Nick Riewoldt Posts

Past tense

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

And then there was one

Round 22
St Kilda 4.3, 8.14, 14.17, 18.19 (127)
North Melbourne 5.2, 6.3, 8.5, 12.6 (78)
Crowd: 29,126 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, August 20th at 3.20pm

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It’s hard to write much about the game itself. It was probably the most accurate encapsulation of a rather odd season in one game – plenty of missed chances at goal, fluffed opportunities from the goal square, a demonstration of the gap between ourselves and the lower teams, a lot of Seb Ross and Jack Steven, some Hotline and Gresham, the looming presence of My Favourite Hair in the AFL and his future, not much Mav Weller, absolutely no David Armitage.

There was also eight marks taken and two goals kicked by said My Favourite Hair. After almost a full season of chatter about whether or not he’d play on in 2018, a few weeks ago we officially got our answer. Sunday was the kind of day that seemed unfathomable for so long, and for how sad his lap of honour in front of a St Kilda home crowd was, this Sunday afternoon will be very difficult.

All of a sudden this has become more real. Given the ridiculous moments and lapses that underpinned the Port Adelaide and Melbourne matches in recent weeks we now have an almost certain end date. This was a dry run for Sunday, but even then there plenty of tears around the stadium after the match.

It was a borderline dead rubber and realistically was played in that manner. Plenty of open play, a lack of real urgency that you can sense when a season is still to be played for, and some comical errors. The Acres to Sinclair to Dunstan slapstick was the headline act; the Gilbert banana goal overturned for a throw to him, and then Gresham’s sneaky pounce goal from the resulting North free kick was a close second.

The lack of urgency was something you could sense from the start. North’s win-loss record belies how competitive they’ve been this year and after the disappointment of the previous week I wasn’t going to be surprised if we were a little flat and caught off our guard. If Brown hadn’t have hit the post they would have had six goals for the opening term, including two goals in last 26 seconds.

The match day entertainment again fell a little flat on quarter time owing again to some, uh, Jake Carlisle-based issues after all the faux-drama of his pre-match. The club obviously doesn’t and shouldn’t take into account scuffles on flowing beyond the siren of any quarter, but for the second time this year Emma Davenport has been put into the position that she has to bring a family friendly and/or feel-good segment to the crowd on the big-screen when everyone’s wound up (or whatever the equivalent was for Sunday) and absolutely not in the headspace. It happened on three-quarter time of the infamous Blues match earlier this year when she had to bring us “Saints in the Seats” after Murphy had a crack at Jake Carlisle who was lying on the ground after being smacked in the nuts, following everything else that had been yelled about between players during the game. The mood was heated, Carlton had frustrated the Saints (except for Hotline) all day, and I ended up screaming at him that he was a “fucking dog” and “weak prick” immediately afterwards (with a small child directly in front of our membership seats), and sending out an ill-informed tweet that I deleted later. Carlisle was involved this time too, but much more actively in that moment. He managed to get reported twice after almost not making it out there. His back seized up in the pre, pre-match warm-up and it looked like Brandon White was going to come in (he shouldn’t have come out in the first place, really). But the big screen cut to the rooms just minutes before they ran out and he was doing whatever handball drill they were doing, and then bizarrely he ran out by himself – again, wonderfully, in the long-sleeves – for a quick kick-to-kick with a trainer before running back in, and then running back out with everyone else. He was still reaching for his back as the team came out from the banner and was clearly in no shape to do the bullshit mini-sprint drill. Whilst whatever jab he’d probably received eventually kicked in, he wasn’t able to take Brown, so Brown was on Brown, and Brown would have had a much dirtier day if Brown had kicked straight, because Brown just couldn’t keep up with him on the lead nor compete with Brown in the air. For as long as North were taking it up to our mids, Brown was looming as a key player and it was looking like the Coleman Medal might have “Brown” etched on it soon. Brown had to stay on Brown for the entire match. That’s about how many times I heard that line used during the game from someone in the crowd, to go with the constant high decibels emitted from the mouthy kids that sit directly behind my eardrums.

Billings and Gresham’s polished finishes in the opening term at the Riewoldt end be damned, we were going to send Roo off from the stadium the best way this team knows how – by missing goal after goal after goal. The aforementioned Blacres/Sinclair/Dunstan job was obviously the highlight, which shows just how bad it was given it was competing for a spot amongst the plethora of entries in a season-reflecting, season-beating 4.11 for the quarter. That included 15 consecutive forward-50 entries for the return of 3.11, and keep in mind Sav kicked a goal from a set shot after the siren.

Josh Bruce kicked things off of course; Jack Steven ensured he still incredibly has not kicked a goal from a set shot this season, Dunstan missed a set shot, Billings missed a snap around the corner from deep in the pocket, Blacres and Seb missed too.

Jack Steven picked up 40 touches but in a year that he obviously struggled for attention I think we’re mostly over what his ceiling is. His kicking can be haphazard and he’s kicked 6.15 this year. He’s obviously not the only one afflicted with the team-wide illness and perhaps that’s something that might be contained to 2017, but that’s still what he’s bringing to the team right now. A particularly soft effort in front of the members in the last quarter had me rushing to “Nick Riewoldt would never do that” thoughts, but with the improvement of Seb Ross, the form of Luke Dunstan in the five games since returning to the team and the development left in Jack Steele and Blacres it’s the depth and to a certain point the versatility that those on the list currently will bring. Armo may or may not exist anymore, Gresham and Billings are better suited to the “high half-forward” roles, Sinclair and Newnes are different types of wings, Koby Stevens has probably shown his best (not such a bad thing) and Freeman may not even get out there. The list is still incomplete, which is right now is an exciting thing.

The real X-factor in that list is Blacres, who brings speed, acceleration and size in a way the others don’t to what still looks like a blue-collar side. He’s one of the few guys in the team that are willing, let alone able, to break through traffic and create new angles on the line of play, as well as releasing and bringing other teammates into the game and affecting movement in the process. His disposal still needs work and he still comes across as an airhead at times, but I still think his progression and style is a this-decade version of BJ. He’s also got the size to go into attack and play as a lead-up forward, and his set shot kicking is much better than most – his goal from the pocket was very, very nice. Maybe the calamity that was the Port finish is slowly fading (maybe), and Blacres played arguably the key role in that. So when he kicks into the man on the mark just outside the 50 metre arc late in the game and then runs over and pushes the guy over, gets the ball and gives it off to a player running past (Sav) for a goal, that shows development and certainly makes us a feel a little better (for the moment).

Blue-collar tag perhaps, but as Billings, Gresham, Sinclair and Acres all become more prominent those small spikes of class are showing through. Billings’ and Gresham’s goals were a tease for what this year could have brought more often but also for the wait over the off-season ahead, and does anyone dare say that Sinclair’s finesse in dancing around his opponent and kicking that third quarter goal was…Harvey-esque? It’s much easier to bring in the comparison given he’s wearing 35, but even his hair is getting gradually suspiciously bigger as he gets better.

One thing that might have popped out of Richo’s post-match press conference was how unequivocal Richo was about Gilbert playing next year. Brandon White was dropped which was strange, but who else do you take out when you’ve gotta play Nick? He’s obviously not in danger or losing a place on the list or anything, and he’s one of the most promising guys we’ve drafted over the past decade going on their first handful of games. But next year will be different, and if surely we couldn’t play both Joey and Gilbert the entire year, although that’s more of a Joey conversation than Gilbert conversation. Gilbert has shown more intent than many of his teammates throughout the year, and no one would deny him that. If anything his game has actually improved, but is that at the cost (potentially) of developing White and D-Mac and Rice? Will there be enough improvement from the younger guys across the rest of the team that would justify playing a guy who’s turning 32 (albeit towards the end of the season – he just turned 31 last week) in the side?

That only 29,000 turned up is a blight on the wider St Kilda fanbase. I found it strange Richo and Jack Steven (i.e. the club) went out of their way to point out what a great turnout it was. The club has more than 42,000 members, and it was almost embarrassing when the crowd number went up on the screen. Not just that the number itself was low, but because looking around the ground fuck me if there was actually anywhere near 29,000 there. What else does it take to get Saints fans to turn up? It’s a beautiful day and the Corporate Dome still has a closed roof for our “comfort” (i.e. enhancement of match day garbage), but since that long ago time in which we were a competitive side, we’ve gone from not turning up at the open MCG under any circumstances to not turning up to an historical home match with all components of a TV studio.

Conversely, I’ve really started challenging what I expect and should want to get from this football club for a host of reasons. Its incompetence has an almost unblemished record of more than 14 decades to point to as a get-out clause for fans, who most recently got to see the club piss away more than a decade despite having the biggest non-AFL gifted armoury of top draft picks. But this is the legacy of this particular one individual that the club – which has had to celebrate individuals in lieu of its own success – will need build on if it wants find the promised land. Turn up.

The sadness of the moment post-match probably caught a lot of people off-guard. Yes, this had definitely become a real thing. It was hard to not tear up (if you hadn’t already) as Roo ran the final lap in front of the home fans. The future might be a very uncertain place without him, and for as long as he was around there was a link to the teams of 2004-05 and those that came so close to a premiership. For as long as he was around those heights seemed maybe not so far away. Once he’s gone we’re going to be looking to a lot of difference faces and a lot of different people. There might be an element of fear in that for supporters. I certainly feel it. I certainly shed a few tears as I crossed the Bourke Street bridge and headed for the tram. This is an event for St Kilda, and for St Kilda supporters.

Barring the kind of miracle in the final round of 2008 that gave us a slim chance of a premiership for Sir Robert (of course it didn’t eventuate), this Sunday will be the last time Saint Nick runs out in a St Kilda jumper. Embrace it, enjoy it, appreciate it.

The Pressure

Round 20, 2017
St Kilda 3.2, 7.5, 10.7. 15.13 (103)
West Coast Eagles 3.5, 7.8, 10.10, 14.11 (95)
Crowd: 22,688 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, August 7th at 1.10pm

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Filthy

On Sunday morning I sent out a text to our group chat on Messenger, asking if anyone was actually coming to the footy. I was a definite starter, but after what had happened the previous weekend I was expecting the afternoon to crescendo at smattered applause echoing throughout the Concrete Dome, as per our lowest depths of 2014 and 2015. After the ignominy of what had happened the previous Saturday night, I secretly hoped no-one was going to turn up.

Not even the mega-PR smackdown of announcing Roo’s retirement on the Monday was going to completely bring us supporters out of our daze and dishevelment, of the anger and humiliation flowing from the Port finish. This was before the last passage was played on loop across all footy talk shows during the week, combined with endless analysis (of which I tried my own amateur, 0 AFL games-played hand at). Regardless of how we lost, we lost, and it felt as though the season was over. The month-long farewell tour of My Favourite Hair in the AFL was set to be a string of feel-good, cash-cow Association Football Star Testimonials, featuring some veterans to remind us of the good old days (Joey, maybe Gilbert; Nathan Brown on the same team as a nice twist), and use it as an opportunity for the kids to get some game time (White, and pretty much almost everyone else).

The replaying of Roo’s better moments in his career on said shows – not least the incredible mark in Round 11 of 2004 against the Swans at the SCG – off the back of the Port Adelaide result seemed to compound the situation. The person who for all intents and purposes would be the one to lift up the St Kilda Football Club’s second premiership cup on Grand Final Day never quite would be; and we only have a short time to celebrate his longevity and somehow make all those better moments feel somewhat relevant and have currency for as long as we’re mathematically capable of a top eight finish.

Unless we pull off a premiership that would be more ridiculous and bemusing than fairytale, it’s only going to get sadder over the coming weeks. Perversely, there’s a slight chance that we might now know at the end of the Richmond match in Round 23 if it is indeed his last game, depending on West Coast’s fortunes and the outcome of their game against Adelaide, which finishes a little more than an hour after our own.

Sunday, 12.45pm – Life Choices Consideration

I felt like the past week had been an instructive one as a St Kilda supporter. As I walked up the steps at Bourke Street to hit the bridge I think for the first time I genuinely questioned why I was going to the footy to watch St Kilda play. It’s the closest I could have come to really empathise with people who just sometimes can’t be fucked going to watch this club. It wasn’t the biting breeze and the rain falling at an increasing angle – I was about to going inside to the artificially heated set of a TV program anyway. I was still so furious about the week before. I’d been thinking about what long-term supporters have seen and experienced in return for those moments, that would make those kinds of demons go away. The answer is nothing if you’re about 55 years old or under, because even if you were alive at the time you sure as hell weren’t old enough to comprehend 1966, but you sure were able to take in 1971, 1997, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, etc. Those have been amongst our best years, and I doubt they make you feel purely warm and fuzzy thinking bank on them.

The anomaly of St Kilda, above its one premiership in 144 years, and its 27 bottom of the ladder finishes the VFL/AFL, is that it still survives. How much longer can that last? The Road to 2018 plan had 50,000 members in Australia and 10,000 in New Zealand. How much of our current financial shortfall is owing to those ridiculous overreaches? The lack of young player development this year has surely made further ill of the on-field elements. What if we’re garbage next year?

But a number of things happened between crossing that bridge (literally) and about 4pm that showed we’re might be at least reaching out a hand to the throat of some of those demons, whether they’re one week old or 51 years old. Hell, or 144 years old.

Conveniently, it was exactly those from the last 59 seconds of the previous weekend at the Adelaide Oval that we were placed in a position to exorcise (for now). This club likes to do things in extremes. Necessarily, it was players like Acres, Billings, Steele, Sinclair and Steven who played chief roles in casting them out; players that in varying degrees contributed to or represented a famous win being dissolved via scattered thoughts and barely a whimper.

Special Bulletin

It’s worth keeping in mind that the Port Adelaide result in isolation isn’t necessarily what will keep us out of the eight by season’s end. It certainly could on a micro level, and those four points are worth the exact same as valuable as any other four points. But think of how large our losses have typically been – of our nine losses, seven of them have been by 30, 38, 40, 57, 61 and 42 points. Our kicking at goal (in wins and losses) has seen 13.19, 14.23, 9.15, 19.16, 12.13, 12.17, 14.19, 12.17 again, 7.15 and 8.13. Our 21.12 against Richmond masked the fact the score was 92-10 at half-time, and that we didn’t even end up doubling their score – but Essendon more than doubled ours just one week later. The point being, not only have we blown games owing to poor kicking, but we’ve also sat our arses firmly on our percentage. Didn’t anyone remember how important that was last season? The club decided to extend the tease early on Sunday by posting shots of Bruce shitting out snaps from the pocket in the warm-up.

Things felt like they’d picked up where they’d fallen apart completely late the weekend before. Carlisle was back in the long sleeves – this time in home jumper, which again looked sensational – and was again a rock in defence. He didn’t quite have the same presence as last week but this game was played differently, and he still proved himself to be one of the better and more considered field kicks in the team. His bullet out of the goal square at full-back in the first quarter, after Roo did a reverse Roo in the first quarter, was so good it caught Dunstan unaware, and by the time the latter had realised he was running directly through the centre square with space in front of him the moment had got to him.

Up the other end, Whipping Human of the Week Blacres gave nothing away that he was about to put in one of his best performances in his short career. No presence in a one-on-one close to goal in the opening minutes and zero follow-up once the ball hit the deck, and then an ok aerial contest presenting near the 50-metre arc was backed up by a feeble tackle attempt.

His game started to building when he actually caught someone holding the footy, but a triple treat of slop in the shadows of three-quarter time him teetering on the edge of the Blacres that we all came to know so well with 19 seconds remaining against Port. Out on the rebound he managed to fumble the footy on his own, fumbled again at half-forward, only to, uh, fumble again at half-forward and a huge Roberton mark at centre half-back might have been the only thing between him and a plane ticket back to Perth with the Eagles that night.

For his occasional air-headedness, he really does change the game around when he’s switched on. He knows how to use his speed and size to open the field up and get some movement happening, and again he moved forward to good effect. It looked like the team was intent on making that a constant element of the game throughout the afternoon. As pissed off as I was with him and the team a few days ago, one week is a long time in footy. So is 19 seconds.

I didn’t give Acres nearly enough credit watching the game live. He was also responsible for a turnover in the second quarter that led to a Kennedy goal and put them out by 16 points. That would soon stretch further out to 22, and West Coast simply seemed to just have things working a little more smoothly. Mitchell was able to poke the ball forward off the ground out of the middle in traffic and whilst the ball ended up with Sheed out wider he still went back and kicked a huge goal from the meeting of the 50 arc and the boundary.

In a similar way the GWS win was engineered by a spread of players taking responsibility to step up at different times, Jack Sinclair took it on himself at with a string of clever and classy moments to steady things well before his good mate Jack would finish them off.

It began pretty simply – he worked his way to a dangerous spot in the goal square and was in the right place after consecutive efforts from Membrey and Billings to a long kick-in for the goal on the line. Again, he put himself in the right spot a couple of minutes later, sprinting past an aerial contest out wide on the 50, took the ball cleanly and cut in to spear the ball to Roo in front of goal. It was the kind of thing that we’ve seen barely enough of this year.

He’d then engineered a kick out of defence after Longer went down back and took a mark (seriously), that saw two big kicks across the ground in a bold switch that ended with Bruce hitting the post. That was made up for (sort of) by a smother and clever turn off of his opponent just on the 50 as the Eagles looked to rebound. Another neat kick to Roo probably should have been a free kick, but Billings reacted quickly at the fall and cannoned the footy out to Blacres closer to goal.

Sinclair isn’t necessarily the fastest player but he’s consistently proven this year to be agile, quick thinking and smart. Of course we need speed, but the mind needs to work pretty quickly in the moment too.

For all of Josh Bruce’s brave hard work the week before he again displayed some serious yips. The chain of long kicks that broke open the field and ended with his poster from a set shot deserved more, and whilst he did kick two his miss at the end could have become the stuff of St Kilda legend if we weren’t able to shut down the Eagles’ final switch into the middle. The way the crowd went up when he took the mark suggested we thought the game was done, which was dangerous to begin with even if he did kick it. But it set things up for Billings to step up in a big moment.

The Pressure

Someone once said to me, “All you want to see in sport is justice”. Jack Billings wasn’t nearly our best player last week, but he didn’t deserve to be the one with the best view of Robbie Gray’s kick other than Robbie Gray, and the one that replays will show he was the closest in his failed attempt to shut him down. So I don’t know if it’s quite justice that Billings was able to produce the two huge moments in the last quarter to go with and a handy game, but to St Kilda supporters I think it felt right. That he was so emotional when he kicked the sealer should say something to us about the pressure he must have felt in that moment, and how he must have felt every time he’d missed another shot at goal during the season. Before he decided to fly backwards in the goal square for the mark with in the last quarter, he’d kicked 17.28 for the season, including 0.2 so far that night, with another behind to come. Keep in mind 5.0 of that had been kicked on one day.

And this was exactly why we’d drafted him with pick 3. To back himself and take a huge contested mark when the game was on the line, and the be the one to react quickly and run at full tilt with one minute left to open up space and provide an option as soon the ball was turned over with two points separating the sides. And then, most importantly, kick the goal. Not just after the day he’d had in front of the sticks, but the year, and the pressure of almost four full seasons as he saw the player taken one pick after him rise and become a best and fairest winner in their club’s premiership year.

Billings on Sunday also did something we probably hadn’t seen him do before – an intercept on the wing, sprint, give-off and get back and a handsome delivery to Membrey on the lead.

For a game that was played at a pretty consistent tempo and featured 29 goals, individual moments still punctuated the contest. For the Saints, it was Roo’s confused shot running into goal that barrelled into Gresham, rather than put us up by nine points with momentum in the last quarter. Dunstan’s haphazard dribble kick attempt from the boundary early in the last ricocheted of an Eagle’s boot and went out on the full, and Dunstan again stepped up in front of goal in a big moment as had the week before. Roo gave up his game to force a one-on-one contest at a key moment late. Newnes and Bruce hit the post in the second quarter, and Gresham, Savage and Bruce all missed shots in 15 minutes between Steele putting us in front with a superb solo effort from a stoppage, and Kennedy setting up what we all feared we’d face all too soon after the previous week. For all the play we had in that final term, the 5.6 registered could have looked incredibly ugly.

Steele’s game overall was simply built on hard work and like Acres’ was arguably his best in his also brief career to date. Of his 26 possessions, 20 were contested but he showed off class to go with his strength, taking a strong contested mark and goaling on quarter time to go with his one-armed grab and goal in the last quarter.

The introduction of Steele and Koby Stevens has also allowed Dunstan to play less as a purely inside midfielder and it’s been to his benefit. It’s not purely the presence of Steele and Stevens doing, because Dunstan has had to improve and change his game in the same way that Seb Ross has been able to do (he’s not quite at Seb’s level yet, obviously). He’s also done it under the magnified pressure of having been dropped three times in the one year; he’d never been dropped from the team before this season. I thought he was our lead candidate for trade bait but he’s come back to be our best or in our best in his three games.

That we were down by 22 points during the second quarter and then 14 points in the last and able to win is something of great magnitude at this point in development. It said a lot about Richo and the coaches, their coaching, and the players that when faced with a nauseatingly similar, pressure-filled circumstance after last week – both within the game and within the season – that they were able to defend when they needed to, and continue attacking in those final moments when we still needed to score and really put the game away.

St Kilda History

When Robert Harvey announced his retirement ahead of Round 18 in 2008 the club was ninth, at the bottom of a logjam of teams separated only on percentage. A winning streak had been formulated in the previous weeks, and it was the springboard to honouring Harvey with a sensational top four finish, and a Preliminary Final appearance that gave us all a week to dream that Sir Robert might make another appearance on Grand Final Day.

Strangely, that Round 18 match was against Port Adelaide, the week after we’d lost to West Coast on the road. It also saw Harvey taken off after hit to the head – topically, his head hit the Docklands turf in a tackle, but he came back on – and we won by eight points with a scoreline of 101 to 93 in front of 22,878, as opposed to Sunday’s scoreline of 103 to 95 in front 22,688.

Going into early Sunday afternoon, we found ourselves in a vaguely similar but tougher situation with the ladder to that team of 2008. The dynamics of this team are obviously much different (I still think that if the players had got their heads around Ross’s style and plan a little quicker we might have been able to give 2008 a more serious shake – although at best that would basically have meant finishing second to Geelong on the ladder and hoping to ambush them on Grand Final Day a la Hawthorn). Roo’s announcement came less than 48 hours after Acres, Billy, Dunstan, et. al. combined for create one of the iconic moments of a truly amazing season (for the opposition), and I felt the combination of events shut down our season. As the weather warmed and made its first turns for spring earlier this week, and even on the colder days the sun shone a little longer in the late afternoon, it was that familiar feeling of the pending chance for some rest as others vied to write history.

There’s still next to no margin for error over the next few weeks, but how different we feel about this team. Ultimate redemption in football terms is something most of us – and after 51 years, all of us, really – are still searching for. But along the way you need to understand and deliver on the idea of redeeming yourself. As fans we’re obviously not the ones out there making the mistakes or kicking the clutch goals, but of course still feel them. We didn’t feel the effort or development last week, but on Sunday we would be able to feel that reward as players, coaches, and a club, and as members and supporters.

What.

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

krusty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same old jokes since 1873

Round 17, 2017
St Kilda 0.2, 2.6, 4.11, 7.15 (57)
Essendon 2.5, 6.10, 13.12, 17.16 (118)
Crowd: 47,156 at Etihad Stadium, Friday, July 14th at 7.50pm

Ever since I had this platform I’ve whinged about the mere prospect of playing the Bombers, and after Friday night I’ll continue to do so. They’ve always presented a challenge for us. Even when we were challenging in the mid-aughts and they were suffering a sustained struggle they still gave us all sorts of problems. It was a loss to them in mid-2005 that was the catalyst for our stirring run in the second half of the season; we squeaked past them by three points in 2006 at a sodden MCG; they knocked us off with some arsey specials in 2007. Never mind the incredible last match the of 2008 home-and-away season that saw us smash through by 108 points to finish fourth on percentage. Of course, of course, of course it was the mid-table Bombers that would hand us our first defeat in 2009 following My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s post-siren miss, and then they knocked us off twice in 2010, before a thumping early in 2011 that really signalled our post-Gand Finals comedown.

I remember leaving the ground after that 2009 loss thinking that despite the loss, we finally looked like a club that might shirk those moments. That “it won’t matter so much in six weeks”. I remember those specific words running through my head. But here we are.

Sure, we’d accounted for them over the past three years in varying degrees, but the Bombers are now back to playing the fast footy that has troubled us regardless of ladder positions for…ever. It could be this week, it could be last decade, or it could be the league’s maiden season of 1897. Zero prizes for guessing who the premiers and wooden spooners were that year. Their culture of arrogance, aggression and success is entirely at odds with our own. “The past never dies”.

That’s not to say that’s what last night was all about. The Bombers have knocked off some quality teams – Port and West Coast comprehensively, and the Cats. They’ve come close to GWS and Richmond, and had the Swans and Lions fall through their fingers in recent weeks.

Because of that – as well as the aforementioned historical aspect – I hadn’t been this fucking nervous going to game for a long time. Arguably the most even season in VFL/AFL history and the essential cliche of “one week at a time” be damned. The media is growing tired of talking teams up or down, but after four wins the interrobang of Richmond game a few sneaky hopes for 2017 might have crept into the periphery of our minds. We were due a close game at the Corporate Dome television set too.

On the Friday morning Billings had the feature article in The Age, which is probably not a good thing. I remember Robert Walls’ write up of Brent Guerra in the same paper after he’d kicked seven in our Round 9 thumping of West Coast in 2004. We were 9-0 and looked to have the perfect compliment to Milne mopping up after the G-Train, My Favourite Hair in the AFL, Hamill and Kosi, not to mention being raging flag favourites. Guerra was never the same again (but of course played in a premiership…with another club. Twice.). On the same day, in the same paper, Jake Carlisle got a write up too ahead of his 100th game his old club, so it promised to be a big day for him, just like it was for author Wayne Carey with the announcement of Simon Lethlean and Richard Simkiss being forced to resign etc. etc. etc. See how easy that shit is? I’m sure a few St Kilda schoolgirl jokes got a run this week with the selection of St Kilda schoolboy Josh Battle.

So we opened with our first goalless quarter of the year. The opening few minutes gave me the same impression those of our first Sydney game did this year – we’re not switched on. It was last week inverted – the Bombers had more numbers at each contest and running for each other. They set up quickly enough to at least worry us out of the kick into the middle from half-back to open up the game, and when they had the ball off half-back they pulled players wide and kept space open in the middle for that kick that opens the game up. The quality of disposal was on display, too.

There were a few things in those early moments that we could worry about in isolation. Are we missing the option of Membrey going forward? Are we missing Webster’s disposal off half-back? Will we be able to catch them coming off two six-day breaks if this keeps going? And, miraculously, are we missing Billy Longer?

The bluntness of Richo in the post-match press conference was itself an accurate reflection of the performance. None of the above mattered. No intent, no DARE® Iced Coffee with ball. Despite finding himself again in the stepladder role, Carlisle was the only one who looked like he was on a mission. He actually had a few kicked on him by Daniher, but I’m not going to blame him too much for that. It wasn’t just that we were beaten so badly across the ground that the delivery to Joe was of decent quality, it’s also that Joe’s becoming so good now he’s the type of player you almost just concede will kick a few when they run out.

But no one else turned up. Carlisle’s good-time media buddy Billings was missing, Ross was quiet, Steele was a no-show and Steven was vaguely present as Merrett and Zaharakis went bananas in the head-to-head, again, an inversion on the previous week, this time of the Cotchin and Martin match-ups. Jobe’s absence was negligible.

Essendon’s poor kicking at goal kept us in it for a time, but through the second term the gulf in intent and class widened. They hit harder and got lower and it took Carlisle’s presence in the air out of the contest. Brilliant passes to Joe and a slick finish from Zaharakis at the St Kilda cheer squad end were damning, as up the other the Essendon fans ensured the dynamic of the Corporate Dome-style faux sell-out was based around the Bombers. When Newnes missed an easy set shot at their end it became an Essendon home match. When St Kilda showed they’d decided to keep going with the post-match interview with a player on the stadium screen even after a loss, and specifically after the other team’s song had played, and then had the ground announcer say “Go Saints!” before Essendon’s song started again, we looked stupid.

We’d prided ourselves in recent weeks on keeping North to 2.6 at half-time and then Richmond to 1.4. On Friday night we were 2.6 at the main break ourselves. We were up 92 to 10 against the Tigers at half-time and didn’t even end up doubling their score. Essendon were 3.9 during the second quarter but took themselves to 6.10 by the siren and more than doubled ours by the end.

Where was…anyone? I had to ask myself again standing around in the members’ section on level 2, which was flat as fuck compared to six nights earlier. Bruce had marked and turned on the 50-metre arc for a great G-Train goal but that was where it began and ended. There wasn’t even any vaguely interesting inane chat from coming through in the direct audio feed from the broadcaster’s ad breaks, which we’re privy to in toilets of The Doorman. It’s the kind of useless garbage you don’t think about during the week until you actually hear it.

Hickey’s hit-out straight to Green in the last few seconds of the half for an easy Bombers goal was probably where the whole thing was at. It’s hard to say “Longer has finally won”, because Hickey was coming back into the team after three months, including a knee injury, and in a week where no one else decided to run out either. I genuinely felt bad for Trickey running around out there, though. Kind of bemused and infuriated, sure. Peak Longer was something we’d never thought we’d see but if Billy doesn’t come back in next week then I hope they give Trickey another shot. Watching him get shoved around in the ruck, miss an easy shot at goal and walk into the path of Carlisle’s lead, and be outmarked by Bellchambers in the goal square in front of Essendon’s cheer squad felt like we might have been watching someone’s career be extinguished in two hours of footy. I really, really, hope it’s not the case. Holmes has registered 62 hit-outs and 57 in recent weeks but we’d be looking at a Longer-style ruck purposes-only player.

Meanwhile, up the other end Josh Battle was heading towards a Will Johnson-type debut (sans concussion), or perhaps even Jackson Ferguson given he’d been called up in the same week as a pantsing. I’d duly melted on Wednesday night when a tweet with some inside info came through saying the other, other JB – My New Favourite Player – would be making his debut this week. Just minutes later, the club confirmed as much on the site. His first goal showed he could at least kick straight when just about no-one else could. I wouldn’t be totally down on him coming out this week – given he’s still finishing school this was one more game than I expected him to play. Brett Thomas pointed out during the week that he was the first school student debutant for the club since John Georgiou, which is great historically, but also very not great historically. However, Georgiou’s time with the Saints did give us some quintessential 1990s Australian television feature journalism.

Bringing in Marshall surely has to be on the cards this week. Even if Hickey plays again, he can bring in support for the forwards and as well relief ruck duties, and keeping in mind Richo noted he was elevated to the senior list during the week more so to cover for height in the backline. Carlisle ended up going forward as it was and didn’t look out of place, but that’s more of a contingency place.

I use the term “My New Favourite Player” for Josh Battle with trepidation. “My Favourite Player” was Arryn Siposs, but unfathomably my support alone was unable to take him to the heights I was hoping he’d reach as a roaming half-forward. He and his family were massive Saints supporters, too. It seemed to fit. For a time he was genuinely a bright spot in the cold, dark fall-out following the 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals. Instead, names like Siposs, as well as Simpkin, Murdoch and Curren have joined those of Murray, Wulf, Beetham and Moyle from that last generation; those that gave some moments of genuine optimism for the years ahead, but were never quite a part of the serious challenges. Hopefully my ill-structured, convoluted ramblings can make Josh Battle the superstar cult hero his name alone suggests he could be.

Before the game it was nice to think Mav, Membrey, Webster, Armitage, Longer (?), Dunstan, Acres, Goddard, McCartin and to a lesser extent Minchington and Wright weren’t out there. The depth is building slowly, but it’s the trend line you need to look at. If the team isn’t psychologically switched on and isn’t working to provide a weight of numbers across the ground, or take the game on with the ball in hand, I don’t think Richo himself can do much more until we trade for or draft in some more class and quality. Otherwise, we’re hoping for some Seb Ross-style development from a bunch of guys. We’ve seen it happen in a few guys this season already, namely Billings, Sinclair and Roberton, but we’ll need more of it before we can slice our way across the ground, peak-Hawthorn style.

Given the type of season it is, of course it’s easy to get carried away with the next 11 weeks and feel like might be a chance of snatching premiership if we could only just scrape into the eight. That might be true, The list of guys playing for Sandy and the type of performance we turned in was a reminder that this group is still developing, let alone incomplete given our strong hand going into the trade and draft periods this year.

That didn’t change the sting of the loss immediately afterwards. We would have been sitting in the top four at the end of the night – as we should have been the previous Saturday night – had we won. Instead we were reminded what it was like to lose a game that genuinely meant something in the context of the season. It had been a long time. Welcome back to that disappointment.