Having a look: navigating through the hot ham water

By lethal

the dude stirring a drink.

Freo brought in a raft of youngsters last year when playing the Saints late in the year in an effort to freshen up prior to September. This time we’ve piled in the D-graders, but that’s just because it’s the best we’ve got right now.

And that’s no disrespect to Brodie Murdoch, Billy Longer, Josh Bruce, and Josh Saunders, who are the inclusions for this week.

But how many teams would each of those four have a chance to break into?

Longer by default is going to have some hope because he’s abnormally tall (in Football Land). Josh Saunders flatters to deceive; he started off the year really well, but faded abruptly in unison with the team’s season falling off a competitiveness cliff. Murdoch and Bruce have barely had enough of a consistent audition under Richardson this year. Bruce already has been given the Maister treatment by being flipped to the opposite end of the park in an effort to see if he can give us anything up there.

That move deserves a bit more attention though…

1)   This is a team whose key defenders consist of Delaney, Gwilt, Dempster – and to a lesser extent – a post possibly drug induced hiatus Sam Fisher. So, it’s kinda poignant when a guy specifically brought in to help out in that area, and then competes respectfully (with his inexperience in mind), is dumped to Sandy and then retooled as a forward.

2)   It really flags that Richo and the selection committee (mainly Pelican) are now fully into experimentation mode. That’s not me accusing them of tanking: there’s no need for St Kilda to be tanking; we’re a terribly undermanned, inexperienced and incapable group of men (men?) right now. That’s a winning formula in terms of getting top draft picks; we don’t need to embellish that.

3)   I thought Bruce was actually fairly encouraging in his performances in defence this year. His last game was against Geelong at Skilled. We all know what a horrid game that was, but it Bruce certainly wasn’t the worst player out there.

4)   By auditioning Bruce up forward this year, what does that say about how the coaching staff view Rhys and where he fits into the Club’s future plans? Does he fit into them at all?

headshake

It feels quite apt that Part 1 of The Lenny Hayes Farewell Tour takes place against a Ross Lyon lead team.

At the risk of awakening the anti-Rossites out there, Lenny’s career rose to a much higher level under Lyon – particularly from a leadership point of view. Through the Thomas era Hayes really got his footy on. Alongside rising stars such as Ball and Dal, and a rejuvenated Harves, he became a reliable cog in what was a deep, midfield machine for a few years there. Dal and Ball were the headline grabbers though. Under Lyon, Hayes was front and centre. His stats may not have exploded into the stratosphere, but he became a real warrior-like player. That was probably accentuated by the football style that became the mainstay of Lyon’s tenure, but nonetheless Hayes really embodied that game plan like no one else.

In my eyes, the key cogs under Lyon, not just from a leadership perspective but also from a structural perspective, were Lenny, Fisher, BJ and Roo. In that order.

Lyon, like most pro coaches is king of deflecting and playing a straight bat; i.e. he avoids singling out players at all costs. But whenever Lenny comes into the conversation and you can tell there’s an obvious fondness and elite respect there. (See his thoughts on Lenny here).

Further, if you were to pick out your favourite Lenny games or memories, undoubtedly the majority of them would be from the Lyon era, such as the Norm Smith performance, the bump on Chapman in the Qualifying Final, and so on.

For what it’s worth, I couldn’t say I rate Lenny higher than Sir Robert Harvey on my all-time Saints players list. I’ve never seen a more dominant, unstoppable player in the red, white and black than Harves when he was in his prime (see 1997-2000). But that’s not the point; they are quite different players. Sure, Lenny may have been able to perfect his baulk that bit more thanks to training for years alongside Banger – but as the years went on I think he was more and more renowned for ball winning ability, and his ferocity around the contest. And doing that time after time after time.

As sad as it is to see Lenny call it a day, I think it was definitely the right call. Of course, it would have been brilliant to have him on the list purely from a mentoring point of view, but anyone who has watched him closely at all this year as seen how the speed and the transition running side of the game has really caught up to him. And, though his ball winning class remains, it’s always somewhat cringe worthy, and sad, to see champions slog through games when they suddenly seem in a different weight division so to speak. I felt the same way about Jonathan Brown for the last two seasons. His marking power was still there, but he was really laboring big time; every time he attempted to twist or turn, I was half expecting his torso to just snap and disconnect from his hips like The Terminator or something.

And those greats of the game deserve to be remembered wholeheartedly for the great years, the great performances that earned them that standing in the game. And not to have those memories watered down (at least temporarily) by years in which we all tip our hats for them getting through games in the name of leadership.

Lenny, as well as the whole Saints midfield will have his work cut out this afternoon though, as the Dockers midfield is arguably the best going around. Fyfe, Mundy, Barlow, Mzungu, Pearce, the list goes on. And of course, we have to mention the biggest player in the game: Aaron Sandilands. Sandilands gives that midfield first use a lot of the time, and at the same time just neutralizes the effect the oppositions ruck can have in the clearances – good luck to you, Billy Longer.

If the Saints are any hope at providing any nuisance value to the Dockers, they must get off to a strong start. Their first quarters have been a big problem over the last five to six games. Last week it seemed that their effort levels around the contest were actually decent, but unfortunately they leaked goals like a sieve.

David Armitage really needs to hit the ground running following on from his 30 disposal game last week versus the Roos. It’s been a difficult year for him. He started the season under an injury cloud, and battled manfully before lacerating his knee versus the Crows. That put him out of action for several week, which meant that both of the Saints most ready and able midfielders – Armo and Steven – have had severely disrupted seasons. That’s been a massive blow that probably hasn’t been highlighted enough; the gap that that has left in the engine room has been enormous – and has only meant Lenny has had to shoulder an unfair amount of the load.

Over the last two weeks, the chatter amongst a large portion of the Saints faithful has turned to who could be in our sights with out first pick (or thereafter) in the national draft.

Whichever way you slice it, the Club just needs to take the best player.

It’s already been well documented that this particular draft has a high proportion of key position players (KPPs); particularly high compared to your run of the mill draft. And so as of as far back as a few months ago names such as Patrick McCartin, Peter Wright, and Hugh Goddard have been flying around internet forums, twitter and the Herald Sun (internet forum?) like crazy. And as far as KPPs go, that’s only the tip of the iceberg: afl.com.au’s Callum Twomey has Darcy Moore, Sam Durdin, and Tom Lamb in the top 10 prospects too.

But my point is that, the modus operandi for Pelchan and his henchman has to be to get the most talent in the door possible. If that means we’d have to play with 22 midfielders and a one-legged Riewoldt next year, then so be it. From there, if you have a lot of valuable players, then you’ve got flexible in terms of trading and so on.

That would more or less be the philosophy of all clubs with their first round pick anyway. Teams are much more likely and willing to look for needs – and role players – with their subsequent picks when there is (seemingly) less at stake, and less likelihood that whoever they’ll take will turn out to be any more than decent anyway – you won’t see any James Hirds or Sam Fishers falling to the 60s these days.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is accentuated by the fact our selection of key forwards over the last 6-8 years have pretty amounted to (finger point to Lindsay Bluth) Hot Ham Water. Rhys Stanley, Paul Cahill, Tom Lee, Spencer White, Jordan Staley and to a lesser extent Arryn Siposs have all come in the door and it’s possible that all of them will end up out the door in the very near future. If you combine Rhys and Lee’s output you maybe get one whole decent AFL player (and perhaps two good shoulders also).

Spencer White though is on the verge of making his debut. Richo has publicly alluded to that already. With all due respect to Spencer, his selection has been more due to the audition process continuing, than to his VFL form, which has by and large been average. I mean he only burst into the Sandy seniors a few weeks back. Granted, he’s had a lot of injury concerns, but every week when I read Paul Hudson’s VFL player breakdown the tone in regards to Spencer is always one of frustration. It usually contains a phrase like “he’s got to learn…”.

Spencer’s inclusion is also part of the process to narrow down which of the key forwards will be part of the Club’s plans going forward.

Whatever you think of the team’s performance this year, next year is sure almost certain to bring some big losses again. But the potential silver lining could be that the team will feel more like Richo’s team.

As with Watters first year (2012), there’s been this unwritten need for the coaches to “have a look” at players. That is, players have been given opportunities, so that at the very least Richo and co. can be certain that Player X will be delisted at years end. (Namely: Dennis-Lane, Dunnell, Siposs and possibly a couple of others).

And that’s quite a saddening point in itself: this year has been much more productive in highlighting players that won’t play for the Saints than in determining those who will. For instance, Tom Hickey is out for today’s game (knee complaint). Hickey has been one of the big finds for the side, yet he’s only played 6 games. Nathan Wright was showing all sorts of nice bits of play in the opening rounds, yet only notched 4 games; Webster has played some good games yet will spend the rest of the year in the medical room also. Templeton’s situation is much the same.

So, that for me, is the much more frustrating part of seeing your team getting its trousers pulled down each week (and knowing prior to the gae that will happen). If we could have come away from the year getting consistent games into Wright, Hickey, Webster and a few others then you could swallow those defeats a little more easily. Instead, guys like Shenton and Dunnell are out there just filling out the numbers.

Now, I’ve just had a lukewarm short black coffee. (Back story: I don’t drink black coffee and I don’t drink lukewarm coffee by choice). Is this what it takes to get up for Saints game day these days? Next week: defibrillators?

Richo would probably love to be able to use some defibrillators at some point in today’s game to get that extra bit of intensity out of his players. Alas, there are no magical tools that are at his disposal at the moment though, and with the likes of Bruce and Murdoch being moved around in the structure willy nilly, there’s more of an emphasis being put on having a look at players than at trying to cajole his charges into mimicking Lenny Hayes. Or Fyfe, Mundy, Mzungo, Barlow, Duffield for that matter.