t know if a specific player code needs to implemented, but perhaps I’m being too generous on players’ standards. It should be pretty evident what’s a dog shit thing to go after a player about and what’s not.
  • Geary and Richo apologising is a welcome change. I say that with many asterisks a lot of mixed feelings. As a club we’ve been hung in the media much more painfully for a lot less in the past – and perhaps not as much for a lot worse.

I deleted a tweet about Murphy and his captaincy that I shat out in anger at three-quarter time, after I yelled things including calling him a “fucking dog” and “weak prick” immediately afterwards (with the small child directly in front of our membership seats present). I didn’t know whether to leave the tweet up for posterity once I learned more about what has happened. It said, “You’re ***amazing*** Marc Murphy. Great captain, leadership, etc. etc.” and ended with “#clown”. I’m still happy about Geary’s response to Murphy going over to Carlisle, followed by Steele and then…pretty much everyone else. But with more context the tweet becomes tribalistic. None of the things that happened on the field cancelled each other out; they all add up on top of each other. It felt spiteful in the seats for much of the game, but perhaps I’m in hindsight only colouring the frustration that we felt about how the match itself was panning out.

After the game I only saw Geary and Joey shake hands with Murphy (Joey might have been having words though). They had a chat and Geary gave Murphy a pat once they were done. Comments from SEN presenters were again used as news fodder to feed the, uh, SEN news cycle. There might actually be something to be learned out of it – even Damien Barrett was sounding considered today – but yet again some parts of the media made themselves the news. Before Geary commented publicly the Herald Sun we running a story based on something Wayne Carey said. And so it goes.

***

I don’t know if it was just me but as we were all sitting there wound up at the final change – Saints and Blues supporters for different reasons in that particular moment – I think the “Saints in the Seats” or whatever the fuck segment on the big screen kind of sapped the atmosphere. I was already having a ball with the roof open, allowing us to enjoy the Concrete Dome as a footy ground rather than a TV set on a Saturday afternoon watching two clubs with a combined 297 years of history. It was a fierce contest and then we get match-day presenter Emma Davenport being told to talk to a three-year old at realistically the one point in the day the crowd was totally not up for that kind of thing. Obviously it was pre-planned but I would hope even by today’s standards we’re invested enough in the game by that point to not need that kind of thing.

Also for the Seinfeld files, I’m not liking the club’s decision to play the song once after the win and then go to the faux-crowd chant version immediately afterwards, and then Emma for a player interview before going back to the song. They’re really trying hard with this chant thing but I’m still under the impression that if they took it away it would never be sung by the fans as an organic expression. Before the game I think it’s actually pretty good – for those of you 1. still reading for some reason (Hello Campbell and Harry) and 2. who haven’t experienced it, the chant is played as the players come out onto the ground and goes straight into the traditional club song as the players break through the banner. The timing could be a little better, as they go to the song maybe a few seconds too late, but it’s a much, much better build-up than some name-a-hit early 2000s track. Post-game is a bit different at the moment. Playing the song once and then going to something that the fans really aren’t sure about (and then a player interview) really drags on the atmosphere. It’s fooled Andy Maher and I’m pretty sure if fooled Ben Dixon after the game too when he was talking to Junior Burger for the Fox Footy broadcast, but otherwise I think that’s it. It’s best kept for the pre-match.

(Bonus Garbage: Fortunately the club has ended its pretty bizarre experiment of taking out the drum roll at the beginning of the song. My dream is to be at the MCG on Grand Final Day for a St Kilda premiership, and for the final siren to be followed immediately and loudly by the drum roll intro of the club song. You can crush my dreams by throwing away leads late in consecutive Grand Finals, but don’t take away my dream with a weird admin decision.)

***

The context of this week’s win is only complete sitting after the previous week. This was the first time this group has claimed a genuine scalp and had it on them to prove their mettle as a serious team. They were headed in the second half last week by a juggernaut-to-be that had several times demonstrated superior class and talent. The response was players like Acres, Gresham, Sinclair and Ross to step up and outwork their more fancied, fashionable opposition. This week they were being pushed by a young team who were sticking to a plan and responding effectively to each other and their coach. This time, the response was to will themselves to a win without too many highs to cover over the come down from last week. Again, it was achieved by hard work and on a day where so much was created by ourselves, let alone a buoyant opponent.

The three-quarter time siren going when it did was probably a good thing. It was probably the best thing at quarter time and half time, too. Carlton’s youth has brought a lot of energy and so much out of players like Murphy, Gibbs and Kreuzer. Once they wrestled the momentum back during the quarters it was tough for the Saints to take back – they kicked the last three of the first quarter, two of the last three (albeit out of four in total) in the second, and the last three in a threatening five minutes just before the final change. We’re making a habit of games being decided by final quarters. We’d better get really good at this.

Billings aside, and perhaps Ross’s goal in the last, the highlights reel probably belonged more to the Blues. Alex Silvagni’s smother on Robertson, Williamson’s goal and the team reaction, the presence and skill in a number of moments from Cripps and Charlie Curnow. The reaction from Geary to go to Murphy was exactly what you want, too, but the darker undertones of the game are what will resonate most for the wider football public. We’ve long been a club that lacked enough of a hardarse factor; on Saturday we went too far in searching for it.

Indeed both clubs were looking to get it out of sight and out of mind as soon as possible amidst the public fall-out. From a footballing sense it wasn’t a memorable match, although it might prove to be as important a win as last week’s. But can you really completely separate the game from the psychological and the emotional?

The People v GWS [No 119] (2017)

Round 7, 2017
St Kilda 2.4, 6.7, 10.9, 16.12 (108)
GWS Giants 4.2, 7.6, 11.10, 12.13 (85)
Crowd: 21,160 at Etihad Stadium, Friday, May 5th at 7.50pm

I’ve spent this weekend with a relaxation head-start of 25% [citation needed] owing purely to Friday night. Footy can do that to you; the Saints can do that to you. For this week at least, the road towards a second premiership is starting to take shape.

It’s also the sensation of having a win on the first Friday night game in more than two years. The last time we’d had the weekend to stew over the state of the Saints was in Round 3 of 2015 when Collingwood gave us a 74-point belting in our first official outing in Candy Stripe #2. It was also not-so-memorable for being Paddy’s first game; the club wasn’t able to get the usual PR and fanfare milage out of it because Roo came up sore that evening.

The last time we actually won on a Friday night was against Fremantle in Round 20 of the awful 2011 season as we made a late charge into the finals. We won by 41 points that night after a big last quarter, and Ross the then-boss was just 41 days from being the ex-boss. What does that all mean? Fuck all.

Conventional business hours on Friday morning had KB calling for the Tigers to jump on  Paddy after he kicked seven in the VFL on the Sunday and wasn’t selected. Not sure if KB thought he was “Fitzi” (note the “i” at the end, most probably to make sure everyone knows they’re not talking about Fitzy, but who cares), but Anthony Hudson and Garry Lyon decided to take it up that night on SEN as the lead talking point for the conversation before the game. Hudson said it was “put on the agenda” by KB and Garry ran with it so I guess that’s news now. Rohan Connolly made a passionate mention of Fairfax cutting jobs and the potential loss of journalists, but Garry shut him down, so yeah, that’s where we’re at I guess. The news is apparently made by the media now, not reported by the media.

Fitzi’s revelation (or whatever) of Fyfe coming to St Kilda was much of the rage for too much of the week. Saying it was a St Kilda board member who leaked the info was probably a bit too obvious and an easy giveaway that it wasn’t a St Kilda board member. Of course the club would have spoken to Fyfe, and he might well be on his way to us – you’ll get that from the ITKs on BigFooty – but every club would have spoken to him, or would like to speak to him. The thing that ruined it for Fitzi was him saying that Fyfe’s all but signed for a specific figure. That’s way too easy for Richo, Fyfe’s management, et al. to say that’s technically not true. He might actually be close to done, but unless there’s a Buddy job we won’t know for incredibly certain for a few months.

Even amongst all of the trade talk wankery this still felt like the biggest build up to a St Kilda game for a long time. Last year’s North game late in the season had some talk going into it, but it was more shits and giggles and too much had to go right for us from there (easy to say “too much” in hindsight but that’s what happened) for us to finish in the eight.

I was late to the ground as usual for the agreed meeting time – 7pm with Matt, only to be greeted by him on the bridge to receive an early birthday present. It was a 2006 Candy Stripe #1 clash jumper, one of the Saints jumpers I don’t own from this century. He’d also stumbled on a 2011 Vague Cross jumper a couple of weeks ago which he kindly purchased for me – I am now the proud owner of the worst (2007-2008 Apron) and second-worst clash jumpers in our history.

There weren’t many people wearing Saints colours around the ground at 7pm, nor were there anyone really wearing the faded version of the opposition. Do Saints fans want to turn up for anything? Rubbish crowds so far this year against Melbourne and Geelong were followed by a paltry 21,160 on Friday night. Yes, I’m aware GWS fans are family members, corporates, or AFL ring-ins, but we apparently have more than 39,000 members.

Perhaps the news that we’re keen on returning to New Zealand over the next few years show we’re still lacking in not just members overall, but that they’re not putting their hands into their pockets and taking out a bunch of cash for the Moorabbin fund. Turning up to the games more would help a little too.

Very rarely do I have good feelings about anything but by Wednesday I was feeling good things about this one. I’m not sure exactly why. If you’re pushing for a top eight spot then you probably should take apart a team that’s lost two of their five games by 86 points. Maybe that one felt clinical enough to think we’d smashed through the glass ceiling of large Australian Rules victories.

By Friday I’d calmly brought myself down to earth and was back to expecting something not quite so enthralling as what transpired. Matt and I agreed it was the kind of game where the  the members’ section comes in up and about, some umpiring goes against us, we miss a few easy shots, the opposition’s class has them kick goals out of their proverbial and by the time we’re being run into ground in the last quarter we’re sitting shitty and frustrated by our lives as St Kilda supporters.

Somehow that didn’t happen, which was fortunate for RSEA Safety because their hand-out hard-hats worn by some in the cheer squad would have been frisbeed at the back of Heath Shaw’s skull. Not sure why the St Kilda crowd more generally booed him. As much as I don’t like his on-field personality as an opposition player, I don’t quite categorise him in the same GW$ category as Ward and Scully. At least he won a premiership with his club before chasing dollars. If the Saints fans were upset about the 2010 Grand Final Replay, well…of course we’re all upset, but his side won a premiership and ours didn’t. That’s the long and short of it.

Richie turned to me at half-time and pointed out that we wouldn’t be able to win the game at the pace we were trying to play it at to that point. He was right – another Geelong job was on the cards and we were being cut to ribbons on the rebound too often. The third quarter saw the defenders beginning to settle on the ball a little more and look to move laterally or be more patient for an option to open up. The Giants were able to open up a 17-point lead and in that moment were just a break away from being able to open the game up or put themselves in a position where they could comfortably keep us at arm’s length.

The challenge demarcation was again presented with Smith’s monster on the three-quarter time siren, but at this point in the game things were far more dire. Richo spoke after the Geelong game about how disappointing it was that the second and third tier of players that had failed to step up in that situation. It’s increasingly necessary that the respective development curves of guys like Ross, Billings, Acres, et al. now take in their impact on games when the gauntlet is thrown down. There’s a lot more accountability of what they do within games, beyond just the general upward tick of development we’ve been looking for over the past few years. So it was in the absence of key roles from My Favourite Hair in the AFL and Joey that others would have to take that step if we were any chance of pulling this off.

But to start the third quarter Newnes had fluffed his kick to Bruce one-on-one on the rebound and Scully’s classy finish had the Giants within sight of a win. Our mids were set to get smoked and Matt and I were feeling comfortable about noisily potting Billy Longer’s performance until it slowly dawned on us that he was playing a huge part (literally) in their ability to get some sort of shot at the clearances. By game’s end we would have won that count, and the midfield in general had been given a chance to work their way on top of the masses of talent of the Giants’. Billy had looked cooked about five minutes into the game, barely struggling to make it to contests around the ground in time to nominate himself before someone like Gresham would have been forced to fill in on the spot. There was at least a method or some planning in the Bulldogs playing Dunkley and Lin Jong as the ruckman in the centre bounce; they went out of their way to not have a ruckman lumbering after the play. For a time, this just looked lazy. We took it to another level late in the first quarter after Wilson’s brilliant goal through traffic on the 50-metre arc and only had two players ready to set up at the resulting centre bounce – Longer and Ross. Membrey was the only player who decided to wander in before the umpire put the ball on the deck – still leaving us one short – and ridiculously it was him that won the ball at ground level and fed it out to Seb. But Billy’s shut me and a whole lot other people up for this week, or at least until his ineffectiveness around the ground becomes a serious issue. His physicality at the contest was telling and something we’d lacked – our mids will definitely say they’re happy having that around. Hickey’s injury in the VFL on Saturday might mean there’s not much choice anyway until Rowan Marshall is upgraded.

So, uh, back to the third quarter.  We’d managed to take charge of the pendulum and after some nervous minutes J. Billings did his best to emulate J. Bruce last week, and was bailed out by a trademark Marshall Mather slice shot from three metres out. It was a type of profligacy that isn’t reflected in Billings’ goal scoring tally. Gresham turned up after his one-possession first-half with a snap soon after that looks a lot classier after multiple viewings. His ability to balance himself so quickly, think his way through a situation and execute a play is something we don’t quite have enough of. He would only have 10 possessions by game’s end but they were among our most important. All of a sudden we were back within a goal, for Membrey and Ross to miss back-to-back set shots, split by an equally-inaccurate Heath Shaw kick-in that fell into Seb’s hands. After a cagey few minutes Shiel kicked a Rolls Royce-type goal from a couple of steps on 50 and we might have given it in there.

Sinclair and Gresham combined for Gresham’s second, and then one of the more remarkable but understated passages of play on the night came. It ended with Newnes goaling to draw us level with two and a half minutes left before the last change. From a mark, Tomlinson went down the line on the broadcast side to a large pack forward of the wing. The ball cleared the pack and bounced up. Geary (C) knocked it out of the air to Steele facing the wrong way near the boundary; his quick hands in to Webster were answered with a lightning handball by Jimmy over his right shoulder in traffic to Geary, who immediately turned and gave it off to Joey. Joey’s trademark long, loopy kick was barely met by Acres who had climbed on Davis about several minutes too early for the fall of the ball. “That’s poor” said Bruce reflexively, and everyone in the crowd thought the same thing. Sitting in the members you could feel it was one of those moments in which everyone is in agreement that a particular act deserves a free kick against. The umpire was too, but an unconfirmed Saint’s lack of awareness saved the moment. Watching it back on the replay the umpire is out of frame as Acres goes up, but both Matt and I were watching him as he put his whistle to his mouth – only to have his legs tangled up with the St Kilda player running past. The last frame in which you can see them both before they go out of shot is with 2.47 left on the clock – at a guess it’s Sinclair, and the umpire took a tumble and by the time he’d seen where the play had gone Billings had swooped past and delivered to Minchington, who gave it off the running Newnes for what Dennis Cometti might have once termed the drive-by goal. It wasn’t necessarily match-defining. I think most Saints fans would say we’re due for a piece of good luck like that. Sometimes it’s just your day. Smith’s huge goal on the siren was still to come, and it had the GWS guys up and about and Joey cracking the shits at Riewoldt for not putting pressure enough on the kick.

Three moments in the third quarter had demonstrated the gulf in class between the two teams, and certainly had me thinking we were in for a repeat of the fourth-quarter fade-out against the Cats. It was how they’d kicked three of their goals. There was the classy Scully finish as the Giants went coast-to-coast after a Jack Newnes shank to a mostly open forward line; the Dylan Shiel finesse on the 50 arc, which looked sensational from our seats in line with his angle; and on the clutch Devon Smith moment on the siren. Just like a fortnight ago, we’d needed to work incredibly hard to get what felt like disproportionate reward to the Giants. Their slicing forward that happened earlier in the game had been largely thwarted once the pressure gauge ticked upwards in the second quarter from our end, but these moment showed they didn’t need to be given much at all to punish you. A massive win against the Hawks had our the put queries over our ability run out games on the backburner for a week, but here that challenge loomed again.

The next tier of players that Richo called on to step up did just that. Again, it was the ability to do that in the moment that meant so much for their development, as well as showing a positive response to Richo’s message. That said, we were in touch at three-quarter time without the huge input from Roo and Joey because of guys like Billings, Wright and Sinclair in the front half and Webster who had come prepared for a big night and made an impact from the start.

Billings again starting up forward brought him into the game immediately. He had 1.2 and eight touches at the first break before pushing up higher in the second and third quarters, and I think as much as he has been trying to find some consistency and form over this year perhaps the coaches have equally been looking for the best role for him. Playing off the back half makes sense given the quality of his disposal but it looks like playing a role in the front half gives him more intent. He deserved a third at some point but brought himself undone in the goal square as mentioned, and then missed a snap in space later on to completely ice the game. From whipping boy/seagull earlier the in year, he’s slowly shut people and now got them talking again about him, but for genuinely positive reasons.

Sinclair played a similar but higher role and despite a few early nerves – similar to last week – his disposal improved positioning was really smart. He’d first played that type of high forward role really nicely in the Round 3 win against Collingwood last year and it showed off a quality in his field kicking that we hadn’t seen much given he’d begun his career much closer to goal. His inclusion with Koby Stevens appears to have made an instant and positive impact on the team balance – the midfield has retained its grunt, already heightened with the addition of Steele – but Stevens has so far offered more in terms of disposal than Dunstan and Armo (with an asterisk due to his ongoing injury issues), whilst Sinclair offers footy smarts and better between defence and attack.

Wright had come in for Mav who had a rolled ankle, and yet again didn’t have too much of the ball (12 disposals) but hit the scoreboard with 2.2 and seven tackles. His 25 touches a week earlier for the Zebras show a pretty consistent formline owing to difference in standard. Do you take him out immediately for Mav if no one is injured or dropped (or suspended, i.e. Koby Stevens)? Perhaps Minchington, but he quietly racked up 17 touches, 1.1 and seven tackles himself.

You could mention Gresham here too. One disposal at half-time, three goals by game’s end including the sealer. He was one to have an impact at times of genuine challenge during the game, rather than respond to rev-up or a break between quarters. His first two goals came at critical times in the third term, when it looked like GWS were about to pull clear, and his third goal had him again in perfect position for the fall of the ball and he goaled coolly on his left to finish the Giants off. Hunting around with Sinclair and Billings has the team right now looking a lot sharper.

For all the queries you can throw at his game, Bruce made two particularly important contributions in the final term. He’d had four touches at three-quarter time – not sure if it was the delivery or him but he seemed to impervious to the age-old art of marking, with just one clunk at the final change and two by game’s end. That second came when he at last got some split (*2015 Buzzword*) on his opponent and some Seb Ross class got it to him neatly and he extended the lead that Acres had created. Gresham’s third goal owed a lot to him as well – Stevens and Ross combined in the middle and Membrey had to go up against both Davis and Tomlinson and was good enough to split the contest and bring the ball to ground. Bruce busted in and held off Taranto who was close to the fall and guarded Gresham from Tomlinson to make sure had more time and space to finish.

To take the chain of Gresham’s third back further: the heightened pressure level in the final term had the Giants scrambling for territory with rushed disposal in a similar way that we managed to force Collingwood into a few weeks ago. Scully found the ball on the wing and with his left went searching for Patton, who was with Carlisle. That might have presented a problem if Patton managed to at least cause a real contest, and the ball had bounced in his favour. But Jimmy Webster had worked well clear of his opponent and glided past to kick across to Newnes, who went to Stevens. Webster himself, like Billings, had a few hiccups at the start of the year, but has now become a key part of the defence. The acquisition of Carlisle and Brown can’t be underestimated not just in their isolated worth – Cameron and Patton managed just three goals between them – but their presence has released Webster and Roberton to play in and improve their more natural roles. Webster was a part of the Jack Steven snap goal chain as well, with a bullet to key talking point guy of the week Blake Acres.

He’s threatened to really bust a game open this year and again, Blacres really took his opponents on when he could and jetted into space. He has a habit of being caught by his jumper but still rocketing himself out of the opponent’s grasp, even when being slung around a little. When Richo specifically mentioned “fourth- and fifth-year players” in the post-match press conference of the Geelong game that we was disappointed didn’t take the next step when the game demanded it, I think most Saints fans would have had Acres in mind. He has shown his versatility and X-factor in patches and whilst this wasn’t a massive four-quarter performance, it was a massive final quarter performance against arguably the most talented team in the competition. He kicked two goals in as many minutes early in the final term playing as a forward target, to take us from nine points down to the lead. (Worth mentioning here that Sinclair was the one who delivered expertly to him for the second goal). Acres followed that up with a party tricks fast handball over the right shoulder to Geary running out of defence – I’ve said it before but he’s shaping as an old-fashioned and/or very modern utility player.

I’ve glossed over or completely neglected the huge games from Seb Ross, Jack Steven and the midfield in general, but (I’m still surprised I’m saying this) we’re getting used to those. The depth is growing; the output of the guys that have been there for a few years like Ross and Steven continues to lift, as well as being boosted by recruits Steele and Stevens and younger guys running through. As I said, this game showed a difference in class but you can’t fake the kind of attitude and hard work it took to get the job done across the 22 on Friday night.

The game had a lot of those moments where in that particular second you think this whole thing is going somewhere. Geary’s huge tackle on Patton was an early warning of the intent. But then in huge moments there was Gresham’s goals, Acres’ hands after his own pair, Seb Ross’s delivery to Bruce, Carlisle’s spoil in front of the members between Devon Smith and Heath Shaw, Steele and Minchington shutting down a GWS rebound attempt in final couple of minutes. Even in isolation they can represent so much.

Last year I remember thinking (and writing) that the second half of the season was set for all sorts of novelties associated with a rebuilding team. An 88-point loss to the Crows had us 4-7, and we’d lost Hugh Goddard for the season. It was the first weekend of June and it seemed to have promised a long, cold winter full of Jackson Ferguson, Will Johnson and Nick Winmar-type appearances from bottom-of-the-depths players. We backed it up with what remained to the end of the season amongst the two most enjoyable matches – knocking off the in-form Blues in front of a sold-out Docklands on a beautiful Sunday afternoon on the long weekend, and then the three-point win over the top-of-the-table Cats.  Richo spoke after the game of the importance that this doesn’t become “an event”. Whilst those last wins set off an incredible second half of the season overall that saw us miss out on the finals on percentage only, they were immediately followed by a loss to the Gold Coast who had lost their last 10. Another challenge to the maturity of this group comes on Saturday in the form of Carlton, who loom as both potential easybeats and potential threats.

In hindsight this game is mostly about what happened in the second half and/or last quarter. It’s about a whole lot of younger guys that we’ve been banking a redevelopment on taking what might be a landmark step. For the next week it is, anyway, until Saturday’s game makes its own impact on the ongoing narrative. This is just part of the journey, but a good part. On the siren of our Round 7 win over Carlton in 2013, I took notice of the reactions of Ross and Newnes particularly. “These are the kinds of wins that not only gets us as supporters attached to the players, but those players really attached to the club”, I said in the review. In the four years since we sacked our coach, sunk further down the ladder – the furthest you can go – and after Round 7 of 2017 I’m saying the same thing. The difference here is that guys like Ross, Newnes, Acres, Billings, Carlisle, Webster and Gresham – some who weren’t even at the club for that win four years ago (indeed, that was Webster’s first game) – those players owned this one. As supporters we find ourselves more and more looking to these guys to step up when things get tough.

It wasn’t until watching the replay, after Jack Steven booted home the icing on the cake from the goal square, that I learned something interesting from Bruce (not for the first time): in the previous 98 rounds, we’d only been in the top eight at the completion of a round three times, and never beyond Round 2. That’s now four rounds out of the last 99. The rebuild hasn’t truly worked until we’ve won a premiership, and after everything that happened across the last generation (and, realistically, the several before that) as St Kilda fans we’re wary for next week, let alone the years to come. But this win felt different. That sense of purpose and a sense of direction is back. There are some times in which you feel that, quite simply, it’s time.

It was really hot

JLT Community Series 2017 – Game 2
Carlton 0.2.2, 0.3.3, 0.3.4, 0.4.6 (30)
St Kilda 0.4.2, 0.8.4, 0.14.10, 0.18.14 (122)
Crowd: Uh…thousands? Princes Park, Saturday, March 4th at 2.05pm

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Who says romance is dead? Well, people like myself who are so desperately alone certainly do. But in the football sense, romance had reanimated itself on Saturday. We had all sorts of it on display, albeit in what was ultimately a meaningless JLT Community $eries™®© match.

Firstly, the setting – the only suburban ground, Princes Park, to make it to the new century. The AFL and Carlton collectively dicked any chance it had of operating as a boutique stadium by Carlton deciding to build a state-of-the-art office building behind the goals, robbing

The stands themselves really are a curious bunch, but the fact that there are several different makes from different eras gives it one mark ahead  There is the wonderful collection on the northern side of the ground, made clearly before logistics allowed them to stay up without the need for view-impeding load-bearing pillars.

The Legends stand is frankly ridiculous; the curved roof an ode to useless 1990s architecture that was trying to bring in the new millennium too soon. The flat angle of the seating means a lot of views from a needlessly poor position. Take that down, take the office building down. They had 25,000 in the other week for the Women’s opener, it wouldn’t take much to bring it to 40,000. For the clowns who got too excited about themselves for bringing Docklands stadium into existence that would apparently be more than enough.

Sitting in the old stands on wooden seats, stands made clearly before the logistical capability of not needing supportive pillars in the way of your view. All this with the 20th-century embellishments of cash-only food and drink outlets, cans of Carlton Mid, the concrete and steel urinals and the rusted taps in the grey, off-white and yellowed bathrooms; outdated advertising signage.

And oh, yes – two VFL foundation teams playing against each other at one’s original home ground on a Saturday afternoon.

The nostalgia for the candy stripe had been fed for the past two years; and as teased by the squashed ISC version for Roo’s 300th last year and this year’s club calendar a much bolder version of the hot-cross bun jumper made its debut. I’ll go into more of that in the forthcoming St Kilda Jumper State of the Union 2017; spoiler alert: It’s sensational and has some functional X-factor others have lacked. But RIP Candy Stripe #2; arguable the best St Kilda jumper ever.

Parking was a mare (if you’re a clown like me and missed the car park entry off Royal Parade entirely), so I jogged it in from a block behind Royal Parade in the heat to make it in time for the start of the second quarter, acquire a couple of cans of Carlton to run up to Matt and myself and see Jake Carlisle kick a goal.

And the footy itself? Uh, yeah, sure. Apparently the equation for the Corporate Name Non-Competition is St Kilda slightly up + Carlton down + 28 degress = blowout. That’s probably not giving enough credit to St Kilda and not giving enough credit to Carlton’s badness [citation needed]. Whatever the hell the Saints were doing in terms of team structure – to go with applying manic pressure not just in tight but to move and cover space across the ground – meant the ball very, very rarely ended up in Carlton’s 50, and if it did then with very little purpose.

The Bont’s already won a best and fairest in a premiership year so as far as I’m concerned the pressure is (in a way, at least) off Billings – the race is over, so he can just do what he needs to do now to be the best he can be. He did some good things last pre-season and early on before another injury busted his chances of a break-out, but in all of the intra-club, JLT 1 and Saturday he’s been a clear stand-out. The only way he could have been better is if he wore his socks up, because the team photo actually revealed he looks awesome with that. Whatever he’s done over the pre-season has allowed him to move more smoothly and get to the right spaces; he moves and disposes of the ball in the exact way I think we all envisioned him doing so when he was picked in the 2013 draft. Silky, X-factor, versatile, and he picked up 30 touches. It’s pre-season, sure, but all of a sudden “Billings to Paddy” is a thing.

Paddy’s still got a little bit of puppy fat but he’s moving even better around the front half than he’s shown. When he’s made an impact it’s often early in games before he comes in and out of things throughout the match, and whilst I could have kicked a couple out there against the Blues he loomed large all day. Membrey did fark all for four touches and My Favourite Hair in the AFL was having a rest, so the versatility is going to be a key factor if we’re going to make it to the relevant parts of the season. So on Saturday it certainly helped that futsal ring-in Josh Bruce was, you know, kicking seven goals. Matt and I said it were talking about how the forwards work together and how it would look if Paddy was playing closer to goal and Bruce was floating higher up – Saturday’s arrangement obviously worked a treat; Paddy only kicked 1.2 but took 12 marks. Ideally Membrey won’t have second-year blues (effectively) and you’re throwing in Roo as well.

That’s just the talls. Gresham is really a midfielder so it was more about Sinclair, Lonie, Wright, Minchington and Benny Long auditioning for spots in the front half. All of them kicked goals and had some impact. Easy to get hyped up but in 42% game time Long laid seven tackles and kicked a goal, and looked more threatening than the others. Otherwise, Minchington has more of a presence than the rest and the best disposal, Lonie can’t kick straight whether it’s in general play or at goal, and Sinclair appears to be a somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades. Wright barrels through things but I’m not sure how much longevity he has as a first 22 player. Our picks 24 and 25 in the 2012 draft are looking, uh…yeah. Long aside for now, until they mature a little more it’s down to which way do you prefer to be frustrated by small forwards.

Ok so let’s do this, nice and simple. Jack Steele. He’s like a midfield version of Josh Bruce. Top-knot, handsome, broad shoulders, decent Australian Rules footballer. Inside and outside he made a great impact and finished 25 touches (second only to Hotline) and two goals. He’s clean, he’s got a lot of awareness and he knows where the ball should be going. Until the trade and draft period this team is still short two first-rounders or one massive midfield name, but our midfield in general suddenly has a lot more depth – throw in Koby Stevens and introduce Gresham, and even Long was at a couple of centre bounces – and let’s hope Ross can build on his breakthrough year last year, Acres keeps developing and Jack Steven keeps skating around.

Dunstan might be the darkhorse here, in the same way Ross was last year. After his debut season in 2014 it felt like he’d gone a bit quiet (injuries have played a role) and an ankle issue in the final seconds notwithstanding, he’s another that looks to have benefited from another pre-season (shout-out to Acres’ much broader shoulders and upper body).

Not sure quite what to say about Carlisle and Brown in the back half just yet – they barely got a look-in on Saturday. That’s the kind of game it was. Also no supergoals were kicked lol.

The 92-point win would have us at the top of the ladder that doesn’t actually exist for this competition. The giddy heights of the 2004 were enhanced by the fact we won the Wizard Cup in a Grand Final that had genuine feeling in front of a sold-out crowd, but we don’t think of that when we look back on that era. This has zero guarantees of being a 2004-type season, but riding high in March can bring special feelings to a Saints supporter. The club has won one premiership in its 144 seasons, but there are no facts in the future.

 

Ditched, Vol. 3

Round 4, 2015
St Kilda 5.3, 8.6, 10.8, 12.9 (81)
Carlton 1.2, 6.4, 12.9, 18.13 (121)
Crowd: 12,125 at Westpac Stadium, Saturday, April 25th at 1.10pm NZST

When you’re back at bottom of the shit heap you’re reminded about it in myriad ways.

In our case, we can even go to another country in which no one should know of our woeful, woeful history but we’ll still get found out.

Last year the New Zealand experiment featured a crowd of 13,409, down exactly 9,137 from the previous year.

That match saw us put in what would classically be described as a piss-weak performance, against a team that was 0-5 and in a game which presented a huge opportunity to go 4-2 (not that it really would have done that much for the rest of the season, let’s be honest), and after all the pre-match hype both here and locally, by the end of the night the venture was looking like this.

This year we apparently got to 12,125, and that might have been affected by two slop teams playing on a weekend which wasn’t padded out by a public holiday either side, but for the second year running the takeaway is we haven’t won a game in our apparently second home – now from three attempts – and we’ve again lost to a winless team.

You can have the annual Shane Savage Week, you can have a TV spot brazenly plugging the Saints in front of the opposing captain – or puff pieces with high-profile players of an opposing code, and you can personally give the locals a skills session, whatever. The $500,000 that Wellington tip in to the club for the game each probably doesn’t need that many people there for the broader local economy to get more back, but for the foreseeable future this game isn’t getting any bigger.

Look, you could look at the fixturing for this one and say, well, the AFL has given us a team that is probably a good chance to be the home of Darcy Parish come November, and given us a good chance to give the travelling fans, and any locals who got tickets thrust into their faces whilst they were minding their business during the week, a win in New Zealand on Anzac Day.

I don’t know, but in the long run sending two dodgy sides in a row to contend with our total dog’s balls-ness isn’t going to help in a “market” (welcome to Gold Coast & GWS-era basic, undisputed terminology) in which it’s not just about bringing a good “product” (fuck you Demetriou et al), but an actual “showcase” of said “product”. For as long as we’re going to be rebuilding/incompetent/whatever, we’re going to be letting that down by totally not holding up our own end.

Something decent at least after last week would be a start from every point of view, but fuck a duck I don’t know how much longer the NZ novelty factor will last for the crowds until we’re decent. There’s been some vague talk that this will be a permanent fixture (until the contract runs out, of course), so at best it will be treading water for the rest of it given where we are.

By then, I’m not sure how unique the game will actually be. Everyone’s probably been a little scared off by the crunch scheduling for this year given it’s on a Saturday, but it’s something that happens every few years so everyone calm the fuck down about it. The thing here is that Melbourne and Richmond are eyeing off the Anzac Day Eve timeslot, and over 58,000 there last night bodes well, considering Melbourne’s only going to get better and [insert Melbourne supporters turning up joke here]. Phil Davis also (probably under Head of Communications’ orders) just eased the prospect GWS-Gold Coast game also becoming an annual fixture into the media frame, and I’m sure the AFL would love that.

The New Zealand fixture for myself has always presented a few difficulties in terms of actually seeing the game. in 2013 I was in Cambodia with Mum and Dad, and whilst the Australia Channel had the Collingwood-Essendon game as part of its four weekly broadcast games, there was not a backpackers’ pub in site, even in the whitest of of touristy districts, that was showing the St Kilda-Sydney game. I ended up listening to the first half with the parents out of my iPhone at a bar over some rude cocktails, and then back at the hotel Dad and I watched the second half on a low-quality, totally not absolutely not very not legal stream of the game. Last year, my brother and I couldn’t find something similar but of decent quality enough and it was the iPhone again – this time via the hastily-subscribed AFL Live app – that gave me the early non-action, and we went up the street from his house past Sportscover to the Elsternwick where we watched arguably the most disappointing performance of the year.

This time, we decided to vaguely pre-plan things via a series of text messages close to 11pm, after I’d been in bed and slept for nearly two hours. We quickly found out the Anzac Day public holiday trading laws weren’t very conducive to the morning start so we ended up in Oakleigh at dear cousin Evan’s for some morning coffees and lagers and Red Rock Deli chips. Really not sure about the AFL’s approach to this game considering those trading laws and the fact this game remains stuck on Fox Footy – which a huge majority of people don’t have – and, uh, in a different country.

So fortunately Matt and I could rely on Evan and the family’s hospitality, and most importantly, Fox Footy connection. The brilliance of Melbourne’s public transport system meant we got there right on the start for Jarryn Geary’s debut as captain. With no My Favourite Hair in the AFL and Joey playing, the structure and inside work would be tested again after the dismal failure of last week.

Of course, we weren’t confronted with the scenario that Roo’s genuine late withdrawal gave us last week, which was essentially throw out our structural planning for the week less than an hour before the game. That Paddy came in was great, although depending on which forum called Saintsational you might read Josh Bruce wasn’t feeling too flash, to go with the fact that neither play the kind of footy that could cover Roo’s now roaming role.

However I think, perhaps ironically, that for Paddy’s statistical return of five touches he actually looked far more comfortable there yesterday, and gave showed us what he’d been sold on in the lead-up to the draft: he covered more ground more thoughtfully, was more physical when it came to marking contests, moved through traffic better and was cleaner down low than in his rushed debut. I don’t know about drawing the link between him being subbed off and our structure overall going to absolute arse, but in his second game as a big guy with a lot of responsibility for how the team set-up I’m not going to fault him too much.

The warning signs of the other side of the structural deficiencies were there from early on. This one’s more about application but once the Blues were over the first wave of pressure across our half-forward line is was down to them to screw things up for themselves. It was a similar pattern the previous week; after the decent start things opened up and in the end the 40-point margin reflected just how much the Blues sliced us open after we were out to a 26-point lead in the second quarter. The possession count reflected that too – 375 to a paltry 308.

The thing was, we were switched on in the first quarter and a half that the high pressure ploy really worked. It made Jack Steven’s good running and pocket banana opener and Sinclair’s really composed finish on the angle look extra sharp. Bruce’s dinky kick on the line was a replica of his sixth on the Gold Coast a fortnight earlier so the good vibes were there, but the second quarter difficulties seen in the two losses were still something to overcome.

It was perhaps incumbent on Membrey to play a more prominent role across half-forward, but eight touches – albeit with some pretty decent fend-offs and good urgency thrown in – and no scoreboard presence really doesn’t do his place in the side any favours. Fortunately for him Roo is no certainty at all to play next week, Paddy would probably be the first one to come out and Spencer is doing fark all for Sandy right now (and anything Tom Lee is doing is at the other end of the ground). I’m absolutely not writing him off, and like Paddy he might look a lot better with Roo straightening things up as well (we know he’s made impact with that set-up already). Yesterday was only his fifth game and he would have been better off spending the last two years playing in the EFL if he wanted to be primed for senior footy.

So, as it should have been expected, the first 100 seconds of play in the second quarter saw Carlton take the ball out of the centre twice for two goals. Soon after Jack Steven totally butchered a forward 50 entry on the rebound the Blues went straight back for Henderson to already have three on the board.

The deft move by Bruce to meet the ball at the top of the fifty, hold off the close handball and wait the extra second to give to Billings runnings past for the lovely running goal was probably the classiest we looked all day. Billings is still getting there obviously, but this moment was a timely reminder of why he was a pick 3.

Bruce didn’t dominate again but he kicked two goals, which means his return so far has been a healthy 2, 6, 2 and 2. Again, like Membrey and pre-emptively McCartin (for the short-term), he would be the beneficiary of Roo running around nearby or higher up; he certainly affected general play more with him in the side, apparent illness notwithstanding; and last week was probably not a good time to be wearing the white shorts and mostly-white clash jumper.

I’ll faff around with the subject more in my entirely unanticipated next volume of St Kilda Jumper Talk over the next week, but I thought this year’s New Zealand jumpers looked pretty good, if a bit busy. Not sure if they’re trying to build a theme with the red being essentially the bottom third of the jumper on the front and back over this year and last, with black panels either side of the middle white panel on the upper part. I think it’s a really mean look, and is basically a hybrid of the home jumper tri-panel and the hot-cross bun jumper.

It was the kind of day in which Billy Longer was having an impact around the ground. And by that I mean it was a weird day. He ended up with 20 possessions but already the game had turned enough to the point we were sitting there thinking if him being in our better players was a good thing or not. Billy got in on the pressure act and took some nice intercept marks across half-forward, and would venture back a couple of times to have a presence there also. A few hurried kicks when he found the footy in general play I think had to do more with him totally not being used to being near the ball at a stoppage. Either way, 20 touches might reflect one of the first real steps we see him take.

The umpires were letting just about everything go for some reason, but they did it so consistently it was genuinely enjoyable to see a bit of physicality in the game not taking away from its ebbs and flows. Perhaps the umpires were told to keep things flowing on the smaller field, and it worked whatever the motivation. But when Carlton busted down to their forward line for Liam Jones to have an easy shot at goal and then miss, I knew I couldn’t trust anyone out on that field to not pull out something dog’s balls through the second half or at a vital point late in the game – whether it be the umpires letting their guard down, Liam Jones or Billy Longer.

By half-time we could barely get past halfway with a decent possession, and the second half really is just a blur of party pies, Oscar sitting next to my head on the couch, beer and novelty soft drink (Schweppes’ “Fruit Tingler”, obviously named to evade copyright infringement, was actually OK). That Jack Lonie was the classiest thing that happened for us in that second half speaks volumes of Jack’s own talent and our own inconsistency.

I like the style of footy Richo is trying to get us to play, and we’ve seen it work at times very well this year. But whilst this team is young and we’re still sorting out the proverbial from the proverbial, when it drops off it’ll get ugly. Lonie’s pressure turned over the ball twice in the same short passage early in the third, ultimately ending up with a great kick from Billings to Bruce for an early goal, and when he bobbed up out of nowhere to win the ball and then found himself down the chain snapping a goal around the corner through traffic – with kind assistance from the bounce – all of a sudden we were lucky to be 14 points out. But then he kicked across goal and Andrejs Everitt duly accepted the gift and the Blues were up and about. They made sure Lonie knew about it and they didn’t look back.

Sure, there was Newnes giving Murphy a nice lovetap (more out of frustration I think in the relatively foreign and ineffective role), and Geary just pressing his head into the turf as well, but they came after Geary put in a soft effort going for a mark and Murphy was the one who really showed a captain’s qualities. Sure it was nice for Geary to be captain for the week, but there a few clangers in his game and based on admittedly a very small sample size I don’t think he’s quite the next in line.

It’s easy to criticise the backline but when our midfield is getting smashed or the forward press is breaking down far too easy then they’re going to have an unlimited supply to defend. The glaring part here is that guys like Dempster, Fisher, Gilbert and Ray probably can’t take up that many spots in the backline for much longer. Yes, we need to have the stability down there for a bit, but it’s one area that really is up in the air as far as the transition to youth goes. Goddard, Acres, Lee maybe, and Webster really need to start playing more often, and it’s fair to say Acres and Webster have certainly done enough to demand a senior spot very soon. They’ve shown natural smarts and pinpoint disposal, which is the kind of thing we’ll need with this style of footy. Roberton has improved on last year but I still think Shenton is ultimately a depth player at best.

So after a couple of quick Double-Coated Tim Tams and some Miced Volvos, it was back out into the cold and slight rain, to trek back across the city with most of the bleak afternoon left and already a St Kilda loss to show for our Saturday. Fortunately, there was some remarkable Australian Rules football to be broadcast still to come.

When St Kilda returns to its natural state, by definition it means clubs are inherently raised that little bit more, as well as getting the opportunity to showcase that domination no matter where they sit in their own journey. Take the winless Blues as the perfect example – holders of the greatest ever all-time wins-to-losses gap over an opponent (us of course), and with a list that’s possibly the worst of any – their sixth-gamer Patrick Cripps gathered 33 disposals and laid 11 tackles; Tom Bell barged his way to four goals after 22 across four seasons, and Lachie Henderson decides to kick five in one his occasional good performances, typically reserved for who else?

How do you keep selling this to a city in a foreign country? How many times can you try? “We’ve been successful here only once from 142 attempts; zero out of three isn’t so bad”? The idea is OK, but whether or not it’s successful really depends on what the AFL want and what the club want; we might be happy to just keep pocketing the money. The fact is until Corporate Stadium is in the AFL’s ownership and we’re not the League’s stress ball, we’ll need those dollars.

…Do we have Patrick McCartin yet?

Round 16, 2014
Carlton 6.2, 10.2, 17.6, 24.7 (151)
St Kilda 2.0, 7.5, 9.5, 10.6 (66)
Crowd: 29,997 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, July 6th at 1.10pm

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“He said, ‘Every day’s a curse
And the curse just gets worse.'”
– Chad Vangaalen, “Hangman’s Son”

Why do we go to the footy?

I say “we” referring to St Kilda supporters. Why, right now, do we go to the footy? Who went today? Why did you go?

People of my age – in and around their mid-20s, up to those who can remember the early 1990s – who began following the club from an early age have mostly known good times. And I mean “Holy shit, this might be it” times.

Times where I’d be on the way to the bathroom or to the bar at the ground between quarters thinking “shit, we might be on the way”. Footy’s typically a communal thing, and in those unique few moments of leaving my dad, brother and cousin and being on my own at the ground between the opening and final sirens, I could afford myself the most optimistic of dawnings and ponderings. Whilst you can still smell the grass on the field and spilt beer, and with the adrenaline and emotion of the match in progress still peaking.

I don’t question whether I go to the footy or not every week. I’m not sure why it’s a given right now, but I know that it won’t change. It’s the same for many, but certainly not too many Saints at the moment. It’s hard to define genuine involvement in a club when it’s not purely based on boorish aggression. I can tell you that I will be going to the footy to watch St Kilda play regardless of their form because of a mixture of deep nostalgia and sense of both unfinished business with the pure, pure hope that we will witness something special one day that I suggest all St Kilda supporters share. But, like so many of those fellow supporters, that basic assumption doesn’t to justice to how we feel feel now, and how felt at so many differing times over the past decade or so.

In successful times it’s all easier for everyone, from the most hardened, long-term member to the bandwagoners in all their forms. Every season is a long, amazing story regardless of what happens; years are their own journey. In the good times you feel a heightened sense of anticipation going to watch high quality footy in higher quality games, and you (often) leave feeling good and with your optimism boosted a little more. Those few hours felt like they might have had a purpose towards something bigger at the end of that journey.

There’s fark all of any of that right now. This week I had every moment of the game to myself. It wasn’t even alcohol assisted – I’d driven the entire way from Sydney back home to Melbourne on Saturday and got home very late, so I needed to keep things simple yesterday. Turns out a drink or few might have helped. Whatever. It was the first time this year I’d been this year to a game on my own. The isolation of watching a team, on your own, that is essentially irrelevant, featuring a whole number of players that are merely filling in until we draft or recruit the guys who will be there to push us upwards was confronting.

It was confronting because in this era of expecting to lose and lose comfortably, I’d gone to games with a social aspect. I’d been with my brother, or RWB cohort Rich (and with his father the last couple of weeks), which is the usual clique now Matt and I’s parents are living in the UK. You would be right in saying I went to watch us lose. That’s true, I didn’t give us a chance. I haven’t for weeks and probably won’t for weeks. I just went. A whole bunch of us did. As I said, not many, but a whole bunch of us. Whether or not these are good or bad times, ultimately they’re part of the same journey. 

The week leading up to this one had suitable little fanfare. In the St Kilda world, it was largely about Armo’s 100th, but it felt a little…moot? I don’t know if that’s the right idea. We don’t know if he’ll be at the club next year, let alone in a few years when the club is supposedly meant to be fulfilling the loftier goals of the “2018-but-not-really-2018” plan. Right now he’s the number nine pick in the 2006 draft that by his own admission ran around just happy being there in 2009 and 2010 in a team that was down by one goal when the siren went in the Grand Final one year and level the next.

I still think he’s got improvement in him and the general buzz around him is that he’s a more professional and hard-working player. From my non-vantage point I think it shows; even his media appearances are stronger more rounded. Yesterday he was fittingly one of our best. The improvement he will get from now will be more about consistency and doing what he does more often. His disposal won’t improve too much if at all and the contest he provides is really valuable. He might be our captain soon. I’m still backing the Newnes/Dunstan pairing to be the club’s 2018-2022 Premiership Captain.

In the wider footy world, the only real mention about St Kilda, beyond Billy Longer’s stellar performance in the newest edition of Press Pass (Schneiderman Lite), was Scott Watters’ first proper media interview since his sacking. Obviously the termination and  payout conditions came with a six-month confidentiality clause, but even then I thought he played a pretty straight bat. He certainly talked down Pelchen and some elements of the way the club is run, but that wasn’t anything new at all, even in the full version aired on The Sunday Footy Show shown close to the opening bounce on Channel 9. I think that one’s simply going to be the kind of thing remembered depending on which camp you’re in.

On a more macroscopic level, Saints fans don’t turn up to away games in huge numbers anywhere, and that includes Corporate Stadium. I’d love to know the breakdown of the just under 30,000 that were there on Sunday; my guess is it would have genuinely been and 85-15 split Carlton’s way, which is really the kind of ratio you expect interstate teams to offer in Melbourne.

So it’s always that strange feeling of not-quite-home when the Saints are wearing their clash jumper there, which takes me to the massive merchandise clearance sale the club had last week. There have been vague rumours floating around that the Saints may be moving on from ISC at year’s end, and with the clash jumper having completed the standard two-year clash jumper tenure by then I think we’re odds-on for a change. The thing is, this is just about the best we’ll get in a clash jumper in terms of it replicating the tri-panel home design. I also love that it incorporates the cross motif, so I wouldn’t be surprised that if there were any changes next seasons, regardless of manufacturer, they were minimal. Hopefully we don’t just splatter a bit of red, white and black on a huge white canvass. It’s been one of the best.

Darren Jolly made an appearance early in the day in the rooms, although I wasn’t sure if it was to help out Billy Longer and Rhys or, as my RWB cohort Rich said, was there to assist the club with their match day interior design.

And then, unfortunately, the match began.

My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s goal off the ground early (insert World Cup reference) was a nice little highlight (which is largely the best we can expect), but again we went into quarter time with the game just about reach.

Just as Lloydy wished, Roo began pushing high up the ground but it still took a lucky free and Newnes and Ross not crashing into each other to get it to Rhys on the lead and goaling from on 50. In an as-perfect-as-possible-from-here world, that’s how most passages of play would read.

There wasn’t time to get too excited about any of it though, because the Blues went straight out of the middle for a goal. Dempster immediately cracked the Ahmed Saads and gave away a free kick in front of goal for the Blues to all of a sudden be out by 25 points.

Sadly that’s how quickly our hopes can be dashed. The margin for error is tiny, and just like that the St Kilda end was flat. It got flatter when the good work to catch pressure Daisy at one end led to Gwilt completely missing Roo on the lead up forward, and then a nice chain featuring Newnes, Billings and Dunstan finished in the same way.

Things were bordering on “really weird” territory six minutes into the second, when Everitt, Judd and Menzel had all kicked goals. Roo had pushed all the way up to half back and it actually looked better than any other set up we had – he had three touches in the the first three minutes and showed that he’s a better field kick than just about anyone else in the side. But things broke down further up the chain; Shenton being too slow to make up his mind caught a whole lot of guys who’d pushed up right out and the Blues stormed back the other way for the Everitt goal.

Then something genuinely weird happened – St Kilda turned it on. It started pretty inauspiciously. Sav with one of the best bullet passes you’ll see off half-back, which was appropriately dropped by Minchington under minimal pressure. The footy came back into defence with interest, Sav’s attack at the ball saved the Saints.

Again, we had to get an odd free – this one off the ball – to actually get a shot on goal, which Billings missed. Then TDL intercepted the kick in and hit the post.

Right, so those two paragraphs instantly throw up a few of things. Firstly, Sav. I can’t say I’d written him off after only a few poor outings, but in the past the three weeks he’s all of a sudden become a genuinely effective running half-back. As I just mentioned, he showed just how good his disposal can be over a decent distance (some dodgy forward 50 entries last week week notwithstanding) and he also kicked two huge running goals from on the 50 metre arc from give-offs from Billings and Dunstan. That’s that exact kind of stuff we recruited him for, and since playing starting off half-back he’s getting his hands on the footy (he had the most disposals for us on Sunday) and it’s coming together.

Also doing a whole bunch of stuff on the scoreboard (or at least vaguely around the goals) and higher up was Billings. He finished with 1.2 and one on the full, demonstrating yet again that for the brilliant kick he’s shown to have (he’s not Mr. 100 for nothing) he’s got some weird yips thing that decides to appear once every couple of weeks. But otherwise, he displayed why he’s a number three pick – he ended up with seven marks (a team high) as a legitimate target across half-forward and took some really strong marks under duress (see the give-off for Sav’s first). He also finished the game in the centre, probably owing to necessity as much as anything given the state of the game, but it’s at least partially a sign the coaches think he’s ready to have a crack in there.

I don’t think anyone was surprised but it didn’t end well for TDL. He worked hard at the start, tracking from the forward line all the way to half-back to apply pressure, but the soda he missed on half-time to bring to within 10 points and really boost things going into half-time was a massive sapper. I swear every player in white on the ground paused for a brief second when that kick went wide. Within five minutes of the resumption Carlton was out to a 29-point, and it would have been 30 had Lachie Henderson not done a TDL himself from close range – but Carlton had the goal within a minute. By the time he was subbed out of the game for Dunell, Carlton had kicked 7.4 to 2.0, and it had taken us 22 minutes to score. Last year’s Virgin Australia Film Festival video has just about officially claimed another two victims; TDL as well as Dunell who I don’t even remember doing any things (although he was given the most minimal chance possible). They look set to join Jay Lever, Jordan Staley, Jackson Ferguson and Saad as the video’s collateral. Even Big Ben was shipped off after those performances. Co-stars Tommy Lee, Spencer White and Daniel Markworth have all had injury-interrupted seasons, but White should be playing soon and it looks like Lee and Markworth will be there next year.

At half-time we might have been up and about but in hindsight, knowing how the second half panned out, it’s hard to know what to make of those positive things in that term. Billy Longer spent some time forward and took a really nice mark (before Schneider hit the post with the give off), Delaney pushed up to grab the ball forward of the wing and tee up Minch who kicked a huge goal, and Rhys completed a nice passage started in the backline by Roo, who was doing it all at both ends, then Newnes with the nice pass.

They were really just decent moments though. Meanwhile, Joey had just five touches and Jack Steven was on par with him; both with just eight at final change, although we’ve just learnt today that Jack will miss the next games with a thigh injury so I dare say he was playing under some duress. Armo had 18 touches at half-time, but I’m using him as an example that if I’m going to pan him for a quiet second half, I might as well give it to the entire side.

The last quarter was simply atrocious. It felt not just like that the team went missing but the supporters being there all of sudden seemed so idle. We were on the way to losing to a team on four wins and 10 losses by 85 points, with Casboult being made to look like the most imposing forward in the game, a defender kicking four goals, and Menzel earning the Rising Star nomination.

We’ve never seen Richo the way he was post-match. Angry and frustrated, it looked like for the first time the difficulty of this whole task had really smacked him one. He let out a huge f-bomb in the box in the third quarter when Casboult appeared to outmark about twelve St Kilda defenders with ease. Go over the tapes – that might well have been his first real one.

This was the kind of thing in which you don’t know where to start. But the forward line is the obvious one; we haven’t cracked 100 this year and we haven’t looked like cracking it at all. Delivery into the forward line is key too, of course, but I thought it was telling that the whole set up looked a little more solid the more Roo pushed up. As I said, he’s one of our best field kicks by the length of the Spencer Street bridge, and he provided a calm and physically imposing presence.

It also allowed BIG RHYS BANDWAGON to have a crack at being the only option parked up forward. He hit the scoreboard again, but is there a clause in his contract in which he can’t kick three goals or more? He’s played 51 games now, predominantly as a forward, and whilst it looks like he’s found his place on the field he really needs to up that. Would be nice if he held a few more though – four marks simply isn’t enough if he’s going to contribute to a halfway decent team, but we know he’s a taking a few more than that regularly now.

Season-ending shoulder surgery for Big Tommy Lee and Big Beau Maister, as well as My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs also hurting his shoulder on the weekend (three forwards in one week doing shoulders – wtf?) basically means we’re down to Roo and Rhys. The way Richo spoke after the game suggested Spencer White will come in a little earlier than expected because of it, and Josh Bruce might return as a forward after racking up some good numbers (although kicking 2.4) in the forward half for Sandy. Otherwise, Richo mentioned Hickey and Longer playing forward also. As they should anyway, but I dare say he meant for more extended periods – particularly if both of them and Rhys are playing.

I think Spencer White  – regardless of what you think of him right now – could be the missing, not mention forgotten, piece here. I don’t mean to say that he’ll come in and everything will be wonderful. Rather, I mean that the kind of player he is in the future could be missing piece to the side structurally, and feature the best of both worlds between someone like Rhys playing higher up and guys playing deeper, like Tom Lee, or *melodramatic pause*…Patrick McCartin.

Richo’s already effectively confirmed that Spencer will be there for sure next year whatever happens throughout the rest of the season. He’s mobile already and can take a strong mark, and the forward line could be far more dynamic with a player like that complimenting Rhys and a deeper full-forward like McCartin. But who knows? McCartin might be getting a game for this club before Spencer does. But for the first time, Spencer looks some actual chance playing for St Kilda rather than Sandringham.

It was quarter time and I was in the standing room at the St Kilda end amidst zero atmosphere. It was about this time, after nudging this territory a few times during the quarter, that I began to really think, “What the hell am I doing here?” I didn’t just mean the slop being dished out in front of me in the previous half hour. I meant after everything that happened in the past decade, what the hell am I doing here?

I think about the 2004-2010 era and I’m still not sure that it’s registered with me that what happened really did happen. Perhaps naturally a little now that becomes  a part of our past; not just because time has passed but in the context of this club it really is a past era. Sunday felt like an entirely different world to those times. Days like those make it hard to wrestle with the reality that that’s exactly what it is.