That felt both a lot better and a whole lot worse

By Tom Briglia

Round 2, 2017
West Coast Eagles 4.0, 8.3, 13.5, 18.8 (116)
St Kilda
6.7, 8.12, 12.17, 13.19 (97)
Crowd: 37,749 at Domain Stadium, Saturday, April 1st at 4.40pm WST

St Kilda have remained unmistakably St Kilda over 144 years. The highs are high, without quite hit the heights we’ve been searching for, and the lows are very low.

After the deflation and disappointment of last week, the team put in one of its more commendable efforts of the Richardson era, only to prove their own worst enemy. Whilst I was expecting West Coast to mop the floor with us, and this performance had me feeling a whole lot better than last week, it also felt a lot worse given the opportunities – and opportunity – wasted.

The fact that Richo, the coaching staff, and the players themselves were able to turn themselves around so much so quickly is a very good sign, regardless of the 0-2 start. Richo was facing some serious scrutiny probably for the first time in his coaching career as the typical rush to grand conclusions after Round 1 played itself out, and we’ve learnt a little bit more about where this team and the players were at.

Quick ball movement has been the order of the year but right now it looks like we’re just aimlessly banging it long and going too fast for ourselves, and it was our undoing when we weren’t queueing up to shank shots at goal . A frustrating 6.7 at quarter-time when we could easily have kicked 10 given our number of shots and domination of play, and an absurd 13.19 at the final siren.

Those long kicks forward were our favourite method of butchering the ball. Paddy, Bruce and Membrey were often asked to do too much from guys rushing to get the ball on their boot and not lowering their eyes. The balance was the smaller guys either not pushing hard enough to provide other options, which would mostly have been ignored anyway; or they weren’t given enough time to get forward, meaning there was little support at ground level if the ball hit the deck or if Yeo hadn’t plucked it out of the air himself.

There were a couple of times when Bruce and Paddy particularly looked to have had decent positioning but didn’t work themselves toward the ball; Paddy is best when he’s on the move and I’m not sure anymore if there’s any rhyme or reason to Josh Bruce’s game. As good as he was around the ground in Roo’s absence, Bruce was complicit in burning a great opportunity with Gresham one-out in the goal square; the ball went up the other end before some brief respite, only for Bruce, who had worked his way up to wing, to drop an easy mark on his own and the Eagles kicked a goal directly from the spill. It’s not fair to single that moment out – both of his goals were really nice – but it proved no one was immune.

To be fair, the three talls all worked pretty hard to present higher up and seemed to have a very good understanding of where each other was. They rarely got in each other’s way (Bruce did mess around with Hickey on the wing in the last though in one contest), and there was almost always at least one available for the next kick towards goal, although the way we used the ball in the front half that ultimately counted for not much.

Membrey and Paddy were particularly strong in the first half. Membrey took a couple of strong marks right up to the wing, and ended up with nine in total and a last quarter goal that we might have expected him to miss given recent efforts in key stages of games (see vs. Geelong, 2016). Bruce and Paddy’s returns of four and five marks respectively belied some their presence across the ground.

The proverbial large mammal in the room is the umpiring, yet again because of the the Perth hometown whistle classic. Today, The Age and Herald Sun were both running prominent (and easy) articles about Saints fans talking about the lopsided free kick count on social media. Free kick differentials shouldn’t matter if that’s where the genuine free kicks are. Last night I think it would be fair to say the Eagles got a lot more than they should have, and we didn’t get several; Josh Bruce’s tackle for holding the ball that was called in the back in the last quarter is a glaring example.

But last night, what were you expecting to happen if that free kick was paid to us? So Paddy can get the ball in heaps of space with the scores level, and then wheel around and tighten up and miss the crucial shot? So he can just blaze away and kick long to Paddy or Membrey in a two on one, ignoring the smaller guys who were presenting other options, if they had actually made it to that part of the ground by then?

Paddy did look incredibly disappointed after he missed that last shot, and it wasn’t just because he’d never kicked three goals in a match before. It would prove to be our final score as the opportunities dried up in the last quarter and our efficiency remained at around Rubbish%. He’d looked a lot more confident and comfortable out on the ground in general, doing a lot of talking with teammates and establishing himself as the go-to guy for the post-goal around-the-shoulder leadership move. Dad and I joked (well, you know) that once he’d kicked his second that was it for him – he’d never kicked three so with an entire half to go the only option was for him to receive a head knock. The inevitable seemed to have happened in the last quarter when his melon hit the turf but he came back on. His hair has also improved this year. and this game at the very least presented an opportunity for the three to play together without My Favourite Hair.

A scoreline of 13.18.96 to 15.6.96 late in the last quarter said more than any other facet of the game, encapsulated further when that scoreline changed to 13.19.97 to 15.6.96 as Paddy took his personal tally to 2.3. You can then say yes, the umpiring does matter, and can matter in a big way – what about Hawkins hitting the post and getting a goal in the 2009 Grand Final? I’ll redirect you to Schneider, Milne, McQualter, et al.’s efforts in front of goal that day, and even then if we were a better team we could have just won by whole lot anyway. Have a look at the several out-on-the-full kicks yesterday, or Jarryn Geary (C) becoming the first St Kilda player to score a try. A couple of the deliberate out of bounds calls were shonky when compared to the kick for touch in the third by the Eagles (was it Yeo?), but ironically the most deliberate out of bounds was Paddy’s kick over the top of Bruce at a crucial juncture in the last quarter to ensure the ball went out just inside the 50-metre arc. He understood that he couldn’t just blaze away in the way his teammates had throughout the game and gave them all a chance to get forward and set up – but we lost the clearance and totally shat on the idea. Unfortunately Paddy went a step further and missed the shot around the corner.

If you’re good enough then that’s not something you need to be relying on over the long-term to be a successful team and a successful club. The 2009 team could so easily have changed the course of St Kilda history on that day themselves with accurate goal kicking, more than the umpires could have with their decisions.

Haphazardly going back to large humans playing for the St Kilda, Tom Hickey’s personal performance was probably the best of the difference between the team’s effort and output and that of last night’s. With ruckmen now going truly head-to-head, it will give the genuinely gifted big guys a chance to ply their craft without My Favourite Hair in the AFL or Seb Ross getting involved. We saw Stephen Merchant get trounced by Big Max last week in what was probably the most pronounced defeat he’d suffered one-on-one. Whilst Nathan Vardy and Jonathan Giles don’t present the same sort of challenge that Max does, the fact that there were two of them saw Hickey drained by game’s end (Richo mentioned this in the post-match), and having to sit out several minutes late in the last quarter on the bench so he could be vaguely refreshed for final stages of the game and Josh Bruce be put forward of the ball. Until then, he’d played one of his better games overall, effectively playing as a (very) large midfielder in open play. His presence in traffic and his ability to get low to the ball were telling a number of times, and he was able to create a goal in open play in the third quarter by chopping off a West Coast kick across the ground. Not sure how vital it is that he drops forward given we have Paddy/Membrey/Bruce and Roo once he comes back, and either way it looks as though they want him used in open play in the middle section of the ground. Vardy managed to outrun him going forward and take a mark close to goal and convert so yes, he’ll need to make sure he holds up that end of his game from time to time but unlike other ruckmen it seems as though forward duties aren’t at the top of his list right now.

A quick shout-out to the magnificent new clash jumper, which looked even better when paired with West Coast’s navy wings design, and making its debut 20 years and two days after the original crusader jumper made its premiership season debut as our home design. You’ll be able to read my inconsequential thoughts on this year’s jumpers in the upcoming, entirely unanticipated annual St Kilda Jumper State of the Union.

Add Jack Steven to the injury list of Roo and Armo, and Koby Stevens in the, uh, significant diarrhoea list [citation needed]. Steven was ok, but his growing mullet had more of a presence. Not sure what the hell Ross did for 29 touches and Dunstan started really well but faded in and out. Steele and Steven were the ones to make more of an impression through the midfield as the game went out; Montagna was flying past from a centre bounce clearance and had a stretch of space ahead of him to run into but he just didn’t take the ball with him; Armo might not be back next week and Blake Acres didn’t look interested in driving up his trade value in front of his home town just yet. Whilst the team defence was great for three-and-a-bit quarters, once the Eagles’ mids got on top in the last the game changed heavily in their favour and we didn’t look like getting near it for the last 10 or 15 minutes. This is where star power can come into it – see Mitchell, Priddis, Kennedy – and it’s time for the weekly reminder [*SEGMENT!*] that we quite easily could have taken Bontempelli and Petracca in successive drafts. Paddy I’ve covered; Billings was again getting his touches from half back onwards and even for a player picked for their X-factor it was a rather indifferent impact made from 19 touches, one mark, three tackles and 0.1. Obviously this is just another small step in a hopefully a long career for both of them, but it’s going to be an agonising wait until we feel justified in picking them ahead of You-Know-Who and You-Know-Who.

Gresham was one of the few guys to demonstrate composure with the ball in the front half, but strangely ended up with 1.3. Lonie played himself ahead of Wright with one of his best games; his pressure was great but sometimes he just needs to fucking relax a little and have a think when he gets the footy. Two goals and some nice field kicking, as well as visibly annoying some of the Eagles players, had his better qualities on show. Mav kicked a couple of goals too but his start to the season has otherwise felt lukewarm, whereas I think we were expecting him to really take his game to a new level from the start.

Steven’s injury means someone will definitely need to come in. If it’s not Armo or Riewoldt Sandy had the week off and have a practice game at the same time as the game against the Brisbane Lions next week, so basically we’re down to Sinclair and Wright to come in if we’re going to go on a combination of form and/or having actually played recently.

It would have been incredibly frustrating for Nathan Brown to see all his good work on Kennedy go to dust in the last few minutes. Both had two possessions to half-time but importantly Kennedy had had little impact. It wasn’t until Savage gave up a sloppy ball close to goal that Kennedy was gifted a shot from close range, giving him a small confidence booster for when the Eagles perked up in the last. Until that very late point it was a rare time over the past few years in which we were able to judge a St Kilda defender more fairly on their one-on-one work, rather than having to guess what they might be capable of in a more even match situation as their opponent received ample and competent supply of Sherrins. Carlisle and Brown for the most part did a good combined job to quell Kennedy and Darling in their second game together. Roberton continued his climb, I’m not sure what Gilbert does and Webster contributed a bunch of clangers for someone who is meant to be one of the guys for us who can kick a bullet, namely his hack out of mid-air in the back pocket that went back over his head for a goal to go with an unforced kick out on the full and another kick off half-back in a similar spot that returned as a West Coast goal seconds later.

That inability to play out the game and play out quarters – Hill and Shuey both kicked goals in the last 30 seconds of the second and third terms – would really hurt. Again, if we’d kicked straight that would have taken that out of the equation. It was a lot of planning and a whole lot of hard work physically and psychologically to turn last week around and get everything up again after last year’s results interstate. I think any Saints fan would have felt some sort of quiet relief by the effort. Officially, by design, premierships for this club probably aren’t going to be won in 2017 (they aren’t most years anyway), and they’re definitely not won in April. But it was really disappointing to lose this one.