Round 15, 2014
St Kilda 1.2, 5.4, 9.7, 11.7 (73)
Richmond 6.2, 10.4, 13.7, 18.9 (117)
Crowd: 28,487 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, 28th June at 2.10pm
“You’ve got to win a game.”
– Mark Robinson to St Kilda Football Club CEO Matt Finnis, late on Saturday morning
Not so fast, Robbo.
Robbo was part of the SEN 1116 team interviewing our CEO before the game on Saturday, and had built up some of his customary rambling momentum to the point where it’s often difficult to tell if he’s just thinking aloud or actually is communicating his most considered thoughts.
On the surface, his statement is so obvious it wouldn’t be out of place in the first few dot points in the “Rules of the Game” documents, just to get the housekeeping out of the way “Shall be played on a field”, etc.).
If you think I’m heading towards encouraging tanking territory, well, I would be. But the problem is I can’t anyway, and nor can you, because this team simply doesn’t look like winning a game anyway.
Look, to be completely honest I actually quite like Robbo. I enjoy how passionate he is about the game as a whole, and how emotionally invested he gets in all of its issues and stories, whether they be good or bad or somewhere in between – this is more entertaining on AFL360 because you can actually see it on his face and in his mannerism and gesticulations. I say all this with an asterisk denoting his Essendon bias and conspiracy theorising in the ASADA case, and this article.
Anyway, his advice certainly wasn’t lost on Finnis, but he and the club knows it. Finnis, in between Robbo sharing his ideas during his one-person brainstorm session, spoke about the club needing to hit free agency very hard in the next couple of seasons, again reinforcing the club’s plan to get the absolute best possible out of the next couple of drafts first.
We can already bank some high draft picks this year and most probably next year, too. I want that Number 1 draft pick, I want Patrick McCartin, and we’re now a game clear at the bottom after the Lions beat the schizophrenic North. It’s falling into place for that prized, occasionally abused first pick, or least until GWS want to flog off Jeremy Cameron or Jonathon Patton because they’re homesick. I’ll take either of those guys too.
Richo was looking the other way in his weekly Selection Insider appearance, calling the ground by its 2003-2008 name “Telstra Dome”, and then talking up Jack Billings after his “Norwich Rising Star” nomination during the week. I was expecting him to reveal Jason Heatley’s return to the side but we had to settle for Big Rhys up forward.
Ah, 2-for-1 day. We finished with a crowd number of 28,487, which means we didn’t break even with Etihad Stadium, and that’s on top of possibly losing a whole bunch of cash on people who turned up for the freebies. I’m not sure what the specifics would have been between the club, the AFL and the stadium, but given we didn’t crack the 30,000 break-even mark we can put this one down as a loss off the field to go with the smacking we all watched on it.
Sadly the New Zealand jumper alone wasn’t able to bring more people through the turnstiles on what was also “NZ Theme” day, which basically equated to the team wearing the NZ jumper, a whole bunch of merchandise being further discounted in the truck and the conveniently-timed announcement of NZ-based Liz Dawson as a club director. If anything, Finnis dampened the theme a little when he categorically stated on SEN that St Kilda wouldn’t be moving to NZ. Tasmania it is then.
I think the NZ jumper is incredibly close to being really good. Things head south, literally, on the bottom half though. Have the middle white strip the same as the home jumper and take away the fine pattern over the red, and all of a sudden you essentially have a bold redesign of the home jumper. Just look at Rhys’s post-match interview with Melbourne fan Tom Morris (I only found that out this week) – you’re only able to see the top half of his jumper, and with the black panels on both sides of the white stripe with the logo visible too, it’s an awesome start. Clean up the back too to reflect the front half more closely and you’re getting closer still to a winner.
Otherwise, Saturday was sadly one of the inevitable games you get in these eras in which you just can’t take away too much from. You can excuse the younger guys for a quieter week, that’s fine, but for the guys who simply aren’t relevant to the club’s list the next time we’re genuinely pushing for a flag these games just feel like wasted energy. I’m talking both guys who will simply have retired by then due to age, or younger guys who either don’t look likely or will need to be replaced/upgraded on by presumably higher draft picks, free agents and traded guys over the next couple of years.
Strange that both Richo on SEN on Friday and then Finnis pre-match highlighted how Shenton was to them a really good example of player development in the face of adversity hitting the older guys. In fact I think Finnis coined the term which will no doubt be on the lips of list managers nationwide soon: “Discovering a Shenton”. True, he’s really shown form and rightfully earned respect within and outside of the club for the way he’s worked himself off the rookie list. I feel a little silly for writing this paragraph because yesterday was his eighth game (Jack Billings has played more games FFS). But Shenton is the kind of player in which I’m not sure how much more improvement there will be in what he does, but rather that improvement will come more in how much of it he does within a game. He’s certainly not poster boy quality yet.
You look to your Billings and Dunstans (*muffled* and McCartins) to be the poster guys for the club because they have innate qualities and a professionalism to their games despite their age. Mr. 100% had a bit of a come down after his big week, last only a couple of touches before breaking his perfect streak with a wayward pass to Terry in the forward pocket. He had a couple of good follow up efforts in traffic early, but once the ball the spilled out the Tigers were off and away. Jack Riewoldt look like he was going to double his best tally against us, taking four inside 50 marks in space as the Tigers players ran in numbers through the middle once the ball became free and left Delaney in all sorts. He only finished with two for some reason, but it didn’t matter.
The fourth one came after My Favourite Hair in the AFL had missed a shot at our end. Still yet to find a major, and Richmond went straight up the other end. It became a running theme, the ease with each several Tigers cruised through no one in particular in numbers to get the ball to Jack and, thanks to a tweak in his game and lack of quality one on our part, Trent Cotchin. The man with the annoyingly not-quite-good hair – in fact, it’s shithouse, the whole thing is at least 1cm too big both on top and the sides – played as good a game as a Tigers fan would have wanted him to play on Saturday. Five goals and 31 touches. He actually kicked his third from the bounce straight after Jack’s aforementioned goal, earning Rich’s newly-coined title of “Billings of the Round”.
It got turned up in the second quarter, which to begin with we were 30 points in arrears. Shane Savage, who actually played a pretty good game (and all of a sudden looks a likely find), sent into a attack an absolute floater with the Tigers pounced on. They went straight up the ground with minimal resistanct and Cotchin snapped his fourth goal. Billings, who we genuinely look to for some class in delivery, was right on 50 near the boundary in space and went to no man’s land. Straight back up for a goal.
Sav continued to work hard but put in another questionable forward 50 entry (again from about 25m from the arc – I think both times he tried kicked the cover off the footy), and shortly following that Jack Steven, our reigning Best and Fairest winner and widely regarded as untouchable come trade time, kicked another forward 50 entry out on the full.
And straight back up for a Tigers goal.
Shenton soon after didn’t have any awareness on the run towards goal and got worried out of the shot.
Straight back up again.
Then the momentum swung and the pressure lifted. For the first time we were able to hold it in the front half for an extended period, with two particularly good chances for a meaningful entry. Jack scrubbed another one.
And straight back up again, for Newman to mark in the pocket and kick the goal after the siren. All the pressure was effectively wasted, and Richmond went into half time
At some stage through the second term – probably just before we grabbed the momentum back a little – it felt as if the game should have well and truly been put to bed. Somehow we were still in it, although at best we’d only hover on or just above the three-goal mark for much of the third quarter, without getting nearer to put some serious doubt into the Tigers’ minds. Newnes had a shot after the siren to not just make up for Newman’s at half-time but give us a real sniff but missed.
For a home crowd of 28,487, the members’ section – particularly the cheer squad – looked remarkably thin. Another home game that doesn’t particularly feel like a home game at all. Richmond’s cheer squad and supporters packed the opposing end, which The closest we got to any sort of “atmosphere” being created by us Saints fans was basically Minchington excellent running goal on a tight angle in the third quarter. He’d been on the ground for all of 15 seconds too, and it was a good sign (at the time anyway) that it had come from Terry backing himself to go for a four-bounce run with Big Rhys the link between him and Darren.
Minchington was a rare highlight to take out of the game. That goal itself certainly was from a team perspective, because instead of that really lifting the side Cotchin kicked his fifth goal immediately after, followed by Roo and Newnes missing from set shots. But as far development goes he showed that he wanted to compete and get involved, and there was also the quality bullet pass to Roo (the aforementioned miss). Two goals and six touches is pretty good for someone playing the small forward role in their fourth game and being given just 40 minutes to show something.
BIG RHYS BANDWAGON isn’t quite rolling yet but I thought he was OK. There was a period in the third quarter particularly when he found himself in the 50 metre arc and struggling to find the right positioning to mark the footy, almost as if he was caught between using his height and reaching over his opponent or trying to get away from them. Which was kind of annoying given his physique. He find himself one-out with Cotchin and enjoying a 15cm height advantage (and probably the same in arm length), but looked anything like winning the duel, and this was after Mav Weller had earlier outbodied Ivan Maric (despite conceding 18cm) and taken a grab in their one-on-one marking contest.
Rhys actually took a couple of decent marks – and ended with eight – and two goals. I don’t know if we’re any more or less convinced he’s a long-term solution though, but at worst I reckon he’s a very, very handy player to have on the list and I do think he can still improve. A lot will hinge on the next two drafts and trade periods where he actually fits into the side’s structure but I think he’s roughly in the right spot.
The other potential piece of the forward puzzle in Head Simpkin had a very similar game to the previous. One goal, although this one was pretty decent from around 50, and a huge tackle but that was pretty much it. I’m just not sure where he’s at right now. I’m not sure where any of it’s at right now; Roo can’t even get off the ground.
The experiment might have a new addition sooner rather than later. Richo’s comments about looking to play Spencer White before the end of the season were immediately followed by an indication that they wanted him to really hit the pre-season to come out firing next year. And maybe that spurred him on, or at least just made him more comfortable, because he came out and kicked three in the first half on Sunday IN THE SENIORS for Sandy. He could have kicked a few more if not for inaccuracy, too. He’s essentially been forgotten this season in calculations for the future forward set up of this club, with Rhys, My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs and Big Tommy Lee all tried whilst he’s sat out injured or doing freak knows what in the Development League.
Tommy Lee, on that note, kicked four in the same game. I don’t know if that’s enough for him to come straight back in but I’d be betting that unfortunately Head’s gonna be omitted this week. Spencer wouldn’t come in just yet either and, also unfortunately, Lamb might be injured. I think it would be very interesting to see Roo, Rhys and Tommy Lee in the same forward line, with Rhys staying higher up and Lee and Roo leading out from closer to goal (or perhaps Lee coming up higher also). We saw Roo, Rhys and Head trialled together on Sunday so I don’t think it would be farfetched if the selectors this week thought Tommy Lee would be able to make a bigger contribution than his last couple of outings.
As the smaller guys, I think Minch earned another game and it would be good to see him start. Terry might be in danger of losing his spot to Schneids, now that he’s put in a couple of very busy performances at Sandy, or to maybe Josh Saunders who’s likewise had good back-to-back games. Terry kept his tackle count high at five and was part of the set-up of the Minch goal but he just went missing otherwise.
Interestingly, Big Billy Longer had his best game for the Saints – and it was still just his 18th overall – but still might be supplanted by St Kilda’s Own Stephen Merchant in Tom Hickey. Big Tom was again in the best for Sandy and the side is really missing his presence around the ground and his ability to drift forward to half-decent affect. Billy actually made a far bigger contribution around the ground that his previous appearances however, using his frame at stoppages to help out teammates (he finished with an impressive seven tackles) and also kicked a goal. But he’s still not quite hitting packs in the forward line as hard or as effectively as he should. He’s there – he’s got that much covered – now he’s just got to do stuff.
Now, a change in course: Jimmy Webster. Shame he’ll be out for a week but showed again not just his good disposal but some real grunt in his game which is looking like playing more prominent role in his game going forward than we thought. My favourite part was his hit on Dusty, who’d picked off Mav as the man on the mark on the wing. The kick went to centre half-forward and Webster went after Dusty and put him on the deck. That’s the kind of thing you want to see the young guys starting to do – flying the flag for your teammates.
Maybe it’s time for Clint Jones to come out of the team. Maybe it’s not. Maybe Terry and CJ out for Schneider and Saunders? Otherwise I couldn’t fault anyone else I haven’t already mentioned, it’s just that they all had “ok” days. Armo did some physical stuff but went missing at times, and according to Crackers Keenan in Inside Footy the Lions might be after him which, if true, gives us a chance to get some decent picks in the trade period (he also said Freo is keen on Tommy Lee). Seb R0ss was alright again but continues to look more comfortable with the ball and taking enough time to properly weigh up his options, whilst Mav Weller was Billingsed by Cotchin in the first quarter but won some of his own footy from there. Throw Shenton and Billings into the “‘Yeah, I guess?’ – With Upside” pile.
I’ve probably undersold Sav a little too. He’s looking more and more like the player we wanted to have at the club when we traded Big Ben.
Genuine hope and momentum generated by a bunch of high draft picks and free agency recruits is the road we’re going down if we’re to avoid dour days at the footy. Low crowds, low quality Australian Rules football. We can only hope the guys in charge do it right, because that’s the only way the club will get the supporters and untapped famous populace from “Port Melbourne to Portsea” to turn up and sign up for a membership. I hope this is the only 2-for-1 day the club needs to have.
When Finnis was talking about bringing talent to the club in the next couple of years he stated, “We won’t die wondering”. Like the recruiting of Gehrig and Hamill fast-tracked development of the side that had just recruited Riewoldt, Koschitzke, Dal Santo, Montagna and Goddard, the young group that will be representing this 141 year-old club over the next couple of years will need to boosted, and if not piloted, by some real and a little more mature quality. That comes later, though. If you can stomach it, the next year or two will be all about getting the best younger guys to the club. That’s how raw the project is.
With the club’s finances in a pit and the forecast for growth from memberships and stadium deals minimal over the teething stage for this team, I think we’re right to feel a little apprehensive about all of a sudden having a New Zealand-based director and Tasmania looking to refresh its deals with Victorian clubs. We may not die wondering, but sometimes in eras like these you feel like just surviving is the priority.