Etihad Stadium Posts

St Kilda Word of the Year 2017

Round 13, 2017
North Melbourne 2.5, 2.6, 4.9, 10.12 (72)
St Kilda 5.3, 8.8, 9.15, 12.17 (89)
Crowd: 26,107, at Etihad Stadium, Friday, June 18th at 7.50pm

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There are different types of wins. “A win is a win” is a phrase used to describe a type of win, rather than throw a blanket over wins. The result after a grinding two hours in a concrete dome and four weeks of disappointment generally is probably about right for this.

At quarter-time, Dad, Matt, Richie and I moved from our Aisle 44, Level 1 seats that were being flogged on the cheap to four of the many, many free seats in the several bays immediately next to us, and sat ourselves in Row F. I don’t know how the North fans felt they stacked up in terms of turnout, but even after recent weeks feel like Saints fans still didn’t have an excuse to not rock up to this one. It certainly felt in the lead up as if no-one was left on our bandwagon. Three heavy losses to quality opponents, and then a week that saw Paddy out with a surprise injury, Carlisle under a cloud and Hugh Goddard out for the year, just because. The official crowd number I’m sure was bullshit, and whatever it was by game’s end it was probably deserving of the spectacle, but that’s not really how it works. We have a record membership but things always feel a little volatile at the Saints.

Aggressive /əˈɡrɛsɪv/ adj.

Taggers might just be back. There were a few things to learn out of this one. Jack Steven’s mullet was probably overrated. Not for its size – you can’t argue with physics – but for its supposed cultural impact. The G-Train’s receding hairline plus mullet number was far more organic and conducive to his on-field personality and game style, in an era that Channel 9’s rights to the TV coverage was turbocharging the idea of footballers as glamorous and well-connected celebrities.

Jack Steven’s ability to handle a tag is still a little up in the air. North threw second-gamer Declan Mountford in to watch him and Stuv hadn’t reached double-figures by the time Richo put him forward late in the second quarter (am I giving too much credit to Richo there?). However, Mountford wasn’t with him and Stuv kicked two goals late in the quarter that busted the game apart – the first a classy snap working off Higgins deep in the pocket and the second a crumbing goal via some quick thinking in a tight space in the goalmouth. On a night when Lonie, Mav Gresham and to a point the newly-christened Latte Billings were all having trouble rewarding the hard work up the ground, Stuv had enough quality in him to make the most of his chances.

The improvement of Seb Ross this year has been more than timely. That kind of trajectory is what we’ll be hoping for from players across the ground regardless of whether we land someone like Kelly or Martin, but right now he’s a genuinely good midfielder that can be particularly damaging. “If Steven can’t shake a tag then Ross is still free to do what he does” is a sentence that finished very differently even at the end of last season. Ross doesn’t have the speed of Steven but he has developed an acceleration that probably wasn’t present even last year, and that he’s utilised to good effect this year. The extra second he’s able to hold on to the ball allows anyone ahead of the ground to sort out what they’re doing and provide an option. Until Acres becomes more consistent, and/or Freeman/Kelly etc. come into the team this type of thing will be hugely important to the team. I never thought I’d say this but Ross become a rather dynamic player – his inside game is also strong, he’s now actually a kick and his hair is not that bad.

The midfield set-up sans Jack Steele seemed to work, but again the question about the Saints of 2017 – almost certain to prove the transitional pathway to the Saints of 2018 by personnel and dynamic – is about intent. I don’t think it would have mattered too much if the choice Steele of Dunstan would of made a tangible difference. The hunting in numbers was ferocious in tight, the aggression at the ball

Listen to the fans(?)

Richo was genuinely under the SEN/Twitter/BigFooty “news” cycle pressure for the first time, reflected in a growing divergence between where he publicly appeared to apportion reasoning for the trio of shocker showings and the personnel played, and what the fans believed to be the best thing for the club (this obviously varies wildly). It felt like this had hit some sort of crescendo when Richo revealed in the late-week press conference that Steele would be dropped. The reaction prompted Twitter to have its own article about it trending.

Perhaps Richo was thinking it was time for some tough love. Dropping Bruce had prompted his best game on his return, on a night in which we’d only kicked three goals at the final change. Perhaps the coaches are it will have the same effect on Steele? And maybe put others on notice too.

Dunstan has been see perhaps too one-dimensional and I think right now we’re hoping for a Seb Ross-style stealth development from him, gradually adding layers to his game. He showed off the upside of his inside work early as well as his newfound decent disposal, running to receive the footy that was turned over by Lachie Hansen’s chest mark drop on the wing and kicking beautifully to Bruce. The kick at goal was a huge reward for the passage that signalled the team’s intentions. Shortly afterwards he bulldozed through traffic on the opposite wing for two hard balls with a dish out to Lonie who kicked the first of incredibly rare back-to-back bullet passes. Gilbert to Billings was the second, and you can throw in Billings’ finish for the third if you like.

It was the lowered kicks and a distinct lack of clang that made Dunstan’s game seem much more like the Luke Dunstan of early 2014; a bolter in the 2018-2022 Premiership Captain stakes and what appeared to be our first draft pick since the Roo, Kosi, Lenny, Dal, etc. generation to make an immediate impact. The fear has been the ceiling was reached far too early, but if Seb Ross is what Seb Ross is now then I’m willing to accept Dunstan could follow a similar trajectory. His numbers of 18 possessions, six tackles and the token skewed set shot at goal felt like they said a lot more than his 28 touches against Carlton.

Maybe Dunstan will be one of those that answer the wake-up call of being dropped back to the broken-down Sandy. Bruce has now played his best two games for the year since returning from his omission.

A couple of issues come out of this immediately. Firstly, Sandy has the bye, meaning Steele has to wait at least one more week just to get the chance to prove himself, and I doubt he’ll come straight back in if Dunstan and Koby Stevens are still fit – not to mention Armo looking at a return to Sandy in a couple of weeks. That leads us to the second issue, which is team balance. I doubt our midfield can get by with all of Steele, Stevens and Dunstan in the same side, let alone throwing Armo in there as well, as much as I think Armo is quite possible cooked.

With the ongoing My Favourite Hair in the AFL and Joey situations, team balance is going to be a talking point throughout the rest of the year, regardless of how our season is travelling. Richo rather candidly said in the post-match that Paddy wouldn’t play in the same team with Roo, Membrey and Bruce. . “It’s unlikely, I reckon. That would be a bit unbalanced for us.” Usually the coaches give something a little more open-ended but Richo really put the acid on the forwards to perform, even if it’s only injury that takes them out of the team rather than form

Roo collected 21 possessions and kicked 0.3 – if he’d kicked straight we’d be praising him but instead we’ve got Sam Edmund going straight for the proverbial on the issue before the players have had time to hand the footys out to whichever smaller, younger humans are near the fence after the game. He played his roaming game and it still looks a little undefined but there’s no one with the same versatility and presence as him at the club.

Bruce didn’t have the stats guys working too hard but seven marks and two goals belied the quality of his contributions. His opening goal reminds not just his teammates but the opposition that anywhere up to 55 metres out from goal can be a dangerous part of the ground, and it was his strong contested mark at the back of the centre square and excellent kick to Roo on the wing that allowed the play to turn from Sam Gilbert being tackled hard up against the boundary in the back pocket to a Membrey goal in short time.

For his part, Membrey was one who set the tone early with very simple, straightforward attack on the ball. Much of it was working up the field and at ground level, showing a more agile side. We know he has good body strength given his presence in one-on-one contests (in tandem with his positioning instincts) and it was refreshing to see him use it differently, forcing a contest from a spilled ball or just making sure it was a Saint that was first to it even with contact or the boundary coming. That’s the kind of thing that says something to rest of the team, and again, the opposition.

When it matters

An encouraging aspect of this one was that there was no particular stand-out player that had to carry things. Membrey certainly wasn’t the only one playing their part and showing the oft-mentioned aggression that had been lacking in previous weeks. Stevens, Weller, Dunstan, Ross, Geary (C), Gilbert and Newnes all showed it from the start and through the first half in particular. Like Ross, Newnes has slowly grown his game to the point where each of the key elements of his game have become better and better over time – his decision making with the ball, his kicking, and particularly his attack at the ball at the contest – we could hear the hit of his contest with Tarrant from our seats in the pocket at the other end of the ground. In that space, Geary was excellent in picking his moments to go and when to leave his man and hit a contest again, and is obviously leading the 2018-2022 Premiership Captain betting as the incumbent, but for mine Newnes would be leading the rest.

It’s been made clear by Richo that when he talks about “aggression” it’s in reference to how we are with the footy, not just defensively. A little strangely this might have been best epitomised by Billings’ solo effort in the first quarter that resulted in his first overturned goal. A long kick to square had him outpositioned for the mark so he force the ball down front and centre. As Mav came though with his bandaged head (probably feeling pretty excellent about himself for it, too), Billings had spun around in the area and landed without any inhibition, and immediately stepped into the dangerous space to get the handpass from Roo.

Hotline Latte finished with 2.4 and eight tackles, and looked distraught when he fluffed his shot late in the game that looked set to deliver his third goal (for the third time that night). I thought someone should have given him a hug – he’d made a huge impact across the ground when the game was alive – but I’m hoping he’s well past letting those non-goals get to him in future games. Richo said after the game about the reviews, “If that happens in a Grand Final, then it’s a good thing”. It was frustrating on Friday night but I think we’d all agree with that. We’ve been there before.

The small forward line-up remains in limbo. Mav is still trying to do far too much when he gets the ball and not impacting the scoreboard enough. Gresham kicked 1.3 and would have had a much more if he’d kicked straight and like any forward, your game becomes a lot different if those numbers are improved on paper. He probably made an impact high up the ground for the first time in his career – his soccer-style control of the ball off half-back was a good one for the highlights reel – and I’d be keeping him after this one. Lonie had been anointed by the customary posting of a VFL highlights package to the club site during the week, followed by “In the Mix” hero shot. He’s kind of like a Gresham but way too excited. A couple of handy possessions here and there were ok but he, too can try and do too much with the ball. He tried to outdo Jeremy Howe in the last quarter when he simply should have stayed down from the pack, having a few minutes earlier attempted a 40-metre dribbler close to the boundary without looking inboard. Fortunately the game was already done. You could say he just needs to calm himself down and his missed shot from close range in the second quarter would suggest that. Interestingly it was Acres, Mav, and Lonie that all contributed something commendable to the chain that ended with Gresham’s goal late, with Lonie thinking his way through a tackle expertly.

He was one of our better players throughout and it was Jack Sinclair that had enough composure to kick the goal on the run and effectively ice the game just before the final change, after eight straight behinds from late in the second quarter. Since coming into the team in Round 6 he’s shown class and quality across the ground, delivering on the promise he’d shown in 2015, and in a role he’d struggled a little with last season. He makes purposeful, creative decisions and delivers on them. It’s a simple equation but players who can do that regularly really do stand out.

The rear end

Aside from a few nervous moments early when Waite got off Carlisle to kick the first and it looked as though Jake might be carrying more than he’d let on through the week. Richo said in the post-match that that he didn’t mention many individuals to the group after the game, but that he did point out Carlisle (incidentally, he said Bruce was one other that he mentioned). This appeared to be more to do with how he approached the week and the preparation, which is an excellent sign in itself. But by three-quarter time he was part of a defence that had only given away 4.9. Nathan Brown didn’t get a kick and only had six handballs for the game – going head-to-head with ball repellent Billy Longer – but they both did what they had to collectively on Ben Brown and Waite, and allowed Webster, Gilbert and Roberton to ply their trade as rebounding defenders, with Roberton back to his better form and Webster establishing himself as one of our most important and best-skilled players. The Carlisle and Brown combination is good if the midfielders and any players around the stoppages are aggressive (St Kilda Word of 2017) and use the ball cleanly going forward; i.e. if they give Carlisle and Brown an even shot at things. With Hugh out for the season again we’re going to really be hoping they both stay fit this year.

It’s also given more impetus for those keen on Joey to maintain his place in the team. All the Dermie faff from the previous weekend aside I’d been thinking that after all these years his experience was still only good for his loopy kicks no matter what the situation. Friday night didn’t particularly change my mind. Despite a couple of really good contributions, including a brilliant long kick on the rebound to Roo on the lead (Roo missed the goal of course), he still made some weird errors (not as weird as the 50-metre penalty Billy Longer gave away in the first quarter though). Most of these were confined to the first quarter – a high kick loopy out of defence to a contest featuring tall timber Jack Lonie, which came back with interest to Higgins for a shot at goal; he got the ball kicked up his arse by Newnes on the forward 50-metre arc because he couldn’t pick between shepherding and providing a handball option over the top of the opponent; and with 37 seconds left and a string of Kangaroos behinds that tempered the frustration of Billings’ first overturned goal, Joey took the kick-out and just had to hit a target, and we’d go into the first change with a lead of 22-point lead that even then wasn’t where it should have been. He bemusingly hoisted it to a pack not actually that far from goal, and from the throw-in Ryan Clarke snapped a very nice goal. Richo talked about what he brings to the team in a directive and leadership sense on and off the field, and his output certainly improved throughout the game. At what point do you need to start bringing in guys like Rice, White and D-Mac though? For as long we have a sniff of finals Joey simply won’t be dropped this year.

Richo watch

How are we feeling about him this week? Do we give him the credit for putting Bruce back into the VFL and sparking him back into action? What about Steele? Who is responsible for the drop-off in the last quarter? Which apparently season-defining and different questions will we be asking today/tomorrow/this week/next week about Richo and the players and the club? All this and more on Footy.

Good, bad, ugly, etc.

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

 

Version 2

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

We’ll let you know

Round 5, 2017
St Kilda 4.1, 8.5, 12.7, 13.10 (88)
Geelong Cats 6.1, 8.3, 11.8, 19.12 (126)
Crowd: 33,884 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, April 23rd at 3.20pm

The St Kilda website ran the video feature “Love the moment: R14 2009 vs Geelong” as part of the week’s lead-in to the game.

I don’t know how people can watch this without an overwhelming sense of sadness, or why the club would put this up (intentions of the campaign aside). Yes, I understand it was a great moment but post-Grand Final Day 2009 the memory has been shat on. It’s just a reminder of how good this team was and how in typical St Kilda fashion it failed to deliver a premiership. Posting it felt a little symptomatic of a club enamoured with individual moments, individual players, and indeed, individual premierships won by individual points.

The kicking for goal against the Cats in that Grand Final cost this club the best chance to heavily reinvent itself. Given our issues in front of goal this year, posting highlights from that match as part of the build-up was probably tempting fate. But given this club’s history, you could mention almost anything and there’s a chance the club has done something wrong related to it in some way.

Since that day, Geelong has remained competitive and become an entirely different club on and off the field. They won three premierships in that era and have remained a flag threat since, barring 2015. We kicked one away one and couldn’t snatch another (not to mentioned a few failed Preliminary Finals) and we still had to literally bottom out and work our way back up. Until we do get back up, we can’t say we actually did get back up.

The spectre of that era and that Grand Final still looms large for St Kilda fans, but for Geelong fans it gave way to bigger and better rivalries; rivalries that were more relevant to clubs that win premierships and create genuine success. As we tumbled down the ladder their victories against the Saints grew in size, and that gap narrowed as we trekked further on our development path. They are truly a club that has a hold on us, symbolically and on the field. It feels as though we need to do a whole lot more than any other day to beat the Cats. Again on Sunday it proved too much.

Selection this week was headlined by the inclusion of Billy Longer for Tom Hickey, who was officially “managed”, even though Richo went on to say he would have been dropped anyway. Billy appeared to have trained his way to front of the growing ruck queue by the start of the pre-season but Trickey played his way back against the Swans in the JLT. A pantsing by Max was followed with a huge effort against the Eagles and some big tackles against the Lions, but Martin and Grundy gave more head-to-head. I think of Billy as a Lazar Vidovic reincarnate – bash and crash-type who’s there to be an enforcer rather than Hickey’s relative agility for his size – but as Rich said after the game, Billy’s gonna need to be both officially managed and officially dropped after this.

On paper he got 29 hit-outs but Jesus Christ you wouldn’t have known he was out there otherwise. One kick, seven handballs and five tackles of which zero had the force of several of Hickey’s. He just looks…slow? It was his first game for 600-plus days so you can cut him some slack, sure, but would you keep him in the team for next week? Richo’s response is the post-match presser to what he thought of Longer’s game featured a lot of pauses and half-arsed phrases about physicality and contest, i.e. “he was a large human wearing a St Kilda jumper turned up on time”.

Surely Rowan Marshall has pushed himself ahead into second place in the ruck queue behind Trickey? He and Holmes were taking photos with fans outside the ground before the bounce and Lewis Pierce was being interviewed by Tom Morris in the whatever bar it is on Level 2 at half-time. Trickey had the ignominy of finding himself on the big screen at the main break flogging some bottled water. That was probably the flattest known collective of four ruckmen by day’s end.

Before Sunday, it looked like Marshall was a sneaky chance to bound in front of all comers anyway with a few more sausages for Sandy. He’d kicked 12 goals across the practice games and followed up two goals in Round 1 with another pair on Saturday. He might even be a threat to Paddy at the minute, although Paddy kicked 3.1 and collected 10 marks and 19 possessions. Marshall kicked 2.2 and 18 touches and took eight marks.

What’s published on the club website has often been a good guide to future selection moves and Paddy’s leading this week’s VFL wrap. It also has Lindsay Gilbee saying, “We really liked the way Paddy and Marshall played together. Rowan kicked a couple of goals and worked hard for his eight marks, and we may be getting a glimpse of our future in attack there from a St Kilda point of view.” Can we call it in?

Are we at the point where dropping Josh Bruce isn’t totally outrageous yet? A missed shot from outside 50 on his own, a missed set-shot from close-range for 1.2 to go with all of 11 possessions, three marks, and three tackles. Yes, he’s in the team for reasons you can’t boil down to easy numbers like those but is he only in the team at the moment because of his height? Or is the fact that he’s unable to get a rest in lieu of second ruck duties taking away from his ability to work around the forward half of the ground?

To be fair, whilst it wasn’t as bad as other weeks but he still isn’t getting the best quality supply from further up. Of all people it was Joey who was running forward with the ball on his own at a key stage in the last quarter and simply decided to send down a loopy Joey special on top of Bruce and two other Cats; if he’d held onto the ball for a second or two longer and given Bruce a chance to work himself into a better position. What hope has Bruce got there otherwise? And would bringing in Paddy or Rowan Marshall for him make a difference if the slightly-better delivery remained the same next week? Something was obviously up when Carlisle went forward though.

He and Brown looked really competitive down back again but had their work cut out for them when the Cats’ mids ran rampant in the last. There’s only so much you can do about precise entries forward and Dangerfield kicking goals over your head from outside 50 on his wrong foot.

Strangely enough, early in the last quarter we were the more accurate of the two teams, with the scoreline reading 12.7 to 11.9. That gap between 60 metres out from goal and 10 metres just looked to have been bridged a little. Billings found the ball in third quarter as well really looked to make a move, and waited patiently and lowered his eyes rather than blazing away to the goalsquare or to an outnumbered forward and delivered beautifully to Bruce, who had been given a second to find a space to lead into. Both Acres and Newnes threw in some curve balls for the Cats’ defenders and scored goals from passaged in which they played as lead-up forwards. Seb Ross missed from a similar spot to Josh Bruce in the last quarter, just outside 50 on the run, but throw in his fantastic early goal from a similar situation at the other end and now there are players finding space around the 50-metre arc. Jack Steven and Dunstan opened the third quarter with great long-range goals after Stuv has almost created something similar in the second. He didn’t even give himself the chance to miss the shot when communications went haywire and he got mowed down.

With My Favourite Hair in the AFL having his first really tempered influence for the year and neither Bruce nor Membrey having huge contributions, it was going to be the smaller forwards and others who had to take responsibility for hitting the scoreboard. Minchington nailed a very specific triple-triple, with his third three-goal effort against the Cats from three games against them. He was the only player on the ground to kick three and he showed a whole lote more composure around goal than most this season. The third goal particularly was a good example of what a player who kick four goals and gets 28 possessions at VFL level can do; taking the ball tight in the pocket and knowing exactly where to run from a standing start to give himself the most time and space for a kick around the corner.

Gresham had a bad day. His dropped mark on the 50-metre arc in the last quarter turned into a Geelong goal, he slipped over with the footy on the wing in front of the members, his ridiculous attempt at a huge mark didn’t affect anything in the vicinity cost Ben Long his first goal in footy. His solo attempt at goal from deep in the pocket would have been spectacular if he nailed, but when it bounced wide he was rightly given a spray by Membrey who was calling for the footy by himself 15 metres in front. It seemed like he was trying a little too hard to keep up with the pace of the game, or perhaps he was trying to fill the gap left by Lonie’s omission.

The difference here is you can forgive that. Gresh earned himself a bad day – it’s part of any inexperienced player’s development, but from the start he’s shown enough composure (that word matters) and class (likewise) often to suggest not just that he will be a very good player for us, but the type of player we’re particularly lacking in. We can let this one slide.

Ben Long will probably get dropped for Sinclair but as any of the coaches or recruiters would say, he’s here for a career, not just this season. He’ll be better for the run at this level and has shown he can match it each time he goes up in grade. Sinclair surely has earned a recall – Sandy’s stats will tell you he had 35 touches and a goal and he’s been tracking at so far above VFL level for too long now to not a game. Richo said in the Coach’s Message video, “Sinclair’s had another strong game and I think that he’ll certainly push hard for selection this week.” I think you can lock him in for Tassie.

Gilbert’s best contribution was cruelly annulled by one of the many awful umpiring calls. I’ll make a quick deviation to make a point – yes, whilst Selwood got a free for being pushed by his own player maybe next time Josh Bruce should actually make the most of the small good fortune of receiving a bizarre free kick close to goal and kick straight. Gilbert bulleted a pass to the hampered My Favourite Hair in the AFL on a lead in what was probably our last decent chance to get ourselves back in the game, but the advantage call was pathetically not given…I don’t know what the fuck happened; given there was no stop in play the umpire I am entirely unsure why the umpire brought the ball back. If it’s a late hit then it’s downfield. But of you’re a good enough side then the player with the ball now has the chance to size up a bunch of options, and the forwards have a chance to provide something at the time when they need to the most. Gilbert’s kick went straight to a Geelong defender.

Geelong simply had far too much class, composure and run, and again hammered an opponent into the ground in a final quarter. Selwood’s intercept mark and give-off to Guthrie for a running goal in the final 12 seconds was a fitting finish. There was simply no answer for him – collectively we lacked the speed and grunt that their midfield brought when it counted, and they were far more polished with the ball and worked to space more efficiently around the ground. If we were to win it would have taken us working at more than capacity, and that would have brought no guarantees.

I didn’t mind Gresham being thrown into the middle in the last quarter. He was probably down a little on himself for the aforementioned reasons and he got chance to reset his focus as well as see up close what a true matchwinner looks like when the heat’s on. Almost bemusingly, perhaps, Glibert was in there too. I understand the need to have put a fresher, bigger body in at that point because we looked cooked right across the ground and Ross and Steven were being saved at certain points. I don’t question Gilbert’s intent for a second but the free he gave away for holding the man from a centre bounce was very clumsy; as if he just couldn’t react quick enough for the pace of the game. Again, he managed to put down a couple of marks as he did last week, or simply not impact an aerial contest in the way you would want him to. I’d suspect he’s close to a game for the Zebras, both on form and the logistics of playing youth, whether it’s to bring in a tall forward or someone like D-Mac (26 touches), Brandon White (26 – 22 kicks, five inside 50s and seven rebound 50s) who returned handsome numbers for Sandy on Saturday, and some positive reviews (Bailey Rice included) from the people good enough to take time and do some write-ups on BigFooty forums everywhere. The profile of Shane Savage I feel like has fallen off the face of the planet in less than a week, but 27 touches and six rebounds from defensive 50 shows he’s obviously got enough talent to be dropped to the VFL and immediately know what’s what.

Dunstan followed up his 11-possession game last week with…12 possessions and two tackles. If he hadn’t of kicked that goal then I don’t know what. He may get another chance though because Koby Stevens got a heavy knock after being very busy for the Zebs – he’d had 11 touches and seven tackles in about half a game.

Right now though I feel like he’s just not having the influence he should. Richo mentioned in the Coach’s Message that fourth and fifth-year players need to be having a “stronger impact on the game when it is things are slipping”. That seemed particularly aimed at Dunstan, Acres and Billings. I feel like right now there’s a bit of an analogue between Lonie versus Minchington, and Dunstan versus what we assume Koby Stevens would bring to the team – that is, the defensive and pressure acts side of things, but the latter bringing in some more actual football. Mav Weller

Armo might well be done. As much as he clearly gives when he’s out there this is the unfortunate circumstance of a player’s body letting them down. A few of his troubles have come from knocks and collisions (e.g. the knee slice against Paddy Dangerfield of the Adelaide Crows early in 2014), but his form was clearly affected for most of last year. Steele, Dunstan and perhaps Stevens have a chance to really contribute to this team.

Stuv looked like a really good player who’d missed a couple of weeks and was being thrown back in against one of the most potent midfield combinations in the game. He racked up good numbers and the addition of his pace was noticeable enough that Freeman looms as an ace up our sleeve if he works out. Perhaps surprisingly Richo said he wouldn’t expect to see him in the senior side before the second half of the year, but I don’t think any of us were expecting to see him ever? Luke Penny and Aaron Hamill never quite got back as their injuries piled on; Markworth was always coming back from a freak knock directly to his ACL; Jesse Smith was already injured when recruited alongside Andrew Lovett to add class to defensive aggression for the 2010 campaign. We’re used to this thing not quite working out.

Seb Ross played probably the best footy of his career as his odds to be the 2018-2022 Premiership Captain shortened. For one of the first times he also displayed a little bit of pace, and on a day in which he collected 33 touches there were some far more damaging disposals in there, and in much more dangerous parts of the ground. Some pinpoint field kicks to go with shots at goal that a) easily covered the distance from outside 50 and b) he wouldn’t have backed himself to kick two years ago. Not to mention the Sam Mitchell-esque pause and perfectly weighted kick to Dunstan for Luke’s goal. I don’t think many saw this development coming from Seb before last year, and it’s players like him that really need to take these steps is we’re going to be successful in the coming years. Right now he’s done that and more, and is looking good to be this club’s next captain.

Steele again was a handy complement as someone who can play inside and out and be smart with the ball both ways, but needs to get more of the ball. The asterisk to that is that it was only his 22nd game and is looking like a great pick-up. Good hair, too. Speaking of arbitrary asterisks, Pick #3 in the 2013 National Draft was Jack Billings. I feel like he’s still just got a faint asterisk next to his name, because before this season he’d only played 42 games and hadn’t really had a decent run at a pre-season, let alone a decent run at a proper season, with some pretty difficult injuries really hampering his ability to get some momentum through seasons. That’s not just playing several weeks of footy in a row, it’s about playing a few months of footy without missing a game. He got close to that in his first season but even then finished early, and missed large chunks of the last two seasons. His two back-to-back goal assists reminded us of why he was picked so high, and as far as my silly internet opinion goes why he should be played in the front half more often. I’ve mentioned both – the perfect pass to Bruce after some actual consideration, and the nicely weighted handball to Minchington in the pocket, who did it justice with the finish. He doesn’t need to get 30 touches a game and for all of them to be like that, but he needs to do those things more often before we can even speak of him as vaguely worth pick #3 ahead of the Bont. I think I might have been a bit harsher on Dunstan, who is only 11 games ahead of him in the same period, but that’s by the by – both need to start lifting their output.

McKenzie, Rice and White all were named in Sandy’s best, but where do they all fit in? Maybe it’s Gilbert that comes out. The past week was Dylan Roberton week, named for the player who is somehow now actually convincing us he’s a genuinely good footballer, has a genuinely good football brain and belongs in the leadership group, and he put in another strong performance. Webster continued his improvement, despite his expert bullet pass to a Nakia Cockatoo at the top of their goal square in the first quarter. He’s tough and his disposal is (usually) pretty good. We need more of that.

Geary (C) was the last one standing, let alone running for us in this one. A desperate spoil and follow-up in an attempt to get some semblance of run off half-back in the last minutes, together with bandaged head, had him above all others at the point. To paraphrase Van Jones, who was possibly doped-up at the time of his original comment, “He became captain of the St Kilda Football Club in that moment”.

Despite the loss it was the type of game you’d leave having felt as though you’d watched a tough, entertaining contest that saw the best players and the best team perform well and rewarded. It was probably some of the best footy the Saints had played in terms of going head-to-head with a genuinely good team for the production of an uncompromising game of footy. We also got a lesson on where we’re at right now. Geelong has a habit of doing that.

Not-so-memorable moments

Round 4, 2017
Collingwood 2.6, 3.7, 5.8, 7.13 (55)
St Kilda 1.3, 4.7, 8.12, 9.15 (69) 
Crowd: 36,650 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, April 16th at 3.20pm

docklandsstreisand

“You don’t introduce new products in August.”

Whilst the fate of 7.49 billion people was in the hands of a few narcissistic psychopaths and sociopaths, we had a questionable game of footy to go to.

Drawing Collingwood at 3.20pm under the Corporate Stadium roof on Easter Sunday surely had to be another trademark move from the AFL as part of its long-term plan to eliminate daytime football and crowds in general.

On the surface it might have looked like the AFL was giving Collingwood a quick breather from four out of five prime time slots – Friday night, Thursday night, Friday night and ANZAC Day, but all of a sudden they’ll be having a farkload of eyeballs on them on TV. The move of a Collingwood home game to Etihad clearly wasn’t to let a huge crowd in.

Only 36,650 showed up in the end, despite the regular announcements at stadium in the lead-up to the game for people to make sure there weren’t any spare single seats dotted throughout “so we can fit a huge crowd in”. I don’t know what management was planning for but, no, that’s ok, I’ll take the space thanks.

Looking around the ground at about 3pm It did appear that a decent crowd might eventuate – until you hit the prime four bays on the broadcast wing on level three that at its maximum were half-full. Collingwood’s wealth of membership numbers meant those bays are allocated as reserved seats for their home games, but that certainly didn’t get in the way of anyone turning up Medallion Club-style. Realistically this was never going to be about a huge crowd watching from the stands/concrete slopes, despite the stadium announcements and Jon Ralph proclaiming there would be 52,000 there.

Collingwood still managed to make it feel like a Collingwood home game more so than St Kilda ever does, but perhaps it was just as much about the presence and profile of the Magpies entity – the club, the team, its fans. The old MCG crowd-made fence signs in digital form – “Collingwood domination envy of the nation” looked great in front of the cheersquad and was ultimately just a reminder – if only for a brief period – of how tight the ground controls are to make sure nothing interferes with the visibility of the fence advertising (which fucking moves around during the game for fuck’s sake), and how much it has stripped away a really interesting and engaging aspect of the atmosphere at footy grounds. They really can’t save a few panels to keep something like that up for the game in front of the cheer squads? Or on part of the members’ wing? Really?

The Pies stayed true to stereotypes by going the American sports lowest-common denominator route at half-time with Kiss Cam, and then a thunder-clapper-fucking annoying blow-up stick “make the loudest noise” contest between Saints fans and Collingwood fans courtesy of precious lifeblood rebottlers Pump. Despite those, their ground announcer human did something I haven’t seen any other club do before (and if other clubs do it I’m assuming it’s rare) – a Welcome to Country and Acknowledge of Traditional Owners to the Wurundjeri Tribe.

St Kilda obviously got permission from the AFL to run out onto the ground after the home team in a break of typical proceedings before a match, in which the away team runs out first. Fortunately we made it out on time, taking us to three from four this year. Usually that kind of thing is a given, but when you’re talking about a club that’s won one premiership in its 144 years you’re operating to a different set of benchmarks.

The week had seen Ameet Bains go from likely next Hawthorn CEO to withdrawing from the process; probably a reasonable thing if only to save himself from the extra frost from new colleagues seeing he took their first-round draft pick this year and gave it to us. Officially he’s staying mostly so he could oversee things until the transition to Moorabbin was complete, and during the week I quietly threw in a “but also to secure further incredible trade deals and allow us waste more key picks come the National Draft”.

Paddy had been dropped from the team and if it wasn’t him we would have expected Billings to be next in line. Watching Bontempelli move sveltely through traffic on Friday and kicking a goal on the run from just inside 50 was one thing; watching Petracca bulldoze through traffic for his first goal and then take it on himself to find space and kick a goal from outside 50 late in a close game had me wanting to go the big vom: chocolate bunny edition. Another Billings seagull performance would surely complete the process. Somehow Mr February had stayed in the side after an indifferent start to the season; Paddy hadn’t after one quiet game in which the delivery forward remained garbage, and I thought Billings had to have been next in line.

Speaking to Dad on the phone during the week I suggested Billings might be best to play forward of the ball, if only to freshen him up or give him a more focused task. I also asked Dad whether anyone outside of a football club, in conversation with family, friends and/or acquaintances had ever suggested anything genuinely useful about their team that the coach and the assistants would actually say yes to. Billings ended up playing mostly in the front half, but I’d loathe to call it because a) I think anyone would have suggested this was a possible option and b) who gives a shit what I said on a phone call during the week.

Whichever way, it really got a result out of him albeit not until the second half. Three missed shots from gettable positions in the first half had me thinking it might have backfired and shot his already limp and pale confidence. Rich astutely noted Mav was getting political now that he’s in the leadership group and already moving to edge Billings back into trade talk calculations in the latest edition of “Mav’s World”. Turns out Mav is the one that right now is closer to the outer and maybe he knew it was looming, setting Billings up with the classic ambush question of “Easter eggs or hot cross buns?” . He knew it would be all too much for a shy Billings in front of camera. Billings could only squeak out a meek “…both?” and Mav dialled up his malcontent for a biting “Just choose one”. Billings chose chocolate hot cross buns.

But his pack mark and goal in the third tweaked something in his mind and he finished with 28 touches around the ground and 1.4 to be amongst our best. It’s not quite on the scale of the Easter resurrection, but fuck a duck it’s a nice surprise and a relief, and particularly encouraging that he was able to turn things in his favour during the match.

The composure aspect remains a problem but hopefully that will come back with time – he’s demonstrated it before. He often found himself not quite getting the balance right between hanging onto the ball and taking the player on; and disposing of the ball quickly and neatly. He was drafted at pick 3 to do both with class, but he had at least three kicks the were blasted into the player coming across him for the smother and your X-factor types are meant to navigate those situations kick goals from the quick snaps the set shots from the arc. Ideally it’s in the near future he’ll be kicking 4.1 from the kinds of shots he had. Nice of him to trade missed set shots with Dunstan following last week’s pass-off though.

Billings ended up floating up the ground a fair bit and collected disposals at will. The pressure was well up and we had a monopoly on territory and possession for nearly the entirety of the second half, and Billings ended up doing his bit sending the ball forward as well as being on the end of the work up the ground. His score return reflected the team’s inability to finish off a team, echoing what had happened in Perth a fortnight earlier and what they eventually had to work hard to rectify last week against the Lions.

As for his high draft pick stablemate, Paddy he took 10 marks and kicked two goals for Sandy but Richo didn’t seem very sure in his press conference that he’d be coming back in as soon as next week. Their time is slowly nearing but Billings and Paddy weren’t recruited to be key parts of our team in 2017. But as any St Kilda supporter would feel, FFS humour me.

It wasn’t until late in the second quarter that it felt as though we’d settled into what we needed to be doing and wrestled the game into our hands. Although the team looked solid once they could pressure Collingwood’s disposal coming off half-back, it was still only a 4.7 to 3.7 half-time lead.

At that point our half-back line had kept us right in it – for all the chances we’d created and wasted Collingwood had done similar. Roberton had chalked up 20 touches and seven marks at that point, and Geary seven marks likewise. Roberton’s reading of the play was one of the things players and Richo highlighted when talking about his (at the time bemusing) inclusion into the leadership group over summer, but his footy smarts are more evident, with his intercepting and rebounding taking his game to a new level. On top of that he’s consistently finding more of the ball, too – 32 possessions and 12 marks was his return by game’s end. He continued to stand out as the rest of the team lifted their own input, and in a wider context it’s important for the club for players like this to improve in this way.

Whilst we were waiting for some guys to click into gear Carlisle was providing a huge presence in the back half to allow Roberton to play his rebounding game to better effect, as well as Gilbert, Geary and Newnes. Carlisle took eight marks, including a couple of handy contested grabs, but his body work when the ball was in dispute, even low down, allowed time for support to arrive or simply for a clean win. Whilst the Collingwood forward line isn’t functioning all too well at the moment – I felt for Darcy Moore getting the Bronx cheers in the same way I felt for Paddy last week when he copped the same, because it wasn’t entirely either’s fault at all. Nathan Brown still had an important role to play and executed some very good one-on-one efforts. All of a sudden the growing synergy down back is the buzz around Seaford/St Kilda/Moorabbin.

Geary (C) looked a bit overwhelmed in the first couple of weeks by the situation he’d found himself in, but yesterday all of a sudden he became the Geary we thought he’d be this year. A couple of vital contested marks, even when outsized, and some daring decisions to leave his man to create a contest in the air against a bigger opponent had him looking more maniacal than ever. He and Roberton were complemented handsomely by stand-in club song leader Jimmy Webster. One of the more symbolic moments of the day came in the second quarter as we’d begun to take control – a Taylor Adams kick tumbling towards the top of the arc had Geary just subtly edge Travis Varcoe off balance, and allowed Webster to break through and pass the ball to Ben Long in the middle. Despite having watched his teammates blaze away into the 50 at every opportunity for Bruce, Membrey and Riewoldt to be outnumbered or not presenting a lead, or for the kick to simply be rubbish, he decided to lower his eyes in the short moment he had and found Mav. A quick give off to Blacres had him going long, but that extra second created by Long had allowed a deeper entry from Acres and time for Gresham to get to the fall of the ball and kick a textbook roving goal. It was the last time for the day we’d trail.

A lot to unpack out of that one. But I think that was the beauty for St Kilda fans to take of the ugly win – the team worked so well together to break Collingwood down and have the game played on our terms. It was the forwards that on paper were lacking at half-time: Gresham, Long, Lonie and Membrey had all had four touches. Each had made some contribution although there was obviously scope for a much bigger input from each (Or output? They kind of mean the same thing here). Membrey would end up responsible for probably the only two direct, low bullet passes into the forward line to hit up leads on the day, and I’m hard pressed to think of any others this year. He ended with two goals from 12 touches and eight marks, including standing up in the final minutes to take a contested grab in front of goal as Collingwood made a late charge and converting from a spot he’d made a habit of missing from lately.

I’m not sure if Ben Long will stay in due to the sustained excellent form of Minchington and Sinclair in the VFL, but Lonie is the one who’s had multiple chances to impress outside of pressure acts – whatever they are he and Long returned numbers second only to Jack Steele on Sunday. Lonie can’t be faulted for the pressure he puts on and he’s always busy in trying to create something from nothing, but he has to actually start getting more of the ball and not going the Suckling shanks, let alone hitting the scoreboard, otherwise we’ve just got a really fast McQualter or Robert Eddy. Just 11 touches and 0.1 has him on the outer, and he’s only kicked 3.5 from four games this year.

Long played an uncompromising pressure game in the forward half and higher up. Like Lonie, his numbers probably didn’t reflect the kind of presence he has around the ball and the opposition. Collingwood’s success in taking the ball from half-back to scoring opportunities gave a good reason to bring him in and lump the pressure on the Magpies’ disposal out of defence. He was part of the chain for first goal, working hard through traffic back of centre to force the ball forward. It took the 30-somethings Roo and Joey to team-up and finish the chain for our first goal with only a couple of minutes left in the opening quarter and we might have been thinking we’re treading water with the development side. That didn’t eventuate, but there’s always plenty of time to be disappointed with this club.

My Favourite Hair in the AFL had just six touches and no score at the main break, but like most others stepped up in the second half. He remains, uh, how to say this…incredibly good. Another 22 touches, 12 marks and a goal after being nearly unsighted for a half. It’s ok if he’s in your top couple of most important players a) because he’s a once in a generation player and not everyone we recruit will be Nick Riewoldt, even when he’s 34, b) if they’re really, really good then yes of course it’s good to have them, and c) if everyone else is on board. Mav had collected seven at half-time, but even his slim numbers probably oversold his contribution. At that point he’d had a shot at goal from close range smothered, completely missed a teammate with a handball, dropped an easy mark at half-forward and after waiting for options inside 50 casually kicking to a player all on their own. Unfortunately it was a Collingwood player. He looked to have almost traded spots a little with Billings by half-time, working to half-back more often as Billings became more prone to drifting deeper forward. His defensive side was a little more solid and he cracked in a little harder at contests in the second half, with his seven tackles alongside Dunstan second to Steele.

Steele “only” had 20 touches – 15 of them handballs – and nine tackles but he’s providing an incredibly important link between the inside and the outside. It’s only an alternative to the pace of Jack Steven and [insert  but it’s just as important when things get tight and it stood out. Seb Ross likewise – most people thought he opened with a stinker or two but he finished with 36 touches.

Conversely, I don’t know if Dunstan stays in right now when he’s only picked up 11 touches – albeit with seven tackles – when you’ve got Koby Stevens bashing down the door alongside Minchington and Sinclair, not to mention Jack Steven coming back next week. Richo gave Dunstan a brief mention in the post-match though so I’m not sure what’s going on there. The lack of pace in the midfield has been obvious over the past two weeks. Armitage was able to get the ball out of traffic but he’s not the one to look to for speed and going by how sore he was by game’s end according to Richo he might need another week or two off. All’s well that ends well if you can grind a team down with those kinds of players but you’re not going to be able to get away with it all the time and you’re going to need to be a bit more dynamic. Acres is more of a Goddard #1 type (“Utility”) and Newnes is more of a wing – they were both pretty impressive and Newnes might yet be our next premiership captain if everything goes right but we’re not looking to them to fill the gaps in our midfield.

What remains ridiculous and with no apparent change to method is the idea of players bombing the ball long going forward. What are they expecting to happen? Nice to be direct and put the opposition under pressure but if you’re putting players under the ball or the forwards aren’t leading then it’s a lot easier to defend. Bruce and Membrey combined for four out of nine goals but that kind of sentence won’t matter too much most weeks, and certainly not next week against the Cats. It’s great if Gresham can charge in for the drive-by goal but that doesn’t seem to be the most common occurrence either. Who’s at fault? Right now it’s a little bit of everyone, but I thought we looked best when Membrey punched those two kicks forward to Riewoldt and Bruce, and when Ben Long took in everything that was ahead of him and pulled the kick to Mav. It looked creative, flexible and smart. It ended well, too, despite Acres looking like he wanted to hit the roof and putting the Sherrin on top of Roo’s head rather than out in front of him. Again, who’s fault is that? A look at the vision would show no one between 15 metres out and the 50-metre arc – i.e. lots of space for everyone to lead into – so I don’t know what’s going on there. I would refer myself back to my conversation with Dad. Has anything I’ve said actually said been of any genuine worth to the coaches or players? Has anything you, or anyone else said been of any genuine worth to the coaches or players? Surely it’s not as easy as “they just need to lead into that space I saw on the replay”. Or “just kick straight when you’re having a shot at goal”. Or “just look for the lead instead of blazing away”. We’ve kicked 36.57 in the last three weeks. Never mind missing the finals by percentage last year, we threw away a Grand Final in 2009 with this kind of plan.

Perhaps because of Collingwood’s fast finish there was a lot of jubilation from the fans, on the siren, although the players looked pretty happy themselves. It was our lowest score of the year but it was probably the best team performance and what might prove to be a template of sorts for this group – it was evident that at least a large part of the plan had been executed well.

Only the people that were there would remember this one. So many of these games are played every week that are buried on the GWS/Gold Coast Saturday twilight specialty time slot, or that only deserve a progress score check from the bored neutral, and are never thought of again. Keep this one in the back of your mind if you’re a Saints supporter though. It might prove to be one of the more important development markers.

*Heaps of symbolism*

Round 1, 2017
St Kilda 6.2, 7.8, 9.9, 13.12 (90)
Melbourne 2.3, 9.4, 15.7, 18.12 (120)
Crowd: 36,249 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, March 25th at 4.35pm

In short: it’s one game and there are other rounds and seasons. In long: Here is way too much ranting, featuring probably way too much symbolism.

Ok, so.

How did you feel late on the Saturday night of Round 1, 2004?

If you’re a St Kilda supporter and old enough to have been aware of what was going on, then the answer was probably “pretty fucking great”.

The Saints had trounced the Cats in the far more valuable sequel to the Wizard Cup Final a fortnight earlier, and had stamped themselves as the most fashionable new team with the brightest future in the league. After a few lean development years – with the 1997 Grand Final ensuring the hallmarks of the Saints were retained going into the new millennium – the St Kilda Football Club looked set to be transformed by one of the most exciting and damaging collection of players in the league. The future looked good, and it looked endless.

We look back now and note (and feel, of course) that the Cats added three premierships to their cabinet since and have only dipped out of the top eight twice. Meanwhile, we continue to build the mythology around 1966, and theoretically the club is only now barely coming out of the rebuild following the heartbreaks of the GT and Ross Lyon eras.

It’s worth noting that the idea of the Geelong-St Kilda rivalry seems to have been mostly shed by Geelong and its fans. They moved onto bigger and better things. The notion still exists for us, but mostly as a representation of what never was. The 2004 meetings in particular between the teams promised both a long-term rivalry between two burgeoning juggernauts, and the likely ending of two long premiership droughts. The 2009 Grand Final appeared written to deliver both the epic showdown that had been promised for so many years – it certainly did, and was a fitting end to the decade – and given what had transpired during the season, that second element also: a premiership for St Kilda to go with Geelong’s own drought-breaker two years before.

When the Saints turned the 2010 finals series on its head over Geelong in the 2nd Qualifying Final, it put the Cats on a collision course with the Magpies in a Preliminary Final. Their comprehensive loss and the departure of Mark Thompson looked certain to bring what was already an incredible era for their club to a close. Somehow, they backed the whole thing up and won a third premiership in five years, as we endured a painful, cold come down from coming so close over a long time – don’t discount the added wear and tear of 2004, 2005 and 2008 (not to mention the 2006 ride and its fallout). It was apparent that everyone from the fans through to the players had been heavily scarred.

Geelong’s story was ultimately written with a key but much reduced role from St Kilda compared to what was in the initial drafts of the script. Sydney ended their 72-year drought as the rivalry built; for the young St Kilda team that has been put together over the past several years the Bulldogs have delivered in similar time after 62 years (both the longest droughts in the game at the time). Melbourne has emerged as the Geelong rival equivalent to the team put together featuring Riewoldt, Hayes, Ball, Dal Santo, Koschitzke, et al. Again, two founding teams with similar premiership droughts, except the pairing of 1963 and 1966 is now 1964 and 1966.

In the time since that opening round of 2004, those Melbourne and St Kilda waits have become the longest in the game. Sydney, the Cats and the Bulldogs all had longer droughts at that point; all have saluted since. It’s worth mentioning alone for anyone who cares about historical coincidences and miscellany, but this is all an important reminder for the fall-out of Saturday evening.

I’m sitting here running through this shoddy exercise because we now know that we will see My Favourite Hair in the AFL take the field again. It wasn’t until after we’d left our new seats on Level 2 well after the siren that I checked Twitter for any updates that I found the first pieces of positive news starting to filter out of the club. Until that point we’d sweated in the humidity, been wowed briefly before being systematically overwhelmed, and then finally crushed when Riewoldt went down. Otherwise this would be mostly be a hastily cobbled requiem for not just the career of arguably the best Saint, but an era in itself.

Instead, it’s firmly about the future. The Geelong comparison matters when trying to process what the hell happened after quarter time on Saturday. I’m not saying there will be a period of time in the near future in which we’ll win three premierships in five years and watch Melbourne flounder. Likewise, I’m not saying Melbourne will miss out in the way we did over the last 13 seasons.

Of course, there was a huge build-up to this one, an opening match between the two most fashionable new kids with the brightest futures with what appeared to be clear demarcation points in their narratives – Melbourne with a new coach and about to step into the finals; St Kilda improving with a coach that had grown with them and about to step in the finals.

The fact that we hadn’t lost to Melbourne since the 2006 2nd Elimination Final – a very dirty night for us for a lot of reasons – is only an anomaly and one that will be quickly forgotten. It didn’t mean we won a premiership in that time, nor was it the reason Melbourne and its fans suffered so much in that decade. Their win right now symbolically says plenty and at this point in time might enhance a pending rivalry, but it isn’t what it will be ultimately remembered for (should that rivalry indeed emerge). What does Round 1, 2004 mean for Geelong fans? They wouldn’t particularly remember it, nor care for it if they did.

If we’re good enough then the players will learn from it and be better for it, and it will be a small step in much, much bigger journey. I joke that I have Melbourne and us pencilled in for the 2019 Grand Final, but for now that’s all it amounts to. There are no facts in the future.

***

What caused the turnaround after the first break? I was sweating profusely from the comfort of our level two seats; I have no idea how the players were feeling. But Melbourne ran out the three quarters incredibly well, all the more considering Joel Smith (as far as I know, no relation to Joel Smith) had his game ended in the first quarter, leaving the Dees a player short for the bulk of the match. To put it succinctly, it seemed there was simply little movement from our players after quarter time both with and without the ball; Richo’s post-match description of the players as “reactionary” is probably a more accurate way of putting it. But why did it happen? Surely you don’t train all pre-season and give the JLT a good shake to just run out of gas 40 minutes into Round 1? We were underdone for Round 1 last year and still managed to play 85 minutes of good footy interstate.

The midfield was smashed – Max had it all over Man’s Best Friend host Tom Hickey at the throw-ups courtesy of Adele, and Melbourne’s mids racked up ridiculous numbers as they worked in numbers together around just about every contest. Even when Hickey won a hit-out the Melbourne mids were first at the fall. In fact it took the otherwise-unseen Seb Ross in the final quarter to actually win a decent hit-out against Max from a stoppage, and from there the Dees still ran away with it and kicked a goal. Their pressure was good when we had the ball, their run and spread was good when they had it, at stoppages and in open play.

Hickey was a shadow of the player that found the ball 29 times in the final practice match, and a shadow of the ruckman that had been one of the few to handle Max decently in the past couple of years. Hickey wasn’t the only one in that category, and Max just might have taken another massive step in his career, but you can only write that kind of thing off so many times.

Melbourne’s approach in expanding their midfield numbers with their high draft picks is looking like it will pay off handsomely. Never mind Viney and Stretch being handy father-son picks; the input of Oliver, Lewis, Vince, Brayshaw, Petracca, Neal-Bullen, Jetta and Salem reflected shrewd drafting and recruiting. Steven needs someone else to breakaway from traffic, Steele had a good debut, Armitage might have peaked, Ross was nowhere, Dunstan likewise. It would have been nice to see Billings and Gresham at more stoppages, but Billings’ game in particular suffered once we were shut down in close.

Petracca got to enjoy a couple of goals (including one immediately after Riewoldt was taken off) and found the ball 23 touches, and his celebration in the third quarter of his goal was the first roar in this conflict proper. The comparisons between him and Paddy will be endless – do 21-possession, three-goal games from Hogan influence the debate at all? For all the rumours Petracca’s character issues had him fall behind Paddy, we might be waiting a longer to be feeling OK about our Billings/Bont and and Paddy/Petracca draft choices in successive years. The 2001 selection in hindsight is enough to make any Saint go the big vom, and not enough people are aware we chose McEvoy at number nine with Dangerfield going 10 in 2007.

Paddy was a late out this time; rumoured to be a hamstring. Richo described it as hamstring “awareness”, and introduced the “fit to play”/”fit to perform” debate into more public footy lexicon. Last year Paddy was a late withdrawal for our first game against the Dees as well all felt spooked by the debut of Petracca, and the inclusion Membrey kicked five. Acres won a Rising Star nomination with 28 touches and two goals, but Membrey’s disappeared since the first few minutes of the JLT series and Blacres apparently can’t hit targets and so suited up in the black, yellow and blue alongside Paddy yesterday. Lonie was the in for Paddy; obviously they wanted some pressure but Jesus Christ I don’t know if Lonie realistically passes the disposal accuracy test. He’s still somewhere between Milne and the worst of Schneider – tries to do a lot, has a wayward left foot when the goals beckon. He needs to spend more time with Gresham, who with three goals was one of our best. His solo effort from the Gresham pocket (with a cameo from Membrey) was all class and composure, something that was severely lacking for the balance of the match.

As for the draft concern in Billings, his race with the Bont is over. Marcus has already won a best and fairest in a premiership season. The external pressure and comparisons are over. Billings is now left to do what he was drafted to do and in the Corporate Name Community Series appeared to have stepped up, and he kicked a brilliant long-range goal to open our game and season’s account. As I said before, his game appeared to be reliant on the rest of the team’s, and he was drafted specifically because he is creative, not to compliment our inside mids in the event that they’re winning their battle against the opposition’s. Until Melbourne turned things around, he was very busy across the ground, but that’s not enough. Hindsight is the proverbial USC eyesight reference value, but we could have had Bontempelli and Petracca. If I’m going to listen to myself though, Billings hasn’t turned 22 and Paddy hasn’t turned 21.

Richo will be facing his own tests in the coming weeks, probably for the first time in his career. A trip to Perth will quickly shift the players’ focus over to rectifying whatever the hell it was that went on after they got on a plane last year. No Riewoldt for a week or two (after all that – lol), Paddy should come in after three goals in the first half as the Zebras coasted through a practice match against Port Melbourne; Rowan Marshall kicked five and My Future Favourite Player Josh Battle four but for varying reasons don’t expect to see them any time soon. Sinclair found the ball 27 times in three quarters and looks an obvious replacement for one of Wright or Lonie, although Lonie led our tackle count with six. Wright is more hardened than the other smaller forward-half players but did fark all and I feel as though the others (Lonie included) have a higher ceiling than he does.

Carlisle and Brown look cute wearing 2 and 22 respectively and watching them work together to cover off players when Melbourne’s mids charged forward again showed they’re already building an understanding. There’s obviously work to be done individually and from the perspective of settling into the team, and Dempster might well be required given the task at hand against the Eagles, but just give them a second. I’d also hope we’re in a position to not have to select players based on the likelihood of our mids getting towelled again. Both Brown and Wright had knocks to the head so there might be an easy reasoning to take them out for next week.

We got a small taste of games actually meaning something in the back half of last year, but this time we’re starting fresh and (almost) anything can happen. To strip away the symbolism this result may well bode as very important come the end of season, with both us and the Dees expected to be jostling for a top eight spot. The build-up to the game certainly was a welcome reminder of what it means to partake in a relevant game of Australian Rules football. Riewoldt’s four goals in the absence of Paddy and effective games from Bruce and Membrey was a stark reminder of how important he still is for us. We really felt we had to confront a post-Nick Riewoldt world for a time on Saturday, and I don’t think we were quite ready. Certainly not at the moment. Geary opened his captaincy by dropping a clean mark on his own. He got a bit of the ball but I’m not sure exactly what he did; although I’m not sure what anyone did really apart from a few.

Assuming we are actually stepping up from last year, I didn’t know if I was ready for us to be good again. But I won’t hold my breath. The 2010 Replay was seven years ago now, which is the same distance that 2004 is from 1997. But I really don’t think anyone was or should have been expecting a 2004 leap, despite us finishing on top of the JLT series ladder and going in against our up and coming rivals in Round 1 (to throw in a final 2004 comparison). It was an incredibly deflating experience being at the game, but now that Riewoldt is OK how do we feel? A lot happens in footy, and we can always read too much into it.