Sydney Swans Posts

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.

St Kilda and Fremantle: The Bizarro Rivalry (update)

The Ross Lyon defection brokered a new sensational chapter in the ridiculous rivalry between St Kilda and Fremantle, which I’d written on in 2010.

Whilst Ross took things to a new level, this past weekend threw up a couple more very interesting links:
– St Kilda’s first Grand Final appearance was in 1913, against Fitzroy. Freo will make their first Grand Final appearance 100 years later.
– Freo’s strange decision to wear their clash jumper on Saturday makes them just the second club to do so in a Grand Final. The first team to wear a clash jumper in Grand Final was St Kilda – also under Ross – in 2010.

Here’s the original post, “St Kilda and Fremantle: The Bizarre Rivalry” (I’m not sure why I didn’t take the golden opportunity to throw in the Seinfeld reference then and there) from 2010:

St Kilda and Fremantle share one of the most bizarre “rivalries” in the AFL.

As the two least successful clubs in VFL/AFL history to date, it’s not all-important clashes between competition juggernauts that this rivalry has been based on.

Rather, it has been a mixture of the unique, incredible and questionable, with occasional flashes of both genuinely brilliant and sadly woeful football being played.

It began immediately – although inconspicuously – in 1995, when Fremantle played their debut AFL match in the Ansett Australia Cup against the Saints at East Fremantle Oval. Whilst the match itself was normal enough (St Kilda would win by 35 points), this would be the only time (to date) the Dockers would actually play in Fremantle in a competitive AFL match.

In Round 14 of the following season, St Kilda would break through for its first win at Subiaco, and in Western Australia – of course, against Fremantle – in a game which produced great goals from both sides.

The next clash between the two came on ANZAC Day of 1997, with Fremantle – in 10th place and the Saints in 16th – weathering a late St Kilda challenge to win by a straight kick. The return bout was played on a ridiculously blustery day at Waverley in Round 20 of that year, with Fremantle in 10th place (again) going into the match whilst St Kilda was second on percentage, on its way to a second minor premiership. The Saints that time won a scrappy game by 13 points after the Dockers got within a point in the final term.

St Kilda co-captain Stewart Loewe would be stretchered off in Round 9 of 1998 at the WACA after an awkward fall in which his head ended up making contact with his knee. Despite a thrilling running goal from ruckman Peter Everitt, the 4th-placed Saints were overrun by the 13th-placed Dockers in the final term.

After several years of minor quirks, things were about to get really weird.

Continue readingRound 15 of 1999 will be remembered for the mark that was taken by umpire Peter Carey. Early in the match, Docker (and former Saint) Adrian Fletcher centred a short pass to Brad Wira on the wing, only for the experienced Carey, who was in the path of the ball’s trajectory, to take the mark and call for a ball-up. Needless to say, the incident was a massive talking point in football circles, though ultimately it would take its place in VFL/AFL history as a wonderfully unique and humourous moment in a game that has a habit of throwing those up from time to time. The Dockers would go on to win the game by 23 points, and send St Kilda’s season into a further downward spiral.

By the time the two teams met in Round 12 of 2001, both teams had new coaches and were sharing 14th (St Kilda) and 16th (Fremantle) places on the ladder; by season’s end they would be 15th and 16th respectively. On this Saturday night at Subiaco, the Saints won their third game of the year after a young Stephen Milne sprang to life in the final term, on his way to kicking three goals and giving the Saints a 10-point win. However, captain Robert Harvey would seriously injure his knee in a gang tackle that continued well past its use-by date; with the ball locked up amongst the scrum, the umpire inexplicably chose to let play continue, long enough for the Dockers players to force Harvey to the turf as his knee buckled under him.

It would also be Malcolm Blight’s last victory as coach for the Saints, with his brief tenure at Moorabbin ending just three weeks later.

The next season threw up a couple more notable matches – in Round 2, the fast-finishing Dockers would roll the Saints by three points at home after trailing for much of the day, and in Round 17 St Kilda played a rare home match at Princes Park and defeat the Dockers in a dead-rubber in front of just 8,078 fans.

A skip to 2004 would find Brent Guerra breaking Docker Byran Schammer’s arm in a devastating bump as a barnstorming St Kilda extended their winning streak to seven to begin the season, as well as Fremantle wearing their predominantly white away/clash jumper for the first time in the return match in Round 22 at Docklands.

A trio of thrilling matches followed. Strange, thrilling matches.

In round 2 of 2005, St Kilda won their first match of the season by a solitary point at York Park in Tasmania. The Saints would overhaul the Dockers in trying conditions, with Aaron Hamill earning a free kick for holding the ball and scoring the winning point – but not before a final Fremantle charge into their forward line, with defender Luke Penny expertly safely punching the ball out of bounds in the final seconds from a marking contest.

The infamous “Whispers in the Sky” clash was a dire battle in Round 21 at Subiaco. St Kilda were pushing to solidify a top four spot after being outside of the 8 after Round 13, though tipped by many to win the premiership on the eve of the season. Skipper Nick Riewoldt has broken his collarbone in Round 14, and stand-in captain Justin Koschitzke had powered his way to stunning form and lead the Saints’ fight for redemption. He earned 11 Brownlow votes in just five matches, and with Riewoldt back, he was seen as a key component to St Kilda’s premiership hopes as September neared. Fremantle, meanwhile were hoping to return to finals action after St Kilda had knocked them out on the eve of the 2004 finals series.

What happened on that Friday night is now a part of St Kilda-Fremantle rivalry folklore. Awful and questionable umpiring decisions went Fremantle’s way all night, gifting the Dockers several goals and depriving the Saints of several chances of their own. Koschitzke would injure a quad muscle in the third quarter, and he would not be fit enough to return to the side, which bowed out in the preliminary final several weeks later (had St Kilda defeated Sydney in that match, he would have been a huge chance to return for the Grand Final).

The final term was an old-fashioned thriller. In the final minute, with the Saints up by a point, Justin Peckett was run down by Luke McPharlin just outside Fremantle’s 50-metre arc; the resulting kick forward saw Justin Longmuir take a spectacular mark over the top of the pack just 25 metres out from goal. His kick was straight, and the Dockers had won by five points, and were to face reigning premier Port Adelaide the following week in the final round for a spot in the finals.

Channel Nine reporter Tony Jones – travelling back to Melbourne from the game after Nine’s coverage – claimed that he heard umpire Matthew Head, who had made a number of the decisions that went Fremantle’s way remark, “Now I know what it feels like to have a victory”. Several other passengers made the same claim as Jones, but the AFL cleared Head of any wrongdoing after an investigation into the matter that week.

Though they would start strongly, Fremantle lost to Port Adelaide the following week and finish 10th as the Power clinched eighth spot. St Kilda would go on to record two amazing victories over the following two weeks – their biggest win in the club’s 132-year history over the Brisbane Lions, by 139 points, and a brave eight-point win over minor premiers Adelaide in the First Qualifying Final at AAMI Stadium, to secure a home Preliminary Final and a week’s rest.

But the centrepiece of this rivalry – so far, at least – came in Round 5, 2006; the final installment of this trilogy taking place where it started – at York Park (now Aurora Stadium) in Tasmania, referred to as “Sirengate”.

The Dockers were truly dangerous in 2006, and were only knocked out a week short of the Grand Final. Though notorious for poor interstate form, on this day they were all over an inept St Kilda, who were making another slow start to a season. Though the Saints would be in with a chance all day, that chance seemed to have disappeared as the clock counted down to zero as a desperate Dockers defence forced a stopped in the Saints forward line, with their team up by a point. The siren sounded, and Fremantle players around the ball began celebrating a hard-fought victory.

But the siren was quite faint, and umpire didn’t hear it – and play continued from the stoppage well after full-time. The Saints forced the ball to Steven Baker, whose flying shot at goal – a number of seconds after the siren – missed to the left, tying the scores. The umpire then awarded Baker a free kick for a hit he got as he kicked it, and so he was to take the kick again, with the first behind taken back, and the Saints again down by a point. As this was occurring, Fremantle officials had stormed on to the ground to remonstrate with the umpires, with coach Chris Connolly finding himself arguing with St Kilda player Lenny Hayes. Verbal stoushes were springing up between officials, umpires and players left, right and centre, and amongst it all, Baker missed again. The game was a draw.

St Kilda coach Grant Thomas declared the game “one for the blooper reel” in the post-match wash-up, whilst Connolly was understandably furious. Fremantle immediately took the issue to the AFL. Sensationally, the AFL overturned the result during the week, with final score officially at 13.15 (93) to 14.10 (94), the Dockers victorious by a point.

The sides would meet again at Subiaco in Round 20. To date, this match is the most important game the clubs have been involved in against each other, with a top four spot up for grabs. Fremantle trounced the Saints, with the only highlight for St Kilda being a goal kicked by Brendon Goddard from an enormous kick late in the match; from just inside the centre square, Goddard’s kick would go through the goals at post-height.

The Dockers would finish third on the ladder, with fellow Subiaco tenants West Coast in first place. Though they would lose the Second Qualifying Final to Adelaide away, they won their first final of any sort at home against Melbourne a week later. Sydney knocked them out a week later, otherwise the MCG would have been set for an all-Western Australian Grand Final.

Several things of note come out of this. Firstly, St Kilda would have finished third on superior percentage if the “Sirengate” result had stood, forcing eventual Grand Finalists Sydney out of the top four, and forcing a Western Derby as a First Qualifying Final. Instead, the Saints finished sixth and limped out of the finals series in the first week, losing to Melbourne in the Second Elimination Final. Of course, if the Saints had won that game – which was a good chance of happening through the final term – they would have faced Fremantle in a semi-final, bringing the two teams face-to-face in massive game; as it happened, Grant Thomas would be sacked just days after the loss to the Demons. The other point worth considering – albeit a hypothetical one – is if the AFL would have overturned the result the way it did had Baker actually kicked a goal from either of his shots, “winning” the game for St Kilda. It’s one thing to overturn a draw, but to  completely reverse the outcome of a match would have made this issue far, far greater, and a much more daunting prospect for the AFL.

The following season was a disappointment for both teams. When they squared off in Round 20, with the Saints hoping to snatch a finals spot under new coach Ross Lyon, a collision between Steven Baker and Jeff Farmer would be the talking point of the competition for the following week.

Farmer left the ground concussed, with blood pouring from his face, after evidently running into the back of Baker. No umpires nor cameras saw or captured the incident, but a Fremantle trainer said that Baker had been malicious in the collision, and this was influential in the seven-match suspension Baker received. The Saints appealed, but this fell on deaf ears from the AFL. The decision would prove costly for the Saints, who were now without their star tagger as they were coming up against West Coast the following week, a must-win game for the Saints. The Eagles’ midfield of Chris Judd, Ben Cousins and Daniel Kerr were able to run far more freely and eventually the Eagles would win by eight points; though St Kilda defeated Richmond in Round 22, they would finish the season in ninth position after Adelaide also won their final round match to knock St Kilda out of September calculations.

Round 13 of 2008 saw a spluttering Saints wielding the axe on senior players Nick Dal Santo and Stephen Milne after just three wins from the previous ten games of football. Ben McEvoy, Robert Eddy and Jarryd Allen would all debut for the Saints on a dogged Friday night, with the Saints prevailing by eight points. It would be the beginning of a remarkable turnaround for Ross Lyon and his men, who would win eight of their final ten matches in the home-and-away season to finish fourth, including the return game at Subiaco in Round 20 which Stephen Milne played out with a grotesquely swollen cheek. The Saints would fall one week short of the Grand Final.

The Saints would go one better in 2009, as Fremantle were again finding themselves at the wrong end of the ladder. In Round 4, the Saints crushed the Dockers by 88 points, and keeping the visitors to a scoreline of 4.4 (28), the joint-lowest score at Docklands. Of course, that record is shared with St Kilda, who could only manage 3.10 (28) against Collingwood in Round 6 of 2002.

Most recently, their 2010 NAB Cup semi-final match was nearly called off, after storms ravaged the Melbourne CBD, leaving Etihad Stadium with internal roofing damage. The players ran out for a later start to no crowd in attendance, and the 5,000+ fans were eventually let in over the first quarter, but only allowed to be seated on the bottom level. St Kilda would win a position in the Final easily, but would lose that to the Western Bulldogs, who were making their first Final appearance of any kind in 40 years.

And now on Sunday evening, the two teams will be squaring off, and coming into this round are occupying the top two positions on the ladder. It’s definitely the first time this has happened with these two clubs; Fremantle will be looking to be on top of the AFL ladder at the completion of any round for the first time in their history, whilst the Saints are going to be entering a lengthy period of time with injured captain Nick Riewoldt. The football world will be watching this intriguing clash, which will hopefully be remembered for some good football, promising individual performances and solid teamwork. As long as no umpires take marks or feel like “having a victory”, or the siren fails, or there are unseen and inconclusive clashes which result in massive suspensions, or storms unleash fury over Melbourne, then there’s a good chance that just might happen.

But who knows?

Links

Umpire Peter Carey takes a mark in Round 15, 1999

Justin Longmuir kicks a goal after the siren to win the game for the Dockers in the “Whispers in the Sky” match, in Round 20, 2005

“Sirengate” finish Part 1, Round 5, 2006

“Sirengate” finish Part 2

Brendon Goddard’s monster goal, Round 20, 2006

Yep, still here

One of the quirks of being totally rubbish so soon after being reasonably OK in this game is the changing of the stakes when coming up against individual opponents.

Last year we actually beat the premiers and then kicked ourselves out of it the second time around. This year the Swans are looking to repeat the dose whilst we’ve won three games and are third last, and are set to equal our lowest ever finish of 16th on the ladder.

I was looking forward to Sunday because Cam Shenton had been upgraded and looked all kinds of certain to make his debut after bing named in the extended squad, but he bemusingly wasn’t picked in the final side. I’m not not looking forward to it now, it’s just that it would have had a little something extra to it with another debutant in the side.

That’s the kind of thing that has been making us come to the footy since our season’s finals aspirations dissipated all those months ago. Sometimes I’ve think settled right into having these kinds of expectations that are significantly lower than what we’ve had over recent years, but other times it really doesn’t feel like that long ago that we were daring to dream what proved to be the impossible and that makes things hard to take.

But I really am looking forward to seeing TOM LEE BANDWAGON, Minch, The Only Ross at St Kilda, St Kilda’s Own Stephen Merchant et al putting together another game against quality opposition. For some reason Tom Ledger can’t get a game. He’s been racking up disposals at will but for whatever reason the selectors aren’t giving him the nod. It could be as something as innocent

Also this week we found out Peter Summers would be the next President. It’s going to be a really interesting period for the club for a number of reasons. Firstly, in terms of capitalising on the moves made on and off the field in Greg Westaway’s tenure, namely the Seaford move and the Youth Academy. We’re all still shaking our heads about the Seaford move but it’s up to the club’s next board to make the most of what we have and use it to the players’ and coaches’ advantage, and also in terms of drawing on the population catchment in the area and establishing St Kilda as the dominant Bayside and south-east suburbs club.

There’s also the club’s reputation off the field, which again has been shat on this year in different ways with the Milne case and the Saad test results. The actual infringements aside for one moment (particularly those levelled at Milne), bad PR will turn people off the club and excuse made for the Seaford move revolving around netting a wider geographical supporter base is totally useless.

That change doesn’t come in until the Trevor Barker Award count is completed. Otherwise, I don’t know. This is one of those weeks where I think, “Really? Are we still doing this?” We still live these moments as supporters, it just feels different.

 

Swings and roundabouts innit

One of the many wonderful things about the 10 days I spent in Hoi An and Siem Reap was that I wasn’t at the Essendon and Sydney games respectively in person.

I did watch them, however. In Hoi An we had the lovely 3 Dragons Restaurant & Bar – which broadcasts most AFL games (and if not, they’ll be able to on request) – literally in our hotel’s street. The owner is an expat, originally from Queensland who then spent time on the Mornington Peninsula and developed an affinity for the Saints. Anything that isn’t on the Australian Network (which is four games a week, equal with Channel 7, thanks very much) he shows on another of his via an AFLTV International Online Streaming Account. This is what the Essendon game was shown on.

Fortunately the the AFL site’s stream was very stop-start so instead of seeing every second of a performance that brought us all back down to earth it just felt like a casual Saturday afternoon of drinking cocktails with a cameo by a rubbish game of footy. (Apparently the Hawthorn-Fremantle game earlier in the day had been of excellent quality, so I’m thinking the AFL site was struggling under the extra attention this game would have received – probably not good enough for those forking out the money for the account.)

As for the Sydney game, nowhere in Siem Reap was showing the it (it wasn’t on the Australia Network, unlike the Essendon-Collingwood match) so my parents and I (yes, a lovely family holiday, although my brother was too busy back in Melbourne getting promoted to the De La Salle reserves) listened to the first half over a few cocktails (I had a Lemongrass Mary and then a B-52 – not advisable). I then retreated to the hotel room to watch the game on an incredibly illegal stream (with special commentary featuring personal spats from Saintsational forums everywhere); it was more reliable than the AFLTV account and much more worth the stomping around I did in town trying to find somewhere to watch the game. Watching guys like Murdoch, Saunders, Ross and Wright do some really promising things made this game far more enjoyably, obviously, but I know I’d rather have been in Siem Reap than Wellington for it.

Such is the nature of following a side that’s blooding a whole batch of young guys. As I’ve said before, these kinds of periods aren’t going to have a youthful vibrancy and urgency to them that will have us looking forward to not just the coming weekend, but to the coming years also. There will be weeks like the Essendon game in which we get up on Monday morning and have to go to work, or look after kids, or whatever, following a St Kilda performance in which the Grand Finals of 2009 and 2010 hurt even more because we realise just how inexperienced and vulnerable to kids are.

Of course, even a loss – in which only nine goals were kicked by the Saints – can have us literally the next week feeling good about the coach and club’s direction again. This week will be another stern test, and looking at things a little pessimistically you might feel an honourable loss with good effort shown by Wright, Saunders, Murdoch, Ross, etc. is the best we can hope for. One win and four losses says as much, but we now know there’s a bigger picture.

St Kilda won lol

2013 NAB Cup – Round 2
St Kilda 0.1.2, 0.6.6, 0.8.9, 0.13.12 (90)
Sydney Swans 0.3.2, 1.5.6, 1.7.9, 1.8.10 (67)
Crowd: “TBA” (not many) at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, March 3rd at 5.10pm

St Kilda won, although at no point do I remember the Saints being “on top”. It must be the NAB Cup.

There were a few other giveaways. I was looking at the line-ups for the teams – and trying to get over my immediate disappointment of learning Spencer White wasn’t playing – and they featured three subs and emergencies. And new interchange rotation restrictions; conflicting signs alone on a day in which things were hovering around 30 degrees (whilst I was on the number 8 tram into the city The Age mobile site said 14 degrees – incorrect).

As well as the above, ridiculous rules and no one caring about anything were also telltale signs that we weren’t quite there yet.

The thing that caught me eye on my arrival, apart from the 51,000 empty seats at Corporate Stadium, was that the Saints were wearing their clash strip. I really am a fan of this year’s design, but commercial considerations aside why in freak’s name were they wearing that against a team that is white and red (and a lot of white at that)?

Perhaps the Saints merch team had realised that the wonderful 140 Years jumper might dilute sales of the new clash so the latter needs maximum exposure, or maybe they just needed to appropriately cap off a week in which the strangest St Kilda jumper in history was unveiled.

I thought briefly we might be in for an echoing of Friday night’s match-up, which saw the Bulldogs’ NAB Cup/Training jumper up against Hawthorn’s Clash jumper. But the Swans did the right thing.

In honour of the 140 Years jumper, I will be posting a running tally of how many I see being worn at games this year. Our register is currently at six jumpers, including the two at the Lockett end which feature on a number of goal highlights to the left of screen. Strangely, four of the six that I saw were kids 12 and under; I thought this guernsey was a rather bold and refined design that would appeal to traditionalists. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come, but considering what the Hawks and Crows wore this weekend, maybe not.

As an aside, it’s worth noting I saw one guy wearing Sydney’s 1997 Ansett Cup jumper, which they wore in the opening round against St Kilda in a game that the Saints won by a point after ex-Saint Craig O’Brien missed a shot after the siren for the Swans.

Construction of the NAB2 building has just about finished ahead of its opening mid-year, and the whole precinct already has a different feel about it, particularly with the Medibank building shooting up [insert Essendon joke here] next to it. As a 12 year-old in 2000 I remember how futuristic the Stadium felt upon its opening; how large it seemed to loom over the surrounds with its bright Colonial Stadium signage. Now, the stadium that already lacked soul is getting closer to being just another building amongst other buildings.

So I guess it was at least partially appropriate to hold a Naming Rights Cup game there, but having next week’s game at Casey Fields makes just as much sense.

One thing I do like about no one turning up to these games at Docklands is that I can generally sit in several decent spots during the game. I nestled on the wing that actually had people sitting on it (the broadcast side) for the first half. The more people I realised weren’t turning up the more that I wondered what we were actually doing being there, but either way it was nice to be at a four-quarter game of footy (nine-point goals aside, but one thing at a time I guess).

Things started normally enough. My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs took the Saints inside 50 with a long, raking kick, before Big Beau Maister’s faffin’ brought things undone. Armo laid a good strong tackle on the back of some tough stuff in the opening round and Sam Gilbert disposed of the ball as only he knows how. The Jason Gram Specials are hereby named in honour of Sam. There were also three shots at goal that went out on the full in the first quarter, continuing last year’s theme of inaccuracy.

Some things were a bit more out of the ordinary. Seb Ross won a hitout, but something that was out of the ordinary and actually planned was that Big Rhys Stanley started in defence on Sam Reid.

I’m not sure what was more expected – that Rhys injured himself at all, or that he injured himself after putting in a really impressive performance. Before we all blow our proverbials over him we must all take a step back and remember that it’s the NAB Cup. Reid was essentially unsighted until Rhys went off (apart from the shove in the back Rhys gave him). Rhys had him covered for speed and height all around the ground, and put in a few good spoils. It also brought his field kicking into play, which was solid enough; he even took a few kick-outs. So we’ve seen two and-a-bit quarters of a potential X-factor in defence. How excited do we get? I’m pretty excited, but it’s got that under-ripe feel we all have in February and March.

That was honestly the stand-out for me. Reid didn’t turn the game on his head as soon as Rhys went off, but he was all of a sudden in the frame as a game-changer for the Swans. He took two big marks in the 50 and wasn’t far off having two goals from the resulting kicks. Swat might be on to something here – it certainly makes sense on paper, for the same reasons he’d make an excellent forward target. Two-to-four weeks is apparently the wait to see him again, but the buzz will continue to grow.

Also hovering around the backline was Dylan Roberton, who didn’t particularly give us much for the highlights reel in the first half. Jesse White outmarked him easily in the opening term close to goal but his purple patch came in the second. A nice grab on the wing led to him kicking to a two-on-one starring Clint Jones, who managed to eek out a handball to the calamity of Gilbert. Needless to say, the ball was coming back up the other end soon after and Roberton himself found possession and overturned it immediately.

What I did like about his game was that he was always doing something to get involved. He would have known better than anyone of us that some his disposal wasn’t great, but he didn’t let that effect his effort.

Roberton was by no means the only one contributing to the curious second quarter, which saw glimpses of NAB Cup brilliance and NAB Cup faffin’ in equal measures. From where I was sitting, it also saw silhouettes taking the place of most players for the term.

CJ made another appearance in the latter bracket, changing course whilst running out of a crowded back pocket, kicking on his RIGHT foot (I shit you not). Siposs couldn’t believe what had just happened and dropped the footy, picked it up before immediately scrubbing the kick and Rampe kicked a lovely nine-point goal for the Swans. It was passages like that that really made me think the Saints weren’t anywhere near it, NAB Cup or not.

Up the other end, both metaphorically and literally, Siposs, Big Beau and TDL all kicked great goals in the quarter.

My Favourite Player kicked a lovely set shot goal from right on the 50-metre arc, building up his own hype further and giving us something to look forward to not only this season but in the years ahead. He played off half-back but obviously found himself forward on a couple of occasions, moving sveltely through traffic at both ends. He quietened in the second half but we shouldn’t be too fussed about that just yet.

Maister hooked a nice goal around the corner from the pocket after Jack Newnes missed everything in the postcode from the opposite flank. He really battled hard, but he didn’t take a couple of contested marks that really good players would. He’ll only be so serviceable (he certainly isn’t bad) until he can change that; otherwise he really does get to a lot of contests and could really play a strong role in the side this year.

As for TDL, his snap on the outside of the boot from the pocket was the highlight of the quarter – and just about the game aside from Ahmed Saad’s great solo effort in the third quarter. As the game wore on the chemistry between they and Terry grew, kicking 5.3 in three quarters of footy and laying 13 tackles between them. However, with Milne and Schneider to come back I doubt all of them will get a start. Saad is probably just ahead of Milera and TDL at the moment, but that’s only going by a bit of McRules Football. Milera and TDL (and Schneider, for that matter) all have a better capacity to play further up the ground, which will have a big effect on selection. Either way, if they can work together effectively it will make for some exciting football.

Those small forwards had a big impact on the outcome of the game. Saad gave one off to Armo immediately after his goal in the third, TDL gave one off to CJ in the last (albeit after a free should have been paid to the Swans) and sealed the deal himself, and Terry’s pressure in the front half was a constant (he laid six tackles).

It was that opportunistic bent that saw the Saints over the line. On paper, the Swans had control of the game with their top line finding far more of the footy than St Kilda’s, and finishing with 40 more disposals as a whole; 56 of those were handballs though, as the Saints put on some good pressure around the ground. Look out for the switch this year as well as an important part of the game plan – it was highlighted in the broadcast of week one’s games and was used again, quite a few times. Stanley shutting Reid out for most of the game took away Sydney’s focal point, and the Saints seemed to be a little more direct going forward, although not incredibly clean. They simply had more left in the tank as well by game’s end, by which time I was on the far wing after sitting at the Lockett End in the third quarter.

It was great to see hardarses-to-be Wright, Ross and Newnes running out the game strongly and finding themselves relatively high in the possession counts. Wright and Ross looked far more settled for having played in the first week, whilst Newnes backed up his impressive performance and continues to find more and more of the footy. As Swat said after the game, it’s great for those players to get some exposure to not just playing at something resembling AFL level but also against quality opposition in Kennedy, Hannebery and Bolton. Jackson Ferguson also got a chance to defend against Reid and White, and actually found a bit of the ball himself. Having kept him on as a rookie for a couple of years now, there is every chance he’ll be upgraded at some point during the season and debut if he keeps playing well at Sandy.

Of course, it’s tough to read too much into the form of so many younger players in any NAB Cup game. You’d get as much from me saying “Hickey did some nice ruckwork and took a strong mark in the forward line, whilst Big Ben was stronger in the hitouts” as me farting out “Hickey: showed promise; McEvoy: OK.” But there really were some good signs from a lot of younger guys.

Other players showed improvement. Aside from Beau, Armo finally looks like he’s starting to hit his potential (again), putting in a few hard hits and tackles, and Geary has picked up from last year’s step forward. [Edit: Was it just me or did anyone else see Armo taking charge at quarter time and speaking to most of the group? I really hope that’s what I saw – great sign if indeed it was.]

It’s worth noting Joey and CJ were the two highest possession winners, and that whilst Joey is simply blowing off the cobwebs for another strong season, CJ still kicks like he always had. That’s fine if you’re about to embark on a premiership defence but we’re not.

There might be a fall this year (and there might not be, who knows? It’s March FFS) but something I got out of Sunday was that I feel more confident that there will be some upside to this season.