Chris Judd Posts

Seasons past

Round 21, 2016
St Kilda 5.0, 7.5, 9.8, 11.10 (76)
Sydney Swans 4.1, 8.4, 16.7, 23.8 (146)
Crowd: 33,059 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, August 13th at 7.25pm

Between two wins from the first eight games and last night we swung between “mathematical chance” for a finals appearance and “part of the conversation” (as proxy for “better mathematical chance”). Ridiculously, we’re still a mathematical chance to make the eight, but more reasonably (and to the point) we’re no longer part of the conversation.

Saturday night marked the end of a few weeks in which we appeared to perhaps emerge from the depths of the last post-Grand Finals crash. This year will be noted for the big step taken by the club from the previous years, but certainly nothing more until we find out in the coming years what it actually led to.

Yet another late season drubbing against the Swans in hindsight was always on the cards. Our record against top eight sides hasn’t been awful – some of those encounters include our best footy for the year – but the Swans added to our 2016 pile of smashings at the hands of premiership fancies that have highlighted the gap still to be made between where we’re coming from, where we are and where we want to get to.

The AFL has enjoyed the comfort of recent years knowing that the Swans will be facing the lowly Saints late in the season in what surely looms as a key match for the Sydneysiders (#conspiracy). In Round 21 of 2013 the Swans doubled our score for a 59-point win; in Round 21 of 2014 Buddy went nuts and the Swans won by 71; last year we kicked only four goals in Sydney premiership hero Adam Schneider’s farewell match in Round 22 as the Swans shat in a 97-point thumping; and in Round 21 this year it was a 70-point margin.

Despite what was on the line for both team the atmosphere pre-match was one I haven’t quite experienced before. The Pride Match is a wonderful initiative by the club. Last night was the first time I ever saw two males holding hands at a game of footy. I saw one man get visibly emotional as he received his Pride scarf, which were sold out well before the game (I had to opt for the beanie after going to four different selling points inside and outside of the ground). There was a remarkably relaxed feeling walking through the crowd; people seemed to feel comfortable and there little of the bravado that often accompanies a boorish mass of people. People felt like they just be people.

The reception it received – judging by the media attention on the game, the atmosphere at the ground, and seeing how many people had purchased and were wearing the scarves and beanies – was incredibly heartening. As a straight, white male I’ve had the easiest of runs but to know this event was being planned and then actually attending was a relief. Some people will say it’s a PR stunt; others will click the “Angry” icon on Facebook posts from the club and the league; others will bemusingly leave flyers on windscreens around Trevor Barker Beach Oval on the day of Sandringham home games. Yes, free speech and all that, but the ideal of free speech is to have a serious conversation, and through that process weed out the excess and deadweight that gets in the way of growth and progress. It’s so great that the club I support engineered this event, but it’s so great that any club did.

Hey, remember that time we had pick #2 in the 2001 National Draft and we used it on Luke Ball and then Chris Judd got taken at #3 and the Eagles made back-to-back Grand Finals and won a premiership and Judd became one of the greatest players of all time? And then Luke Ball left after getting only 50 per cent game time in the 2009 Grand Final and won a premiership the following year for the club we played off against twice for the Cup? Anyway, three years ago we had the #3 pick and we used on this guy Jack Billings who I reckon will be pretty good, but the Bulldogs had pick #4 and they used it on Marcus Bontempelli who is exactly the kind of big-bodied, polished player who can kick goals that we’re chasing in a trade or via free agency to lead our midfield and is probably the best young guy in the comp at the moment? And albeit at this early stage Billings is giving us worrying signs that he might not be as good as thought he might be? He had five touches to three-quarter time last night. Yes, it’s not about this year; yes, he’s here for a career; but is anyone else slightly terrified about that situation? Here’s to a massive pre-season for Junior Burger.

Anyway, we’re looking thereabouts for the coveted #9 pick this year, having had it in 2006 and 2007, using it on Armo and Big Ben respectively. Armo’s a known quantity now – we know what his best is, and he was closer to it last night than he’s been all year. But he’s fallen well down in the pecking order of our prospective midfield through the anticipated climb up the ladder. Big Ben has turned into Shane Savage and Luke Dunstan (with pick #18 in 2013). I still think we finish ahead in that one (pick #19 in 2013 was Blake Acres which technically speaking we received from the Hawks in a separate deal for picks 24 and 59), although you’d have to ignore the fact that Patrick Dangerfield (yes) was taken with the pick immediately following Big Ben’s, and Cyril Rioli three picks later, and Harry Taylor at #17, and Alex Rance at #18, and Callan Ward at #19.

Blacres was really the only one that Richo highlighted in the post-match press conference. Again, he was just about everywhere. He started at centre bounces, and moved high up the ground and into defence, took on the opposition and moved smoothly through traffic, and played as a focal point up forward. It was his hard get-out from the middle that released Steven who ran and delivered to Mav for a goal in the first quarter, and twice in the second quarter after he was moved up forward pushed up a little to provide a link and delivered handsomely to Paddy on the lead.

He ended up with 1.3 amongst a couple of rushed shots and probably should have finished with two or three goals but in his turns up forward he covered for the glaring absence of Membrey and Bruce. Membrey looked likely early but after his early mark and goal neither really effected the game in any meaningful way. Paddy only finished with five disposals but he kicked two goals and presented very nicely when the guys further up the ground were holding up their end of the bargain.

The difference between the first and second halves was (obviously) profound. As someone who totally doesn’t play for the St Kilda Football Club I can’t actually tell you why, I can mostly just sit here at the keyboard and say I don’t think Billings was very good. Perhaps the enormity of getting through a season caught up with the group when faced with a genuine premiership prospect playing for a top-two spot; for whatever reason it might have been Richo pointed out that whilst the intent might have been there it simply wasn’t effective when a tackle was attempted or a turnover was on. The midfield was obliterated; Ross and Armo battled hard but Steven’s influence was quelled, Hickey couldn’t run after the first quarter and Gresham’s output was understandably down a little. Guys like Geary and Dunstan may well have been missed, but I don’t think their absence combined with a couple of umpiring howlers in the final quarter would have made much difference to this one. The Swans were controlled throughout and it felt as if we were playing above ourselves to stay in it until half-time; the short balls in to players in space in the forward 50 was our forté last week; this week it was the Swans who ran, spread and presented in numbers all across the ground.

Strangely, the best moment of the night might have been Eminem’s snap goal in the first quarter when he was low to ground and under pressure; at that point we were looking like we might really present a challenge to the Swans. However, he and Minchington are the most likely to come out on form next week as surely some novelty moves are made to make way for Shenton, Templeton, Holmes, Brandon White, et al. What might save Wright is what saved Minchington the week before – low possession numbers offset by a large tackle count; Wright had an equal game-high of eight (shared with Newnes and Tom Mitchell) whilst Minchington had 10 against the Blues. But the temptation to have a look at guys that have performed consistently well for the Zebras without reward surely becomes too great given the only thing on the line is exactly which top-10 pick we get that we might regret in hindsight. Shenton kicked another four goals for Sandy today, making it 10 in the last two weeks and 16 in his last five games for the Zebras. I don’t know how many possessions Eli needs to get and Holmes’ best chance comes this week with Hickey in doubt.

Who else but the Saints to play into form a premiership contender? Buddy roamed scarily across the ground in the second half and incredibly racked up the highest possession count of his career (28) to go with his six goals; at the other end Aliir Aliir continued to establish himself with his composure Fletcher-esque reach – his spoil on Paddy wide near the 50-metre arc was sublime. Their midfield showed off the best of their hardness and polish, and racked up huge numbers (and a few goals) en masse. To put it short, the Swans looked scary, and there’s every chance we’ll be looking back on Hawthorn vs. Sydney Grand Finals in the even-numbered years of 2012, 2014 and 2016.

The season effectively ended with potential future captain Jack Newnes’ flying shot at goal at the beginning of the third term. His shot cannoned into the post; had it gone through we would have been in front, but from then on Buddy alone collected 15 possessions and kicked three goals in the quarter as the Swans kicked 8.3 to 2.3 for the term; 15.5 to 4.5 for the half, and 17 of the last 20 goals for the match. The final siren marked a 141-point turnaround from the previous week, making it our 11th highest in history but only eight points from second on the list.

I don’t think any reasonable Saints fan would have set themselves for a season that ends immediately with the sounding of a siren – I talk of course about finding yourself in a final, or an effective elimination match near the end of the year. When you’ve been at our low level over the past few years the end of the season is literally just the end of the final home and away match, but you’re counting down to that from around the halfway point when it’s clear no dream run will emerge. We didn’t quite get that this year. Whilst the slow start to the season and costly losses to the Gold Coast and North Melbourne (at least one of the two to them) had us on or near the ropes for much of it, the emergence of several younger guys and some genuinely good wins on the back of some genuinely good football meant it would take a few serious shakes it took to bring the whole thing down.

In hindsight it was the 2003 season that was the link between the post-1997 Grand Final crash and rebuild and the heady 2004-2010 premiership-fancy era. I don’t think the improvement in 2017 will be as exponential as what the stunning 2004 season gave us, but with the addition of Carlisle, perhaps another big-name player in the off-season, and another season’s experience for the younger guys improvement has to be a non-negotiable. Amongst all the forgettable games, conjecture by amateur bloggers about our recruiting and the piercing draft and trade talk, time passes. Slowly but surely we’re approaching that point in the future we’ve been talking about for years; that point where what the club has been building towards materialises. Over the next couple of weeks we get to relax a bit, and then we get the chance to really take a break for a few months. These types of seasons can become quite laborious as a fan and it’s a welcome breather. The weather in Melbourne today was beautiful and in tandem with last night’s result compounded the feeling of another season going by; the unfamiliar weight of pressure, however small, of the last few weeks had been lifted. But as one Sydney premiership hero (and yes, ex-Saint too) once said, “Give me Grand Final nerves any day”.

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 21
David Armitage – 3
Blake Acres – 2
Seb Ross – 2
Leigh Montagna – 1
Jack Newnes – 1
Nick Riewoldt – 1

Totals
Jack Steven – 32
Nick Riewoldt – 23
Seb Ross – 23
Tim Membrey – 18
Tom Hickey – 14
David Armitage – 11
Leigh Montagna – 11
Blake Acres – 10
Jack Newnes – 9
Mav Weller – 7
Jade Gresham – 6
Jack Billings – 5
Sam Fisher – 5
Jarryn Geary – 5
Josh Bruce – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Dylan Roberton – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Sean Dempster – 2
Paddy McCartin – 2
Luke Delaney – 1
Luke Dunstan – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1

Don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again

“Arise, Rhys Stanley, and lead us to salvation.”

So I facetiously wrote three years ago after another blonde forward and messiah-to-be, Tommy Walsh, was traded out to Sydney in the final stages of the post-2011 season trade week. Barker, Lockett, Harvey, Riewoldt, Blight, Goddard, Ross the ex-Boss – was Big Rhys next in line after Tommy’s exit? When a club has such lean team success, it’s easy to put anyone on a pedestal too quickly.

Perhaps looking for a quick fix after the GT/Ross decade had drawn to a close, Tommy Walsh presented us with a potential get-out-of-jail-free card: some tantalising performances at VFL level – VFL, yes, but he couldn’t have done more without being picked at senior level – but coming from the strongest Gaelic background in his early career, and in a season in which we physically and psychologically looked ruined and couldn’t be farked, simply bombing it uselessly to My Favourite Hair when going forward. Needless to say, Roo was typically outnumbered and even though we won nine of our last 11, I think some sort of weight was lifted from our shoulders when the final siren sounded to end the Elimination Final. But St Kilda’s Messiah Complex was never more excruciatingly present.

It wasn’t quite Scott Watters who could fulfill the desires; however it’s hard to believe that should a few minor things have gone the other way in four of the five games St Kilda lost by 13 points or less in 2012, we’d have finished in the top four (reverse all five and it’s top three). Instead we endure seasons such as 2013 and 2014, where the worst fears of the 2010 Grand Final Replay post-mortem were realised.

This was the year we officially returned to our natural habitat, anchored at the bottom of the ladder. Nature’s order has been restored. As we watch Hawthorn and Geelong continue their long-term challenges – and with the luxury of recent premierships already banked and to still enjoy – we now have to work our way from the bottom up again as we did 14 years ago.

In fact, this year marked 10 years since the juggernaut-to-be awoke after multiple seasons of assembly. In those surreal days of early 2004, footy seemed timeless. Milne, Ball, Hayes, Maguire, Koschitzke, under the guidance of Riewoldt – they were kids and they were going to guide us to all kinds of glory for an indefinite period of time. St Kilda, at last, was going to be a genuine force.

That we are now back in this position and without a premiership to show for everything put in place for a long-term challenge is a classically St Kilda outcome. We were given the chance on a platter for the second premiership, as well as any and all of the establishment of long-term on-field success, membership and the improvement of facilities. And the club dropped the lot in the most heartbreaking and emphatic ways possible.

When all of a sudden you’re scrapping to win a quarter rather than a premiership as we did in 2014, it takes some time to getting used to the thought that what you’re witnessing doesn’t mean something potentially historic. That the players you’re watching might not go down in St Kilda history as remarkable cogs of the elusive second premiership, or at the least of the path towards it.

Which brings me back to Rhys. His fits and spurts of brilliant form in 2014 had us thinking that he might just be the next big thing for us; the one with the biggest presence on the ground; St Kilda fans anticipating his involvement from a kick ahead as we do with Roo. Rhys suffered a little from David Armitage Syndrome – poised for a breakout season every year, but he only made frustratingly incremental progress with a relatively anticlimactic ceiling becoming fast apparent.

But as the trade period is wont to do in the ultra-modern era, the Big Rhys Bandwagon had taken off down the Highway for the Cattery. Those glimpses mean nothing now (for us, anyway). The Herculean efforts in the wins against Essendon and Fremantle are purely to service what may or may not happen for him in blue and white hoops.

There’s a couple of points in all of this. The first is that others will also fall by the wayside as we endeavour to make it out of the homeland and find better territory, and this is what periods that 2014 represent are equally notable for. Shenton, Curren, Minchington; will they turn out to be the Begley, Beetham and Davis of this generation? How much of this year will we actually remember in a decade from now?

The other is itself two-fold. A key (and necessary) part of this period is the club selling that we will actually reach those better times. The best way to do that right now is to put on show and talk up the young guys and their potential, and that goes into turbo mode when you have the number one pick at the National Draft. Once that was clear, the St Kilda Messiah Complex was back in fashion in a big way.

By proxy, another crossroad in our meagre history was reached, with apparently a one-sided, two-horse race finishing against the majority’s . Once Sam McClure turned everyone’s opinions and predictions on their head on the Monday of trade week saying Patrick McCartin would be taken by us at pick one, it was easy to raise Ball-Judd comparisons from the 2001 Draft.

I get the feeling that people are pre-emptively disappointed in McCartin because he’s a number one draft pick and a key forward, but not one quite of Nick Riewoldt’s presence nor overall talent. They’re actually both 193cm, but Paddy won’t be affecting games in as many parts of the ground and as often as Roo. He also doesn’t have the blonde hair.

Hugh Goddard does have the blonde hair, but it’s his name alone gets people more excited. We’ve seen positive glimpses already from Billings, Dustan and Eli from the 2013 draft alone. Add to that Newnes, who is looking all of captaincy material without dominating games in the way a Selwood or a Hodge do. This feels like a much more evenly-spread rebuild – Spencer hype notwithstanding (watch blow right out if he brings back the topknot) – and speaks to the “champion team vs. team of champions” debate fought out with Geelong through the aughts, which the Cats comprehensively won over several years.

Late in the final public training session before the 2010 Grand Final, Ross Lyon was coming off the ground. Someone near the old Moorabbin wire race called out to enthusiastic cheers and applause, “Bring ’em home, Ross”, which he gave a typically understated nod and wave to in response. Needless to say it was a poignant moment. But it also raised something that rarely as St Kilda supporters do we face. I’ve described finishing on the bottom of the ladder as being in our “natural habitat”, and as part of “nature’s order”. Of course it’s awful for us to have the entire club in this dire position after what we experienced over the past decade, and it’s something that’s very familiar to us. We understand it and can get by with it somehow. But it’s not home, and in this year more than any did we realise that. Home is somewhere we don’t know nearly well enough.

Once again, we are faced with the opportunity on and off the field to shake the St Kilda Messiah Complex once and for all, although we are a very, very long way from anywhere ideal. For now, nature’s order has us down and way out, where it’s merely about the hope that rather than just one hero lifting us off the canvas or kicking that one extra goal, that every representative of a strong St Kilda Football Club will take us home to the promised land.

…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

IMG_9013

“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.

St Kilda and Fremantle: The Bizarro Rivalry (update)

The Ross Lyon defection brokered a new sensational chapter in the ridiculous rivalry between St Kilda and Fremantle, which I’d written on in 2010.

Whilst Ross took things to a new level, this past weekend threw up a couple more very interesting links:
– St Kilda’s first Grand Final appearance was in 1913, against Fitzroy. Freo will make their first Grand Final appearance 100 years later.
– Freo’s strange decision to wear their clash jumper on Saturday makes them just the second club to do so in a Grand Final. The first team to wear a clash jumper in Grand Final was St Kilda – also under Ross – in 2010.

Here’s the original post, “St Kilda and Fremantle: The Bizarre Rivalry” (I’m not sure why I didn’t take the golden opportunity to throw in the Seinfeld reference then and there) from 2010:

St Kilda and Fremantle share one of the most bizarre “rivalries” in the AFL.

As the two least successful clubs in VFL/AFL history to date, it’s not all-important clashes between competition juggernauts that this rivalry has been based on.

Rather, it has been a mixture of the unique, incredible and questionable, with occasional flashes of both genuinely brilliant and sadly woeful football being played.

It began immediately – although inconspicuously – in 1995, when Fremantle played their debut AFL match in the Ansett Australia Cup against the Saints at East Fremantle Oval. Whilst the match itself was normal enough (St Kilda would win by 35 points), this would be the only time (to date) the Dockers would actually play in Fremantle in a competitive AFL match.

In Round 14 of the following season, St Kilda would break through for its first win at Subiaco, and in Western Australia – of course, against Fremantle – in a game which produced great goals from both sides.

The next clash between the two came on ANZAC Day of 1997, with Fremantle – in 10th place and the Saints in 16th – weathering a late St Kilda challenge to win by a straight kick. The return bout was played on a ridiculously blustery day at Waverley in Round 20 of that year, with Fremantle in 10th place (again) going into the match whilst St Kilda was second on percentage, on its way to a second minor premiership. The Saints that time won a scrappy game by 13 points after the Dockers got within a point in the final term.

St Kilda co-captain Stewart Loewe would be stretchered off in Round 9 of 1998 at the WACA after an awkward fall in which his head ended up making contact with his knee. Despite a thrilling running goal from ruckman Peter Everitt, the 4th-placed Saints were overrun by the 13th-placed Dockers in the final term.

After several years of minor quirks, things were about to get really weird.

Continue readingRound 15 of 1999 will be remembered for the mark that was taken by umpire Peter Carey. Early in the match, Docker (and former Saint) Adrian Fletcher centred a short pass to Brad Wira on the wing, only for the experienced Carey, who was in the path of the ball’s trajectory, to take the mark and call for a ball-up. Needless to say, the incident was a massive talking point in football circles, though ultimately it would take its place in VFL/AFL history as a wonderfully unique and humourous moment in a game that has a habit of throwing those up from time to time. The Dockers would go on to win the game by 23 points, and send St Kilda’s season into a further downward spiral.

By the time the two teams met in Round 12 of 2001, both teams had new coaches and were sharing 14th (St Kilda) and 16th (Fremantle) places on the ladder; by season’s end they would be 15th and 16th respectively. On this Saturday night at Subiaco, the Saints won their third game of the year after a young Stephen Milne sprang to life in the final term, on his way to kicking three goals and giving the Saints a 10-point win. However, captain Robert Harvey would seriously injure his knee in a gang tackle that continued well past its use-by date; with the ball locked up amongst the scrum, the umpire inexplicably chose to let play continue, long enough for the Dockers players to force Harvey to the turf as his knee buckled under him.

It would also be Malcolm Blight’s last victory as coach for the Saints, with his brief tenure at Moorabbin ending just three weeks later.

The next season threw up a couple more notable matches – in Round 2, the fast-finishing Dockers would roll the Saints by three points at home after trailing for much of the day, and in Round 17 St Kilda played a rare home match at Princes Park and defeat the Dockers in a dead-rubber in front of just 8,078 fans.

A skip to 2004 would find Brent Guerra breaking Docker Byran Schammer’s arm in a devastating bump as a barnstorming St Kilda extended their winning streak to seven to begin the season, as well as Fremantle wearing their predominantly white away/clash jumper for the first time in the return match in Round 22 at Docklands.

A trio of thrilling matches followed. Strange, thrilling matches.

In round 2 of 2005, St Kilda won their first match of the season by a solitary point at York Park in Tasmania. The Saints would overhaul the Dockers in trying conditions, with Aaron Hamill earning a free kick for holding the ball and scoring the winning point – but not before a final Fremantle charge into their forward line, with defender Luke Penny expertly safely punching the ball out of bounds in the final seconds from a marking contest.

The infamous “Whispers in the Sky” clash was a dire battle in Round 21 at Subiaco. St Kilda were pushing to solidify a top four spot after being outside of the 8 after Round 13, though tipped by many to win the premiership on the eve of the season. Skipper Nick Riewoldt has broken his collarbone in Round 14, and stand-in captain Justin Koschitzke had powered his way to stunning form and lead the Saints’ fight for redemption. He earned 11 Brownlow votes in just five matches, and with Riewoldt back, he was seen as a key component to St Kilda’s premiership hopes as September neared. Fremantle, meanwhile were hoping to return to finals action after St Kilda had knocked them out on the eve of the 2004 finals series.

What happened on that Friday night is now a part of St Kilda-Fremantle rivalry folklore. Awful and questionable umpiring decisions went Fremantle’s way all night, gifting the Dockers several goals and depriving the Saints of several chances of their own. Koschitzke would injure a quad muscle in the third quarter, and he would not be fit enough to return to the side, which bowed out in the preliminary final several weeks later (had St Kilda defeated Sydney in that match, he would have been a huge chance to return for the Grand Final).

The final term was an old-fashioned thriller. In the final minute, with the Saints up by a point, Justin Peckett was run down by Luke McPharlin just outside Fremantle’s 50-metre arc; the resulting kick forward saw Justin Longmuir take a spectacular mark over the top of the pack just 25 metres out from goal. His kick was straight, and the Dockers had won by five points, and were to face reigning premier Port Adelaide the following week in the final round for a spot in the finals.

Channel Nine reporter Tony Jones – travelling back to Melbourne from the game after Nine’s coverage – claimed that he heard umpire Matthew Head, who had made a number of the decisions that went Fremantle’s way remark, “Now I know what it feels like to have a victory”. Several other passengers made the same claim as Jones, but the AFL cleared Head of any wrongdoing after an investigation into the matter that week.

Though they would start strongly, Fremantle lost to Port Adelaide the following week and finish 10th as the Power clinched eighth spot. St Kilda would go on to record two amazing victories over the following two weeks – their biggest win in the club’s 132-year history over the Brisbane Lions, by 139 points, and a brave eight-point win over minor premiers Adelaide in the First Qualifying Final at AAMI Stadium, to secure a home Preliminary Final and a week’s rest.

But the centrepiece of this rivalry – so far, at least – came in Round 5, 2006; the final installment of this trilogy taking place where it started – at York Park (now Aurora Stadium) in Tasmania, referred to as “Sirengate”.

The Dockers were truly dangerous in 2006, and were only knocked out a week short of the Grand Final. Though notorious for poor interstate form, on this day they were all over an inept St Kilda, who were making another slow start to a season. Though the Saints would be in with a chance all day, that chance seemed to have disappeared as the clock counted down to zero as a desperate Dockers defence forced a stopped in the Saints forward line, with their team up by a point. The siren sounded, and Fremantle players around the ball began celebrating a hard-fought victory.

But the siren was quite faint, and umpire didn’t hear it – and play continued from the stoppage well after full-time. The Saints forced the ball to Steven Baker, whose flying shot at goal – a number of seconds after the siren – missed to the left, tying the scores. The umpire then awarded Baker a free kick for a hit he got as he kicked it, and so he was to take the kick again, with the first behind taken back, and the Saints again down by a point. As this was occurring, Fremantle officials had stormed on to the ground to remonstrate with the umpires, with coach Chris Connolly finding himself arguing with St Kilda player Lenny Hayes. Verbal stoushes were springing up between officials, umpires and players left, right and centre, and amongst it all, Baker missed again. The game was a draw.

St Kilda coach Grant Thomas declared the game “one for the blooper reel” in the post-match wash-up, whilst Connolly was understandably furious. Fremantle immediately took the issue to the AFL. Sensationally, the AFL overturned the result during the week, with final score officially at 13.15 (93) to 14.10 (94), the Dockers victorious by a point.

The sides would meet again at Subiaco in Round 20. To date, this match is the most important game the clubs have been involved in against each other, with a top four spot up for grabs. Fremantle trounced the Saints, with the only highlight for St Kilda being a goal kicked by Brendon Goddard from an enormous kick late in the match; from just inside the centre square, Goddard’s kick would go through the goals at post-height.

The Dockers would finish third on the ladder, with fellow Subiaco tenants West Coast in first place. Though they would lose the Second Qualifying Final to Adelaide away, they won their first final of any sort at home against Melbourne a week later. Sydney knocked them out a week later, otherwise the MCG would have been set for an all-Western Australian Grand Final.

Several things of note come out of this. Firstly, St Kilda would have finished third on superior percentage if the “Sirengate” result had stood, forcing eventual Grand Finalists Sydney out of the top four, and forcing a Western Derby as a First Qualifying Final. Instead, the Saints finished sixth and limped out of the finals series in the first week, losing to Melbourne in the Second Elimination Final. Of course, if the Saints had won that game – which was a good chance of happening through the final term – they would have faced Fremantle in a semi-final, bringing the two teams face-to-face in massive game; as it happened, Grant Thomas would be sacked just days after the loss to the Demons. The other point worth considering – albeit a hypothetical one – is if the AFL would have overturned the result the way it did had Baker actually kicked a goal from either of his shots, “winning” the game for St Kilda. It’s one thing to overturn a draw, but to  completely reverse the outcome of a match would have made this issue far, far greater, and a much more daunting prospect for the AFL.

The following season was a disappointment for both teams. When they squared off in Round 20, with the Saints hoping to snatch a finals spot under new coach Ross Lyon, a collision between Steven Baker and Jeff Farmer would be the talking point of the competition for the following week.

Farmer left the ground concussed, with blood pouring from his face, after evidently running into the back of Baker. No umpires nor cameras saw or captured the incident, but a Fremantle trainer said that Baker had been malicious in the collision, and this was influential in the seven-match suspension Baker received. The Saints appealed, but this fell on deaf ears from the AFL. The decision would prove costly for the Saints, who were now without their star tagger as they were coming up against West Coast the following week, a must-win game for the Saints. The Eagles’ midfield of Chris Judd, Ben Cousins and Daniel Kerr were able to run far more freely and eventually the Eagles would win by eight points; though St Kilda defeated Richmond in Round 22, they would finish the season in ninth position after Adelaide also won their final round match to knock St Kilda out of September calculations.

Round 13 of 2008 saw a spluttering Saints wielding the axe on senior players Nick Dal Santo and Stephen Milne after just three wins from the previous ten games of football. Ben McEvoy, Robert Eddy and Jarryd Allen would all debut for the Saints on a dogged Friday night, with the Saints prevailing by eight points. It would be the beginning of a remarkable turnaround for Ross Lyon and his men, who would win eight of their final ten matches in the home-and-away season to finish fourth, including the return game at Subiaco in Round 20 which Stephen Milne played out with a grotesquely swollen cheek. The Saints would fall one week short of the Grand Final.

The Saints would go one better in 2009, as Fremantle were again finding themselves at the wrong end of the ladder. In Round 4, the Saints crushed the Dockers by 88 points, and keeping the visitors to a scoreline of 4.4 (28), the joint-lowest score at Docklands. Of course, that record is shared with St Kilda, who could only manage 3.10 (28) against Collingwood in Round 6 of 2002.

Most recently, their 2010 NAB Cup semi-final match was nearly called off, after storms ravaged the Melbourne CBD, leaving Etihad Stadium with internal roofing damage. The players ran out for a later start to no crowd in attendance, and the 5,000+ fans were eventually let in over the first quarter, but only allowed to be seated on the bottom level. St Kilda would win a position in the Final easily, but would lose that to the Western Bulldogs, who were making their first Final appearance of any kind in 40 years.

And now on Sunday evening, the two teams will be squaring off, and coming into this round are occupying the top two positions on the ladder. It’s definitely the first time this has happened with these two clubs; Fremantle will be looking to be on top of the AFL ladder at the completion of any round for the first time in their history, whilst the Saints are going to be entering a lengthy period of time with injured captain Nick Riewoldt. The football world will be watching this intriguing clash, which will hopefully be remembered for some good football, promising individual performances and solid teamwork. As long as no umpires take marks or feel like “having a victory”, or the siren fails, or there are unseen and inconclusive clashes which result in massive suspensions, or storms unleash fury over Melbourne, then there’s a good chance that just might happen.

But who knows?

Links

Umpire Peter Carey takes a mark in Round 15, 1999

Justin Longmuir kicks a goal after the siren to win the game for the Dockers in the “Whispers in the Sky” match, in Round 20, 2005

“Sirengate” finish Part 1, Round 5, 2006

“Sirengate” finish Part 2

Brendon Goddard’s monster goal, Round 20, 2006

St Kilda to wear a different, awesome jumper; also a game of footy will be played

This Monday night we go back 140 years, to 1873. A time when the Saints were introducing a raft of new names to the league, in the hopes of over the coming years filling up a barely-touched trophy cabinet…uh…

It’s been a storied 140 years for almost entirely the wrong reasons, but at least we get to wear an awesome jumper at the end of it. On Monday night I’ll be in a stupor as the Saints run around in one of my favourite St Kilda jumpers of all time. I’d take the design (sans names of course) as a full-time jumper in a heartbeat, although I don’t think I’d have many agreeing with me quite so enthusiastically on that one.

Amongst the sea of 140 Years jumpers there’ll be some guys playing a game of footy. The Saints are every chance of finishing this game with a 1-6 record and a trip to Adelaide to come, but there’s the bigger picture to look at with a whole lots of younger guys playing.

Among them is Jimmy THE NECK Webster, who makes his debut 10 days after his family home burnt down, ffs. That’s a bananas week or so, and let’s hope it finishes well. We’ve all seen him combining with Spencer White in the VFL the other week, and his great left-foot disposal off half-back is just the kind of thing needed by this team over the coming years.

Big Tom Hickey comes back into the team, and he and Big Ben will have their work cut out for them with Kreuzer returning and Warnock and Hampson to deal with also. Having the two ruckmen in means Big Rhys will spend most of his game down back on Hampson or Kreuzer. Waite’s suspension might take away one problem, but then there’s Garlett, Yarran and Betts to think about too.

Carlton’s small forwards certainly seem more imposing than the Saints’. Saad is lucky to get another game and Milne v.2013 barely compares to any previous form of Tip Rat. Milera comes in after only injury prevented him from getting a game last week. They all turned it on in last year’s Round 7 Monday night game, which was one of the most enjoyable wins of the year. But it’s a different team this year and with Webster, Wright, Newnes, Ross and Hickey all playing the focus lies elsewhere.

Siposs might again spend a bit more time up forward, particularly with a more stable backline given the return of Gwilt, form of Roberton and Big Rhys set to be anchored close down there with the other big guys in. My Favourite Hair in the AFL has been having a sensational year and will need to turn it on again if the Saints are any chance. At the very least, he is a wonderful example to the younger guys coming through.

Gwilt’s inclusion adds some stability to the backline, particularly with the loss of Gilbert, but this is most likely to be moot. Mick’s Blues took a few weeks but they’re really up and running and, given their draw, are every chance of being 7-3 after Round 10. The midfield battle looks even more lopsided with the absence of Hayes; Joey’s having a great year but Dal seems a little down. Armo and Steven have stepped up again but it’s hard to go past Murphy, Judd, Robinson, Gibbs, McLean and so on.

We’ll have an awesome jumper to look at all night, anyway.