Zac Dawson Posts

Slow, maybe necessary faffin’

Round 10, 2013
North Melbourne 9.7, 13.10, 17.14, 19.19 (133)
St Kilda 1.0, 4.3, 9.3, 10.5 (65)
Crowd: 25,658 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, June 2nd at 4.40pm

I’ve said several times on this thing that as excited as we get about watching the kids play, there will be good weeks and bad weeks – that’s just the territory that comes with inexperience. This is a bad week.

Three weeks ago we were all riding high on the back of a great win and what is possibly my favourite St Kilda jumper of all time. The kids had all shown something; three weeks later we’re all worried about the club and its direction.

I’m not going to panic just yet – what are you expecting? A lot of those kids have played barely 20 or 30 games each (several a whole lot less) and whether you like it or not, the senior guys largely aren’t what they used to be. This happens sometimes – not all the time; look at Geelong – but we’re going to have to take this hit.

Either way, it doesn’t make days like yesterday any less deflating. Fortunately my hangover was gone by the time I rocked up at Corporate Stadium yesterday, because it was only further downhill from there.

Bookies had suspended betting on Swat’s Late Withdrawal Lotto after whispers were floating around that My Favourite Hair in the AFL wouldn’t quite get up after getting smacked in the head late last week.

The last time Roo got knocked out against the Dogs, the next week we played in a Grand Final in front of over 100,000 at the MCG. This time, we played in front of 18 people on a Sunday at 4.40pm at Corporate Stadium. It wasn’t quite the same.

By the time my train had arrived at Southern Cross (has it become the accepted common name for that station yet? I still feel like I’m giving into Commonwealth Games feel-good hype when I call it “Southern Cross”) the Hawks were cruising against the Dees, up 52 to 3. I wasn’t happy to see that scoreline for Melbourne’s sake, but it did cross my mind that unless something really weird happened – like a first quarter blowout featuring 16 scoring shots to one – then St Kilda should avoid the worst of media attention for the week.

I’m not sure how much that kind of thing would do for the side against the Eagles next Sunday, but we’re sitting here now on the receiving end of two losses to teams who endured a week of media scrutiny respectively in the lead up to playing the Saints. As it turned out, there was indeed a first quarter blowout featuring 16 scoring shots to two, but the Dees will probably be the centre of attention anyway. Iif Neeld sticks around for another huge loss then it might all be on them yet again in the lead up to Round 13 against you know who (but that’s if Neeld hasn’t been sacked by the time you read this post).

A call from Lewis (of the magnificently-named band Footy) sitting up on Level 3 changed my plans for a solitary outing in the standing room behind the cheer squad, but I feel like I’d barely said “Hey, how’s it going?” once I’d got up there that North had the blown the game open.

Typically, it was the big guys in Black and Petrie that were giving our defenders grief. Four goals in eight minutes – one for every St Kilda supporter at the ground – had effectively ended the game.

I was anticipating that if it was a blowout, and If it wasn’t Boomer’s and Wells’ milestone games then the first quarter would really have turned the atmosphere vacuum to “high”. But that’s probably a little unfair on North, though – their intent from the start absolutely monstered St Kilda and North fans were right to be up and about. They moved and ran and made space for each other, they dominated the clearances, they chased and harassed.

Jack Steven had his handball smothered, Gwilt chimed in with a few rubbish kicks (not sure if it was perceived pressure or evident rubbish), Dempster did some weird fumble and turnover thing on the goal line and from the resulting kickout, and then there was the Ferg Burger who had a nightmare debut. Fortunately, the sub rule exists now, and he was able to have had it all over and done with by half-time.

He equalled the highest official player number worn by a Saints in the past 20 years, sharing the title with Luke Miles of 45. Dale Kickett wore 52 in 1992, just two years after Dermot McNicholl equalled the club record of 60. Nicky Winmar leads the Open Competition, however, both in the All-Time and Post-Sheldon categories, wearing 60 after his jumper was ripped in the 1991 Elimination Final and wearing 50 in Round 16, 1997 after getting blood on his number 7.

To start things off on what what should have been his special, record-equalling day, he was positioned in a backline that was getting bombarded, and his opponent Black was playing the near-weekly role of tall, very effective opposition forward target. The Ferg Burger finished the game with exactly zero kicks and three handballs and a chart-topping four free-kicks against. I must say, in the second quarter he handsomely spun out of a tackle and then calmly waited for the handball option, but his highlights reel began and ended there. Does he get another game next week? The Eagles have Darling, Kennedy, Big Cox and Nic Nat going through their forward line. This might prove to be a baptism of Zac Dawson proportions (but Zac did turn out alright).

The only time the Saints showed some sort of intent in the first quarter was when Lindsay Thomas took a customary dive in the goal square and there was a following bit of push and shove. That’s fine, but Lindsay could have enjoyed as many dives as wanted, because the ball sailed over his head off Black’s boot to put the Roos up 55 to 6.

Things just got worse as the quarter went. Swallow somehow found himself all on his own on the wing, the Ferg Burger gave away a free kick 50 metres ahead of play in North’s forward line, and the kicks count read 92 to 38. If North had kicked straight – they were 9.7 at quarter-time, and finished with 19.19 – the margin could easily have blown past Melbourne’s across town.

The Saints really did feel like fodder for North’s big day. The Roos had boldly decked out the players’ race in blue and white stripes, which again got me thinking about how the co-tenants in Essendon and the Bulldogs really do something with the ground that makes it feel like their home game, and have been doing so for a few years now. In this instance, the Saints really felt like visitors at their own home, and the club certainly doesn’t do anything to make it feel like “ours” on game day.

One thing I noticed in the first break was that Corporate Stadium has finally replaced the rather superfluous TVs hanging from the roof and looking over the third level. I can remember the last time I was up there they were still whatever would have been the latest in pre-Millennial technology – a large box with a rounded a screen – but now they have the thin flat-screen TVs for everyone to take no notice of. If anything, I can imagine them getting in the way of some people trying to see the big screens – you know, the ones you can actually see stuff on.

The remaining three quarters drawled somewhere between North taking their foot off a little and the Saints improving marginally. A little disconcertingly, in Swat’s press conference he said he’d told them to get back to basics and start to focus on simply beating their opponent, which were the same kinds of terms Channel 7 were talking about Melbourne in before their game yesterday. We’re not nearly in their stage yet, but right now we’re sitting in the bottom bracket of the ladder with them.

Indeed, it looked like things were really going to get worse early in the second – a great snap goal by Mullett opened things after the ball dribbled through Dal’s legs, and Hickey took his eyes off the ball in the forward pocket and opted to take on the defender with his face instead, and gave away a free kick.

But there were a couple of signs that things had straightened up a bit. Whereas the movement was lacklustre both with and without the ball in the first quarter, guys like Steven, Geary, Ross and Roberton really tried to get things moving. It didn’t always pay off, and sometimes they didn’t even go about it the right way – Armo blazed away to a two-on-three off half-back, and we could hear in Aisle 34 on Level 3 a couple of his teammates deriding him for not dishing off a quick handball to them in close.

Still, Boomer kicked a trademark long-run-and-goal and it was always going to be North’s day. Unfortunately he kicked four goals, which meant we all had be subjected to the ridiculous “Here Comes the Boom” clip on the screens and over the speakers. Fortunately he kicked four behinds, each of which could have been another episode of “Here Comes the Boom”.

I went downstairs to get a coffee at half-time, and as I made my way down and stood in the queue I felt some sort of surprise every time I saw a St Kilda fan. What were they still doing there? I could barely pick two or three at the beginning of the game, let alone by the end of the first quarter when it was 9.7 to 1.1.

To win from there would have made it the second-largest comeback in history, ironically sandwiched between Essendon knocking off North from 69 points down in 2001 and the Saints getting overrun by the Hawks in 1999 after leading by 63. I looked around the coffee stand queue at the North fans. Surely there would be some rubbish jokes when the Saints squeaked a goal in the second-half about a comeback being on. I thought about how I’d feel if it actually eventuated. I feel like I’m an empathetic person, but I have a tendency to judge my sympathy for anyone by how many premierships they’d seen in their lifetime. They’d be fine, I thought: most of them could just go home and throw on the 1996 and 1999 Grand Finals and Season Highlights DVDs if anything strange happened.

But what about if something perfectly normal happened, and the Saints descended further into rebuilding mode? What do other supporters think about St Kilda supporters? They probably don’t care, and most of them would probably enjoy it, and make a rapist joke about the Tip Rat.

So even my daydreams were getting me down, but it’s hard to sincerely be looking forward to anything right now when real improvement and the next genuine flag tilt are some vague amount of years away in the future.

The second half did throw in a couple of positives, but obviously happened only when the game was well and truly in junk time, i.e. any point from eight minutes into the first quarter.

Jimmy Webster kicked his first ever goal, and it was a really lovely, long left-foot set shot kick from outside 50. Like his debut, The Neck came on as the sub and racked up a reasonable amount of disposals considering the time he spent on the ground.

Joey ept fighting through in his 200th and Roo put in another leading performance on a day in which he didn’t too much of a crack at things.

Then there was BIG RHYS BANDWAGON traveling up the ground for a stint in attack, and he kicked two nice long goals from marks. He missed a shot or two as well, but he looked far more purposeful with the ball and when the play was elsewhere. It’s only a half of football, but tonight might have been the first step towards him becoming 2013’s “Barry Hall Project”,

There just might be space for the Bandwagon to find camp up forward again. My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs was really quiet and might be dropped, Maister only holds a certain percentage of marks no matter what difficulty they are, and Tom Lee has only just come back from injury. Lee was named in the best on Saturday, but that was in a Sandy loss in which the score was very similar to last night’s so read into that what you will. Maybe the Ferg Burger has another go to shore up the backline numbers, which means Rhys is free to a good forward home (much like his friends at Pugs SOS).

Did anyone else realise Ahmed Saad was playing? Like the Ferg Burger, he finished with donut kicks and three handballs, but Saad played a full match and he wasn’t making his debut. He and Milera haven’t quite been there this year after promising debut seasons, and TDL has kicked 18 goals in five games for Sandy now after kicking four out of the Zebs’ eight yesterday. TDL wasn’t entirely convincing himself when called up for the senior side, and I’m sure playing for Sandy beats having to play in front of an amateur cameraman and whoever’s doing the scoreboard in the NEAFL against Mt Gravatt, but I think it’s time he got another chance at senior level. Hopefully he gets more than one week at finding a place in the side, unlike Terry who was out of the side as soon as he was back in.

The Tip Rat was pretty quiet up forward too. His first kick was rubbish and he followed that up immediately with soft effort of hacking the ball out of the air instead of getting low and getting it out, but he eventually fed it to Jack Steven who kicked quite a nice solo effort goal. Milne pushed up the ground a little and finished with 10 kicks in a side that didn’t get too many, but only kicked the one goal and laid one tackle.

Lewis and I were talking about the older guys at one point, Milne and Dal in particular. I think it’s easy to underestimate Dal’s work rate because of the way he physically moves – it’s pretty cruisey and it doesn’t look like he’s working too hard. He actually finished with 25 touches and I must say I was guilty of thinking he’d done a lot less, but as for Milne I’m not sure how much longer simply being a “senior guy” with a good record alone can keep him out on the park. When we – but more importantly, the coaches – talk about the need for senior guys out there to teach the kids, that’s a loaded term to use. It implies that these guys are going to really lead by example, by actions that back up the words of the club’s on- and off-field leaders. That hasn’t happened consistently with the Tip Rat this year. Everyone has always talked him up as a great clubman, but people talk in similar terms of Kosi and he doesn’t need to be out there to be passing something on to the younger guys.

The bottom line is this is probably the new normal. Guys like Ross, Newnes, Wright, Webster, Hickey, Siposs, Big Rhys and so on are going to keep getting games. That’s fine by me, because for as bad as yesterday was it’s another game of experience for them. Some of them showed genuinely good signs as well through the muck – Newnes put on a really nice tackle early and then gave Scott Thompson more than he deserved when Thompson went fishing for a 50 metre penalty. It was late in the game but Jack still gave it to him – those and Roo’s hard work and tackle in the second quarter were the only really memorable demonstrations of intent all night. It also did Jack’s chances of being 2017 (or ‘18/’19) Premiership Captain no harm.

The ruck was an issue again last night. Goldstein finished with just under 50 hitouts, a week after Minson pantsed Big Ben and Big Tom Hickey with 57. Big Tom also didn’t look too solid when he went up forward, dropping one or two he really should have taken, but he’s still very, very raw. The fact that we used a compensation pick 13 for Brendon Goddard on him is always going to be in the back of our minds no matter what he does, but I think he’s one we’re going to have to be patient with. As for Big Ben, just like the team he’s gone missing since the Carlton win, and he himself was a number 9 pick so you’d hope he starts stringing those good games together soon.

I hung around for Boomer and Wells to be carried off the ground, and then managed to snag a Sunbury train home as soon as I got to the station. Having grown up on the Frankston line I still find it strange catching public transport on non pro-St Kilda routes. On the way back to my temporary RWB Headquarters in Seddon I inexplicably missed Middle Footscray station and had to get off at West Footscray; fortunately they’re needlessly close to each other and it was only a short walk. I could think about some boring parallel between that and St Kilda missing the station/missing the bus/whatever, but this was just one of those nights in which there aren’t too many things to get excited about, and chances are there are plenty more of those to come. You get that.

Wait, you may win

So this is it.

For about the seventh time this off-season, we declare the beginning of a new era. This is really “it”, though. The new coach announcement, the draft(s), the captaincy announcement, the pre-season competition – they all ultimately lead to the season proper, and us finally being able to declare this moment “it”.

Like the most sane of supporters, I’m not bullish about our flag chances. It’s a tough position to be in after all the hopes we’ve had over the last decade. But there are a number of reasons why I and the football world in general would think that a premiership is beyond the club this year – most of them obvious and reasonable; anything else would be the arrogant ramblings of opposition supporters that can lay claim to having witnessed their team winning a premiership in recent times. Whatever.

Getting used to a tinkered game plan will take time, something we saw at the beginning of Ross the ex-Boss’s tenure. It’s an oft-cited example with plenty of merit, though the hope for us Saints is that the ex-Boss’s game will prove to have taken a greater learning curve to master. It relied on fanatical commitment to the most dour of styles, and it meant a season-and-a-half of one of the most attacking and entertaining teams in the competition coming to terms with the idea of relentless accountability and pressure on the opposition after seasons of wielding pace, muscle and slick skills alone as weapons in a premiership assault.

As we saw in the pre-season matches, Swat’s game plan relies a little more on the natural instinct to get the footy and move. Though the focus on defence and pressing will still be top priority, he’ll be using players that are now wired for that kind of requirement (as all players now need to be) and allow them to be let loose and be creative going forward. In theory, this should be an easier transition.

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Sadly, more faffin’ about to come

It was an old-fashioned setting with some old-fashioned stereotypes aplenty on Friday evening.

I really loved going to Princes Park/Corporate Name Park and watching a game with a backdrop of older style, unique stands, as opposed to the concrete monolith of Etihad Stadium. The MCG is always brilliant – that’s something on its own level – but doubtless has lost some character since the redevelopment of the Ponsford, Olympic and MCC Members stands.

It was particularly poignant in the autumn evening weather; cool with the periods of rain broken by merciful bursts of sunshine. Two foundation clubs at one of the game’s oldest grounds in true footy weather. Not a roof over the ground in sight.

Also in the line of tradition, Saints fans continued their trend of being outnumbered by billions whenever the team plays anywhere that isn’t Docklands. Subsequently, with the crowd of around 3,000 being nearly entirely Pies fans, I was subject to a higher volume of audible ridiculous individual comments by a number of fans really pushing for the justification of stereotyping.

A quick look at the ladder of The Worst Supporters I’ve Sat Amongst would show the middle-aged male and female couple sitting in front of me looking very comfortable for a spot in the top four.

They had the basics covered: the cry of “BALL!” every time a Collingwood player touched a St Kilda player, and the boorish laugh of (stereo)typical self-pleasure that Collingwood fans seem to have mastered when their own player does something at least one-eighth decent – as if they’ve cured cancer (hint: it wasn’t that good, and you weren’t responsible) – and an opposition player one-eighth rubbish. But they saved the best until last.

(more…)

Here again

At last, footy’s sort of back.

The Fox Footy Channel launch threatened to drown us in it all before the season had kicked off – highlights of great games and players past, dramatic off-field moments and, above all else, of the commentators and Fox Footy Channel personalities themselves in the first hour alone.

The latter aside, it was the stuff that’s usually reserved for “That Was the Season That Was” productions (R.I.P.) and Grand Final Week in general as we become reflective and the footy season reaches its climax. It was a bit much for the rubbing of eyes and regaining of cognitive functions as we awoke to a new season.

Eventually, the footy itself returned. Half-games played at half-intensity, but it still felt like a bye weekend knowing the Saints wouldn’t be onstage for another week.

This pre-season has a bit more of a pragmatic purpose for St Kilda. The 2009 matches saw the Saints master their defensive game plan over several weeks (culminating in what was by many accounts the worst match of footy “known to science”, against the Bulldogs in already stupefying heat at Princes Park), but aside from then there hasn’t been an urgency  try something really different or throw the young kids into any sort of battle for a number of years.

But now the reality of time has set in, and its not since the massive refresh the club’s list underwent a decade ago we’re faced with really having to inject some youth into the side. Of course, the usual suspects will remain just that – Roo, BJ, Joey, Dal, Fish and so on – but the on their use-by date has never been so fixed. The middle and bottom tiers are in serious need of improvement, and with the state the list is in, that’s going to be left mostly to players aged Armitage-and-under.

Saints fans will have a particularly keen eye on the young guys that gave us a teaser of their abilities in 2011 – Siposs, Cripps and Ledger come to mind first (AKA The Three Young Guys Scott Watters Could Name at His First Press Conference), with bigger things naturally expected of last year’s most consistent improvers in Jack Steven and Big Ben. We’re still waiting for Armo to really take his game to the next level, and I’d have to be going on players’ comments that he’s had a great pre-season to genuinely maintain anticipation for another of his years. I’m wishing no less, however.

Siposs has (necessarily) put on some muscle, and though he didn’t get the ball much in his games he used it wonderfully when he did. It will be interesting to see what part of the ground he’ll be covering come game time. Cripps is in a similar category after spending his brief time on the field in 2011 as a pinch-hitting small forward (7.2 from 16 kicks), but I’ll be looking forward to seeing if he’s used closer to his more natural half-back positioning.

With Lenny back, the midfield might take on a more recognisable configuration come the home-and-away season; however there will be question marks on how much game time he can run out and he certainly won’t be featuring for a huge amount of the NAB Cup. It means Jack, Armo and Ledger will have a chance to really stamp their midfield credentials; they might not all fill the exact same role but added depth is required either way. 2010 draftees Sam Crocker and Nick Winmar will be looking to make a real impression; add to that Jack Newnes and Seb Ross, the two most talked-up of the most recent draftees and our midfield of 2017 is starting to form in the heads of any of us willing to jump the gun.

Ideally that midfield will be watched over quite literally by Big Ben (unless GWS have anything to do with it). Like Jack, he became an integral part of the team in 2011 and rave reviews of him from within the club over the summer point towards some more exciting footy this season. The NAB Cup for Big Ben won’t particularly be about proving himself, because almost regardless of form 2012 will be his first year as the number one ruckman. But we’ll be looking for glimpses.

At either end of the ground, some changes are likewise set to be made. Tom Simpkin had been pencilled in as more or less a straight swap for Zac but now there’ll be Beau Wilkes to consider also. Gwilt will miss the pre-season matches and Raph has a calf injury, so a couple of running defender spots have already opened up (perhaps an opening for Cripps).

Up forward, to go with Siposs, there are twin blonde talls Rhys Stanley and Daniel Archer. Neither can claim any glowing praise thus far in their careers (Stanley has been buoyed by his 2009 Grand Final Sprint win hype since then) and a genuine tall forward needs to put their hand up as Roo gets set for the occasional rest and The Last Man to Have Captained the Saints to a Premiership of Any Kind will be spending time in the ruck. Archer remains on the rookie list but was promoted at first chance in 2011, whilst the clock is ticking for Stanley.

As for the smalls in attack, Ahmed Saad and Terry Milera look to provide some X-factor after being bumped up from state leagues. They look set to excite if they can get involved in the play regularly enough.

The NAB Cup is open season for teams, officials and pundits. Everyone is optimistic about their club and this one is at the beginning of a new era, let alone a new year. We can talk about Siposs, Newnes, Saad and others and I can name nearly every young player on the list in this post and get excited for the future because it’s just that – the future. It hasn’t happened yet.

Come Friday night, it will have begun.

Trick or treat?

Saints fans were dealt a somewhat unsurprising turn of events on Halloween a week ago when it was reported that full-back Zac Dawson is looking to re-unite with Ross Lyon in Fremantle via the pre-season draft.

Trick or treat? Trick for mine.

For all his clumsiness with the ball, Zac has been a success at St Kilda. He has been a mainstay, and an underrated piece, of the competitions most relentless defence over the last three years. Granted, he has been in a back six which has been protected by a disciplined full-ground press, but nonetheless his opponent has seldom beaten him. Full-backs in that lock-down mold are few and far between these days.

Furthermore, if you look at the competition’s premier big forwards, there are only a few defenders of similar stature with the physical tools to nullify them. Lance Franklin, Travis Cloke, Josh Kennedy et al are all lengthy, tall players and in Dawson St Kilda possessed a defender with the arm-span and closing speed to make it difficult. Tom Simpkin is an promising prospect, but he is a notable four centimeters shorter than Zac not to mention a lot less experienced. It’s going to be a tall order for Tom.

Need I mention that the Saints had already lost four key position players already since seasons end? The list was looking thin on big men in the first place; big players to step in and help out the forward-line and/or in the ruck were not exactly beating the door down.

And let us not forget Michael Gardiner. He retired, as expected, and alas the ruck stocks are now made up of: Ben McEvoy, Justin Koschitzke, Rhys Stanley and erm…..Jason Blake? That is four ruckman, all of which are by these days standards under-sized.

Head of Football Chris Pelchen has been the voice of the Saints off-season, and not just because the club has been coach-less but also because total player payments has obviously been a pressing concern. I think (and hope) that money was a factor in Zac’s want to become a Docker – it’s been reported that the Purple Haze are willing to give him in excess of $300,000 a year. This offer is surely one that St Kilda cannot match, seeing as they have been walking a salary cap tightrope.

So far, the Saints have gone some ways to address a need in the off-season via the acquisition of Terry Milera and Ahmad Saad. Speed and finesse has been something the Saints have been in desperate need of for several seasons now, and said players seem to have the tools to address that. This was certainly a clever trade period deal. But when it is put alongside the cull that the club has made to the list, then it is apparent that there is still a lot of work to be done.

Heading towards a critical Nation Draft for the club, the Saints find themselves with a raft of draft picks (in a weak draft) and a host of holes to plug in their playing list.