Western Bulldogs Posts

The RWB 2016 Review Podcast – Part 3 of 3

It’s the final part of our 2016 full-year review podcast.

We finish off the chips and Maltesers, tank the Top 5 Hair at the club, discuss the dynamic between the Saints and the Western Bulldogs, and ponder riding another tilt (hopefully) at a premiership.

Still that thing you remember

2016 NAB Challenge, Game 2

The genuine, provable exceptionalism that applies to the St Kilda Football Club is one that has been mostly of its own making, but with more than enough added fire and brimstone from the footballing gods. Some footballing atheism does need apply here to keep a Saint sane (enough).

Some easy, recent examples: a goal umpire bemusingly calling a clear Tom Hawkins poster in the 2009 Grand Final a goal; the bounce of the ball from Lenny Hayes’ desperate forward foray one year later. Where we all need to focus here ultimately, are elsewhere – if we put our destiny back within our own autonomy and take the will of the gods out of it, then we needed to kick straight in that crucial second quarter of the 2009 final stanza as we made our move (not to mention the final quarter); in 2010 no matter where Lenny’s kick bounced – whether through for a goal via luck or Stephen Milne – there’s still time on the clock for anything to happen. Again, this is not to mention the ball bouncing the other way and Milne’s opponent running off with it with Collingwood one point up – just as likely as either the ball bouncing through for a goal, or the outcome that did transpire. And again, if we’d stayed in touch in the second quarter rather than let their lead blow out, the challenge that presented itself in the second half would have been significantly reduced.

But these are moments in history reserved for a different time of year. For conversations throughout the finals series, and more pointedly, Grand Final week when we become reflective and think about where the game has led us to on the eve of the pending season’s showdown. Right now, we’re still waking up from the off-season and getting used to thinking about on-field matters – new players, player and team development, interchange rotation changes, whatever it might be, rather than the arduous grabbing at fark-knows-what for stories and content in the hotter months.

However, this is the St Kilda Football Club we’re here to whinge about, and football atheist or not let’s take this to the modern-day pre-season, in which the weather’s played some weird games with us specifically in this decade in a specifically otherwise forgettable format of the game.

The Saints and Lions have met several times in the pre-season in the past ten pre-seasons inclusive (surely there’s a weird conspiracy there but that’s one for the actual authoritarians on this level). Three out of three played up north in that time took place in novelty football Queensland locations (the Gold Coast still qualified for this in 2009) in either the wet or ridiculous heat, and so it was probably only a matter of time (maybe some football atheism required here) in which scheduling a match in a near-tropical part of a climatically unstable (and growing more unstable) planet would result in tonight’s, uh, result: nothing, because there was way too much extreme weather.

The irony here is that the only way this game could have received less attention would be if it actually went ahead – 3.40pm on a Sunday in Mackay (local time) in early March technically doesn’t even exist in the VFL/AFL world, let alone as a black hole time-and-place in the season proper. As recent history would suggest, throw St Kilda into the mix though and the weather will follow. This, more specifically, is where the football gods would come into it and you can’t do much about it.

In 2010, when the competition was in its final year as a straight-up knockout competition, it was St Kilda and stranger-than-fiction bedfellows Fremantle who almost had their semi-final cancelled because a sudden storm damaged Corporate Stadium enough to at least postpone the match after thorough ground checks and the teams ran out and began the game in an empty stadium. Two years later, the pre-constant headline Bombers had their Cessnas (I guess?) turned back because of stormy weather, and the Saints (half of them in Murray Bushrangers jumpers) ended up playing a rain-soaked intra-club match.

Two years later (sensing any patterns?), the weather came along again just before ran out to play against the Bulldogs in Geelong for some reason; on this occasion the game actually went ahead and the heavy conditions gave us two Eli Templeton specials on which he still largely pins his reputation to.

And so, two years later, here we are again – definitely not wet, because we were nowhere near it – but matchless and with an extra two or so hours in our lives all of a sudden. Football gods or whatever your divine beliefs may be, wtf. The only takeaway here is that whether it’s after five months of waiting for the season or 50 years for a premiership (or 93 for those that were there from the start), no matter what we do this is still unmistakably the St Kilda Football Club.

Did it before and we’ll do it again

Round 13, 2015
St Kilda 1.5, 3.7, 5.9, 7.14 (56)
Western Bulldogs 1.3, 3.4, 7.7, 9.8 (62)
Crowd: 26,511 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, June 28th at 7.20pm

Sometimes you go to a game of footy and it becomes apparent a basic agreement must exist between the two teams – let’s just do a whole bunch of stuff and get this one out of the way ASAP. Or maybe not. But maybe? I don’t know.

Obviously that’s the viewpoint from the comfort of the Corporate Stadium stands, and one that belies all the planning that goes into a game of AFL footy. But tell me, what else we would have ended up with otherwise? We didn’t get a really good game of footy, we didn’t get any real highlights, and we definitely didn’t get the win.

In recent years we’ve been building to a point in which for the first time ever the supporter can’t know what’s really happening on the ground. It’s been a topic of some discussion in some media this year, but this was the kind of game that really drives it home. Of course you can still pick up the fundamentals, but you won’t get told that this game was by design, even though we’ll have Richo talking up how we won the tackle count 68-54, the inside-50 count 56-44 and had 21 scoring shots to 17, and how most things went to plan overall, and Sean Dempster can talk about how proud they were about the effort. Somehow the old trick of kicking the Australian Rules football undid us.

Whether it was Gilbert out of the defensive goalsquare or Lonie in our own, we both cost ourselves in defence and in attack throughout a match in which goalscoring opportunities simply needed to be made the most of if one team was going to win this.

There were a couple of strange echos of the 2009 Preliminary Final and subsequent Grand Final in the way this game played out and the scoreline. The final score was an echo of the 2009 Preliminary Final reversed – our 9.6 (60) to the Bulldogs’ 7.11 (53) of that remarkable night became 9.8 (62) to 7.14 (56) last night. As for the 2009 Grand Final, just add to two goals straight to each of last night’s totals and you have the score when the siren sounded with the ball in Max Rooke’s hands.

The difference was between last night and those games that I still regard that Preliminary Final as the most intense game of footy I’ve witnessed…until the game the following week. And whilst there was a reasonable amount of pressure around the ball and ball carrier last night, the 68 tackles we laid were nothing on the 118 we laid in that Grand Final, nor even the 99 a fortnight ago. There was a substantial amount of unforced errors – mostly by us – rather than two teams making it incredibly difficult for the other due to manic and purposeful pressure. And this isn’t to take anything away from the Dogs. Whilst we’re both a long way off the summit, they’re further developed than we are and a decent team will win these types of games.

Given the stage of development we’ve been in since the beginning of last year, the darkest days of these darker periods are when we’ve left the game wondering what all this is for. None of the young guys had a big day or gave us anything huge to look forward to. The difference is now we have several guys who have have had more game time and shown more than enough to have us reasonably excited about their future at the club. We don’t know that all of this will work until it works, really, but right now we’ve banked enough to feel simply flat more than anything else when a game like last night eventuates. No Billings or Sinclair, Lonie was good but has the Schneiders about him still around goal, Membrey really presented well in just his ninth game without really hitting the scoreboard or holding on to that many, Seb Ross racked up 11 touches in one quarter. When most people would agree that your best were the senior guys in Joey, My Favourite Hair in the AFL and Dempster with Armo and Steven in tow then you know you’ve had a night that will probably be forgotten by us all if we ever reach anywhere near the summit over the next few years.

The closest we got us Bruce kicking three and whilst it’s not a huge bag, it’s three straight out of 7.14 – leaving 4.14 kicked by the rest of the team – and if the delivery forward was executed more professionally or tactfully then that’s a whole lot more opportunity for him and Roo to have shots on goal from dangerous positions.

It’s perhaps worth tying that in with no Billings and Sinclair factor when it comes to discussion about how the forward line has functioned in their absence in the last fortnight. I tried with all the power of my amateurish insight into what it was in the Melbourne game and the way that the Demons set up that left Roo and Bruce with such little space to lead to, and that replayed itself in a big way last night. That Bruce could finish with those three goals and Roo could work himself into an almost match-winning performance – the passage of exchanges with Bruce over nearly the length of the ground late in the game that led to Bruce’s third a rare highlight on the night – said a lot about work ethics of the two. And they really were needed, otherwise we didn’t look like finishing with any more than five goals. The point ultimately being is it took a massive work rate from both to create some sort of tall target opportunities, but again what was by design, and what was because of the way the Dees and the Dogs set up? Obviously the woeful entries forward (and actual shots at goal) were not, and I get the feeling this might have stunted a lot of the more likely forward thrusts. The problem going forward was that countless times it was a ball far too high landing on the top of Riewoldt, Membrey or Bruce in a one-on-one or even when they were outnumbered, giving them no chance to work to space to the advantage of the drop of the ball which last night clearly wasn’t a concept that crossed the mind of most. It also allowed Easton Wood to clean up at will, and show off just how much he’s improved with some really tough intercept marks in big moments. Robert Murphy was curiously allowed far too much space out of defence throughout, and that’s even on a night in which he probably wasn’t as damaging as usual.

So where do Billings and Sinclair come in? Billings brings class that very few of our players either have naturally or, as far as the other younger guys go, have yet to develop. He’s also a great user of space, knows where to lead and had the ability to take strong marks. The fact he plays a little higher up in the forward line creates movement in attacks which we simply don’t have at the moment, and has forced the ball user kicking inside 50 to go to options that are far too stationary or just shank the kick anyway.

Sinclair looked a class above and then some in his performance for Sandy today as he belatedly began his rookie-listed status, but who knows? Maybe another mystery housekeeping injury might sideline someone for long enough to allow him back in this year, or Curren might have just gone and done it the traditional way this afternoon. But had Sinclair been there last night, with Billings in there as well, it’s a lot more help for Lonie when the ball hits the deck and the ball was hitting the deck a lot. Interestingly, the best piece of roving last night was Bruce off his spilled marking contest in the third quarter. Lonie could have made things very different but from the goal square managed to find the post instead of the large space between the two big ones. It would have brought us to within a kick and cranked up the momentum even further. As I said, Lonie’s taken several leaves from Schneider’s inaccuracy book, which is vaguely appropriate given Schneider’s mentoring role for him. Mini Schneider’s kicked 9.9 in his first 10 games, which is OK given at the core he’s a small forward but also not that great given that he’s a small forward. A lot of those shots have been quite gettable, so it’s been his pressure, poise and disposal higher up the ground that have punctuated his genuinely valuable contribution to the side to date as an 18 year-old.

Schneider himself was guilty of a couple of basic errors, but his return of 0.2 is the kind of think that will contribute to his legacy at the Saints being one of waste. The Essendon misses brought back his 2009 Grand Final howlers, with the clincher this time being that he’s actually there to finish those opportunities and show guys like Lonie, Sinclair, Minchington et al how to finish when the pressure is on. That’s why he’s on the list at all, and that’s why he was elevated ahead of Sinclair. Perversely, had he finished those opportunities this year alone we’d be saying he’s having close to a career-best season. But poor kicking is poor footy; it was true on Grand Final Day in 2009 and it remained so last night. More perversely, he’ll retire with the comfort of being a premiership player for Sydney in 2005, having gone bananas (and kicked straight) against us when it counted in the Preliminary Final.

Gilbert has found himself in Schneider territory for similar reasons. Yes, he has capable hands defensively, has missed a lot of footy and incredibly is only 28 years old. Like Schneider, however, he’s supposed to be the senior guy that shores things up, gets into the right spots and with his style of play run out of defence and set up a rebound or several. He tried those things but ended up kicking directly to the opposition and getting caught holding the ball, gifting the opposition goals on a night when the Bulldogs managed only nine in total. Stringer didn’t kick any, Delaney hadn’t done any washing so was available to keep Boyd to just one goal, Dickson only kicked one and Dahlhaus none.

Worth also mentioning that yet again we ran a close game out but were seriously hampered by inaccuracy. To be more a little contemporary with the historical analogies, the game closely paralleled the GWS tussle in Round 1, with us unable to find goals despite having an overwhelming amount of the play in the last quarter, and throw the Essendon game in there for the glaring misses at goal by a certain senior player starting with “A” and ending the “dam Schneider”. Including last night, in the last quarters of the respective three matches we’ve kicked 4.7, 1.4 and 2.5, which is a total of 7.16 in games three games we’ve lost by nine points or less, whilst the opposition has kicked 7.8. The same would be said of the Melbourne escape if we didn’t fall over the line in the last 19 seconds – we kicked 1.4 in the last term after having a monopoly on possession and territory for the nearly the entirety of the last quarter.

For some reason, let’s now talk about Billy Longer (I couldn’t think of a decent segue). The hit-outs finished pretty evenly, but I feel like he vaguely got to a few more contests and pulled in a decent grab or two – one late on the wing which exactly mirrored that of the one he took late in Round 6, but with the scores essentially reversed. I still don’t think there’s a enough evidence to see outright he’s better than Hickey or will be better than Hickey in the long run, particularly given Hickey was played as a forward. It allowed him to demonstrate just how mobile he is and particularly how good he is down low and at providing a presence immediately after a marking contest. Billy’s tapwork is superior for the time being, notwithstanding him inexplicably unable to make it to a centre bounce at one point.

Interestingly the St Kilda Facebook account hinted very strongly at something to do with “good news” about Jason Holmes to be announced soon, and I’m assuming it’s either a contract extension or perhaps an elevation onto the senior list at the end of the year. More interestingly it arose from the Club’s wonderful post celebrating the USA Supreme Court’s decision to legalise gay marriage in all 50 states. Footy is typically separate in my life from anything outside of my family – very, very few of the people I know and hang around with (barring, Richie and Lewis and a couple of others I’ve mentioned) are genuinely interested in the game – mostly because the things I’m involved with outside of the game are at odds with what you would typically experience within the culture of a footy club. That the Club did that was really incredible, given the overriding culture of the game has been dominated by masculine ideals and intimidation towards anything challenging those. Whilst last night’s on-field performance gave us little to take home, our club took a massive step that day of the type that no other has taken. Football clubs join people together because we are all chasing the same quantifiable achievement – to be in front on the scoreboard when the final siren sounds on Grand Final Day. Too often the idea that clubs bring people and communities together is mistaken for clubs bringing a very specific section of communities together. As a result of historical ties to particular regions, and by proxy class, a particular socio-political discourse is something that adds another thread through supporter bases above the aforementioned default culture, and those haven’t served to bring AFL clubs very far forward just yet. That the Saints have made the decision to openly support what’s happened in the US, given what the Club actually is, is bold and risks alienating some fans, but this is the kind of attitude that is necessary to move the Club and ourselves forward.

The reigning premiers played against the reigning wooden spooners. What happened next was pedestrian and expected.

Round 10, 2015
St Kilda 2.3, 3.5, 7.8, 10.9 (69)
Hawthorn 4.5, 8.10, 14.11, 20.12 (132)
Crowd: 33,886 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, June 7th at 4.40pm

alanrichardson_2015r10

I’m not sure what kind of state Sports Delivered is in right now. I’ve whinged about them before, still scarred by the fact they inexplicably didn’t make a 2005 Season Highlights DVD for the preliminary finalists as a once off, and then in 2009 conveniently decided to end them altogether outside of the premiers, leaving only Saints members with shorter than usual DVDs for the years in which saw sadly perhaps the defining seasons for some Saints fans and formative seasons for a whole new generation.

Sports Delivered have mostly traded on the Name-A-Game offering, a necessity of a bygone era in which individual games were purchased on VHS and then DVD at bemusingly inflated prices (and with a considerable lack of pre- and post- match coverage). All games should certainly be kept on record – that’s no secret – but I’m not sure about flogging some of the more pedestrian encounters. I always favoured the Seasons Highlights DVDs though; every season is a story and these documented from beginning to end the best and worst of a journey which meant a whole lot to supporters, whatever the outcome may have been. Sports Delivered decided that offering every single individual game was somehow more worthy. 

Sunday barely came close to passing the Name-A-Game test, and sub-editors in charge of shamelessly clickbaiting headlines on anything from Buzzfeed to The Age would face a near impossible task teasing you with this one. The Name-A-Game test is applicable here in the sense that they are supposedly there for posterity; when reflecting what we possibly might have learnt or the magnitude of what we witnessed. What is the historical value of this game? What did we see in terms of development? Certainly no real stellar moments, Acres’ mark and decision to run off his man late in the game aside. You can watch some passages or performances that place them on a few guys’ development curves (Billings, Ross, Webster), otherwise it’s a lot of them playing in far too much awe of the Hawks and being worried out of moving it forward too quickly. Or if we did manage to get it forward, a bunch of Sherrins bombed on top of or not near enough My 1st and 2nd Favourite Hair in the AFL respectively. And as far as the first 90% of the first half went, that was just the Saints.

Shane Crawford apparently writes an opinion piece in the Herald Sun, which I genuinely didn’t know until his article yesterday bobbed up on my Twitter feed, with “Why Saints can win flag in 3 years” as headline and a 2010 shot of Riewoldt in the white collar and cuffs far more reasonably holding that year’s yet-to-be awarded premiership cup. It wouldn’t quite have the same effect if he was holding this year’s, or even 2018’s because it hasn’t been made yet. In fact, there’s only one ever made in which it would really make total sense for any St Kilda person to be holding. For now we have to run with photos that are a half-decade old and simply sad to look at. 

Though it was a home game yesterday Matt and I found yet another way this year of sitting somewhere other than our members seats. We ended up on the top deck with Rich, dear cousin Evan, another good friend of mine/Hawthorn supporter (also Tom), Matt’s friend Angie and very special guest James, Evan’s younger brother. I’m making note of this because St Kilda-Hawthorn games happen to mark particular occasions in our wider family – Dad took me to my first game in round 1, 1994, and it was a Friday night game in round 21 two years ago that was the last we went to together before he and mum left for the UK. Evan’s first game was Round 9, 2003 (a rare home game at the MCG and Allan Murray kicked four in his first game for us). All were St Kilda-Hawthorn games. I took James to his first game before he’d turned eight in Round 3, 2009 in which we belted the Eagles, and he’d been to Round 16 of 2010 against Collingwood and that year’s Preliminary Final against the Bulldogs. Nothing in the five years since though despite our best efforts, but sitting next to him before the game started he said, “I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve been here. It’s so good to be here.” He was already talking up next Sunday immediately after the game despite the handsome belting, so it looks like a St Kilda-Hawthorn game has again provided the landmark occasion for another poor young soul being roped into a lifetime of disappointment and heartbreak.

Hawthorn had managed to go W-L this entire season, and who better to give you the opportunity to right your season than ours truly? A rare appearance from 2011 1st Preliminary Final anti-hero Luke Schoenmakers made things all the more ominous following his four goals on return last year against us (and just further demonstrate how comprehensive that loss was, take those away and we still lose by 121 points). After playing Round 23, 2013 anti-hero Ryan Lester into his best form last week, Schoey was the prime candidate for this week’s armchair treatment for a middling player from the St Kilda Football Club.

Obviously they’re coming from a different outcome over the past few/54 years, but it really feels like the Hawks are doing their version of what we experienced in 2010 – just keep teams at arm’s length throughout the season, because it’s all about getting to the last Saturday. Given the close losses to the Bombers and GWS in there, you’d think Clarko might have watched Bomber’s Open Mike interview and paid particular attention to what he said about the 2008 season, namely that they were that good they didn’t know what to do when Hawthorn challenged them on Grand Final Day, and should have engineered some closer results to test themselves against throughout the year. Watching their opening half – or at least until they broke the game open with three quick goals late – you would have thought that was the case. How many times as Roughy miskicked so wildly? Their kicking for goal had them at 5.10 at one stage, before they decided we weren’t coming along for their ride and represented the same opportunity for a percentage boost rather than competitive hit-out that Melbourne did a few weeks ago.

The early piece of play that saw some precise kicks hit up Bruce for a strong mark and the opening goal was probably the cleanest we’d look all day. Soon after Schneider backed up his kick into the man on the mark out of defence with a handball along the ground to Riewoldt on the rebound, there was Armo’s clown miss from 15 metres out from goal on his own, and Hickey fluffed a couple on the lead. For all of the always-reliable Roughy, Mitchell, Burgoyne and Smith all getting themselves in on the faux-Hawthorn faffin’, the charade was punctuated by moments of real class that really demonstrated the gulf that still clearly exists between the two sides, Crawf talking up a St Kilda premiership in the coming years or not. These were four quality goals by four different players; Jack Gunston showing his versatility and running onto a loose ball for the Hawk’s first first, Billy Hartung – who for what it’s worth many had going to us with either of the picks we used on Dunstan and Acres – wheeling around from nearly 40 out on an angle, Cyril in the second quarter taking the ball and running across goal before the snap as the Hawks looked to create a gap and then Taylor Duryea well and truly made it real from outside 50 late in the term.

Things reached the bottom of the crater made by the AFL’s meteor of novelty when Ahmed Saad got falconed mid-big screen interview at half-time by one of the inflatable beach balls that the crowd was smacking around, at the same time All-American superstar Jason Holmes was handing out Susan Day cakes. The new sponsor probably couldn’t believe their luck that someone in the PR department decided that Rita (Happy 100th Birthday Rita!) was keener on attending the match than training on the day of Richo and Jack Steven’s presser, and their “100th” cake found its way in front of the media with Josh Bruce and Dylan Roberton shyly presenting it.

Having to explain the nondescript versions of the Saints song by Ben Salter (played accidentally before the game after already being used several weeks ago?) and Dan Sultan (shown at half-time because they showed Ben Salter before the match?) was in itself exhausting. Almost as much as the ground presenter interviewing Richo before the game talked up some guy called “Josh Smith”. Marchetti was there with his beanie on and he seems to pretty popular at the moment. He’s done the post-match interviews on occasion (Holmesby, Luke was back behind the mic on Sunday), although after a loss it’s hard to take him seriously because of how affable and energetic he is, and he’s still wearing the beanie.

More symbolic shenanigans included Geary being interviewed by Marchetti as the players walked off at half-time and then Armo after the game by Cam Mooney for Fox Footy. What I liked about AFL was that, as opposed to Super 15s and the A-League, et al the losers weren’t interviewed after the game (or during it). I thought it was an element that represented something stoic that we believed about this game; that they cared enough about what they were doing and the club that they played for that they wouldn’t want to do a shitty media interview afterwards. They’re not just guys that go from city to city playing for a new club and perhaps in a new league every couple of years. Maybe not.

The result had been well and truly taken care of by the time Roo took on three guys in the square, almost completed the mark and then reacted quickest to get to the ball of the contest and snap a goal over his own shoulder from his left boot. Joey’s goal was both quality and laughable, but the AFL’s Facebook account was interestingly a lot more pointed in telling everyone their thoughts on it as opposed to, say, the rule enforcement merits involved in either of (this part’s important) Collingwood’s Jamie Elliott’s mark or goal earlier in the year.

One of the more frustrating elements on Sunday was seeing Josh Bruce work hard for nearly fark all return from teammates further up the ground that were apparently kicking it to him. That he finished with 15 touches, eight marks and 2.2 said far more about how hard he works than good movement of the footy. Yes, we were much slower than we have been for most of this year but there were a number of times when Bruce was one-out or in some space as we went forward and kick simply didn’t favour him, usually ending up coming straight down onto his opponent or what needlessly was a body-on-body one-on-one contest. And when the latter happened guys like Lonie and Schneider just weren’t around enough. Sinclair again showed how well he’s settled into the AFL standard, kicking two goals but having more of a presence away from goal also.

Lonie showed glimpses with slick disposal here and there, but I thought his kick which ended up as Joey’s “goal” summed up his and the team’s night. Had a crack sort of, didn’t come off definitely. From being 5.10 in the second term, Hawthorn kicked a ridiculously efficient 15.2 and that 5.10 could easily have been 10.5 given the ease of scoring shots by their standards. For all of the relatively positive air around us even after this one, it probably should have been a lot, lot worse.

One interesting little tidbit to come out of the game was Savage being played as a forward once he came on as the sub. He finished his previous game in a similar spot and in the limited time finished with two goals and 11 touched, although most of those were handballs and his kicking is the key aspect of his game. I don’t think it’s something that should be stuck to, because he can kick those longer goals when he’s in decent form anyway. On a day when Newnes is again a little quieter than you’d expect him to be, it would helped to have his drive off half-back.

Speaking of which, there seems to be a bit of a selection showdown looming around there. Sav as the sub won’t happen next week, and with Weller and Dunstan sure to come straight back in do you keep all of Ray, Shenton, Acres and Ross? Ray would be very unlucky to go out after 24 touches but is he quick enough and creative enough? A lot of people (myself included) had used him as the best St Kilda reference point for D-Mac’s type of game after last year’s draft, and with guys like him and Acres proving they can show something at AFL so early in their careers – not to mention Gilbert coming back at some point – then another selection bottleneck with senior guys pitted against youth featuring is looming. Shenton out is obvious one and Schneider’s clangers only dented the fans’ goodwill for him that will be called upon when he is taken back to the rookie list over the next week or so.

Acres again just hummed away doing his thing on Sunday, and he continues to remind me of a Goddard (B.) type, and not just in playing style. BJ was our whipping boy in 04/05, the number one draft pick who, unlike Roo, Ball, Dal etc. just didn’t seem to have the same immediate impact and with a premiership within touching distance the expectation was high. But Blacres has a good size, good kick and some speed about him and he’s already showing that he knows how to use them all together.

Speaking of humming away, Billings collected another 21 touches and Webster perhaps the lowest fanfare 27 touches I’ve ever seen a young player get. The clincher of this is that both are in our best handful of kicks – Webster’s howler of a kick-out notwithstanding – and both play in different parts of the field, which is a key element you want to build an entire team around.

As for Seb Ross, you probably didn’t notice him (again). I certainly didn’t. I still don’t know what a good game from him really would look like, but he’s quickly making a name for himself as the guy who’ll get the nuts and bolts of the inside stuff done and given it was his first game back I thought he did quite well. Armo was actually down on his output this year, but I never thought I’d say that after he’d picked up 24 touches. Ross would have been in there anyway, but having him in the middle after such a long lay off as well as Lonie and Sinclair certainly gave things a fresh edge. Longer wasn’t exactly the ruck beast he’s apparently become, but with Hickey being subbed out and against Hale and Ceglar he was up against it whichever way you look at it. I still think he’s a better player than Longer, but a statement like that is mostly null and void whilst he’d playing almost exclusively as a forward.

For all of that though, it was ultimately another forgettable game. We’re not going to remember Webster’s numbers or Acres’ dash or Josh Bruce’s leading. No-one will be ordering this on DVD and sitting down to watch it from the opening bounce to the final siren. Both teams had this in mind as a simple step in their separate missions. For the Hawks it was just about getting the job done to make sure they’re there when it counts. It was for us too, really, but from a much earlier time.

Welcome back* (*It’s February)

2014 NAB Challenge, Round 1
Western Bulldogs 0.5.3, 0.5.3, 0.9.6, 0.1o.7 (67)
St Kilda 0.1.0, 1.3.4, 1.6.4, 1.7.5 (56)
Crowd: 2894 at Simonds Stadium, February 19th at 7.10pm

After months of watching teasing videos of pre-season training, Colorado highlights, more recently the full-team photo shoot and Richie and I ogling at Daniel Markworth’s and Luke Dunstan’s individual portrait shots respectively, footy was sort-of-but-not-really back for the Saints for 2014.

Naturally, this game against the Bulldogs was scheduled for a Wednesday night in Geelong, as the AFL continued its unabated march towards becoming a commendably transparent organisation with undisputed integrity. Seriously, it’s not like the city of Geelong is needing all the support it can get to grow the game as opposed to a regional centre, so the AFL made this game as idle as possible for two of the struggling Victorian clubs.

It was Richie and I’s debut in RWB‘s new Richmond HQ; Richie bringing the goods with a Foxtel subscription (all I had to offer at the Brunswick HQ was the live stream from [Deleted due to legal advice]). In our conversation about whether we should order pizza or not, Richie mentioned he was particularly keen on seeing new recruits Shane Savage, Billy Longer and Luke Dunstan. I wholeheartedly agreed, but thought that it might be just as interesting to see how quickly Savage got bored having come down from reigning premiers to 16th.

It looked like for a while there might not be a game due to an angry downpour (even Mother Nature was against the scheduling of this one) leaving the ground and the rooms flooded, but instead we were treated to a slightly shortened game in from of about 12 people starting half an hour later. As padding for the extended pre-match, Fox Footy decided to treat us all to the awfully depressing 2009 Preliminary Final victory against the Dogs. It was fitting they showed that in the week that the Hawks launched their book Playing to Win, about the journey from their Bushranger-style 2008 premiership to last year’s triumph, whilst we have replays of wins that are at best heartbreaking that leave us with our own book in The Bubble, about the journey from our 2009 heartbreak to the following’s season’s more ultimate, final heartbreak.

For the spectacle’s sake this is probably the only time I’d advocate playing a game at Etihad under the roof. As they say in the classics, “Hindsight’s usually pretty correct about stuff”, and also I take that back – I’d never prefer to play anything under the roof.

In a nutshell, I guess the theme here for the entire match is “novelty”. Novelty game – and the AFL have kept the novelty Super Goal to appease NAB – novelty jumper, novelty team line-ups with the key St Kilda highlights being novelty goals by the guy with the novelty name and novelty hair. Someone might need to confirm if we had the novelty of Billy Longer coming on as the sub and then being subbed out of the game?

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