Nick Dal Santo Posts

Disappointed, buoyed

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

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

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

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

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

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


J. Riewoldt and others v N. Riewoldt and others

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

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

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

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

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


A win’s a win, cue credits, now leave

Round 13, 2013
St Kilda 7.2, 10.3, 15.6, 16.8 (104)
Melbourne 3.0, 5.4, 7.5, 10.9 (69)
Crowd: 28,751 at the MCG, Saturday, June 22nd at 4.40pm

If it wasn’t a milestone game for three of the club’s top players then last night would be condemned to being  looked up occasionally on AFL Tables or Final Siren to confirm novelty stats, such as Mitch Clisby becoming the second Demon in three seasons to debut against the Saints wearing number 50.

Otherwise, at best in a few years we’re looking back at games like this because guys like Murdoch, Newnes and Ross are a part of a premiership tilt and we see the vision to think, “wow, look how far they’ve come”. We’ll probably also think a lot of peoples’ hair looks silly and the jumpers look “very early ‘10s”, although I’m not sure how much tighter-fitting they can get than the current ISC template.

Sort of, but not really, on that subject, on the way to the ground, a guy got onto the train at Seddon with me wearing the early 1990s jumper with Philip Morris as the sponsor, and the old-style large, simplified logo. I was thinking how great it would be if the logo returned to that style and and size, particularly with the black cuffs now it would make the jumper seem ever darker. Someone mentioned something similar at the 2011 AGM and in between saying “right” a whole lot times Greg Westaway noted that the AFL has regulations for the size and placement of club logos (likewise advertising logos), so I’m not sure if they could. The thing is, the logo they currently use on the jumper is an exact replica of the club logo, so if they used the old simplified version would it be subject to the same kinds of rules? Incredibly appropriately, once within Yarra Park I walked past a guy who was wearing the fantastic 2006 Heritage Round jumper – which wasn’t quite the true reflection of the 1980s jumpers it was meant to be – but features a very prominent logo. It also looks like a cross between the home jumper and the 2009-2010 clash jumper.

Seeing the jumper temporarily distracted me from my stupor of walking to the MCG to see two founding teams of the competition play in beautiful sunshine on a Saturday afternoon. Oh, wait a minute – it was actually four o’clock and the start of the match was another 40 minutes away because the AFL wanted to please its TV buddies.

Distracting me was the fact that there were several girls collecting money for Rowing Australia. I think they said something about getting them to the World Championships. That’s fine, good luck, you’re working hard, but from a purely “ME” perspective the thing with that is, a footy club means so much to people. It represents a lifestyle, it represents years of memories and stories and traditions. Sports like rowing are all about the participants. They don’t represent me. They have nothing to do with me. They’re just some guy I’ve never heard of (that’s not true, a distant relative of mine rowed in the Olympics last year). What am I giving these people money for? If we’re playing stereotypes, maybe it was a Melbourne Football Club thing?

In fact, the trip on the way to the ground was riddled with novelty bits and pieces. At Footscray station an old person got on the train with a battered old office chair. Foolishly, I offered them my seat. They were obviously set, and there was a lot less rolling around on the flimsy chair than I thought there would be.

It was a lot more eventful than I thought the game would be, despite the turbulent week both clubs had had. I wrote my thoughts on Milne late in the week. It doesn’t need to be gone over too much again other than to say I still think it would have logistically impossible for him to play. He’s been treated haphazardly enough in regards to the issue over the past nine years, and I don’t think it would get better if he played this week. Any and all treatment of him by players and fans alike would be scrutinised incredibly heavily – as it should be, but my point is we’d realise just how complex and messy this situation is and that it needs at least a couple of weeks to air. The problem with the club’s loose plan of having him within a few weeks is that the first hearing of the case is on July 5th, and we don’t know what will come to light on that day.

Also in the red, white and black corner was the fact that it was My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s and Dal’s 250th games and Dempster’s 150th (but you wouldn’t know that last part). It was one reason for the players to get up and about for Saturday if the Milne issue hadn’t totally drained them.

The red and blue corner was home to its own bombshell during the week, but one that was confined to the football world, and I think that we were all expecting to happen at some point. I was expecting Neil Craig to at least rejuvenate a side that hasn’t looked like they wanted to be there for a while. I honestly do feel for Mark Neeld. You could argue that he wasn’t up to taking on the job at the time, but I don’t think the club – from board level to the players – was going to do a lot of coaches too many favours. Craig’s did some good things at Adelaide I but I think his legacy there would be one of missed opportunities in the mid-00s, and I think the “coach sacked during the week” factor alone would have freshened up the Dees more so than Craig. The team has been that bad for most of the season where it would probably only translate to so much anyway, but the way the Saints had been travelling this season meant all sorts of things could have happened.

As it turns out, what happened was really just a rubbish game of footy between two struggling sides, and fortunately for humanity there was a minimal number present. Only 28,751 were there to see possibly the club’s greatest all-time player and one of his best teammates in their 250th, but you could also say they were there to see history’s worst club and the modern era’s worst club squaring off. See, St Kilda could have made that tag irrelevant had it won a premiership in the last decade, but it didn’t, and so now it’s just back to being shitty old St Kilda again. However, like at start of this century, there might be a plan for it. But we’ll have to wait.

The Last Man to Have Captained the Saints to a Premiership of Any Kind had come into the side for his mate’s big day, and also because a whole lot of other guys were injured. That’s a lie – one was injured, one was scaring us that we’d wasted pick 13, and one is apparently next Buddy but in several years’ time. It also brings him to 198 games, and I genuinely would love to see him play 200. Within a minute or two of the first bounce he found himself already five metres behind the play, but finished the quarter with two goals. On paper it seemed like he belonged, but one of those goals he was lucky that he (arguably) got taken high after inexplicably trying to dish off to a marked Roo at the top of the goal square. He didn’t have much to do with things from then on.

There were a couple of moments like that. Roo got a lucky hold free directly in front, and CJ did his best impression of Roo on 2009 1st Preliminary Final night which saw the captain gifted a goal from the square.

CJ has scored a goal from one of his puppy dog kicks after some quick hands from TDL and Newnes. As rubbish as Melbourne were – sloppy and stagnant – it was nice to see six different goalkickers for seven by quarter time. TDL and Ross were amongst them on top of their good efforts around the ground, and that list had grown to 12 by the end of the game.

Jack Steven started really well, winning a few clearances but even under limited pressure he wasn’t quite getting them to the right spot. They seemed to just tumble into the air a little haphazardly and a bit too wide, but the more he does it the better he’ll get at it, and I’m not going to get whingey about 30 possessions. But we’re not going to be playing Melbourne every week.

Dempster had a ripper start to his 150th, kicking it straight into Kent at full-back when he had more than enough numbers around him, who kicked their first. Even that early on, I don’t think anyone got too upset by it. The game was littered with moments like that – not necessarily as costly, but equally as clumsy.

The highlights were more about players working continually hard – Swat highlighted Dal’s 13 contested possessions in the post-match – than flashes of brilliance (ha) but there were some bits and pieces by younger guys early when the game was alive that were worth noting. Head put in a great contest down – certainly better than his effort on Dawes off the play – Dunell outmarked Byrnes and delivered a precision pass to TDL, who played on goaled, and Milera put on a big tackle in the forward line and followed it up in the pocket to set up Roberton for a shot at goal (albeit one that hit the post).

Late Withdrawal Lotto had Sam Fisher winning the jackpot, which wasn’t just the week out but the entire season as revealed the following day. That’s a big blow to an already undermanned defence that is struggling with just about anyone over 6’5”, but on the flipside it opens the door for Head Simpkin or the Ferg Burger that much more. That said, one concerning thing in the first quarter was that the Dees seemed to get goals too easily on the rare occasions they went forward. There was the Kent goal, which also came about because of his effort to pressure Dempster, then Blease’s nice snap goal straight from a Nathan Jones centre bounce clearance, and Jack Watts presented well, got a free and kicked straight.

As mentioned, Head got the nod (omg get it?) this week, having been on the Missing Persons list effectively all season. He’ll be back on it for two weeks after smacking Dawes (assuming they don’t challenge), however, and all of a sudden the backline is looking even thinner. Mark down 10 goals for Jack Riewoldt next weekend (a large majority of me isn’t joking). If they bring Ferguson back in I doubt we’d ever see him again in post-final siren.

My brother and I decided to watch the second quarter in the Social Club. Things were a bit more happening in there, probably because there was a roof. Also Gilbert McAdam was in there, which made it a more relevant space than the ground itself. The Social Club did go off with the Roo to Milera to running BIG RHYS BANDWAGON goal, however, and considering the members turnout overall it was very busy in there at half-time. I think we were all keen for a drink though.

Melbourne were all over it for periods in the second quarter, but they opened the term with four straight behinds and the Saints still managed to win the quarter. That had well and truly vacuumed out any atmosphere there wasn’t at the ground. When Milera attempted a little kick off the ground early in the third I observed it in my thought process as “almost exciting”.

The second half descended into farce to no-one’s surprise. As one of the few people in our N3 section behind us exclaimed, in the third term, “It’s lucky they’re so shit”, because the Saints weren’t necessarily so far ahead because they’re a competition juggernaut. Roo provided a genuine highlight by kicking to Terry from the wing, and then accepting Terry’s ball forward only a few seconds later for a shot at goal. Head put in a great hit on Spencer, and Armo moved nicely on the wing (albeit through not much resistance) and TDL and Terry worked nicely together to snap a goal.

Jack Steven’s early dominance settled a little but he was busy throughout for 30 touches. Armo was pretty good too, although it’s games like this I’d like to see him really take the opportunity to stamp himself, as he did against GWS. Not to make him some kind of flat-track bully, but he’s got to start somewhere? A few games like that a season is what we’re after.

The old firm in Joey and Dal were all over it and so the game was well in control. I spend the least time on this blog talking about guys like them because they mostly do a good job week in, week out – certainly Joey this year – this will be another of those weeks, other than to say they were both great and the club needs to have these guys around whilst the younger guys are coming through.

I wondered if Melbourne actually cared enough to go through all the effort it would take to improve during the game and back from the situation they found themselves in through the third quarter. I don’t think they did.

Really, on the way to a 49-point lead at the final change a more typical passage of play was Farren Ray kicking on his left (probably just for the practice) to the bemusing forward target of Clint Jones, who was appropriately outmarked by Nathan Jones.

If the game probably had jumped the shark by then, the rest was was The Simpsons from season 9 onwards. TDL kicked out of mid-air on the wing (although it did somehow turn into a goal), Dunell put in a really good effort to take a mark in the forward pocket on a tough angle but missed, only to get a chance 30 seconds later from a fluffed kick-in, and miss by even more.

Not sure what to say about the final quarter other than it was rubbish, and it didn’t really remind us why winning is so enjoyable. Wins are only coming around once a month, if that, at the moment, and this felt like a waste of that experience. A big final quarter would have been nice for the fans to be in a bit more of an upbeat mood by the time Roo, Dal and Sean were carried from the field.

Swat pointed out that with guys like Newnes, Ross, Murdoch, etc. in the side they would tire towards the end, as has happened a few times this season. There’s a few inexperienced players in there that aren’t strictly “youngsters” so that might come into it too, and it was great to Ross and Newnes taking another little step forward and being busier for longer. But considering the opposition, the tapering performance and the occasion itself it was a flat day at the footy. The days of big wins in real style are gone for now.

Swat also said a win’s a win, and I guess we had to run with that. I had a family friend’s 21st southside near my parents so I enjoyed a pizza from Remezzo and a few drinks with my brother before heading there and telling other people about the faffin’ that went on at the MCG.

As I said, Fisher is out for good and Simpkin will miss, so perhaps against the Tigers Rhys has to go back to defence and be second/third ruck to Big Ben (assuming he’s alright to go) along with Kosi, who surely remains in the side on his ROAD TO 200. Saunders literally got dropped after playing one quarter of footy, but for the same reason I didn’t like that (it wasn’t a bad quarter, too) I don’t want to see Murdoch miss after coming in. Terry surely stays this time after one of his better games – 21 touches to three quarter time – and TDL was lively too. Sandy’s game yesterday was pretty sad state of affairs for the Zebras but maybe – Ledger, Curren if they upgrade him or or Saunders, apart from My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs, perhaps – will be banging down the door. Nathan Wright didn’t have a huge game but he’s shown he can slot in pretty easily to the seniors and I have no hesitation in having the Hard-arse Triumvirate being reunited.

Webster put in some really hard efforts – particularly on in the third where we worked hard to get low to a contest in defence – and had nine touches coming on as the sub so I hope he’s kept in too (I’m sure he will be). Dunell was busy across the flanks and so apart from a possible forced change with Head and perhaps CJ there’ll be minimal moves made at the selection table otherwise.

Back to yet another 4.40pm game on the weekend, this time in the even blacker twilight hole that is Sunday evening. Being a reciprocal home game it means maybe seven or eight more Saints fans will turn up at the MCG than if it was just a regular away game, or hell, if it was just a regular home game. It doesn’t really make a difference if there’s no roof, I assume it’s the same small amount that turn up anyway. The Tigers are genuinely a good team now. I could play the “they haven’t beaten enough good teams yet” card, but that doesn’t concern us so I’d expect them to do things pretty comfortably over us. We’re 18 months into this new era, but are still some things that will take getting used to.

Some gains, but it was mostly just annoying

Round 11, 2013
St Kilda 4.2, 6.7, 9.10, 11.14 (80)
West Coast Eagles 3.4, 5.7, 7.9, 12.12 (84)
Crowd: 23,795 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, June 9th at 4.40pm

I think we’re going to have to get used to the 4.40pm timeslot for the foreseeable future.

That’s what happens when you don’t kick your goals on Grand Final Day. Success breeds success. Hawthorn are top of the table five years after they delivered, and the Cats might win their fourth premiership in seven years. Collingwood are still gearing towards their best this season. They all have great youth coming through and are the kinds of teams that players like Josh Caddy and Brian Lake want to go to.

Losses – whether they be deserved or undeserved – happen when you don’t kick your goals; when you don’t take your opportunities. It happened again tonight.

The obvious talking point, unfortunately, is the umpiring. I’ll what most people do and open up with, “I like to complain about the umpires, but…” but tonight I thought was one of those nights in which the umpiring should be complained about, and should be discussed during the week. I’m not sure what we’ll get out of that, other than some more severe fluctuations in umpiring standards and involvement in games throughout the year.

There is a difference between complaining or discussing (or however you want to dress it) the umpiring and outright “blaming” the result on the umpiring. Of course the umpiring made a difference in this game, notable a negative one on the Saint and a positive one for the Eagles. For every time you bring up the soft free to Dean Cox early in the fourth near the West Coast goals – only minutes after he’d had a whinge to the umpires before the quarter – then you must bring up Joey’s inexplicable miss from directly in front, which would have put the Saints up by more than a goal well into time on. Give Priddis the free for in the back in the last, too, but then note that the pressure really slipped late in the first and second quarters, and the Eagles kicked goals in each on the siren.

Of course, you could argue that they players weren’t properly rewarded by the umpires for their hard work and tackling, and I would certainly agree with you there. But if a team is good enough, umpiring standards should be a moot point when discussing the result. At the end of it, we’ve all cracked the Ahmed Saads.

The fact that the “obvious talking point” is the umpiring perhaps unfairly covers the really encouraging performances of guys like Newnes, Ross, Dunell and Saunders, 4.40pm timeslot or not.

As I’m becoming accustomed to, that’s what I was really looking forward to on the way to the ground on the Sunbury line. As expected, there no Saints supporters on the train until one family got on at North Melbourne station, but I had the feeling that there probably weren’t many St Kilda supporters on any trains anywhere.

I – and, I’m assuming, we – have joked about how small North Melbourne’s crowds are. I certainly did last week, when only 25,000 bothered turning up for two of their heroes’ respective milestone games. All of a sudden, we were the ones playing host in a tin can to 16 people in the vacuum timeslot. In fact, this week was worse, with only 23,000 turning up, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more West Coast supporters tonight than there were Saints supporters last week. Our patch on Level 2 around Aisle 32 felt pretty bare for what is close to the heart of the member’s section. Personally, I was starting to see some elements that would define this new era that began with at the beginning of 2012. I had a drink at LiveWire before the game with dear cousin Evan, who just turned 18 in the past couple of weeks, and we enjoyed unsurpassed views of a near-empty stadium. We then met my dad at our Aisle 32 seats, for what might be his last home game at Docklands for some time as he and my mum are moving to the UK over the next month or two. A new era indeed.

It’s no excuse, but the reality is tough times means you’re guaranteed only a certain percentage of your fans to actually show up each week. I don’t think many people were expecting the Eagles to put in two rubbish performances in a row, and judging by the teams on paper and St Kilda’s recent form it looked like the Eagles only needed to get the ball above head height to win this one. Cox, Nic Nat, Kennedy and Darling were to go up against a defence that’s had a questionable record against key forwards in recent times – see J. Riewoldt, Cloke, Black and Petrie – and one that was missing its general in Sam Fisher. As it turned out, Kennedy was a late withdrawal, so there were only three pillars of destruction to contend with. The Saints also had Big Tom Hickey as one of two Late Withdrawal Lotto Division 1 claimants, and so were one down in their developing Big Guys Dept.

Wright was the other out, which was a shame because he’s been one of the positives for this year. The Hardarse Triumvirate was thus down to Ross and Newnes, and both started particularly well. Seb laid some really hard tackles in the forward half and Newnes got a lot of the ball. I guess they finished with what you could modest stats but they showed the kind of intent that you’re after in guys that have only played several games each. Incredibly importantly, they’re in the leadership group that isn’t THE leadership group, and not the one that leads the leaders, but the other, other leadership group. So you know they’re quality.

It’s not all cheers and credit to thems in terms of output just yet. They’re still very raw. Newnes can commit really well to a contest and move the ball on nicely but he can easily fluff an uncontested mark straight after, which he did last night, but the poise will come with more game time and he’ll be able to hit those contests even harder after a couple more pre-seasons. Likewise Jobe’s cousin, who will develop into a tougher player over time that can do the dirty stuff. There might be a couple of knocks on his disposal for now but that too should settle with game time. Both have also shortened in the betting for 2017 (or ‘18 or ‘19) Premiership Captain, but they’re a long way off being favourites.

The whole side started with some real intent. They’d looked like they’d rightfully got a kick up the arse after last week, and straight away the ball movement was confident and the pressure up. The Tip Rat kicked the first two in a game that showed he’s still got something to offer the club on the field, and the Saints the had first four.

The forward line otherwise didn’t quite function to plan in terms of goal scoring. Roo kicked one and fluffed a huge chance in the last from two metres out, but was his usual hard-working self otherwise. It felt like he spent most of the game a bit further up from goal, with Wilkes and the smalls Milne, TDL and Saad working closer. Another Trevor Barker Award is on its way, dodgy knee permitting.

BIG RHYS BANDWAGON was parked in the forward line for a lot of the game, too, and looked a bit more at home rotating through attack and the ruck after finishing last week pretty well. He did only kick one goal, though, part of the opening blitz in which pure willpower forced the ball forward, hacked twice out of mid-air – CJ looked substandard even in this department – and Rhys finished it off. But he missed a couple of shots, too, including one in the final term. As for his rucking, the stats wouldn’t quite back-up Swat’s comments post-match about playing him forward of the ball, however. Big Cox and Nic Nat monstered Big Ben and Big Rhys in hitouts, with the final tally 57-23, and the one clear hit out Rhys got early went straight to Cox.

It also leaves a question about what role there is in the short-term for all of Big Ben, Rhys and Tom in the same side. Swat hinted that until the club trades for a key defender, the club won’t be able to have Rhys forward every week, and that the plan seems to be for a very raw Tom to get 12-15 games in this season. That suggests Tom will come in and Rhys will go to defence. If Ben is going to maintain this drop in form, then there’s going to be a lot of teething problems at 200cm and above for the remainder of this year.

Maister was the other goalscorer early on, finishing the good work Dunell had produced streaming forward and steadying in the pocket. It was one of Big Beau’s best games for the club – 11 marks around the ground reflected how hard he worked – but he still has his personal percentage of marks he’s allowed to take regardless of how difficult the chances are, and dropped a couple. But it was cruel – and maybe it’s cruel to say this was telling, but perhaps it was telling – that he missed the set shot late to put the game out of reach of the Eagles, and then was the one tracking Mackenzie on the way to the Eagle kicking the winner. Mackenzie was increasing the gap between them, but Beau managed to trip over himself and land on his face to make sure everyone knew he was in the vicinity of another crucial rubbish moment for the Saints.

With the Saints seemingly playing above and beyond what we were expecting early on, surely they were going to run out of petrol tickets by the time the second half came around. Mline missed a goal he should have kicked – to the reaction in the members of quiet disappointment and acceptance – and then intercepted the kick-in and goaled; Selwood handballed to an overlapping Saint, and there was also Dunell, Ross and Newnes hunting in a pack that forced the ball back from the Eagles’ forward line. But given the rubbish run from the umpires, the missed chances at goal and the Eagles kicking another major on the siren at half-time I still felt like things were set up for a West Coast win somehow, some way.

By the last quarter the players were tiring and the game opened up. The Saints had kept the Eagles to seven goals to the final change, but the Eagles had enough in their legs to add on five in the last. Yes, a couple of them were from questionable free kicks, but they were winning the clearances and good enough to keep it in their attack for threatening amounts of time – and then they took those chances when they came. Indeed, they won despite finishing with less scoring shots than the Saints.

One stat floating on Twitter has the Eagles at a +214 differential in the free kick count since the beginning of the 2011 season. That’s pretty damning, and the umpires were true to form last night. So what do you about it? What do Swat and the coaches go back and look at? They go and look at what’s actually in their control going forward. I think we all need to take a deep breath, curse the umpires bitterly and aggressively maybe seven or eight more times, and then focus on that.

Swat has proven himself as able to talk the talk, and he did well to talk to the positives of the way a side littered with youngsters went about playing against much more fancies opposition. Down back, they’re just going to have to bide their time until trade period; until then we’ll have Gwilt inappropriately playing on giants like Cox and Nic Nat. But again, taking opportunities going forward and in front of goal, as it has been a number of times since the start of last season, remains at the heart of why St Kilda hasn’t won more games under Swat.

TDL was well on his way My Whipping Boy status, but after I’d (mostly) stopped sulking about the world/being a Saints fan I feel that he competed well overall. There was a patch in the second and third quarters in which I thought we were again seeing yet another Saint join the Robert Eddy Club, as a player to dominate in the VFL but flounder at senior level. I’d totally written him off when he missed his set-shot shot in the second (I jumped the gun and said, “He’s kicking for his career”), and then there were a few instances in the third when I got really whingey about him: a ball to a pack twenty metres out in front of goal landed on the ground with him effectively stationary behind his man two metres away, rather than running past front and centre; he muffed a chance with Saad as the side was streaming towards a pretty open 50-metre arc, although the kick to him by Joey (correct me if I’m wrong) slowed him down a little; and then from outside the arc he went to a two-on-one in the pocket when My Favourite Hair in the AFL was one-out in the square with 30 metres directly in front to lead into. Roo had a real crack at him for it, too, so I felt like I got my point across to him.

But he took a couple of nice marks, kicked a good goal, and worked hard in attack and further up the ground to get his possessions, and was rewarded with being one of the post-match interview guys for the website, which he looks absolutely stoked with. He certainly earned his spot for the Melbourne game in a fortnight more so than Saad, who now has three kicks, seven handballs and one goal to his name over the past two matches. Ahmed’s goal in the third right before the siren – to get one back for the two the Eagles had kicked in the first half – was genuinely classy, but his highlights have simply been too rare in recent weeks.

Milne might do a 2012 and get going after a slow start (although it’s taken him half a season this time; last year it was a month); either way he’s going to be selected for the foreseeable future after five goals, and goals at important times too. The three small forwards thing hasn’t quite worked as well as it did last year, however, and with rumours running around forums that Terry wants to go home perhaps it’s time to try just the Tip Rat and TDL as the smalls, with Dunell and My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs spending more time in attack too. Siposs was pretty good Sandy on Saturday so might earn a recall. I could say, like others, that it might be time for Webster to have a rest but everyone is having the week off next week.

Dunell finished with 12 disposals but some of them were pretty good, and really should be retained in the side. Like Newnes, a couple of easy marks slipped through his hands but he seemed to recover well enough. After last year’s promising displays I think we were surprised it took him this long to get a game at senior level and he justified his recall. For now it looks like he’ll be a more versatile, half-decent version of Charlie Gardiner and Charlie Gardiner II, Ryan Gamble.

I hope Josh Saunders is kept in as well. He only played in the last quarter but he didn’t look out of place, and was more than happy to take the game on when it was at its most tense. He got things moving to set up Milne in a play that showed exactly what he was recruited for; the fact that he’s willing to put that on the line this early in his career can only be a good thing. Lenny just said on Fox Footy’s pre-match today that he’ll be back for the Melbourne game after the bye, and assuming that’s indeed the case that’s one automatic inclusion which will need an exclusion. I don’t think Saunders will be taken straight out after playing one quarter, and Ross and Newnes will have had a week off with the bye and their form warrants them being kept in the side. Perhaps it’s CJ to make away again? He really did scrap hard last night, but he again proved himself as a comical disposer of the ball. My favourite part was when he took the free kick for out on the full, and then kicked it out on the full.

Armo and Jack Steven both played pretty good games, and had 21 tackles between them. They probably dipped in and out of the game a little – Armo had nine tackles to half-time and finished with only three more – but it was certainly a step in the right direction for both of them. This is the age in which they should be nearing their peaks. I think they’ve shown us glimpses of their best, so the improvement will come in sustaining those periods. If they can do that, we can feel a lot more comfortable about the midfield going forward.

Joey’s night was ruined by his rubbish miss late in the game. Senior guys have a really important role to play at the club in this time and for someone like him to faff about when given that opportunity was really disappointing. We might not have been in that position if wasn’t for his hard work throughout the game, however. Likewise Dal, who played easily one of his best games of the year. I feel like talk about his contract and whether or not he’ll stay or go is a little overrated. The contract says if he’s fit, then 2014 at the Saints is on, pretty simply. There might be some weird clause as we saw with Ross the ex-Boss that no-one’s mentioned but last night becomes his average performance he’s more than worth having around at the club.

But the positives from this one will have to be the younger guys and the way they went about things. This four points lost isn’t going to earn us anything, really (well, if anything it means Pick #3 in the draft is looking good). They played a style of game that looks like a really solid, effective style to be brought up on. It didn’t stop me from hitting the chair next to me (fortunately empty) after the game as the West Coast song was blaring and the Saints fans were thinking about where the umpires’ cars were parked. As we saw last night, younger sides will wear as the quarters go and as the games go, and we’ll get teased a bit by their performances. You don’t get instant reward from gains like these, but we hope these times are justified over the coming years.

St Kilda wears a different, awesome jumper; also they win

Round 7, 2013
St Kilda 3.5, 7.7, 10.8, 11.11 (77)
Carlton 2.4, 3.6, 4.11, 9.14 (68)
Crowd: 34,054 at Etihad Stadium, Monday, May 13th at 7.40pm

My two favourite things happened last night. St Kilda wore an awesome, different jumper, and St Kilda won. But mostly, St Kilda wore an awesome, different jumper.

Like last year’s Round 7, Monday night sojourn, I headed to Corporate Stadium in the cold (albeit via very warm Number 8 tram) expecting to see the Blues mop the floor with the Saints. And like last year, we all got a really entertaining and encouraging performance that yielded four points. Again, I was very happy to be wrong.

Mother’s Day weekend and the unfortunate effect of almighty television (and by extension, money) have made these clubs willing participants in what’s becoming a traditional fixture. I don’t know that any supporters of the teams playing genuinely like the concept but I know that if it was someone else playing, I’d be watching it on TV.

The AFL can justify it further because they know there’s enough supporters that will turn up to the actual thing no matter what time it’s played – there were more than 34,000 of us there last night and we didn’t get home until around 11pm at least – and they’ll take any and all advantage of that. I don’t know why they can’t just play this game on the Friday or Saturday instead, but I guess you’d need to bump another game to the Sunday then and after the shambles that were on display in both of the Mother’s Day games this year any club would be excused from wanting to avoid it in future.

Last night marked my debut at Aisle 31 on Level 2, after six years in line with the goal posts in Aisle 29. Having been in Vietnam for the Round 4 match against the Bombers, it was strange going to my first home game at Etihad so late in the season. Incredibly, the Saints only play four home games at Etihad in the first 16 rounds, so it will be a while yet before I settle in there anyway. It was just me and several empty seats on either side of me on this occasion – my brother had broken his wrist in all sorts of ways playing for the De La Salle Thirds over the weekend and was sporting a new industrial-size cast, dear cousin Evan was weighed under by Year 12 obligations and Dad wisely preferred the comfort of the couch on a chilly Monday night.

I’d been pumping up the 140 Years jumper on Twitter and this page through the week, and I felt more than justified in yapping about it when the team ran out. I thought it looked really fantastic, and yes, as I’ve said on this several times before, I’d take the design as the full-time home jumper in a heartbeat. It’s bold, it’s simple and it looks a little mean, too, much like the 2005 Heritage Round red, yellow and black jumpers.

Considering the recent history of the club both in recent years and recent weeks, the atmosphere amongst the St Kilda crowd certainly felt different. The urgency and expectation were diminished a little. To celebrate 140 Years (not just last night, but this year) perhaps feels a little hollow after recent Grand Final failures, and it’s been made clear that this developing side won’t be making any impact on September for this year at least. However, after watching Geelong with envy on Friday night, I must say I was feeling better about things by the end of last night.

It was a patchy opening by both teams, with the Saints keen to get started on missing gettable goals. Milera, Geary, Joey, Farren, and My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs were all guilty; Milera would kick three behinds before his first goal and Geary missed another shot in the second quarter. The half-time score of 7.7 should have been something more like 10.4, but it feels like we’ve become used to wasted opportunities over the past year or so.

Particularly early on I thought the Blues would prove to be simply too solid, and it felt like it wouldn’t take much for things to go their way. They were awarded possibly the first 50-metre penalty given for a push in the back BEFORE a mark was taken, were gifted a goal in the square for an off-the-ball incident and then Milne’s clanger set up Walker to run around for a while and then kick a goal. As for the Saints, for every time Jack Newnes took on his opponent and bullet-passed to My Favourite Hair in the AFL, or Jack Steven doing the same which ended in a great running goal to Roberton, there were soft efforts early from Dempster, Siposs and Steven.

But as things sorted themselves out, it proved to be the Saints who really turned up to work hard. Roo’s double effort early, moving up the ground, and then back deep before leading to mark and kick his first goal, set the tone for his night. It set the tone for everyone else’s night, too. He’s a man whose premiership window has closed, but he continues to play as arguably the club’s greatest captain.

For all the hard work out there, this team will still be prone to inconsistency not just within games but within quarters. On top of the wayward kicking for goal there were also a few aimless entries going into attack in the first, juxtaposed with the passage of play that led to Roberton’s goal, or Wright’s setting up of an isolated Roo in the second.

It certainly helped that Ellard and Yarran came off with hammies early, much like Waite’s suspension and Carrazzo’s late withdrawal. It set the rest of the game up to be played in effectively two waves. The young Saints would go full throttle for the second and third quarters, harassing and working and dashing their way to a 33-point lead over a depleted Carlton by the final change. However, they’d used up all their juice by then and en masse were more ragged than the Blues. Once Mick got their forward structure straightened up with Henderson thrown into attack, Carlton knew they’d be a chance against a side that had largely not been challenged like this before. They’re only human, indeed.

Until that final twist there were some really great signs across the board. The senior players did their thing, with Roo the obvious standout, and took it upon himself to bring the Tip Rat into the game after #44 had had a slow start (also they both looked awesome in the jumper); if Dal didn’t quite fully awake from his slumber then he’s certainly stumbling through the hallway towards the bathroom, and Fisher was a general in defence. Milne ended up kicking two goals and having a hand in a couple of others; there were a few clangers on his part but watch his reaction when Siposs kicks the goal in the third – that’s something really valuable to have around the club.

But it was the contribution by guys on the rungs below that has us all feeling good about the future (for this week at least). Obviously there’s Jack Steven, but Big Boy WOWEE BOY OH BOY McEvoy played one of his best games. Having Big Tom Hickey in the side meant he could drift around the ground and into defence without taking too much artillery away from the stoppages. His presence down back was pivotal on several occasions, particularly late in the game. He’s again at the front of the pack to be the 2017 Premiership Captain, but I’ve been thinking of revising that to 2018 or even 2019 Premiership Captain (stay tuned for that one).

Jimmy Gwilt’s return was great timing in the absence of Sam Gilbert, and The Official 140 Years Jumper Model, like McEvoy brought some real stability to the backline. He really struggled with Henderson in the final term, but most defenders would with the ball coming down that often and with that much space available in the Blues’ forward 50. There was also Geary, who did a very nice checking job on Marc Murphy.

The younger guys particularly have given something to really look forward to. Roberton played another solid game off half-back (including his nice running goal); Jimmy Webster had his family home burn down 10 days prior but ran out with his brother and led the team off after getting nine touches in a quarter and a bit of footy. As Swat said, has showed “almost too much composure”. Then there was the sensational Hard-arse Triumvirate: Newnes took the game and his opponents on to go with some nice disposal, likewise Nathan Wright who worked commendably hard, and Seb Ross collected 21 touches in his best game thus far.

The Only Ross at St Kilda seems pretty unassuming for a first-round draft pick. He certainly doesn’t have a huge profile or a flash haircut like My Favourite Hair (which looked awesome with the jumper) or Armo, but Jobe’s cousin has taken obvious steps forward in his outings this season. He’s not the quickest guy but he’s really composed and knows how to use the ball – his quick give off to Newnes at half-back set up the passage for Armo’s third-quarter goal.

Perhaps it’s he and Newnes behind Big Boy McEvoy in the 2017 Premiership Captain stakes currently. Newnes’ confidence clearly grew over the off-season and as his body strengthens and he gains experience he’ll be more and more involved in the play off half-back and through the midfield.

Wright is probably in a similar situation, but you’d actually want him across half-back right now the way he was playing before being crudely hit by Eddie Betts. I hope he doesn’t miss too much footy, although the break might freshen him up for when he comes back to the side.

It’s easy to gush after wins like this. A whole lot of young guys showed really good signs and, for this week at least, they could become anything. Simply, it’s great to see these young guys really taking things on. Especially in such an awesome jumper.

If I said the BIG RHYS BANDWAGON had never looked better, I’d be referring first and foremost to the fact that Big Rhys was wearing one of my favourite St Kilda jumpers of all time. He did some nice things and really wore Hampson all night, but he’s still yet to stamp himself as a natural defender. No matter what end of the ground he’s at right now he’d look a bit unsteady I think, and at worst he’s gotten another full game into him.

Siposs looked more at home up forward again (he too looked good in that jumper), so perhaps he’ll be seeing a little less of the defensive 50. His disposal makes him worth having further up the ground, but he showed some good smarts close to goal both in the air and at ground level. He followed up his 2.3 against Collingwood with 1.2, so hopefully he can get his radar going again soon.

Milera and Saad reprised their better moments of 2012 and played much more meaningful roles, although they drifted in and out of the game. Milera still is a little wasteful in front of goal and could be a really damaging player if he rectifies that. Saad was busy, laying five tackles and kicking a couple of goals, including the most important of the night. It was punctuated by him celebrating first with Seb Ross – moments like those get you excited about the future.

The feel-good vibe fell away at some point during three-quarter time – maybe it was the boos for the giveaway winner on the big screen? – and it felt like watching the bad old Saints in the final quarter. The second and third tier guys were out on their feet, senior guys were making mistakes, forward 50 entries looked nervous, and “Some Guy” had been thrown up forward at the other end and was dominating for the first time in his career.

It certainly wasn’t for a lack effort. Newnes was demanding the footy from a kick-in in the last quarter, a really positive sign that he was keen to take responsibility at a key moment in the game, but guys like him will need to do this a few more times before this club makes a serious trek up the ladder. There will be “up” weeks and “down” weeks in this development period. The Saints managed to hold on, so this is an “up” week, where we feel really good about the recruiting and Scott Watters. We should really enjoy it – the players certainly did, and so they should have. This guy did, too – can someone PLEASE gif this? [EDIT: HERE IT IS!]

It felt like a win for a win’s sake. The supporters who turned up enjoyed watching kids put up a really good fight and be rewarded for their efforts. The possession was wayward at times and the pressure dropped off late, but the intent alone was enough to get them over the line.

Of course, there’s a wider context to it – not for season 2013 but for the years ahead, in that it’s wins like these that younger players build careers on. What I really loved was the reaction of the young guys on the siren, particularly Ross and Newnes. 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.

Also the jumper looked awesome.