Season 2005 Posts

(Sort of) Looking forward to looking back

So my “2009 Games of the Year” DVD arrived. I don’t know why I bought it, in the sense that I’m not going to watch it any time soon. I think I bought to make up for the lack of a feature-length 2o09 Season Highlights DVD. The DVD we received as members was 45 minutes, and 2010’s was closer to an hour – long enough for many I’m sure, but not long enough to really go into the details of the season.

The 2009 and 2010 DVDs were outliers. Sports Delivered has been producing these videos/DVDs for a couple of decades, often making upwards of four or five feature-length productions for general release for clubs that enjoyed memorable or successful seasons (2002 saw six of these made!)

The 2008 DVD made for general release – for a year that the club somehow made a Preliminary Final – hit 86 minutes, but Sports Delivered decided  to only make general release, feature-length DVDs for premiers from 2009 onwards, echoing the one-off year in 2005 in which they only made a DVD for premiers Sydney. This meant Saints supporters were dicked that year also, with an amazing rollercoaster ride of a season featuring some of the most entertaining football and best wins the club has seen lost to the whim of incomplete YouTube clips in poor quality. Strangely, Sports Delivered are credited with producing the 2009 and 2010 DVDs, so I’m not sure why they just didn’t get off their arse and go a bit more in-depth with those. I should put in a disclaimer – I couldn’t finish either. The hurt is still there, and is too much, but in time nostalgia will win over and I will want to remember these times. As these years get further away, it’s dawning on me just what I will and won’t have when that moment comes.

These DVDs and videos are the record of those seasons we have for the next few decades, for us to relive a time that might take our club another near-140 years to replicate. I know how much I enjoyed sitting down with my parents in the last couple of years and watching the 1991 Season Highlights video, which I tracked down on Ebay (I’m still after the 1992 video). I turned only three years old in 1991, but I know my Dad particularly got a lot out of reliving a year in-depth that would have been incredible for Saints fans after the dark ages that were the 1980s. Players like Lockett, Loewe, Frawley, Harvey, Winmar and Burke all operating sensationally together after so many years as a laughing stock both on and off the field – they were good times, and it’s wonderful we live in a time and place where Sports Delivered could create these productions to look back on them.

I’m not planning on having kids any time soon (I’m not yet 25), but if I did then I might like to show them what things were like when I was a young St Kilda supporter. I have the 1997 (The Mission) and the 2004 Season Highlights productions, which are great – but they’re no longer available from Sports Delivered. They’re great to have them. I love following a club that plays in a sport which has not only a rich history, but a history that means so much to the clubs, players and supporters. The 2009 and 2010 seasons were the ones that will stand out, and to a lesser extent 2005. Who knows what will happen over the coming years, but either way I would like to sit down some time in the future and watch Lenny, Roo, Nicky Dal, Joey, Kosi et al. playing good footy together – perhaps the best this club has seen. As those years get further away it’s starting to dawn on me just what I will and won’t have from those times. I do have something for 2009 and 2010 which is nice, but it would have been so much better to have something that genuinely reflected just how important that time was for the club and its supporters.

04/05/06 = 09/10/11

Some off-season fun/overthinking/consideration of how history likes to toy with St Kilda fans.

A marked improvement on the improvement of the season before.

2004 saw the Saints win their first 10 matches in unprecedented fashion, and go 6 wins/6 losses from then on through the remainder of the home and away season. The Preliminary Final loss had the Saints six points behind when the final siren sounded.

Five years later, the Saints won very nearly double the amount of games to open their season – 19 against the 10 of 2004 – and go 3 wins/3 losses from then on, against the 6/6 of the remaining games in the 2004 home-and-away season. When the final siren sounded in 2009 Grand Final, the Saints were six points down.

Roo would go down injured in sensational fashion in both seasons; the incredible season opener against the Lions juggernaut in 2005 and in Round 3 against soon-to-be-juggernaut Collingwood in 2010.

Over the first couple of months of each, the Saints would genuinely struggle at times. Inconsistent form and issues against quicker sides saw disappointing losses before drastic improvement around the midway point of the season. 2005 would see eight wins from the last nine matches leading into September; 2010 10 and a draw from the last 14.

Both seasons featured epic victories against the odds in Qualifying Finals. The 2005 1st Qualifying Final will be remembered for the Harvey-led Saints knocking off minor premiers Adelaide on their own turf by eight points; the 2010 2nd Qualifying Final will be remembered for the Saints surviving a late onslaught by warm favourites Geelong to turn the finals series on its head.

The Saints would be jumped early in the Preliminary Final against the Swans before working their way back into the game. A seven-point lead at three-quarter time had the Saints in a great position to advance to the premiership decider and deliver on the promises this energetic group seemed to have made to the club’s long-suffering fans, but the Swans stormed home in the final quarter – seven goals to none – as the Saints were left shellshocked.

Fast forward five years and the Saints were coming off heartbreak from the previous season, which for all intents and purposes was set to deliver on the promises the energetic group seemed to have made to the club’s long-suffering fans. A strong performance in the Preliminary Final against the faltering Bulldogs gave way to being jumped by Collingwood early in the Grand Final before the Saints worked their way back into the game. Goddard’s <I can’t find words to describe it accurately because it makes me too sad> mark and goal had the Saints up by six points as time-on neared in the final quarter, only for Collingwood to hit the lead again before St Kilda came again to force an incredible draw. Collingwood stormed home to a huge win in the Grand Final Replay, however, as the shellshocked Saints couldn’t find an answer all day.

After coming so close two season in a row, the Saints would look as if the game had passed them by in both 2006 and 2011.

Slow starts to both seasons had ACL injuries to Lenny Hayes as their centerpiece. Despite being written off, the second half of both seasons was quite strong and had the Saints playing at levels close to the best of the two seasons previous. 2006 saw the side win eight of the last 10 home and away matches; 2011 11 wins from the last 15.

Wasted opportunities early in the season would prove costly to the Saints’ final ladder placing – see the wasteful performance in the Sirengate match of 2006, and close losses to Geelong and Carlton and a draw with with Richmond in 2011 – and the side would be overrun in the final quarters of each season’s respective Elimination Finals after sixth-placed finishes.

Of course, both seasons would see sensational coaching changes in the days following the Elimination Final knockouts. Grant Thomas would be sacked by the board, headed by ex-friend Rod Butterss, whilst Ross Lyon would do it all himself as he set sail for Fremantle in unbelievable circumstances.

Both times, it marked the beginning of a new era.

Actually how great is Stephen Milne?

Milne's goal scoring in 2011

Over the last month Stephen Milne’s name has been acknowledged to be amongst the great small forwards the AFL/VFL has ever seen.

It’s true, 476 goals from 230 games in anyone’s book is a very, very good career. Let alone the fact that he had to toil hard in the Essendon reserves prior to getting a chance with St Kilda, that he stands at only 176 centimeters and plays arguably the most thankless and precarious position on the football field. And who could forget the off-field (and on-field) misdemeanors that have transpired along the way?

On that basis, the boy they affectionately known as Yapper is deserving of the greatness tag. He has stood the test of time and prolonged his career every time you thought he was on the slide. But there has always been a counterargument that has worn the tip rat like a cheap suit: he does not perform in the big games.

Some investigation into the break down of Milne’s goal tally this year does not exactly disprove the doubters. Yapper has scored over 78% of his season tally (42) against opponents that are in the lower half of the competition.

It does not end there: Milne averages over twice as many scoring shots against inferior opponents (5 versus 2.14 shots per game) this year.

In isolation, those are damning stats, but in fairness to Yapper, the context surrounding them is needed to paint a well-rounded picture of his season. Firstly, his goal-scoring form has largely mirrored the team’s fortunes; his last five games have produced 20 goals – all games in which the Saints have been the victors. Whilst Milney is a miraculous player, he cannot turn water into wine. And let’s face it, the Saints’ ball movement and forward structure was dirty, gluggy, disgusting tap water.

This debate however, has polarised the footy community over several seasons now though, it is not confined to 2011. Obviously, the 2009 Grand Final is one game that is burnt into the memory of a lot of fans. Milne had his chances to cover himself in glory, but along with several of his teammates he failed to deliver. Last year, his finals series was solid without being great (nine goals over the four matches), although he did light up against the Cats briefly.

Phil Matera was masterful in his prime, but that was a relatively short period of time. Eddie Betts is a highlights reel when he is on, but lean patches haunt him. Jeff Farmer was very good – the closest comparison to Milne, as he was both dangerous at the foot of the pack as well as on the lead. Yapper on his day was good as or better than those that I’ve just mentioned on his day; I just wish his day occurred on the bigger stages.

Endlessly going back over the stats, the big games, the opportunities, the comparisons against other players will ultimately still have people divided. But I’m left wondering what people will remember when Milne brings his career to a close. The ’09 Grand Final misses? The Mick Malthouse spat? Kicking 11 against a helpless Brisbane in ’05? You decide.

Polo grabs his second chance

Guest writer Kieran Francis takes a look at the rejuvenated Dean Polo, who has enjoyed a string of good games since his return to the St Kilda side several weeks ago. You can follow him on Twitter @kieran_francis, and check out his blog, St Kilda FC 2011.

Back at the 2004 Under 18 Championships, Vic Country squared up against South Australia in an early group match.

The South Australian side contained a young, damaging midfielder named Ryan Griffen. Vic Country’s coaching team handed the job of shutting down Griffen to an ungainly, scrawny-looking kid from Gippsland. After completely nullifying Griffen whilst helping himself to plenty of the ball, Dean Polo thrust himself into the calculations of recruiters for the 2004 AFL Draft.

He achieved top 10 results in the agility run, beep test and 3km time trial at the AFL Draft Camp, and recruiters at Richmond saw enough potential in Polo to take him at Pick 20 (Griffen was selected by the Bulldogs at Pick 3).

After a year of developing at the Richmond-aligned VFL side Coburg during 2005, Polo starred for the VFL side in early 2006 and was finally selected for his debut in the Dreamtime game against Essendon in Round 6.

Five minutes after the final siren went, he was standing on the presentation stage next to Craig Willis after being awarded the Yiooken award for best on ground. He had kicked three goals, had 28 disposals and been the main reason why the Tigers defeated their archrivals on the big stage. Richmond fans started getting excited about the future of this talented midfielder.

A little over four years later, however, Polo was delisted from Richmond. His career at Punt Road never got going; despite playing every game for the rest of the 2006 season, Polo fell out of favour and only played another 39 games for the Tigers in four seasons.

As the gloss of his debut game wore off, queries were raised about Polo’s disposal efficiency and decision-making. He was never a prolific ball winner, averaging only 16 disposals a game during his time at Richmond.

The final nail in the coffin of his Richmond career was when Polo was stood down for a week after being involved in the infamous Ben Cousins-Daniel Connors punch-up at a Sydney hotel in early 2010.

Polo only appeared three more times for the Tigers after that incident and was dropped despite a solid 19-possession game against Collingwood in Round 17. It was his last game for the club, as two months later he was culled from the Tigers list. Most expected that it would be the last they saw of Polo at AFL level.

Some people had other ideas, however.

In a draft day shock, Polo was the last player selected in the 2010 draft, at Pick 103 by St Kilda. It has since emerged that Ross Lyon was an admirer of Polo’s abilities. Whilst Polo’s weaknesses are often publicised, his strengths are what drew Lyon to giving him a second chance.

Standing at 187cm, Polo had always been a great contested mark for his size. His ability to win the ball in contested situations was also an important factor in the recruiting department’s decision. Lyon obviously felt that Polo, who isn’t quite 25 years of age, had his development stunted in the Richmond system and that it was possible for him to reach his potential in the St Kilda set-up and be an important squad player. Ross, as usual, was right.

When selected by the Saints, the decision to take Polo was not only ridiculed by Tigers supporters but also by a majority of Saints fans. He didn’t appear throughout the NAB Cup and the start of the AFL season because of a thumb injury, and it wasn’t until the knee injury of Hayes that Polo was mentioned in St Kilda supporter circles as someone who could play a role this season.

Having recovered from his injury, Polo made his debut for Sandringham in Round 5 of the VFL. After two solid but not overly impressive performances for the Zebras, Polo was a shock selection for the Round 8 match against the Hawks. He announced himself with a goal in the first quarter. Despite the Saints losing by five goals, Polo had a solid debut.

Polo was OK over the next few weeks, but not to the point where he could keep selection in the side. After a three-round hiatus, Polo was reintroduced to the side for the game against the Kangaroos and hasn’t looked back since.

He has become a very important player in the squad. The injury to Hayes meant there has been a spot available in the midfield rotation, and Polo’s performances over the past few weeks have gone a long way to claiming that spot.

The ability of Polo to come off the bench and give the more prolific ball winners a break whilst locking down an opponent is understated. His work in pack situations has also been exceptional.

Averaging a career-high three tackles a game, he has slotted in seamlessly to “Saints Footy” with his defensive pressure and repeated efforts. His handballing out of a pack in a contested situation is elite.

An example of these traits was seen late in the first quarter of the game against West Coast when Polo lost control of the footy at the top of St Kilda’s attacking 50-metre arc. Instead of letting the Eagles rebound through the corridor, Polo applied pressure to two Eagles opponents respectively, stripped them of the ball and fired out a handball to Raph Clarke, who hit Nick Riewoldt on the chest inside 50.

Polo’s worth to the team was also highlighted during Friday’s 103-point romp against Adelaide. His elite contested handballing was a factor in at least four St Kilda goals, including a direct goal assist to Stephen Milne early in the first quarter. Fifteen metres out from the St Kilda goal, Polo won a possession in a huge pack of players and in the same movement fired out a handball to Milne who snapped truly.

He also laid a career-high seven tackles on Friday night. These are the kind of unheralded efforts that are starting to earn Dean Polo respect at St Kilda.

It remains to be seen how much the relatively young Polo can develop in the St Kilda system. Can he make the step up from important squad player to gun midfielder? The majority of doubters to his selection in the draft have been silenced and it’s looking like another Lyon decision may prove to be a masterstroke.

Another wait for Jimmy and Saints fans

Minimum fuss, as Martin Blake’s profile in The Age on Saturday put forward, is what personifies Jimmy Gwilt. Blake described him as “The Quiet Man of St Kilda”, with “Do your job and go home” revealed to be Jimmy’s personal mantra.

It rang true when Gwilt’s left knee buckled underneath him in the third term on Saturday night.

Jimmy calmly sat upright on the wing as the medicos made the quick dash to fallen player and checked out his knee. The telltale slump of a player whose knee has given way could be seen for a short time after he hit the ground, though, and the sinking feeling that cuts through anyone when they see a player who has had a massive obstacle put in the path of their career spread through the stadium.

Through receiving the attention and being placed on the stretcher, he barely gave a wince despite suddenly facing nearly a year without playing senior footy.

In hindsight, Blake’s article was unfortunately timed. However, it was well overdue, but perhaps it turned out that way because of Gwilt’s persona. Since his brilliant second-game performance in the 1st Qualifying Final of 2005, Gwilt virtually had to restart his career amidst the hype, only becoming the reliable player Saints fans know him as in season 2010.

By the business end of last year, Gwilt had become a cornerstone of St Kilda’s fabled defence and was one of the Saints’ best in a finals campaign that came so close to a premiership.

The good form had continued this year, with Jimmy amongst the most consistent Saints, alongside Dal and fellow defender Sam Fisher. His deceptive agility and raking left-foot kicks had become a regular sight.

Like Jack Steven’s move into the midfield this year after Lenny’s injury, Gwilt’s absence may open the door for a young Saint to find their own place in the side. It’s the most positive spin able to be put on an upsetting state of affairs for Saints fans. They’ve waited a long time for Gwilt to make a place for himself in this team, and they’ll have to wait again.

He joins Lenny (twice), BJ and Sean Dempster* as players in the side who have undergone the dreaded experience of a serious long-term knee injury. Both have come back and have played their best footy. If Gwilt’s career trajectory and approach is anything to go by, he’ll follow suit and improve with time furthermore upon his return.

*Edit – I originally missed mentioning Sean Dempster.