Nathan Wright Posts

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.

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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.

Seasons past

Round 21, 2016
St Kilda 5.0, 7.5, 9.8, 11.10 (76)
Sydney Swans 4.1, 8.4, 16.7, 23.8 (146)
Crowd: 33,059 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, August 13th at 7.25pm

Between two wins from the first eight games and last night we swung between “mathematical chance” for a finals appearance and “part of the conversation” (as proxy for “better mathematical chance”). Ridiculously, we’re still a mathematical chance to make the eight, but more reasonably (and to the point) we’re no longer part of the conversation.

Saturday night marked the end of a few weeks in which we appeared to perhaps emerge from the depths of the last post-Grand Finals crash. This year will be noted for the big step taken by the club from the previous years, but certainly nothing more until we find out in the coming years what it actually led to.

Yet another late season drubbing against the Swans in hindsight was always on the cards. Our record against top eight sides hasn’t been awful – some of those encounters include our best footy for the year – but the Swans added to our 2016 pile of smashings at the hands of premiership fancies that have highlighted the gap still to be made between where we’re coming from, where we are and where we want to get to.

The AFL has enjoyed the comfort of recent years knowing that the Swans will be facing the lowly Saints late in the season in what surely looms as a key match for the Sydneysiders (#conspiracy). In Round 21 of 2013 the Swans doubled our score for a 59-point win; in Round 21 of 2014 Buddy went nuts and the Swans won by 71; last year we kicked only four goals in Sydney premiership hero Adam Schneider’s farewell match in Round 22 as the Swans shat in a 97-point thumping; and in Round 21 this year it was a 70-point margin.

Despite what was on the line for both team the atmosphere pre-match was one I haven’t quite experienced before. The Pride Match is a wonderful initiative by the club. Last night was the first time I ever saw two males holding hands at a game of footy. I saw one man get visibly emotional as he received his Pride scarf, which were sold out well before the game (I had to opt for the beanie after going to four different selling points inside and outside of the ground). There was a remarkably relaxed feeling walking through the crowd; people seemed to feel comfortable and there little of the bravado that often accompanies a boorish mass of people. People felt like they just be people.

The reception it received – judging by the media attention on the game, the atmosphere at the ground, and seeing how many people had purchased and were wearing the scarves and beanies – was incredibly heartening. As a straight, white male I’ve had the easiest of runs but to know this event was being planned and then actually attending was a relief. Some people will say it’s a PR stunt; others will click the “Angry” icon on Facebook posts from the club and the league; others will bemusingly leave flyers on windscreens around Trevor Barker Beach Oval on the day of Sandringham home games. Yes, free speech and all that, but the ideal of free speech is to have a serious conversation, and through that process weed out the excess and deadweight that gets in the way of growth and progress. It’s so great that the club I support engineered this event, but it’s so great that any club did.

Hey, remember that time we had pick #2 in the 2001 National Draft and we used it on Luke Ball and then Chris Judd got taken at #3 and the Eagles made back-to-back Grand Finals and won a premiership and Judd became one of the greatest players of all time? And then Luke Ball left after getting only 50 per cent game time in the 2009 Grand Final and won a premiership the following year for the club we played off against twice for the Cup? Anyway, three years ago we had the #3 pick and we used on this guy Jack Billings who I reckon will be pretty good, but the Bulldogs had pick #4 and they used it on Marcus Bontempelli who is exactly the kind of big-bodied, polished player who can kick goals that we’re chasing in a trade or via free agency to lead our midfield and is probably the best young guy in the comp at the moment? And albeit at this early stage Billings is giving us worrying signs that he might not be as good as thought he might be? He had five touches to three-quarter time last night. Yes, it’s not about this year; yes, he’s here for a career; but is anyone else slightly terrified about that situation? Here’s to a massive pre-season for Junior Burger.

Anyway, we’re looking thereabouts for the coveted #9 pick this year, having had it in 2006 and 2007, using it on Armo and Big Ben respectively. Armo’s a known quantity now – we know what his best is, and he was closer to it last night than he’s been all year. But he’s fallen well down in the pecking order of our prospective midfield through the anticipated climb up the ladder. Big Ben has turned into Shane Savage and Luke Dunstan (with pick #18 in 2013). I still think we finish ahead in that one (pick #19 in 2013 was Blake Acres which technically speaking we received from the Hawks in a separate deal for picks 24 and 59), although you’d have to ignore the fact that Patrick Dangerfield (yes) was taken with the pick immediately following Big Ben’s, and Cyril Rioli three picks later, and Harry Taylor at #17, and Alex Rance at #18, and Callan Ward at #19.

Blacres was really the only one that Richo highlighted in the post-match press conference. Again, he was just about everywhere. He started at centre bounces, and moved high up the ground and into defence, took on the opposition and moved smoothly through traffic, and played as a focal point up forward. It was his hard get-out from the middle that released Steven who ran and delivered to Mav for a goal in the first quarter, and twice in the second quarter after he was moved up forward pushed up a little to provide a link and delivered handsomely to Paddy on the lead.

He ended up with 1.3 amongst a couple of rushed shots and probably should have finished with two or three goals but in his turns up forward he covered for the glaring absence of Membrey and Bruce. Membrey looked likely early but after his early mark and goal neither really effected the game in any meaningful way. Paddy only finished with five disposals but he kicked two goals and presented very nicely when the guys further up the ground were holding up their end of the bargain.

The difference between the first and second halves was (obviously) profound. As someone who totally doesn’t play for the St Kilda Football Club I can’t actually tell you why, I can mostly just sit here at the keyboard and say I don’t think Billings was very good. Perhaps the enormity of getting through a season caught up with the group when faced with a genuine premiership prospect playing for a top-two spot; for whatever reason it might have been Richo pointed out that whilst the intent might have been there it simply wasn’t effective when a tackle was attempted or a turnover was on. The midfield was obliterated; Ross and Armo battled hard but Steven’s influence was quelled, Hickey couldn’t run after the first quarter and Gresham’s output was understandably down a little. Guys like Geary and Dunstan may well have been missed, but I don’t think their absence combined with a couple of umpiring howlers in the final quarter would have made much difference to this one. The Swans were controlled throughout and it felt as if we were playing above ourselves to stay in it until half-time; the short balls in to players in space in the forward 50 was our forté last week; this week it was the Swans who ran, spread and presented in numbers all across the ground.

Strangely, the best moment of the night might have been Eminem’s snap goal in the first quarter when he was low to ground and under pressure; at that point we were looking like we might really present a challenge to the Swans. However, he and Minchington are the most likely to come out on form next week as surely some novelty moves are made to make way for Shenton, Templeton, Holmes, Brandon White, et al. What might save Wright is what saved Minchington the week before – low possession numbers offset by a large tackle count; Wright had an equal game-high of eight (shared with Newnes and Tom Mitchell) whilst Minchington had 10 against the Blues. But the temptation to have a look at guys that have performed consistently well for the Zebras without reward surely becomes too great given the only thing on the line is exactly which top-10 pick we get that we might regret in hindsight. Shenton kicked another four goals for Sandy today, making it 10 in the last two weeks and 16 in his last five games for the Zebras. I don’t know how many possessions Eli needs to get and Holmes’ best chance comes this week with Hickey in doubt.

Who else but the Saints to play into form a premiership contender? Buddy roamed scarily across the ground in the second half and incredibly racked up the highest possession count of his career (28) to go with his six goals; at the other end Aliir Aliir continued to establish himself with his composure Fletcher-esque reach – his spoil on Paddy wide near the 50-metre arc was sublime. Their midfield showed off the best of their hardness and polish, and racked up huge numbers (and a few goals) en masse. To put it short, the Swans looked scary, and there’s every chance we’ll be looking back on Hawthorn vs. Sydney Grand Finals in the even-numbered years of 2012, 2014 and 2016.

The season effectively ended with potential future captain Jack Newnes’ flying shot at goal at the beginning of the third term. His shot cannoned into the post; had it gone through we would have been in front, but from then on Buddy alone collected 15 possessions and kicked three goals in the quarter as the Swans kicked 8.3 to 2.3 for the term; 15.5 to 4.5 for the half, and 17 of the last 20 goals for the match. The final siren marked a 141-point turnaround from the previous week, making it our 11th highest in history but only eight points from second on the list.

I don’t think any reasonable Saints fan would have set themselves for a season that ends immediately with the sounding of a siren – I talk of course about finding yourself in a final, or an effective elimination match near the end of the year. When you’ve been at our low level over the past few years the end of the season is literally just the end of the final home and away match, but you’re counting down to that from around the halfway point when it’s clear no dream run will emerge. We didn’t quite get that this year. Whilst the slow start to the season and costly losses to the Gold Coast and North Melbourne (at least one of the two to them) had us on or near the ropes for much of it, the emergence of several younger guys and some genuinely good wins on the back of some genuinely good football meant it would take a few serious shakes it took to bring the whole thing down.

In hindsight it was the 2003 season that was the link between the post-1997 Grand Final crash and rebuild and the heady 2004-2010 premiership-fancy era. I don’t think the improvement in 2017 will be as exponential as what the stunning 2004 season gave us, but with the addition of Carlisle, perhaps another big-name player in the off-season, and another season’s experience for the younger guys improvement has to be a non-negotiable. Amongst all the forgettable games, conjecture by amateur bloggers about our recruiting and the piercing draft and trade talk, time passes. Slowly but surely we’re approaching that point in the future we’ve been talking about for years; that point where what the club has been building towards materialises. Over the next couple of weeks we get to relax a bit, and then we get the chance to really take a break for a few months. These types of seasons can become quite laborious as a fan and it’s a welcome breather. The weather in Melbourne today was beautiful and in tandem with last night’s result compounded the feeling of another season going by; the unfamiliar weight of pressure, however small, of the last few weeks had been lifted. But as one Sydney premiership hero (and yes, ex-Saint too) once said, “Give me Grand Final nerves any day”.

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 21
David Armitage – 3
Blake Acres – 2
Seb Ross – 2
Leigh Montagna – 1
Jack Newnes – 1
Nick Riewoldt – 1

Totals
Jack Steven – 32
Nick Riewoldt – 23
Seb Ross – 23
Tim Membrey – 18
Tom Hickey – 14
David Armitage – 11
Leigh Montagna – 11
Blake Acres – 10
Jack Newnes – 9
Mav Weller – 7
Jade Gresham – 6
Jack Billings – 5
Sam Fisher – 5
Jarryn Geary – 5
Josh Bruce – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Dylan Roberton – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Sean Dempster – 2
Paddy McCartin – 2
Luke Delaney – 1
Luke Dunstan – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1

But I know we’ll meet again, maybe a whole lot

Round 17, 2016
St Kilda 3.3, 8.6, 10.12, 15.20 (110)
Melbourne 6.2, 6.5, 9.7, 11.8 (74)
Crowd: 25,322 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, July 17th at 3.20pm

This year I’ve found myself being a little (well, quite) fatalistic and cynical when it comes to how I think the rest of the season will pan out. I mentioned last week that I got it a little wrong, immediately anyway, with my dour summation of the Crows debacle, but it’s worth pointing out again that the win over the Cats being followed by Rubbish at Carrara – Election Day Special proved what we knew about the Saints as much as proved nothing at all; we already knew that we’re lower-to-middling, inconsistent developing team that will win some games it shouldn’t and lose some games it shouldn’t.

Whilst North’s collapse for now has opened up eighth spot a little, even after the win today we are still facing an uphill battle to overcome that gap and have to really be playing above ourselves for an extended period. Whilst some of our opponents, namely the Bulldogs, North and Sydney present the biggest roadblocks to a top-eight finish, we’ve proven to be our own worst enemy across periods of games, whole quarters, and whole matches.

The last time we lost to Melbourne I was in my final months of school and we suffered the ignominy of coming off blowing two Preliminary Finals and then losing as the sixth-placed home team in an Elimination Final, having narrowly missed out on a top-four finish. Luke Ball was our captain, Grant Thomas was our coach and Aaron Hamill was somehow still out there. The 10-year gap between losses to Melbourne doesn’t particularly represent anything – whilst the club experienced a wistful period of incredible, buoyant, ultimately sad moments in that time it’s really just a reflection of where these two sides specifically have been in a specific number of years.

It’s more relevant to look at recent and current form and make-up of the two lists, which Paul Roos almost blithely talked about during the week as perhaps being the foundation for the two sides playing off against each other in Grand Finals in the coming years. Should our development go as planned, as we had the Cats last time around looking to break a lengthy premiership drought we’ll probably have the Bulldogs and Demons this time to contend with (not to mention the GWS juggernaut, but no-one is a supporter of the AFL). A Melbourne vs. St Kilda Grand Final (for some reason when I picture the 2019 Grand Final it’s us in our clash jumper, hopefully what we have at the moment but probably not) will be a sad fucking day for the club and its supporters on the wrong end of the result. Maybe if our streak against the Dees was still going right up until a Grand Final date then St Kilda supporters would be puking at the prospect of playing off for a premiership with that as one of the key talking points of the week. You know we’re the kind of club to give it up when it counts the most.

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Matt on his way to catching ’em all™

The 3.20pm Sunday timeslot necessitates that the AFL orders the roof to be closed at the Corporate Dome, which essentially means your weekend ends by 3pm (or whatever time you choose to walk into the ground), and earlier if the game begins in the early afternoon and the roof is closed anyway. Unfortunately it was a beautiful sunny winter’s afternoon but I guess in the 21st Century there’s no way at all we can embrace that . I described it the other week as being on the set of a TV show rather than at the footy, and I’ll stick by that. If the AFL is so keen to keep Etihad even though it won’t really actually revamp it or realign it so the sun isn’t awkwardly placed – which seems to be the reason of choice for people who don’t like the roof open – then we’re stuck with the TV studio rather than the footy ground.

For this week though it the augmented reality aspect was ramped up – even the club couldn’t resist embracing the Pokémon Go craze and starting its own hashtag for the game, encouraging the fans to “help us capture some Pokémon – both inside and outside the ground”, which had me worried that if things went south for one tam we’d have half the crowd trying to catch all the Oddishes, Venonats, Psyducks and Magikarp that were in and around the ground. Apparently the Snorlax hanging out around Crown didn’t make its way up Spencer Street.

There were two Melbourne supporters on the 55 tram into the ground, and as per usual just myself as the sole Saints representative (although there has been a Saints-supporting couple on my tram once or twice this season). I know I mentioned that the slight opening for eighth position before; right now I think it’s in a scuffle with that feeling we’ve had over the past couple of weeks that the season is in wind-down mode. The next few weeks will tell us more but the weight of probability is with the latter winning out. The tram ride in was appropriately subdued; more about looking out to the whatever was passing by bathed in very nice sunshine.

To the Savoy again for pre-match burgers and drinks, and for Evan and Matt a chance to go through their Pokemon strategy for the final time. We took in a bit of Carlton and West Coast (before it got interesting), which was taking pace under the eye of US VP Joe Biden and thousands of secret service agents, which I’m sure made up most of the 26,000-plus that were at the MCG. It looked like West Coast were going to sneak into fourth on percentage, even with the GWS barrage to come in Brisbane later in the day, but the Blues at least made things vaguely interesting for the VP, but not for anyone else as it shut out any chance of any other spots in the eight being available any time soon.

Matt caught an Oddish as we crossed Spencer Street, I got a free Dare Iced Coffee® and we were soon enough parked inside our Aisle 32 seats with relatively minimum fuss – neither of these teams’ fans like going to the opposing Melbourne grounds for away matches so the 25,000 crowd didn’t present any difficulties, apart from the club’s bottom line.

It was only seconds into the match when Hotline announced his return marking right near goal and then missing from the line. The Dees set the tone for the quarter by cutting through the middle in numbers and with space up forward Garlett marked and goaled. Billings looked set to at least partially atone for it with quick hands to Eminem in the next forward foray, but Marshall ran in and missed another easy shot. Membrey couldn’t complete a one-on-one mark when it came back in, and the Dees were again. Petracca, the man set to terrorise for the next 12-15 years, marked over Ross for their second. He’d have two goals himself by the end of the quarter and set up Jack Watts for another, and he could have had a third by half-time but hit the post from relatively close range. The 2014 draft decisions start to tick over in your head in these moments, just as the 2013 draft choices will on Saturday night as we pit a casual Billings against Brownlow winner-to-be Bont. For the time being, it was looking like just the perfect day to have a whole lot of Melbourne supporters around us in the St Kilda members.

Mav Weller had started strongly this week, involving himself up the ground and kicking our first. I say this because his game against the Cats and Essendon were punctuated more by periods in each that were small but had huge say in the outcome of the game. This week he looked as if he’d set himself to effect the play more consistently. Like last week, it was him and Membrey that were having a say in the front half despite the Demons’ mids having their way with our own. Skunk’s first goal came at the fall of the ball from Acres’, uh, soft hands, and swooped on it and bulleted a goal from 45 metres out.

Billings began pushing up and looking more purposeful across the back half, but still the ball movement was a little stagnant, just as the pressure placed on the Dees’ players across the ground was stilted; getting caught drawn to the player with the ball and allowing for their teammate in supporter too much space on the outside.

A short period saw Gilbert dribble a ball out of traffic on half-back to turn it over, then collect the ball from a sloppy Bruce handball amidst the resulting re-entry and send a slick pass to Hickey on the wing. In one of Hickey’s rare blunders for the night he waited too long the option presented further ahead by Roo had dried up. Shortly after that the ball landed in Hogan’s hands as he ominously outbodied Dempster and finished the polished work from further up. From the centre bounce Petracca took it out of the middle and found Hogan. Melbourne with a six-goal quarter and looking to be doing far too easily through the middle, and Hogan was set for a day with an undersized backline to follow the seven he kicked against it last time we played.

The possession count was clearly in Melbourne’s favour by game’s end and so that stat ultimately only said so much, but at quarter time a lot of individual players’ numbers were pertinent. Jack Viney had 14 touches, with Harmes and Jetta 12 apiece. Our engine room was looking incredibly lean meanwhile: Steven had four, Ross had four, Armo just three, and it showed. Hickey led our own count with seven then six each to Membrey and Billings, as well as Dunstan who in his 50th has looking like the most productive mid.

It looked like the Dees were just a goal or two away from breaking open the game for the first part of the last quarter. Gresham had been unsighted but made sure everyone saw him by slipping over in the middle with the ball before redeeming himself soon after, dancing around two opponents on the arc and slotting a deft left-foot pass to Hotline on the lead. Billings was continuing to push up the ground and a goal next to his name would have been well-deserved but he missed the set shot.

Not until later in the term, when Jack Steven was involved at two centre clearances did we look like the team that, well, should have run out much more comfortable winners than we did. The pressure began to lift throughout the quarter and a string of near-free kicks in two separate passages got us within touching distance; the first through the middle when Armo’s tackle on Brayshaw went unrewarded, but Steven was at the fall of the ball to get it off to Minchington who released the ball to Sinclair, and the nicely-haired inclusion sent a long ball perfectly weighted for Membrey to come over the top and take a mark in front of goal. The second came from the maniacal pressure we were hoping would appear in the front half that saw three tackles across the pockets that all could have been paid for holding the ball; in the end it was the third that was given to Joey in the pocket and his snap did the hard work in the minute prior justice.

Whilst the game had been wrested back in our favour it was still looking for someone to stamp it and make it official going into half-time. Seb had stepped up and Steven had had some moments but they alone weren’t going to do enough to put us in a position of dominance. Like last week at a critical point, sort-of-potential future captain Jarryn Geary again stepped up and again proved keyboard warriors like myself wrong about his worth to the team. They were his first goals of the year and they came in the last couple of minutes of the quarter, backing himself to recognise where an opportunity was to push up very high up from his usual position and make something of it. Billings would have to settle for a deft goal assist to the 0.3 he’d finish with, with incredibly quick hands to Geary for the second which he kicked in much the same fashion as his first – off a few steps from just beyond 40 metres out. The goals don’t cancel out all the shanks with the ball which we in the stands are more privy to noticing, and the praise he gets from Richo and the players are for acts that we probably wouldn’t immediately recognise without being privy to the game plan. For all the stick that Geary cops from the stands the reaction from the crowd (the players aside) I think said a lot more about what we really do think of him.

The back-to-back goals were out of Mav’s playbook from the Cats and Bombers games. Melbourne’s head start at the first change and comeback late in the third necessitated a big play though. Mav reprised those critical efforts of recent weeks with something similar in the last quarter and was part of two important goals after Melbourne got within a kick, more than atoning for the relatively easy miss that was one of many that let the Demons back in during the third quarter (although he did kick a great set shot goal in the same quarter). Following Big Max’s goal early in the last he charged at White, who had cut off a pass just forward of centre, to set the ball free and then came back to the contest and dived forward to thump the ball out to Acres on the way to Wright kicking a long ball to Gresham in the pocket. Gresham read the fall best off of his own marking contest, and smartly handballed it over his shoulder to My Favourite Hair in the goalsquare in the AFL for a steadier. Mav shortly after combined with Acres, with the latter playing a focal point role in attack in the last quarter and grabbed the ball out of a contest after he spilled a tough mark and and working it under pressure to Mav who, like his first goal last week, was coming past at the perfect time close to goal and slammed through this third goal for the day. (Mav also pushed up to be part of the slick hands work with Newnes out wide to set up Riewoldt for another set shot miss.)

Membrey was the one who was the lead-up forward that took the mark from Joey’s kick out of the middle and sent it long to Acres for that Mav goal. The players really did make a beeline to Acres in the celebration (Mav looked slightly confused when players were rushing past him to Blake but soon joined in). Acres’ game at the moment is perhaps along the lines of a Gary Rohan, and it means he offers some real versatility across the ground if needed when we have our full complement of tall forwards and some shuffling during the game is required.

All of this came after quite the scare. Richo said the third quarter was the best of the year, and he was just about right – the only thing that made it arguable was the 2.6 return and the final few minutes, which combined let Melbourne right back into the contest. Mav, Membrey and Riewoldt were all guilty of missing shots that should have blown the lead out well beyond five goals by the final change, and we missed a chance for a huge reprieve when Roo did his part for redemption with a herculean effort to touch Hogan’s kick on the goal line late in the third quarter as Melbourne charged, and Membrey hit the post on the siren to reward it and the efforts earlier in the quarter.

It was Membrey who for the second week in a row had been the anchor in the forward half when the rest of the team offered very few clear shining lights. Whilst he hasn’t really turned things on in the few games we’ve played against top opposition since he came into the side in Round 6 for the first Melbourne game – his three against the then-undefeated Kangaroos his best against real quality – his last couple of weeks have certainly been a step in that direction. It’s one thing to capitalise on the rest of your teammates’ good work, but it’s another to really dredge something out of what they do when by and large the team is up against it. Again, his input came from different avenues – his first swooping on a ball off Acres’ hands, the strong contested mark over the top of his opponent, his leading up outside of the arc to be link the back-half to the front for the Acres and Weller combination. He finished with 10 marks, a good reflection of that aspect of his game.

More than merely a special mention must go to our own Stephen Merchant, Tom Hickey for his performance around the ground. Big Max was quelled for much of the day and Hickey played his part in traffic when the ball was moving on his way to a career-best 21 possessions; Richo said that his game almost added another player out there for us in general play. For what it’s worth he ended up with the full compliment of 10 AFL Coaches’ Association Award votes, and this year he’s completely established himself as not just our number one ruckman, but one of our key players.

Like the key goals from half-backs in Geary and Joey in the second quarter, of all people it was Roberton who took it on themselves to hit the scoreboard in a key moment. It came from a simple enough mark just outside 60 metres, but everything around him (and including him) seemed to be going in slow motion and in his lackadaisical way he pounced on the opportunity, ran off and kicked a long goal to effectively seal the game. As my Dad (and Leigh Matthews) pointed out, that the pressure was that good across the entire team allowed those guys to push up, knowing that an opportunity would most likely be created. That’s a lot of trust to have in your teammates.

A quick look over the stats sheet would tell you Steven, Ross and Armo particularly ended up with relatively muted numbers; a reflection of how even the team performance was across the entire match. Of course there was Membrey, Mav and Geary who had moments or output that would be imprinted in our minds a little more than others, or that would be better fodder for the highlights reel. Luke Dunstan was probably our most consistently-involved midfielder for the first half when things were really tough, and his goal in the final seconds was a fitting finish to his 50th game. But just about every player made some contribution in some way; right down to D-Mac who threw in a few Geary shanks of his own but did well to temper our future nemesis Petracca in the second half.

The 14 wins in a row against Melbourne counts for nought, really. As Roos pointed to during the week, these are two teams that all going well will share a very strong and potentially historic rivalry in the coming years – and if so then most likely in a ménage à trois involving the Bulldogs; effectively a double-headed version of our Geelong rivalry of this decade (and perhaps into the next). Hogan only finished with the lone goal, Petracca went quiet, and Brayshaw will need to feel his way back at the top level, but these are the kinds of guys we’re probably going to have to get used to on the journey.

RedWhiteandBlack.com.au 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 16
Tom Hickey – 2
Tim Membrey – 2
Mav Weller – 2
Luke Dunstan – 1
Jarryn Geary – 1
Leigh Montagna – 1
Jack Steven – 1

Totals
Jack Steven – 30
Nick Riewoldt – 20
Seb Ross – 17
Tim Membrey – 15
Tom Hickey – 10
Leigh Montagna – 9
David Armitage – 8
Jade Gresham – 6
Jack Newnes – 6
Blake Acres – 5
Sam Fisher – 5
Mav Weller – 5
Jack Billings – 4
Josh Bruce – 4
Jarryn Geary – 4
Sam Gilbert – 4
Shane Savage – 4
Paddy McCartin – 2
Luke Delaney – 1
Sean Dempster – 1
Luke Dunstan – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1

The fondest of farewells

Round 23, 2014
Adelaide Crows 4.2, 11.5, 15.5, 22.9 (141)
St Kilda 2.2, 3.3, 8.7, 9.8 (62)
Crowd: 44,969 at Adelaide Oval, Sunday, August 31st at 2.50pm CST

Ok right, so before I start there’s probably a couple of things to point out.

Firstly, as I touched on in last week’s review, it’s difficult to not make a post at this point in a season like this a de facto season review. That’s mostly for the questionable podcasts that Rich and I put together. We’ll have time to produce some faff in the coming weeks.

Secondly, I don’t want this to be entirely about Lenny, because really Rich and I can post whatever we want whenever we want and I’d rather give Lenny a devoted post but I might not, although this will probably end up revolving around him anyway.

Richmond was the feel-good story of the round (and potentially the year), but their win also rendered the rest of the weekend – i.e. this and the Suns-Eagles match on the Sunday as dead rubbers. Otherwise, given West Coast’s sizeable victory, we would have been set up somewhat for a revenge opportunity for Adelaide. It was in the final game of 2008 that we stormed to a 108-point win over Essendon – Robert Harvey’s final home-and-away match – to knock Adelaide from fourth spot and grab the double chance for ourselves, having been 5-7 after Round 12. Had the Tigers lost on Sunday and the Eagles won by the margin they did, the Crows would have needed to win by something in the order of 126 points to make the eight. Given their style of play, firepower up forward and St Kilda’s lowly state it wouldn’t have been utterly impossible. But ultimately, just like this entire paragraph, it was moot.

Indeed, it would have been reasonable to expect that Adelaide would come out a little flat now that their season was cooked, although they’d been pretty inconsistent even when their season was still alive. Probably the closest thing we were going to get to a win was Lenny taking the record for the most tackles by any player; he needed seven to equal and eight to break the all-time record set by Jude Bolton. Lenny’s ferocious start with six tackles in the first quarter made him a monty to break it, and by game’s end Bolton’s record had stood for less than 12 months. Given the tackle numbers of others currently playing the record will stand for at least a couple of years.

Otherwise the game eventually turned out as expected. One of the first passages of play forecast St Kilda’s day, really – Lenny knocked it out to Jack Steven, who kicked nicely to Rhys leading low just out from the 50-metre arc, and he kicked terribly to no-one. So many times throughout the day we would see Lenny on the inside, Jack running through the middle and then, uh, maybe Rhys on the lead too, sure, if he was around, but the point is that either the kick inside 50 would be off or there’d simply be not much on offer.

Indeed, within two minutes we’d resorted to Plan ZZ and were bombing it to Clint Jones inside 50. Whilst we actually had a fair amount of the play for much of the quarter it took a holding free to SPENCER WHITE ROADSHOW to get things going. Again, like last week, he had a touch of the G-Trains about him: the barely-there follow through with the kick, and the resulting floating and swinging drop punt kick. The ball barely crossed the line and had to go to a goal review, but the hype machine was gearing up early.

He would have another couple of shots – both coming from handsomely placed kicks from My Favourite Hair in the AFL to good leads – but both were hard against the boundary and on the wrong side for a left-footer. One went through but was touched off the boot, and the second didn’t score. Spencer didn’t trouble the scorers throughout the rest of the game (not many did) but I thought he moved alright across attack and the supply certainly wasn’t outstanding in either quality or quantity.

His co-young tall forward in Big Rhys Bandwagon (is it still a Bandwagon? I think Spencer is the Money Man right now) started well and took some strong marks (particularly pushing up high on the wing), but was still prone to spilling a simpler grab. I think the important thing was that he got to a lot of contest right around the ground, all the way up to half-back – his contest started off the chain that resulted in a really good coast-to-coast goal featuring Faz putting in some really hard running and a lovely finish.

From the couch one thing I noticed properly this week was Dylan Roberton’s new haircut. It’s rather disappointing; he began in Round 1 with the tight ponytail/bun, but now he’s just a questionable footballer. Matt texted me to point out that Josh Bruce had supplanted him as the club’s OK-but-not-great cool player.

As I said, quality going forward – indeed, quality anywhere – was in short supply for the most part. Sadly, wistfull, wonderfully it was Lenny that put in the most direct, slick hit up forward, and it was to his old mate Roo. That was the kick that went out to Spencer for touched kick, and curiously Channel 7 cut to Andrew Welsh on the boundary interviewing a heavily breathing Joey for about six seconds. Not sure if I’d seen that before and I’m completely against in-match interviews, but not doing them all year obviously didn’t help anyway.

The Crows looked very hesitant moving the ball but once Delaney slipped onto his arse and Tex ran away from him to kick the Crows’ first it was one-way traffic. Despite the best efforts of Newnes, Fisher and Dempster in defence, the Crows went from trailing at the 25.34 mark of the first quarter – the quarter went for 29 minutes and 51 seconds – to leading by six goals just 6.36 into the second.

Bruce and the team couldn’t stop talking about Lenny’s tackle count, nor hometown retiree Truck Rutten, and were officially counting down to a game that actually mattered when Bruce described Jack Steven as “all buzzy”.

Jack was really good – one of the very few Saints who had a presence throughout the entirety of the match, and who looked like getting things really moving the right way. His brilliant run through the middle with a few bounces was capped off with a brilliantly placed kick that turned Talia inside out more than Roo did, and he in turn capped that off with one of the worst set shots of his career. It was that kind of day; Wright went to ground as the ball came into defence and got collected by Delaney as Eddie mopped up and kicked a goal; Shenton was having an absolute cock of a game and twice turnovers goalside of the centre circle that should have led to scoring opportunities went awry purely through our own doing.

Things were so dire that we went back to Plan ZZ. Mav hit CJ’s lead and he leant back and actually kicked a really nice goal from the angle. What would turn out to be CJ’s final game had some up and down moments. Roo was getting increasingly frustrated – he pushed up twice out of attack to be met with a kick out on the full and then, for old times’ sake, another CJ special. CJ then kicked well to Rhys, who went to Lenny and another great kick of his to Roo pushing up on the wing saw Roo’s urge to kill fading, as for his sake we anxiously counted down towards the end of the season.

I actually liked Mav’s game. His numbers say 17 touches and six tackles, which aren’t world beating but reflect the kind of game he plays. He did some hard running and attacked the ball and the contest pretty well, and his six tackles were bettered only by You Know Who. He almost created play of the day, chasing after his own errant handball at half-back, pushing past his opponent in the process, fending off and then his good kick to Rhys subsequently fluffed.

Likewise, Seb Ross found the ball in all parts of the ground seemed to be a lot more settled with the ball (although many had better numbers). The commentary team were going ape droppings for him, but I think they wanted to be nice because it’s Tim’s nephew.

Billy Longer was subbed off at half-time for Brodie Murdoch. I’m not sure that it said too much about anything though. Brodie was probably stiff to not have actually started a game, but he took his chance and had a really impressive third quarter. It was the first time he really consistently used his size and his boot to take marks (he took six in half a game) and really gain some ground. Again, he looked most dangerous up forward but floated higher up. If he can improve his tank enough to do that repeatedly then that boot can be put to good use in a lot of parts of the ground.

Gwilt started forward in his final half for the club, and I was ready to advise the club to get a new name for the club’s irreverent player interview series because I thought Schneider might be joining him. But Roo combined with Spencer, who gave it off near the flank to Schneids and he expertly broke through two Crows for a goal.

It’s all about how many of these senior guys setting the example you can have. Schneider just doesn’t consistently have the same kind of output as guys like Roo, Joey or Dempster to outweight the opportunity that could be given to a younger guy. I have to admit, the difficult part about writing that sentence just then was that I couldn’t use Lenny’s name.

Fisher is another senior guy in the “may or may not be there” category for 2015, but he was just about our best player yesterday. The fact that he’s gone from seemingly semi-retired to one of our best and certainly most reliable says a lot about his ability and I wouldn’t hesitate giving him another year. He’s certainly not moving as if he’s hampered by any of those recent injuries, so if they’re not going to be chronic you’d back him in.

But not so for CJ and Gwilt. Their departure was a decision made for them on the preceding Tuesday, and the word is they wonderfully, admirably chose to not make it public so as not to take anything away from Lenny. Regardless of whether they find a home at an AFL club next year – CJ exited in the manner of someone retiring, and the news this week ironically has Gwilt tied to the Crows from next year – these are players integral to the 2009 and 2010 campaigns which, whether we like it or not, will remember throughout our lives. Neither was blessed with natural talent; CJ may well remain for many years the only AFL player who couldn’t kick an Australian Rules football. But they did what any person who describes themselves as both reasonable and ambitious yearns to do, and that is first and foremost get the absolute best out of themselves. In Ross they found the coach who could mould the team that allowed them to find a football home in, and against expectation they thrived and were deeply respected.

Seeing CJ in the arms of his partner was at once sad and touching, and there was something appropriate that CJ would go out with no fanfare outside of the club and those closest to him. Likewise Gwilt; the image of him carrying Lenny off with Roo is far more dynamic in hindsight, with the knowledge that he and the players around him knew it would be his last time in a St Kilda jumper.

Absurdly, had we kicked straight in the third term we might have gone into the last quarter with a very faint sniff. But by the end the arse had really fallen out and we essentially got given a taste of our own barnstorming send-off last year, with Eddie (Betts) giving off to Truck Rutten who kicked a goal on the run in the final minutes. It wasn’t great viewing from a St Kilda perspective but any Saints fan at the ground for last year’s day out will understand what a nice moment that was for the Adelaide players and fans.

And so, with that, the St Kilda Football Club finished a season on the bottom for the 27th time. No-one has done that half as many times, and the football world collectively sees us being back where we belong.

The heavy tone of reminiscing that comes with a retiring great of what Jake Niall called the “Riewoldt Generation” is different. The surreal party last year in which Kosi, Milne and Blake all retired was in the lingering shadows of the 2010 Grand Finals jsut three years previous, and (rather incredibly) had the Saints swept the string of close games they lost in 2012 they would have finished in the top four (it was also a year in which only a two-goal third quarter deprived the Saints from easily eclipsing the club’s all-time greatest winning margin).

But time and circumstance have changed the way we think about and understand those years, and indeed the entire decade of back-to-back five-year periods under GT and Ross respectively that form probably the most incredible (in the true sense of the word) and otherwise second most successful period in the club’s 141-year history.

This time last year we were looking back on the Grand Finals (and some other choice moments) as part of an era that was still raw in the memory, and the three retirees represented the club’s movement to deeper into a new time with new faces on and off the field. Lenny’s retirement has been a little different. Very quickly stalwarts such as Dal, BJ and (to a much lesser extent) Big Ben all moved home, and the faces of those who took the field in those Grand Finals are now few and far between. Now that period seems distant, and Lenny and co. have been swamped by new faces who ideally will forge incredible memories for the club and those invested in it. His retirement tour was a celebration of his career that was synonymous with those better times and bookended by the club’s 25th and 26th wooden spoons, beginning just before the initial trough of 2000 and ending with the subsequent 2014 crash.

Writing for this blog, and perhaps ironically for someone so enwrapped in the fortunes and trials and tribulations of the club, I spend far less time talking about the consistently good players than I do all others. I certainly like the idea of being irreverent or realistic and it’s an easier to be facetious and stay grounded that way; I don’t do it to muckrake or sensationalise or whinge. I also do it because, quite simply, it’s naturally more interesting week in, week out to write and read about in depth the talking points. Because we know that Joey is going to rack up a whole lot of possessions and show the younger guys how to go about things professionally. We know that Jack Steven can get plenty of the footy and give us some real pace. We know that Roo will ignore everything he hears from over the fence and will himself to another contest when he can’t. And we know Lenny is going to give his heart and soul no matter what the situation.

These are the things I’ve certainly taken for granted in writing any piece for this blog. I think it’s something I’ve taken for granted anyway. I will miss him terribly as a St Kilda player. We all will. The enduring image of Lenny Hayes is that of measured celebration and focus after his goal to bring the Saints within eight points in the final quarter of 2010 Grand Final Draw.  It sums him up well – that he knew there was always hard work to be done. Over the years it will probably prove to be the most enduring positive image of the club’s 2009 and 2010 campaigns; the slow motion, the face stern, the AFL Grand Final logo peeling off the clash jumper. That he’s a Norm Smith Medalist makes fans proud, but mournfully reminded that he, Riewoldt and co. never played in a premiership.

I don’t know Lenny personally so I can’t talk with any authority about what a great guy he is, or whatever. I’ll leave that to his teammates, his opponents and those closest to him. But I watched him play for St Kilda nearly every week for 16 years; long enough for younger fans to not know a St Kilda Football Club without Lenny Hayes. The way he played showed that he was always reliable and had a huge heart. In a footballer, or indeed in any person, what more could you want? How wonderful it was to have had him.