Etihad Stadium Posts

Zero?

Round 23, 2016
St Kilda 5.5, 11.7, 17.8, 25.11 (161)
Brisbane Lions 3.4, 6.8, 9.11, 15.13 (103)
Crowd: “19,000 approx” at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, August 28th at 1.10pm

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Nostalgia plays a varying but key role in our individual relationships with footy and the clubs we support. It follows that the warming weather of August is unmistakably tied to all that goes with final stages of a footy season.

Chances are you’ve seen enough complete seasons in which the milder temperatures and later sunsets either represented the impending breather you could take after the home-and-away season, or it beckoned you to run further into it and see your club achieve something that you may not be sure you’ll see again – or, for St Kilda fans, get painfully close to achieving something that they may not ever actually achieve in your time. The first drought was 93 years; this one is 50 and counting.

Regardless of how your season is placed at this point of year, there is always some sense of looking forward and some sense of reflection. How, and why, are we here? Where are we going? (And, if you’re lucky enough – is this it?)

Of course, seasons like the one we’ve enjoyed in 2016 aren’t looked back on in true favour until we know that it led to something positive. The 2003 season we look at now with positivity because it was the stepping stone out of the dark ages of the 1997 Grand Final fallout and Tim Watson era, and into the heady days of 2004-onwards in which the eve of every season felt like the eve of a potential premiership tilt. Some proved to be more so than others.

By the end of Sunday the season would become the the third out of 10 we’d finished ninth; all that was left to be revealed was if it was by percentage or by a game. Hindsight’s 20/20 but given we know now it was percentage, the results of the Hawthorn, (first) North Melbourne and Gold Coast games all become that much more poignant.

Nevertheless, it was important that we end the season on a positive note. Plenty of goodwill had been created a on Saturday at the Captain’s Run at Moorabbin, with a massive turnout that demonstrated the growing sense of anticipation at the club and amongst its players generated through this year

Matt, Evan and I were queued up at the Saints Shop sale so we could make our annual purchase of player issue jumpers; we just ended up getting a whole lot more than usual to add to our growing collections. Tim Membrey clash, Seb Ross home and Blacres NAB Cup for me; Paddy clash and Gresh home for Matt, D-Mac home for dad, Josh Bruce clash for Rich, and Mav clash for Evan and David Armitage clash for his brother James.

Dad is a huge fan of D-Mac’s and so for an early Fathers’ Day present we grabbed his player issue home jumper and shoved a bunch of kids on the fence out of the way to make sure we got pole position on the fence to get it signed for him. D-Mac was one of the first players over to the crowd on the fence but quickly realised no one was actually jostling for his signature (unlike Jade Gresham, Josh Bruce and Mav nearby who saluted for Matt, Rich and Evan respectively) and looked a bit flat and was about to walk further along the boundary for someone to recognise who he actually was. However, I chimed in with bloke-ised “Oi, D-Mac” his face lit up. I asked if he could make it out to to my Dad and he very kindly (and neatly) made it out to him with the “Go Saints!” tag as well, and his signature at the top of white panel. Matt and I couldn’t give it to Dad quickly enough afterwards and I’d like to think, ignoring D-Mac’s clear development over the past few weeks anyway, that my visible desperation to get his signature only further boosted his ego and carried him to one of this best matches in his early career on Sunday, and set him on the path for a long, fruitful career at the Saints.

Everyone would have been pretty flat if we dropped this one to arguably the most irrelevant team in the competition. The “Bad News Bears” was one thing but the current version, having a three-peat in its cabinet, is now just a large mess that represents an expansion club from a tacky city that for no particular reason over one the competition’s oldest and historical clubs in Fitzroy, and is slowly taking the Lion down with it.

A pretty free-flowing game – 24 goals to 15, with 14 goals kicked in the last quarter – would prove to be Leppitsch’s last game, but it was probably always going to be no matter the result. It also happened to be the same game that his cousin Brandon White debuted in, and against the side he grew up supporting.

Following the respective trouncings the previous day of fellow also-rans Melbourne and Richmond when the Lions booted two quick early goals you might have thought we were in for a real raffle, with all prior form truly out the door. But the pressure eventually lifted and matched the intent that the pictures from the rooms before the game indicated – each player embracing one another individually, and all players linked together in a circle for some final words from Richo.

Slowly the tide shifted but it wasn’t until My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s brilliant second quarter did we look absolutely sure things.

I’ve said on this thing a few times that a lot of the talk in these reviews isn’t so much focused on the better players. In the past Lenny, Dal and Joey never got a lot of airtime here, and right now our better players are probably getting a bit more of a mention than usual because it’s someone like Blacres or Ross that have shown quite pronounced development or improvement, and it’s a talking point amongst Saints fans. There’s not so much of a point to saying “oh and Nick Riewoldt played well” because no shit, of course he did. I must say, Riewoldt has been mentioned here often so I can just say “My Favourite Hair in the AFL” and because he does so much stuff in general, and this year may be a bit more than usual given his value to the team in his new role. But all those mentions, throughout this year and previous seasons certainly belie what he brings to this club.

I spend far more time talking about Gresh or Ross or Blacres or Membrey than the guy who has effectively led this team from 2005 (2006 under Luke Ball was quite forgettable) and probably has worked harder to develop his game year-on-year than anyone else. And so after a season in which he dropped a bunch of kilos for so he could preserve his knee and play a new role up and around the ground to allow Bruce, Membrey and Paddy to develop their own games, in the final game he pulled out a nine-goal, 26 possession, 21-mark effort. On what was a really relaxed day out at the footy only he could somehow manage to spark a sense of urgency around the ground – the one figure synonymous with the extremes of what should have been a premiership era – the last couple of minutes had the ground wanting goal number 10, but it was fitting that Armo in his 150th would take his shot late when he had it within range and kicked the goal (cheeky smile aside after he took the mark, which had us half-expecting him to pop it over the top to Roo). What will we do without him? We’re not quite ready for him to go – I mean that from a football sense; we’re a better team developmentally with him out there and we’re a better team overall with him out there.

There was a bit of party atmosphere by the end the match. It wasn’t quite the same as 2013, which was tinged with a bit of sadness in what was Milne, Kosi and Jason Blake’s farewell games. I bring that up because the focus was on three guys whose careers we had ridden from start to finish, and for all intents and purposes should have been part of the group that delivered the club its second premiership. However, on that day – against a Fremantle team of mostly second-rate part-timers we recorded the most ever disposals by a team and players lined up for shots at goal at will (Kosi four times after coming on as the sub), with Milne and Blake’s late goals genuinely nice moments (as was Kosi’s poster, which as he revealed recently was known to be a poster only by him and the umpire upstairs before it was overturned).

But on Sunday, Riewoldt’s nine goals was a (rather large) microcosm of the mix of reflection and forward-looking of the day. Assuming his body can hold up, then surely there’s two years left in him. It was somewhere between a reminder of what he’s done for this club – and perhaps what his standing would be had we won a premiership in his time – but also that he’s not done yet. And that was just a starting point to what else Sunday offered – what might be in store longer-term for this club as the younger guys continue their development.

So this was ultimately a party of optimism, knowing that we could bank today and Riewoldt’s nine goals and the performances of Seb Ross, Blake Acres, D-Mac, Jack Newnes and even Brandon White – and everything else that had happened in the last two-thirds of the season – and have the entire off-season rest up and think about all the things that could be in the coming years. We might need that rest, too, because if things develop as we hope they do than at this time next year, and hopefully for a number of years afterwards, we’re gonna be very anxious a lot of the time because we might be nearing something big, or something heartbreaking. The 2004-2011 period, for all sorts of reasons, were nothing if not exhausting.

That said, there’s an energy around the club at the moment. We’re ready to go again. You can see it on the field in the way the players all went to Brandon White after he kicked his goal, you can see it in D-Mac and Blacres naturally finding themselves exactly where they need to be, you can see it in the follow-up work of Membrey and Bruce and even Paddy when he’s out there. You can see it in Jade Gresham dancing through traffic. We don’t know how it all ends for this team, but right now we are at the point of richest optimism, youth and hope before – if plans come to fruition – the future we’ve been waiting for becomes the now.

It’s quite accurate in 2016 to say “Morrissey says a lot of things”. But once he said, “Six months is a long time” (yes, I’m about to relate a Smiths quote to footy). Every season, even if part of a broader journey, is its own story.

Of course, seasons like this aren’t looked back on favour until we know that it led to something positive. The 2003 season we look at now with some positivity because it was the stepping stone out of the dark ages of the 1997 Grand Final fallout and into the heady days of 2004-onwards, in which every season until after the Grand Final Replay represented a potential premiership tilt. Some proved to be more so than others.

Even the heartbreak of 2009 isn’t contextually complete without knowing and acknowledging what happened the following year, and then the difficulties of 2011 onwards – right up until this day, thinking about what happened over the past weekend and thinking about Carlisle returning, thinking about how the young guys will go next year and thinking about what will happen over the trade and draft periods.

We won’t know what all of this counts for a while. But right now – as strange as it feels to say it – feels good. It feels like we’re about to start something.

Bruce, Paddy, Membrey, etc.

Round 9, 2016
St Kilda 2.5, 5.9, 12.10, 16.13 (109)
Essendon 1.4, 4.5, 7.8, 9.9 (63)
Crowd: 29,026 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, May 22nd at 4.40pm

Ah, the Bombers. I’ve written ad nauseum any time they’ve come up on this thing how much grief they’ve give us over the years, no matter what the state of play. At the depths of their oughts misadventures they pulled an arsey win over us in 2005 to put our season on the ropes; and we could only knock them off by three points the following year in the wet at the MCG. In the peak of the GT/Ross decade they knocked us off for our first loss of the season in Round 20 and then twice in 2010.

Strangely, in amongst those we’ve managed to register our two biggest ever wins over them – the 108-point win (which could have been more if not for inaccurate kicking) in the final home and away game of 2008 which snuck us into the top four, and then last year that was eclipsed by a 110-point win, which also featured our equal 13th highest score in 143 years and as it sits our 2nd highest in the past decade. In a season in which both teams were features of the bottom round of the ladder, it was a pleasantly surprising performance and one of the highlights of a season in which green shoots began to emerge, albeit on the sad weekend immediately following the murder of Phil Walsh.

Which brings us to Round 9 of a season in which from a football perspective we’ve supposedly made progress and the Bombers are having a year off as 12 players sit out suspended under WADA sanctions. The thing is, this is the St Kilda and Essendon football clubs we’re talking about, so before we look at last week’s results you know it’s quite possible the Bombers and their fans will be looking at this game as a big opportunity for their second win of the season. If they hadn’t beaten Melbourne I would have been going the big vom on the 55 tram on the way in, but that’s been held over for Saturday’s game against Freo after the Tigers dispatched them in the hurricane at Subi on Saturday night. Just the regulation nausea of any lead up to at Essendon clash then.

Essebdon were treated as winners after getting within reaching distance of the undefeated Kangaroos last week, despite not kicking a goal until the third quarter. A week earlier we were for all intents and purposes running over the top of them, but after that and the win against Melbourne it seemed the group was exhausted and evidently all bar Seb Ross, My Favourite Hair in the AFL and Jade Gresham could be arsed making the trip to Perth. Against an Eagles outfit as dangerous as any other on their respective home turfs calamity duly ensued.

After a 103-point loss you wouldn’t thought that you’d be going into the next two games as favourites but that’s the nature of both this season as well as being a developing side. Realistically, it wouldn’t be the most surprising thing if we dropped both, but that would be some serious slump after a couple of wins and genuinely good showings against premiership fancies in the early part of the season; collectively enough to assume that that’s close enough to the slightly more likely type of side that will run it in Saints colours.

There was freshness to this side that we hadn’t seen before – all of My Favourite Hair, Josh Bruce, Paddy and Membrey playing together for the first time. It won’t happen too many times but it needs to be done before Roo exits, whenever that may be.

Add to that the inclusion of Dan McKenzie and the a chance of Gresham to back up of efforts last week and there was plenty to look forward to through that nausea that accompanies every Essendon clash. Richo had thrown around the confidentiality clause in his pre-weekend presser by naming Paddy as a certain starter and offering Hickey up as “crook” with Holmes to come in if he couldn’t shake off the alleged lurgee, but it wasn’t to be and the Longer/Lewis Pierce/Holmes contest of being closest to the pin continued.

Somehow Jarryn Geary continues to survive and it was a little disappointing to see Sinclair dropped, but time had certainly run out for Lonie. Eli being flown over as an emergency for that tripe didn’t do him any favours to get a stronger look-in after his best-on-ground performance in the VFL against Collingwood outside of AAMI Park a fortnight ago. Acres naturally was dropped, but he’s rarely been able to afford one not-even-that-quiet week in the past, let alone two and an angry singling out by Richo at quarter time that echoed 1990s-style individual pastings from Sheldon and Alves.

I rocked up to the Corporate Dome after trekking across the bridge through a Trevor Barker Oval-style gale whilst Acres, Lonie and Eli were there actually there leading the possession count for the Zebras at half-time. A drink or two at the Locker Room with Matt, Footy’s own Lewis and Evan and his partner Sophie before we headed to our seats. Lewis and I were a little more nervous than the others as we talked missed opportunities of the past just to really get ourselves in the mood.

Let’s get to it – what shouldn’t have been surprising was if we went to the footy on Sunday and saw arguably the worst game we’d seen in years. If last week was bad from a St Kilda perspective, try watching two teams constantly dicking themselves for a half of football in what was a hot, incredibly unsexy mess. Half-time saw nausea beginning to battle apathy in the eventuation of a tight contest towards the end. Fortunately things turned, but it was a draining experience en route.

Hotline Billings began in the backline but it wasn’t until the third quarter when any cohesion across the ground began to appear was it apparent that he was being used as the Port Adelaide 2014 spitter. It worked once or twice I guess and he worked hard across the ground for his 18 possessions but he missed two gettable set shots which would have rounded his game out nicely. He remains in a slump but he simply has to stay in the team – I don’t think too many would argue with that anyway.

Reward for effort has been a bit of a consistent, if background theme for this side this year. The Port Adelaide fade-out could reasonably have been attributed to the one game missed out on in the NAB Challenge, and the Hawthorn and North Melbourne games were sore points for a young side that had thrown everything at much more fancied opposition and not done too much wrong, but had nothing to show for it. The first half was a lesson in this in a different – it was us doing the damage to ourselves going forward that was costing us and wasting the dominance in front-half use and forward-50 entries, a comparison that read 39-17 in our favour at half-time with just 5.7 and an eight-point lead to show for it.

Richo quite rightly pointed out in the post-match that Josh Bruce’s own game was an accurate reflection of the side’s. In the first half he worked hard up and back in what has been something close to My Favourite Hair’s role over the past decade, but wasn’t able to affect too much until Paddy picked him out in the pocket late in the half with a perfectly-weighted kick, and Bruce returned the favour with a strong mark and stepped off his line snap the goal. This came after in the first quarter he’d dashed out ahead of everyone for what should have been a straightforward completion of a counterattacking goal but Geary botched the long kick, which only vaguely needed to favour him, but forced him out too wide and Ambrose ran him down. In the second half he was the recipient of a short pass in the back half of the centre square which he duly dropped, unmarked, and in his embarrassment tried a little too hard in finding the ball, spinning out of trouble (or attempting to), and finding a target further up the ground in the form of blazing away and kicking straight to an Essendon player. Soon afterwards he found himself on his own with the ball in just forward of centre and decided to kick it as long as he could to an Essendon player.

The tone had been set by Gresh in the first few minutes, who picked up where he left off. One of the few players who visibly showed any fight against the Eagles, he was busy early but after showing some composure with the ball in hand as he looked for options high on the flank; he found one short, only to fluff the kick, which he followed up only minutes later with the fluffing of what should have been another easy hit-up in the forward-50. He started the second quarter in a similar fashion – he certainly wasn’t the only offender – and might be running out of a little puff in this stint in the seniors but he had the opportunity at times throughout the game to experience the responsibility of being in the middle for the centre bounce. Lonie finished with 28 touches and four goals and Templeton 30 touches, so dare say at least one of those will be coming in next week. It’s tempting to give Lonie another week or two to really drive home that he needs to earn his spot but he’s obviously a step above VFL level and next week is the state league representative match against the SANFL so there’ll be no hit-out for them if they’re selected. Gresh might make way for the fresher legs anyway given next Saturday against Freo is a match coming off a Perth trip and then a six-day break, which might be a bit much for the first-year player. It’s worth pointing out here that Sam Gilbert collected less than 10 possessions for the third time this year so, uh, yeah.

Riewoldt made his presence felt all the way up and down the ground and as Michael Gleeson pointed out in his report for The Age, this was the first time since Round 24, 2011 that we won a game without Riewoldt kicking a goal. The second half – in particular, the third quarter – may well prove to be the first step in the handing over of the keys to the St Kilda forward line, but until then Roo was working hard just outside the arc to keep the ball inside the front half for little return as everyone from Gresh to, frustratingly, Joey were shanking entries.

The first half, really, had two highlights – Seb Ross and Jack Steven. Seb Ross is somehow nearly our best player now. I don’t know what the hell happened but I was royally incorrect about him. The full pre-season has done him wonders and allowed him to be fit enough to take a big step step up and be able to his natural ability across the ground and in different situations; whether it’s in tight, whether he’s the first kick out of congestion or when he’s hitting up a leading opponent. His disposal has improved incredibly and he’s proven himself to be a very, very natural footballer. Throughout Sunday he simply knew where to be at all times, and arguably the highlight of his game was when he drifted forward, stopped to evade one Bomber, and off a step snap a curling goal under pressure from another. That he finished with 37 possessions not only reflected how much of the ball he had, but how much value and presence he gave the team with his considered disposal.

Jack Steven was the other and he had 40 touches by the time Sandringham’s own Mitch Brown snuck through his fourth goal just before the final siren. Whilst some mention must go to Armo for really lifting halfway through the second quarter when it became apparent that the side was in danger of becoming disenchanted with the waste of effort, it was Ross and Steven that really kept things going in the engine room to at least have us with some sort of lead and to have kept Essendon to four goals for the half.

Actually there was a third highlight and it was Sam Fisher’s falcon.

Half-time was beer time. The aforementioned nausea vs apathy battle was raging as we sat back in our seats with a new Carlton. We were on the precipice of losing to Essendon, it seemed, whose fans had been brought into the game and who we might have to deal with afterwards, and with faux-enforcer Baguley of all people threatening to be the X-factor for the Dons across half-forward the Shame Alert was extreme.

Again it was Matt who provided some sort of footballing wisdom that I’m not capable of and said it was more likely the Saints would break it open in the quarter. What would need to take place for that to happen was, fortunately, something that could have been changed with a simple half-time message/bake from Richo and that was to simply lower the eyes with the footy in hand and for the forwards to make sure they were providing viable goalscoring options. We were certainly more likely on weight of inside-50 and time in forward half numbers along and the Bombers struggles to hit targets as much as we did, and had a lot less of a threatening forward line set-up (Baguley’s ever-annoying presence notwithstanding). But I don’t think anyone thought we would be witness to a quarter of football that on its own may have kickstarted the core operations of our forward line for up to the next decade.

When the three-quarter time siren sounded it ended a quarter in which Bruce, Paddy and Membrey had kicked seven goals between them. There were several highlights to choose from, among those Bruce being the beneficiary again of some slick Paddy work. Paddy was up and about after nailing a huge set shot after timing his movement perfectly to the 50-metre arc was the ball came down from a quick turnover in the square, and then he’d executed a classic full-forward’s lead from deep in attack as Steven charged through the middle and sent it to him perfectly and followed it up with another goal. Worth pointing out here that Paddy got a lot hugs from teammates as celebrations rather than your Nick Riewoldt high-fives as he charges back to centre-half forward post-sausage circa 2005-2010.

But Paddy’s disguised kick to Bruce as he feigned a run up from the point of the arc on the boundary line really showed both the quality and maturity of his football nous. He doesn’t get huge numbers – they were his only three possessions in the quarter – but when he gets it he’s either worked hard to be in a good position or he does something good with it, or both. From what had been probably the most frustrating game to watch – the week previous perhaps ahead, actually – for the year had turned into something incredibly exciting. The movement from the forwards was smart and the delivery was finally for more considered, and we had three cornerstones of our future putting on a clinic. It helped that they were kicking straight as well; Membrey turned his 1.3 at half-time to 3.3 by quarter’s end, having got onto the end of a clever Roo entry off the captain’s left foot and then displaying his aerial capabilities as Luke Dunstan planted a kick from a clearance perfectly between to Essendon defenders for him to spring up to. Just like the Melbourne and North Melbourne games, he demonstrated his versatility in being able to find the ball in dangerous positions in different ways – a contested mark, a big leap and a handy lead was how he got his three goals – but he also worked hard on the wings, which his tally of nine marks reflected.

Paddy likewise; he finished with 10 marks in his most impressive performance by a long way. The decision to drop him back to the VFL and freshen him up certainly paid off as he moved more comfortably and smoothly than we’d seen him. His deft tap of high-bouncing ball over to Joey running past in the forward pocket to set up Hickey in the last quarter was the icing on his cake.

By game’s end the trio had kicked 10.5 and had 24 marks between them. Bruce, after arguably his worst half – aside from his strong mark to do justice for Paddy’s good work in the second quarter – somehow finished with five goals. The lift from Dunstan, Armo and even guys like Savage and Billings in the third to complement Ross and Steven helped enormously, and Roo’s presence up the ground went up again. He finished with 24 touches and the fact he could be so effective across the ground allowed for something necessary and productive to happen.

Of course, this probably isn’t going to happen every week. We’ve got a winless Freo next week and given the bizarre history between the two clubs anything can happen, let alone whatever may happen as we continue to wrestle with this development phase. But on Sunday, when it looked like we’d dug ourselves into a hole, we feel like the players worked hard to get themselves out of it and banked something genuinely exciting – not just for the sake of the day, but for how we feel about where this club is going.

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 9
Seb Ross – 3
Jack Steven – 3
Josh Bruce – 2
Tim Membrey – 2
Luke Dunstan – 1
Paddy McCartin – 1

Totals
Nick Riewoldt – 15
Jack Steven – 14
Seb Ross – 9
Leigh Montagna – 8
Jack Newnes – 6
David Armitage – 5
Tom Hickey – 5
Jack Billings – 4
Sam Fisher – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Tim Membrey – 4
Blake Acres – 3
Josh Bruce – 3
Shane Savage – 2
Sean Dempster – 1
Jade Gresham – 1
Paddy McCartin – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1
Mav Weller – 1

Acres and Membrey do heaps of good stuff

Round 6, 2016
Melbourne 5.3, 8.3, 11.5, 15.6 (96)
St Kilda 3.4, 9.9., 17.11, 20.15 (135)
Crowd: 27,260 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, April 30 at 1.45pm

So for all intents and purposes Saturday was to be the day that Melbourne broke two long-standing droughts – their first win against the Saints since 2006 and their first win at Etihad since 2007. Who else other than the Saints to provide such a wonderful opportunity for so much relief and joy in the one hit? Mmm yeah. *Edit* But it wasn’t until Tuesday morning after the game I realised that they’d knocked off the Giants at the Corporate Dome in the last game of last year, so I guess I was running on a distracting and distorting cocktail of cynicism and, uh, cynicism.

Our disappointing showing against GWS made the performances against Collingwood and the Hawks seem like distant memories and the Dees had won back-to-back games for the first time in half a decade and were ready to show they were taking the next step beyond the muddling, bumbling teams around them, including ourselves. The time was right.

To make things more poetic the build-up in the week featured the revelation that it was to be Christian Petracca’s first game, 18 months after being selected in pick number 2 and an ACL injury; more pointedly following much public toing and froing by Trout et al as to whether the Saints would pick him or Paddy McCartin at number 1 in the 2014 draft.

By that draft week I was completely sold on Petracca. He was the explosive midfield bull our midfield needed going into the future, with midfield depth one of our key concerns going forward although by the end of 2014 just about everything was a concern. Concensus seemed to be he would be our number one choice, too.

But Paddy didn’t have the Tom Boyd or Jonathan Patton wraps of key forwards that had gone number 1 before him, nor of the day’s other looming nemesis Jesse Hogan. When it leaked early in draft week we were going with Paddy I must admit I did have to readjust my excitement levels.

At this early stage, and through all the whispers and innuendo since draft time Paddy is considered to be the more professional of the two and the one with greater leadership qualities. At the very least, I feel more confident that he is the professional individual the club has touted him to be. It wasn’t really until a few moments in his few games this year to date that McCartin showed some really improved dynamics in his game – whether it was the pack-busting marks at full speed or the hard leads deft turns high up the ground. It’s a shame he’s found himself struggling to string several games together without some kind of injury happening. I know the the diabetes thing has been floating around a fair bit but again, for now anyway, that just seems to be innuendo and an easy shot at people professing to have some sort of.

But I always thought Petracca’s gamestyle and his bubbly/boyish/confident/whatever personality struck me as the kind of player that would tear us a new one forevermore, for as long as he was a Melbourne Dee and we were the St Kilda Football Club. Thirty-plus possessions and three goals each time to torment us for not picking him. I dare say we’ll always have “Ball ahead of Judd” in the back of our minds, not to mention he’s gone to a team that just might represent one of our biggest threats to a premiership should our long-term development go as planned.

And what did the Saints do this week? “Managed” Paddy out of the team, with the official line being he needed a week off after his hamstring and concussion hits so far this year. Poetically there was something cynical about this move, like our match committee fully expected Petracca was fully expected by the match committee to dominate and kick a sealing goal as Melbourne hit party time in the last, and they needed to protect Paddy from being out there and taking it personally after five good touches in the first quarter and then fading fast.

More pragmatically, he’s here for ideally a long time and so to see him “managed” this week shouldn’t be cause for too much concern for anyone, particularly considering the concussion wasn’t due to a Kosi-style haphazardness but rather a pack-busting mark going back with the ball telling of the type of player he is, which he followed up the week after a key moment in the game (albeit without the goal to finish).

After all that I’d nabbed Melboure at $1.80 after they opened up a little lighter. I couldn’t resist. They were due and we’d be shown up something royal the previous week. I certainly wasn’t expecting Paddy to have at least temporarily lost his spot by game’s end. But if they haven’t won at Etihad by the next time we play them in Round 17 then back I’ll be backing them again.

A couple of coffees at my de facto home/office McIvers North on a beautiful Melbourne autumn morning to get things moving and set up the mind for a day void of high hopes but rather a nice social outing in the Medallion Club with Matt and Evan. I left at 11.30; it was time to meet Matt early for beverages. “I’m off to watch St Kilda lose” were my parting words to owner Cath. She couldn’t care less either way but I needed to articulate it to someone somehow.

The Medallion Club doesn’t particularly hold good memories for me so our rare vantage point from the corporate seats just reinforced the feeling of dread and inevitability. A mid-2005 loss to a lowly Essendon that put us in crisis mode, but indeed turned around our season around; black hole losses to Richmond and West Coast as the 2014 season was lowered into the ground halfway through the year and then the Schneider poster special of last year against Essendon again.

Whilst they weren’t all day games in typical Corporate Concrete Dome fashion the roof had been closed every time I’d been there. Saturday was a beautiful Melbourne Autumn day featuring two teams with a combined 301 years of history and of course, the roof was closed. The word on the roof came through on the Twitter machine late in the morning whilst I was  on the tram in so I had ample time to ready myself to sit in a section that thought it had the weight of centuries of its own history behind it that the MCC actually does, alas it doesn’t have quite the outdated pomp which sees it employ elderly grumpy people in fun blazers who pine for the day of ladies’ tickets.

My afternoon plans of a no-stress but still deflating social outing were off to a comfortable start when Membrey took off where he left us in 2015 by not leading up to the ball and hitting it on the move from a good kick from 2018-2022 Premiership Captain Jack Newnes. This year the field kicking seems to be a lot more reliable – Newnes, Savage, Sinclair, Dunstan, Ross, maybe Steven; it’s not a total calamity with ball in hand this year around.

Either way, Hogan had not just the first but the first two goals within a few minutes and with typically no one in the corporate section of the Corporate Dome we’d settled in with our padded seats and drink holders. I’m probably being harsh on the Medallion Club here because on level two of the pocket opposite us there were several bays highlighting the disdain non Etihad-tenants hold for the stadium and the disdain Saints fans have for away games even at their home ground. Ticketek, or Ticketmaster, or whoever the fuck obviously didn’t even both releasing the seats to the public.

Things opened up after haphazard disposal a neat chain of Steven and my Favourite Hair in the AFL found Membrey who ended with our first goal but it was a rare clean moment early in the game. Roo and Bruce spoiled each other in a marking contest close to goal, went up the other end for Watts to miss. If Jack Watts had kicked a goal like then my cynicism alert would have exploded, but they’d end up 17 points up late in the first term with Bugg’s goal being annoying enough. No sign yet of a Petracca dominance though.

It was around this time Acres started to really get involved. After a few games where he’s racked up decent numbers but found himself straight back at the Zebras it’s’ safe to say he won’t be dropped this week. The closest St Kilda parallel is that he’s this generation’s Brendon Goddard; finding the ball all around the ground, able to generate play, make space and finish things off. He’s always looked like a natural footballer but yesterday he really showed it off. He was in right spots several times to be part of scoring chains; his reading of the ball in the pocket in from the short throw in in the second quarter and snap goal was a real highlight in a game in which his biggest influence came in the second and third quarters in which we really made our move.

If anything he looks more sure of himself now than Goddard did at this early point in his career. Goddard was one of the closest things we had to a whipping boy in the 2004/2005 tilt and whilst he was obviously very talented it was an exponential improvement upon coming back from the knee he did in early 2007 that gave him the reputation he has today. I’m certainly not saying he’ll be as good or whatnot, but for Saints fans the type of player Goddard was for us provides something of a template.

The fact that he was been able to come straight back into the team and play that kind of game – and finish with two goals the highest numbers of any Saint if you wanted some sort of empirical proof as to his influence – reflects his natural ability and that he’s willing to back himself despite the dual personal setbacks in a short space of time. A NAB Rising Star nomination to top things off and all of a sudden we’re feeling a lot better about the “other” early pick from the 2013 draft.

Blacres’ partner-in-crime who I thought who really got things moving as the game shifted gears in the second quarter was Jack Sinclair, who right now is probably our best small forward. Lonie might get his chance to come back into the team next week following three goals and 33 possessions for the Zebras but he had gone largely missing in the fortnight or so prior, and Minchington on the weekend probably ran out of a little steam as far as his current run in the seniors goes. His seven tackles last week against the Giant masked his small numbers otherwise but on Saturday he didn’t quite have the same presence off the ball. I don’t quite count Billings in here because he’s graduated to playing a more sophisticated role with forays high up the ground (though I’ll get that in a second).

It was just after Acres was involved before Dunstan’s nice finish that Sinclair helped to set up Roo and then kicked a great goal of his own, taking on the play off the 50 metre arc, and his snap goal in the third was very deft.

One thing he has done this year, in a similar vein to Billings, is press up the ground more. He’s not spending a heap of time up there but he seems to know when it’s required. His field kicking is probably underrated too, and his pressure off the ball is consistent. The more performances he churns out like this the more remarkable it is that we picked him up in a rookie draft because we’d already drafted his mate.

A surprise in a different sort of way is the continuing good form of Seb Ross, which for me has echoes of Josh Bruce’s breakout year last year simply because I never expected it to happen. Bruce looked and still does look like the last-second fill-in for your futsal team, whilst on the other hand Seb just looked like a B-grade midfielder with an unremarkable frame and a bad haircut. But so far this year Jobe’s cousin has made me look like the whinging blog hack that I am, finding plenty of the ball and using it very smartly whether it’s been in close (most of the time) or in space.

It was a game in which we didn’t particularly dominate the stoppages, despite Hickey mostly negating man of the moment Max Gawn, but rather created turnovers via pressure in general play, which Richo alluded to in the post-match presser. It’s where guys like Ross, Steven, Armo and Dunstan looked at their best, not mention Acres and Sinclair registering five tackles, and even Minchington also.

By the time they’d run out for the second half things had really clicked, and by the three-quarter time siren we’d kicked 14.7 in two quarters. With a clumsy Josh Bruce roaming around – albeit one that finished with three goals – and no McCartin the forward line was anchored by the evergreen Roo and, of all people, Tim Membrey.

Roo is, in a way, but not an totally accurate one, in Brownlow form. Multiple goals and 20-plus possessions every week should see you get votes every time, but I have no idea if he keep this up for a year. But what are you going to do, just begrudge for not being the incredibly dynamic, well-haired player he’s been so far this year? He’s getting it done all around the ground and if he can stay fit enough – and by that I mostly mean if his knee or calf don’t give way and he can stop himself from getting knocked out regularly – then there’s no reason why he shouldn’t play in 2017. I’ve said before on here I spend more time talking about guys who are either playing poorly or who are emerging, because what else is there to say about a Nick Riewoldt that hasn’t already been said and that we don’t already know? FFS I hope he gets another finals tilt.

On the other hand, Membrey is the other, other forward that you think is good for a goal or two in the first half before fading away and you forget he’s out there until he gets a cheap possession late in the game when it’s well and truly. But something clicked on the weekend or his tattoos started working or something because he ended up with five freaking goals. One of the pleasing things was that he got from a lot of different avenues – on the break, finding space for a lead goaling from a mark, or following up a contest and snapping a goal. Between him and Acres there was plenty of novelty new guy excitement, and as I said, he just might have kept a number one draft pick out of the team. But we have to remember he hasn’t turned 22 yet and Saturday was just his 14th game. I’m not going to be expecting him to kick five next week but unless he was just making a Beau Maister club appearance we now know some of the things he’s capable of.

The moment that probably summed up the game best was Newnes pressure, steal and goal in the third quarter after Jack Viney took a mark and played on in our forward line. It was aggressive and the goal out of mid-air was a flashy finish and it all looked great but it was the intent that punctuated it. The showing against GWS was incredibly disappointing and like the follow up to the similarly droll loss to the Bulldogs there was a real sense of wanting to atone for the poor performance. There’s been six games now and we can say confidently that at least half of them have been played with a real sense of purpose and pride and in what the club and its personnel are trying to build and achieve. We’ve waited a while for those times in which you can say, that’s what we’ve been looking for in the younger guys, or from this team who’s next serious premiership tilt won’t feature the more senior players but rather the kids. It’s not the leap to an entirely new level just yet – that’s still some time away – but for the first time in what seems a long time it feels like we’re seeing the right signs.

Redwhiteandblack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 5
Blake Acres – 3
Nick Riewoldt – 3
Tim Membrey – 2
Jack Sinclair – 1
Jack Steven – 1

Totals
Nick Riewoldt – 10
Jack Steven – 9
Jack Newnes – 6
David Armitage – 5
Leigh Montagna – 5
Jack Billings – 4
Tom Hickey – 4
Blake Acres – 3
Seb Ross – 3
Sam Fisher – 2
Tim Membrey – 2
Shane Savage – 2
Josh Bruce – 1
Sean Dempster – 1
Sam Gilbert – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1
Mav Weller – 1

Take a breath

2016 NAB Challenge, Game 3 – Melbourne vs St Kilda

Ok right so wow, yeah, cool. We did it. We made it. It’s done, it’s over, the NAB Challenge gone, and now we can let the arduous torture that is following the St Kilda Football Club when it really counts begin again.

With last week’s cancellation and the first game hidden away in regional Victoria, St Kilda fans have mostly had slow and stilted waking up from the off-season slumber. Yesterday wasn’t really the shortform “arduous torture” that defines the NAB Cup overall. A beautiful autumn day, a few beers with brother Matt in some choice seats on the wing and nothing riding specifically on the game makes for a pretty cruisey long weekend Sunday. The game was free-flowing enough, with some good intensity here and there, some different jumpers – which I’ll cover in full in the coming weeks in what’s set to be a bumper 2016 St Kilda Jumper State of the Union – and the hilarity that often comes with St Kilda players attempting to execute basic possessions. “Everyone loves playing with him”, says the Saints’ site about Jarryn Geary, except for when you’re presenting anywhere between zero and 25 metres away when he’s got the footy.

Billings’s first quarter was the undoubted highlight. Three goals, including one from what’s quickly becoming a trademark long-distance shot off his trusty left boot. Billings is the kind of player that St Kilda never seems to have had, even in the more successful periods. Incredibly slick, incredibly intuitive, and will create and kick goals from anywhere at will. It’s the kind of player that seems to have been reserved onyl for Hawthorn and the Cats over the last decade particularly. Watching him and Lonie up forward – and hopefully Sinclair, assuming he quickly gets over his emerging case of second-year blues – will be very exciting. Lonie was very busy off the ball, throwing around his more solid frame around and threw in some sharp possession as well. Whilst Billings went quiet after his purple patch Lonie encouragingly managed to stay in the play for most of the match (also worth noting his post-match interview, like Billings has displayed with less excited various mouth noises, showed a very different person to the small child we drafted 16 or so months ago). Eli, Sinclair and Saunders were all left out of the team, but Eli’s and Saunders’ omissions didn’t have anyone leaving the ground wishing they’d got to have a cheeky peak at either before the season proper.

Possibly for the first time ever on a footy field My Favourite Hair in the AFL looked a little bit lost in his run in the high up the ground during the first half, at times looking for easy balls out the back. It took him dropping into defence at ties to add some stability to get himself into the game, but by the second half it was something that really began to click and prove to be something worth pursuing, particularly on the break when there was a turnover from Melbourne’s attack. His tight calf/whatever it was caused panic for all footy jumper aficionados – if it’s the MRV jumper as well, do they make the MRV game a different week? The same as the 50th Anniversary of the Premiership? What if they planned a jumper for that week as well? And so on, but he’s probably fine and we (I) look forward to holding our breath every time he’s near the footy in Adelaide.

That second half saw Bruce, Hickey and Riewoldt go through the forward line with Paddy still unavailable. Holmes came on for the second half and I thought it would have been a straight swap for Hickey, but Hickey looked vaguely more competent roaming around in the forward line after struggling to keep up with Friend of RWB Max Gawn* around the ground in the first half (*Anyone who Matt knows.). Holmes looked a lot more like an Australian Rules footballer than he did eight months ago and judging by Richo’s comments will be the rookie that is elevated to the list in place of Carlisle. His quicker, more considered reaction and increased physical presence immediately after the ruck contests was the clearest indication he’s made some progress.

Holmes’ elevation might be necessary because Billy Longer is slowly recovering from having his shoulder done last year and is still in the “getting beaten by Lewis Pierce” phase of his rehab. It also allows Hickey to drift forward and look more comfortable. Bruce looked pretty strong around the forward line for his 2.2, taking some really nice marks and applying effective albeit still treacle-slow pressure, so with Roo up the ground it might be a rotating cast of Hickey, Paddy and Roo around Bruce as the tall forwards for much of the year. Membrey came on in the third term and immediately looked spritely in some tough back-to-back contest but then disappeared just as quickly.

Roo indeed went to the forward line in the last quarter as the call came through from Finnis suggesting a win might be good for memberships. Melbourne were the ones who ran out the game best though; for all the good work of Steven, Armo and somehow Seb Ross the Dees had Oliver, Jones, Tyson, Salem and Bugg matching it in close and feeding it out to get things going their way. If it wasn’t for Jesse Hogan’s performance piece about life and loss the margin could have been a lot more. Mav looks great and handsome with the headband and all but FFS if you’re charging out of the middle in space it shouldn’t be a task to hit a forward on a clear lead. For this, I will leave it to a direct quote from the text my RWB cohort Richie sent me earlier today: “He’s got all the physical tools, but come on – just be good at football? It’s almost like…he and Curren should have a tailored pre-season where they’re just playing games. No gym.”

I’m not banking on Curren doing anything of substance anytime soon, and Freeman is a long way away so it helps that Montagna is still looking very solid. A couple of guys also worth mentioning in a more positive light her are Gresham and Acres. Gresham already looks comfortable at this level – you could almost have him in the Billings category in terms of guys that are just that good and step in and make an impact, and Acres’ presence grew as the game wore on; the point being is that when he does get the ball, he’s more composed and he’s making pretty good choices with it. His more solid frame helps with that too, because he’s getting the ball all around the ground and in a number of different types of contests. Roberton likewise, and there’ll be plenty of scope to talk about him throughout the season because yesterday really was encouraging but perhaps only caught the eye because he shaved his ‘ead.

Resident hard-arse Nathan Wright has been almost entirely forgotten at times but he was hard to ignore yesterday. Firstly he was wearing a glove, so some immediate novelty points there, and he was back to his no-regard-for-his-safety approach we’ve seen intermittently before he inevtiably gets injured. Geary goes hard at contests, sure, and “everyone loves playing with him”, but Wright will put himself in positions on the ground and in the air with no concern as to how he’s going to brace himself for the impact with the oncoming player or the ground on the way down.

What else to take out of it? Even much of the aforementioned faff preceding this sentence carries the asterisk of “it’s the NAB Challenge”. Gilbert playing the middle. Cool. Newnes playing in the middle, too. Sure. Seb Ross with 28 possessions. Uh huh. We won’t remember this game for any particular reason over the coming years; it was a a nice day out to tide us over after the previous week’s wash-out. It was a practice run for ourselves, too. Footy season, psychologically and its day-to-day machinations, is a way of life and it was a chance to remind ourselves of the pre-match preparations and quiet, tired Sunday train rides home. Take next weekend off, and then it’s time to do it all again.

Still that thing you remember

2016 NAB Challenge, Game 2

The genuine, provable exceptionalism that applies to the St Kilda Football Club is one that has been mostly of its own making, but with more than enough added fire and brimstone from the footballing gods. Some footballing atheism does need apply here to keep a Saint sane (enough).

Some easy, recent examples: a goal umpire bemusingly calling a clear Tom Hawkins poster in the 2009 Grand Final a goal; the bounce of the ball from Lenny Hayes’ desperate forward foray one year later. Where we all need to focus here ultimately, are elsewhere – if we put our destiny back within our own autonomy and take the will of the gods out of it, then we needed to kick straight in that crucial second quarter of the 2009 final stanza as we made our move (not to mention the final quarter); in 2010 no matter where Lenny’s kick bounced – whether through for a goal via luck or Stephen Milne – there’s still time on the clock for anything to happen. Again, this is not to mention the ball bouncing the other way and Milne’s opponent running off with it with Collingwood one point up – just as likely as either the ball bouncing through for a goal, or the outcome that did transpire. And again, if we’d stayed in touch in the second quarter rather than let their lead blow out, the challenge that presented itself in the second half would have been significantly reduced.

But these are moments in history reserved for a different time of year. For conversations throughout the finals series, and more pointedly, Grand Final week when we become reflective and think about where the game has led us to on the eve of the pending season’s showdown. Right now, we’re still waking up from the off-season and getting used to thinking about on-field matters – new players, player and team development, interchange rotation changes, whatever it might be, rather than the arduous grabbing at fark-knows-what for stories and content in the hotter months.

However, this is the St Kilda Football Club we’re here to whinge about, and football atheist or not let’s take this to the modern-day pre-season, in which the weather’s played some weird games with us specifically in this decade in a specifically otherwise forgettable format of the game.

The Saints and Lions have met several times in the pre-season in the past ten pre-seasons inclusive (surely there’s a weird conspiracy there but that’s one for the actual authoritarians on this level). Three out of three played up north in that time took place in novelty football Queensland locations (the Gold Coast still qualified for this in 2009) in either the wet or ridiculous heat, and so it was probably only a matter of time (maybe some football atheism required here) in which scheduling a match in a near-tropical part of a climatically unstable (and growing more unstable) planet would result in tonight’s, uh, result: nothing, because there was way too much extreme weather.

The irony here is that the only way this game could have received less attention would be if it actually went ahead – 3.40pm on a Sunday in Mackay (local time) in early March technically doesn’t even exist in the VFL/AFL world, let alone as a black hole time-and-place in the season proper. As recent history would suggest, throw St Kilda into the mix though and the weather will follow. This, more specifically, is where the football gods would come into it and you can’t do much about it.

In 2010, when the competition was in its final year as a straight-up knockout competition, it was St Kilda and stranger-than-fiction bedfellows Fremantle who almost had their semi-final cancelled because a sudden storm damaged Corporate Stadium enough to at least postpone the match after thorough ground checks and the teams ran out and began the game in an empty stadium. Two years later, the pre-constant headline Bombers had their Cessnas (I guess?) turned back because of stormy weather, and the Saints (half of them in Murray Bushrangers jumpers) ended up playing a rain-soaked intra-club match.

Two years later (sensing any patterns?), the weather came along again just before ran out to play against the Bulldogs in Geelong for some reason; on this occasion the game actually went ahead and the heavy conditions gave us two Eli Templeton specials on which he still largely pins his reputation to.

And so, two years later, here we are again – definitely not wet, because we were nowhere near it – but matchless and with an extra two or so hours in our lives all of a sudden. Football gods or whatever your divine beliefs may be, wtf. The only takeaway here is that whether it’s after five months of waiting for the season or 50 years for a premiership (or 93 for those that were there from the start), no matter what we do this is still unmistakably the St Kilda Football Club.