James Gwilt Posts

We need to talk irrationally about Holmes, Savage, et al.

Round 21, 2015
St Kilda 5.4, 8.7, 11.9, 14.13 (97)
Geelong Cats 5.1, 9.2, 13.4, 15.7 (97)
Crowd: 25,245 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, August 22nd at 7.20pm

Any close game, and more so a draw, will inevitably have everyone taking out their science starter kit microscopes with the bacteria images already printed onto the slides and declaring how either side got dicked because of one or two easily digestible scapegoats.

So let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way, namely Shane Savage. In Lonie’s absence he did his best Schneider impression and frittered away a chance to put us up by 10 points well into time-on, and then put us in front by five points with 14 seconds left from close range – this depressingly St Kilda-like repeat offending, eerily similar to Schneider’s efforts late in Round 5 against the Bombers.

The difference was, it was Savage that was responsible for the already infamous Stevie J tackle as the latter was waltzing into an open goal, headchecked to the left but gave nothing to the right sideview. Was he changing to the left? He could afford himself a smile as he got up afterwards though, because he’s played in three premierships, and one of them was against us. And what did he do just a couple of minutes after that? He snapped a brilliant goal on his left from the pocket. (He also kicked a goal from the just on the goal line in the third quarter into the goal umpire’s face.)

The Cats I feel have flown under the radar as a difficult team for us historically (I’m talking beyond the last 10-15 years). Until perhaps the early 90s signalled the earliest of a changing club at Moorabbin, it was the VFL overall win-loss records we had against teams like Carlton, Collingwood and Essendon that demonstrated everyone liked to comprehensively beat up on us.

Even that 1991 tilt ended with a seven-point loss to the Cats, and in the 95th season marked just the second time we had ever played them in a final. Appropriately last night finished at 97-97. Thanks to Wayne Carey and Ken McIntyre’s final 8 system for clowns, it’s been lost to history that in 1997 it was only percentage that separated ourselves at the top of the ladder from Geelong, and they had beaten us comfortably at the Cattery during the year.

Not much needs to be said about the rivalry of the aughts between the two clubs, other than to say last night was the first St Kilda home match against the Cats at Etihad Stadium since Round 14, 2009, when the two teams ran out onto the ground each at 13-0. Scores were level until Michael Gardiner’s huge mark and goal with just over a minute left, but in the Grand Final it would be one goal the difference the other way when the siren sounded (and before Max Rooke added further icing). For a few minutes early in time-on in the second quarter last night the scoreboard showed 7.7 to 7.1, the half-time score of 2009 decider.

The Saints actually beat the Cats twice in 2010, and the Qualifying Final was the first time the Saints had beaten them in a final. Motlop’s disallowed goal was in a remarkably similar spot and at a crucial time compared with that of Ling’s in the final minute of that match, after Mooney had landed in Gwilt’s back. Which brings us into the umpiring decisions that both sides will feel cruelled them. Chris Scott was whinging about the Motlop decision but conveniently neglected to mention Gregson running a casual 100 metres over the mark when Mav had the ball just outside 50 in the last minute. Then you can say well, lucky the siren went with J Murdoch running towards goal to signal three-quarter time. But then, Sav should have kicked those goals late. But he did save that goal – one great moment in one his better games – as Stevie J was walking in. Although maybe Newnes and Ross didn’t kick their shots earlier whilst their defenders Taylor and Mackie did. And you could also talk about Jack Steven’s involvement in a couple of chains that led to Geelong kicking goals. Or Luke Dunstan just totally not kicking the ball on the goal line.

All of that in itself should show that this is the kind of game that rewards doing the rights things en masse throughout a match rather than an arsey moment or two. Whilst this game wasn’t the pick of the weekend there were so many remarkable moments to stew over, to rue, to – pun intended – draw on.

Undeniably the focus coming into the game was on Jason Holmes, or as too many people kept calling him last night, “Johnny” (yes, we get it). Jason has had plenty of media time over the past couple of years – let alone the huge attention on the college comps that he was a part of  – but you’ve come a long way when you’re the guy being interviewed by Cameron Ling post-match after two hours of BT yelling and Darc sort-of-but-not-really nailing the right tone of voice for a play-by-play commentator.

You’ve also come a long when you’re an ex-college basketballer with a brother playing in the NFL and you’re fronting a media conference in Seaford with whichever journos could be arsed making the trip. The fact that he said “I’d love to have a crack at that” suggests he’s embraced the experience, and the fact that he said he’s working on his “craft” suggests he’s coached by Alan Richardson.

At least it was beyond speculation this time. This time he knew it was real, that he’d be playing this weekend. That this wasn’t a windy oval next to the beach, this was the real deal, to be broadcast probably on ESPN17 along with competitions based entirely on the Dodgeball and Baseketball films, and perhaps some highlights this week on sports discussion shows with guys who have never heard of the sport.

It’s not quite the same level as Matthew Lappin playing for the Gold Coast reserves yesterday, but if you were told at the start of last year that he’d be playing AFL footy in 2015 then you’d surely have thought the season had turned to such shit any feel-good story was a non-negotiable.

Not long after Sanford Wheeler was toiling away in Sydney during the Swans’ darker years, the AFL produced this ad with international sporting identities talking up Aussie Rules (and the short, etc.). Holmes’ debut seems to have bridged that gap in a big way. The Irish influx has edged us towards the mentality that we’re after anyone and everyone now – although that standards for Australian athletes-before-footballers are now highly benchmarked by Mark Blicavs.

The support acts indeed were the return of opposing ruckman Nathan Vardy (and him working in tandem with Blicavs, with Stanley out for the season) and Geelong looking bolster their finals chances. In the end J Holmes and Stevie J, for obviously wildly different reasons, were amongst the bigger stories

Holmes looked like he’d aerobically blown up through the second quarter, after his second centre bounce leap particularly had everyone just about jumping out of their seats and rushing onto the ground to shake his hand. His lead on the wing and mark was greeted by something louder than if Savage had have kicked either of his shots in the last minutes, as was the resulting kick. His tackle on Guthrie was huge and it was his follow-up work in the centre bounce led to Hickey’s goal in the third quarter.

But he got caught out around the ground a number of times. Vardy ran him ragged off the ball and a couple of times got to a dangerous position near goal. At one point in the second quarter Holmes was left to pick up Stevie J at high half-forward – something which shouldn’t have happened and wasn’t his fault – and Stevie J was able to run forward by himself as the Cats went into attack but the ball didn’t fall his way. This was just after Holmes had gone the tap behind from a throw-in to Roo who didn’t break stride (but kicked it out on the full). But that short period alone would have been very instructive.

Richo said after the game that we’d kicked 9.2 to 2.1 from stoppages, alluding to Holmes’ presence being the reason why we were so dominant in the hit-outs and stoppages overall. Holmes finished with 34 hit-outs out of 54 for the Saints, with the Cats getting 32. Fair to say the quality of the some of the tap-outs was superior to those of Longer and Hickey. But whilst Longer has increased his presence across the ground through the year and Hickey has done some really good things up forward (including last night), Holmes for now has very little presence around the ground. Two things; neither did Billy most weeks until mid-season, and secondly Holmes was essentially learning the game itself from scratch at VFL level, with the step up essentially another short course in learning the game. Given he hadn’t played the sport two years ago it’s more than reasonable to back him to improve quite a lot from here.

We’re probably clearing out a whole bunch of S’s at year’s end – Spencer, Saad, Schneider, Siposs, Saunders, Smarkworth and Smurdoch – so it was good timing for Minchington who’s has been hovering around being condemned to a life of ex-AFL player playing VFL tease hell. I still don’t know how guys like TDL and Jones go playing VFL with guys their teammates still involved so closely with the club that turfed them so recently. But I’m also not a professional footballer. Minch kicked the first two goals and set the tone for a game of speed and space – two things we’ve certainly struggled with in the past several weeks in the forward half. He finished with a career-best three goals in just his ninth game, and a further drilling down into his career numbers would show he’s kicked a goal in every game he’s played. The knock on him is that he doesn’t have enough of an impact away from the scoreboard, and whilst he finished with “only” 10 touches he had five tackles too, which was a step towards having a heavier presence. Lonie and Sinclair are still ahead of him, but going on last night he might turn out to be very handy at least.

My 2nd Favourite Hair in the AFL was the other key forward on the night and by half-time had three goals. It looked like he’d finally come out of his sort-of-slump (goals on the board always mask that kind of thing for a bigger forward), although one of our better rebounds on the night saw him drop the easiest mark of all time. In front of the members he also had the dubious distinction of becoming The Man Who Spoiled Himself, in I assume anticipating an marking effort from his opponent over the top. As we came out of defence with a straightforward pass to him, he was well in the clear but he put a single hand up to ultimately stifle his own phantom marking attempt. His also missed a set shot in the third quarter that was replied to immediately sixfold (i.e. with a goal) by Gregson. Cheers.

It was up to Sam Gilbert of all Australian Rules footballers to pick up the slack in that passage and do what he couldn’t quite finish in the 2010 Grand Finals, and uh, I guess by that measurement didn’t quite finish last night either. But he was still good; probably his best game since that draw? His two goals were both monster set shot kicks that hit heights echoing Kosi’s long range efforts. He also found the ball 21 times and managed to shank only a couple, as well as laying a game-high nine tackles. A bit of time through the middle too and perhaps he’s en route to a changing, more dynamic role. First things first though, he’s got to stay on the park.

Gilbert’s move forward was made possible by Bruce kicking goals (at least in the first half) and My Favourite Hair in the AFL playing across the ground, essentially as a wingman, to good effect. In a young side 22 touches and 10 marks was key in having a solid presence throughout the play, and his contests hard on the boundary to force the ball out twice displayed both his fitness and his nous. He was up forward for periods of course, and he pulled a Spencer White in running himself into the ground and resting by himself 40 metres out waiting for a Joe the Goose. The kick was the kind of flat punt shocker we’ve come accustomed to from him, but this one did vaguely enough.

It also helps when you’ve got Hugh Goddard getting invaluable experience at worst playing mostly on Hawkins. The Cats would have acknowledged him as susceptible, particularly one out when they were on the rebound, but he Hugh did well to keep his head up and keep playing his own game despite being beaten a few times. He was mature and smart enough to run off his man and take the mark in front of the members at a tense point in the game, and won a huge one-one-one in defence late in the game. Sam Fisher played one of his better games this year, too, allowing guys like Gilbert to move around and for the team to be that much more dynamic.

Membrey’s inconsistency continued, as he did what’s become a trademark which is a good start followed by not much else. A really nice set shot was our fourth straight goal to open the game, but shortly after he botched a forward 50 entry by not going to what was effectively a free Tom Hickey near goal; and this after weeks of looking for that kind of option. The pressure was up afterwards to sugarcoat it a little, but Steven got carried away at the next entry and kicked about four metres to Membrey instead of long to a couple of tall options close to goal. Whilst that one wasn’t Membrey’s fault it was mostly downhill for him from there. Paddy was pretty good in the VFL and with Roo maybe or maybe not finding touch up the ground there’s room for a swap there. But when you’re a team full of this kind of inexperience at the end of a long year everything is a maybe or maybe not at best.

Unfortunately Jack Steven decided to step down to that bracket on a couple of telling occasions. In these eras when it comes to close games you’re relying on younger guys who you simply can’t trust in these situations (Shenton, Saunders), because they’re simply not experienced enough (Shenton, Saunders) to understand the pressure (Shenton, Saunders) as well as execute in the circumstances (Shenton, Saunders). All those brackets are harsh on Shenton and Saunders but I don’t know what they were doing at all. Curiously, Shenton ended up in the forward line, and far less curiously Saunders was subbed out of the game after literally not getting a kick. Anyway, Steven’s kick into a Geelong player on the rebound went straight to Hawkins for a goal, and it was his lack of awareness that got him caught late in the game and the ball spilled out for Cockatoo’s goal that put them in front.

So we were still prone as a team to royally turning over opportunities, Steven or not. The scoreboard alone would reflect that, with our 14.13 far more wasteful than their 15.7, not to mention to the fact that at one stage they were 13.3 with all the more scoreboard pressure on us throughout the game.

After several years of being dominated by Geelong, complete with two years of being on the receiving end of smackings at the Cattery – of 101 and 96 points respectively, with nearly identical scorelines – this felt like the first time we’d come out of the shadow created by the lost opportunity on Grand Final Day in 2009. This was a result engineered by a young team showing development and playing an effective style of footy. That the Cats were playing merely for a finals berth also heightened that, as opposed to the top two and top three finishes of the last two years.

But through all of that Stevie J was smiling after being run down in the goal mouth because he could; Geelong so completely and crushingly won what over a decade ago promised to be the next great rivalry. Again, last night the Cats proved just too hard to move. This game was all about the future, but it also held a few reminders.

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The Red, White and Black 2014 Review Podcast

Rich and I recently bunkered down at our (his) RWB Richmond Headquarters with a couple of pizzas, a lot of Pepsi and some Moccona to chat about the 2014 year that was for the St Kilda Football Club.

We recorded three hours’ worth of material and there were no surprises that I was easily to cut out nearly half of our faffin’ about. What’s left is the RWB 2014 Review, in which we talk about Spencer White’s topknot, update the 2018-2028 Premiership Captain market, are momentarily joined by Jack Billings and, as always, break numerous copyright laws.

The fondest of farewells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer

Aaand here we go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s great to be amongst family”

Round 20, 2013
St Kilda 2.5, 3.6, 4.12, 7.14 (56)
Hawthorn 3.3, 8.13, 10.18, 14.18 (102)
Crowd: 24,765 at Etihad Stadium, Friday, August 9th at 7.50pm

What we were assuming would be my Dad’s final match before heading overseas – several weeks ago against the Power – expanded somewhat into a farewell tour. Friday night, however, was officially the last.

He and Mum are moving to the UK indefinitely over the next week or two. So this was Dad’s last Melbourne match, and it was fitting that it was this St Kilda and Hawthorn match for a few reasons.

This is the 20th year I’ve been going to the footy with my Dad. He took me to my first game in the opening round of 1994, which was between St Kilda and Hawthorn. The first Grand Final he went to (indeed, the first he was old enough to comprehend and have any sort of memory of) was Hawthorn overrunning St Kilda in 1971.

The first St Kilda match following my first move out of home, as a 22 year-old, was Round 17, 2010, St Kilda vs. Hawthorn at Etihad Stadium on a Friday night. I remember going to the ground feeling how familiar it still felt to be at the footy with my Dad, Evan and Matt. My brother moved out for the first time during week, at the same age, ahead of St Kilda and Hawthorn playing in a late-season game on a Friday night at Etihad Stadium.

Some further useless stats similarities: that first game that Dad took me to, St Kilda lost by 56 points, and kicked 15.7. On Friday night, they kicked 7.14 (56), and lost by 46 points. In 1994, Hawthorn broke open the game in the second quarter, outscoring the Saints by 31 points; on Friday night it was the same scenario, winning that term by 33 points.

My whole Friday in fact revolved around the St Kilda Football Club. I was fortunate enough to go to the Saints in the City luncheon at The Point in Albert Park. I hadn’t actually heard of this before – it’s basically a business networking opportunity aimed at Saints fans over a nice lunch and it’s a good fundraising opportunity for the club. This was the third of four for the year.

Amazingly (for me – this information doesn’t help your life in any way), I was sat next to Joe Riewoldt, father of My Favourite Hair in the AFL. Being a corporate function aimed at St Kilda supporters, essentially everyone in the room was a Saints supporter or had ties to the club. Several of us in a group were chatting before the lunch, and Joe came over. He was introduced to us all by Peter Summers, and then warmly said, “It’s great to be amongst family”. I loved it, I thought it was a genuinely sweet thing to say.

He really is a very lovely guy; very enthusiastic to chat with people on the day, and at one stage went out of his way to put his hand on my shoulder and draw me into a conversation he was having with another attendee. I had a good chat with him throughout the lunch; we spoke about the Essendon saga, my job, Joe being a St Kilda supporter whilst Nick grew up in the ‘80s going for Hawthorn – because his mother did and they were successful (Joe said that when Nick didn’t go for St Kilda when he was a kid because, in Nick’s words, “they always lose”) – and the unseen respect players have for each other before opening bounce and after the final siren.

Roo himself was there, albeit only briefly, given he lives around the corner and it was game day. Spud Frawley was the MC, and he gave a casual interview with him, about his preparation on game day, the chance of any father/sons, the way his role has changed over the years and so on. Spud also spoke with Sammy Hamill, who let slip that Adam Schneider would be playing. He actually thought he’d let slip that Minchington was playing, then he asked the audience if Minch was included in the team sheet (everyone said yes, he had), and went on to say he was looking forward to seeing how Minch would go alongside Schneider. Cue stock audio track of audience discussing things concernedly.

Sammy also drew the raffle tickets, and a whole lot of people from the same table won prizes. I think you actually need to shake up the tickets before you draw them. Not that I’m bitter – I wouldn’t have known what to do with a Volvo racing jacket.

Also in attendance were Stewart Loewe, both Wakelins, Frankie Peckett, Andrew Thompson, Dean Anderson (who was at my table) and, as bonus, Brett Moyle. It was really nice to have guys like that going to these things and maintaining a link to the club.

A few wines, pork belly and 120-day grain-fed something-or-rather steak, and a costume change back at Brunswick later, I was on my way to the game on the tram along Lygon Street poring over Twitter. I also had a cheeky Mac Attack pre-game on the corner of Swanston and Lonsdale. I was so entirely not nervous at all I was actually keen on stuffing my face before the match.

There was a bit of love for TOM LEE BANDWAGON for most goals for the match amongst Saints fans having a crack at the SEN guess-the-stuff thing, but I was more concerned that Roughead alone would kick more goals than us. General consensus in the football world, and quite rightly, was that this was sure to be a drubbing: a young Saints side playing inconsistent footy at best and with three wins for the year up against one of the competition’s slickest, hardest and most disciplined sides. On the flipside, it was strange being on the receiving end of reasonable expectations for 100 point-plus predictions, less than a year after the club’s third biggest win ever, and one that was less than two kicks from the club’s biggest ever win in 140 years.

The Hawthorn away jumper is sensational, but it flawed in its implementation. Even though it is darker than their home jumper, as the brown and gold are inversed, they wear it was an “away” jumper in Victoria – not as a “clash”. So they’ll wear this darker jumper against Victorian teams with a “dark” home jumper, i.e. St Kilda, Collingwood and Essendon. It takes us back to the days when St Kilda wore the hot-cross bun design for home games, and the traditional tri-panel as the away – purely as an “away” jumper, not as a “clash”. Hawthorn should make this one a “dark” home jumper, with brown shorts, and have its traditional mostly gold jumper the away/clash “light” jumper, with white shorts. And get rid of that rubbish hawk-on-white jumper.

Minchington was debuting wearing number 41, inheriting the number from other heroes that have worn the number at St Kilda, such as Brad Campbell and Paul Cahill, and those at other clubs such as FRIEND OF RWB, Tom Murphy in his early days at the Hawks.

Minch and returning Bull Murdoch were doing short kicks to each other in the pre-match warm-up and both managed to drop absolute sitters. Roberton kicked an awesome goal around as body as the team ran out, but after watching the dropped marks I became surer that it was going to be a long night. It turned into a long night more because of Hawthorn dominating but messing around (“lairising”, as GT would call it), particularly around and in front of goal. It would have been an absolute rubbish game for a neutral supporter. I would have been watching because I wanted to see records potentially broken, as I have for Gold Coast and GWS games over the past couple of seasons. Instead, viewers were treated to a whole lot of faffin’. The game, really, was beyond the Saints once the Hawks crept out to four goal-plus lead in the second quarter. The Hawks weren’t in any hurry, either. They just did what they had to do.

That’s probably selling the Saints’ first quarter efforts a little short. But for inaccurate kicking (although the same could apply to the Hawks), they should have been a couple of goals in front. Murdoch in fact did a couple of good things – he took a nice contested grab, and booted a big penetrating kick forward into 50, and then took another tough mark and dished it off to Josh Saunders, who could have run another 15 metres to about 30 metres out from goal, but he hurried it and missed.

Saunders had already completed a very exciting passage of play a few minutes earlier. Newnes won a free kick on the members’ side, and he hit Tom Lee high on the flank who really hit the contest and brought the ball to ground front and centre against two Hawks. The ball ended with Roo, fresh from fluffing a set shot at goal, and he gave it off to Saunders who goaled. I wasn’t sure if it was Roo not backing himself or him trying to get Saunders into the game – probably a bit of both. Whichever way, it worked.

If anything, Saunders’ haste later in the quarter was the exception to the rule. Several times through the night he looked to take on or burn an opponent, even when faced with a bit of traffic. He didn’t get too much of the footy but that kind of play is already becoming an expecation of him.

Like so many games this year, there were signs early that the Saints were working much harder for not much more reward than their opposition. The Saints had had most of the play but the Hawks took things the length of the boundary from a kick in and Breust delivered neatly to Roughead, who went back and kicked the goal.

Roughy never looked truly restricted by the Saints’ defence. His lazy snap goal in the second quarter really summed up the game. The second quarter did, really. Spangher was made to look good; the Hawks had the skill and discipline to dominate play and to have 15 scoring shots; but they also had the lack of urgency to kick 5.10 from those shots – because they could afford to.

Again the lack of a genuine key defender was exposed. Gwilt, who was never a full-back to begin with, was subbed out at the main change; The Blake was commendable and used his experience to good effect in a number of contests but isn’t quite a full-back either, and Sean Dempster, too – he isn’t a full-back. Roughead kicked five, St Kilda kicked seven.

TOM LEE BANDWAGON certainly didn’t get anywhere near that number of goals, despite some fans’ thoughts. In fact he didn’t get any number of goals; he did hit the post though. The stats will show he only took four marks, had 10 possessions and kicked 0.1, but I thought his presence was much bigger. He hit a lot of packs and hit them really well and he took a lot of heat off Roo. He had a couple of articles written about him during the week, maybe he felt a bit of pressure?

Roo was his usual hard-working self, not much need for analysis other than to say he benefitted from TOM LEE BANDWAGON’s presence, and that 1.3 wasn’t an ideal result, but he did more than so many others.

Murdoch put in some notable efforts through the game. In my head he ended up with three really strong contested grabs for the game, as well as a nice bump on Head’s brother after he took a mark and a really lovely long set shot goal. Only seven touches from seven marks, but most of them had a positive aspect.

Bull’s goal really came from Minch taking a contested mark out at half-forward, and then bulleting a pass to Roo who kicked it on to Bull. Minch likewise didn’t get much of the ball, but showed something with most of his touches. Some really slick disposal is what this side is crying out for and

One thing Dad and I noted was how wide the Saints tried to keep the ball when coming out of defence. At one point Farren was on the wing cracked the shits at everyone for not going wide, and then making sure they went wide out of defence – I think it was Dempster that went short and a little inboard from the back pocket, and Big Ben ended up with it soon after – but I really liked that he was taking control of things on the ground.

Dad and I ended up watching the third quarter from Livewire, but we wanted to watch the final quarter in our seats together. It was nearly all Hawthorn supporters one the way there, at the bar, and on the way back to our seats, although the St Kilda turnout wasn’t too bad. Oh wait, yes it was. You could say that, well, 24,700-odd that showed up and Hawthorn has 63,000-plus members, where were all they? A better question is, why did Hawthorn supporters clearly, clearly outnumber Saints fans at our own how game? The guy sitting next to us was talking to Dad about it during the final quarter and said something along the lines of that the Saints turnout was down because of the number of Jewish supporters we have and it was a Friday night. Dad and I agreed after the game that it was more to do with rubbish football. There’s a lesson: bad football is bad football regardless of race, religion, colour, or sexual orientation. Bad football doesn’t discriminate.

Joe pointed out when he was talking about Nick barracking for the Hawks that there were so many Hawthorn supporters in their early 30s now because of that stretch of dominance through the ‘80s. I worry that St Kilda might have blown a chance not just for the club itself to be strengthened by winning a premiership in the last decade or so, but its supporter base also. I’m optimistic about Scott Watters and where he’s taking us. I like what I’ve seen in a lot of young guys, but we’re still the laughing stock that’s only won one premiership and blew a golden chance over a decade to win at least one more.

Dad and I went to 90 Secondi, the new pizza place that has opened up at the bottom of the NAB2 building, in the space closest to Gate 3. We had a (very nice) pizza and a coffee. I think we just wanted to be close to the ground for a bit longer. Going to the footy is something we’ve always loved doing together. Even beyond that – going to the footy to watch St Kilda is instinctual for us. I grew up going to the footy and I grew up watching the footy, and I did all of that with him.

Simply supporting a club leaves its own legacy for those around you, particularly your family members. Dad’s just turned 50 and is making a huge life change with Mum. What has he passed on to Matt, dear cousin Evan and I as a St Kilda supporter at this key checkpoint in his life?

Obviously this isn’t about measuring him on what the club has achieved, but rather it’s an inherent mindset; a sharing of ambitions and heartaches. What will our legacy be as supporters? What will we be yearning to see in the future with those dearest sitting in the stands with us? Indeed, what will we see?

I wrote after the Richmond game last month that being a St Kilda supporter is already loaded for those my age. It’s a precarious period this club is in at the moment. Already there is the need to right a number of wrongs that I’ve seen first hand.

As Joe said, “It’s great to be amongst family”. If Dad and Mum are still overseas when we’re back into the pointy end of September, they’ll definitely be flying back here to see it. I couldn’t have it any other way. When St Kilda, finally, do reach the summit, it’s having those closest to us alongside us that will make it truly special.