Season 2012 Posts

Jason Gram, fallen Saint

It’s with unease that we’ll reflect on Jason Gram’s career at St Kilda.

According to Michael Gleeson it was already decided by the club to delist him, but, by finding himself in trouble with the law again on Monday, Gram wrote his own epilogue.

He wasn’t a serial offender throughout his career in the way the much higher profile Ben Cousins and Brendan Fevola were. The Andrew Lovett incident happened in his apartment, but that wouldn’t have happened if Andrew Lovett wasn’t there. It’s only out in the open now that he had been suspended indefinitely by the club early in September after, well, a Jason Gram incident (or, series of smaller ones – as far as we know). But after the stalking charges he faced very publicly earlier in the week he’ll be remembered by being mentioned in rubbish jokes by partisan idiots still bringing up the “St Kilda schoolgirl”.

Had his personal issues not encroached upon his footballing career, we’d remember him instead for his frustrating Jason Gram Specials that hurtled aimlessly through the air to no-one in particular. We’d remember him for his breakout 2006 season in which he really got his run and rebound game together, which earned him 2nd place in the Trevor Barker Award and us all incredibly excited about his future. We’d remember him for his vital role in the 2009 backline;  and particularly for his 2009 Grand Final performance. Whilst he was one of many culprits who blew a good chance at goal that day, he tied for the Norm Smith Medal – only to lose it on countback to Paul Chapman. If the Saints had won that day – and it’s a big, hugely irrelevant “could have” now – Jason Gram may well have been the best player on the day the club won its second premiership.

Instead, from the point in time that may have seen him go down in football history, he was patchy. The Jason Gram Specials never went away, and injury conspired against him too.

I feel uneasy writing about this kind of thing. Ultimately, this is about someone else’s personal issue, whether or not we support him because he is/was a St Kilda player, or whether we’re jumping on to Facebook threads to try and relate this to Stephen Milne being accused of rape eight years ago. He might be an AFL footballer but he’s also a fallible human being. As a fellow fallible human being I hope he can get over his issues. I only know about his situation what almost everyone else does, sprinkled very lightly with insider information that’s questionable. Either way I can’t claim at all to know exactly what the situation is. We all know that it’s seriously effecting him – that’s public knowledge. And it’s a messy place he’s in.

As is the nature professional sports and their fans, there’s all sorts of attitudes towards Gram being offered on forums, Facebook threads and Twitter, despite people not knowing or understanding the mechanics of the situation. You can pity him – some may even genuinely be able to empathise with him – for the kind of psychological state he would be in right now. Some have criticised him for throwing away a privileged lifestyle and career. Then, of course, there’s that camp that are cracking gags about the club’s culture.

From a purely football perspective, a lot of fans could take or leave his presence on the list, and I’d tend to be one of those. At 28, realistically he won’t be there the next time the Saints are rumbling the top end of the ladder, and his absence opens up a spot for youngsters like Siposs, Newnes, Dunell and Ferguson. Gram’s currency as a St Kilda player, given where the club was, probably reached its use-by date at the end of the 2010 season.

But that’s an easy thing to say in hindsight, and likewise it’s easy to say things from afar as supporters and observers. None of us except Jason Gram himself can really know what he’s feeling. He deserves the same degree of empathy we would give to anyone else we’re not personally familiar with, but there’s a balance required here. I don’t think you can just treat this as a purely football issue; we have to recognise that it goes far beyond that. But it goes far beyond us, too.

2012 St Kilda player reviews – part 4 of 4

The final part of our 2012 player reviews, this covers from Jay Lever to Warwick Andreoli, i.e. mostly guys that haven’t done too much just yet (mostly).

36 – Jay Lever
Earmarked from the outset to play with Sandy for the season, another athletic tall who would only have come into the side if Big Ben, Big Rhys, Kosi and Blake all went down. Zebras-listed Michael Sikora was very impressive and for a while yet Jay is well near the back of the talls’ queue.

37 – Beau Wilkes
He looks, plays and celebrates goals like a player from the 90s. Didn’t have anyone really convinced that he could be really handy until several games later in which he kicked multiple goals. Seems to be really popular around the club and I’ve really warmed to him as a fan/internet hero.

38 – Sam Dunell
A mature-age rookie who was elevated later in the season and was really impressive. Was probably unlucky to not play more games considering, but he took his chances and showed real class when he got his hands on the ball. I’d expect him to be elevated to the senior list.

39 – Cameron Shenton
Was a feature of the pre-season but was patchy for Sandringham. Not sure if he’ll make it to 2013, but it’s often hard to tell with rookies. Some real grunt about him but he needs to get more involved and his disposal can be wayward.

40 – Jordan Staley
Was neither here nor there for Sandy this year but has a good build. Other rookies have made a much better impression though.

41 – Darren Minchington
Really good start to the season for the midfielder who can kick a goal, buthe broke down with a hip injury. If he continues to develop he might be a chance to have a good crack at the top level.

42 – Daniel Archer
Will probably be remembered as having the worst first and last kicks of a career by a player for some time. His form didn’t really warrant elevation later in the season and enough players stayed fit to limit the chances for other opportunities and his departure wasn’t a surprise.

43 – Tom Curren
The Arms is a very good chance to be elevated to the senior list after a couple of good seasons for Sandringham. Really hard working midfielder who can kick goals as well, although his disposal would need to improve for him to make a big impact in the AFL.

44 – Stephen Milne
The Tip Rat showed signs of slowing down early in the season before rocketing his way to 56 goals for the year, kicking his 500th career goal along the way. Remains a fan favourite and villain to the rest of the competition. His send off to the Carlton fans on the final siren of the last game of the year said it all.

45 – Jackson Ferguson
Another good season at VFL level by the rookie who will surely get elevated to the senior list. Really good size with some good pace, another mid-to-tall defender who is set to leapfrog his way up the queue.

46 – Warwick Andreoli
His second season at VFL level was OK but I don’t think he has what it takes to make it at AFL level. His time is probably up.

2012 St Kilda player reviews – part 2 of 4

In number order, this one from 13-23:

13 – Adam Schneider
Spent a lot of the year out injured but was backed from the outset by Swat. Given he’s in the latter part of his career I’m not sure how much will have to change to alter Swat’s thinking, but his presence alone at the club would be great in guiding Ahmed and Terry along in the early part of their careers.

14 – Jarryn Geary
This was by far the best season of his career and completed a hat-trick of seasons in which a mid-range player really became an integral part of the side (after Jimmy in 2010 and Sean Dempster last year). Finished sixth in the best and fairest to demonstrate how highly rated he is amongst the coaches. His attack on the ball and contest continued to be a cornerstone of his game but he found the Sherrin in his hands more often and used it to better effect, too.

15 – Tom Ledger
More ready than The Only Ross at St Kilda but similarly found it hard to break into a midfield featuring Lenny, Dal, Joey, BJ, Jack, Armo and CJ. We probably expected too much from him in 2012 in terms of game time considering his place in the queue in this part of his career. Plenty of development left in him but already can’t question his effort.

16 – Jack Newnes
I don’t think many of us were expecting him to play so many games in his debut season. A little like The Only Ross at St Kilda, he appears to take himself seriously and was accordingly very disciplined in his showings. Will probably migrate to the middle of the field more often as his career evolves. It was great to see him kick that nice goal against GWS.

17 – Nick Winmar
Injured at times but was a little quieter for Sandy than we hoped when he actually found himself on the park. Went missing entirely like Crocker in terms of profile but is contracted and gets another chance in 2013. He’ll have to show something soon.

18 – Brendon Goddard
If the price (i.e. compensation) is right then he might be worth letting go. If he doesn’t really want to stay then he can definitely go. Might be the only senior player still around by the time of the next premiership tilt but it might be worth looking (I’m saying this optimistically) to the next 10-12 years more so than the next three-to-five.

19 – Sam Gilbert
It might have surprised a few people that he signed a three-year deal towards the end of the season. Really struggled with the ball in his hands in the first half of the year but as the season progressed he ran and carried a bit more and used his athleticism to his and the team’s advantage.

20 – David Armitage
Arguably the first time he played a whole season of good footy. Some quiet patches at times detracted a little from his overall output, but he averaged a clear career-high of just above 20 possessions a match. Importantly for the team he kicked 17 goals (another career high), a big part in the team sharing responsibility for kicking goals. Like Jack we’ll be keenly looking for even more improvement in 2013.

21 – Ahmed Saad
Like Terry, it took Ahmed about 30 seconds to become a cult hero. The marathon run up aside, his pace around the forward line was instantly effective and endearing. In many ways he embodied the club’s season as a whole – quick and youthful, went missing at times but overall made an impact and gives every cause for optimism.

22 – Farren Ray
Dear cousin Evan’s favourite player played some great games during the season but was still on the outer for team balance reasons. Great overhead for his height and a decent runner too, I’d love to think Chris Pelchen and Swat will keep him but I dare say he’ll be used more sparingly as the younger guys continue their development.

23 – Justin Koschitzke
I really, really, really like Kosi. I really like him. We all thought he was over injuries and an extended form slump when he was moving arguably as well as ever in the first part of the season but eventually he lost his way. Should the Saints bag Jonathan Giles then his spot might be in doubt, assuming Big Ben and Big Rhys stay fit and continue their improvement. I want to see him succeed more than most other players but after this year not too many would be optimistic about that.

2012 St Kilda player reviews – part 1 of 4

Under Ross Lyon the Saints played so many unassuming role players that it felt like two or three whipping boys were in the side in any given week. Regulars and semi-regulars such as Raph Clarke, Robert Eddy, Andrew McQualter, Brett Peake, Clinton Jones and Jason Blake were often criticised for their rather unidimensional performances.

Scott Watters’ game style has seen versatility as the order of the day, with an equal emphasis on swift attack and fanatic full-ground defense. It didn’t always pay off – a lack in skill often brough the former undone and the latter wasn’t always present – but player-by-player it felt there was more to be optimistic about going forward.

In number order, starting from 1 to 12:

1 – Jason Gram
Halfway through the season I dare say we all would have been happy to see the last Jason Gram Special sliced from the wing, but he ended playing some very good games towards the end of the year. Still doesn’t have a huge defensive side to his game but I think Swat’s game plan suits him a little more. Given his history and the stage of his career, going into 2013 fully fit will be hugely important for him.

2 – Arryn Siposs
My Favourite Player played only 11 games in 2012 but did more than enough to have us hugely excited about his future. A great field kick and a strong mark, he did it at both ends of the ground and demonstrated he could be the club’s go-to utility over the next decade. Right now, he could be anything.

3 – Jack Steven
Pleasingly, Jack stayed busy in 2012 after his breakout season last year. He was probably more effective in games too, and was able to display more of his pace and fit into Swat’s game style. Still probably not in the top three midfielders (and that’s not a bad thing for the team) but it would be great if he took his game to another level. After the faux-high incident at the new home last year he planned on turning up to a mid-season morning recovery session drunk and got caught by the fuzz instead. He’s got to change that.

4 – Clinton Jones
The resident puppy dog still has a place in this side according to Swat, but I’m not exactly sure what it is considering he hasn’t improved his kicking since the age of nine. He’s certainly not a bad player; he knows how to find the ball and has one of the best defensive sides of anyone on the list but his kicking remains a liability. Considering what Swat said though, I’d be surprised if he’s delisted.

5 – Ben McEvoy
The 2017 premiership captain probably didn’t improve to the point we thought he might this year after his great 2011. He still struggles in the ruck at times and would be handier if he kicked more goals but he continued to drop back and help out the defence to great effect. Big men typically take longer to develop, of course, and he’s probably still a couple of years away from his best. With Rhys on the up, should the Saints get Jonathan Giles then things might really get interesting in the ruck division.

6 – Seb Ross
The only Ross at St Kilda played one game in the dead rubber period of the season but that was to be expected, particularly in a midfield that rarely saw injuries and had Jack and Armo continuing to improve. From the little we’ve seen of him he has a very no-nonsense demeanour and seems to take things very seriously which I think is a good thing. Showed some good things at Sandy and hopefully has a big future at the club.

7 – Lenny Hayes
Wowee etc.

8 – Raphael Clarke
Not sure if he’ll survive between now and list lodgements later on. A really popular guy by all reports and I don’t question his commitment on the field for a second (see several great efforts against the Crows) but just doesn’t always have the awareness required at AFL level. Injuries aside, three games in 2012 probably wasn’t enough to warrant a spot on the list next year given the dearth of tall mid-sized defenders, particularly with Jackson Ferguson coming through.

9 – Sam Crocker
One of four players the club didn’t even bother building the suspense for, delisted as soon as the Tip Rat had saluted the Carlton members. Didn’t seem to have bad skills, was just too slender which made things hard from the outset and in the short time he was at the club he disappeared from the face of the earth.

10 – Daniel Markworth
The Markworth Report was one of the many big plans Rich and I had for RWB in 2012 (on a more personal level I was simply hoping to become Demonblog), although hopes for several senior games were beyond even that. Showed some real glimpses at Sandy but still pretty raw. Should play a few games next year.

AND WHY NOT WITH GLIMPSES OF BRILLIANCE LIKE THIS?:

11 – Leigh Montagna
I don’t think anyone would have factored him into best and fairest calculations until Swat said towards the end of the season he’d be in the top two or three (I still didn’t agree with it but I dare say I’ll trust the coach of the St Kilda Football Club over myself). He didn’t have the huge possession counts that he did in some games in the past three or four years but was consistent. Talk of being used as trade bait floated around during the year but he re-signed on a two-year deal.

12 – Nick Riewoldt
A return to form after he more than anyone else (except maybe BJ) hated themselves and everything in 2011. Unlucky to injure his knee late but he had a big head-start on the pre-season so hopefully he can get the most out of the summer again and back it up in 2013, captain or not.

A brave new (rest of the) world

Half a decade ago Rod “Definitely doesn’t party much at all – just check out his demeanour and hair” Butterss floated the ridiculous and kitsch concept of strategically lighting the Telstra Dome/Corporate Stadium field during games to heighten the theatrics of the play.

If a player was lining up for goal, the rest of the stadium would be dimmed to accentuate the drama of the set shot (I hope those in charge of lighting were quick to think if Jason Gram was running past looking for a dish-off); the players’ huddles between breaks would be highlighted above the rest of the field, and so on.

This was the peak of the oughts, a time when the “millennial techno-dread” that pervaded Radiohead’s Kid A was well and truly being affronted. I associate 2007 with social media surpassing the point of dominating our interactions with others and becoming necessary to do so, and the rest of our lives following suit and definitively moving online (certainly as an 18-going-on 19 year-old). This wasn’t inherently bad or detestable, but it would have a large effect on our lives whether we chose to embrace it or not.

Butterss’ idea seemed as melodramatically gratuitous as my friends and I whingeing about interactions on our MySpace (soon to be Facebook) profiles. I felt let down that the club I supported were the ones championing an idea that was then – and is still now – ridiculous. It threatened to push the game from a sporting contest to an entertainment event more than ever before. At the time I felt sad for feeling that the idea might be inevitable, for it incorporated a trendy depersonalising use of technology, and elements of naïve hyper-futurism and short cultural expiry dates in the battle for corporate one-upmanship.

I also remember that time in early 2007 for the familiarity and nostalgia I was looking forward to with Channel 7’s return to broadcasting bastardized by its overriding commitment to advertising dollars and viewer numbers. The footy was incessantly spliced with ads and slotted around Better Homes and Gardens on a Friday night and the 6pm news on Sunday evening. All around it seemed the game was being reduced to a money-making chess piece.

It’s now five years since the St Kilda board attempted to displace the organic experience of attending a game of footy. Last week the future came calling again, but the knock at the door was heavier. Our Saints will now become the first team to host games for premiership points overseas as of next year.

We’re faced again with St Kilda shifting away from a suburban Melbourne footy club towards a business and entertainment enterprise. Again, an integral element of our experience in going to the footy to watch and be in the same space as our beloved Saints is at the mercy of our board.

Like Butterss’ ill-conceived idea, money is the driving factor (but isn’t it always?). The move to play games in New Zealand, however, might be the thing that saves this club from becoming a “Kangaroos”, or the next Tasmanian team (“Southern Saints”?) or, ironically, moving to Wellington entirely. The financial windfall hasn’t officially been publicly announced it’s believed the club is set to make up to $500,000 per game in the New Zealand capital. The Saints don’t have the kind of supporter base and financial security that Collingwood, Essendon, Carlton and West Coast do and so must to be creative to find a way into that top echelon.

It might also be the decision that ultimately delivers this club a period of sustained success and, dare I say it, that second premiership. Scott Watters said he doesn’t apologise for ambitions of this club becoming a “juggernaut” on and off the field. To build on the professionalism Ross the ex-Boss brought to St Kilda the next step must be taken to improve the club’s football department spending. Playing five games in New Zealand over three years nets the club up to $2.5 million, which it otherwise wouldn’t have had. This can be spent on the player development academy, on training trips like this year’s to the USA, and on recruiting. Wisely utilised, the extra finances could really make this club a long-term home to players starting out at the Saints, a place that senior players want to spend the peak of their careers and a place that is an attractive proposition to players from other clubs.

Sometimes change is necessary. Taking five games over three years to New Zealand sounds as futuristic now as a light show did in 2007, but Michael Nettlefold, Greg Westaway and co have found a greater balance of corporate “vision” and hard-headed pragmatism this time around. We’re faced with something that will have a large effect on us whether we choose to embrace it or not. Sometimes it’s your turn to go.