Jason Holmes Posts

RWB’s 2016 Season Preview Podcast

Rich and I said down earlier this week to talk about the season ahead. If you enjoy hearing opinions on who has the best hair at the club and hearing people eating Maltesers and Kettle chips over the top of someone else talking then this is the St Kilda season preview podcast for you:

Related links:

2015 Season Review Podcast (in case you missed it)

Highlights from last time we played Port Power (Rd18 2015)

Jack Steven’s new shaved head look

Demons v Saints NAB3 stats and videos

Saints 2016 Home-and-Away fixture

Coverage of Josh Bruce’s leadership credentials gathering momentum

The Guardian’s St Kilda season preview

Jason Traianidis Wiki

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Take a breath

2016 NAB Challenge, Game 3 – Melbourne vs St Kilda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without a fight

Round 22, 2015
St Kilda 1.5, 3.9, 4.12, 4.14 (38)
Sydney Swans 4.3, 10.6, 15.10, 20.15 (135)
Crowd: 27,856 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, August 30th at 3.20pm

In the character-based comedy stylings of the St Kilda Football Club Adam Schneider was farewelled today with the opposition supporters having infinitely more reason to be thankful for his services.

He was not just a part of the history-making Swans outfit that broke the longest VFL/AFL premiership drought in 2005, but he was also pivotal the week before in which the Swans won their first final at the MCG for 69 years. Of Course, who else would it be against? (Just as a further tease, the same number of years the Saints took to win out first and still only flag).

That 2005 season would go down as one of the most tumultuous in St Kilda history, and one that for a brief fortnight appeared could be the one that delivered its second flag. Instead the unfancied Swans – whilst they’d finished above us on the ladder in third spot, they were lucky to be there due to Nick Davis’ heroics – ran away with the Preliminary Final in the final quarter. Schneider finished with three straight as the Swans kicked 7.0 to 0.4 in the final term.

I’ve only ever seen one highlight from that game, one day being daring enough to bring myself to watch some footage from it (a YouTube that has since been taken down, but a couple of more in-depth highlights videos of that night have been posted). That on passage is Schneider’s third goal halfway through in the final term to seal the deal once and for all. Tim Lane’s commentary befits the mood and context of that moment wonderfully.

Obviously not the best way to ingratiate yourself to an opposing club’s fans but it was a very popular trade indeed that brought him and Dempster to the club. Curiously (as pointed out in Herald Sun yesterday), the only three players remaining from that match are Goodes and the St Kilda duo.

Schneider brought a slickness to the side that we really needed more of; a goalsneak foil to Milne but one that could play higher up the ground and use pinpoint disposal going into attack.

But so it will be that the 2009 Grand Final will be the defining point of his St Kilda career. Going into the day he’d already banked a premiership as a 21 year-old in just his third season, and for all intents and purposes he should have had a second. He wasn’t the only villain on the day the Saints kicked themselves out of a premiership – Milne, McQualter, Gram and Dempster all wasted multiple gettable chances – but he was the ringleader.

His return of 2.3 doesn’t tell you that his first chance at goal was a snap from directly in front to give us our first major but, as we saw close-up from the Punt Road end pocket he tried kicking the proverbial off the Sherrin and missed. Nor does it tell you about the moment that will be branded painfully, searingly into my memory will be his miss in the last quarter that would have set the tone and put breathing space between ourselves and the Cats. At the time it was another miss we feared might come back to hurt us in the worst possible way, and now it hurts immensely.

I’ve never seen footage from the game; I still turn away when a highlight appears on TV and I know it’s from the game (including when watching the 2009 Season Highlights DVD). And so I’ve seen Scarlett in the seconds before “the toepoke” but I still don’t exactly know what it looks like (likewise Chapman’s goal). But this Schneider moment is still clear in my mind, from the viewpoint of our seats at the other end of the ground. It’s as much the feeling I had at the time as well as the visual memory itself. When he broke clear into space, well inside range, the first instinct was that he would kick it. But in the wider context of what the kick meant this was a completely foreign position to be in. When he broke clear, I remember thinking…well, I don’t know if I want to say I felt “this is it”, because the goal in itself wasn’t going to win it at that point, rather, that if he kicked it we would be very difficult to shake from there. But for that brief moment before he physically kicked it we were going to be in that incredible position in the last quarter of a Grand Final. His getting the ball and heading for goal on his own seemed to represent the situation we were in: there were no obstacles; no thunderbolts from the footy gods, no personal hang-ups. It was only space; I guess “weightless” is the best way to describe how I felt. The only thing standing in our way from this point would be ourselves. And within seconds, so it proved to be. The kick curled to the right and missed.

Maybe it was the 21 year-old frame of mind I was in at the time, but in writing this even now I can feel myself getting worked up about how I felt. There are few singular moments in St Kilda’s history I personally feel so pained about; so simply sad about. For a few seconds I thought we were on our way. But we gave it up and ultimately lost it. That’s a long way down.

From that point on his key contribution was set in stone, officially so after the Grand Final Replay and the team was psychologically ruined. Time would run out for him well before he would make it anywhere near another Grand Final in which he could atone for that day. It raised its head again this year against the Bombers early in the season. A missed set shot from directly in front to put us up by over a goal with several minutes left; the resulting kick-out was taken straight up the other end for what proved to be Travis Colyer’s winning goal. It didn’t prove to be as much until after Schneider missed from 15 metres out directly in front.

Every player from the 2004-2010 era who retires feels like a victory for everyone that enjoyed seeing the Saints fail to win a premiership throughout it, and for those who thoroughly enjoyed the St Kilda schoolgirl saga to bookend it (as an entree to the dour awful 2011 season). We’re that far away from those Grand Finals now that we’re more prone to thanking Schneider for his work with Lonie (surely he takes #13?), Sinclair and Minchington in the immediate sense of what we’re losing. Unfortunately, as a St Kilda supporter, his career will be defined by that moment on that amazing, awful, defeating day. In a wider context, his career’s peak will have come with the Sydney Swans as part of their 2005 premiership, with him personally disposing of St Kilda en route.

Hard to review a (non-retiring) player’s game at this stage of the year without turning it into a faux-season review, or “Where are they at?” BigFooty-style irrationality convention. It’s hard to review anything with this one in that light because I went to the Savoy for lunch and drinks with RWB cohort Rich, Dad, Lewis and family friend Jim, but we already know the Savoy will have to echo it’s comeback act from the time that construction begins on the 68-floor tower on its site.

I keep coming back to this but I always will – Mum and Dad returning to the country gave a welcome expanded dynamic to gameday. The problem was that they so late in the season and only now I was getting used to the pre- and post- match drinks, burgers and chats, let alone the games themselves. And just like that, with next week a meaningless match over in Perth, the season is essentially over for the supporters.

The takeaway from last week was the performance of J Holmes; big leaps, good hit-out numbers and some tapwork that gave our midfield its best service for years. Holmes opened up early with a big leap and healthy tap, Armo winded from hit, Schneider caught immediately

Holmes looked quite lost for much of the game, with Mike Pyke the beneficiary. Pyke floating forward on his own was a dreaded but predictable outcome, and Tippett helped himself at the right time of year to plenty of the action as the ruck foil and up forward.

The signs weren’t that good whichever way you looked at it. Even our better passages were wasted. Holmes out of the ruck to Armo, to Ross, to Murdoch and then to dicking around should simply have been a straightforward entry to the advantage of a moving forward in 50. Instead, the Swans forced a stoppage and went straight to the other end and a chance to reset at a throw in next to their own goals.

Tom Hickey obviously either got comfortable or injured after signing a two-year deal last week, doing fark all and subbed out just after half-time with leaner numbers than J Holmes. Playing as a forward he kicked one behind and elsewhere he was disappointing, punctuated by weak efforts in a marking contest against Grundy in front of the members and then a weak tackle on Pyke, which ended with Riewoldt flying back into a marking contest and Tippett goaling immediately.

Novelty team line-ups mean novelty passages of play. Anything featuring Murdoch (like the above) probably qualifies, but he and the poorly-haired Seb Ross were busy across the ground early, linking up for Ross to hit the post. Other behinds registered at quarter-time were barely decent opportunities (e.g. Gilbert off the ground from 12 rows back behind the goals), but such was Sydney’s pressure and our ability to execute, pressured or not.

Armo didn’t kick a great chance for goal on the run after some good work from a Schneider and Sav double team, and the footy went straight up for Mike Pyke running into goal with Holmes nowhere near it. What could have been a three-point margin was now 15, and moments later 21, despite the Swans leading the scoring shots count 9 to 8 at that point.

Things were looking really droll when Dempster came out of defence and just vaguely kicked it out of play. No tact, no cunning, no plan from the wider team to give him something further down the ground. But we plummeted further with some more St Kilda comedy gold as Armo strolled in to goal and missed, Webster dropped an easy mark in defence and Tippett and Goodes goaled immediately afterwards. Murdoch’s nice kick after goal the half-time siren was barely sugar coating.

As far as those booing Goodes goes, several points to make. Firstly, a few are jumping to their own defence or that of others that they’re booing him because he’s a “thug”, “diver”, “cheat”, etc. They would then have to argue that people have begun booing him en masse in recent times for all of those things specifically, and just purely coincidentally after he called out someone making a racist comment directed at him and then after performing an indigenous culture-themed war dance on field. Because no crowd ever booed him in the past unless after he’d done something specific during a game, as all players are susceptible to (and you’ll be hard-pressed to find too many of those games). I can guarantee you no St Kilda crowd has ever booed him like that before any on-field incident involving Goodes and race (and I invite anyone to prove otherwise). Goodes was clearly booed the first time he went near the ball, with muted boos the following couple of instances. But it was back in the second half, particularly after a free kick decision in front of the members wing went against St Kilda, as if he made the decision himself. Rather, this was about a number of people feeling they had been justified booing because in their mind this was loosely linked to the “diver” theory, even though he actually hadn’t played for the free (and didn’t for the entirety of the game). This carried on clearly to the end of the game (see Goodes’s touch in the final seconds), and people were still trying to at least bat it away as something they could barely hear at the ground (again, refer to the video). This is something that happened, whether you did it or not. This is what a St Kilda crowd sounded like. And I hated every second of it. I don’t think the club will acknowledge it, quietly putting it down to a minority of supporters that caused a minor stir that will disappear if no one mentions it. That would be an awful shame and a rather hypocritical stance given the wonderful work the club has put into involvement in the annual Pride March and launching a “Pride Match”. If you’re accusing me of putting words in their mouth then please tell me what kind of take no comment would reflect on the club’s behalf.

By three-quarter time the game was ready for some more comedy and the club decided for whatever reason to play Tex Perkins’ version of the club song, which was met with exactly zero fanfare considering we were about to endure another quarter Sydney mopping the floor with us.

We just didn’t look like it all day, and specifically Josh Bruce didn’t look like it all day. Lest We Forget his 20-game streak of kicking at least one goal in each game. He wasted his own chances, whether they were dropped marks and his shot with time and space in the last quarter. There was also his mark a second after the three-quarter time siren within range, and also his give-off to the running Webster who didn’t even kick for goal.

So what the hell to say for a dirty day all round? This season deserved a better send-off for the members and fans, and a number of those let themselves down on the day. On the field this was more along the lines of 2014, and it’s easy to feel for a moment like we’re back amongst the bottom few wondering where the hell we’re going. Next Saturday looms as another forgettable match in an era which is purely for bridging purposes; to get us to the other side. That’s all well and good when you think of watching a team develop over a season and seeing the improvement of players week to week, but sometimes we just need to get to the end of a season and have a rest. One week to go.

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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Did it before and we’ll do it again

Round 13, 2015
St Kilda 1.5, 3.7, 5.9, 7.14 (56)
Western Bulldogs 1.3, 3.4, 7.7, 9.8 (62)
Crowd: 26,511 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, June 28th at 7.20pm

Sometimes you go to a game of footy and it becomes apparent a basic agreement must exist between the two teams – let’s just do a whole bunch of stuff and get this one out of the way ASAP. Or maybe not. But maybe? I don’t know.

Obviously that’s the viewpoint from the comfort of the Corporate Stadium stands, and one that belies all the planning that goes into a game of AFL footy. But tell me, what else we would have ended up with otherwise? We didn’t get a really good game of footy, we didn’t get any real highlights, and we definitely didn’t get the win.

In recent years we’ve been building to a point in which for the first time ever the supporter can’t know what’s really happening on the ground. It’s been a topic of some discussion in some media this year, but this was the kind of game that really drives it home. Of course you can still pick up the fundamentals, but you won’t get told that this game was by design, even though we’ll have Richo talking up how we won the tackle count 68-54, the inside-50 count 56-44 and had 21 scoring shots to 17, and how most things went to plan overall, and Sean Dempster can talk about how proud they were about the effort. Somehow the old trick of kicking the Australian Rules football undid us.

Whether it was Gilbert out of the defensive goalsquare or Lonie in our own, we both cost ourselves in defence and in attack throughout a match in which goalscoring opportunities simply needed to be made the most of if one team was going to win this.

There were a couple of strange echos of the 2009 Preliminary Final and subsequent Grand Final in the way this game played out and the scoreline. The final score was an echo of the 2009 Preliminary Final reversed – our 9.6 (60) to the Bulldogs’ 7.11 (53) of that remarkable night became 9.8 (62) to 7.14 (56) last night. As for the 2009 Grand Final, just add to two goals straight to each of last night’s totals and you have the score when the siren sounded with the ball in Max Rooke’s hands.

The difference was between last night and those games that I still regard that Preliminary Final as the most intense game of footy I’ve witnessed…until the game the following week. And whilst there was a reasonable amount of pressure around the ball and ball carrier last night, the 68 tackles we laid were nothing on the 118 we laid in that Grand Final, nor even the 99 a fortnight ago. There was a substantial amount of unforced errors – mostly by us – rather than two teams making it incredibly difficult for the other due to manic and purposeful pressure. And this isn’t to take anything away from the Dogs. Whilst we’re both a long way off the summit, they’re further developed than we are and a decent team will win these types of games.

Given the stage of development we’ve been in since the beginning of last year, the darkest days of these darker periods are when we’ve left the game wondering what all this is for. None of the young guys had a big day or gave us anything huge to look forward to. The difference is now we have several guys who have have had more game time and shown more than enough to have us reasonably excited about their future at the club. We don’t know that all of this will work until it works, really, but right now we’ve banked enough to feel simply flat more than anything else when a game like last night eventuates. No Billings or Sinclair, Lonie was good but has the Schneiders about him still around goal, Membrey really presented well in just his ninth game without really hitting the scoreboard or holding on to that many, Seb Ross racked up 11 touches in one quarter. When most people would agree that your best were the senior guys in Joey, My Favourite Hair in the AFL and Dempster with Armo and Steven in tow then you know you’ve had a night that will probably be forgotten by us all if we ever reach anywhere near the summit over the next few years.

The closest we got us Bruce kicking three and whilst it’s not a huge bag, it’s three straight out of 7.14 – leaving 4.14 kicked by the rest of the team – and if the delivery forward was executed more professionally or tactfully then that’s a whole lot more opportunity for him and Roo to have shots on goal from dangerous positions.

It’s perhaps worth tying that in with no Billings and Sinclair factor when it comes to discussion about how the forward line has functioned in their absence in the last fortnight. I tried with all the power of my amateurish insight into what it was in the Melbourne game and the way that the Demons set up that left Roo and Bruce with such little space to lead to, and that replayed itself in a big way last night. That Bruce could finish with those three goals and Roo could work himself into an almost match-winning performance – the passage of exchanges with Bruce over nearly the length of the ground late in the game that led to Bruce’s third a rare highlight on the night – said a lot about work ethics of the two. And they really were needed, otherwise we didn’t look like finishing with any more than five goals. The point ultimately being is it took a massive work rate from both to create some sort of tall target opportunities, but again what was by design, and what was because of the way the Dees and the Dogs set up? Obviously the woeful entries forward (and actual shots at goal) were not, and I get the feeling this might have stunted a lot of the more likely forward thrusts. The problem going forward was that countless times it was a ball far too high landing on the top of Riewoldt, Membrey or Bruce in a one-on-one or even when they were outnumbered, giving them no chance to work to space to the advantage of the drop of the ball which last night clearly wasn’t a concept that crossed the mind of most. It also allowed Easton Wood to clean up at will, and show off just how much he’s improved with some really tough intercept marks in big moments. Robert Murphy was curiously allowed far too much space out of defence throughout, and that’s even on a night in which he probably wasn’t as damaging as usual.

So where do Billings and Sinclair come in? Billings brings class that very few of our players either have naturally or, as far as the other younger guys go, have yet to develop. He’s also a great user of space, knows where to lead and had the ability to take strong marks. The fact he plays a little higher up in the forward line creates movement in attacks which we simply don’t have at the moment, and has forced the ball user kicking inside 50 to go to options that are far too stationary or just shank the kick anyway.

Sinclair looked a class above and then some in his performance for Sandy today as he belatedly began his rookie-listed status, but who knows? Maybe another mystery housekeeping injury might sideline someone for long enough to allow him back in this year, or Curren might have just gone and done it the traditional way this afternoon. But had Sinclair been there last night, with Billings in there as well, it’s a lot more help for Lonie when the ball hits the deck and the ball was hitting the deck a lot. Interestingly, the best piece of roving last night was Bruce off his spilled marking contest in the third quarter. Lonie could have made things very different but from the goal square managed to find the post instead of the large space between the two big ones. It would have brought us to within a kick and cranked up the momentum even further. As I said, Lonie’s taken several leaves from Schneider’s inaccuracy book, which is vaguely appropriate given Schneider’s mentoring role for him. Mini Schneider’s kicked 9.9 in his first 10 games, which is OK given at the core he’s a small forward but also not that great given that he’s a small forward. A lot of those shots have been quite gettable, so it’s been his pressure, poise and disposal higher up the ground that have punctuated his genuinely valuable contribution to the side to date as an 18 year-old.

Schneider himself was guilty of a couple of basic errors, but his return of 0.2 is the kind of think that will contribute to his legacy at the Saints being one of waste. The Essendon misses brought back his 2009 Grand Final howlers, with the clincher this time being that he’s actually there to finish those opportunities and show guys like Lonie, Sinclair, Minchington et al how to finish when the pressure is on. That’s why he’s on the list at all, and that’s why he was elevated ahead of Sinclair. Perversely, had he finished those opportunities this year alone we’d be saying he’s having close to a career-best season. But poor kicking is poor footy; it was true on Grand Final Day in 2009 and it remained so last night. More perversely, he’ll retire with the comfort of being a premiership player for Sydney in 2005, having gone bananas (and kicked straight) against us when it counted in the Preliminary Final.

Gilbert has found himself in Schneider territory for similar reasons. Yes, he has capable hands defensively, has missed a lot of footy and incredibly is only 28 years old. Like Schneider, however, he’s supposed to be the senior guy that shores things up, gets into the right spots and with his style of play run out of defence and set up a rebound or several. He tried those things but ended up kicking directly to the opposition and getting caught holding the ball, gifting the opposition goals on a night when the Bulldogs managed only nine in total. Stringer didn’t kick any, Delaney hadn’t done any washing so was available to keep Boyd to just one goal, Dickson only kicked one and Dahlhaus none.

Worth also mentioning that yet again we ran a close game out but were seriously hampered by inaccuracy. To be more a little contemporary with the historical analogies, the game closely paralleled the GWS tussle in Round 1, with us unable to find goals despite having an overwhelming amount of the play in the last quarter, and throw the Essendon game in there for the glaring misses at goal by a certain senior player starting with “A” and ending the “dam Schneider”. Including last night, in the last quarters of the respective three matches we’ve kicked 4.7, 1.4 and 2.5, which is a total of 7.16 in games three games we’ve lost by nine points or less, whilst the opposition has kicked 7.8. The same would be said of the Melbourne escape if we didn’t fall over the line in the last 19 seconds – we kicked 1.4 in the last term after having a monopoly on possession and territory for the nearly the entirety of the last quarter.

For some reason, let’s now talk about Billy Longer (I couldn’t think of a decent segue). The hit-outs finished pretty evenly, but I feel like he vaguely got to a few more contests and pulled in a decent grab or two – one late on the wing which exactly mirrored that of the one he took late in Round 6, but with the scores essentially reversed. I still don’t think there’s a enough evidence to see outright he’s better than Hickey or will be better than Hickey in the long run, particularly given Hickey was played as a forward. It allowed him to demonstrate just how mobile he is and particularly how good he is down low and at providing a presence immediately after a marking contest. Billy’s tapwork is superior for the time being, notwithstanding him inexplicably unable to make it to a centre bounce at one point.

Interestingly the St Kilda Facebook account hinted very strongly at something to do with “good news” about Jason Holmes to be announced soon, and I’m assuming it’s either a contract extension or perhaps an elevation onto the senior list at the end of the year. More interestingly it arose from the Club’s wonderful post celebrating the USA Supreme Court’s decision to legalise gay marriage in all 50 states. Footy is typically separate in my life from anything outside of my family – very, very few of the people I know and hang around with (barring, Richie and Lewis and a couple of others I’ve mentioned) are genuinely interested in the game – mostly because the things I’m involved with outside of the game are at odds with what you would typically experience within the culture of a footy club. That the Club did that was really incredible, given the overriding culture of the game has been dominated by masculine ideals and intimidation towards anything challenging those. Whilst last night’s on-field performance gave us little to take home, our club took a massive step that day of the type that no other has taken. Football clubs join people together because we are all chasing the same quantifiable achievement – to be in front on the scoreboard when the final siren sounds on Grand Final Day. Too often the idea that clubs bring people and communities together is mistaken for clubs bringing a very specific section of communities together. As a result of historical ties to particular regions, and by proxy class, a particular socio-political discourse is something that adds another thread through supporter bases above the aforementioned default culture, and those haven’t served to bring AFL clubs very far forward just yet. That the Saints have made the decision to openly support what’s happened in the US, given what the Club actually is, is bold and risks alienating some fans, but this is the kind of attitude that is necessary to move the Club and ourselves forward.