2013 Posts

The People v GWS [No 119] (2017)

Round 7, 2017
St Kilda 2.4, 6.7, 10.9, 16.12 (108)
GWS Giants 4.2, 7.6, 11.10, 12.13 (85)
Crowd: 21,160 at Etihad Stadium, Friday, May 5th at 7.50pm

I’ve spent this weekend with a relaxation head-start of 25% [citation needed] owing purely to Friday night. Footy can do that to you; the Saints can do that to you. For this week at least, the road towards a second premiership is starting to take shape.

It’s also the sensation of having a win on the first Friday night game in more than two years. The last time we’d had the weekend to stew over the state of the Saints was in Round 3 of 2015 when Collingwood gave us a 74-point belting in our first official outing in Candy Stripe #2. It was also not-so-memorable for being Paddy’s first game; the club wasn’t able to get the usual PR and fanfare milage out of it because Roo came up sore that evening.

The last time we actually won on a Friday night was against Fremantle in Round 20 of the awful 2011 season as we made a late charge into the finals. We won by 41 points that night after a big last quarter, and Ross the then-boss was just 41 days from being the ex-boss. What does that all mean? Fuck all.

Conventional business hours on Friday morning had KB calling for the Tigers to jump on  Paddy after he kicked seven in the VFL on the Sunday and wasn’t selected. Not sure if KB thought he was “Fitzi” (note the “i” at the end, most probably to make sure everyone knows they’re not talking about Fitzy, but who cares), but Anthony Hudson and Garry Lyon decided to take it up that night on SEN as the lead talking point for the conversation before the game. Hudson said it was “put on the agenda” by KB and Garry ran with it so I guess that’s news now. Rohan Connolly made a passionate mention of Fairfax cutting jobs and the potential loss of journalists, but Garry shut him down, so yeah, that’s where we’re at I guess. The news is apparently made by the media now, not reported by the media.

Fitzi’s revelation (or whatever) of Fyfe coming to St Kilda was much of the rage for too much of the week. Saying it was a St Kilda board member who leaked the info was probably a bit too obvious and an easy giveaway that it wasn’t a St Kilda board member. Of course the club would have spoken to Fyfe, and he might well be on his way to us – you’ll get that from the ITKs on BigFooty – but every club would have spoken to him, or would like to speak to him. The thing that ruined it for Fitzi was him saying that Fyfe’s all but signed for a specific figure. That’s way too easy for Richo, Fyfe’s management, et al. to say that’s technically not true. He might actually be close to done, but unless there’s a Buddy job we won’t know for incredibly certain for a few months.

Even amongst all of the trade talk wankery this still felt like the biggest build up to a St Kilda game for a long time. Last year’s North game late in the season had some talk going into it, but it was more shits and giggles and too much had to go right for us from there (easy to say “too much” in hindsight but that’s what happened) for us to finish in the eight.

I was late to the ground as usual for the agreed meeting time – 7pm with Matt, only to be greeted by him on the bridge to receive an early birthday present. It was a 2006 Candy Stripe #1 clash jumper, one of the Saints jumpers I don’t own from this century. He’d also stumbled on a 2011 Vague Cross jumper a couple of weeks ago which he kindly purchased for me – I am now the proud owner of the worst (2007-2008 Apron) and second-worst clash jumpers in our history.

There weren’t many people wearing Saints colours around the ground at 7pm, nor were there anyone really wearing the faded version of the opposition. Do Saints fans want to turn up for anything? Rubbish crowds so far this year against Melbourne and Geelong were followed by a paltry 21,160 on Friday night. Yes, I’m aware GWS fans are family members, corporates, or AFL ring-ins, but we apparently have more than 39,000 members.

Perhaps the news that we’re keen on returning to New Zealand over the next few years show we’re still lacking in not just members overall, but that they’re not putting their hands into their pockets and taking out a bunch of cash for the Moorabbin fund. Turning up to the games more would help a little too.

Very rarely do I have good feelings about anything but by Wednesday I was feeling good things about this one. I’m not sure exactly why. If you’re pushing for a top eight spot then you probably should take apart a team that’s lost two of their five games by 86 points. Maybe that one felt clinical enough to think we’d smashed through the glass ceiling of large Australian Rules victories.

By Friday I’d calmly brought myself down to earth and was back to expecting something not quite so enthralling as what transpired. Matt and I agreed it was the kind of game where the  the members’ section comes in up and about, some umpiring goes against us, we miss a few easy shots, the opposition’s class has them kick goals out of their proverbial and by the time we’re being run into ground in the last quarter we’re sitting shitty and frustrated by our lives as St Kilda supporters.

Somehow that didn’t happen, which was fortunate for RSEA Safety because their hand-out hard-hats worn by some in the cheer squad would have been frisbeed at the back of Heath Shaw’s skull. Not sure why the St Kilda crowd more generally booed him. As much as I don’t like his on-field personality as an opposition player, I don’t quite categorise him in the same GW$ category as Ward and Scully. At least he won a premiership with his club before chasing dollars. If the Saints fans were upset about the 2010 Grand Final Replay, well…of course we’re all upset, but his side won a premiership and ours didn’t. That’s the long and short of it.

Richie turned to me at half-time and pointed out that we wouldn’t be able to win the game at the pace we were trying to play it at to that point. He was right – another Geelong job was on the cards and we were being cut to ribbons on the rebound too often. The third quarter saw the defenders beginning to settle on the ball a little more and look to move laterally or be more patient for an option to open up. The Giants were able to open up a 17-point lead and in that moment were just a break away from being able to open the game up or put themselves in a position where they could comfortably keep us at arm’s length.

The challenge demarcation was again presented with Smith’s monster on the three-quarter time siren, but at this point in the game things were far more dire. Richo spoke after the Geelong game about how disappointing it was that the second and third tier of players that had failed to step up in that situation. It’s increasingly necessary that the respective development curves of guys like Ross, Billings, Acres, et al. now take in their impact on games when the gauntlet is thrown down. There’s a lot more accountability of what they do within games, beyond just the general upward tick of development we’ve been looking for over the past few years. So it was in the absence of key roles from My Favourite Hair in the AFL and Joey that others would have to take that step if we were any chance of pulling this off.

But to start the third quarter Newnes had fluffed his kick to Bruce one-on-one on the rebound and Scully’s classy finish had the Giants within sight of a win. Our mids were set to get smoked and Matt and I were feeling comfortable about noisily potting Billy Longer’s performance until it slowly dawned on us that he was playing a huge part (literally) in their ability to get some sort of shot at the clearances. By game’s end we would have won that count, and the midfield in general had been given a chance to work their way on top of the masses of talent of the Giants’. Billy had looked cooked about five minutes into the game, barely struggling to make it to contests around the ground in time to nominate himself before someone like Gresham would have been forced to fill in on the spot. There was at least a method or some planning in the Bulldogs playing Dunkley and Lin Jong as the ruckman in the centre bounce; they went out of their way to not have a ruckman lumbering after the play. For a time, this just looked lazy. We took it to another level late in the first quarter after Wilson’s brilliant goal through traffic on the 50-metre arc and only had two players ready to set up at the resulting centre bounce – Longer and Ross. Membrey was the only player who decided to wander in before the umpire put the ball on the deck – still leaving us one short – and ridiculously it was him that won the ball at ground level and fed it out to Seb. But Billy’s shut me and a whole lot other people up for this week, or at least until his ineffectiveness around the ground becomes a serious issue. His physicality at the contest was telling and something we’d lacked – our mids will definitely say they’re happy having that around. Hickey’s injury in the VFL on Saturday might mean there’s not much choice anyway until Rowan Marshall is upgraded.

So, uh, back to the third quarter.  We’d managed to take charge of the pendulum and after some nervous minutes J. Billings did his best to emulate J. Bruce last week, and was bailed out by a trademark Marshall Mather slice shot from three metres out. It was a type of profligacy that isn’t reflected in Billings’ goal scoring tally. Gresham turned up after his one-possession first-half with a snap soon after that looks a lot classier after multiple viewings. His ability to balance himself so quickly, think his way through a situation and execute a play is something we don’t quite have enough of. He would only have 10 possessions by game’s end but they were among our most important. All of a sudden we were back within a goal, for Membrey and Ross to miss back-to-back set shots, split by an equally-inaccurate Heath Shaw kick-in that fell into Seb’s hands. After a cagey few minutes Shiel kicked a Rolls Royce-type goal from a couple of steps on 50 and we might have given it in there.

Sinclair and Gresham combined for Gresham’s second, and then one of the more remarkable but understated passages of play on the night came. It ended with Newnes goaling to draw us level with two and a half minutes left before the last change. From a mark, Tomlinson went down the line on the broadcast side to a large pack forward of the wing. The ball cleared the pack and bounced up. Geary (C) knocked it out of the air to Steele facing the wrong way near the boundary; his quick hands in to Webster were answered with a lightning handball by Jimmy over his right shoulder in traffic to Geary, who immediately turned and gave it off to Joey. Joey’s trademark long, loopy kick was barely met by Acres who had climbed on Davis about several minutes too early for the fall of the ball. “That’s poor” said Bruce reflexively, and everyone in the crowd thought the same thing. Sitting in the members you could feel it was one of those moments in which everyone is in agreement that a particular act deserves a free kick against. The umpire was too, but an unconfirmed Saint’s lack of awareness saved the moment. Watching it back on the replay the umpire is out of frame as Acres goes up, but both Matt and I were watching him as he put his whistle to his mouth – only to have his legs tangled up with the St Kilda player running past. The last frame in which you can see them both before they go out of shot is with 2.47 left on the clock – at a guess it’s Sinclair, and the umpire took a tumble and by the time he’d seen where the play had gone Billings had swooped past and delivered to Minchington, who gave it off the running Newnes for what Dennis Cometti might have once termed the drive-by goal. It wasn’t necessarily match-defining. I think most Saints fans would say we’re due for a piece of good luck like that. Sometimes it’s just your day. Smith’s huge goal on the siren was still to come, and it had the GWS guys up and about and Joey cracking the shits at Riewoldt for not putting pressure enough on the kick.

Three moments in the third quarter had demonstrated the gulf in class between the two teams, and certainly had me thinking we were in for a repeat of the fourth-quarter fade-out against the Cats. It was how they’d kicked three of their goals. There was the classy Scully finish as the Giants went coast-to-coast after a Jack Newnes shank to a mostly open forward line; the Dylan Shiel finesse on the 50 arc, which looked sensational from our seats in line with his angle; and on the clutch Devon Smith moment on the siren. Just like a fortnight ago, we’d needed to work incredibly hard to get what felt like disproportionate reward to the Giants. Their slicing forward that happened earlier in the game had been largely thwarted once the pressure gauge ticked upwards in the second quarter from our end, but these moment showed they didn’t need to be given much at all to punish you. A massive win against the Hawks had our the put queries over our ability run out games on the backburner for a week, but here that challenge loomed again.

The next tier of players that Richo called on to step up did just that. Again, it was the ability to do that in the moment that meant so much for their development, as well as showing a positive response to Richo’s message. That said, we were in touch at three-quarter time without the huge input from Roo and Joey because of guys like Billings, Wright and Sinclair in the front half and Webster who had come prepared for a big night and made an impact from the start.

Billings again starting up forward brought him into the game immediately. He had 1.2 and eight touches at the first break before pushing up higher in the second and third quarters, and I think as much as he has been trying to find some consistency and form over this year perhaps the coaches have equally been looking for the best role for him. Playing off the back half makes sense given the quality of his disposal but it looks like playing a role in the front half gives him more intent. He deserved a third at some point but brought himself undone in the goal square as mentioned, and then missed a snap in space later on to completely ice the game. From whipping boy/seagull earlier the in year, he’s slowly shut people and now got them talking again about him, but for genuinely positive reasons.

Sinclair played a similar but higher role and despite a few early nerves – similar to last week – his disposal improved positioning was really smart. He’d first played that type of high forward role really nicely in the Round 3 win against Collingwood last year and it showed off a quality in his field kicking that we hadn’t seen much given he’d begun his career much closer to goal. His inclusion with Koby Stevens appears to have made an instant and positive impact on the team balance – the midfield has retained its grunt, already heightened with the addition of Steele – but Stevens has so far offered more in terms of disposal than Dunstan and Armo (with an asterisk due to his ongoing injury issues), whilst Sinclair offers footy smarts and better between defence and attack.

Wright had come in for Mav who had a rolled ankle, and yet again didn’t have too much of the ball (12 disposals) but hit the scoreboard with 2.2 and seven tackles. His 25 touches a week earlier for the Zebras show a pretty consistent formline owing to difference in standard. Do you take him out immediately for Mav if no one is injured or dropped (or suspended, i.e. Koby Stevens)? Perhaps Minchington, but he quietly racked up 17 touches, 1.1 and seven tackles himself.

You could mention Gresham here too. One disposal at half-time, three goals by game’s end including the sealer. He was one to have an impact at times of genuine challenge during the game, rather than respond to rev-up or a break between quarters. His first two goals came at critical times in the third term, when it looked like GWS were about to pull clear, and his third goal had him again in perfect position for the fall of the ball and he goaled coolly on his left to finish the Giants off. Hunting around with Sinclair and Billings has the team right now looking a lot sharper.

For all the queries you can throw at his game, Bruce made two particularly important contributions in the final term. He’d had four touches at three-quarter time – not sure if it was the delivery or him but he seemed to impervious to the age-old art of marking, with just one clunk at the final change and two by game’s end. That second came when he at last got some split (*2015 Buzzword*) on his opponent and some Seb Ross class got it to him neatly and he extended the lead that Acres had created. Gresham’s third goal owed a lot to him as well – Stevens and Ross combined in the middle and Membrey had to go up against both Davis and Tomlinson and was good enough to split the contest and bring the ball to ground. Bruce busted in and held off Taranto who was close to the fall and guarded Gresham from Tomlinson to make sure had more time and space to finish.

To take the chain of Gresham’s third back further: the heightened pressure level in the final term had the Giants scrambling for territory with rushed disposal in a similar way that we managed to force Collingwood into a few weeks ago. Scully found the ball on the wing and with his left went searching for Patton, who was with Carlisle. That might have presented a problem if Patton managed to at least cause a real contest, and the ball had bounced in his favour. But Jimmy Webster had worked well clear of his opponent and glided past to kick across to Newnes, who went to Stevens. Webster himself, like Billings, had a few hiccups at the start of the year, but has now become a key part of the defence. The acquisition of Carlisle and Brown can’t be underestimated not just in their isolated worth – Cameron and Patton managed just three goals between them – but their presence has released Webster and Roberton to play in and improve their more natural roles. Webster was a part of the Jack Steven snap goal chain as well, with a bullet to key talking point guy of the week Blake Acres.

He’s threatened to really bust a game open this year and again, Blacres really took his opponents on when he could and jetted into space. He has a habit of being caught by his jumper but still rocketing himself out of the opponent’s grasp, even when being slung around a little. When Richo specifically mentioned “fourth- and fifth-year players” in the post-match press conference of the Geelong game that we was disappointed didn’t take the next step when the game demanded it, I think most Saints fans would have had Acres in mind. He has shown his versatility and X-factor in patches and whilst this wasn’t a massive four-quarter performance, it was a massive final quarter performance against arguably the most talented team in the competition. He kicked two goals in as many minutes early in the final term playing as a forward target, to take us from nine points down to the lead. (Worth mentioning here that Sinclair was the one who delivered expertly to him for the second goal). Acres followed that up with a party tricks fast handball over the right shoulder to Geary running out of defence – I’ve said it before but he’s shaping as an old-fashioned and/or very modern utility player.

I’ve glossed over or completely neglected the huge games from Seb Ross, Jack Steven and the midfield in general, but (I’m still surprised I’m saying this) we’re getting used to those. The depth is growing; the output of the guys that have been there for a few years like Ross and Steven continues to lift, as well as being boosted by recruits Steele and Stevens and younger guys running through. As I said, this game showed a difference in class but you can’t fake the kind of attitude and hard work it took to get the job done across the 22 on Friday night.

The game had a lot of those moments where in that particular second you think this whole thing is going somewhere. Geary’s huge tackle on Patton was an early warning of the intent. But then in huge moments there was Gresham’s goals, Acres’ hands after his own pair, Seb Ross’s delivery to Bruce, Carlisle’s spoil in front of the members between Devon Smith and Heath Shaw, Steele and Minchington shutting down a GWS rebound attempt in final couple of minutes. Even in isolation they can represent so much.

Last year I remember thinking (and writing) that the second half of the season was set for all sorts of novelties associated with a rebuilding team. An 88-point loss to the Crows had us 4-7, and we’d lost Hugh Goddard for the season. It was the first weekend of June and it seemed to have promised a long, cold winter full of Jackson Ferguson, Will Johnson and Nick Winmar-type appearances from bottom-of-the-depths players. We backed it up with what remained to the end of the season amongst the two most enjoyable matches – knocking off the in-form Blues in front of a sold-out Docklands on a beautiful Sunday afternoon on the long weekend, and then the three-point win over the top-of-the-table Cats.  Richo spoke after the game of the importance that this doesn’t become “an event”. Whilst those last wins set off an incredible second half of the season overall that saw us miss out on the finals on percentage only, they were immediately followed by a loss to the Gold Coast who had lost their last 10. Another challenge to the maturity of this group comes on Saturday in the form of Carlton, who loom as both potential easybeats and potential threats.

In hindsight this game is mostly about what happened in the second half and/or last quarter. It’s about a whole lot of younger guys that we’ve been banking a redevelopment on taking what might be a landmark step. For the next week it is, anyway, until Saturday’s game makes its own impact on the ongoing narrative. This is just part of the journey, but a good part. On the siren of our Round 7 win over Carlton in 2013, I took notice of the reactions of Ross and Newnes particularly. “These are the kinds of wins that not only gets us as supporters attached to the players, but those players really attached to the club”, I said in the review. In the four years since we sacked our coach, sunk further down the ladder – the furthest you can go – and after Round 7 of 2017 I’m saying the same thing. The difference here is that guys like Ross, Newnes, Acres, Billings, Carlisle, Webster and Gresham – some who weren’t even at the club for that win four years ago (indeed, that was Webster’s first game) – those players owned this one. As supporters we find ourselves more and more looking to these guys to step up when things get tough.

It wasn’t until watching the replay, after Jack Steven booted home the icing on the cake from the goal square, that I learned something interesting from Bruce (not for the first time): in the previous 98 rounds, we’d only been in the top eight at the completion of a round three times, and never beyond Round 2. That’s now four rounds out of the last 99. The rebuild hasn’t truly worked until we’ve won a premiership, and after everything that happened across the last generation (and, realistically, the several before that) as St Kilda fans we’re wary for next week, let alone the years to come. But this win felt different. That sense of purpose and a sense of direction is back. There are some times in which you feel that, quite simply, it’s time.

Safe, successful returns from the vortex

Round 9, 2015
Brisbane Lions 7.1, 8.2, 11.6, 13.8 (86)
St Kilda 2.3, 9.6, 12.9, 16.12 (108)
Crowd: 16,898 at the Gabba, Sunday, May 31st at 1.10pm

As Brisbane has faded into obscurity over the past decade, tragically taking the Fitzroy Lion with it, the Gabba itself has become somewhat of a footy vortex.

Somehow, despite the pandering that began in the 90s, they’ve become forgotten by the AFL. Their Queensland cousins the Gold Coast obviously took top billing when it came to the draft concessions race, with GWS likewise and the Swans the perennial Schwerer Gustav of AFL HQ’s turf war against Ray Warren and co.

By proxy, games at the Gabba have now sunk down to the small-font billing of Aurora Stadium status. Not much really happens there now – they’re usually just the games buried in the nothing time slots. Remember when they came back from 52 points down against the Cats? You do, but you only remember finding out later that night, because the game was played in a rarely explored land and a time well after the relevant weekend of footy had ended.

It’s a sense that has been compounded for Saints fans purely by virtue of the St Kilda Football Club being the St Kilda Football Club, with the national expansion of the VFL allowing us to take our historically freakish ineptness across the country. The Gabba was famously a holiday destination for St Kilda players and their talents for a number of years, going without a win there from 1991 until the last round of the weird 2006 season, made weirder by Barry Brooks kicking three goals and being hailed as trade bait. It was a place where we either got smacked or something remarkable happened as we lost. The Grand Final year of 1997 saw us smacked by the appropriate margin of 97 points as we stunk it up early on, and then the following season saw our incredible late-season capitulation highlighted by a one-point loss at the Gabba to the Lions in the final round. The Lions had only won three games to that point (one against us), and had we won relatively comfortably as we should have, we would have finished fourth. This was the game that finished with Stewart Loewe kicking a goal from a metre or two out a second or two after the final siren sounded . Having been first after Round 14 and equal first until Round 17 we instead dropped to sixth. It effectively ended the Alves era, and the  resulting Watson era began with an 89-point loss against the same opposition at the same ground.

Fast forward to the next tilt, to the penultimate round of 2004, and we were blown away after quarter time by the first team to replace us on top of the ladder as The Streak petered out. This match was set to determine who would host the qualifying final a fortnight later, and needless to say the Lions belted the proverbial out of us in the return bout, with the margin blowing out to 100 points in the final quarter. Season 2005 was arguably the most turbulent in the club’s history, and it began with the night at the Gabba in which the brutish physicality of the Lions era roared its last, with Nick on the receiving end.

Easy wins to the Lions in 2007 (52 points) and 2008 (46 points; 69 at three-quarter time) were almost pedestrian affairs, before we registered unconvincing wins in the second Grand Final year of 2010 and 2011, an actually decent win with 2012 heroes Siposs and Saad starring, and then back to the usual tripe in 2013.

Right now, Brisbane’s lack of success in recent years has consigned them to the lowest profile team in the league. The kind of team Hawthorn plays against in Tassie because who would know and who would care? The AFL certainly could never be farked honouring their promises to Roys fans signed off on as part of the merger then so why bother now? I dare say the mailboxes initially and now inboxes at AFL HQ have become progressively lighter nearly two decades on, and those at reception are consciously relieved about it.

So what do the Lions do about this weird crisis? They brought the old Fitzroy Lion back to the jumper, which is a great start but it shouldn’t have gone anywhere in the first place. Certainly the old Fitzroy jumper is just about the best ever worn by any club, but Brisbane is still stuck with dogshit re-recording of what was probably the best song in the league as well.

They wanted to have an actual Lion hanging out on the field pre-match, but instead they decided to ditch the statesmanlike tradition of running through the banner in favour of running out an inflatable Lion’s head.

The Saints Twitter has upped its pre-match banter of late, but you still feel like it could only reflect the club’s on-field fortunes – it could never be as intimidating or brutal or arseholey as an Essendon, for an instance. The account tried to take on Brion this week by drawing attention to our own giant, weird, far more freako mouth. In the end I wasn’t sure what the point was. Who has the biggest, giantest weird mouth thing?

The 1.10pm Sunday timeslot is an odd one. If the game’s in Victoria then some people might remember it exists, but if it’s a match-up actually worthy of wider attention it would be in the 3.20 Channel 7 News airstrip slot. Remember the 2002-2006 TV rights deal, and the blanket Channel 7 coverage before that? The 1.10pm game (for as long as it’s been around) has been broadcast live, mostly as an interstate game, but if it’s an interstate game now it’s on Fox Footy  and the silence can be nearly as deathly as the 4.40 slot later in the day (or even the 4.40 slot on the Saturday). Most people are either watching Footy Flashbacks or the neither-here-not-there TAC Cup Future Stars, and sometimes the players themselves – specifically Tom Hickey – will appear as a guest on the latter being asked about his Schneiderman appearance rather his own team playing in the timeslot.

It’s certainly an odd timeslot when you’re walking through North Road in Ormond at 12 noon and it’s heavily overcast and ridiculously quiet. Hardly the place for a decent build-up – not that the game warranted one – and I’d trekked from Brunswick West for it, but my brother had moved back on the Saturday to the Motherland six weeks ahead of my parents’ return from their UK tenure, and as first duty Fox Footy had been connected.

Carlton Draughts (or were they Mids?) were going down thick and fast in the first quarter as it was evident traditional Gabba form had been flown up and the Lions kicked the first five goals. I got sucked in to the Rohan Connolly theory following their late 2014 season form and had them as a smokey for the eight this year, whilst they’d remembered how to play footy in previous weeks they still showed themselves up as a young work in progress. They do have one of the best younger midfields in the competition, but in trying to gather what was going on through the broadcast, struggling namely Dwayne Russell’s words and resident Lions fan Jonathon Brown, I was led to think we were just really, really not switched on enough.

Matthew Leuenberger was once the future “Best Ruckman of All Time” but on Sunday he was one of those players closer to washed up then next-best-thing who decided to use the Saints as a canvas for some of their arsiest work. He was involved up forward a few times and early and for all the talk of Brisbane barely fielding a forward line, particularly with McStay out, Leuenberger’s involvement and five goals to none said otherwise.

Concerningly, the manner in which those goals and forward thrusts in general were being cultivated was reminiscent of the more negative footy we’d played this year. Hickey led hard up the ground and took a good mark in the middle before wheeling around and having it chopped and the Lions went up forward and kicked a goal, and Bruce and Hickey went up for the same mark in the 50 and with no one down and soft pressure on the Lions running out defence they went all the way up again, with Zorko completely on his own on one flank and finding Daniel Rich on his own for his second goal. Rich had made Panther and Geary look silly close to goal earlier en route to his first, so that percentage shaved off the intensity was all across the ground. That intensity was arguably reflective of the jumper design, and even though I’ll be covering this in more detail in the scarcely-anticipated next edition of St Kilda Jumper Talk, I’m not going to ditch an opportunity to talk about footy jumper minutiae. So let’s do it.

Ah, Indigenous Round. The weekend where every club wears a questionable jumper with genuine concepts behind them that have been filtered down by the whim of jumper manufacturers and whether you’re wearing your home or clash jumper to begin – as we were, and we ended up wearing something that looked like a spider’s web with braces, if you could actually make out anything on top of the entirely white canvas, with the 2009/2010 clash jumper faux-panels on the side.

But this year’s jumper if anything was more so shades of the infamous 2007/08 clash jumper, or should I say FADES of the infamous 2007/08 jumper? I’ve never felt a woman’s touch.

The Lions’ fifth goal came after Paparone outdid Riewoldt in a one-on-one, Hickey laid a huge tackle straight after and then Dunstan missed the resulting shot. The Lions went straight up the other end that fifth came as the clock ticked over just 10 minutes of play.

It would be easy to say “and then the intensity lifted, and the rest if history”, but that’s essentially what happened. And I don’t mean to say that as in we’re that good that we can just turn it on and off. That’s what we did in 2010, when fans bemusingly went ape droppings about “boring” football, not recognising the fact that the coach and the team, for the first time in the club’s then-138 year history, were that good we could choose when and how to win games. This is a completely different stage of development (obviously), so we’re rightfully getting off on these guys not settling for a competitive loss even on the road and in what’s essentially been a St Kilda Football Club black hole.

“Gallant” or “honourable” showings in previous weeks were enough to have the Josh Bruce Hype-O-Meter given the Warrior treatment. Hutchy’s understudy suggested Bruce could kick eight or nine against the Lions. He did essentially the opposite – strangely, in our two-highest scoring games this year we’ve kicked 16.12 (Sunday) and 16.11 (against the Gold Coast) and he’s kicked his equal-lowest (1.3) and highest (6.1) totals respectively. Not sure what the odds are on a gradual fade-out this season given how inexperienced he is and how hard he works, but it’s the latter that’s made him what he is so far this year and he’ll get somewhere at least on that alone.

Bruce was next to unsighted in the first half, caught under the ball often (as Roo and Hickey were) and it was hard to tell if a lead was rarely offered (by him or anyone) or the guys further up were too hasty in bombing it forward. He comically found himself on his own and on the lead in the last few seconds of the first half but dropped an absolute sitter 30 metres out. But he worked his way into the game in the second half and despite the inaccurate return was the one who kept the forward line stable in the final quarter when the Lions needed to be shut out.

Maybe everyone was just trying to remember what it was like to have Roo up forward for so much of the game but it seemed like he, Bruce and Hickey all got caught under the ball a lot and in the same contests in the first half – even the second quarter onslaught was mostly driven by Armo, Dunstan, Lonie etc. Was it just me or was Bruce playing more of the 2015 Roo role than Roo was? I’m not complaining in so far as Roo kicked four goals, but it felt like all of a sudden Bruce and Hickey were relegated a little and couldn’t have the impact they’ve been able to in the last few games. I don’t know if it was simply poor kicking, poor planning or poor movement on their part – probably a combination of both – but fortunately a lot of the smaller guys took some responsibility and we finished with our highest score for the year. It’s probably worth point out too that the better teams would have up to any of several bigger guys that can deliver on any given day up forward – look at our new neighbours the Hawks, who in recent years have had all of Gunston, Roughead, Buddy and Hale as talls alone – and this day it was Roo that finished with the goals.

So yes, the comeback was vaguely built around Roo but it didn’t feel like there was consistent structural anchor throughout the game that he, Bruce or Hickey have provided through the season. Two things about the Hickey and Longer “experiment”: firstly, it’s only as good as the weaker player, and secondly they’re both still very inexperienced so I’ve got billions of years’ worth of time for them. It’s just a part of a young team developing. Either way, it was the smalls and mids in the front half that took control of the game on Sunday.

Dunstan was probably the one that took the biggest step up this week, kicking two really good crumbing goals and laying six tackles in a role mostly confined to the front half. His dip in output over the past couple of months had seen him pushed to the brink of what you’d deem a “rest” (from the outside anyway) for a player of his experience and promise, so this simplified role allowed to him to show off his physicality and his decent mid’s goal sense. Lonie and Sinclair when he came on both brought their spark which feels like a natural component of this side already, only nine matches into their time with the club, Billings continued to rack up his 15+ quality possessions per week and Schneider played probably his best game of the year. Whatever you think of him, make the most of the contribution he makes out on the field because he’ll be gone very, very soon, back to the rookie list and that might well be it.

Armo continued his eponymous Fest 2015 with another 31 touches and an impact all around the ground, inside and out, and all the other things that people say about mids that play good games like that. He’s currently at point that Roo/Joey/Dal/BJ/Lenny consistently operated at over the past few years, in which I totally CBF writing about them in these reviews because everyone knows what they did and that they did it well. This time around, the talking point was that he kicked two really quality goals in the second quarter to wrestle the momentum from the Lions and send us on our way.

Like Armo, Mav finished with two goals at a crucial time in the game as a midfielder, volleying Billings’ great kick from just beyond the 50 metre arc and then reading the contest in the goal square best from the resulting centre bounce. Unfortunately he smacked Bewick in the head and was lucky to not get more than the one week offered to him by this week’s MRP Lotto Supervisors. Like Dunstan, I thought his output had tapered off a little over the last few weeks but a lot of players really took turns to stand up when someone needed to. Coming back from 29 points is one thing, and whilst the Best columns would feature senior guys in Roo, Joey, Schneider and Dempster just about every player – right down to D-Mac, one of the lesser lights on the day, taking a huge hit from behind whilst holding a tough overhead mark on the wing in the last quarter.

Martin replicated what Bennell did at a similar point further south in the state in Round 2 and really we were safe. Richie felt differently but Matt and I were talking about relatively confident we were through the second half. “Relatively” is the operative word – I wasn’t thinking we were going to shit it in or necessarily win but I felt much better about the prospects of giving it a shake through to the end, and a decent shake at that, as opposed to the last couple of years.

So two out of three wins this year in Queensland. Whilst the Gold Coast win was great at the time, particularly with the Bruce factor turned up to 11, using the arsey tool of hindsight it was probably the result that should have happened. This one had a lot more fight, and with the Lions flicking the switch in the last few weeks the poor start at our least favourite ground actually made some sense. But we’re hitting the point of the season now in which we can see clear hallmarks that each side is displaying in the 2015 season. Pleasantly, this side has been instilled with a real fighting aspect and a pride in both performance and application. To go with that we’ve been lucky that young guys in Billings, Sinclair, Lonie, Bruce, and so on have all improved their contributions, but it all starts with watching a young team working hard and really giving a shit about what they’re doing.

Ditched, Vol. 3

Round 4, 2015
St Kilda 5.3, 8.6, 10.8, 12.9 (81)
Carlton 1.2, 6.4, 12.9, 18.13 (121)
Crowd: 12,125 at Westpac Stadium, Saturday, April 25th at 1.10pm NZST

When you’re back at bottom of the shit heap you’re reminded about it in myriad ways.

In our case, we can even go to another country in which no one should know of our woeful, woeful history but we’ll still get found out.

Last year the New Zealand experiment featured a crowd of 13,409, down exactly 9,137 from the previous year.

That match saw us put in what would classically be described as a piss-weak performance, against a team that was 0-5 and in a game which presented a huge opportunity to go 4-2 (not that it really would have done that much for the rest of the season, let’s be honest), and after all the pre-match hype both here and locally, by the end of the night the venture was looking like this.

This year we apparently got to 12,125, and that might have been affected by two slop teams playing on a weekend which wasn’t padded out by a public holiday either side, but for the second year running the takeaway is we haven’t won a game in our apparently second home – now from three attempts – and we’ve again lost to a winless team.

You can have the annual Shane Savage Week, you can have a TV spot brazenly plugging the Saints in front of the opposing captain – or puff pieces with high-profile players of an opposing code, and you can personally give the locals a skills session, whatever. The $500,000 that Wellington tip in to the club for the game each probably doesn’t need that many people there for the broader local economy to get more back, but for the foreseeable future this game isn’t getting any bigger.

Look, you could look at the fixturing for this one and say, well, the AFL has given us a team that is probably a good chance to be the home of Darcy Parish come November, and given us a good chance to give the travelling fans, and any locals who got tickets thrust into their faces whilst they were minding their business during the week, a win in New Zealand on Anzac Day.

I don’t know, but in the long run sending two dodgy sides in a row to contend with our total dog’s balls-ness isn’t going to help in a “market” (welcome to Gold Coast & GWS-era basic, undisputed terminology) in which it’s not just about bringing a good “product” (fuck you Demetriou et al), but an actual “showcase” of said “product”. For as long as we’re going to be rebuilding/incompetent/whatever, we’re going to be letting that down by totally not holding up our own end.

Something decent at least after last week would be a start from every point of view, but fuck a duck I don’t know how much longer the NZ novelty factor will last for the crowds until we’re decent. There’s been some vague talk that this will be a permanent fixture (until the contract runs out, of course), so at best it will be treading water for the rest of it given where we are.

By then, I’m not sure how unique the game will actually be. Everyone’s probably been a little scared off by the crunch scheduling for this year given it’s on a Saturday, but it’s something that happens every few years so everyone calm the fuck down about it. The thing here is that Melbourne and Richmond are eyeing off the Anzac Day Eve timeslot, and over 58,000 there last night bodes well, considering Melbourne’s only going to get better and [insert Melbourne supporters turning up joke here]. Phil Davis also (probably under Head of Communications’ orders) just eased the prospect GWS-Gold Coast game also becoming an annual fixture into the media frame, and I’m sure the AFL would love that.

The New Zealand fixture for myself has always presented a few difficulties in terms of actually seeing the game. in 2013 I was in Cambodia with Mum and Dad, and whilst the Australia Channel had the Collingwood-Essendon game as part of its four weekly broadcast games, there was not a backpackers’ pub in site, even in the whitest of of touristy districts, that was showing the St Kilda-Sydney game. I ended up listening to the first half with the parents out of my iPhone at a bar over some rude cocktails, and then back at the hotel Dad and I watched the second half on a low-quality, totally not absolutely not very not legal stream of the game. Last year, my brother and I couldn’t find something similar but of decent quality enough and it was the iPhone again – this time via the hastily-subscribed AFL Live app – that gave me the early non-action, and we went up the street from his house past Sportscover to the Elsternwick where we watched arguably the most disappointing performance of the year.

This time, we decided to vaguely pre-plan things via a series of text messages close to 11pm, after I’d been in bed and slept for nearly two hours. We quickly found out the Anzac Day public holiday trading laws weren’t very conducive to the morning start so we ended up in Oakleigh at dear cousin Evan’s for some morning coffees and lagers and Red Rock Deli chips. Really not sure about the AFL’s approach to this game considering those trading laws and the fact this game remains stuck on Fox Footy – which a huge majority of people don’t have – and, uh, in a different country.

So fortunately Matt and I could rely on Evan and the family’s hospitality, and most importantly, Fox Footy connection. The brilliance of Melbourne’s public transport system meant we got there right on the start for Jarryn Geary’s debut as captain. With no My Favourite Hair in the AFL and Joey playing, the structure and inside work would be tested again after the dismal failure of last week.

Of course, we weren’t confronted with the scenario that Roo’s genuine late withdrawal gave us last week, which was essentially throw out our structural planning for the week less than an hour before the game. That Paddy came in was great, although depending on which forum called Saintsational you might read Josh Bruce wasn’t feeling too flash, to go with the fact that neither play the kind of footy that could cover Roo’s now roaming role.

However I think, perhaps ironically, that for Paddy’s statistical return of five touches he actually looked far more comfortable there yesterday, and gave showed us what he’d been sold on in the lead-up to the draft: he covered more ground more thoughtfully, was more physical when it came to marking contests, moved through traffic better and was cleaner down low than in his rushed debut. I don’t know about drawing the link between him being subbed off and our structure overall going to absolute arse, but in his second game as a big guy with a lot of responsibility for how the team set-up I’m not going to fault him too much.

The warning signs of the other side of the structural deficiencies were there from early on. This one’s more about application but once the Blues were over the first wave of pressure across our half-forward line is was down to them to screw things up for themselves. It was a similar pattern the previous week; after the decent start things opened up and in the end the 40-point margin reflected just how much the Blues sliced us open after we were out to a 26-point lead in the second quarter. The possession count reflected that too – 375 to a paltry 308.

The thing was, we were switched on in the first quarter and a half that the high pressure ploy really worked. It made Jack Steven’s good running and pocket banana opener and Sinclair’s really composed finish on the angle look extra sharp. Bruce’s dinky kick on the line was a replica of his sixth on the Gold Coast a fortnight earlier so the good vibes were there, but the second quarter difficulties seen in the two losses were still something to overcome.

It was perhaps incumbent on Membrey to play a more prominent role across half-forward, but eight touches – albeit with some pretty decent fend-offs and good urgency thrown in – and no scoreboard presence really doesn’t do his place in the side any favours. Fortunately for him Roo is no certainty at all to play next week, Paddy would probably be the first one to come out and Spencer is doing fark all for Sandy right now (and anything Tom Lee is doing is at the other end of the ground). I’m absolutely not writing him off, and like Paddy he might look a lot better with Roo straightening things up as well (we know he’s made impact with that set-up already). Yesterday was only his fifth game and he would have been better off spending the last two years playing in the EFL if he wanted to be primed for senior footy.

So, as it should have been expected, the first 100 seconds of play in the second quarter saw Carlton take the ball out of the centre twice for two goals. Soon after Jack Steven totally butchered a forward 50 entry on the rebound the Blues went straight back for Henderson to already have three on the board.

The deft move by Bruce to meet the ball at the top of the fifty, hold off the close handball and wait the extra second to give to Billings runnings past for the lovely running goal was probably the classiest we looked all day. Billings is still getting there obviously, but this moment was a timely reminder of why he was a pick 3.

Bruce didn’t dominate again but he kicked two goals, which means his return so far has been a healthy 2, 6, 2 and 2. Again, like Membrey and pre-emptively McCartin (for the short-term), he would be the beneficiary of Roo running around nearby or higher up; he certainly affected general play more with him in the side, apparent illness notwithstanding; and last week was probably not a good time to be wearing the white shorts and mostly-white clash jumper.

I’ll faff around with the subject more in my entirely unanticipated next volume of St Kilda Jumper Talk over the next week, but I thought this year’s New Zealand jumpers looked pretty good, if a bit busy. Not sure if they’re trying to build a theme with the red being essentially the bottom third of the jumper on the front and back over this year and last, with black panels either side of the middle white panel on the upper part. I think it’s a really mean look, and is basically a hybrid of the home jumper tri-panel and the hot-cross bun jumper.

It was the kind of day in which Billy Longer was having an impact around the ground. And by that I mean it was a weird day. He ended up with 20 possessions but already the game had turned enough to the point we were sitting there thinking if him being in our better players was a good thing or not. Billy got in on the pressure act and took some nice intercept marks across half-forward, and would venture back a couple of times to have a presence there also. A few hurried kicks when he found the footy in general play I think had to do more with him totally not being used to being near the ball at a stoppage. Either way, 20 touches might reflect one of the first real steps we see him take.

The umpires were letting just about everything go for some reason, but they did it so consistently it was genuinely enjoyable to see a bit of physicality in the game not taking away from its ebbs and flows. Perhaps the umpires were told to keep things flowing on the smaller field, and it worked whatever the motivation. But when Carlton busted down to their forward line for Liam Jones to have an easy shot at goal and then miss, I knew I couldn’t trust anyone out on that field to not pull out something dog’s balls through the second half or at a vital point late in the game – whether it be the umpires letting their guard down, Liam Jones or Billy Longer.

By half-time we could barely get past halfway with a decent possession, and the second half really is just a blur of party pies, Oscar sitting next to my head on the couch, beer and novelty soft drink (Schweppes’ “Fruit Tingler”, obviously named to evade copyright infringement, was actually OK). That Jack Lonie was the classiest thing that happened for us in that second half speaks volumes of Jack’s own talent and our own inconsistency.

I like the style of footy Richo is trying to get us to play, and we’ve seen it work at times very well this year. But whilst this team is young and we’re still sorting out the proverbial from the proverbial, when it drops off it’ll get ugly. Lonie’s pressure turned over the ball twice in the same short passage early in the third, ultimately ending up with a great kick from Billings to Bruce for an early goal, and when he bobbed up out of nowhere to win the ball and then found himself down the chain snapping a goal around the corner through traffic – with kind assistance from the bounce – all of a sudden we were lucky to be 14 points out. But then he kicked across goal and Andrejs Everitt duly accepted the gift and the Blues were up and about. They made sure Lonie knew about it and they didn’t look back.

Sure, there was Newnes giving Murphy a nice lovetap (more out of frustration I think in the relatively foreign and ineffective role), and Geary just pressing his head into the turf as well, but they came after Geary put in a soft effort going for a mark and Murphy was the one who really showed a captain’s qualities. Sure it was nice for Geary to be captain for the week, but there a few clangers in his game and based on admittedly a very small sample size I don’t think he’s quite the next in line.

It’s easy to criticise the backline but when our midfield is getting smashed or the forward press is breaking down far too easy then they’re going to have an unlimited supply to defend. The glaring part here is that guys like Dempster, Fisher, Gilbert and Ray probably can’t take up that many spots in the backline for much longer. Yes, we need to have the stability down there for a bit, but it’s one area that really is up in the air as far as the transition to youth goes. Goddard, Acres, Lee maybe, and Webster really need to start playing more often, and it’s fair to say Acres and Webster have certainly done enough to demand a senior spot very soon. They’ve shown natural smarts and pinpoint disposal, which is the kind of thing we’ll need with this style of footy. Roberton has improved on last year but I still think Shenton is ultimately a depth player at best.

So after a couple of quick Double-Coated Tim Tams and some Miced Volvos, it was back out into the cold and slight rain, to trek back across the city with most of the bleak afternoon left and already a St Kilda loss to show for our Saturday. Fortunately, there was some remarkable Australian Rules football to be broadcast still to come.

When St Kilda returns to its natural state, by definition it means clubs are inherently raised that little bit more, as well as getting the opportunity to showcase that domination no matter where they sit in their own journey. Take the winless Blues as the perfect example – holders of the greatest ever all-time wins-to-losses gap over an opponent (us of course), and with a list that’s possibly the worst of any – their sixth-gamer Patrick Cripps gathered 33 disposals and laid 11 tackles; Tom Bell barged his way to four goals after 22 across four seasons, and Lachie Henderson decides to kick five in one his occasional good performances, typically reserved for who else?

How do you keep selling this to a city in a foreign country? How many times can you try? “We’ve been successful here only once from 142 attempts; zero out of three isn’t so bad”? The idea is OK, but whether or not it’s successful really depends on what the AFL want and what the club want; we might be happy to just keep pocketing the money. The fact is until Corporate Stadium is in the AFL’s ownership and we’re not the League’s stress ball, we’ll need those dollars.

Don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again

“Arise, Rhys Stanley, and lead us to salvation.”

So I facetiously wrote three years ago after another blonde forward and messiah-to-be, Tommy Walsh, was traded out to Sydney in the final stages of the post-2011 season trade week. Barker, Lockett, Harvey, Riewoldt, Blight, Goddard, Ross the ex-Boss – was Big Rhys next in line after Tommy’s exit? When a club has such lean team success, it’s easy to put anyone on a pedestal too quickly.

Perhaps looking for a quick fix after the GT/Ross decade had drawn to a close, Tommy Walsh presented us with a potential get-out-of-jail-free card: some tantalising performances at VFL level – VFL, yes, but he couldn’t have done more without being picked at senior level – but coming from the strongest Gaelic background in his early career, and in a season in which we physically and psychologically looked ruined and couldn’t be farked, simply bombing it uselessly to My Favourite Hair when going forward. Needless to say, Roo was typically outnumbered and even though we won nine of our last 11, I think some sort of weight was lifted from our shoulders when the final siren sounded to end the Elimination Final. But St Kilda’s Messiah Complex was never more excruciatingly present.

It wasn’t quite Scott Watters who could fulfill the desires; however it’s hard to believe that should a few minor things have gone the other way in four of the five games St Kilda lost by 13 points or less in 2012, we’d have finished in the top four (reverse all five and it’s top three). Instead we endure seasons such as 2013 and 2014, where the worst fears of the 2010 Grand Final Replay post-mortem were realised.

This was the year we officially returned to our natural habitat, anchored at the bottom of the ladder. Nature’s order has been restored. As we watch Hawthorn and Geelong continue their long-term challenges – and with the luxury of recent premierships already banked and to still enjoy – we now have to work our way from the bottom up again as we did 14 years ago.

In fact, this year marked 10 years since the juggernaut-to-be awoke after multiple seasons of assembly. In those surreal days of early 2004, footy seemed timeless. Milne, Ball, Hayes, Maguire, Koschitzke, under the guidance of Riewoldt – they were kids and they were going to guide us to all kinds of glory for an indefinite period of time. St Kilda, at last, was going to be a genuine force.

That we are now back in this position and without a premiership to show for everything put in place for a long-term challenge is a classically St Kilda outcome. We were given the chance on a platter for the second premiership, as well as any and all of the establishment of long-term on-field success, membership and the improvement of facilities. And the club dropped the lot in the most heartbreaking and emphatic ways possible.

When all of a sudden you’re scrapping to win a quarter rather than a premiership as we did in 2014, it takes some time to getting used to the thought that what you’re witnessing doesn’t mean something potentially historic. That the players you’re watching might not go down in St Kilda history as remarkable cogs of the elusive second premiership, or at the least of the path towards it.

Which brings me back to Rhys. His fits and spurts of brilliant form in 2014 had us thinking that he might just be the next big thing for us; the one with the biggest presence on the ground; St Kilda fans anticipating his involvement from a kick ahead as we do with Roo. Rhys suffered a little from David Armitage Syndrome – poised for a breakout season every year, but he only made frustratingly incremental progress with a relatively anticlimactic ceiling becoming fast apparent.

But as the trade period is wont to do in the ultra-modern era, the Big Rhys Bandwagon had taken off down the Highway for the Cattery. Those glimpses mean nothing now (for us, anyway). The Herculean efforts in the wins against Essendon and Fremantle are purely to service what may or may not happen for him in blue and white hoops.

There’s a couple of points in all of this. The first is that others will also fall by the wayside as we endeavour to make it out of the homeland and find better territory, and this is what periods that 2014 represent are equally notable for. Shenton, Curren, Minchington; will they turn out to be the Begley, Beetham and Davis of this generation? How much of this year will we actually remember in a decade from now?

The other is itself two-fold. A key (and necessary) part of this period is the club selling that we will actually reach those better times. The best way to do that right now is to put on show and talk up the young guys and their potential, and that goes into turbo mode when you have the number one pick at the National Draft. Once that was clear, the St Kilda Messiah Complex was back in fashion in a big way.

By proxy, another crossroad in our meagre history was reached, with apparently a one-sided, two-horse race finishing against the majority’s . Once Sam McClure turned everyone’s opinions and predictions on their head on the Monday of trade week saying Patrick McCartin would be taken by us at pick one, it was easy to raise Ball-Judd comparisons from the 2001 Draft.

I get the feeling that people are pre-emptively disappointed in McCartin because he’s a number one draft pick and a key forward, but not one quite of Nick Riewoldt’s presence nor overall talent. They’re actually both 193cm, but Paddy won’t be affecting games in as many parts of the ground and as often as Roo. He also doesn’t have the blonde hair.

Hugh Goddard does have the blonde hair, but it’s his name alone gets people more excited. We’ve seen positive glimpses already from Billings, Dustan and Eli from the 2013 draft alone. Add to that Newnes, who is looking all of captaincy material without dominating games in the way a Selwood or a Hodge do. This feels like a much more evenly-spread rebuild – Spencer hype notwithstanding (watch blow right out if he brings back the topknot) – and speaks to the “champion team vs. team of champions” debate fought out with Geelong through the aughts, which the Cats comprehensively won over several years.

Late in the final public training session before the 2010 Grand Final, Ross Lyon was coming off the ground. Someone near the old Moorabbin wire race called out to enthusiastic cheers and applause, “Bring ‘em home, Ross”, which he gave a typically understated nod and wave to in response. Needless to say it was a poignant moment. But it also raised something that rarely as St Kilda supporters do we face. I’ve described finishing on the bottom of the ladder as being in our “natural habitat”, and as part of “nature’s order”. Of course it’s awful for us to have the entire club in this dire position after what we experienced over the past decade, and it’s something that’s very familiar to us. We understand it and can get by with it somehow. But it’s not home, and in this year more than any did we realise that. Home is somewhere we don’t know nearly well enough.

Once again, we are faced with the opportunity on and off the field to shake the St Kilda Messiah Complex once and for all, although we are a very, very long way from anywhere ideal. For now, nature’s order has us down and way out, where it’s merely about the hope that rather than just one hero lifting us off the canvas or kicking that one extra goal, that every representative of a strong St Kilda Football Club will take us home to the promised land.

Nature’s order

Round 13, 2014
Geelong Cats 6.4, 12.7, 16.11, 20.13 (133)
St Kilda 1.2, 2.3, 2.5, 5.7 (37)
Crowd: 25,180 at Kardinia Park, Sunday, 15th June at 1.10pm

By the time the sun had come up the morning of Sunday’s game, we were already on the bottom of the ladder.

Once you find yourself there, naturally the question to ask both apprehensively and facetiously is “How much lower can you go?”

On Sunday we witnessed a team which tuned us right out of the game. Does anyone remember a passage of play? As in, does anyone remember a purposeful, effective string of possessions at any point throughout the game? But for Seb Ross playing what could be a break-out game of sorts with 28 possessions, this was the kind of day we fear in times like these, but will inevitably occur a few times a season – an absolute shellacking with fark all development upside.

It was what Richo called our worst performance for the year. Worse than a loss against the Hawks that was the fifth biggest in our woeful 141-year history, and was bigger than our biggest-ever victory.

Eerily, the scoreline was nearly identical to last year’s trip to Kardinia Park in Round 18. Sunday saw the Cats kick 20.13.133 to our 5.7.37, whilst last year ended 21.11.137 to 5.6.36. It had taken the club 11 years to lose by 100 points, appropriately with the club that we gave up the 2009 Grand Final to bookending that period. By the time the team left Geelong on Sunday, it had come within four points of that happening twice in 11 months. Or, more tellingly, twice in six weeks, and then throw in two 86-point losses, a 70-point loss and financial woes and you’re looking at a club that’s proudly upholding its traditions.

Appropriate then, that no-one seemed to be in a rush to watch the game. I was late to getting to Rich’s place/RWB‘s Richmond HQ, having taken my time in carefully consulting with Rich on the chip flavouring variety (we decided to make our respective Red Rock Deli’s sour cream and caramellised onion debuts), and a whole bunch of other delicious sugary garbage (Starburst Party Mix and Pepsi). So I actually ended up listening to the first 20 minutes in the car. Oddly, on the corner of Alexandra Parade and Brunswick Street there was some guy walking along with headphones wearing a St Kilda polo, and then crossing Victoria Street at Hoddle was a couple with a woman wearing an oversized late-90s hot-cross bun jumper. This would have been 10 minutes into the game. I don’t even see St Kilda supporters in the inner north on the way to the ground when we’re actually playing in Melbourne. Tom Hickey wasn’t watching or even listening to the game at all.

Whilst we were ambling around (or being on TV), the Saints were were busy getting off to a good start. And I say “getting off to a good start” in the absolute strictest terms. Like, literally the start of the game, and nothing beyond it. Longer to Steven to Billings to Weller and goal, and we were done for the day. It was 12 seconds in when the ball crossed the goal line. Billings received a free 30 out from goal after going down like [insert World Cup reference here], but maintained his worrying formline when it comes to kicking goals from relatively easy shots, i.e. down, down.

It was probably another week that long enough in the game went by without his impact that I completely forgot he was playing. His stats were very modest but would probably belie that – 15 touches and 1.1 – but Geelong shut St Kilda down so completely, and our disposal was so poor that the slick skills that are his trademark weren’t really on display.

Two things now. Firstly, as I mentioned, Seb Ross was really the only young guy that had a consistent presence throughout the match, having been overshadowed by guys like Billings, Dunstan and Eli through this year. Secondly, he was also probably the only one that showed some real purpose in his movement, spread and disposal, when questions are typically asked about his pace, tank and use of the footy respectively. I’m not going to officially declare it a breakout game for him just yet, and I don’t necessarily expect him to be getting ~28 possessions every week from here, but it might be the first sign he’ll be a player.

And then at the other end of the scale you have just about everyone else. The midfield overall were simply rubbish and it doesn’t help when you’ve got your reigning Best & Fairest winner shanking short kicks to a leading big forward. I speak, of course, of My Favourite Hair in the AFL, who for the first time this season cracked under the pressure of having to carry a lost cause on his shoulders. The Stokes intercept in front of him and goal just before half-time was his day in short, and he cracked so hard to he smiled later on when there was some questionable umpiring against him. One goal, eight touches. The thing is, it was hardly his fault – the delivery was either non-existent or, when the side could actually string enough hurried possessions together out of the Cats’ attack, woeful.

Which brings us to Tom Lee, who genuinely looked like he was nearly in tears after he got subbed off well before half-time. Yeah I can accept the queries over whether he works hard enough – Matthew Lloyd on Footy Classified last night said he could tell by his body shape he didn’t work hard enough, but I’m quite sure about that – but if there’s no decent delivery forward that reflects a certain structure or purpose the team is playing with I’m not sure what you expect him to do. Personally, I think his greatest crime is his hair, but I guess I can hack it if he’s playing decent footy. Richo in the post-match presser essentially deemed him a “liability”, and this is where armchair/internet footy critique really can be contrasted against actual people doing actual things at AFL level. There’s got to be something we don’t see. Because he brought on a 30 year-old that has difficulty kicking an Australian Rules football at the expense of a 23 year-old that’s played 11 games at AFL level and is a developing forward, which is the kind of player this club is crying out for right now.

Look, either way we’re hurtling towards having the Number 1 draft pick now, which you think we’d use on either Peter Wright or Patrick McCartin. By all reports the top order of this draft particularly will be depend more on clubs’ needs, rather than specific kids being absolute standouts, than previous years. However, Wright and McCartin look like they’ll be the most valuable. Wright is 203cm and plays both forward and as a ruckman, has an awesome boot on him and has a great pair of hands to go with his height. McCartin is a power forward who at 193cm is the same height as My Favourite Hair, but with a heavier build and plays from deeper forward. Just give yourself some time to think about it, because the club will ideally be using this pick on one of these guys to be what we build our forward line around for the next 12 years. At least until we end up with Pick 1 next year, too.

Interestingly, Josh Bruce ended up forward on a couple of occasions and did half-decently to have a physical presence in the air and on the ground. He really didn’t get much of the ball but it’s tweaks like those that make you think that guys like him could have another dimension worth exploring on occasion. I think the same could be said of Head Simpkin, but I think he looked more comfortable in the back half throwing his weight around (was it was a straight swap with Bruce during the game?). Simpkin fortunately got a fair bit more of the ball this week (17 touches), and they weren’t quality but he again showed more than anyone that he wanted to throw his weight around and hit a few opposition bodies. I’d just about keep him in the side for competitive instinct alone.

I think it’s just about gotten to the point where it’s sunk in that making changes probably won’t all of a sudden make this team. It’s probably going to be either a senior guy (and by that I mean CJ) for a younger, inexperienced guy, or a younger, inexperienced guy for another younger, inexperienced guy. Terry (not that young at all) might actually be somewhat of an exception to that; based on his form since he came back in he’d be an upgrade in output on say, Saunders. Or Hickey for Longer. However, the fact is that Saunders, Longer, Murdoch, Lee, and all these guys that had quieter days on Sunday will only get better with more games and more experience. And no, it doesn’t mean gifting them games, but it does mean there will simply be periods with them which won’t be great but will be necessary for them to be great players for this club.

Hickey and Wright are back playing VFL this week. I nearly choked on the Starburst Party Mix banana when Longer got hit, because if he went down badly then the only true ruckmen we’d have ready to go for this coming Sunday would be Lewis Pierce – although his leadership would be warmly welcomed in the absence of some of the senior guys – and Jason Holmes, who continues to genuinely improve and do good things as a ruckman, but like CJ can’t kick an Australian Rules football.

Judging by Richo’s comments I assume Lee is going out, even if I want him to stay. If he fixed up his hair that would be huge for me but I’m not winning anything here. Dunell kicked four and My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs and Rhys were vaguely good in Sandy’s solid win on Saturday, so it’s going to have to be one of those coming in or Maister. Markworth hasn’t been setting the VFL alight but he’s been played further up the ground more consistently than I think we thought he would so I can’t quite throw him in the forwards category, but I dare say the plan is he’ll be part of the chain eventually. Then there’s Spencer White, who we’re told is playing VFL seconds but it seems no one can confirm or deny that he still actually plays football ever.

Before the game I think CJ starting as the sub appeared to be the first step for him being either phased out of the side or indicator that he’d be on the way out at the end of the season. But the way Richo brought him into the game so quickly, blowout scoreline aside, gave me the impression that he thought CJ could make some sort of an impact on the midfield non-battle and at least stem the bleeding.

The reality is Geelong aren’t quite the same team they’ve been over the past several seasons, and took the foot off a little in the second half. It speaks volumes about them that they’re still good enough to be a premiership fancy anyway, so we’re lucky that they didn’t go harder from the start and throughout the entirety of the game, because given our performance we were looking at maybe not another 186, but certainly a 145.

Armo was pretty solid in his first game back and I think did exactly what we’d expect in his situation. The midfield was completely outplayed but he at least got his hands on the footy a fair bit. I liked Mav Weller really annoying Selwood the Cats players. He didn’t get much support from his teammate but that competitiveness that he has, like Head’s, I’m all for having in this side. Selwood kicked three goals but Mav kept him to just 11 possessions.

Dunstan only had 10 touches (which is actually a sentence that feels good to write), and maybe having all of CJ, Armo, Dunstan, Ross and Weller makes for a midfield that’s a bit one-dimensional. Savage and Curren dominated at Sandy, so maybe it’s time to take out CJ (my view, and it probably won’t be the selectors’) or give Dunstan a break, or just a game at VFL level to take the edge off a little (I’d prefer for him to stay though).

As for Richo himself, Sunday was probably the first time he started showing some real anger and frustration with the players. That’s good, it’s showing he’s really got a plan that’s purposeful, or at least defined enough that he knows when the players aren’t sticking to it. We’ve got plenty of time to find out if it works or not, and it’s probably too early to make an observation even to the positive, but the kind of rumblings out of the club we heard in the lead up to Watters’ sacking are non-existent.

Once you settle into these extended low periods you begin to consider all options. At the start it was to just think we’d draft another Roo, and another BJ, another Dal, Kosi, Fish, Joey, Ball, Goose, etc. this week  and we’d be reprising our 2004 season start in time to make the top four. But life moves fast, and faster when you look back on it. I think about those 2000-2002 days and think, it can’t have been so bad – we had all these young guys’ great careers at the Saints to look forward to, so who cares if we’re getting done by 10 goals in this soulless stadium we have no attachment to?

The thing is, we only know that now. We know that we experienced three Preliminary Finals and three Grand Finals, and all the hope offered throughout those seasons, and then some. Right now, however, we don’t know for sure what players Billings, Dunstan, Acres, Eli, Wright, Newnes, Ross, et al. will be. And in the mean time we’re going to go to a game and it will be a huge loss or a narrow loss to some shitty expansion side, and then we’ll have to stand around in the cold afterwards whilst we wait for a train. Or go out afterwards and have a mediocre night out at a disappointing party. And then go through a whole week of doing whatever we do until the next game.

We’ve very quickly realised that bottoming out and getting high draft picks might not be quite as we remember it. It’s slow and empty and we don’t know when or if we’ll get out of this. Melbourne spent seven seasons as basketcase, and haven’t yet – yet – made it back up. Richmond has made the finals three times in 32 seasons inclusive, and even after winning the same amount of games last year that saw St Kilda finish on top of the ladder in 1997, are now only above 18th on percentage. History says we’re back where we belong. This century has seen the club want to put itself in a position to make its own history, as the players of the turbulent, ill-fated 2005 campaign often put it. Whatever happened then, and whatever will happen, this sinking feeling is normal again.