Round 14, 2014
St Kilda 4.3, 6.5, 8.7, 10.10 (70)
West Coast 3.2, 8.6, 12.10, 15.13 (103)
Crowd: 17,317 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, June 22nd at 3.20pm
It would be unfair of me to say that the small sense of optimism I had for a decent result yesterday was quashed when I learnt that Joey was a late withdrawal and had been replaced by Clint Jones. But the the small sense of optimism I had for a decent result yesterday was essentially quashed when I learnt that Joey was a late withdrawal and had been replaced by Clint Jones.
Yes, yes, on the surface that’s a little harsh on CJ. But I think it reflected more on where we’re at the moment, rather than the presence of one player who’d had the indignity of being dropped two weeks in a row, and also bears the indignity of not quite being able to kick an Australian Rules football.
See, my reaction had more to do with the attitude towards the team that absolutely everything must go right to win a game, and without a senior player who’s arguably in our top two or three I thought a win would prove to be beyond reach. And that’s only if the Eagles were really off their game.
So it was a pleasant surprise that it was well and truly the inexperience and the unheralded that were largely responsible for us finishing 63 points closer to evens than seven days before. It’s still a 33-point loss to a team that at best will only scrape into the eight, but after last week’s debacle at the Cattery we’re all feeling a least a little better about things. For the next few days anyway.
West Coast weren’t bad, but they did enough to win comfortably. A headier midfield featuring Priddis and, of course, ex-Lyon youthheap victim Mark Hutchings, as well as a more reliable forwardline set up featuring Darling, McGovern and even Lycett kept things in the Eagles’ control.
I had some of the best seats in Corporate Stadium to watch another loss thanks to my RWB cohort Rich’s father, himself a long-time St Kilda supporter, offering a spare Medallion Club ticket he had. I’ve been fortnate enough to have a Social Club membership and sears for a number of years now, so this was just the second time I’d sat in the section. The first was nine years when the lowly Bombers still managed to dick us and put us a six wins and seven losses after Round 13 in 2005. The following match was the beginning of Kosi’s wondrous streak, as well as the best part of the season’s journey that saw us into a heartbreaking Preliminary Final.
Pre-match I’d entered the club’s #SaintsScore competition and entered with 71 (still not sure if I got the prize – I couldn’t find anyone who picked 70 or 69), and until just a few minutes before the game I was looking good for the crowd number too. This was despite Richo’s best efforts in putting out the message to get Saints fans to the game and make it a “hostile” environment for the Eagles. As my brother Matt said during the week, “if you’re still going to Saints games you don’t have a hostile bone in your body”. We’ve been heartbroken and psychologically battered over decades by this club and that’s not changing any time soon. We’re specifically not “hostile”.
So I ended up getting there early and for the most prestigious part of the stadium, Gate 8 really is at the furthest point of the stadium, certainly from the busiest area around Gate 3 and the bridge and so on. It’s probably the windiest. Basically it was just myself, a trickle of Eagles supporters – I assumed maybe a few who’d travelled wanted to go about it properly and get some decent seats – a school group and some other extras. The lowest home attendance we’ve had at Corporate Stadium – 14,018 to see us push a flying Port all the way (Caydn Beetham with 24 disposals) – I really did think was going to get done today. But the attendance ballooned out a little around the opening bounce to over 17,000, but it was only a few minutes after the game as the players were going out to give the freebies to the fans that I realised just how much of that was the Eagles’ contingent.
And again, Corporate Stadium fails to feel like a true home game, even playing against a side based a few thousand kilometres away. The guys on the trumpet ripping out the Eagles’ woeful theme song didn’t help at all, but there may well have been more coin in it for him than playing ours.
The Saints started pretty well this time, and instead of lasting 12 seconds last week they managed to last an whole one quarter on top. It was the structural purpose that seemed the most obvious difference from last week. There was a lot of movement in the forward half allowing for clean possession across a few players in space going into attack, rather than just looking out for My Favourite Hair in the AFL. That didn’t stop one passage though where for some reason his mere presence warranted a short kick into traffic at the tip of the arc with more space beyond, although just having a considered possession at that point of the ground was refreshing.
Roo himself would only kick one goal for the day, and quick kick from the pocket in the third quarter. Rather, we went into quarter time on the back of Jack Billings somehow kicking three for the quarter. Two really nice set shots and quick collect through traffic just a couple of metres out helped us to four goals in the first quarter after five for the whole match the week before.
Funnily, he got a soft free kick early this week as he did against the Cats. That one he shanked and I’d wondered if we’d recruited a kid who seemed to be a genius with the footy but just couldn’t kick straight in front of goal, but this week he did the job and then some. He finished with 25 disposals, three goals – and was in prime position for two more, but Terry Milera was looking for Roo outside and Big Tommy Lee went for it himself – and a match equal-high of six inside 50s, with all of the above including kicks on BOTH SIDES THANKS VERY MUCH CHEERS for 100% efficiency. And now he’s officially the Corporate Rising Star Nominee for this week, making 2014 the first season since 2003 we’ve had multiple nominees, which that year were Joey, BJ and Ball. Next step is to sign him up for billions of years, because naturally slick players who can get possessions and kick multiple goals like this are vital cogs for any club that wants to boast a premiership team. WARNING: Previous St Kilda Rising Star Nominees include Brodie Atkinson (1993), Brett Moyle (2000), and James Begley and Caydn Beetham (2001).
Interestingly, it was CJ that kicked the other goal in the first quarter, but not quite vindicating Richo and casting my opinions to depths of footy opinion, left to languish for all eternity with 95% of BigFooty posts. He didn’t do an incredible amount otherwise, he only finished with 13 touches but did finish with two goals. We know his best role now – as a vague harasser of the footy and surrounding traffic in the forward half – but the selection situation in the past two Thursdays has officially decreed him a depth player. Lenny might miss next Saturday so he actually may complete a reprieve hat-trick of sorts, although the selectors might want both of Dunstan and Curren to come in, with Schneider and Saunders also a chance. The second quarter saw him team up with with and Minch for some really good running work out of defence, and he and Lee gave a really good scrap up forward after some of the customary poor delivery. But the third quarter saw CJ dick a promising passage of play on the rebound with a basic skill error. Ah, the old “undone by an Australian Rules football” trick. Surely it’s time.
In between those better harassing second quarter efforts (featuring minimal actual disposal by CJ) there was one passage of play which really stood out, following an arsey West Coast goal from traffic and it was started by Billings opting to go on his right boot up the wing. Firstly he looked incredibly poised doing it – more poised than most guys at the club now on their preferred side – and it found Simpkin, who up the line gave to it to Ray, who found Roo pushing up and got it to Lee near the 50-metre arc. Lee’s set shot, simply, was woeful. The game would finish with our most potent target an 18 year-old standing at 185cm and 76kg. There might not be so much shame in that now with the universal recognition he’s had since the Nomination was announced, but that doesn’t cover the need we have for a tall focal point in attack.
Lee was still managing to move up the ground to present an option, but even Delaney was somehow managing to push up and then offer something to the guys coming out of defence. Head Simpkin up forward found some synergy with Billings, turning his man around and knocking the footy over near the boundary to kick forward for Billings to run onto it, and then Billings in the third marked on 50, settled and kicked to Head in the pocket. The notable thing about Billings’ kick was that it forced Head closer to goal and onto a better angle.
That came in the third quarter and West Coast’s midfield had gotten on top. By half-time even I wasn’t overly worried about losing our first draft pick, and neither were LeCras and Kennedy, who teamed up to reprise the play-on-from-a-few-metres-out fiasco at Adelaide Oval that Port pulled a couple of weeks ago.
One contender for Pick #1 had just won back-to-back games for the first time ever this same afternoon to edge away from us, but Brisbane remain the biggest threat to us being able to actually have the choice between Peter Wright and Patrick McCartin. After yesterday, out of the two I’m still more keen on McCartin as I think this club is crying out for a specialist key forward (he’s the same height as Roo) rather than a guy who’ll float between ruck and forward – and of course do a great job of it – but maybe not bring that consistency in structure. We’ve also expended plenty of energy into getting Hickey and Billy Longer into the ruck department. Of course, we might well push for a trade for Cameron or Patton this year or next (depending on contracts and BigFooty rumours), so a player like those or another presumably top pick of ours next year will fill that forward role anyway*. This is my point – right now, if you put Wright into our side at this minute, there’s not much vision in terms of team balance, but of course I’d take him if I knew we’d have a full-time focal point up forward.
*Spencer White still exists. He’s likely the type to ultimately float around half-forward, unlike McCartin/Wright/Patton, but I think that’s a moot point until he actually gets some more game time now that he’s back from injury.
I don’t think the Head Simpkin experiment up forward can last. It’s such a shame he’s not a little taller. He actually did a couple of good things (see the Billings links) but his shoulder forced him out of the game, so what we saw was a little limited. I’d hope Tom Lee is given another crack this Saturday; he could have given his goal over to Billings but I think the confidence he may have drawn from at least having that on the board would have been wasted on Billings. His stats weren’t great – six marks as a lead-up forward, 10 touches, 1.1 and a couple of shanked kicks. But there’s something to work with, he’s evidently a confidence player and right now he deserves another shot. Also, he’s only played 13 games.
Should Head come out then there’s Rhys, Dunell and My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs to choose from to play across half-forward. I wouldn’t mind Rhys if only to alleviate the need to bring Tom Lee out of position and into the ruck. Dunell I dunno. He wasn’t given a great chance in the first place though. Lamb – cool. I was surprised he got dropped the other week but like Tom Lee there’s just something that the coaches seem to have as a non-negotiable that isn’t so obvious to us non-coaches in the crowd (funny, that) and they’re not getting right.
Sunday was a pretty good day for youth all round, even without equal favourite for 2018-2022 Premiership Captain, Luke Dunstan. His co-favourite/co-captain for that in Jack Newnes played one of his best games, giving some real drive off half-back with 24 touches and six tackles. He loves the physical stuff too and then once he’s got the footy backs his longer kicking to break the lines or allows team mates further afield the chance to make a move into space.
Also off half-back was the much-maligned Sav, who certainly doesn’t need to be gifted a shot at wearing the NZ jumper on Saturday against Richmond, which for some reason in an NZ-themed game. He was actually pretty good; it’s one of the easier positions to play on the field but someone still has to do it will, and the way he set bullocked through a few West Coast opponents to set up Lenny for that goal was the kind of thing we were hoping he’d bring from the Hawks. Maybe another spell in the VFL has straightened him up.
Mav Weller also gets a mention but FFS kick a goal. Some guys worked really hard for him to have a couple of shots on goal and he sprayed them. Look, 21 touches and seven tackles is exactly what he’s in the side for, but if he kicked half (two) of his shots his game suddenly looks a lot, lot better. His brother Lachie looks like he’ll be going early in the draft and is the slick Rolls Royce opposite to Mav – if we could snare him (we’d have to upgrade a pick though) they’d make a formidable and remarkable brotherly pair.
Richo highlighted in the post-match that BIG BILLY had one more hit-out than Nic Nat, but he left out the part where one of those was a few metres out from the West Coast goal and went directly to their advantage, and that Scott Lycett won a further 17 hit-outs himself. On the flipside, it would be great if he had a chop out from another genuine ruckman, but can Hickey and Billy be in the same team? Neither are incredibly mobile, although was on several occasions seen to be ambling vaguely towards full back on his own. Hickey can at least go up forward and kick goals; when Billy finally found himself at the centre of a big pack deep in defence he jumped and put his hands up, only to miss the ball entirely.
Hickey returned to the VFL this week, but will probably need another week there. This stretch of games surely will have done Billy a lot of good, but the logistics of the ruck set-up are going to be very muddied for some time, and that’s before taking into account the development of Holmes and leader-in-waiting Pierce.
There weren’t really any absolute stinkers on Sunday, but some guys maybe just didn’t quite cut it. Terry dropped a chest mark unopposed near goal for some reason. He also almost took a great mark with the one hand, but I his problem is that he almost does a lot of things. Shenton had one of his lesser days but I still think he’s worked himself into a stretch of form that over weeks is enough to keep him in. Ross was quieter but what did you expect? I must say some of his touches were a lot slicker (handball over the shoulder early) than what we’ve been accustomed to. Minchington…yeah? I think he should stay in, he has a crack and oh yeah it was his third game. Twelve touches and a goal I think get him over the line, on paper anyway. Murdoch only came on as the sub for a quarter but still managed to cough it up deep in defence.
This would have been a pretty forgettable game if not for Billings’ performance. Should all go well, we’ll look back on it and declare it a breakout game for a player who went no to do really great things for this club. In the short-term, his performance – and you could perhaps include those of Newnes, Weller and Savage in there too – serve to just get us through this week. Billings said it himself on yesterday’s announcement: “Before we know it we’ll be playing finals.” I really enjoyed him saying that. It was both maybe a little naïve and optimistic, the kind of thing you’d expect from an enthusiastic fan. The difference is, he can do something about it not just now but when we’re there, too, and even at the age of 18 he’s shown some very, very good things. For now though, we’re flogging off tickets for this Saturday’s game via two-for-one deals.