Saints wear new clash jumper again; lose

By Tom Briglia

Round 7, 2015
Adelaide Crows 3.3, 9.3, 15.6, 18.13 (121)
St Kilda 3.3, 5.8, 7.12, 10.13 (73)
Crowd: 43,532 at Adelaide Oval, Saturday, May 16th at 1.15pm CST

Well I hope we enjoyed our Flavour of the Week status. Fortunately we didn’t give it over in borderline ridiculous circumstances as the Dogs did against us, but alas the ride is over.

Not that Richo would think of proclaiming anything that Malcolm Blight would. “Ride of Your Week”, certainly, but we’d banked some goodwill the prior week against the Bombers. Either way, following The Comeback we’ve got Tom Hickey on SEN, Jack Billings in the Triple M studio, Richo himself on Talking Footy and Billy Longer doing the lead-up press conference. It’s just that easy.

Before the Doggies game I suggested (just vaguely, and I’m not sure to who) that if we had a chance to knock them off it would have a lot to do with them being drained after their win against the Swans. I drew the parallel on everyone’s favourite Saintsational forum to our Round 7 performance in 1998, in which the bottom of the ladder Brisbane Lions knocked us off at Waverley the week after we’d stormed home against the Eagles at Subiaco the week before.

Obviously in the third quarter last week that thought was nowhere near my mind as it appeared regular programming had resumed, but given what what transpired then for the sake of consistency I had to say, well, the same would apply to us yesterday. I think the thing about yesterday’s performance was that you could have picked a result like this regardless of The Comeback ever occurring, let alone the week before and causing a massive hangover. The 46-point margin is certainly decent but it wasn’t the after grog bog it could have been.

In fact it was My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s awful collision that had him knocked out cold immediately that probably effected us more. Not that it was the difference between winning and losing, but rather we weren’t able to deal with the structural change and it clearly affected our ball movement.

Following last week and a number of people’s quite reasonable suggestions over the years, Roo was quite clearly playing high up the ground, and we had Hickey playing more mobile and several times found himself around contests with Longer. Bruce was anchored more so as per usual but wandered up to the wing early pre-Roo’s concussion.

There weren’t any signs of struggling to back up early because we kicked the first three goals and the pressure around the ground was right up. Newnes kicked the first from a 50-metre penalty, which would be the first of many the umpires paid throughout the day to both sides and for the most part reasonable. The hometown whistle is something any supporter of the visiting team to SA or Subi dreads, with every contest an apparent threat to all that is good and true. It only made a couple of appearances, glaringly for Charlie Cameron’s pair of goals in the second quarter, but we’d had Schneider get away with an arsey throw in the first and one to Billings in the second at the other end which neither were taken advantage of, so the decisions themselves certainly didn’t change the momentum or state of play.

Poor execution going forward became plagued our game throughout, and the signs were there early. Sinclair and Newnes put some really good pressure on the Crows at both ends and once we got it back up forward Hickey dropped a proverbial on the lead. Soon Roo in his new/old position provided the link out of the back half, and Eli’s great kick to My 2nd Favourite Hair in the AFL Josh Bruce in the goal square had things looking solid. To be reductive, the talls were in the right spots and the supporting cast – Eli, Sinclair, Schneider etc. were buzzing around and being generally annoying.

Speaking of which, I’d set up a lonely camp at the Great View Hotel after Matt and Evan were late withdrawals, and Richie was out of the country taking in much nicer weather through the week. It was just myself watching the Saints and then several gentlemen watching the other game on the other smaller screen but the benefit of audio. Most were inexplicably Hawthorn supporters, for no reason splashing out on the beers rather than a ticket to watch two Victorian teams at the MCG on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Baffling at best, but the real centrepiece was the one year-old’s birthday party going on in the function room (Happy Birthday, Lotta), which for some reason had the adjoining door open all door and thus parents, prams and an exorbitant variety of small children literally running around at all times. The talkative but seemingly kind and level-headed kid with the puppy balloon was the clear winner, otherwise it was a few Dads talking about their Supercoach teams spilling out also.

I’d had a slow start to the day so fortunately it was just a couple of blocks from my own home to get there and get back (something handy to have in hand should things end poorly). It was hard to get outwardly excited in my state but when Hickey got his chance to make amends and crumb a big contest in the goalsquare, with more than a guiding hand from Bruce, it was three goals to zip and a few cautiously excited texts started flying around.

That particular chain hard started a little earlier when had Bruce found himself making space in a marking contest for Longer close to half-back on the counter, and Schneider caught Sauce Jacobs out. The switch found Roo, and his kick ended up falling into the square where Bruce had worked all the way back to. Early yes, but Our Very Own Stephen Merchant’s rev up he gave Bruce and his fitness during the week was only just becoming evident.

Unfortunately that was just about the end of it. From that point is was 18 goals to 7, or more tellingly we only kicked one more goal than Eddie Betts from that point. Probably the other defining element of our games this season has been the ease with which the opposition can quickly move the ball out of our attack and hitting the scoreboard. I’ll get to Roo in a minute, but there’s no control group pre- or post- his and Lonie’s concussions. Geary and Montagna as late withdrawals hurt of course, but that wouldn’t have stopped the number of attacks launched by the Crows – particularly from our defence – that saw them shred through the middle for clean delivery to a one-out or forward in space. Often that was Betts, and whilst Geary was the man most suited to him Betts would have kicked a few of those anyway, just like Tex would have with or without Delaney in the team because there’s only so much the defender can do in those situations.

Let’s get to it. Roo’s concussion was sickening, particularly at the time given how long much extra care the trainers seemed to be giving him. It’s easier to talk about now that we’ve seen him up and about, and as always it’s really wonderful to see the crowd giving an injured opposition player a warm reception as they come off the ground, as well as the opposition trainers assisting in the post-injury care.

As I said, it hurt us more structurally than being one down did. Lonie had already been subbed off by this time with concussion, and given how relatively innocuous his incident looked (also an attempted tackle) with no sound at the bar I actually didn’t realise the hit had been that bad until after Roo had gone down. I don’t have any heat maps or anything but when we moving the ball it felt Roo’s presence was really lacking, and Hickey and Billy found themselves far too close together around the ground. The momentum had already swung Adelaide’s way, too – Eddie had taken a huge mark in the square following a debatably not being paid a mark in the pocket previously, and then Tex kicked a huge goal after the quarter time siren to level the scores after a weak Sav effort allowed the Crows to run away with the footy when we were a kick away from an attacking chance of our own.

By the siren we’d lost Joey, Geary, Lonie and Roo. It was time for someone to really make a statement, and Steven butchered the kick forward from the opening bounce of the second quarter. Then Hickey dropped another sitter and Billings missed the shot from the aforementioned reverse hometown whistle free, and who else but ex-Saints fan and ex-Saint Tom and first round draft pick to kick the next couple of goals and set the Crows up? Both goals came from two quality involvements from Tex further up; firstly a perfectly positioned kick to Lynch in the pocket which allowed him to draw the free, and then a one-motion take of the ball on the half-volley and sharp hands to Sauce Jacobs running past which again ended with Lynch.

In the end it was Josh Bruce who took it on himself to press up and provide an option. It looked like Lever was on him for much of it which probably helped him a little as Talia had (I’m sure) moved to Hickey, but that’s the benefit of having both Bruce and Hickey stepping up in the forward line and stretching the opposition defensive stocks, even when Roo isn’t there.

His five goals yesterday meant he’d kicked multiple goals in six of seven games this year. Perhaps ironically, the only match he kicked a single goal in was the Bulldogs game, in which he kicked 1.3, including the zero pressure shot after the siren. He also yesterday became the first St Kilda player to kick at least five goals three times in a six-game period since Riewoldt over the end of 2009 and early 2010, an overlapping period in 2009, Rounds 16-20 in 2008, and Rounds 16-21 in 2004 (to go with 9 goals in Round 15 that year). Milne did it over Rounds 8-13 in 2004 but that was the only time in his career, whilst you’d have to go back to the G-Train, who managed it in overlapping periods from Round 16, 2003 until Round 18, 2005 – as well as the last six games of his career (or at least before retiring the first time) – for any Saint to have done that with any regularity. I know it’s a very arbitrary criteria but I’m using it to compare the kind of return he’s given us in this period to what other Saints have over the past ten-plus years.

The most impressive thing about his game though was that he kicked five goals as well as consistently pushing up to the wing to make the contest, take the mark and provide that next link. How many times did we see him do it after quarter time, and several of those ended in serious attacking ventures (two of them Dunstan behinds, who at times is a bit of a Lenny in front of goal).

Incredibly we led the inside 50 count in the second quarter 16-11, but the Crows kicked 6.0 to 2.5. It was around this time that Channel 7 cut to a shot of Rory Sloane in the coaches’ box, next to David Teague’s questionable hair. The Adelaide Advertiser had run with a sensational back page, led by whispers of ex-Saints fan Rory going to what will probably be Moorabbin by year’s end. The story had built through the week, beginning with Matt Finnis on SEN early in the week and by the time Richo had talked about how outstanding everything about Rory is it had become the talking point leading into the game. Whilst it wasn’t necessarily the midfield that was our problem – but rather a lack of pressure and endeavour that allowed Adelaide to cut through far too easily from back of centre – I really do think the club would love one guy who be the real midfield general in three-to-five years’ time when theoretically we’ll be challenging.

Yes, obviously Armo could be that guy, whilst Steven still talks like a shy 12 year-old, but Rory is someone who’s been a class above most for a lot of his career and he’s still only 25. It’s also worth pointing out there is Weller, Dunstan, Billings, McKenzie and even Acres still coming through and will varying degrees of impact, whilst we still may get a top tier young guy in the next draft or two, or snaffle someone like Shiel to add some real A-class youth. Not sure what we’d need to give up for Sloane though, and I’d probably rather go to the draft if we end up with a top five pick again.

The midfield didn’t have the kind of supply this week – chiefly from Billy Longer given Hickey’s a forward at the moment – as Sauce Jacobs dominated the hit-out count and around the ground. He found the ball 23 teams and was a part of a number of counterattacks. Billy himself I actually didn’t think was terrible considering it’s his 32nd game and has just turned 22; he got to a lot of contests but perhaps fell back into his old habit of not being able to, you know, take a mark. When Charlie Cameron got his second weird free close to goal Billy looked like he was about fulfil the destiny I’ve imposed on him of going Lazar Vidovic on everyone around him, but unfortunately he managed to control his emotions.

Bruce couldn’t do it all, despite following Hickey’s lead and doing some nice crumbing in the goal square himself in the third and even then it’s still a novelty to watch him playing genuinely good Australian Rules football. With Hickey and Longer struggling with some of the fineries of the mark Bruce got in on the act, as well as missing a couple of shots at goal. It made his return of 5.1 and 12 marks seem all the more remarkable because it very, very easily could have been more.

We didn’t seem as dynamic going forward otherwise, and there were structural difficulty parallels again with Roo missing at short notice in the Collingwood game and after quarter-time in this one. Eli and Schneider were busy early but that was pretty much it and neither kicked a goal, Billings had a decent impact higher up but kicked 0.2, Lonie was out of the game before you realised he was there, Sinclair – in his temporary farewell game before going back onto the rookie list – just didn’t have a great day and the mids – Dunstan as I mentioned, Armo and Mav all missed their shots. Hickey obviously had a presence as far as the talls went but finished with 1.2, including a miss late after a gallant run through a couple of opponent and finding space which would have put us within four goals with a whole lot of momentum and plenty of time left. It was probably the closest I got to being clearly animated about the game, but the frustrating footy overall, a couple of pints and and a whole lot of small children had worn me down over the afternoon.

Not sure what to make of Sandy’s demolition over Frankston today. Saad kicked four but like Schneider will need to be back on the rookie list within a few weeks. Membrey kicked three, Tom Lee kicked a couple in what’s now a rare foray forward and Minchington kicked two. Minch is our forgotten guy who actually can bullet a pass and kick a couple of goals, whilst Lee might be a very slim chance if Roo doesn’t come up. Acres surely comes in after getting plenty of the ball and a couple of goals so there’s a few to come in, as well as potentially Montagna and Geary, for a few others both up forward and through the midfield. McKenzie might come out. His numbers will tell you he only had nine touches but his presence seems to offer a lot more than that. There’s no rush either way for him. Curren had 31 touches for the Zebs but I CBF.

Appropriately it was Betts who sealed the game with some slick hands and then cleverly finished a chain of possession close to goal after Sinclair up the other end put everything into a set shot but didn’t quite make the distance. Delaney gave away a free kick to Tex shortly after who delivered the icing. It wasn’t unexpected – and arguably it was inevitable – given everything that had happened through the afternoon, but the performance overall did leave what was perhaps a hollow feeling compared to the two games previous.

It’s difficult to tell what kind of team will turn up at the stage in development, and more so one that will again have a couple more changes. West Coast are second on the ladder for some reason and we play them on Saturday, and whilst I don’t think we’ll win I don’t exactly know what form that would take. For every memorable game like The Comeback – although not typically of that magnitude – there are countless in these leaner years that we simply forget. The team doesn’t turn up, or the young guys have an off-day en masse, or the disposal going forward is butchered. Roo’s hit and Bruce’s five might stand out for the minutiae in later years, but otherwise yesterday won’t be revisited too many times; banked in the back of the mind but rarely called upon.