Leigh Montagna Posts

Past tense

Round 23, 2017
Richmond 4.1, 11.5, 12.7, 19.8 (122)
St Kilda 1.2, 4.3, 9.9, 12.9 (81)
Crowd: 69,104 at the MCG, Sunday, August 27th at 3.20pm

 

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I’ve been putting off writing this. It can’t possibly be a game review as it usually would be. Inevitably it would be all about Nick. Writing about his last match would also make the fact that he is now retired more real.

Thinking about his final game is to think about his career and be moving in and out of moments of hope and heartbreak, and very little in between. I began shedding a few tears when the scoreboard flashed up his career statistics in the minutes after the final siren; the first time I would see any final reference to his playing career. 336 Games, 718 Goals. That’s how it will remain.

For all intents and purposes, Nick Riewoldt was the one who would lead the St Kilda Football Club to its second premiership. I don’t know how many times I’ve written that on this thing, let alone just thought it. The thought of him holding the premiership cup made sense. Who else would it be?

To believe in Nick Riewoldt playing in our next premiership challenge was to believe that we might be able to find redemption for anything that happened throughout all the extremes since the 2000 and 2014 wooden spoons, and what we seem to refer to now as “the Grand Finals”. Nick was someone that had been there with you for that journey. It made sense that he was the number one pick at the end of the year 2000, at a(nother) ground zero for the club that he would lead with his good mate picked at number two to the promised land. He won the 2002 best and fairest, a season that returned just five wins and a draw. He was a key part of the 2004 and 2005 teams. He was the one who led the team out on the Grand Final Days of 2009 and 2010. It’s worth noting that he was at the front of the “St Kilda schoolgirl” bullshit in the months following the Replay, that marked the beginning of the end. His faux-knee in Round 1 apparently heralded the handover to the players who we hope are part of our next premiership challenge. To watch the end of his career is let all of that go, to let it all become part of history.

In lieu of vast quantities of team success over 144 seasons, it is individuals that we have had to celebrate more so about this club. Nick was a beating heart in a human body that represented the club. Right now we can only hope that this club is better for having had him. Hell, even our premiership has solitary elements to it. We remain with the failed St Kilda identity in tact. One Darrel Baldock. One Ian Stewart. One Tony Lockett. One Robert Harvey. Still, somehow, One premiership, by one point. One Nick Riewoldt.

***

I shed more than a few tears as he was carried off by The Most Inaccurate Man in the AFL and, wonderfully, his cousin. I’d taken both my Maddie’s Match and membership scarves to the game and wrapped the former around my face. I stood outside the MCG after the game for a bit but they weren’t really going to stop, so I walked to the city with it over my face the entire time and caught the 58 tram home, sitting in the corner facing backwards and out the window.

Until I’d come home and watched Richo’s post-match press conference and the highlights I could stay in that moment in which we were all experiencing Nick Riewoldt’s last match. He wasn’t quite retired, not just yet. For just those few moments. But watching back his final post-match interview on the ground, his final moments in a St Kilda jumper on a footy field – one based on the jumper he wore in his first game, no less – Richo talking about the day in the past-tense, and then an interview in the rooms with Nick himself made it very real. I ended up pulling my dressing gown over my head, lest an individual look up to my bedroom window overlooking Brunswick West and see my oddly lamplit face crying at my desk over the computer. On behalf of whoever might stumble across that: no thanks.

What to say about the game itself? By quarter-time the season was officially over as the Dockers’ late push against the Bombers fell short. Our effort ended up being a disappointing replica of the Melbourne match just a fortnight earlier; in fact, all three results on the Sunday were the opposite of what was required for us to make the finals.

If we shat ourselves under the pressure of the occasion and the gaze of 53,000 people against the Demons, then the 69,000-plus fans might have amounted to the most people Billings, Gresham, et al might had ever seen in one place and the effect was the same. Never in it as Richmond looked like the top four team they’ve become, getting first use and breaking down any move we made coming the other way, and getting an even contribution across the ground.

Flipping the Port Adelaide result would have only meant missing out on finals by percentage for the second consecutive season, and we were rightly left lamenting inherent aspects of our game plan rather than just thinking “what if” about a few moments and ignoring the constant inaccurate kicking and useless delivery going forward.

The final few minutes were almost – almost – enjoyable. The stress of this season, the stress of having a countdown clock on Roo’s career, they were coming to a close, and it should be pointed out the Richmond fans and players were excellent in their reception of him after the game. His first mark on the wing in the final minutes was met with a huge cheer, as we sought to soak up what he brought the field for perhaps the final time. The umpire decided to step in and pay a free kick to his cousin Jack, which was a little bit funny to begin with, and was made funnier when the smiles on the ground brought everyone in on the joke. Shortly afterwards he took another contested mark in the same spot, and still managed to break the emotion of the moment by kicking a torp. I don’t think he particularly tried kicking it any further than he usually would have; he carefully put it onto his boot to make sure he kicked it correctly, and it took me a couple of days to realise it wasn’t a barrel at all – it was an NFL-style punt; a nod to a sport he loves and the country that is now an integral part of his life.

It would prove to be his last contribution. He would be on the goal-line for the final the siren; the final play of his final game. As Josh Bruce moved to wrap his arms around him, Jade Gresham – who had turned 20 three days earlier – kicked his fifth goal.

***

It would be remiss of me to not mention Joey after today’s announcement. He never got rid of the loopy kicks and he was probably the most unfashionable of a core midfield brigade with Lenny, Dal and, for a period, Harvey, Thompson and Powell. He was capable of long running goals too but also handy for some clever moves. His great goal late in the third quarter of the 2009 Grand Final has been pushed to the darker corners of our memories. It would prove to be our last goal of the 2009 season.

He was overlooked over the past few years as a leader around the club. It’s hard to compete with Riewoldt’s blonde hair alone on the field, and it’s more of a shame that his exit would be pushed so far into the background. Leigh Montagna’s 2010 season is second in St Kilda history for most disposals with 745, 10 ahead of Robert Harvey’s 1998 season and 11 behind his 1997. Joey’s 2009 is seventh on that list. Of the 1,589 people to have played for St Kilda, he has played the seventh most games.

***

“Be proud that you’re a St Kilda person.”

In the frenzied off-season following 2010, Nick made an impassioned speech at the club’s annual general meeting. He closed with these words, which were so simply against the tide of the time. In front of the board, the entire playing list, and members, he took a swipe at the media and at anyone looking to “denigrate us”. As fans of course we were all feeling it, and the 2011 season would prove the players were too. The introduction of the black collar and cuffs on the jumper felt like a mark of disgrace emanating from the failed premiership bid over so many seasons, and after so much promise.

It was left to him to guide the club out of the black hole it was swallowed by. Even in the 2010 Draw, it was Roo who wouldn’t let us go down, who took what remains an overlooked mark across half-back to shift the play to our front half for the final score and final moments. In a club that has only existed in extremes, seven days later he would be on the wrong side of the moment that represented the gulf between the teams. Dodgy knee and frustration aside, he took on the figurehead role through another wooden spoon, and the early, unrewarding stages of a rebuild. Of course, he suffered extreme personal duress in that period, also.

For the first time this club will be without a clear leader, or clear heart and soul. Barker’s career overlapped with Frawley and Lockett, which were given over to Harvey, Burke and Loewe. Harvey remained, and Lenny and Riewoldt were there to take on what had been built from 2009.

That lineage is done now appears done now. It really began with the 1991 and 1992 finals appearances, took in 1997 and the failed 1998, the rebuild to 2004 and 2005 and then 2009 and 2010. History will tell us if it represented the closest to a golden era the Saints can get after the period overseen by Allan Jeans. That era succumbed to a long winter, and after this season we’re painfully unsure that this rebuild will take us close.

***

That Nick Riewoldt would ever retire seemed something bordering on unfathomable for so long. I remember early in 2004 thinking how bright and how endless the club’s future looked. Nick embodied the notion that GT instilled in him – that the way footy is played can be a reflection of the person. Nick was the embodiment of St Kilda in a number of ways, and therefore he represented something so dear to us for so long.

Nick’s retirement is sad perhaps because it felt that it came at the right moment. That definitively it would ever be a reality. It is a reminder that time doesn’t wait for anything or anyone. Not even Saint Nick.

What.

Round 18, 2017
Sydney Swans 3.5, 7.8, 11.14, 14.17 (101)
St Kilda 1.2, 3.2, 5.4, 9.5 (59)
Crowd: 35,773 at the SCG, Saturday, July 22nd at 7.20pm

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Tom: Well, that absolutely sucked. This week we get to share the burden of reliving the weekend’s tripe. First things first – What do you put the last two weeks coming off Richmond’s performance to? It’s the second time this year we’ve really fallen away soon after what looked to be season-defining performances.

Richie: Whichever way you slice it, we need to acknowledge a bit more that the Tigers were off. Look, it’s hard not to see it as an outlier. Generally 14 goals output signifies a decent night out let alone in one half. Finey pointed out on SEN, the Richmond game like all our wins was largely built on our defence – guys were able to push high up the ground and we kept them to a one-goal and change in a half. Two things I’ve realised since then: I don’t think it was any surprise that misfiring forwards like Lonie, Billings, Bruce, Membrey (even Roo and Gresh looked livelier) when the midfield functioned so much more efficiently and we’re winning out of the centre cleanly. But I don’t think our midfield is able to do that on a consistent basis – see: cattle. That leads to me second thing – by and large, quality opposition finds a large proportion of our younger brigade wanting, particularly in the midfield. I don’t think anyone would be shocked that Lonie and Billings were ineffective on Saturday night.

How do you think Jack Lonie is going after Saturday? Do we just need to give more continuity to our small forwards?
Personally, I can’t quite see Lonie “making it” as a player. He’s had some promising performances – Richmond, Gold Coast – but by and large he doesn’t effect contests. He’s a very clever kick of the ball, but we’re in no position to have a luxury, specialty player like that. I just can’t connect the dots when we put such a premium on forward pressure, and yet we have Lonie who couldn’t tackle a cardboard cutout to the ground. I think though, the role of the small forwards has been made much more difficult because we don’t get the ball cleanly forwards too often. In the Richmond game for instance, we had a lot more clean, quick possession and in turn guy’s like Lonie were popping up space a lot. The small forwards pecking order is a discussion in itself.

What about the Temple of Acres in his return match? In a game that we barely looked like we wanted to move the ball off half-back, I thought he looked like one of the few effective players able to provide a link and create something on the way to attack.

Blake is always going to stand out for that link up play. I think the other thing to note is that some of his kicking went “unrewarded” – yeah, I’m looking at you Josh Bruce. I think his form earlier in the year was better, but it was a good game from him and another reminder at how similar a lot of our other mids are. It also makes me think: why isn’t Richo doing a better job of freeing up Steven.

Richo lamented our ball use in the post-match. Who were the main culprits in this area? The thing is, we really struggled with this last time against the swans.

Lonie’s forward-50 entry that went straight to a Swan early set the tone, but I feel like the ball use was more to do with purpose. No DARE® Iced Coffee off half-back, but rather long kicks up the line which we’re going to shut down any potential passage. It put guys like Webster, Sinclair Ross in positions where they weren’t able to use their disposal to full effect. Excellent example of the restrictions of this team overall and how incomplete it is. Ideally we’ll be able to land some class and polish – these need to be the two buzzwords for our off-season – ideally from both a big fish and via the draft. Because until then we’re going to struggle with it; it has to be offset by our hard work otherwise and we’re not mature enough to bring that psychological commitment for four quarters every week.

One thing that was meant to be a tangible difference this year was our reinforcements down back; we weren’t meant to see any large forwards man handle us this year, but the last two games we’ve seen Daniher and then Sinclair and Buddy have significant impacts. What’s up with that?

I think quite simply it’s do with the mids getting smashed from the centre and stoppages in general. Last night we won the hit-outs and had more hit-outs to our own players, but Sydney’s tackling and pressure and was that good, and they’re also good enough to get it out of traffic quickly and cleanly. It’s given Essendon and Sydney’s forwards not just more opportunities but better opportunities. The same answer would apply if you questioned our forwards – over the past two weeks, from Riewoldt down to Battle and Marshall, the supply has been short – 37 forward 50 entries to 14 at half-time last night, and haphazard at best.

In the Richo/Finnis era, a lot of fans have been reassured by how we’ve been methodical and measured we’ve been and how we’ve had a plan. But I think it’s come time – was the plan the right one? The plan pre-dates Richo too. Pelchen was critical in its formative years, but like so many, went off into the sunset before it evolved.

As this season’s progressed I’m more sure that we as supporters were seduced by our form in the back half of last year. This year was never meant to be “the” year, even if we’d beaten the Bombers and the Swans. And the point of a rebuild is establish the grounds for a sustained period of success – like the club did from the 2000 trade and draft periods onwards – but, you know, with a premiership at some point. Officially and logistically, 2018 is the official, on-the-record, this-is when-we’re-meant-to-be-good-season, as far as the club is concerned. That’s when the coaches and administration are really on notice given that we still have a lot of guys that simply haven’t played a lot of footy. Saturday night was only Acres’ 39th game; it was Marshall’s first, Lonie’s 37th, Gresham’s 35th, Sinclair’s 39th. Dunstan is only 22, Billings hasn’t turned 22, and even Membrey’s only just turned 23. Then there’s Paddy, Battle, D-Mac, Goddard, Freeman, Rice, White and Long who either have had injuries, few or no games that are still coming through and have shown more than enough to be worth persevering with. We’ve seen what more game time has done for Billings, Webster and Ross overall this year, and Dunstan was arguably our best player in Sydney. There are two first-round draft picks to come, and that may be in the form of a big fish like Josh Kelly, or one first rounder this year and a big recruit. Our list is far from complete, but I think we’ll be duly shitting ourselves until we can justify with club success picking Billings and Paddy over Bontempelli and Petracca in paticular.

We’ve now had several debutants this year, Long, Battle and now Marshall on Saturday night. Have you been able to take away much from them so far?

Marshall and Battle came in at the worst possible times for forwards to debut. Marshall’s had a couple of years of head start but still had to work his way off the rookie list and last night he was a genuine bright spot. In the first few minutes he was giving words back to Luke Parker and he was one of the few running hard on the spread in the final minutes of the match. When he got the ball he moved quickly in tight spaces and held onto it and waited for an option. It meant the ball wasn’t spat out no purpose, it got other guys in the vicinity moving to give him something. Even his use of the body off the ball was smart and he was able to knock on the ball into space when he wasn’t able to get a clean possession. On a night in which we were monstered everywhere he showed more smarts and composure than just about anyone else, and that’s heightened when you have the physical presence and athleticism that he does. I would love to see him stay in the team, and hopefully get an even shot at it playing in the front half on a day that we’re at least competitive in the middle and give the forwards a decent chance. As far the idea of moving him onto Buddy or Sinclair on Saturday night goes given their number of scoring shots, I’m not sure how effective that would have been, or conducive for his own development. Being his first game, I don’t think there was too much immediate worth in potentially getting pantsed in that way.

I’m not sure why we didn’t bring him in earlier. To have not put Armo on the long-term injury list at any point this season only suggests one of two things – our coaches and medical term erred badly, or Armo’s body just simply isn’t up to it anymore. He’s played two games this year, and until Saturday for Sandy hadn’t played for 14 weeks.

My Favourite Player Battle was thrown to the wolves a little more in the sense that he’s still going to school and in his first year, so hasn’t that extra couple of years Marshall has had to build up his physical smarts and experience playing against mature bodies. He still managed to kick straight at goal when no one else could and the fact that he kicked four goals after being immediately dropped shows a lot of maturity. He’s another one that moves in a way that complements his size and build, and clearly has footy smarts.

It’s probably inconsistent of me to say “we’ve still got so much development left in our players though” and then turn around and say picking Ben Long at pick 25 is borderline bemusing. Right now that’s the first thing comes to mind, more so for the type of player he is, but I to remind myself that he’s shown some real agility that we lack on the list beyond Gresham and maybe Lonie (and…maybe Connellan?). Marshall and Battle this year have shown much more than Long in the VFL too, but he’s only 19 FFS.

How much of a shot are we next week? I think Port’s down week might have come one week too early.

Richo hasn’t won at Adelaide Oval ever, so it’s going to be a tough game on a few fronts. It feels like both Essendon and Sydney were able to get the ball into the corridor and break up our defensive set-up, relatively frequently. Unless this is remedied, you can visualize a lot of Port’s crafty, quick players causing some havoc there. Membrey will be a welcome inclusion. Going off of Richo’s post-match, Roo will be out, and Joey will be injured. So I certainly wouldn’t bet on us, but then again I’d almost say Port are just as flaky as us. Every time pundits get high on them, they put in a stinker. We’ve had two bad games, if we have a third – win or lose – then you have to call into question Richo and where the team’s head is at.  Another thing to note is that, there have been a lot of changes in the lineup in recent two-to-three weeks; this can’t be discounted in judging our form.Our next two are against Port and West Coast. If we lose both of those, do you think there should be a rethink on how we use the final three games in terms of selection and so on?

The way the season has panned out probably showed we were in need of more development time anyway. It’s not always a linear progression – for an extreme example see Geelong 2006 and Bulldogs 2014. Acres, Dunstan and D-Mac have shown bits and pieces in varying amount of game time, whilst Webster, Billings and Ross had taken their games to new levels from the start when there was no guarantee in the pre-season (especially after the Bont winning a best and fairest in a premiership year).

Richo said it was planned Roo would miss either this week or next. Without being at the club every day, would it take from here to convince you he should stay on for 2018? The latest murmurs increasingly suggest he probably won’t be there.

It would take him agreeing to a development coaching role. So we’re at a point where it’s publicly known that his body can’t stand up to a full season – hence, the resting plan. On top of that, he’s effectively a non-factor every time he doesn’t mark the ball. That’s not to downplay his leadership qualities, but a part of leadership is being able to walk the walk. Also, I don’t want lasting memories of Riewoldt to be him hobbling around. He’s definitely had some great games this year, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in most of the games against the bigger, better sides he’s been completely out of the contest – last night was a case in point, against the Giants is another off the top of my head. And, also with the Riewoldt thing, the macro view – Riewoldt is part of the group preventing McCartin from getting selected this year. Boomer Harvey was in North’s top 5 for disposal average last year, but they recognized that they needed to utilize his spot for the future generation.

In terms of selection, we’ve kind of gone for horses for courses approach a lot more. Do you think this has hampered the development of anyone?

I feel there’s a few parts to approach the how and ahy of this. is to do with the expectation we had for this season and the gulf between than where we’re at now. We’re at a point where we need to start thinking, ok, who are at the core of each of the defence, midfield and forward line, and get some continuity not just into individuals but those guys playing alongside others and becoming familiar with them. There will always be players at different stages of development and maturity and coming in and out of the team, so that’s where having strong depth comes into it. The fact that we’re still needing to test so many players’ worth and are still sussing out how and when to get continuity into them (injuries notwithstanding) shows how deep in the development game we still are. The Bulldogs’ ability to rely on their depth so much last year goes to their club environment as much the talent of each individual, and is probably an outlier when you look at the stability of the Swans and Hawks teams in recent years, and the Cats teams of 2007 to 2011 particularly. I think it’s more pointed to say – would the development upside have brought more positives than Player X playing this year, and what they bring to the team. After the performance on Saturday night and where we currently sit, and with the magnificence of hindsight the obvious ones in this category overall are Joey, Gilbert and Roo, and Armo and Dempster with asterisks. As far as Roo goes it meant less of Paddy and less of Marshall. But following on from the second half of last year, and all the way to a fortnight ago when we were sitting in the top four on percentage for much of the match against Richmond, those senior guys were all a part of a considered cause for getting some success out of 2017.

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…)

The People v GWS [No 119] (2017)

Round 7, 2017
St Kilda 2.4, 6.7, 10.9, 16.12 (108)
GWS Giants 4.2, 7.6, 11.10, 12.13 (85)
Crowd: 21,160 at Etihad Stadium, Friday, May 5th at 7.50pm

I’ve spent this weekend with a relaxation head-start of 25% [citation needed] owing purely to Friday night. Footy can do that to you; the Saints can do that to you. For this week at least, the road towards a second premiership is starting to take shape.

It’s also the sensation of having a win on the first Friday night game in more than two years. The last time we’d had the weekend to stew over the state of the Saints was in Round 3 of 2015 when Collingwood gave us a 74-point belting in our first official outing in Candy Stripe #2. It was also not-so-memorable for being Paddy’s first game; the club wasn’t able to get the usual PR and fanfare milage out of it because Roo came up sore that evening.

The last time we actually won on a Friday night was against Fremantle in Round 20 of the awful 2011 season as we made a late charge into the finals. We won by 41 points that night after a big last quarter, and Ross the then-boss was just 41 days from being the ex-boss. What does that all mean? Fuck all.

Conventional business hours on Friday morning had KB calling for the Tigers to jump on  Paddy after he kicked seven in the VFL on the Sunday and wasn’t selected. Not sure if KB thought he was “Fitzi” (note the “i” at the end, most probably to make sure everyone knows they’re not talking about Fitzy, but who cares), but Anthony Hudson and Garry Lyon decided to take it up that night on SEN as the lead talking point for the conversation before the game. Hudson said it was “put on the agenda” by KB and Garry ran with it so I guess that’s news now. Rohan Connolly made a passionate mention of Fairfax cutting jobs and the potential loss of journalists, but Garry shut him down, so yeah, that’s where we’re at I guess. The news is apparently made by the media now, not reported by the media.

Fitzi’s revelation (or whatever) of Fyfe coming to St Kilda was much of the rage for too much of the week. Saying it was a St Kilda board member who leaked the info was probably a bit too obvious and an easy giveaway that it wasn’t a St Kilda board member. Of course the club would have spoken to Fyfe, and he might well be on his way to us – you’ll get that from the ITKs on BigFooty – but every club would have spoken to him, or would like to speak to him. The thing that ruined it for Fitzi was him saying that Fyfe’s all but signed for a specific figure. That’s way too easy for Richo, Fyfe’s management, et al. to say that’s technically not true. He might actually be close to done, but unless there’s a Buddy job we won’t know for incredibly certain for a few months.

Even amongst all of the trade talk wankery this still felt like the biggest build up to a St Kilda game for a long time. Last year’s North game late in the season had some talk going into it, but it was more shits and giggles and too much had to go right for us from there (easy to say “too much” in hindsight but that’s what happened) for us to finish in the eight.

I was late to the ground as usual for the agreed meeting time – 7pm with Matt, only to be greeted by him on the bridge to receive an early birthday present. It was a 2006 Candy Stripe #1 clash jumper, one of the Saints jumpers I don’t own from this century. He’d also stumbled on a 2011 Vague Cross jumper a couple of weeks ago which he kindly purchased for me – I am now the proud owner of the worst (2007-2008 Apron) and second-worst clash jumpers in our history.

There weren’t many people wearing Saints colours around the ground at 7pm, nor were there anyone really wearing the faded version of the opposition. Do Saints fans want to turn up for anything? Rubbish crowds so far this year against Melbourne and Geelong were followed by a paltry 21,160 on Friday night. Yes, I’m aware GWS fans are family members, corporates, or AFL ring-ins, but we apparently have more than 39,000 members.

Perhaps the news that we’re keen on returning to New Zealand over the next few years show we’re still lacking in not just members overall, but that they’re not putting their hands into their pockets and taking out a bunch of cash for the Moorabbin fund. Turning up to the games more would help a little too.

Very rarely do I have good feelings about anything but by Wednesday I was feeling good things about this one. I’m not sure exactly why. If you’re pushing for a top eight spot then you probably should take apart a team that’s lost two of their five games by 86 points. Maybe that one felt clinical enough to think we’d smashed through the glass ceiling of large Australian Rules victories.

By Friday I’d calmly brought myself down to earth and was back to expecting something not quite so enthralling as what transpired. Matt and I agreed it was the kind of game where the  the members’ section comes in up and about, some umpiring goes against us, we miss a few easy shots, the opposition’s class has them kick goals out of their proverbial and by the time we’re being run into ground in the last quarter we’re sitting shitty and frustrated by our lives as St Kilda supporters.

Somehow that didn’t happen, which was fortunate for RSEA Safety because their hand-out hard-hats worn by some in the cheer squad would have been frisbeed at the back of Heath Shaw’s skull. Not sure why the St Kilda crowd more generally booed him. As much as I don’t like his on-field personality as an opposition player, I don’t quite categorise him in the same GW$ category as Ward and Scully. At least he won a premiership with his club before chasing dollars. If the Saints fans were upset about the 2010 Grand Final Replay, well…of course we’re all upset, but his side won a premiership and ours didn’t. That’s the long and short of it.

Richie turned to me at half-time and pointed out that we wouldn’t be able to win the game at the pace we were trying to play it at to that point. He was right – another Geelong job was on the cards and we were being cut to ribbons on the rebound too often. The third quarter saw the defenders beginning to settle on the ball a little more and look to move laterally or be more patient for an option to open up. The Giants were able to open up a 17-point lead and in that moment were just a break away from being able to open the game up or put themselves in a position where they could comfortably keep us at arm’s length.

The challenge demarcation was again presented with Smith’s monster on the three-quarter time siren, but at this point in the game things were far more dire. Richo spoke after the Geelong game about how disappointing it was that the second and third tier of players that had failed to step up in that situation. It’s increasingly necessary that the respective development curves of guys like Ross, Billings, Acres, et al. now take in their impact on games when the gauntlet is thrown down. There’s a lot more accountability of what they do within games, beyond just the general upward tick of development we’ve been looking for over the past few years. So it was in the absence of key roles from My Favourite Hair in the AFL and Joey that others would have to take that step if we were any chance of pulling this off.

But to start the third quarter Newnes had fluffed his kick to Bruce one-on-one on the rebound and Scully’s classy finish had the Giants within sight of a win. Our mids were set to get smoked and Matt and I were feeling comfortable about noisily potting Billy Longer’s performance until it slowly dawned on us that he was playing a huge part (literally) in their ability to get some sort of shot at the clearances. By game’s end we would have won that count, and the midfield in general had been given a chance to work their way on top of the masses of talent of the Giants’. Billy had looked cooked about five minutes into the game, barely struggling to make it to contests around the ground in time to nominate himself before someone like Gresham would have been forced to fill in on the spot. There was at least a method or some planning in the Bulldogs playing Dunkley and Lin Jong as the ruckman in the centre bounce; they went out of their way to not have a ruckman lumbering after the play. For a time, this just looked lazy. We took it to another level late in the first quarter after Wilson’s brilliant goal through traffic on the 50-metre arc and only had two players ready to set up at the resulting centre bounce – Longer and Ross. Membrey was the only player who decided to wander in before the umpire put the ball on the deck – still leaving us one short – and ridiculously it was him that won the ball at ground level and fed it out to Seb. But Billy’s shut me and a whole lot other people up for this week, or at least until his ineffectiveness around the ground becomes a serious issue. His physicality at the contest was telling and something we’d lacked – our mids will definitely say they’re happy having that around. Hickey’s injury in the VFL on Saturday might mean there’s not much choice anyway until Rowan Marshall is upgraded.

So, uh, back to the third quarter.  We’d managed to take charge of the pendulum and after some nervous minutes J. Billings did his best to emulate J. Bruce last week, and was bailed out by a trademark Marshall Mather slice shot from three metres out. It was a type of profligacy that isn’t reflected in Billings’ goal scoring tally. Gresham turned up after his one-possession first-half with a snap soon after that looks a lot classier after multiple viewings. His ability to balance himself so quickly, think his way through a situation and execute a play is something we don’t quite have enough of. He would only have 10 possessions by game’s end but they were among our most important. All of a sudden we were back within a goal, for Membrey and Ross to miss back-to-back set shots, split by an equally-inaccurate Heath Shaw kick-in that fell into Seb’s hands. After a cagey few minutes Shiel kicked a Rolls Royce-type goal from a couple of steps on 50 and we might have given it in there.

Sinclair and Gresham combined for Gresham’s second, and then one of the more remarkable but understated passages of play on the night came. It ended with Newnes goaling to draw us level with two and a half minutes left before the last change. From a mark, Tomlinson went down the line on the broadcast side to a large pack forward of the wing. The ball cleared the pack and bounced up. Geary (C) knocked it out of the air to Steele facing the wrong way near the boundary; his quick hands in to Webster were answered with a lightning handball by Jimmy over his right shoulder in traffic to Geary, who immediately turned and gave it off to Joey. Joey’s trademark long, loopy kick was barely met by Acres who had climbed on Davis about several minutes too early for the fall of the ball. “That’s poor” said Bruce reflexively, and everyone in the crowd thought the same thing. Sitting in the members you could feel it was one of those moments in which everyone is in agreement that a particular act deserves a free kick against. The umpire was too, but an unconfirmed Saint’s lack of awareness saved the moment. Watching it back on the replay the umpire is out of frame as Acres goes up, but both Matt and I were watching him as he put his whistle to his mouth – only to have his legs tangled up with the St Kilda player running past. The last frame in which you can see them both before they go out of shot is with 2.47 left on the clock – at a guess it’s Sinclair, and the umpire took a tumble and by the time he’d seen where the play had gone Billings had swooped past and delivered to Minchington, who gave it off the running Newnes for what Dennis Cometti might have once termed the drive-by goal. It wasn’t necessarily match-defining. I think most Saints fans would say we’re due for a piece of good luck like that. Sometimes it’s just your day. Smith’s huge goal on the siren was still to come, and it had the GWS guys up and about and Joey cracking the shits at Riewoldt for not putting pressure enough on the kick.

Three moments in the third quarter had demonstrated the gulf in class between the two teams, and certainly had me thinking we were in for a repeat of the fourth-quarter fade-out against the Cats. It was how they’d kicked three of their goals. There was the classy Scully finish as the Giants went coast-to-coast after a Jack Newnes shank to a mostly open forward line; the Dylan Shiel finesse on the 50 arc, which looked sensational from our seats in line with his angle; and on the clutch Devon Smith moment on the siren. Just like a fortnight ago, we’d needed to work incredibly hard to get what felt like disproportionate reward to the Giants. Their slicing forward that happened earlier in the game had been largely thwarted once the pressure gauge ticked upwards in the second quarter from our end, but these moment showed they didn’t need to be given much at all to punish you. A massive win against the Hawks had our the put queries over our ability run out games on the backburner for a week, but here that challenge loomed again.

The next tier of players that Richo called on to step up did just that. Again, it was the ability to do that in the moment that meant so much for their development, as well as showing a positive response to Richo’s message. That said, we were in touch at three-quarter time without the huge input from Roo and Joey because of guys like Billings, Wright and Sinclair in the front half and Webster who had come prepared for a big night and made an impact from the start.

Billings again starting up forward brought him into the game immediately. He had 1.2 and eight touches at the first break before pushing up higher in the second and third quarters, and I think as much as he has been trying to find some consistency and form over this year perhaps the coaches have equally been looking for the best role for him. Playing off the back half makes sense given the quality of his disposal but it looks like playing a role in the front half gives him more intent. He deserved a third at some point but brought himself undone in the goal square as mentioned, and then missed a snap in space later on to completely ice the game. From whipping boy/seagull earlier the in year, he’s slowly shut people and now got them talking again about him, but for genuinely positive reasons.

Sinclair played a similar but higher role and despite a few early nerves – similar to last week – his disposal improved positioning was really smart. He’d first played that type of high forward role really nicely in the Round 3 win against Collingwood last year and it showed off a quality in his field kicking that we hadn’t seen much given he’d begun his career much closer to goal. His inclusion with Koby Stevens appears to have made an instant and positive impact on the team balance – the midfield has retained its grunt, already heightened with the addition of Steele – but Stevens has so far offered more in terms of disposal than Dunstan and Armo (with an asterisk due to his ongoing injury issues), whilst Sinclair offers footy smarts and better between defence and attack.

Wright had come in for Mav who had a rolled ankle, and yet again didn’t have too much of the ball (12 disposals) but hit the scoreboard with 2.2 and seven tackles. His 25 touches a week earlier for the Zebras show a pretty consistent formline owing to difference in standard. Do you take him out immediately for Mav if no one is injured or dropped (or suspended, i.e. Koby Stevens)? Perhaps Minchington, but he quietly racked up 17 touches, 1.1 and seven tackles himself.

You could mention Gresham here too. One disposal at half-time, three goals by game’s end including the sealer. He was one to have an impact at times of genuine challenge during the game, rather than respond to rev-up or a break between quarters. His first two goals came at critical times in the third term, when it looked like GWS were about to pull clear, and his third goal had him again in perfect position for the fall of the ball and he goaled coolly on his left to finish the Giants off. Hunting around with Sinclair and Billings has the team right now looking a lot sharper.

For all the queries you can throw at his game, Bruce made two particularly important contributions in the final term. He’d had four touches at three-quarter time – not sure if it was the delivery or him but he seemed to impervious to the age-old art of marking, with just one clunk at the final change and two by game’s end. That second came when he at last got some split (*2015 Buzzword*) on his opponent and some Seb Ross class got it to him neatly and he extended the lead that Acres had created. Gresham’s third goal owed a lot to him as well – Stevens and Ross combined in the middle and Membrey had to go up against both Davis and Tomlinson and was good enough to split the contest and bring the ball to ground. Bruce busted in and held off Taranto who was close to the fall and guarded Gresham from Tomlinson to make sure had more time and space to finish.

To take the chain of Gresham’s third back further: the heightened pressure level in the final term had the Giants scrambling for territory with rushed disposal in a similar way that we managed to force Collingwood into a few weeks ago. Scully found the ball on the wing and with his left went searching for Patton, who was with Carlisle. That might have presented a problem if Patton managed to at least cause a real contest, and the ball had bounced in his favour. But Jimmy Webster had worked well clear of his opponent and glided past to kick across to Newnes, who went to Stevens. Webster himself, like Billings, had a few hiccups at the start of the year, but has now become a key part of the defence. The acquisition of Carlisle and Brown can’t be underestimated not just in their isolated worth – Cameron and Patton managed just three goals between them – but their presence has released Webster and Roberton to play in and improve their more natural roles. Webster was a part of the Jack Steven snap goal chain as well, with a bullet to key talking point guy of the week Blake Acres.

He’s threatened to really bust a game open this year and again, Blacres really took his opponents on when he could and jetted into space. He has a habit of being caught by his jumper but still rocketing himself out of the opponent’s grasp, even when being slung around a little. When Richo specifically mentioned “fourth- and fifth-year players” in the post-match press conference of the Geelong game that we was disappointed didn’t take the next step when the game demanded it, I think most Saints fans would have had Acres in mind. He has shown his versatility and X-factor in patches and whilst this wasn’t a massive four-quarter performance, it was a massive final quarter performance against arguably the most talented team in the competition. He kicked two goals in as many minutes early in the final term playing as a forward target, to take us from nine points down to the lead. (Worth mentioning here that Sinclair was the one who delivered expertly to him for the second goal). Acres followed that up with a party tricks fast handball over the right shoulder to Geary running out of defence – I’ve said it before but he’s shaping as an old-fashioned and/or very modern utility player.

I’ve glossed over or completely neglected the huge games from Seb Ross, Jack Steven and the midfield in general, but (I’m still surprised I’m saying this) we’re getting used to those. The depth is growing; the output of the guys that have been there for a few years like Ross and Steven continues to lift, as well as being boosted by recruits Steele and Stevens and younger guys running through. As I said, this game showed a difference in class but you can’t fake the kind of attitude and hard work it took to get the job done across the 22 on Friday night.

The game had a lot of those moments where in that particular second you think this whole thing is going somewhere. Geary’s huge tackle on Patton was an early warning of the intent. But then in huge moments there was Gresham’s goals, Acres’ hands after his own pair, Seb Ross’s delivery to Bruce, Carlisle’s spoil in front of the members between Devon Smith and Heath Shaw, Steele and Minchington shutting down a GWS rebound attempt in final couple of minutes. Even in isolation they can represent so much.

Last year I remember thinking (and writing) that the second half of the season was set for all sorts of novelties associated with a rebuilding team. An 88-point loss to the Crows had us 4-7, and we’d lost Hugh Goddard for the season. It was the first weekend of June and it seemed to have promised a long, cold winter full of Jackson Ferguson, Will Johnson and Nick Winmar-type appearances from bottom-of-the-depths players. We backed it up with what remained to the end of the season amongst the two most enjoyable matches – knocking off the in-form Blues in front of a sold-out Docklands on a beautiful Sunday afternoon on the long weekend, and then the three-point win over the top-of-the-table Cats.  Richo spoke after the game of the importance that this doesn’t become “an event”. Whilst those last wins set off an incredible second half of the season overall that saw us miss out on the finals on percentage only, they were immediately followed by a loss to the Gold Coast who had lost their last 10. Another challenge to the maturity of this group comes on Saturday in the form of Carlton, who loom as both potential easybeats and potential threats.

In hindsight this game is mostly about what happened in the second half and/or last quarter. It’s about a whole lot of younger guys that we’ve been banking a redevelopment on taking what might be a landmark step. For the next week it is, anyway, until Saturday’s game makes its own impact on the ongoing narrative. This is just part of the journey, but a good part. On the siren of our Round 7 win over Carlton in 2013, I took notice of the reactions of Ross and Newnes particularly. “These are the kinds of wins that not only gets us as supporters attached to the players, but those players really attached to the club”, I said in the review. In the four years since we sacked our coach, sunk further down the ladder – the furthest you can go – and after Round 7 of 2017 I’m saying the same thing. The difference here is that guys like Ross, Newnes, Acres, Billings, Carlisle, Webster and Gresham – some who weren’t even at the club for that win four years ago (indeed, that was Webster’s first game) – those players owned this one. As supporters we find ourselves more and more looking to these guys to step up when things get tough.

It wasn’t until watching the replay, after Jack Steven booted home the icing on the cake from the goal square, that I learned something interesting from Bruce (not for the first time): in the previous 98 rounds, we’d only been in the top eight at the completion of a round three times, and never beyond Round 2. That’s now four rounds out of the last 99. The rebuild hasn’t truly worked until we’ve won a premiership, and after everything that happened across the last generation (and, realistically, the several before that) as St Kilda fans we’re wary for next week, let alone the years to come. But this win felt different. That sense of purpose and a sense of direction is back. There are some times in which you feel that, quite simply, it’s time.