Clint Jones Posts

How we didn’t necessarily want to be

Recently turning 25 came with it an expected yet still slightly painful quarter-life crisis.

From 24 to 25 feels like you’ve aged at least nine to 10 times that overnight and it requires an honest look at yourself in a glass coated with metal amalgam, or as many people refer to it; a mirror. You assess your finances, relationship status, career progression and then naturally of course you weigh up whether or not you will ever witness a St Kilda premiership. Now no longer at the tender age of 24, this plight had been turned up a proverbial notch almost instantaneously. Amongst brushing up my resume, Google searching “community work” and signing up to eHarmony, came the thought of what the last 25 years has been and meant on this earth, and a large a part of that has revolved around being a St Kilda supporter.

When you’re a kid and you attend Auskick – or, as my junior football club’s program was very controversially named, “Midgets” – you’re happy just running around in a team’s colours courtesy of Dad; for me a traditional long sleeve Saints guernsey with Aussie Jones’ number 5 on the back. You’d hear a result and maybe care about it for all of 15 seconds before you’re chasing a footy around again worrying about your own very important career. This was more often than not made up of deliberately tightening angles for goals to have a shot at momentary glory. When Tom and I were little, we couldn’t wait to play for St Kilda when we were older, it was going to be fantastic. It turned out for us that the selection process was sufficiently more stringent than we could have ever possibly anticipated; our playing careers teetered out (not without serious injuries) and our success as footballers would now have to be fulfilled vicariously through the St Kilda Football Club, the passion no longer exerted on the field would have to be inflicted from the stands. That transition from being a child and being given a St Kilda jumper, to it being 100% apart of me: well, this was now complete.

Too young to appreciate, but I still observed the trail of destruction left by 1997; I sat there and watched but couldn’t really understand Stewart Loewe’s goal kicking yips, Joel Smith’s broken leg, Peter Everitt’s collarbone. I then saw Tim Watson and Malcolm Blight come and go; I saw Max Hudghton cry, Caydn Beetham lose the passion, I witnessed Daniel Wulf run in and hit the post, I watched Steven Baker suffer “amnesia”, Justin Peckett getting run down from behind with Troy Longmuir the beneficiary, Justin Koschitzke get blindsided by Daniel Giansiracusa, a nastily snapped Matt Maguire leg; I listened to the media circles of Grant Thomas being too friendly with the players, I’d seen Ross Lyon stop the other teams from scoring, I’d seen Luke Ball walk; I’d seen a toe-poke and I’d seen the unexpected bounce of obscurely shaped ball on the biggest stage.

On the contrary I’d watched Jason Heatley kick a few bags, Aussie Jones tear down the wing, and Troy Schwarze bang home a winner against Brisbane. I’d watched Robert Harvey, Nathan Burke and Lenny Hayes; Barry Hall’s winner after the siren against Hawthorn, Fraser Gehrig’s 100th goal in a season, Clint Jones run down Buddy Franklin; I’d seen Michael Gardiner come from nowhere, Nick Riewoldt’s soccer goal in the 2009 preliminary final; I’d seen a 55-point comeback, a last-minute Montagna goal, and the highlight: sharing a few lanes of bowling with Andrew Thompson, Justin Koschitzke and Justin Peckett in Moorabbin (watching elite athletes plough through my bucket of hot chips was slightly disheartening on the eve of the season but it was still a highlight).

I had ridden the St. Kilda wave since 1997 and upon reflection in the metal amalgam-coated glass, I was spat out the back witnessing 0 premierships. Regardless, on the eve of entering my 18th season as a member, despite the amount of times we have uttered profanities under our breathe to ourselves and sometimes regrettably out loud in front of families and children, there is never any doubt we’ll be walking through the gates again, daring to dream of the very best outcomes; even possibly putting our heads on our pillows at night and hoping we are the Leicester City of the AFL. We’ve witnessed the “How I Want to Be” slogans, and whilst we didn’t necessarily choose our own destiny, the first quarter has been one hell of an opening.

The fondest of farewells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer

Aaand here we go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dour days

Round 15, 2014
St Kilda 1.2, 5.4, 9.7, 11.7 (73)
Richmond 6.2, 10.4, 13.7, 18.9 (117)
Crowd: 28,487 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, 28th June at 2.10pm

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“You’ve got to win a game.”
– Mark Robinson to St Kilda Football Club CEO Matt Finnis, late on Saturday morning

Not so fast, Robbo.

Robbo was part of the SEN 1116 team interviewing our CEO before the game on Saturday, and had built up some of his customary rambling momentum to the point where it’s often difficult to tell if he’s just thinking aloud or actually is communicating his most considered thoughts.

On the surface, his statement is so obvious it wouldn’t be out of place in the first few dot points in the “Rules of the Game” documents, just to get the housekeeping out of the way “Shall be played on a field”, etc.).

If you think I’m heading towards encouraging tanking territory, well, I would be. But the problem is I can’t anyway, and nor can you, because this team simply doesn’t look like winning a game anyway.

Look, to be completely honest I actually quite like Robbo. I enjoy how passionate he is about the game as a whole, and how emotionally invested he gets in all of its issues and stories, whether they be good or bad or somewhere in between – this is more entertaining on AFL360 because you can actually see it on his face and in his mannerism and gesticulations. I say all this with an asterisk denoting his Essendon bias and conspiracy theorising in the ASADA case, and this article.

Anyway, his advice certainly wasn’t lost on Finnis, but he and the club knows it. Finnis, in between Robbo sharing his ideas during his one-person brainstorm session, spoke about the club needing to hit free agency very hard in the next couple of seasons, again reinforcing the club’s plan to get the absolute best possible out of the next couple of drafts first.

We can already bank some high draft picks this year and most probably next year, too. I want that Number 1 draft pick, I want Patrick McCartin, and we’re now a game clear at the bottom after the Lions beat the schizophrenic North. It’s falling into place for that prized, occasionally abused first pick, or least until GWS want to flog off Jeremy Cameron or Jonathon Patton because they’re homesick. I’ll take either of those guys too.

Richo was looking the other way in his weekly Selection Insider appearance, calling the ground by its 2003-2008 name “Telstra Dome”, and then talking up Jack Billings after his “Norwich Rising Star” nomination during the week. I was expecting him to reveal Jason Heatley’s return to the side but we had to settle for Big Rhys up forward.

Ah, 2-for-1 day. We finished with a crowd number of 28,487, which means we didn’t break even with Etihad Stadium, and that’s on top of possibly losing a whole bunch of cash on people who turned up for the freebies. I’m not sure what the specifics would have been between the club, the AFL and the stadium, but given we didn’t crack the 30,000 break-even mark we can put this one down as a loss off the field to go with the smacking we all watched on it.

Sadly the New Zealand jumper alone wasn’t able to bring more people through the turnstiles on what was also “NZ Theme” day, which basically equated to the team wearing the NZ jumper, a whole bunch of merchandise being further discounted in the truck and the conveniently-timed announcement of NZ-based Liz Dawson as a club director. If anything, Finnis dampened the theme a little when he categorically stated on SEN that St Kilda wouldn’t be moving to NZ. Tasmania it is then.

I think the NZ jumper is incredibly close to being really good. Things head south, literally, on the bottom half though. Have the middle white strip the same as the home jumper and take away the fine pattern over the red, and all of a sudden you essentially have a bold redesign of the home jumper. Just look at Rhys’s post-match interview with Melbourne fan Tom Morris (I only found that out this week) – you’re only able to see the top half of his jumper, and with the black panels on both sides of the white stripe with the logo visible too, it’s an awesome start. Clean up the back too to reflect the front half more closely and you’re getting closer still to a winner.

Otherwise, Saturday was sadly one of the inevitable games you get in these eras in which you just can’t take away too much from. You can excuse the younger guys for a quieter week, that’s fine, but for the guys who simply aren’t relevant to the club’s list the next time we’re genuinely pushing for a flag these games just feel like wasted energy. I’m talking both guys who will simply have retired by then due to age, or younger guys who either don’t look likely or will need to be replaced/upgraded on by presumably higher draft picks, free agents and traded guys over the next couple of years.

Strange that both Richo on SEN on Friday and then Finnis pre-match highlighted how Shenton was to them a really good example of player development in the face of adversity hitting the older guys. In fact I think Finnis coined the term which will no doubt be on the lips of list managers nationwide soon: “Discovering a Shenton”. True, he’s really shown form and rightfully earned respect within and outside of the club for the way he’s worked himself off the rookie list. I feel a little silly for writing this paragraph because yesterday was his eighth game (Jack Billings has played more games FFS). But Shenton is the kind of player in which I’m not sure how much more improvement there will be in what he does, but rather that improvement will come more in how much of it he does within a game. He’s certainly not poster boy quality yet.

You look to your Billings and Dunstans (*muffled* and McCartins) to be the poster guys for the club because they have innate qualities and a professionalism to their games despite their age. Mr. 100% had a bit of a come down after his big week, last only a couple of touches before breaking his perfect streak with a wayward pass to Terry in the forward pocket. He had a couple of good follow up efforts in traffic early, but once the ball the spilled out the Tigers were off and away. Jack Riewoldt look like he was going to double his best tally against us, taking four inside 50 marks in space as the Tigers players ran in numbers through the middle once the ball became free and left Delaney in all sorts. He only finished with two for some reason, but it didn’t matter.

The fourth one came after My Favourite Hair in the AFL had missed a shot at our end. Still yet to find a major, and Richmond went straight up the other end. It became a running theme, the ease with each several Tigers cruised through no one in particular in numbers to get the ball to Jack and, thanks to a tweak in his game and lack of quality one on our part, Trent Cotchin. The man with the annoyingly not-quite-good hair – in fact, it’s shithouse, the whole thing is at least 1cm too big both on top and the sides – played as good a game as a Tigers fan would have wanted him to play on Saturday. Five goals and 31 touches. He actually kicked his third from the bounce straight after Jack’s aforementioned goal, earning Rich’s newly-coined title of “Billings of the Round”.

It got turned up in the second quarter, which to begin with we were 30 points in arrears. Shane Savage, who actually played a pretty good game (and all of a sudden looks a likely find), sent into a attack an absolute floater with the Tigers pounced on. They went straight up the ground with minimal resistanct and  Cotchin snapped his fourth goal. Billings, who we genuinely look to for some class in delivery, was right on 50 near the boundary in space and went to no man’s land. Straight back up for a goal.

Sav continued to work hard but put in another questionable forward 50 entry (again from about 25m from the arc – I think both times he tried kicked the cover off the footy), and shortly following that Jack Steven, our reigning Best and Fairest winner and widely regarded as untouchable come trade time, kicked another forward 50 entry out on the full.

And straight back up for a Tigers goal.

Shenton soon after didn’t have any awareness on the run towards goal and got worried out of the shot.

Straight back up again.

Then the momentum swung and the pressure lifted. For the first time we were able to hold it in the front half for an extended period, with two particularly good chances for a meaningful entry. Jack scrubbed another one.

And straight back up again, for Newman to mark in the pocket and kick the goal after the siren. All the pressure was effectively wasted, and Richmond went into half time

At some stage through the second term – probably just before we grabbed the momentum back a little – it felt as if the game should have well and truly been put to bed. Somehow we were still in it, although at best we’d only hover on or just above the three-goal mark for much of the third quarter, without getting nearer to put some serious doubt into the Tigers’ minds. Newnes had a shot after the siren to not just make up for Newman’s at half-time but give us a real sniff but missed.

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For a home crowd of 28,487, the members’ section – particularly the cheer squad – looked remarkably thin. Another home game that doesn’t particularly feel like a home game at all. Richmond’s cheer squad and supporters packed the opposing end, which  The closest we got to any sort of “atmosphere” being created by us Saints fans was basically Minchington excellent running goal on a tight angle in the third quarter. He’d been on the ground for all of 15 seconds too, and it was a good sign (at the time anyway) that it had come from Terry backing himself to go for a four-bounce run with Big Rhys the link between him and Darren.

Minchington was a rare highlight to take out of the game. That goal itself certainly was from a team perspective, because instead of that really lifting the side Cotchin kicked his fifth goal immediately after, followed by Roo and Newnes missing from set shots. But as far development goes he showed that he wanted to compete and get involved, and there was also the quality bullet pass to Roo (the aforementioned miss). Two goals and six touches is pretty good for someone playing the small forward role in their fourth game and being given just 40 minutes to show something.

BIG RHYS BANDWAGON isn’t quite rolling yet but I thought he was OK. There was a period in the third quarter particularly when he found himself in the 50 metre arc and struggling to find the right positioning to mark the footy, almost as if he was caught between using his height and reaching over his opponent or trying to get away from them. Which was kind of annoying given his physique. He find himself one-out with Cotchin and enjoying a 15cm height advantage (and probably the same in arm length), but looked anything like winning the duel, and this was after Mav Weller had earlier outbodied Ivan Maric (despite conceding 18cm) and taken a grab in their one-on-one marking contest.

Rhys actually took a couple of decent marks – and ended with eight – and two goals. I don’t know if we’re any more or less convinced he’s a long-term solution though, but at worst I reckon he’s a very, very handy player to have on the list and I do think he can still improve. A lot will hinge on the next two drafts and trade periods where he actually fits into the side’s structure but I think he’s roughly in the right spot.

The other potential piece of the forward puzzle in Head Simpkin had a very similar game to the previous. One goal, although this one was pretty decent from around 50, and a huge tackle but that was pretty much it. I’m just not sure where he’s at right now. I’m not sure where any of it’s at right now; Roo can’t even get off the ground.

The experiment might have a new addition sooner rather than later. Richo’s comments about looking to play Spencer White before the end of the season were immediately followed by an indication that they wanted him to really hit the pre-season to come out firing next year. And maybe that spurred him on, or at least just made him more comfortable, because he came out and kicked three in the first half on Sunday IN THE SENIORS for Sandy. He could have kicked a few more if not for inaccuracy, too. He’s essentially been forgotten this season in calculations for the future forward set up of this club, with Rhys, My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs and Big Tommy Lee all tried whilst he’s sat out injured or doing freak knows what in the Development League.

Tommy Lee, on that note, kicked four in the same game. I don’t know if that’s enough for him to come straight back in but I’d be betting that unfortunately Head’s gonna be omitted this week. Spencer wouldn’t come in just yet either and, also unfortunately, Lamb might be injured. I think it would be very interesting to see Roo, Rhys and Tommy Lee in the same forward line, with Rhys staying higher up and Lee and Roo leading out from closer to goal (or perhaps Lee coming up higher also). We saw Roo, Rhys and Head trialled together on Sunday so I don’t think it would be farfetched if the selectors this week thought Tommy Lee would be able to make a bigger contribution than his last couple of outings.

As the smaller guys, I think Minch earned another game and it would be good to see him start. Terry might be in danger of losing his spot to Schneids, now that he’s put in a couple of very busy performances at Sandy, or to maybe Josh Saunders who’s likewise had good back-to-back games. Terry kept his tackle count high at five and was part of the set-up of the Minch goal but he just went missing otherwise.

Interestingly, Big Billy Longer had his best game for the Saints – and it was still just his 18th overall – but still might be supplanted by St Kilda’s Own Stephen Merchant in Tom Hickey. Big Tom was again in the best for Sandy and the side is really missing his presence around the ground and his ability to drift forward to half-decent affect. Billy actually made a far bigger contribution around the ground that his previous appearances however, using his frame at stoppages to help out teammates (he finished with an impressive seven tackles) and also kicked a goal. But he’s still not quite hitting packs in the forward line as hard or as effectively as he should. He’s there – he’s got that much covered – now he’s just got to do stuff.

Now, a change in course: Jimmy Webster. Shame he’ll be out for a week but showed again not just his good disposal but some real grunt in his game which is looking like playing more prominent role in his game going forward than we thought. My favourite part was his hit on Dusty, who’d picked off Mav as the man on the mark on the wing. The kick went to centre half-forward and Webster went after Dusty and put him on the deck. That’s the kind of thing you want to see the young guys starting to do – flying the flag for your teammates.

Maybe it’s time for Clint Jones to come out of the team. Maybe it’s not. Maybe Terry and CJ out for Schneider and Saunders? Otherwise I couldn’t fault anyone else I haven’t already mentioned, it’s just that they all had “ok” days. Armo did some physical stuff but went missing at times, and according to Crackers Keenan in Inside Footy the Lions might be after him which, if true, gives us a chance to get some decent picks in the trade period (he also said Freo is keen on Tommy Lee). Seb R0ss was alright again but continues to look more comfortable with the ball and taking enough time to properly weigh up his options, whilst Mav Weller was Billingsed by Cotchin in the first quarter but won some of his own footy from there. Throw Shenton and Billings into the “‘Yeah, I guess?’ – With Upside” pile.

I’ve probably undersold Sav a little too. He’s looking more and more like the player we wanted to have at the club when we traded Big Ben.

Genuine hope and momentum generated by a bunch of high draft picks and free agency recruits is the road we’re going down if we’re to avoid dour days at the footy. Low crowds, low quality Australian Rules football. We can only hope the guys in charge do it right, because that’s the only way the club will get the supporters and untapped  famous populace from “Port Melbourne to Portsea” to turn up and sign up for a membership. I hope this is the only 2-for-1 day the club needs to have.

When Finnis was talking about bringing talent to the club in the next couple of years he stated, “We won’t die wondering”. Like the recruiting of Gehrig and Hamill fast-tracked development of the side that had just recruited Riewoldt, Koschitzke, Dal Santo, Montagna and Goddard, the young group that will be representing this 141 year-old club over the next couple of years will need to boosted, and if not piloted, by some real and a little more mature quality. That comes later, though. If you can stomach it, the next year or two will be all about getting the best younger guys to the club. That’s how raw the project is.

With the club’s finances in a pit and the forecast for growth from memberships and stadium deals minimal over the teething stage for this team, I think we’re right to feel a little apprehensive about all of a sudden having a New Zealand-based director and Tasmania looking to refresh its deals with Victorian clubs. We may not die wondering, but sometimes in eras like these you feel like just surviving is the priority.

Jack Billings Day/more good stuff needed please

Round 14, 2014
St Kilda 4.3, 6.5, 8.7, 10.10 (70)
West Coast 3.2, 8.6, 12.10, 15.13 (103)
Crowd: 17,317 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, June 22nd at 3.20pm

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It would be unfair of me to say that the small sense of optimism I had for a decent result yesterday was quashed when I learnt that Joey was a late withdrawal and had been replaced by Clint Jones. But the the small sense of optimism I had for a decent result yesterday was essentially quashed when I learnt that Joey was a late withdrawal and had been replaced by Clint Jones.

Yes, yes, on the surface that’s a little harsh on CJ. But I think it reflected more on where we’re at the moment, rather than the presence of one player who’d had the indignity of being dropped two weeks in a row, and also bears the indignity of not quite being able to kick an Australian Rules football.

See, my reaction had more to do with the attitude towards the team that absolutely everything must go right to win a game, and without a senior player who’s arguably in our top two or three I thought a win would prove to be beyond reach. And that’s only if the Eagles were really off their game.

So it was a pleasant surprise that it was well and truly the inexperience and the unheralded that were largely responsible for us finishing 63 points closer to evens than seven days before. It’s still a 33-point loss to a team that at best will only scrape into the eight, but after last week’s debacle at the Cattery we’re all feeling a least a little better about things. For the next few days anyway.

West Coast weren’t bad, but they did enough to win comfortably. A headier midfield featuring Priddis and, of course, ex-Lyon youthheap victim Mark Hutchings, as well as a more reliable forwardline set up featuring Darling, McGovern and even Lycett kept things in the Eagles’ control.

I had some of the best seats in Corporate Stadium to watch another loss thanks to my RWB cohort Rich’s father, himself a long-time St Kilda supporter, offering a spare Medallion Club ticket he had. I’ve been fortnate enough to have a Social Club membership and sears for a number of years now, so this was just the second time I’d sat in the section. The first was nine years when the lowly Bombers still managed to dick us and put us a six wins and seven losses after Round 13 in 2005. The following match was the beginning of Kosi’s wondrous streak, as well as the best part of the season’s journey that saw us into a heartbreaking Preliminary Final.

Pre-match I’d entered the club’s #SaintsScore competition and entered with 71 (still not sure if I got the prize – I couldn’t find anyone who picked 70 or 69), and until just a few minutes before the game I was looking good for the crowd number too. This was despite Richo’s best efforts in putting out the message to get Saints fans to the game and make it a “hostile” environment for the Eagles. As my brother Matt said during the week, “if you’re still going to Saints games you don’t have a hostile bone in your body”. We’ve been heartbroken and psychologically battered over decades by this club and that’s not changing any time soon. We’re specifically not “hostile”.

So I ended up getting there early and for the most prestigious part of the stadium, Gate 8 really is at the furthest point of the stadium, certainly from the busiest area around Gate 3 and the bridge and so on. It’s probably the windiest. Basically it was just myself, a trickle of Eagles supporters – I assumed maybe a few who’d travelled wanted to go about it properly and get some decent seats – a school group and some other extras. The lowest home attendance we’ve had at Corporate Stadium – 14,018 to see us push a flying Port all the way (Caydn Beetham with 24 disposals) – I really did think was going to get done today. But the attendance ballooned out a little around the opening bounce to over 17,000, but it was only a few minutes after the game as the players were going out to give the freebies to the fans that I realised just how much of that was the Eagles’ contingent.

And again, Corporate Stadium fails to feel like a true home game, even playing against a side based a few thousand kilometres away. The guys on the trumpet ripping out the Eagles’ woeful theme song didn’t help at all, but there may well have been more coin in it for him than playing ours.

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The Saints started pretty well this time, and instead of lasting 12 seconds last week they managed to last an whole one quarter on top. It was the structural purpose that seemed the most obvious difference from last week. There was a lot of movement in the forward half allowing for clean possession across a few players in space going into attack, rather than just looking out for My Favourite Hair in the AFL. That didn’t stop one passage though where for some reason his mere presence warranted a short kick into traffic at the tip of the arc with more space beyond, although just having a considered possession at that point of the ground was refreshing.

Roo himself would only kick one goal for the day, and quick kick from the pocket in the third quarter. Rather, we went into quarter time on the back of Jack Billings somehow kicking three for the quarter. Two really nice set shots and quick collect through traffic just a couple of metres out helped us to four goals in the first quarter after five for the whole match the week before.

Funnily, he got a soft free kick early this week as he did against the Cats. That one he shanked and I’d wondered if we’d recruited a kid who seemed to be a genius with the footy but just couldn’t kick straight in front of goal, but this week he did the job and then some. He finished with 25 disposals, three goals – and was in prime position for two more, but Terry Milera was looking for Roo outside and Big Tommy Lee went for it himself – and a match equal-high of six inside 50s, with all of the above including kicks on BOTH SIDES THANKS VERY MUCH CHEERS for 100% efficiency. And now he’s officially the Corporate Rising Star Nominee for this week, making 2014 the first season since 2003 we’ve had multiple nominees, which that year were Joey, BJ and Ball. Next step is to sign him up for billions of years, because naturally slick players who can get possessions and kick multiple goals like this are vital cogs for any club that wants to boast a premiership team. WARNING: Previous St Kilda Rising Star Nominees include Brodie Atkinson (1993), Brett Moyle (2000), and James Begley and Caydn Beetham (2001).

Interestingly, it was CJ that kicked the other goal in the first quarter, but not quite vindicating Richo and casting my opinions to depths of footy opinion, left to languish for all eternity with 95% of BigFooty posts. He didn’t do an incredible amount otherwise, he only finished with 13 touches but did finish with two goals. We know his best role now – as a vague harasser of the footy and surrounding traffic in the forward half – but the selection situation in the past two Thursdays has officially decreed him a depth player. Lenny might miss next Saturday so he actually may complete a reprieve hat-trick of sorts, although the selectors might want both of Dunstan and Curren to come in, with Schneider and Saunders also a chance. The second quarter saw him team up with with and Minch for some really good running work out of defence, and he and Lee gave a really good scrap up forward after some of the customary poor delivery. But the third quarter saw CJ dick a promising passage of play on the rebound with a basic skill error. Ah, the old “undone by an Australian Rules football” trick. Surely it’s time.

In between those better harassing second quarter efforts (featuring minimal actual disposal by CJ) there was one passage of play which really stood out, following an arsey West Coast goal from traffic and it was started by Billings opting to go on his right boot up the wing. Firstly he looked incredibly poised doing it – more poised than most guys at the club now on their preferred side – and it found Simpkin, who up the line gave to it to Ray, who found Roo pushing up and got it to Lee near the 50-metre arc. Lee’s set shot, simply, was woeful. The game would finish with our most potent target an 18 year-old standing at 185cm and 76kg. There might not be so much shame in that now with the universal recognition he’s had since the Nomination was announced, but that doesn’t cover the need we have for a tall focal point in attack.

Lee was still managing to move up the ground to present an option, but even Delaney was somehow managing to push up and then offer something to the guys coming out of defence. Head Simpkin up forward found some synergy with Billings, turning his man around and knocking the footy over near the boundary to kick forward for Billings to run onto it, and then Billings in the third marked on 50, settled and kicked to Head in the pocket. The notable thing about Billings’ kick was that it forced Head closer to goal and onto a better angle.

That came in the third quarter and West Coast’s midfield had gotten on top. By half-time even I wasn’t overly worried about losing our first draft pick, and neither were LeCras and Kennedy, who teamed up to reprise the play-on-from-a-few-metres-out fiasco at Adelaide Oval that Port pulled a couple of weeks ago.

One contender for Pick #1 had just won back-to-back games for the first time ever this same afternoon to edge away from us, but Brisbane remain the biggest threat to us being able to actually have the choice between Peter Wright and Patrick McCartin. After yesterday, out of the two I’m still more keen on McCartin as I think this club is crying out for a specialist key forward (he’s the same height as Roo) rather than a guy who’ll float between ruck and forward – and of course do a great job of it – but maybe not bring that consistency in structure. We’ve also expended plenty of energy into getting Hickey and Billy Longer into the ruck department. Of course, we might well push for a trade for Cameron or Patton this year or next (depending on contracts and BigFooty rumours), so a player like those or another presumably top pick of ours next year will fill that forward role anyway*. This is my point – right now, if you put Wright into our side at this minute, there’s not much vision in terms of team balance, but of course I’d take him if I knew we’d have a full-time focal point up forward.

*Spencer White still exists. He’s likely the type to ultimately float around half-forward, unlike McCartin/Wright/Patton, but I think that’s a moot point until he actually gets some more game time now that he’s back from injury.

I don’t think the Head Simpkin experiment up forward can last. It’s such a shame he’s not a little taller. He actually did a couple of good things (see the Billings links) but his shoulder forced him out of the game, so what we saw was a little limited. I’d hope Tom Lee is given another crack this Saturday; he could have given his goal over to Billings but I think the confidence he may have drawn from at least having that on the board would have been wasted on Billings. His stats weren’t great – six marks as a lead-up forward, 10 touches, 1.1 and a couple of shanked kicks. But there’s something to work with, he’s evidently a confidence player and right now he deserves another shot. Also, he’s only played 13 games.

Should Head come out then there’s Rhys, Dunell and My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs to choose from to play across half-forward. I wouldn’t mind Rhys if only to alleviate the need to bring Tom Lee out of position and into the ruck. Dunell I dunno. He wasn’t given a great chance in the first place though. Lamb – cool. I was surprised he got dropped the other week but like Tom Lee there’s just something that the coaches seem to have as a non-negotiable that isn’t so obvious to us non-coaches in the crowd (funny, that) and they’re not getting right.

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Sunday was a pretty good day for youth all round, even without equal favourite for 2018-2022 Premiership Captain, Luke Dunstan. His co-favourite/co-captain for that in Jack Newnes played one of his best games, giving some real drive off half-back with 24 touches and six tackles. He loves the physical stuff too and then once he’s got the footy backs his longer kicking to break the lines or allows team mates further afield the chance to make a move into space.

Also off half-back was the much-maligned Sav, who certainly doesn’t need to be gifted a shot at wearing the NZ jumper on Saturday against Richmond, which for some reason in an NZ-themed game. He was actually pretty good; it’s one of the easier positions to play on the field but someone still has to do it will, and the way he set bullocked through a few West Coast opponents to set up Lenny for that goal was the kind of thing we were hoping he’d bring from the Hawks. Maybe another spell in the VFL has straightened him up.

Mav Weller also gets a mention but FFS kick a goal. Some guys worked really hard for him to have a couple of shots on goal and he sprayed them. Look, 21 touches and seven tackles is exactly what he’s in the side for, but if he kicked half (two) of his shots his game suddenly looks a lot, lot better. His brother Lachie looks like he’ll be going early in the draft and is the slick Rolls Royce opposite to Mav – if we could snare him (we’d have to upgrade a pick though) they’d make a formidable and remarkable brotherly pair.

Richo highlighted in the post-match that BIG BILLY had one more hit-out than Nic Nat, but he left out the part where one of those was a few metres out from the West Coast goal and went directly to their advantage, and that Scott Lycett won a further 17 hit-outs himself. On the flipside, it would be great if he had a chop out from another genuine ruckman, but can Hickey and Billy be in the same team? Neither are incredibly mobile, although was on several occasions seen to be ambling vaguely towards full back on his own. Hickey can at least go up forward and kick goals; when Billy finally found himself at the centre of a big pack deep in defence he jumped and put his hands up, only to miss the ball entirely.

Hickey returned to the VFL this week, but will probably need another week there. This stretch of games surely will have done Billy a lot of good, but the logistics of the ruck set-up are going to be very muddied for some time, and that’s before taking into account the development of Holmes and leader-in-waiting Pierce.

There weren’t really any absolute stinkers on Sunday, but some guys maybe just didn’t quite cut it. Terry dropped a chest mark unopposed near goal for some reason. He also almost took a great mark with the one hand, but I his problem is that he almost does a lot of things. Shenton had one of his lesser days but I still think he’s worked himself into a stretch of form that over weeks is enough to keep him in. Ross was quieter but what did you expect? I must say some of his touches were a lot slicker (handball over the shoulder early) than what we’ve been accustomed to. Minchington…yeah? I think he should stay in, he has a crack and oh yeah it was his third game. Twelve touches and a goal I think get him over the line, on paper anyway. Murdoch only came on as the sub for a quarter but still managed to cough it up deep in defence.

This would have been a pretty forgettable game if not for Billings’ performance. Should all go well, we’ll look back on it and declare it a breakout game for a player who went no to do really great things for this club. In the short-term, his performance – and you could perhaps include those of Newnes, Weller and Savage in there too – serve to just get us through this week. Billings said it himself on yesterday’s announcement: “Before we know it we’ll be playing finals.” I really enjoyed him saying that. It was both maybe a little naïve and optimistic, the kind of thing you’d expect from an enthusiastic fan. The difference is, he can do something about it not just now but when we’re there, too, and even at the age of 18 he’s shown some very, very good things. For now though, we’re flogging off tickets for this Saturday’s game via two-for-one deals.