Terry Milera Posts

Jack Billings Day/more good stuff needed please

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

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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sense of optimism I had for a decent result yesterday was quashed when I learnt that Joey was a late withdrawal and had been replaced by Clint Jones.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I had for a decent result yesterday was essentially quashed when I learnt that Joey was a late withdrawal and had been replaced by Clint Jones.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.

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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.

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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.

Fading into the night

Round 11, 2014
St Kilda 3.2, 6.2, 8.5, 8.6 (54)
Collingwood 7.2, 10.5, 14.8, 21.14 (140)
Crowd: 34,855 at Etihad Stadium, Friday, May 30th at 7.50pm

When I arrived relatively early at Corporate Stadium on Friday night the screens were inexplicably showing the Round 22, 2008 game, when St Kilda stormed their way into the top four on the back of a 108-point win over the Bombers.

It was the last game of the home and away season and several other teams had frittered away their chances that round to claim fourth spot as their own. The Saints were no sure thing until the final minutes, kicking 7.6 to 0.1 in the final quarter and squeaking through on percentage in probably the most exciting 108-point win in history.

It seems a lifetime ago now; in fact that Ross Lyon team predates those that would play in three Grand Finals in the following two seasons. And the last quarter of Friday night reinforced that, as Collingwood kicked 7.6 to 0.1 in the final quarter to the charge themselves up to third, and leave the Saints at third last.

So by stealth our season has been driven face-first into the turf.  We were looking at 4-2 a few weeks ago, and instead we’re nowhere near improving on 3-7.

The club was incredibly quiet over the bye. It’s hard to compare exactly with other clubs just how quiet given each is in a different situation, but I think the administration might have thought that given the losing streak the members and fans were keen for a week off themselves. Hard call to make though when your finances are up the proverbial. Do you make noise only to reinforce how rubbish things are? On the other hand, you can’t necessarily just disappear because we’ll be disappearing over Bass Strait or the Tasman soon if the club can’t get things right.

I say that because the only thing that really happened were the redundancies of Chief Operating Office Terry Dillon and Commercial Operations GM Shane Wakelin. They marked Finnis’ first real moves as CEO, but also broke open a little a potentially developing story about the club’s very poor financial situation. This is certainly a big move, but it was an off-field move that needs more to be made public so people can at least join the dots for themselves. Nothing doing for the rest of the week, so the club managed to contain the story only that day’s footy news cycle.

Even with the refresher there were a whole lot of people totally not keen on going on Friday night. The crowds are waning; as I’ve said they’re the Saints’ lowest since 1995 and Friday had only 34,000. This at a game featuring the league’s highest drawing club, and including the whole bunch of freebies the AFL handed out (obvious due to the fact they’re usually seated in neatly arranged groups a long time before the start of the match, as they were on Friday). Certainly most of those who bothered to turn up would have been predominantly Collingwood supporters, but are we that toxic a brand at the moment that Magpies supporters can’t be arsed seeing an easy win over us? Let’s flip that around – have you supporters jumped that far off us? The club’s membership tally has been sitting officially at 29,992 for a while now – someone just buy a pet membership FFS. Three years ago we were within touching distance of 40,000, now we might not scrape past 30,000. Not even half of those turned up for the Gold Coast game, and not many more on Friday.

Sadly, the empty stadium that you walk into on game day is gradually moving from an uncomfortable and foreign site to one that’s expected. A pre-game drink at Livewire again afforded us a prime view of an empty, cavernous concrete monolith. Especially on a Friday night, with a number of people turning up closer to game time, it seemed most people on Level 3 certainly were the freebies. They really weren’t treated to the best of games and I dare say they would have been a little disappointed when being handed the tickets.

Earlier that afternoon I’d looked up at the TV at RWB‘s Seddon satellite HQ to see a replay of the Round 19, 2012 Collingwood-St Kilda game that we lost by a goal, with the AFL admitting the incorrect decision had been made to pay a free kick against Milne in the final few seconds with the ball spilling to Armo running into an open goal. Regardless of the result, it was probably the closest we’ll get to the Pies for a while.

That game on Friday’s were yet further evidence of the good and poor recruiting in recent years between two sides that has consistently finished in strong positions on the ladder. Collingwood had Fasolo, Thomas, Sidebottom, Elliott, Adams, Seedsman, et al make genuinely meaningful contributions around the ground and on the scoreboard. Most of the guys St Kilda picked in the corresponding drafts were rubbish, and whilst some of our young guys did some good stuff, we lost by 86 points and our best result this year is now getting the number one draft pick. Collingwood have every right to be looking at a second premiership in five seasons after knocking us off in 2010, after making finals in the several seasons before then and in each since.

It was the kind of game in which we have to settle for mostly glimpses of the future rather than commanding four-quarter performances from the younger guys. The Newnes/Billings/Siposs rebound goal was as good as it got, although Newnes was one of few who could claim to have been busy throughout the four quarters of the game. He’s slowly getting to the point where he can run through the midfield a bit more regularly, although he’s not a genuine mid. I think having him running from the backline and between the arcs really suits him though, because it’s a good mix for him of being able to run and set up as well as put in some hard body work in close. He’s averaging over 20 disposals so far this year and in his last two games he’s had 29 and 26. Anyone getting that much of the footy really should have decent skills and I think he’s improved – the pass to Billings ideally would be his bread and butter. His thought process behind how he’s using the ball has progressed too and he’s definitely one of the bookies’ favourites for 2018-2022 Premiership Captain.

Next in that chain of play was Billings, who I must admit completely forgot existed until he took that big mark in the third quarter, a few minutes before the passage. He was a fair way out but surely they need to catch his inaccuracy out early. He’s kicked 7.10 and and a lot that he’s missed have been from pretty close range. Jack was pretty quiet with only nine touches and a behind. I’m not too fussed – he’ll have down weeks and he’ll probably need more weeks off at times. I think it says something that even when he’s quiet he’s still pulling down huge grabs and delivering long kicks forward to the perfect spot.

Which brings me to the end of the chain, My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs. Richo didn’t rave about him when he was brought up in the post-match interview, but I think that was had to do with both of Lamb genuinely needing to work more on his defensive game, which was a knock on him in the VFL early this year, and just keeping him on honest and focused psychologically. It was only his second game in the seniors for the year but already he was working harder and presenting further up the ground, and he took a few strong marks in his decent tally of seven.

I think with Lamb it seems a little more clear cut than fellow foil BIG RHYS BANDWAGON as to what exactly his role his in the team. He’s clearly a forward, and one that would roam around the arcs and pushing out. Obviously he needs a little more in the tank, and you could probably throw in Tom Lee to the same boat. Rhys had another pretty off night though. He started handsomely with some hard running on the flank and then a great kick to Roo, but that felt like it was pretty much it. He was also put in defence when Delaney went down, which did fark all for anyone except Travis Cloke.

There seems to be a little confusion over how many goals Tom Lee actually kicked in Friday’s mid-season VFL practice match. Richo came out and said it was five in both the presser and on SEN the following day, but the club site is saying it was three. By Richo’s own comments he won’t be playing for at least another week, but it sounds like he’s getting close. The anticipation is growing, too. Obviously different

Right now the forward set up is a clear structural problem. My Favourite Hair in the AFL is doing everything human possible in his situation to get things going, but some of the delivery on Friday night was absolute slop, otherwise you could expect the ball to have moved too slowly from further up the ground and for the Pies to have plugged any holes in our attack by the time it got anywhere near the arc. Even then, he can’t do it himself. Rhys needs to hit the scoreboard a lot, lot more, otherwise he’s going to end up in the territory he’s worked so hard to get out of, which is being in the side simply because of his height. Not sure about having both Hickey and Longer in the same team just yet. And I’m not one to harp on about Lewis Pierce’s famed leadership qualities, but he was second best only to Armo for the Zebras on Friday in his first hit-out coming back from some time on the LTI list. Because right now it’s going to take a lot more Lamb for the Favourite Hair-Bandwagon set-up to work.

But I’m not sure exactly how much more than a training run the Zebs had against Casey. Jimmy Webster was “omitted” from the senior side, presumably to be rested over the VFL’s state match weekend, but it sounds like he may as well have run around for Sandy in that one. Assuming he’s physically right to go next week I’m assuming you’d bring him back in. But who do you take out? It’s not a like-for-like for Delaney and Weller are both chances to miss so that problem might be sorted a little more easily.

Also of note in the younger guys department was Cameron Shenton. I’ve written him off billions of times, but like Sippa he’s built on his performances this year and 24 touches was at least on paper a handsome reward. He takes things on and there’s nothing about him or his appearance that suggest Rolls-Royce flair but he just charges through, even when he’s running through space. Whilst he’s mature-age, this was just his fourth game and there’s the occasional knock on his disposal (like just about every one of our guys) but he’s looking really comfortable with the ball in his hands and seems to know exactly where he needs to be.

Brodie Murdoch came in for his first game for the season after disappearing off the face of the planet in the first part of this year and played across half-back as well. I’m really just bringing him up to tick him off because he simply just needs more games. His win in the one-on-one with Elliott in front of the members was much appreciated by all. He finished with 15 touches and I’d be more than happy for him to be there next Saturday.

Going back to the ruck, Longer had 31 hit-outs but I have no idea if he played well. The Age had him in their best for the Saints but I wouldn’t have picked it. He doesn’t have the presence yet that Hickey does around the ground, and unless Roo, Rhys, Lamb and Tom Lee can sort that forward set-up out (Spencer White I’m not even considering right now)

For some reason CJ was the sub, but ended up playing all but five seconds of the game, because that’s how long it took for Steele Sidebottom to take out Mav Weller. Which is a real shame; I really like Mav and he really seems willing to work as hard he can to be in the senior side. He’ll definitely come back, but he might be a forced out for next week. Armo surely comes back in, and you’d think it would simply be a straight swap. Otherwise CJ’s in trouble because Dunstan we actually *need* and Tom Curren can actually kick an Australian Rules football.

Seb Ross you could probably throw in to the same group. Again, got a bit of the footy but I’m not exactly sure what he did with it. He’s an inside player but the one time he had the chance to look really good was in the second quarter when the Saints were up and about; Roo had just kicked a goal and Terry had put on a brilliant tackle to catch a Pie holding the ball in the centre. Seb ran past in space, but it seemed he wasn’t sure about the kick himself and couldn’t even hit a 50/50, let alone a St Kilda lead. Pick 24, huh? Give him more time. Give him more time regardless of his draft pick, but it’s reasonable to be unsure about things.

Terry, meanwhile was again really good. For once his presence without the ball made him feel as if he impacted the game more than his numbers suggested. Some good tackles and some chases, too. Only 14 touches but I think he might have found some mojo. If he could hit the scoreboard more that would really round things out.

On the flipside of small forwards, Adam Schneider was real custard. Five tackles was the most that could be said for his game, because that number very nearly matches his possession count. Has the game passed him by? Not sure if we’re at that point yet. We might be getting there, though.

Now, a quick look up at the TV on Friday afternoon would see our part-time ruck coach and Channel 9 megastar from The Block Darren Jolly lining up for the Pies, as well as now departed modern day club champs in BJ, Dal and Dean Polo.

That night we were wearing the second-phase version of the current clash jumper, with the bemusingly out-of-proportion horizontal white panel of the cross. On Friday night wore the Indigenous Round jumper in which this year, for the first time, all teams would participate in. It made for an incredibly ugly round of footy overall, although I think Adelaide and the Hawks absolutely nailed theirs. I’ll save the in-depth analysis for the upcoming next instalment of St Kilda Jumper Talk vol. One Million, but visually I wasn’t too keen on our version. I didn’t dislike it, more that it was incredibly subtle, especially from the stands (“stands” ≠ whatever the hell Etihad has). The incorporation of yellow could have been greater, but that, along with the very subtle diamond pattern breaking up the edges of the red and black slabs, created an almost gradient-like effect. But I could talk about this all day, which I will at some point this week.

For no reason I think it’s time to point out that Luke Dunstan’s name is spelt wrong on the players’ name magnets used on the whiteboard in the weekly Selection Insider (with the Watersun ad at the start featuring easy-listening Radiohead remix) on the club’s site. It’s just spelt “Dunston” but gee I thought he’d by now commanded a little more respect than that? He had 20 touches and a goal and I think he’s found an equilibrium for this year, or at least an equilibrium until he becomes hampered by the effects of the training and playing load of an AFL season. Still the necessarily eponymous favourite to lead the Newnes-Dunstan 2018-2022 era for mine.

For now? Nathan Buckley said Travis Cloke would soon tear a game apart. Would Friday night be that game? All signs pointed to “Yes of course, it’s St Kilda”. An interesting stat did pop up during the week – Luke Delaney is the number one player in the league for not conceding in one-on-one marking contests, having only been beaten in one out of 31 before Friday. Dare I say Cloke moved a lot more freely after Delaney got injured, but I think when you kick five goals and help yourself to 23 touches and 12 marks in an 86-point win then, yeah, I think you can say you’ve played a decent game. He obviously didn’t think he’d returned as he rejected a post-match interview with Channel 7, but if this is just a stepping stone to him playing really good footy then Collingwood are going to be very dangerous.

One of the bad things about having so few members this year is that the seats which haven’t been taken up are then available from the stadium for any supporter to purchase. We in Aisle 33 thus had a very large number of Collingwood supporters around us, and were far more numerous and vocal than us Saints. Another week, another thin cheer squad. At half-time in our Monday night *home* game against Carlton, for some reason at half-time the Blues put on a Mars promotion, Mars being a major sponsor of theirs, in the 50-metre arc at St Kilda’s cheer squad/members end. On Friday night outside the ground there was a large Renault promotion featuring a handball competition. Renault, of course are chiefly known in the AFL community as a major sponsor of Port Adelaide. Not only is the major corporate presence outside the ground an organisation not associated with the opposition, but one that’s not associated a team from the same state at all.

The eras of decline and rebuild of football clubs are not just felt on the ground and on the ladder, but on the bridge outside the ground and in the stands, too. It feels like the club itself just goes away for a while, waiting for that time when our hopes for the club are realistic and relevant again.

And maybe it wouldn’t be so bad

Round 3, 2014
West Coast Eagles 3.2, 5.4, 8.8, 12.11 (83)
St Kilda 1.5, 6.6, 7.8, 8.10 (58)
Crowd: 36,448 at Patersons Stadium, Saturday, April 5th at 4.40pm WST

Basically I feel like the mood is as if we’ve all taken some Lovan.

Actually, in my case I’ve taken some Oxynorm due to some follow-up surgery stitches, but I think I’d be feeling the same anyway after Saturday night’s positivity-laden loss.

Indeed it had plenty – Luke Dunstan was there doing Luke Dunstan stuff, Eli too, Jack Newnes – and it’s left us with an optimistic spin on things, but it’s also just brought us back to earth gently. The dizzying heights of two wins to open the season have given way to humbler ambitions for now, but as supporters they’re ambitions we feel we can take on with optimism.

In all honesty I went into the weekend expecting to have the floor mopped with us. Yes, we’d won two games from two, but they were against the two teams that finished below us on the ladder last year. West Coast had won two, yes, and against two sides that not many people rated, But they’d smacked them both, including Melbourne, who they beat by 76 points more than we’d beaten them one week previous.

The “House of Pain” is also a thing again, and the punters wielded their ridiculously bloated influence on how people perceive upcoming sports events and had the Saints beyond $13 for the win.

They were right in the end, but as Rich said shortly after the game, this was arguably St Kilda’s best performance of the year. For most of the game they were able to harass, break down and take on an opponent all of a sudden rated in the top handful of the competition.

It started slowly. In fact, I barely got to Rich’s Richmond RWB Headquarters for the bounce, fresh from the night before’s surgery and undersetimating the length from Bridge Road to his apartment. But that was ok, he and Tamar were to welcome me and pizza was there shortly after. It was the kind of game I thought I’d need several-plus beers for, but I had to settle for Coke.

Shuey quickly had two shots at goal against Tom Curren though, and the Coke was seeming a little weak. But slowly they turned the screws around the ground even on the vast expanses of Subiaco/Corporate Name Stadium space was becoming a premium. Geary’s chase on Le Cras was a feature, reprising the pressure he put on Coniglio late in the previous week’s match near goal.

It was apparent pretty quickly that the execution of the footy wasn’t up to scratch, and it was a theme that would run throughout the match and prove costly later on. CJ battled wilfully yet again, but twice going forward in the first quarter butchered good chances.

Two early subs threatened to throw things around for both sides – the luckless pair in Glibert and Le Cras – but as expected the Eagles’ big mean were the most threatening. The Saints couldn’t close the deal going forward and in very St Kilda-playing-interstate fashion the Eagles managed to work their way to Kennedy up the other end. Soon after some more hard work to get things forward came undone, and Darling was allowed to get around two Saints, hoisting it high for Savage to harmlessly float past the contest with his arms vaguely in the air and Sinclair taking the mark in front of goal.

I didn’t even see Gilbert before the shot of him injured on the bench came up. The club’s come out and said it’s severe bruising and soreness, so crucially nothing structural, but then crucially he’s out for 4-6 weeks anyway.

I have reservations about Saints.com.au using words like “phenomenal” to describe Dunstan’s game. Of course he played a great game, and in context you could deservedly throw in a whole bunch of stronger adjectives – after all this is this the best start to a young Saint’s career since…Dean Greig? Brett Knowles? Although those were probably limited to debut games. But “phenomenal” is when a Jimmy Bartel or Steve Johnson kicks three or four goals to with 20-plus possessions in a game in a premiership year. The good news is, Dunstan can’t have done too much more at this point in his career to demonstrate he’ll be as valuable to us as guys like that in the future.

The thing I took most out of the quarter time break, aside from more pizza, was that John Worsfold’s daughter has one of the fantastic modern “yellow peril” replicas. Surely West Coast have the biggest waste of potential when it comes to footy jumper designs. They’ve had great designs in the past which they’ve improved on now, such as the “traditional” away jumper, (notwithstanding the sidepanel details), but their home jumper is absolute custard. One half of the jumper is navy (dark), the other half is yellow/white (light). The useless panels on the back, the inexplicable presence of the white panel on the front…awful. Their training jumpers have long been much worthier of being the clash jumper as opposed to the token white effort.

So it’s hard to outright classify the game as “frustrating” given the context, but there were a number of frustrating moments even through the second quarter, which is where the Saints took some control of the game. BIG RHYS BANDWAGON actually wasn’t too bad, but he undid a lot of good work to slow the Eagles right down and have them static behind the centre circle. A wayward kick went straight to him but he dropped the simple mark, and the Eagles were lucky enough to take it away and end up with a shot at goal.

It took a really good Jimmy Webster effort to foil Kennedy but then once the Saints actually got things forward themselves Curren missed Eli, and whilst Rhys put in two good efforts to lead and mark Maister couldn’t get into the right position closer to goal and there was no one down to help out. Soon after Geary took the intercept mark that Rhys should have taken several minutes before and set up Roo, but Roo’s walk-in was poor and he shanked it. Maister followed it up by again not being able to get into position close to goal to be on the end of a good Savage entry. But things changed soon after that.

Regardless, I think Maister’s had enough chances at AFL level this season in which no one would entirely begrudge the coaching staff for dropping him for at least a week. He’s only kicked one goal from three games, although his primary role is to mostly lead further up from goal, and create either a link or goal kicking option that way. I think the conundrum here (already well acknowledged) is that he works admirably hard to provide that option and get to contests, but he simply won’t mark what he needs to. If anything it feels like the percentage quota he comes into the games with has decreased since last year. Given I don’t think there’s too much improvement left in him, ultimately the selectors will have to say to themselves – ok, do we want someone who we know will get to these contests and provide these options, but won’t take many marks is running at one goal every three games; or, after the weekend, do we give BIG TOMMY LEE a crack? (And the have to say “Big Tommy Lee” in capitals.)

Tom Lee has been given the excuse by the coaches for his quiet VFL form  in the past few weeks that he was behind in the pre-season, and he delivered on the promise that better was coming. Four goals in the VFL isn’t anything to sneeze at, despite some people talking it down in some unnamed forums. I’m not sure what else you want him to do? Ok, you know what? We’re taking the four goals off him. They’re gone. Now what do you want?

It was overshadowed only by Jack Billings’ last quarter theatrics and Jason Holmes’ comical attempt at a kick. I think for the first time since he joined the club CJ isn’t the most unreliable disposer of the ball. There’s a big chance Big Tommy isn’t even physically ready yet, but if he is then it’s worth finding out right now just how much he has in his tank (which has its own questions), how many marks he can hold, and how damaging he can be in front of goal.

There may or may not be an extra dimension to this. It’s BIG RHYS BANDWAGON, and in the last couple of weeks he’s started taking a few more stronger marks around the flanks and providing a valuable link. Without trying to complicate things even more for a hypothetical, even his role is linked somewhat to the ruck stocks of the day, but if he’s able to provide that link more often and more reliably – particularly if you can back in more contested situations – on top of Hickey more effectively floating floating, then Tommy Lee’s underdone tank for now might not be such an issue. He might also be able to impact on the scoreboard a little more.

Naturally, it was My Favourite Hair in the AFL that really sparked St Kilda’s move. Two goals in succession from a really strong mark and then to finish a nice passage featuring Rhys presenting high, and some great delivery from Eli. We’re all getting our rocks off with Eli’s actions in and around goal but his delivery to Roo several times this season has been great, and certain improvement on what he’s been used to for probably most of two of the past three seasons.

Eli was involved in the handball string with CJ that saw Dunstan creeping out the back, which was pleasing because in just his third game he knew exactly where to run probably when Eli got the ball, because by the time CJ found him he was well and truly on his way to goal.

Roo then began a counterattack that finished with Rhys making us all work harder as supporters than necessary and giving to Joey, who finished calmly from the pocket. My Favourite Hair had pushed well up the ground and drifted into the wide shot as the Eagles tried being patient, but he was in the right spot in the right time when they turned it over and he got things moving the other way.

The Eagles replied with Darling taking a huge mark at the top of the square. It became more noticeable as the second half wore on, but the Eagles’ talls allowed them to kick long and high into space or even to a contest in a dangerous spot and there would be Kennedy on the lead or Darling taking a grab. The Saints had to be incredibly precise if there were numbers back, and with Mackenzie wearing Roo like a glove guys like Joey and Dunstan were required to step up and take responsibility for hitting the scoreboard also. The great thing was that they did – Joey’s goal late in the second ensured we would go into the main break in front and that West Coast would lose their first quarter for the season – but more guys were needed to do the same and we only ended up with eight goals by the final siren.

Cruelly, it was Eli who gave us all the biggest hope of all of winning the game, before stalling the momentum by missing an easy goal just 15 metres out to widen the gap to three goals. His goal, however, was a set shot in the pocket and was quality.

Strangely, the goals effectively dried up from that point, just a few minutes into the second half. Dunstan (probably going early but I’m already tempted to add a, “Who else?”) was able to settle and kick an important set shot in the final quarter, but Eli’s miss was followed immediately by an arsey Priddis snap and it was the beginning of the end. I’m certainly not blaming Eli for throwing away potentially match-winning momentum, but if anything I’m highlighting because there simply weren’t enough petrol tickets to begin with. The GWS game a week earlier was a pretty tough affair, and the trip to Perth with a lot of inexperienced guys was going to be a heavy load to carry. And so it was.

The last quarter was rather joyless. The pressure was still there but had dropped, Jamie Cripps was kicking goals FFS, and things almost seemed to reach a point of damage control after having gone into the quarter only a goal down. It wasn’t a true highlight but the fact that the tired Saints kept the Eagles to “only” four goals in the quarter was encouraging in itself.

There are a few things to take out of this game. The loss itself wasn’t overly surprising given the context of where the teams were at heading into the weekend, but certainly for me the positives were much more pronounced than I thought they’d be.

Losing by 25 points was a head start; as I mentioned I gave us no chance whatsoever in the lead up. I’m certainly a cynic, but I’ve enjoyed getting on board the Richo/Eli/Dunstan bandwagon like nothing else in the past few weeks. And what the hell, throw Jack Newnes into there as well for some reason.

But it was the way they went about things, and it went right across the team. As Richo and anyone given media duties has said over the summer and the past couple of months, the focus was to be a competitive team that was tough to play against. And that’s exactly what they’ve done in the past few weeks. Obviously the skill set isn’t there yet and simply won’t be for another year or two at least, but we’ve now seen them bring a really strong style of play and mindset to a game against a more widely fancies side and it’s held up much better nearly everyone thought it would. Watters spoke a lot of big, positive words and I really liked that. I really do think that’s what he wanted this club to become (I’m referring to his “juggernaut” comment) and he wanted to do all the right things to make it happen. But come 2013 there was a disconnect between his words and what the team did on the field and what the team were gearing up to do that season. Yes, he came at an awkward time in terms of scheduling a plan for the short-to-medium term, but Richo is completely on message and has the players doing likewise both on and off the field.

The personnel having an effect is the obvious next point to mention. My Favourite Hair in the AFL is doing all sorts of great things, Armo looks like he’s taken at least half a step up so far this year, Joey’s been really solid, Farren’s close to his great 2009 form. and CJ, for all his faults, is one of the best examples in application on the field and on the training track. Dunstan, Saunders, Newnes, Hickey, Eli, Wright and others are all having varied effects on the game itself but it feels now that there presence has been positive for the team and themselves.

A quick mention to old mate Jamie Cripps: it increasingly looks like he won’t develop into too much more than a quick crumbing forward. Pick 24 in the draft – seriously, what the fark were they thinking? Throw Sam Crocker (such a failed project he doesn’t have his own Wikipedia page) and Tom Ledger on top of that from the 2010 draft. It really is amazing how bad the Ross Lyon-era draft recruiting was – as a supporter it genuinely upsets me how pathetic indeed the recruiters were in that time. As for Cripps, I’m not sure if the Eagles thought they’d get the speedy running back-flanker that we thought, but they certainly didn’t give up pick 24 for him, and that’s after he’d had two years of development. It does say a lot about what a traditionally strong team thought about our first round pick in a Grand Final year – a bit-player worth effectively a third-rounder.

As mentioned before, the weekend’s result was buoyed by the VFL performances of Billings and Lee, with a number of other guys across the ground putting in strong performances. Bruce, Simpkin, Ross, Milera (yes, he still exists); hell, even Jason Holmes looked good in the ruck and finished with 32 hit-outs. All of a sudden, there’s a little more structure to the place.

St Kilda won’t go in as favourites on Sunday, even though after two wins and a promising, honourable loss (there, I said it), they face an Adelaide Crows outfit that hasn’t won a game from three starts. I don’t think it’s just yet time to start declaring us certainties and looking down on the Crows as easybeats/also-rans/etc. Once everyone’s form settles we’re more than likely still going to be at the wrong end of the ladder (that’s ok, drafts are exciting in these eras). But this week I’m trying to make the most of being having reason look forward with some enthusiasm.

Great win/Mention Eli Templeton

Round 2, 2014
St Kilda 5,0, 8.1, 12.4, 15.5 (95)
GWS Giants 4.2, 9.3, 11.5, 13.10 (88)
Crowd: 19,640 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, March 29th at 1.40pm

In 1924 the Public Service Football Club was formed and proposed admission to an expanding VFL.

It was an attractive proposition for the VFL, who was in a long-running tussle with the VFA and had to also contend with the threat from rugby and the “British Association” code (football/soccer). The VFL was looking to expand its number of clubs from nine to at least 10 (in part to eliminate the bye), as well as carry out a huge powerplay against all three foes by taking control of what would become the Olympic Park site, the Amateur Sports Ground, previously known as the Motordome (motor races were also held there). What made the Public Service Football Club a convenient addition to the League was that it was backed by Melbourne Carnivals Pty Ltd, which had the rights the site. Plans were made for a 100,000-capacity stadium on the site which Public Service would play out of, but the stadium itself would also allow the League to have its own major stadium and not be held at the whim of the MCC just over the railway line.

The idea of the League’s own stadium would eventually bear some sort of fruit in the form of Waverley, which was initially planned to be a 157,000-capacity stadium (some say 140,000 and others 166,000) and to host all Grand Finals from the time the ground’s planned redevelopment was completed around the mid-1980s. However, the MCC would remain a bugbear to the VFL – the State Government refused to approve the plans to extend the Members’ stand all the way around the stadium as it had interests in the MCG and didn’t want to threaten its hold on the biggest day of the footy caldendar.

Meanwhile, the Public Service Football Club never made it out onto the ground. They eventually withdrew their VFL application late in 1924 and were provisionally accepted into the VFA before Melbourne Carnivals backed out, and they disbanded. The VFL had cooled on the idea of admitting the chess piece, too, eventually showing it had learned the lesson of non-district club University’s failed admission 16 years previous and opted for three district clubs – Footscray, Hawthorn, and North Melbourne, who narrowly edged out Prahran. In another display of strength by the League over its Association counterpart, the VFL obtained State Government permission to take on North Melbourne into its ranks, and take away the VFA’s most central ground in Arden Street – a move the Government had thwarted in 1921. The League had effectively opted for one chess piece over another, but chose the one that actually stood for something.

One of the obvious questions to come from the Public Service proposal was that, being a non-district team like University, where would their supporters have come from? It’s a question worth asking particularly considering their home ground could fit 100,000, and was one that was posed at the time. Who exactly would they be representing? I don’t think public servants already supporting a club would drop everything and suddenly jump on the [Insert club nickname here]. Those involved involved with the club were certainly confident of “ample” support. Although not a huge focus at the time, the branding would obviously be difficult – University, still the only non-district club to have competed at the highest level, were referred to by the organic but rather dry nicknames of “The Professors”, “The Students” and “The Shop”. Not sure how the Public Service would have gone with that. What about their colours? What about their song? If they managed to survive the Depression and then World War II, surely the idea of a profession-based team would seem outdated and untenable in the long run anyway. Most probably they would have morphed into a very central Melbourne team or shipped out to an outer growth corridor with a generic name, perhaps similar to that of “Melbourne City Football Club” in the VFA. Or “Greater Western Sydney”.

Whilst the VFL would eventually see off the VFA threat, effectively killing off the competition and its clubs’ identities and then swallowing it to the point where it’s now, indeed, called the VFL, the code wars involving Rugby League and Association Football never quite went away. The now AFL still had (and has) large untapped markets in Queensland and NSW to capture – i.e. Rugby strongholds that needed to be tempered, and growing Assocation following that needed to be thwarted. New chess pieces were required. A presence on the Gold Coast had been established with the Brisbane Bears from the late 1980s, and so the idea and formation of a Gold Coast-based team to take on the NRL’s Titans and Queensland’s strong Association popularity was a long time coming (and for a while was simply dependent on when North Melbourne made up their minds as to whether they wanted to be shipped up there or not).

“Greater Western Sydney” was likewise created out of nothing to give the AFL a slow-burning powerplay against the NRL and FFA in potentially the most lucrative of those untapped markets; a region that is almost a city in its own right with a growing population that is currently over 1.6 million. The Association presence there is growing, and it includes NRL giants (so to speak) Penrith Panthers, as well as West Tigers. Unlike those that talked up the Public Service Football Club proposal, the AFL has publicly been very conservative in talking up the fanbase prospects of both GWS and Gold Coast for the short term. In an attempt to fast track the building of support for both teams, the AFL gave them every draft concession possible over the last several years. When GWS beat the Swans in Round One, it announced the biggest step the young “club” had taken on its way to becoming an on-field juggernaut.

For now the question remains – who are the GWS players playing for? Who would support them? With branding a huge necessity, GWS for now is more a brand than an organically-created football club playing for its loyal members. It’s Brand AFL, a collection of the best talent possible assembled to showcase the game for potential fans in Sydney’s West. Their colours were officially chosen to represent the sunset of the Blue Mountains – a nice sentiment but more likely orange was chosen because it’s on-trend and unique to the league. The name “Giants” was chosen over four others (Stallions, Pride, Wolves, Rangers) most probably because for impatient sports fans who don’t have too much time for sport but are apparently what the AFL will drop everything for, “GWS Giants” is more fun to say because of the alliteration.

As for Saturday afternoon, the players were (apparently) playing for the 20 fans behind the Coventry end goals wearing orange novelty wigs and orange novelty robes. Which was strange, because the GWS Twitter account had posted a picture of some of the cheer squad looking rather respectable before the game. Obviously they have some backroom staff doubling as costume and wardrobe designers.

If there’s one thing GWS got incredibly right it’s the song. It’s probably my favourite in the league – it sounds big, it moves; it sounds like an appropriately ominous anthem for juggernaut team wearing charcoal who, rather than having any visible support, seem more like a monolith standing in the way of everyone else and their dreams. That will be realised when they run out onto the MCG on Grand Final Day in the coming years.

And so it was on Saturday. I was in an incredible rush to get to the game specifically so I could hear the song – I wasn’t able to go to the 2012 meeting at Corporate Name Stadium (the day we wore the newspaper/”Thank You” jumper, and should have won by a club record margin) so this was my first time hearing it in person, apart from the hundreds of times I’ve played it in my room. It was everything I wanted it to be.

You wouldn’t know too many more people were excited to them run out and play at all. Great goals and dramatic goals that threatened the Saints throughout the match were met either with audible exasperation from the St Kilda members’ wing, or, such as Giles’ fourth goal in the last, stunned silence barely overcome by a brief whisper at the away end once the umpire signals a goal.

On the field, where the actual stuff happened however, this game was a really good tussle between what seemed two evenly matched, youthful teams, only with that weird invisible force of the AFL’s desires backing the Giants throughout. Patton, Cameron, Greene, Scully, Smith, Boyd, Treloar, Coniglio, Ward, Whitfield, Shiel, Davis…they’ll get their way eventually. But they didn’t manage to on Saturday, despite all the hype and confidence spilling over from the shock Round 1 win. Their players’ reaction on the siren was that of a team who had truly built themselves up for a game they thought they were going to win. I’m not an aggressive supporter in any way, but have to admit I felt a strange surge of something as I watched the Giants’ players standing and slumping solemnly after the siren. For the first time GWS actually counted for something as an opponent, and this weird growing monster had been beaten. It had been beaten by a team that had given loyal and long-suffering fans something of their own to look forward to in the coming years.

I’m under no illusions here – I think we’re gonna get our arses handed to us at Subiaco/Corporate Name Stadium on Saturday. Eli, Dunstan, Hickey, et. al. have played pretty well two weeks in a row and I wouldn’t be bullishly expecting these young guys to back it up again so soon, and against opposition like that.

But that’s not the point about this season. 2014 isn’t about 2014. It’s about the years following.

A highlight for all of us was Eli running past My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s spilt ball up against the boundary in the last quarter, taking it on himself to to the 50-metre arc and deliver a perfectly-weighted ball to Dunstan in the square who was closely marked. My brother Matt turned to me in our new level 1, aisle 33 seats and said, “That’s the future right there”. He said it quite facetiously but at the same time was entirely serious – these are the kinds of plays we’re going to be seeing time and time again over the coming years.

So let’s get it out of the way and start with Eli, shall we? I had surgery a few weeks ago for compartment syndrome and shin splints, and when he kicked that goal on the run in the third to bring things back to seven points I jumped up so quickly to celebrate I thought I’d split one of the cuts wide open, and split another that was already open even further. Fortunately there was no excess damage done, so I can retain that memory as a fond, clean one.

Eli only had 11 touches but so many of them were quality. There was the aforementioned goal, taking a mark from a Nathan Wright hook and getting his skates on, and there was what proved to be the match sealer after CJ totally ruined covering Big Tom Hickey in glory, who was about 20 metres closer to goal than where the kick landed. It was more about his composure in a huge moment that was impressive. He started pretty well too, pressuring the much more experienced/incredibly huger Josh Hunt to the boundary line, and there was a great delivery to Roo on the members wing (which ended in Farren’s goal), which he reprised in the third quarter. There was another moment where he had the ball in the same spot where Roo gestured to kick down the line to around the 50-metre arc where there were big number from both sides, but he paused and decided to go to the middle to switch the play and we ended up with a scoring opportunity.

It was probably fair GWS went in favourites. It’s easy to compare them to Gold Coast ad nauseum, so I will. Even though they’re a year behind they look a lot more hardened and wired to play more physically. As slick and increasingly entertaining the Suns are to watch, I think GWS might have a more effective balance going forward and when I think that they’ll be operating a forward line featuring Cameron, Patton and Boyd in it not only do I prefer watching them more even now, but I think judging only on what we’ve seen they’ll be more successful in the long run.

Things started just that way with GWS keeping things difficult in close, forcing a lot of sideways, short or ineffectual kicks and handballs. At the nine-minute mark the scoreboard showed the possession tally at 32-7 the Saints’ way, but within one minute and two GWS kicks scores were level. For much of the quarter they simply looked cleaner and more efficient.

I think the Giants sensed the Saints weren’t handling the attention well. A pleasing moment was Dunstan being unable to be brought down by a couple of opponents in traffic, and when Giles gave Roo a shove after the ball had cleared the boundary it was he and Hickey that came in to have a crack. It took time, but eventually the physical pressure was evenly matched and both as a spectacle and in terms of crowd involvement (read: the 32 people that were there involvement) things hit a new level.

Yes, it’s unbelievable to think now but for a while early in the game it looked as though Beau Maister couldn’t drop a thing, even if the contest involved only him and a teammate. He even got the Bronx cheers first up when he was part of the chain that led to Joey’s first goal. But his disposals were typically awful, and by the time the game was well into the second quarter he was back to spilling all and sundry. I’ve said before he operates as if he comes into each game with the same percentage quota of marks to actually hold on to, regardless of degree of difficulty. I feel like this year he’s really lowered that number. So much so an older person sitting just behind declared that “If Maister is selected again next week, I’m going to write the club an email”. I left it.

So perhaps it was ironic (not sure if that’s the technically correct use of the word) that he was instrumental in the final goal (as was CJ’s royal botching of a right-foot kick – see the reverse angle replay for confirmation he was looking for Hickey closer to goal), creating chaos when he hit the pack, giving CJ the chance to take it away in space. Maister’s work ethic can’t be questioned. He gets to everything, but very few teams would have it good enough a player that gets to everything but can’t hold the mark. Tom Lee hasn’t been showing enough just yet at Sandy to make that second forward position his, and Spencer White isn’t near it yet so we might not really have an option for another week.

Speaking of some bigger maybe or maybe not holding their marks, BIG RHYS BANDWAGON took several really nice contested marks high up around the 50-metre arc, but also comically dropped one when there was a brilliant miscommunication with Maister on the wing in the last quarter. He dropped one or two other gimmes, and missed two set shots at goal from a nearly identical spot. The encouraging thing was, however, was that it looked like for much of the game he’d got his positioning around the ground right and was taking the marks in the right spots. He’ll need to keep it up otherwise he’s going to revert to simply being in the side because he’s tall and quick without the footy. MY FAVOURITE PLAYER Arryn Siposs had an improved performance in the VFL on the weekend but would still be a few very good performances away and perhaps injury before looking like playing.

So it  was left to Hickey as the second big man to make their presence felt up forward. It was the best game of St Kilda’s Own Stephen Merchant‘s career – three goals, 19 possessions, and telling aerial contest at both ends of the ground, finishing with eight marks. A number of people on forums (lol) and in the media (also lol sometimes) have questioned why the Saints let Big Ben go, but as Roo said last night on AFL 360 Hickey has played his two best games in the past two weeks and certainly on Saturday had a profound impact on the outcome of the game. He was made The Post-Match Interview Guy for the Week and noted that he set himself to use his athleticism to exert his influence in the one-on-one contest throughout the game, with Mumford’s huge frame meanwhile allowing him a comfortable 46-20 in the hit-outs.

Hickey’s follow up work has notable improved, too, but he’s barely played the game for half a decade and will be prone, like all the young guys, to inconsistency throughout the season. He’s got Big Cox and Nic Nat to contend with on Saturday, and that could end in kinds of sad if next week is a “down” week for the youth brigade.

For the second week in a row, however, the ultimate difference was My Favourite Hair. It’s hard to come up with anything that hasn’t already been said about Roo, let alone the attention he’s been given after two wonderful performances. Five goals, was involved in setting up more, but it was both his willingness and rare ability to step up and work hard when the game was on the line. To lead that much harder, to make that much more of a contest, to read the play well enough to know exactly how to do it all to maximum effect. Given his knee condition it seems impossible that he’d be able to keep up this kind of form throughout the season, but given his reaction after the siren over the past two weeks it looks like he’s got reasons that he really believes in to keep going. I always do fear he’s an injury away from the end of his playing days. He wants to play finals again; though unlikely that would be something wonderful to see.

GWS for much of the game had the ascendency and as I felt at half-time looked essentially a goal or two away from truly busting the game open. Even with Cameron and Patton well-held Smith and Giles chipped in for five and four respectively, and things felt very St Kilda-esque for players like that to all of a sudden decide to kick career-high (or at least equal-high in Giles’ case) goal hauls. Strangely, the tide turned with Dempster’s quite risky decision to play on from a free kick outside 50 and in less space than ideal rocketed a goal. He’s been a bit accident prone at times up to that point, but he was crucial alongside Ray, Gilbert, Delaney and Gwilt in that mad last quarter as they thwarted GWS’s numerous manic attempts to find a goal.

Ray again played what I thought was an unheralded role. His goal really was classy, but he put himself in the right spots so many times in defence and found plenty of the ball around the ground too.

It was great to have Lenny and Joey back. I know that Lenny didn’t get as much of the footy as he usually did, there was some real quality in his disposals and he even led like the consummate professional forward in that last quarter. Joey was good too of course – 25 possessions and a goal, but his experience and leadership is invaluable also, like Lenny’s.

The there was Armo, who collected 29 touches, a goal and a mark of the round nomination, captured best by this wonderful Wayne Ludbey shot which I’m sure will follow his career around. He’s looking bigger this year and using his frame to the team’s advantage. Whilst his numbers might go up and down – hopefully he can maintain them this year – his frame allows him to do the physical stuff that doesn’t get counted but really force the issue in tight.

Pleasingly, the tackle count was led by Tom Curren with seven. He was quiet otherwise but showed that he was ready to but his body on the line even if he wasn’t finding the footy himself. Also pleasing is that just behind him were Delaney, CJ, and Dunstan with six. CJ had his moments – he actually managed to hit a target with his right in the third quarter on the members wing, which everyone audibly approved of whilst finding comical.

Then there was Shane Savage. I actually thought in a game like that, bringing Josh Kelly on in his debut match wouldn’t be worth as much as a Shane Savage coming on and exerting himself in the middle and when the ball needed to be moved quickly forward, and would work in the Saints’ favour. Though given not a huge amount of time, it felt as though he had little influence. Numbers-wise, he had five kicks in his short time on the field which certainly isn’t bad, but it was Kelly that really impressed with 11 touches. He’s obviously incredibly raw physically but he really did apply himself well. I must admit that a few weeks out from last year’s draft I was hoping the Saints would get him, as at the time there was still talk Aish or Scharenberg might go as high as pick two, and with Boyd the obvious first pick it left Kelly, Billings also potentially available. I’m absolutely stoked to get Billings – he was my clear favourite for pick three once it was clear GWS would go with Kelly – but at the time I just thought the list’s situation called more for a pure midfielder. That’s been tempered by Dunstan for sure, as far as boosting midfield stocks go (they’re obviously different types of players though).

Dunstan again was impressive, taking the initiative to get physical in tight and his mark to finish off Eli’s delivery to the goal square in the last was really good. In talking with Rich and Nate I’ve struggled to articulate properly what they and everyone else can see – he’s ready to go. I can’t remember the last time a new young player made such an immediate impression and impact on the group and on the field. Nathan Wright had a great debut last year with a few good games following before injury, but that was in a weaker side and Dunstan’s game has more impact on the match as a whole. He actually looks like a farkin’ footballer; in fact I think I trust him as a player because he comes across as so un-St Kilda like. Sure of himself, someone that has led and someone that knows success – he was South Australia’s captain in their Division 1 Premiership at the U18’s National Championships last year. Easy to say in hindsight but I look at his first two games and compare them to what was shown by and became of Alistair Smith, Brad Howard, Justin Sweeney, and Nick Heyne. So far, we’ve got the first part right.

From my seats I must say the fans really have taken to the younger guys. It felt like people were very encouraging to the younger guys and understanding where they were at – Saunders was busy early particularly, but actually got a positive reception simply for his willingness to keep the ball moving in front front of him heading into attack in the first (in the lead up to Armo’s mark).

Nathan Wright’s well and truly back and in everyone’s good books too. His second and third efforts were really good and I love his willingness to hold on to the ball and take just enough time to make the right decision or take on his opponent. Like Dunstan, I like him because he doesn’t come across as having a St Kilda background.

Not sure about next week. I think Savage deserves another chance – particularly against a more experience side in the Eagles – but The Only Ross at St Kilda had 33 touches at Sandy and Billings got four quarters of game time. Milera was good too by all accounts, meaning he’s strung a few decent performances together and might be better as a straight swap for Savage. But right now I haven’t even registered that he’s still on the St Kilda list. Dylan Roberton did fark all, and if he’s replaced it would come down to team balance. Maybe Head Simpkin, maybe Josh Bruce, maybe Dunell, but I doubt it. Sam Fisher and his magnificent hair are still probably more than a week away, too.

Saturday afternoon footy is still king. Easy to say that, and easy to say I had a great time in hindsight too knowing that St Kilda did win. But the late third quarter rush had us all feeling good about footy again. Yes, Round 2; yes, two wins against the only two teams that finished below us last year. There are different reasons for the excitement this year, however. It was a great day at the footy watching St Kilda.

Who knows? Maybe it’s GWS that the Saints will be facing off with on the last Saturday in September some time later this decade. I actually thought briefly that this felt like the kind of game St Kilda and Geelong might have played early last decade. But at the time, the burden of history was great and paralleled between both clubs. Cruelly, when teams like St Kilda, the Bulldogs and Melbourne would be aiming for a successful period it’s GWS and the Gold Coast that would have established themselves up the top of the ladder, with plans to set up camp indefinitely. Any rivalry a club like St Kilda would have built with a franchise like GWS would be based on the here and now. GWS may count for something more than just an opponent. Rather, a weird monster, an AFL HQ-backed force, looking to crush a team hoping to give its loyal and long-suffering fans something of their own to look back on over the years.

Cloudy with a massive chance of a demoralization

Care factor levels amongst the wider saints supporter base have reached levels we haven’t seen in a decade.

After a couple of embarrassingly low weeks on the field, topped off with one of ‘players of the future’ being charged as a drug cheat (pending B sample test), it’s almost like the Footy Gods are looking down upon us from the bleachers with glee as we’re about to be consumed by a beast of the competition.

Unfortunately (fortunately?) I’ll be taking in the game via the tube; it’s come to that point where deciding whether to go to a Saints game live is a test of how much pain you’re willing to go through for two hours. Well, it is when you’re coming up against such a strong opposition anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I’m paid up and proud, and quite keen to suit-up for the club’s Best & Fairest in a few weeks, but I’ll be honest: I’m not game to have a cream pie tossed in my face for two hours surrounded by brown and gold at our home ground after a hectic week at the office. I’m looking forward to returning to Corporate Stadium for round 22, though. Gary Ablett and all that.

Speaking of the Corporate Dome, it almost wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Scott Watters (ironically) carry out his post-game address to the players out on the baron Etihad turf – a-la Blighty at our lowest ebb ten years ago – in the name of exposure.

Smurf was correct in saying that the players will learn inch by inch, which actually precisely feels like the velocity at which this club is throwing itself into the future. Ironically, the fastest man at the club’s development has been so snail-like that being thrown back to TBBO was on the cards (despite being threadbare in the talls department at the time) until Dylan Roberton’s concussion symptoms bailed him out.

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