Richmond 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.

Jarryn Geary, St Kilda Captain

Armitage, Steven, Geary.

I’ve always subconsciously had them in the same bunch, although Armitage was picked up a year earlier than the other two. For immediate impact, they weren’t quite the Smith, Brown and Jones trio; all who who were picked up in the 1994 draft and would play a huge role in the 1997 Grand Final season. This modern group at best formed part of the bottom 6 of the 2009/2010 campaign. Indeed, none of them would play in any of those three Grand Finals (it still feels bizarre writing that), although Robert Eddy – the only semi-regular at the time to possibly have a lower profile than Geary – would play in the both of the 2010 editions. Collectively though, the current pack have had far more longevity together than their circa-1990s counterparts.

They all made differing impressions throughout the 2008 pre-season premiership-winning competition, the first time Geary and Steven would play in St Kilda jumpers. Steven would dribble through the winner in the second round, with a minute to go against the Cats in the in Canberra, and Armo would do the same with less time left on the clock a week later against the Bombers to secure a berth in the Final.

58601 (1)Geary would play in the Final win alongside Armo, but I remembered him more for the strapping on his wrist in the first round against the Tigers, which I thought made him look like he was wearing a watch out on the field. Being the first hit-out for both teams for the year meant the game was unsurprisingly flat, but I seemed to remember him and Eddy, also playing his first game, as being relatively busy as Ross Lyon began to make his mark on the team and the Saints shut down the Tigers repeatedly from half-back and through the middle. The game was also memorable (well, not really) for Charlie Gardiner having a massive impact as a roaming half-forward, but he would be gone at year’s end.

The only photo from that match I can find with Geary in is this one. Perhaps fitting, because he’s remained in the background ever since. Only in the last couple of years did it become gradually apparent how highly rated he is amongst his teammates, coaches and staff. It was what was going on behind the scenes the whole time brought us to where we are today.

Armo played a little more regularly from 2008, Geary contributed to the highlights reel in the early 2009 with some handy goals  (winning a NAB Rising Star Nomination in Round 8) and Jack Steven showed several moments of nous as a small forward in 2010 (see the three-goal burst at the MCG against the Cats in Round 13).

Perhaps typical for Ross, it was the far more unfashionable Eddy that got the nod at the pointy end of the season. He missed out on the 2009 Grand Final but played ahead of all three others the week before, despite Robert Eddy Awareness Week threatening to out him to the wider football public as a little more than a bit player.

As Roo’s extended his hand with the captaincy baton over the last couple of seasons, it seemed over the past couple of years Armo and Steven were the most likely candidates to take over. But from the rookie list and a shaky grip on a spot in the 22 for so long, Jarryn Geary is the St Kilda captain.

So here we are. A world in which – officially – Roo won’t be one to lead us to that second premiership cup we thought he’d be holding aloft, something we thought he and the club were destined for from early last decade. A world in which he is the one chosen to be mic’d up for Channel 7 during a match. A world in which “Signed Geary poster giveaway” is a thing.

Never mind Clint Jones being chaired off after his 100th game early in 2012. Relatively speaking, this is a more absurdly wonderful achievement than that; higher and further than anyone thought Geary could go.

image1It remains too high for some supporters. Early last season I thought he might not be in the best 22 by the end of the year, although I felt I’d been proved very wrong by the end of the season. The coaches more than confirmed their view of his worth to the team by voting him to second in the best and fairest. To outsiders he’s a more bemusing pick than Saints fans would see him; to AFL.com.au he’s Jarryd Geary probably trying to secure his spot in the 22 in the final JLT Community Series match last week against Sydney.

So what does he bring to the team? Nothing that’s obvious, but often such is the lot of smaller backman. “Geary” in the goals column remains a novelty, although his back-to-back snags late in the second half against Melbourne in a must-win match as finals came into the equation showed an ability to step up and make a marked impact on a game. His best moment would come against the Bombers in the final minutes as the Saints struggled to squeak home in the same stretch of the season. A horizontal dive to chop off an Essendon forward entry saved a shot on goal, and we’d immediately go straight up the other end and kick one of our own. “Geary” in the best likewise if it’s from someone outside the club, but the high-pressure game he plays on his direct opponent and the situation around him is an example for everyone else to follow across the ground. Sometimes they have to, because he’s the one out on the ground telling where they need to be or what they need to be doing; he’s always aware of what needs to be happening for the team to be in its best position for the next play. As Caro said in her article confirming his appointment, he’s been seen for a long time by Roo as his heir-apparent. Again, a lot of this we need to be told, because it’s not apparent from the comfort of our seats or in the lounge room.

The question of his place in the team based on talent alone might not loom so much for 2017 but more for beyond: what happens as Brandon White, Jimmy Webster, D-Mac and to a lesser extent Ben Long, Bailey Rice and Ed Phillips develop? And perhaps even Nathan Wright? The back half is already pretty full – there’s already Newnes, somehow-in-the-leadership-group Roberton and Savage running around there already, and then you have to throw in the taller guys Carlisle, Dempster, Brown, Gilbert and eventually Goddard.

Apparently no-one works harder than Geary off the track. His acts on the field aren’t always obvious, but as well as being perhaps quietly effective they demonstrate something intangible. In a time where team culture and team attitude can reign supreme over a team of champions and perhaps almost anything else, Jarryn Geary may have emerged as the best example of what’s required for this team to reach the final frontier; what’s required for this club to deliver its second premiership.

 

Maddie’s Match, and Maddie’s day

Round 16, 2015
St Kilda 2.5, 3.8, 4.10, 10.13 (73)
Richmond 2.3, 8.6, 13.8, 13.11 (89)
Crowd: 45,722 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, July 19th at 4.40pm

Nearly two years ago I wrote what is by far and away still my favourite piece for this blog. Not that I’ve got an amazing back catalogue, but personally I’d had a remarkable day to write about.

It was written just before my parents left indefinitely for the UK as a result of Dad taking on a job in London. That game – Round 20 of 2013, against the Hawks – was the last we attended together before he left, and as was typical of that year it was a pretty flat affair.

But to go with a night punctuated more by sentiment than the footy itself, I’d ended up having a big afternoon, too. To try and put it briefly (as it’s all in the original post), I’d been very fortunate to be invited to a Saints in the City function on the day of the game (which was on a Friday night) at The Point in Albert Park, attended by St Kilda supporters and identities. MC’d by Danny Frawley, a number of past players were in attendance (Loewe, both Wakelins, Peckett, Thompson, Hamill, and others) and My Favourite Hair in the AFL himself came down to say a few words to everyone. The real thrill was being sat next to his Dad – many will be familiar with Joe Riewoldt – and speaking with him throughout the afternoon.

As I said in that review, he was warm and enthusiastic with everyone. At the table he sensed I was feeling a little out of my depth and he did everything to make me feel welcome. He was like that from the absolute start. As a few of us chatted before being seated he came up to our group, and all of us being St Kilda members and supporters, very sweetly and genuinely said, “It’s great to be amongst family”. Indeed, for me the entire day was about that. I’d spent my life going to and watching the footy, and I’d done all of that with Dad, I wrote. It was a special and constant element of my life that I wouldn’t have for some time.

The piece I wrote certainly got more feedback than any other piece I’ve done. One of those people who offered their thoughts was Maddie Riewoldt, who not only said she herself enjoyed the piece but that she’d shown Joe and that he’d “loved it”. It was a simple Twitter exchange – many people I follow and who follow me would have tweeted back and forth with her far more than I ever did – but I couldn’t have been more thrilled. For all the shit I talk on here, and for the very few people who actually read it, I’d felt that I’d perhaps done some justice to something that meant a lot to me.

So how bittersweet it was to be going to the footy together as a family for the first time since my parents’ return for Maddie’s Match. Joe’s words on that day were amplified in so many wonderful and sad ways given what he and his family have gone through.

Mum and Dad had arrived home from their journey the day after the Essendon win, so this was their first Melbourne game back. It was so wonderful to be at the footy with them and Matt, but just a fortnight after the shock of Phil Walsh’s death we were all again arriving at the footy in rather emotional circumstances. Without trying to claim anything more than others on the day, for me the links between the games we went to together that bookended their trip couldn’t be ignored.

Whilst Maddie’s Match arose from an awfully sad situation, this had an element of celebration. That we know that someone clearly loved so much by her family and so many others would inspire something of true value, not just so that people didn’t have to experience what she did but that they could also get the chance at living a life that she was denied.

Obviously the Jack link is incredibly strong, but I still taken aback just by how much both St Kilda and Richmond fans took on the message throughout the week to wear purple. Again, we witnessed first hand just how much people can be united, and indeed on Sunday we were in the unique position of outwardly making that happen.

As for the purple through the St Kilda jumper, I thought it looked great. For something that in any other context would have looked more like either a novelty or an EFL or DVFL jumper, it somehow nailed the occasion respectfully and aesthetically. I’ll be writing more about it in the upcoming edition of “St Kilda Jumper Talk”, which will be anticipated keenly only by myself so no need to look out for that one.

We’d spent over a decade in the first row or two on Level 2 as Social Club members and Matt and I had test the Social Club area on Level 1 for the past two seasons. To mark their first Melbourne game back we’d gone for Level 2 seats behind the Lockett end goal, and I’d suggest we’ll be back there next year in the Social Club section. I certainly don’t mind Level 1 – if anything I certainly prefer the noise levels, with the Level 2 structure amplifying anything around you. But the view really is sensational at an otherwise lacklustre place.

As odds would have favoured the game had a pretty cagey start. A quarter-time scoreline of 2.5 to 2.3 suggested chances for both teams, but from our perspective poor or slowed movement meant a lot of those were only half-chances or from tough positions. A questionable goal review decision and J. Riewoldt kicking into the man on the mark from close range had the game feeling like it was well and truly in Richmond’s control well into the term. The Tigers were working incredibly hard from side to side to shut down any chance of the Saints cutting the through the corridor or opening up one side of the ground, otherwise we literally dropped the ball when we had possession. Any DARE Iced Coffee we had was often undone by our own lack of Australian Rules football skill.

It was a quarter of few highlights, with Paddy’s strong mark high up and beautifully weighted kick to a running Roo the standout. It wasn’t necessarily ideal if you’re keen on taking four points from a top four contender, but it was exciting that one of the few quality acts was by a third-gamer showing off different parts of their game. Hopefully it’s an early sign of a so-far underrated mobility in his game – we know he’s highly rated moving through traffic, getting split (lol) on his opponent and smooth on the ground.

In fact, it was probably Paddy who gave us the best moment of the second quarter too. His scramble and body work on the ground in the goal square, then dive to wrestle it out of Deledio’s hands and quick give off to Mav for the latter’s second was something you can’t teach. That it came from a guy whose size belied his awareness and agility on the ground, again, was something we all should have taken note of. Whether or not he’ll be the type to run up the ground back constantly we’ll wait and see, but he’s already shown a willpower to effect the contest around him in whatever way he can.

My 2nd Favourite Hair in the AFL was typically playing higher up by owing to the Tigers constricting the Saints he was next to unsighted. Damned if I saw any of his nine touches other than his goal in the last quarter, although I didn’t need to look far into the highlights to find the kick out of defence to set Mav up was from his boot. Small comfort but good to see he kept working hard and doing the team thing all the way into what was clearly his quietest day of the year. He’d kept Rance quiet for a half, in the sense that we weren’t good enough to string successive AFL-standard possessions together and actually get it anywhere near either of them. His run at the Coleman is like a diluted version of Stewart Loewe’s in 1996 – massive start in the first half with the side up and about, but ultimately waning with the team’s wider fortunes of the season.

It was such a shame that Roo wasn’t completely OK for this one. I don’t think it was ever really in doubt whether he’d play or not. But the kilos of strapping around his leg showed he clearly was hampered and the club’s already said he’ll be facing tests again this week. I think a lot of people would be in for the idea of him having a week off. From the calf/purely football point of view at the very least it gives something close to our (ideally) future forward line a hit out together.

The calf didn’t completely stop him. His goal at the start of the last quarter kickstarted the comeback. But it took the 52-point three-quarter time margin to overwhelm his endeavours, ultimately. He looked incredibly drained in the post match presser, as you’d expect.

Not sure about equating the last quarter comeback with the day’s tagline “Fight Like Maddie”, as the first journo in the post-match. I assume Richo, resplendent in ill-fitting t-shirt (despite him having maintained quite a decent shape), felt he needed to send a feel-good message to go with the genuinely positive sentiments of the cause the day represented. We’re not quite approaching the parallels between the ANZAC Day match and ANZAC Day itself that simply are hyperbole; given the sporting nature of Maddie and the Riewoldts (and Nick and Jack’s boots alone) I don’t think they would have minded too much at all. I’m specifically talking more along the lines of that I think trying to find those links is really giving the players a bit too much of an out for some of the worst three quarters we’ve played this season. It seemed as though Richo really was genuine in talking up the effort through the last quarter, and whilst he would have plenty to say about the lesser points of the game behind closed doors I do think the nature of the day allowed – and perhaps needed – some positivity to flow through the camp afterwards. But I really thought that as a whole, given the emotional circumstances, the build-up over a number of weeks now and the fact it was our biggest home crowd since we were genuinely competent and probably for some time again, this game was really, really disappointing.

Not sure how much you need to get paid per year to hit a target on their own when you’ve got yourself in space, or to not give up the footy by handballing directly to an opposition player. When it’s senior guys doing that you can feel whatever proverbial you choose. Gilbert has plenty of endeavour but is cataclysmic, Fisher was too slow in a way he hasn’t been before and Joey was almost there with him, despite the 27 touches and goal. Geary put in the kind of performance that keeps people on the outside like myself never entirely convinced of him. Schneider was already dropped from the team.

It was a momentous day in more than one way. We were to witness Hugh Goddard’s first cracking of the shits, and his first game with his best friend that’s a number 1 draft pick, Paddy, and Paddy’s first goal. We also saw Paddy achieving the feat of wearing three AFL games in three different St Kilda jumpers, having appeared in the the clash, New Zealand and now Maddie’s Match jumpers.

Hugh’s 13 touches probably didn’t reflect how much of a presence he had throughout the game, for better or for worse. He moved around the back half well and was quite partial to the cheeky one-twos, but he also found himself caught out on the wrong side of a couple of one-ones close to goal. The Lennon snap close to the line was quality but Hugh would have been disappointed he didn’t put more body work into both the initial and follow-up contests. That said it felt like between Fisher, Dempster and Gilbert there was a lot less cohesion than usual. That could be put down to some St Kilda-style incompetence but the way Richmond move the ball is very precise – not to mention how much harder and faster they spread and moved in general – and really undid our set up going forward. Either way I must say I was surprised they had all four of those tall defenders in the same team, but Hugh is at least a lot more versatile.

Not that anything really functioned that well all day, but it was rare off-day for both Jack Lonie and Jack Sinclair. Not sure if the chemistry simply hadn’t developed with Eli in there instead of Schneider – and still no Billings to boot – but it was one the lesser performances from the small forwards. Sinclair was a real let-down when he came on. Even though he had the fresh legs for the final term he looked like he struggled to find space and get to the right positions and his set shot from right in front (albeit after being paid a mark from a terrible kick which I’m sure bounced up to him) barely made the distance from 40 metres.

Whilst there didn’t seem to be much purpose in the high balls landing in the forward 50 ad nauseum, there certainly wasn’t much pressure or presence when the game was really one the line from Lonie or Eli once it hit the deck; the latter’s most obvious contribution was being The Celebration Guy With the Goalkicker after Mav kicked our sixth for the last quarter.

Mav was the only one who seemed to be able to master it and find a way through Richmond’s set-up in the front half – and that goes for all of our full-time forwards, big and small. He did it in three different ways for his three goals, too – the first a mark jumping back with ball and some follow-up smarts to find it on the way down, the third being in the right roving position to capitalise and Paddy’s brilliant desperate work on the ground, and his aforementioned third was the what would prove to be the last of the game, and it’s pinnacle – a surging run and long-range kick on the rebound that registered our sixth goal in 19 minutes, and genuinely brought the most unlikely of victories within reach.

It was just too much. Whilst Richmond didn’t kick a goal in the final term they were good enough to stop us from kicking a goal after the 19-minute mark of the last term, even after kicking six in that time. Very few games this season would six goals in the first 19 minutes of the final term had us still facing an uphill battle; that’s how disappointingly off we were on arguably our biggest day of the year.

So – again, isolating the footy itself – a flat and frustrating affair for Mum and Dad to come back to. They timed it well – the only full season they missed was the one we finished on the bottom, and Dad has seen too many of those in his time.

In that review nearly two years ago I wrote that simply supporting a particular club and the way you do so creates a legacy. What have you seen, who do you share it with and what do you pass down? My life as a St Kilda supporter is nothing without the experience of my Grandpa and my Dad as St Kilda supporters; everything they’d seen throughout their respective times and the experiences I’d had with them.

When Mum and Dad left my brother and I – dear cousin Evan, too – were going to watch the Saints without Dad for the first time, and if Mum wasn’t there then we were without her to talk to about the day we’d had. It was a new part of our history as supporters, and now again we find ourselves in another. Despite the tragic situation, Sunday had a sense of optimism and new beginning. The MRV will bring all means and effort to a number of difficult situations out a purely altruistic wish. That people are out there working for the benefit of other people.

For purely personal reasons for Matt and I there was a similar tone, but one that was in heavy contrast to day’s official theme. As I said, it was bittersweet. We have our Mum and Dad back, and Sunday felt like the christening of their return. Given the context of the day there was even more appreciation for that, if that’s possible.

There’s nothing quite like having the closest people in your life sitting in the seats right beside you. Sunday reminded us in so many ways of that. Sunday wasn’t simply about the game itself. This was about enjoying the time you have with the ones you love. “It’s great to be amongst family.” It was Maddie’s Match, and it was Maddie’s day, too

Spencer does some things; that’s pretty much it really

Round 22, 2014
Richmond 6.0, 8.3, 13.5, 15.8 (98)
St Kilda 2.2, 4.7, 5.9, 10.12 (72)
Crowd: 47,188 at the MCG, Sunday, 24th August ay 4.40pm

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As I left the MCG on Sunday night, I had a kind of junk food buzz from Spencer White’s three goals. Or perhaps the kind you get listening to Morrissey.

But the more I think about it the more clearly this was a stand-out element of the game. Partly because he finally played and actually kicked three goals, but also partly because come this point of the season – when all you’re playing for is to not get the number one pick – no one will remember much otherwise. I certainly can’t remember anything else.

Sunday evening, 4.40pm start, cool MCG, only a sprinkle of rain – not great circumstances for a match by any means, but it wasn’t overly bad and this one was only ever going to count for the Tigers. For me it was a chance to stamp my return to Melbourne life after three weeks visiting my parents in London. It wasn’t a long time but it was great to watch the Saints with Dad (albeit on my laptop screen); otherwise you really do feel a long way from the game when it’s summer over there (yes, they still have a summer of sorts) and the games are over by the time you’ve got your day up and going.

It was also a chance to use the MCC membership for the first time this season (the Hawks debacle fortunately one of the only Saints matches I’ve missed this year). Better late than never, although I do have nearly all of September to give it a run, too.

I sat with my brother goalside of the centre favouring the City End along with a few of his friends. It was an incredibly relaxed atmosphere (around us, anyway) and, as I’ve said before in this reviews, when the Saints are this bad the games still serve the purpose of a valued social outing with my brother. I really do get something even in sitting back and having a chat with him about the Saints and everything else (no beers this week though, being in the MCC – had to settle for the coffee).

A six-goal start to the Tigers meant yet another game this season which the Saints supporters would wait for all week, only to spend almost its entirety waiting for it to finish. Even when My Favourite Hair in the AFL kicked a lovely set shot goal from the boundary to bring us within seven points, and even though we ended up winning two out of the four quarters, I don’t think anyone at the ground felt the result was in doubt. Billy Longer’s reaction to Ben Griffiths’ early goal basically summed it up – a few minutes in and we’re already done.

It dare say it still feels strange at this time of year not going to the game with the idea that the team will be out there hunting for something serious. That the time just might be now. Instead, there were about 18 Saints supporters on hand to see not much at all.

The Lenny Hayes Farewell Tour entered its penultimate week to, I must say, what felt like little fanfare. He got a small cheer each time he received the ball, but overall it was a far cry from the Robert Harvey exit in front of 77,002 in a Preliminary Final. I know he had the home game devoted to him a few weeks ago but this was still the last time most of us would be able to see him live.

Honestly, it really did look like the players were playing for fark all. It wasn’t just a six goal start to the Tigers, but also that we didn’t look like scoring a goal.

You barely had time to sit down before Jack Riewoldt had begun resumption of regular proceedings and was on his way to taking his usual giant shit on St Kilda’s head. It was somewhere between “fitting” and “even more annoying” that half of his six goals came from arsey Geelong-style set-shot kicks from around the corner.

Armo inexplicably found the ball in traffic deep in defence and kicked it about 30 metres across goal, which my brother broke the bemused silence following with, “If you did that in the Under 12’s the coach would be pretty flat”.

This came after a Seb Ross nothing kick to Roo on a rare foray forward; a good Mav contest undone by his own poorly placed kick to Tom Curren, and then Newnes getting caught. There was a concerningly long list of “One of those days” moments.

Then the moment we’d all been waiting for – SPENCER WHITE DID A THING. A mark, and then – as often occurs – a kick, but the passage ended up with a Schneider (do we need him?) point.

It took a dubious but otherwise commendable Nathan Wright smother-tackle-handball effort to set up Shenton who atoned for his earlier miss (so he of all people ended up kicking both our first behind and goal). Strangely, it was the start of a chain of four goals which should have threatened to turn the match on its head, but when the aforementioned Favourite Hair brought us within seven points I don’t think anyone was seriously considering that some sort of highly competitive Australian Rules football match was about to unfold in front of them.

So it proved. The Tigers slowed it down, held possession and worked their way to Jack. It was a sign of the maturity of a Richmond team that were storming their way to eight wins in a row, after very nearly reaching the top four last season. A couple of steadying goals for the Tigers to round out the half and they were out to a 50-point lead deep into the third term (even the half-time scoreline of 8.3 to 4.7 showed an equal number of scoring shots). If it wasn’t for Richmond taking the foot off a little and three Spencer White goals  this could have been really ugly. When the final siren went, it hardly felt like the conclusion to a match decided by “only” 26 points.

Let’s get it out of the way. Spencer White. OK. Cool. How do we feel? We should be feeling half-decent I think. He didn’t get a whole lot of the footy but he clearly made the most of things when he did. His first goal came from some nice body work to get to the drop of the ball from My Favourite Hair pushing hard up the ground and giving off to Joey. It followed a Roo kick in which, after so many times of grilling teammates after poor delivery to him in recent years (and rightfully so, might I had), the skipper spotted the first-gamer on a hard lead and gave him an absolutely dog’s balls pass. But, as the captain should, he made up for it within minutes. Spencer reciprocated and calmly kicked the goal from 30 in front with his rather lackadaisical style.

Dare I say it, but combined with the manner in which he kicked his three goals off the left with the minimal follow-through of the boot, did it not recall the great G-Train? His second and third goals, wheeling onto his left foot, instantly reminded me of the G-Train’s specialty also. Likewise, his minimal celebrations capped off the quietly confident attitude he seems to have.

The second goal I really liked because he seemed to position himself for his teammates to do the right thing by their structural expectations. Once he got the footy his opponent was quickly on his hammer but he showed some real composure to turn around and kick the goal – also note that, again, despite the minimal follow-through the kick easily went about 50 metres. The third was lucky because Mav and TC were there to spill up the mark he should have taken in the first place, but again, he atoned for it by working himself into the space and finishing.

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Certainly from the reports of his VFL appearances his ability to get to the right position offensively and defensively have been key topics. There were a few occasions he did hang a bit off the packs, but given what else we saw of him you could easily put that down to a first gamer simply being unsure if that’s what he was meant to be doing – Roo was right next to him on a couple of occasions and I think that might have confused him a little. Because it wasn’t until Roo was pushed up the ground during the third quarter that Spencer all of sudden found himself confidently leading and putting himself in good spots in attack. Although he got caught his attempted burn along the boundary in the third was a good sign, too. He clearly needs a bit more muscle and to work on his tank, but he’s also 19 and has played one game.

I think the exciting thing about this is how much more promise he’s already shown than so many of the tried and failed tall(er) forwards this club has tried since the Gehrig/Riewoldt/Hamill/Koschitzke attack of a decade ago, when the club took the step up to being a consistently strong performer. The roll call is spectacular in its disappointment – Paul Cahill, Matthew Ferguson, Tom Lynch, Fergus Watts, Beau Maister, Tommy Walsh, Justin Sweeney, Ryan Gamble, Charlie Gardiner, Will Johnson, Daniel Archer. And that’s not to mention Tom Lee, My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs, Sam Dunell and even Josh Bruce and Tom Simpkin, who we’re all still waiting on. That’s without including all the briefly-tried-and-failed experiments of Barry Brooks, James Gwilt, Zac Dawson and Sam Gilbert, and the unfortunate Jarryd Allen.

Which, of course, brings us to the Big Rhys Bandwagon, which has clearly been lost in the Spencer White Roadshow’s rearview mirror. Unfortunately, but rather predictably, apart from the obvious this game will simply fall into the unconscious regions of our St Kilda supporting lives, and Rhys was no exception. He suffered the ignominy of being subbed out of the game with fark all impact, and in all honesty I only remember two things that he did, and one didn’t even happen during the game. That was to be the last Saints player off the ground, shaking hands with the Tigers players as they broke from their guard of honour. Which I thought was strange because it appeared as though Rhys of all people was representing the club in thanking the Tigers after their admirable show of respect to Lenny.

The other was actually a positive – Billy Longer, still quite fresh from his slightly overhyped and ultimately unsatisfying Schneiderman appearance, put in a softish effort going back with the footy just forward of centre wing, and Rhys came in with a big tackle on Billy’s opponent and then went in for a bit of push and shove immediately after. So, you ask, where the hell is that throughout the rest of the game? After the Fremantle game we were all jumping around celebrating the official arrival of Big Rhys, and after some of his form earlier this year you might have been forgiven for thinking that he’d played enough games to know how to recapture and then maintain that form. But this club doesn’t forgive, and it will let us down some way, somehow. For now, we’re just left with another question mark.

Question marks aplenty, really. Writing a report at this time of year is hard to morph into simply a season review for whoever I mention. I was just about to bring up Cam Shenton but what am I going to say that’s any different to what I’m going to say about him next week? Or in the season wrap faff we’ll no doubt produce throughout September? Well, he kicked our first goal and first behind through some hard running, and also took a nice contested mark on the wing which led to Roo’s goal from the boundary.

Nathan Wright’s game has similarities but I think Wright has a better head on his shoulders. He hits the contest harder and he’s probably more reliable structurally and with the ball in hand. Who comes out for Savage? What about Webster? Has Brodie Murdoch shown enough? Is Farren Ray still playing regularly when that time comes? Again, all questions on a more macro level, relevant to 2015 and beyond rather than next week.

It meant nothing really but it was at least nice to see the players gave enough of a shit – even if only for their own careers – to kick five goals to two in the final term. The Tigers fans had been singing their song for nearly 20 minutes by the time the final siren sounded.

It had also been some time since the throng of supporters around the St Kilda race had begun growing so fans could get their last glimpse in the flesh of Lenny in his St Kilda jumper. Like his most famous moment and most famous performance, it was in the St Kilda clash jumper – albeit a slightly different version – on the MCG. But Lenny was clearly embarrassed by the attention. He’ll never walk off the MCG a St Kilda premiership player. Indeed, he walked off the MCG on Sunday with St Kilda staring at its 27th wooden spoon. Whatever the task, however, there was still some hard work ahead. And before the memories could come flooding back, he was gone.

Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer

Aaand here we go.

Spencer White will make his debut. A guy most people thought was a myth will hog most of the pre-match spotlight, rather than a legend who is playing his final game in the club’s home state.

It wasn’t the case until yesterday’s naming of the final team. Until, the week (from a St Kilda perspective, remember) had been all about Jason Holmes starring in the club’s entry into this year’s Virgin Australia Film Contest, which seems to be some vague annual competition open to about four AFL teams.

The most striking thing about this year was that it was a dramatic shift in tone to last year’s, which was so ridiculous it had claimed the St Kilda careers of Scott Watters, Jordan Staley, Jay Lever, Ahmed Saad, Ben McEvoy and Jackson Ferguson within weeks.

It was full of bad acting, but they weren’t given much choice with the script. This year, Jason Holmes somehow demonstrates that it’s possible for an AFL footballer to put in a convincing performance in the voiceover booth, as well as on camera. As melodramatic as it is, I actually like the last blurred shot of him in the background walking out onto Corporate Stadium in a St Kilda uniform – something we actually haven’t seen before.

Likewise Spencer White. For all the hype Saints fans have built up around him – and even members of the wider footy public – the only highlights and imagery we have of him so far are in the black and gold stripes and blue collar and cuffs of Sandringham (and occasionally the sky-bordering-on-highlighter blue clash, or the unnecessarily mostly-white clash).

What are we expecting from Spencer this Sunday? Last week aside, we’ve recently gone in with the attack set-up of the My Favourite-Bandwagon Alliance complimented by Josh Bruce hanging around doing stuff. Spencer in his first game probably won’t have the physical presence Bruce would and you’d expect his natural game ideally to be somewhere between Roo’s and and Rhys’s games – quicker than Roo and can play deep, press up or run back into open space. Dare I say it…like Buddy? I think the problem with that comparison is more to do with people’s reaction to it – they think he’s actually going to be as good as Buddy. Rather, it’s more his style is like Franklin’s, although at pick 25 and with some of the bits and pieces we’ve seen we realise he could be anything (for better or worse). Also, he’s 19 FFS.

The knock’s been on his defensive work so as anyone from the club who’s commented on him this week has said, Sunday will be all about providing a contest, whether it be at the ball or off the ball. Simple, I guess.

Unfortunately Shane Savage fractured his arm in TWO places at TRAINING on Friday. Fark knows how that happens, but it means Brodie Murdoch comes in. Fine by me in the sense that it’s a great chance for Brodie (who kicked his goal with a banana set-shot kick at the MCG against Richmond in a 4.40pm Sunday game last year), but geez that’s tough for Sav. Over the past eight games he’s almost been in our best in seven of those, and regardless of Friday’s mishap all of a sudden we feel like we have a long-term option off half-back.

Also into the side, perhaps bemusingly, is CJ. In a week in which Richo talked about really changing up the list after the season, surely a 30 year-old who has trouble kicking an Australian Rules football is being brought in for his last chance?

Jimmy Gwilt wasn’t so fortunate. If you’re in his position and you’re getting dropped for Round 22 when your side is on the bottom of the ladder, I think it says a lot about the club’s plans for him. I think we’ve all got a soft spot for Jimmy too – he was one of the few guys to really step up in 2010 and improve on the previous year when for so many that season seemed to be simply about doing just enough.

And uh, yeah, let’s not forget the opposition, considering that’s who we’re playing against and so on. The Tigers are roaring (and so on) and fark, they may well be in the eight by the end of the round. Dusty’s out with a hamstring though, and whilst that’s a huge blow overall I don’t think it will make or break them this Sunday night. They’re looking every bit of the team that was finished just outside the four last season, and rather strangely, if they do sneak in and lose the first week then they’ll have finished exactly where they did last year.

Look, unless the entire Richmond team broke out in awful acne and were put on Minocycline and they all came down with unpredictable but violent diarrhea (just a hypothetical scenario I thought up), no selection decisions are really going to influence this one. Barring a Bizarro game echoing the Freo day out (yes, that actually happened), you’d expect Cotchin to have another day out against the Saints and Deledio and Ellis to use a lot of footy to good effect. Look out for Jack Riewoldt trying to get St Kilda back to personal bunny status too.

Ultimately, for St Kilda fans this match will be about a chance to see one of the greatest Saints in person for the final time. The hype around Spencer from some may suggest we may also be witnessing the dawn of a juggernaut, but we won’t know that for a long time. What we do know is this is the last time we go to the ground to see Lenny play, so soak that up if nothing else.