Jarryn Geary Posts

Thin line from here to here

AFLX 2018

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It’s not an ordinary pre-season when Jack Billings becomes the AFL’s poster boy for anything, really.

The prologue to the post-Nick Riewoldt era also featured a helicopter for some reason, proof of Ed Phillips’ existence, “Timmy and Jimmy”, “Saint Kilda’s Paddy McCartin” in the Financial Review, and something that wasn’t actually Australian Rules football.

Billings found himself alongside North Melbourne’s Shaun Atley as the faces of said-sport, which was described more often as a “concept” than anything else. Outside of the St Kilda fanbase, Latte’s meteoric rise from “improving young player set to fulfill his potential” to “AFL (well, X) headline act” was probably baffling to the wider footy community, who would still primarily identify him as The Guy We Picked Instead of Bont.

He looked and sounded like he’d spent most of the pre-season doing media training. He’s literally toned up, a far cry from the shy 18-year old with outdated hair we drafted in 2013 (or even the shy 22-year old with outdated we played in 2017).The announcement of Geary as captain (again) and the leadership group was baffling, with extra ignominy added for the video production, sunglasses and stage management of having him and Roberton, Ross, Newnes and Stuv all stepping off and walking across the Moorabbin turf to waiting media/St Kilda social media staff.

Are we back to the 1980s and the boorish days private ownership and the Swanettes? I was looking for the branding tie-in with the chopper. It would have made more sense if they did the reveal by the leaders one-by-one bursting out of the tubs of Dare bottles they hand out before games.

Josh Bruce, Mav and Armo were cut from the leadership group, which was probably a surprise to no-one. Armo has entered Hamill 2007 territory, while the confirmation by Richo that Mav struggled with “a very bad ankle injury” through 2017 was probably an indictment on the coaching and medical stuff as much as Mav himself. Mav’s slimmed down from 91kg to 83kg apparently. Josh Bruce, well…yeah. I (and a few others would have) said last year that if everyone showed the effort he did last year we’d be a much better team, but he’s a long way off being a “leader” given his ultimate output on the field, and that he lacks the vocal and organisational aggression. Let’s hope Ben Dixon’s goalkicking nous extends to shots from general play, too.

So we’re left with Dylan Roberton, who theoretically could actually get better this year after starting his career as another nondescript guy at the Dockers with a slightly odd name. Then there’s Seb Ross, our raining best and fairest but not necessarily the most outwardly vocal or physical guy; Jack Newnes, who has an excellent head for the marketers to work with and is Mr. Consistent, but I’m Mr. Consistent with these posts dragging on too much. Jack Steven still comes across as a 16 year-old boy. As Dad said, “it’s missing a certain factor”, let alone X.

The publicity stunt worked in so far as it earned the lead article on the back page of The Age. In true St Kilda fashion, we followed that up with the revelation that we’d been given $20.6 million from the AFL last year, which most of may or may not have been directed to Jack Billings’ media training.

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Billings wouldn’t even make it to the shitshow that was AFLX . The club canning the intra-club event in lieu of “match simulation” the week before suggested that two bruise-free glorified training drills was enough to cover it, and Latte apparently pulled up with “hamstring soreness”.

The monotony of the gameplay proved the “concept” to be a different sport entirely. It would actually look more interesting where it is intended for use – at the junior level (i.e. the AFL talking about difficulty accessing grounds in Sydney), and internationally – levels and locations where professional Australian Rules football players aren’t found.

Despite us becoming the first club to ever get bottled up in a game of AFLX, broadly speaking this was circle-work played by people that are too highly skilled for any human element or drama to be allowed in, not to mention the short span of the game. Goals were meaningless; not only was there no chance to celebrate, there was no point because the other team was always within two kicks of scoring, and without needing to be in their half of the field, either. Games of footy turn because someone puts their body on the line, a whole team lifts and answers the call of something bigger than themselves. They will themselves to a pack, to take the hit after running harder than would seems physically feasible in that moment. There was no chance for that, and there was no real chance for a game to turn on willpower, or wanting to lift 21 teammates with something that might not be in your own best interest. And certainly no reason for it. Three “Grand Finals” over three nights; how dare they even try. One end of the turf is reserved for kids sitting on bean bags for fuck’s sake.

Actually being at the ground was dour. Fucking music and literally flashing lights and smoke machines going off every time someone kicked a Zooper goal didn’t need to prompt the question of “why are we here?”. I went because I’m tied to the St Kilda football club and it needed a $20.6 million hand-out last year. I left the ground wondering if Zooper Doopers will ever be mentioned as much in the space of 72 hours again. What if they didn’t sponsor the “concept”? I can only guess the AFL approached them because the brand name sounds like “super”. You can’t really call them JLT goals; I don’t think James Brayshaw screaming that a player can “GO JLT” quite works. But it didn’t quite work or matter once Mark Blicavs was having a ZOOPER shot literally within five seconds of the “tip-off” with the ill-fated silver ball. The at-the-ground commentator that came through like a racecaller on the Thursday night broadcast was just extra noise at the ground; they’d obviously been told to not be too excitable. Just a little excitable. They had bean bags and 40-metre arcs for that.

What to take from a St Kilda perspective? That’s why I write this blog, but this concept lends itself to nothing in particular for form guide purposes. In 40 minutes of footy – no time-on – I remember Coffield and Hunter Clark both putting on some big tackles. I remember Dunstan looking like he was relishing being captain in the first game; Jack Lonie was busier in several minutes with some nice goals and an assist than he would be over 120; and Ben Long kicked a nice goal before going for the OPEN ZOOPER at the beginning of the second half and missing. Seeing Ray Connellan in a St Kilda jumper was nice, seeing Ed Phillips in human anywhere was interesting. Rowan Marshall was in turbo Rhys Stanley mode, making every contest with ease and looming as something of a behemoth that couldn’t take most marks with the first grab. The first level of Corporate Dome brought in was nice, but as an old friend once said to me, “biscuits are nice”.

The way Gil spoke on the Thursday night broadcast about potential for international teams and competitions played in the future, IPL/Big Bash style, and across different leagues was just as terrifying as the experience I had at the ground. Is the AFL trying to create a future where this is what the game ultimately represents? Is this what they want to the game day experience to be? Did they ever ask anyone this? This is the beginning; they’re not ditching this anytime soon. The idea overall isn’t new, but they gave themselves to turbo-charge a lot of things they’ve been doing on regular match days. I was looking at a game in which the focus is forced towards multiple trophies being handed out to placate everyone – who knows, maybe one of the three clubs you follow won one of them – which is played at all times of year, with more noise and default music than required anywhere, literally while you’re sitting in a beanbag. One thing the AFL has done incredibly well is keep winning a premiership and Grand Final Day as sacrosanct – it is all tied to the one season, with no players switching clubs halfway through; it is the last footy played for the year (in a country that general day-to-day life is heavily tied to calendar years); it is the only competition that matters; it is a life event for people. I’m here because one day I want to see a St Kilda premiership, and I don’t want to have waited a lifetime for some DJ to quickly blast a shitbox U2 song and fireworks to go off when the final siren goes as kids and corporates sitting on beanbags clap politely or get up and leave immediately because what does it matter? They paid for a ticket, they were vaguely entertained enough to maybe do it again some time, maybe for whatever bullshit competition with “retired stars” is happening next month, and that’s enough.

It was far, far too early in the season to be questioning these things.

Sucked in

Round 19, 2017
Port Adelaide 2.3, 3.5, 5.7, 9.9 (63)
St Kilda 1.3, 2.8, 3.12, 8.13 (61)
Crowd: 30,335 at Adelaide Oval, Saturday, July 30th at 4.15pm CST

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When the three-quarter time siren sounded we’d kicked 2.12. Blacres, having had the wet weather show up any intent to play physically, had taken a contested mark. He kicked the goal and somehow it felt as though we were a chance of winning the game.

I wrote into my notes on the phone, “Acres on the siren wtf. Potential to be a curveball moment for the season.” He wasn’t the only one to be found wanting for presence at contests in the dour conditions, but twice in the final minute he would be on the wrong end of respective moments that crushed our season.

He also wasn’t the one to find themselves in moments that upended either their own good work or the hard work of everyone else. But St Kilda is about extremes and symbolic moments that ensure the heartbreak – no matter how good we are – outweighs the rarer better moments. A famous win in was shat on and decayed in seconds to an infamous, embarrassing loss.

It’s our turn as supporters for the football world and Nathan Brown with his Channel 9 big screen and David King with his Fox Footy graphics to ask “what the fucking fuck were you thinking?” to most of the players in the last 59 seconds. We all thought we were stupidly lucky when Jimmy Toumpas trailed Joey through the forward line in the last 25 seconds two years ago, and a bunch of people thought Richmond losing three games in a row earlier this year was funny, but now we’re the ones who have moved into membership destruction territory. So let’s get this over and done; let’s combine our zero games of experience, take an amateur look at things ourselves, and get really annoyed at some humans.

Richo said the coaches were happy with the set-up at the final stoppage. As the umpire throws the ball in, Acres is actually guarding in the space the Gray runs through just a couple of seconds later. Ryder and Longer are a very long way inboard for the throw in, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryder’s done that because he knows he can outpace Billy to the fall of the ball. Billy’s in defensive mode and will just want to follow him, and it opens up that space because Billy’s trailing Ryder, enough to not effect the ruck contest but too close to react to Ryder hitting back to where they were.

Seb was the one on Gray and is goalside of him at the mouth of the ruck contest. He’s immediately responsible for Gray and it’s on him to be able to nullify, you know, his own player. As an aside – Seb was one of our best, but was also the one who coughed up the ball straight to the Power up the other end before they came back for the Young goal, by kicking forward without looking, rather than handballing inside to Lonie who had plenty of space and runners around him.

Dunstan and Billings are on the other side of the contest, on Wines and Polec respectively. As the ball is in the air, Dunstan pushes Wines to get him off balance for the stoppage and make sure he stays goalside of him. Polec moves slightly inboard and Billings goes with with him to make sure he doesn’t get the kind of run Gray is about to enjoy.

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Gray knows exactly what Ryder is doing and runs around Ryder to the open space left by the movement of the rucks, and has gotten rid Seb in no time. Dunstan – also one of our best, and who put us in front in the last quarter – is caught ball watching and flat-footed, having just turned from Wines, and Gray runs right past him.

By the time Gray runs onto Ryder’s tap Acres has run, incredibly, bemusingly, to goalside of the mouth of where the ruck “contest” was two seconds earlier. Billings at least had to worry about leaving Polec and opening him up for a handball from Gray and an open chance, either at goal (he’s a long kick) or at least hitting someone up.

That’s why Billings was closest to Gray when Gray kicked the goal, not because he shirked anything. Billings was reacting to a) Longer not even getting to the fall of the ball; b) Seb not quite going with Gray; c) seeing that Acres had left the space open and; d) Dunstan ball-watching not moving. He was the only one who actually did react to Gray.

It’s worth pointing out Acres getting in sucked in to this contest as well his incredibly soft effort 40 seconds of play earlier that allowed Young’s goal. Carlisle didn’t quite make a contest at the fall of Geary’s spoil, which has probably the only thing he did wrong in a herculean performance in defence. Young came through to knock the ball as Westhoff and Acres were next in line. Westhoff reacted – let alone having the will at that point to bend over far enough and then quickly manoeuvre out of Acres’s awful attempt at a tackle – and gave off the handball to Young who finished neatly.

So this week Ryder and Gray enjoy another week in the spotlight thrown to them by the St Kilda Football Club. Last week it was Callum Sinclair breezing through the best game he’ll ever play. It’s a service we provide.

How much more do I have to pay for my fucking Ultimate social club membership for the players to get paid more than the literally hundreds of thousands of dollars they’re already paid to not create a huge space for arguably the best player in the competition to run through and kick a goal? Or to fucking kick straight? More terrifyingly, what if the club doesn’t owe me anything at all? At what point do they owe me anything if they ever do? How does someone who has followed the club for twice as long as I’ve been alive feel when they see this kind of thing?

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Shout-out to the barracking of the Fox Footy commentary team, and also the lazy Fox Footy coverage in general – not one cut to St Kilda players after about 30 seconds following the siren. The emotion of these moments, games and results is just as much about the losers as it is the winners. That’s why the high of victory is what it is.

(Also whilst we’re doing shout-outs even though no-one reads this, shout-out to BigFooty user RWBlyf who’s taken licence with our moniker and Twitter profile image, and who’s posts on the forum almost certainly get a bigger readership than the rambling tripe I post on this.)

There’s a lot of hurt on different fronts. As frustrating as it is to think about that last play, it just fucking hurts to think about Membrey kicking that goal to put us up by 10 points and his reaction and the reaction of the players. They thought they had it won; we thought we had it won. Membrey was huge. Great contests in the front half, an ability to actually hold marks and fucking finish in front of goal, and in pressure situations. His game and his contribution deserved a much better result. In true St Kilda style, he was the one backing into the forward 50 entry that ended with Young’s goal, and his teammates made sure he was the one on the goal line who got to stretch, reach, strive in vain to get to Gray’s kick in the final seconds.

On a more macro perspective we’d pissed the game away a long time before that. We were 2.12 at the final change and simply not using the ball purposefully or effectively when we had it. We had so much of it, too. Richo didn’t trot out the “we’ll just keep practicing line” about the goalkicking. It’s cost us this season and right now it doesn’t fucking matter until March next year.

As good as Bruce was, he kicked 0.3. I feel bad for going near potting him, because his effort was hard to fault. You could give the bigger guys an out due to the weather, but how many of those marks that he dropped or goals that he missed would have turned out differently in dry conditions or under the roof? Richo went on the record earlier this year to say Bruce had been dropped because he wasn’t finishing – he wasn’t holding his marks and he wasn’t kicking the goals. He’s invented ways to miss goals in the last few weeks. I’m absolutely not saying he should be dropped. But at what point does it become a liability? If it is, how much of a liability is it? I still don’t think we can get a decent idea until we stop kicking high and long towards goal for no-one to be at the fall of the ball.

Billings shanked a couple for 0.2 and a host of other chances blah blah blah. He’s kicked 17.26 this year. The memory of Billings moving into something bordering on elite has already become a distant “What? Oh. Yeah.” I dunno. Sometimes it’s hard to keep giving a shit.

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Obviously the nature of the result is cause to highlight this further; similar occurred in the West Coast loss in Round 2. We let four of their nine goals go through in the last 47 seconds of the first quarter and the last 59 seconds of the match. That’s either awful coaching or the players are lacking something severe – take your pick. But it’s a fucking problem.

How do we feel about Richo right now? I wasn’t sure about his public demeanour immediately after the game. I think he didn’t quite know what to do, so I fucking hope he gets it right. There’s four more games and then we’re in the season that the club publicly declared its intentions to be a top-four team by.

It’s easy and obvious to say this, but I didn’t think Richo was angry enough publicly. I understand the need to talk up effort blah blah blah, and early on in the press conference he pointed out that “when the game was at its most important” Port were able to get it done. In his members’ message video he said, “We had a good day at clearance against a very good clearance team.” Cool. He was afforded the same unchallenged comment in the press conference. He’s obviously on good terms with Michaelangelo Rucci following some time spent in a one-paper, two-team city, but when you’re as shitty as most of us would have been with the last two minutes. Effort and basic stuff like that are a given. Surely we’re at that point in our development by now?

Also mentioned in Richo’s video message – and absolutely not his fault, but he was nonetheless put in the place to be the one to apologise for it – was that the club had a “mix-up with time” and got out early to training, them “that meant some fans that had travelled a fair way missed out”. Great work.

The elimination of the Development League this week, and the Sandringham leadership group’s proposal to the board – not to mention Danny Corcoran’s comments – has the clock is ticking on the alignment lot closer to midnight. Playing without Montagna and Riewoldt, and to a lesser extent Gilbert and Armitage, obviously wasn’t a hindrance to giving a vague effort nor missing goals as we usually do. Given that we decided to kick our season away around the ground and in front of goal over a number of weeks, we’ve also in turn wasted a lot of time not putting game time into White and D-Mac, who were really competitive last night, Marshall, who only missed out because of some weather and will probably be shunted out next week; and maybe Ben Long. Mav came straight back into them and did fuck all for his 10 possessions. I’d forgotten that he’d played.

So we know now the club was just as seduced by the second half of last year as we the fans were. Given the type of week and weekend it’s been, it was nice of Sandy to replicate the seniors this afternoon and have posted 2.8 themselves after the entire first half of footy. But why can Port recruit someone like Powell-Pepper who’s not just barrelling through Newnes in his first season, but willing to do it, and we’ve got Acres, Sinclair, Lonie and Billings being thrown around like seagulls in a breeze? Dunstan’s great form over the two weeks, in response to being dropped yet again, has been lost amongst the poor results, sure. But I don’t think four or five games for Marshall, White and Long is worth a season of finishing 11th or 12th.

The Zebs don’t want to exist as several players topping up a St Kilda VFL team, which is fair enough because the AFL should have thought about destroying a league with an amazing history and its clubs for its own benefit. The $500,000 or so that it costs to run a standalone reserves team was meant to be going to the Moorabbin redevelopment and perhaps an AFLW team, and now we might have stalled our development because we got a little bit too excited. We’re literally not a club that can afford to do that kind of thing. Maybe if we kick straight the next time we’re playing in the 2009 Grand Final we might not have yet again found ourselves in a shitty situation like this.

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If we’re good enough, then this coach and this team and this administration will take us to a much, much better situation – specifically, a second premiership – regardless of whether we won last night or not.

As members and supporters it hurts because there’s no instant payoff. We’re not privy to, nor to do we feel or take on any of the learning or development that the players get in the post-match review, nor do we know it even exists until we see it put into practice on game day. Furthermore, those lessons count for nothing if all this development business just ends up with no premiership and another rebuild. As fans we’re staring the down the barrel of a lifetime as St Kilda supporters, and moments like these feel awful because we pay for memberships, we take the time out to watch the game, or whatever, and we need to be reminded why we do that sometimes. Game day is where we get that pay-off, whether through effort, or through the result. Those things differ from week to week and year to year.

Amongst the slow burn over decades of heartbreak of following St Kilda, these are the moments when you really feel like you get your hands dirty as a supporter. This is not our time. That’s just part of our development, and all the draft picks and trades over the past few years weren’t about building towards last night. Ultimately, it shouldn’t depend on last night’s outcome. It’s an experience for the players, for the coaches, and us as well.

St Kilda Word of the Year 2017

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

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

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

Aggressive /əˈɡrɛsɪv/ adj.

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

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

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

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

Listen to the fans(?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When it matters

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

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

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

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

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

The rear end

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

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

Richo watch

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

Croweaten

Round 12, 2017
Adelaide Crows 5.6, 8.9, 11.11, 16.15 (111)
St Kilda
 1.1, 2.4, 3.10, 7.12 (54)
Crowd: 46,082 at Adelaide Oval, Friday, June 9th at 7.20pm CST

Croweaten

One year and four days before Friday night, St Kilda was hammered at the Adelaide Oval as the Crows welcomed us to what was set to be long, cold winter.

The 88-point loss came just three weeks after a 103-point loss to the Eagles, also on the road, which in turn followed a seven-point loss to the unbeaten North Melbourne that ended murkily. Two wins against the bottom two teams in Essendon and Freo had steadied things leading into the Adelaide game, but we were shown up in a big way by a much classier and smarter football side.

The Sunday evening in 2016 was further dulled by Goddard (H.) who, in his first game for the season, vaguely changed direction and in one second lost his next 12 months of footy. We were thus staring down a much wider, deeper barrel of weekly novelty 22s that come with the back half of lost seasons in a rebuild. There was no Carlisle and Brown yet, and Goddard offered the only real opportunity to get the development process in the back half ticking over from Dempster, Fisher and the forgotten Delaney. Were we going to be watching a combination of any and all of Coughlan, Payne, Rice and White, with maximum Minchington, Lonie, O’Kearney and Holmes?

Adelaide Oval’s introduction to the AFL as a full-time venue coincided with our 27th wooden spoon, and our average losing margin there had been 63 points ahead of this weekend. Meanwhile, Adelaide this year had kicked the late 1970s-esque scores of 147, 153, 140 and 143 at the venue. It was an ominous formline. Which has a strange thing to think and feel; a month ago we’d beaten GWS on a Friday night in what felt to be a stirring occasion for the club. Three weeks later the bye couldn’t come quick enough.

Further compounding things was that Adelaide was celebrating the 20th anniversary of their 1997 premiership. We were only happy to oblige by wearing our faux-throwback clash guernsey (as magnificent as it is) to really help the Crows celebrate and, as Cameron Ling pointed out on the broadcast, their three-quarter time score of 11.11 (77) was the same as their own in the 1997 Grand Final. Our three-quarter time score on Friday of 3.10 (28) was just shit.

(more…)

Good, bad, ugly, etc.

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

 

Version 2

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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