Justin Koschitzke Posts

An enjoyable Saturday afternoon at the footy

Round 23, 2013
St Kilda 4.4, 9.6, 12.9, 16.16 (112)
Fremantle 0.0, 4.3, 5.5, 6.5 (41)
Crowd: 22,476 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, August 31st at 1.45pm

What a surreal, enjoyable day at the footy.

In a season that at times was dark and dour, we played out our biggest day of the year in brilliant sunshine. We won’t play finals this year, obviously, although on Saturday we played a game with much finality.

It certainly helped our cause that Ross the ex-Boss gave most of the Freo list the day off in preparation for bigger things. Or maybe he had sense of occasion for his old mates.

I left RWB’s Brunswick headquarters in the early afternoon with not a cloud in the sky and a mild air signifying the changing of seasons. I felt good; it was a beautiful day, and I was feeling some relief as St Kilda’s season was nearly over. Given the state of the list, it was probably a necessary season (“the recession we had to have”, and there’s our topical politics reference), and there may very well be more of some of the same coming. But it was good to get to the end of this one.

I’m not sure how wholeheartedly the club pushed the whole “Retro” theme for fans, but on the tram up Bourke Street there were two guys, one with a Philip Morris jumper and the other with the 1995 Tooheys jumper. I was wearing my first scarf, given to me in 1994, but I’ve worn that every week this year anyway. I couldn’t pick up on too many others going for it elsewhere in the ground, although at 22,000 there weren’t many others to begin with.

I had the intention of meeting RWB’S OWN Richie Lee and Tamar for a pre-match drink at the ground, but my tardiness postponed it to a half-time/third quarter drink at Livewire, neighbour of the former West Coast Eagles Office.

By that time the Saints were out to a decent lead but I was still dreading a second-half comeback from Freo, with Mzungu pulling stuff out of his arse, Sandilands improving his actual football and Pavlich over-celebrating goals.

In hindsight it seems a silly thought. It finished up as a 71-point win; a VFL/AFL record for amount of disposals with 520, and the most uncontested possessions ever at 377; Jack and Joey recorded the most disposals by any St Kilda player in 140 years, and were the first teammates to have 45+ disposals in the same match (thanks to Shaun for alerting me to most of those). Perhaps fittingly, it was also Ross the ex-Boss’s biggest ever loss as coach.

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Kosi and I

I think I always followed Kosi a little more closely from the start.

I was always aware at a young age of what was seen as “mainstream” and “alternative” (when your mind works that simply and reductively), and I always leaned a little to the latter. Kosi was just that, relative to the chart topping My Favourite Hair in the AFL.

As number 1 pick and with the eye-catching blonde hair (indeed, as mentioned every week, My Favourite Hair-t0-be) Roo’s talent and impact felt a bit more of a given. Kosi, even though he was a pick number 2, went under the radar a little. He did win the Rising Star Award in 2001 at centre half-back, but he was always the underdog after he missed most of 2002 and Roo took out the Rising Star Award himself.

Our paths crossed (very loosely) in the pre-season of 2003. My family received a letter from the club to say my brother and I were off to Moorabbin Bowl to go ten-pin bowling alongside a few other junior members with a whole lot of Saints players. I still can’t remember why exactly we found ourselves in that situation; the first thing my memory fills in that blank with is “raffle”, although my brother and I obviously wouldn’t have both been drawn by chance, so either one of us won this raffle (no idea when or where it was held) and the club threw in the other one of us, or some kid members were just chosen at random – i.e., they didn’t bother with the whole “pulling something out of a hat/barrel” thing. I don’t think Mum kept those letters we got, so I’ll probably never know.

I was awkward and shy (and pimply) as all hell, not yet turned 15. I remember walking up Nepean Highway to the venue with mum and my brother beside myself with nerves. As always, I’d taken utmost care before we left to make sure my hair looked half-decent. A strong wind was blowing and by the time I caught my reflection in the automatic doors of Moorabbin Bowl the wind had blown my hair straight up and the gel (it was 2003) had set. I looked ridiculous. Cue enormous blushing (I hadn’t even met the players yet) and a quick dash to the bathrooms to get things sorted.

No sign of the players from where we were. In my head I thought we’d probably got the day wrong, or this was some elaborate joke on us. Seriously, why the hell would we be bowling with St Kilda players? (As per the above paragraph, technically I still don’t know the answer to that.) I was a pessimist from an early age and as we stood there looking around I was already building myself up for a mixture of disappointment and (more) embarrassment.

But no, I was wrong. The person behind the counter pointed us to the end lanes, and over there I could see some guys wearing polos amongst a smattering of red, white and black. They were there, and for whatever freak reason, we were meant to be over there too.

We were the first ones to arrive, so it was a little more daunting as all of the players looked over to just Matt and I as we approached. There was Nathan Burke, Stephen Powell, Andrew Thompson, Max Hudghton, Justin Peckett and, of course, Kosi.

The PR girl pointed me over to the seats next to Kosi and told me I was in his lane. I walked over and plonked myself down.

“Hi, what’s your name?”

“Tom.”

“I’m Justin,” he said warmly.

“I know,” I said, and smiled shyly. I genuinely said “I know” facetiously, but I’m not sure if that was noticeable through my radioactive blushing.

I didn’t have much to say at all that afternoon, really. I was too worried about making an idiot out of myself, so this isn’t one of those stories where I say “Yeah we spoke for ages about some bullshit”. But Kosi sensed that I was a bit spun out and he kept trying to bring me into things. I think my blushing nearly took the place into meltdown when he said to me about a girl in my lane, “”What about Claire? I think she’s alright”. Even with the (deliberately) cheesy stuff, he really did go out of his way to make me feel comfortable. It made being in that space comfortable and enjoyable.

But it was Matt that the players really liked of the 10 or 15 of us that were there. He had just turned 12 and he’s always been a “people person”. He was a bit more chatty and I remember his lanemates Thompson and Powell looking at each other after he’d cracked a bit of a gag. They liked him. In fact, it traversed lanes – he probably spoke more with Kosi than I did.

(I was actually surprised at how high the player to kid ratio was, but I think they might have genuinely enjoyed heading out for a bit of bowling on a pretty grey weeknight.)

A few weeks later it was Round 1 of the season and the Saints were away to the Kangaroos at the MCG. Kosi was out, though, and was spending the game in the coaches box with GT et al. The ground’s redevelopment had begun, with the Ponsford Stand levelled, but the old coaches’ boxes on the MCC wing were still in use. At half-time, GT and the staff had to come down to the field and walk along the boundary line towards the old players’ race near the Punt Road end.

Matt and I had been sitting close to the fence in the MCC, and I noticed Kosi in the group as they walked past our seats. He was just habitually scanning the crowd and saw Matt and I and, amongst GT and all the staff, yelled out to us.

“G’day Tommy and Matty, how’s the bowling going?” he said, accompanied with the bowling arm gesture.

I think I stood there blushing and smiling. I had trouble enough just talking to him face to face a few weeks earlier without having to scream at him over the fence and catch everyone’s attention (let alone yell out something not awkward). My brother just stood there as well, but I doubt he blushed.

I still can’t believe he did that. As just a 20 year-old, he could have raised the ire of the coaches for looking a little unprofessional, but amongst the senior staff he still went out of his way to do that. The thought of it now makes me want to tear up, for how good it made an awkward and self-doubting kid feel.

A whole eighteen weeks later – over four months later – Matt, his friend Nick and I were standing outside the rooms after the Saints had celebrated Nathan Burke’s last game  with 80-point drubbing over Richmond (it was also the first Heritage Round, and saw the rebirth of the candy stripe jumper). Kosi eventually walked out of the room and Nick caught his attention.

“Hey Kosi, do you remember these guys?” and he pointed to Matt and I.

“Yeah, bowling!” Kosi said, and he did the bowling gesture again.

I’m not writing this as a “OMG THIS HAPPENED TO ME” thing. I am a bit, but this is more about the fact that I always hoped that little bit more that Kosi would find what seemed to be his destined place alongside My Favourite Hair in the annals of St Kilda history. There were times when it looked set to happen. Round 14, 2005 at the MCG saw a brilliant, spiteful game against the Bulldogs that claimed Roo as a scalp with a collarbone injury for the second time that season. Kosi stepped into the role as key mobile forward, and in Roo’s subsequent absence was handed the captaincy. As we all know, he put in a sensational several weeks of footy that saw him become arguably the most dangerous player in the competition, but after a quad injury in the “Whispers in the Sky” match against Freo on the eve of the finals and the Giansiracusa head clash in 2006, he never played at that level of footy, nor that consistently again.

That perhaps is a bit harsh on the 48 goals he kicked in a great 2009 season, but it was well and truly in the “other” forward role, and in only a couple of games did he truly present a mobile threat to the opposition. It felt he was ultimately the beneficiary of the good work of those further up the ground. Even in another Grand Final year, in 2010, his output dipped to just 30 goals and decidedly less of a presence way from goal.

I really did hope Kosi and Roo would be the leading lights when the Saints won that second flag. Kosi was the victim of expectation, some of which came from being the number 2 draft pick, and some of which he created himself in that short run in 2005 and then throughout 2009. Life can take you to all sorts of places because of and despite expectations, as a player and as a fan. As a fan, I head to tomorrow’s game to enter a time in which I know, because it’s in my past, how Kosi turned out. I will miss him dearly.

Disappointed, buoyed

Round 17, 2013
St Kilda 2.2, 4.5, 9.9, 13.14 (92)
Port Adelaide 7.4, 10.8, 11.10, 14.13 (97)
Crowd: 14,878 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, July 20th at 7.40pm

I don’t think many of us were expecting much from Saturday night, but by the end we’d had the best and worst of a rebuild in the one match. Much like the West Coast match we didn’t come away with a win, but we have plenty to feel good about for the coming years.

However, personally Saturday night was overall tinged with some sadness as it was my Dad’s last home match before he and Mum move to the UK over the coming weeks. As my brother Matt said as we sat dejected in our members’ seats after the siren, the Saints gave him a typical St Kilda farewell.

Typical certainly for the modern era, post ‘97. Inconsistent and toothless to one side, irresistible and surging to the other, but ultimately falling heartbreakingly short.

Dad took me to my first game – a big loss to the Hawks at Waverley in Round 1 of 1994 – which makes this my 20th season of going to the footy with him, and he’s been there with me for all the bigger St Kilda matches and moments in that time. He’ll certainly be back to see the odd few games over the next few years, but those games will be sporadic and have short currency, as we know he’ll be heading back overseas very shortly after. This was the last hurrah for a constant in my life for the past two decades, and a constant of his much longer.

This match gave us a lot of talking points in terms of where it was won and lost, but like that West Coast game I can’t be arsed having a go at the umpires for too much. Some pretty rubbish decisions were paid but there were soft calls both ways, and I think if you’re going to find yourself 47 points down at any point then that’s what you’ve got to be looking at before anything else when deciding where things went wrong.

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Sometimes, OK things might happen

Round 15, 2013
Fremantle 3.1, 6.2, 11.6, 15.10 (100)
St Kilda 2.2, 7.3, 9.3, 11.4 (70)
Crowd: 34,064 at Patersons Stadium, Sunday, 7th July at 1.20pm

After last week’s swamping, it’s fair to say most of us are pleasantly surprised with the team’s showing on Sunday.

You couldn’t be blamed for feeling like we did to a point, but whether the younger guys put in a good week or a bad week, we have to acknowledge (for the time being) that there will be mood swings for the foreseeable future. This week, whilst we didn’t get the win, we’ll be feeling a whole lot better about things at Moorabbin/Frankston (Seaford).

For we were up against the King of Swamping, and so very nearly the King of Football, Ross the ex-Boss, with anything more than five goals to our name seeming like a relatively good day out.

Instead, the Saints were in it until well into the final quarter on the back of possibly the best intensity on and off the ball we’ve seen this year. But that wasn’t even the crux of it.

The most pleasing aspect was the genuinely positive showings by a raft of younger guys we’d been feeling rubbish about all week. Not necessarily those guys individually, but more the fact that what we had coming through might not be much chop. I’d taken it a step further, ignored my own advice, and spent most of the week dreading a longer and more difficult rebuild than I thought we’d have to endure.

I took the cross-city trek to Ormond to watch it at Mum and Dad’s.They’re moving to the UK indefinitely in the coming weeks, and this will be one of the last chances I’d get to watch the Saints with for a while. (For anyone else that catches the Frankston line, is it just me or does the voice recording on the train when you’re pulling in to Ormond say “Ormon”, i.e. really obviously drops off the ‘d’?)

To make it a real family affair, I used Mum’s car to pick up dear cousin Evan and bring him back to watch the game. I think we, including my brother, were more keen on the social aspect of the afternoon, rather than watching two juggernauts of the competition go head-to-head. I’d been to Geelong and Hawthorn the night before, and really I was just looking forward to a decent home-cooked meal (also one of the last chances I’ll get for that for a while).

Fremantle: Novelty colours, novelty song. Novelty players, novelty goal celebrations, and novelty fans. Everyone wearing purple on and off the field acts like cancer’s been cured when Freo kicks a goal (see Mayne’s overreaction to his own goal early). Terrifyingly, they’re a real shot at a premiership this year, and in the coming couple of years. It would hurt incredibly to see Ross the ex-Boss win a premiership somewhere else, but to do it with Freo would be incredible considering the shared history of these two respectively ridiculous clubs.

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J. Riewoldt and others v N. Riewoldt and others

I was keen on having this posted by around midday, but I instead spent my Saturday between going the big vom and intermittent sleeping due to too many on Friday night.

I probably should have held over until Sunday evening and wrapped it all into one big session though, because for all intents and purposes Jack Riewoldt is going to kick 10 and he’ll personally hand our proverbial to us again.

For those of us that will bother going to a stadium with no roof, we’ll also have to be dealing with a newfound confidence of Richmond supporters, who by all accounts have fortunately, en masse (if we’re going for stereotypes), been rather quiet for over a decade.

This is the first time really in my not-being-a-kid lifetime that Richmond genuinely look at having some sort of sustained success. We’re probably used to J. Riewoldt giving us trouble, but this will be the first match for a very long time in which Richmond come in as strong favourite against the Saints, and are expected to comfortably account for them on the way to bigger things.

First things first – Jack Riewoldt looks at getting a clearer shot at the goals than usual for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Saints obviously aren’t as dangerous this year overall, and the Tigers’ midfield has taken another step and the top end of Cotchin, Deledio and Martin (who is in career-grossest appearance) is now one of the most imposing in the competition. Jack can expect a lot of supply.

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