Justin Westhoff Posts

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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The Power of uhhhh…

For the first time in a very long time, St Kilda games towards the end of the season are not very enticing affairs.

From our perspective, anyway, and I’m talking about in terms the ladder. Remember when we were a genuine chance at a premiership? By Round 17 we were worried about where we were going to finish in the top four and building up to what could be the defining period in our football lives. Now we’re two months into a wind-down.

Yes, looking forward to seeing kids play is an exciting thing in itself – particularly when Tom Lee has kicked three goals two weeks in a row and Big Tom Hickey has finally given us some good signs – but it’s never a guarantee that a young side will come out and give a half-entertaining honourable loss.

That’s what we’re stuck with as the home and away season enters its final stretch. This week at the very least finally gives us a chance to see Tom Curren play, who has been elevated off the rookie list at long last. No one would have complained if he’d been elevated last year, and after being teased by the club with stints as the merch guy and the video host guy, he’s finally playing a senior match.

In perhaps another “first”, all four boundary umpires are named Christopher/Chris.

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St Kilda Fools’ Day

Round 1
Port Adelaide 5.2,  8.6,  11.9,  13.11 (89)
St Kilda 2.1,  9.3,  11.4,  13.7 (85)
Crowd: 21,179 at AAMI Stadium, Sunday, April 1st at 4.10pm

It was the usual story from a silly St Kilda outfit struggling interstate – the perfect blend of poor attack on the ball and woeful disposal as mediocre hometown heroes get a day of not very hard-earned crowd and commentator adulation (add the tarpaulin to that where Port is concerned).

I was worried this would happen. I didn’t expect Port to get out to a 26-point lead early, but if I did I’d have been paying actual reverence to pre-season form.

Making things worse for my mood personally was the fact I had to contend with a family dinner featuring Grandma whilst the game was on, with said meal served smack bang at the start of the third quarter. The temptation to really go bananas is always high at home, with a chance to make the most of minimal public embarrassment due to flustered face and anguished voice. Grandma’s presence of course tempered that, so I had to sit there on the couch and then at the dinner table in my player issue 2009 white training jumper and sulk and be flustered more quietly than I’d have liked.

The build-up to the game wasn’t too good with the news coming in that Ledger had been withdrawn for Farren. In a year which I’ve already written off and am trying to console myself with the line “it’s all about the kids” (all as a psychological ploy to avoid disappointment) this suddenly meant a far more experienced line-up would be taking the field. No excuses for a loss then – ok, fine; if you’re a good team then you should win this kind of game anyway – but it also meant a lack of urgency that Ledger brings and the chance to watch a young player take their opportunity to put their mark on the club.

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Avoid disappointment – get ready to laugh now

Under Ross the ex-Boss we grew accustomed to winning interstate; obviously for much of 2009 and 2010 the Saints were winning anywhere anyway.

So it meant a period of time (albeit brief, in the scheme of things) where we lived the dream of strong, cohesive performances interstate. The comedy hour displays that were a firm fixture in their own right- up until the players got out of the clown car to take on the struggling West Coast late in 2008 with a finals spot on the line – were shoved into Room 101. The hope was they’d stay there, with a premiership tempering any pain we would feel after slapstick efforts for another decade at least, in Victoria or interstate.

Those interstate performances gave us some memorable moments of skill, luck and controversy (most of those involving Fremantle), just to remind us all that at least if the Saints aren’t winning premierships, they’ll be providing genuine flashes of skill in vain, or be in the news for just about everything else.

But we enter a new era on Sunday, and for however many new eras this club should have had since 1991 where the laughing stock shackles were to be broken off once and for all (or at least for another few decades), there’ll be almost certainly teething problems as the players adapt to a new coach and game plan and the club adapts to new personnel. Comedy hour might well be making a triumphant return.

Playing Port Adelaide in front of a few fans and more tarpaulin could be just as much of a psychological challenge as playing in front of a packed house wearing purple at Subiaco/Corporate Name Stadium. The locals are just as unwelcoming, the tarpaulin indifferent to any of your heroic feats at the home of the enemy. Also, you’re St Kilda, and when things aren’t expected to go well in general they’re expected to go much worse interstate.

All of that said, St Kilda should win. Port had a pretty decent pre-season and the Saints didn’t as far as on-field performances went, but we all saw what happened at the MCG between Carlton and Richmond; if the Saints are good enough, they’ll switch on when the real stuff begins.

Their best is certainly better than this bottomed-out Port side, but with new personnel and a new game plan it might not click straight away. There’s a number of inexperienced or new faces in the line-up, with Ledger and Stanley certain starters and Siposs, Cripps and new boys Milera and Wilkes named on the extended bench. It probably won’t end up that way, but that’s potentially six players with 43 games’ experience between them.

Already injuries have come calling (losing Misson might be proving costly already), with Schneider and Gram to miss. Schneider’s absence opens the door for Milera to roam around half-forward – although I’d assume he’d be used as the sub if selected – or perhaps even Siposs after playing higher up the ground through the pre-season (although apparently his dad has said he’ll be playing for Sandy. Via Facebook of course, or so the story goes).

With development the order of the year, I suspect Cripps is only a slim chance to reprise his 2011 role of pinch-hitting forward (which he did with great effect) should he be selected, in favour of his more natural role of running through the middle from half-back.

A sunny day of 24 degrees with only light winds is forecast for Adelaide on Sunday, and it’s perfect conditions to be able to judge Stanley’s performance accurately. He needs to hold on to those 50/50 marks that he spills too often and I’m really looking forward to seeing how he and Kosi goes. The Last Man to Have Captained the Saints to a Premiership of Any Kind moved incredibly well by his standards through the pre-season, and aside from the newer players selected we’ll have our eyes firmly on how he and fellow veteran Lenny perform.

Wilkes’ potential inclusion would probably see him played as a backman, although I’d probably prefer Blake if that was the case – the alternative is a far too tall forward line, regardless of how much more suited he is down there (although some would probably prefer him up forward to Rhys). The Port forward line could be rather tall at times (Butcher, Schultz and Westhoff) so another big body will be probably be needed, particularly with no Simpkin – the closest thing to a natural full-back.

With the defence looking shaky anyway, the midfield will need to reverse their leaky form of 2011. I’d personally take Hayes, Dal, BJ, Joey, Steven, CJ and Ledger over Cassisi, Ebert, McCarthy, Boak, Pearce and Rodan (a monty to give us grief if selected) but McEvoy, Kosi and Stanley will have to do the right thing by them too, not to mention that Lenny hasn’t played for 51 weeks. This is where the class of the Saints’ top players will need to really come through – as unhealthy the reliance is on the top several, that’s where this game will probably be won. Port will be introducing several new players themselves so that could be two teams out there on Sunday trying to find their way around things and putting on a good stage show.

As much as I like to laugh, I’m hoping the Saints keep as filled with resolve and hopes for the future rather than fodder for Monday’s weekend wrap-up. Either way, CJ will be playing, so there’ll be some character-based comedy on show at the very least.

…That we can never get away from the sprawl

St Kilda managed to avoid the Gold Coast’s prowling recruiters last year as the start-up franchise (I’m not calling it a club) pounced on out-of-contract stars from the existing 16 teams.

Through the early part of the 2011 season, I genuinely enjoyed watching the Gold Coast play. It was a young side – with a sprinkling of some not-too-bad senior recruits – that had nothing to lose as they faced daunting opponents, and still dared to take games on.

Their revolving door of youngsters – both in numbers and policy – featured a number of thrilling stars-t0-be. Swallow, Bennell, Dixon, Smith, McKenzie, Matera, etc. and so on. It was exciting to watch a team

The comeback, breakthrough victory over Port Adelaide was punctuated in my uncle’s lounge room (I was alone at the time…) by my fist punching the air as I jumped up from the couch when Justin Westhoff’s after-the-siren kick was sprayed wide.

Perhaps the enjoyment I got from watching the Suns had something to do with the fact I didn’t really have to worry about them, from the perspective of a Saints supporter, until much later in the year. I could relax in the very least knowing that if the Saints were to make a late charge up the ladder, the Suns wouldn’t be in the way on the rungs above them.

St Kilda were the last side to meet the Suns (another one for conspiracy theorists who think the AFL has it in for the Saints), and by the time this date rolled around last Saturday night, the Suns were a different prospect.

All of a sudden, they weren’t the band of exciting kids that thumbed their noses at the bigger bodies of the opposition or the unfriendly score line. They were directly in the way of my Saints taking the four points.

Watching Zac Smith run off an opposing tall to snap a goal wasn’t nearly as fun. Gary Ablett Jnr making short work of the watchful eye of Clinton Jones wasn’t so awe-inspiring as fear-inducing, the Judd-like poise of David Swallow through traffic was no longer a thrill but a threat.

Whilst the Saints held off the Gold Coast, the Sun were labelled “brave” in the press. The press is supposed to be neutral; I couldn’t apply the term “brave” to the Suns as easily, because from Saturday night they had turned into a juggernaut-in-waiting, closer to a premiership than my own club which had come so heartbreakingly close twice after such a lean 137 years.

Expansion, all of a sudden, was an issue. It was here, and now it was a competitor.

It raised its head again yesterday with the announcement Phil Davis would be playing with GWS from next year (of course, he hadn’t signed on with the club or anything – that would be breaking AFL rules. You don’t wanna mess with those, especially if you’re run by them.).

The Giants have not one, but two years to poach players from the existing clubs and franchises. Even if the Saints whose names have been thrown up as possible targets of the Giants – Goddard, Gilbert, Armitage, Dawson and Stanley particularly – stay at Seaford(/Frankston/Moorabbin), the Giants will be out hunting next year also, again with the irrefutable bait of wealth.

And if they still snare no Saints? There will be none of the fun, comfort, or other positives of watching youngsters with big futures play, no matter if the losing margins are as big as those futures.

My mind turns back to Saturday night; the despondent feeling I had after an uninspiring win. It will mean nothing in the history of the two sides as one strides towards a dynasty, and there will be another monolith in the way from next year.