2014 Posts

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.

The Red, White and Black 2014 Review Podcast

Rich and I recently bunkered down at our (his) RWB Richmond Headquarters with a couple of pizzas, a lot of Pepsi and some Moccona to chat about the 2014 year that was for the St Kilda Football Club.

We recorded three hours’ worth of material and there were no surprises that I was easily to cut out nearly half of our faffin’ about. What’s left is the RWB 2014 Review, in which we talk about Spencer White’s topknot, update the 2018-2028 Premiership Captain market, are momentarily joined by Jack Billings and, as always, break numerous copyright laws.

The fondest of farewells

Round 23, 2014
Adelaide Crows 4.2, 11.5, 15.5, 22.9 (141)
St Kilda 2.2, 3.3, 8.7, 9.8 (62)
Crowd: 44,969 at Adelaide Oval, Sunday, August 31st at 2.50pm CST

Ok right, so before I start there’s probably a couple of things to point out.

Firstly, as I touched on in last week’s review, it’s difficult to not make a post at this point in a season like this a de facto season review. That’s mostly for the questionable podcasts that Rich and I put together. We’ll have time to produce some faff in the coming weeks.

Secondly, I don’t want this to be entirely about Lenny, because really Rich and I can post whatever we want whenever we want and I’d rather give Lenny a devoted post but I might not, although this will probably end up revolving around him anyway.

Richmond was the feel-good story of the round (and potentially the year), but their win also rendered the rest of the weekend – i.e. this and the Suns-Eagles match on the Sunday as dead rubbers. Otherwise, given West Coast’s sizeable victory, we would have been set up somewhat for a revenge opportunity for Adelaide. It was in the final game of 2008 that we stormed to a 108-point win over Essendon – Robert Harvey’s final home-and-away match – to knock Adelaide from fourth spot and grab the double chance for ourselves, having been 5-7 after Round 12. Had the Tigers lost on Sunday and the Eagles won by the margin they did, the Crows would have needed to win by something in the order of 126 points to make the eight. Given their style of play, firepower up forward and St Kilda’s lowly state it wouldn’t have been utterly impossible. But ultimately, just like this entire paragraph, it was moot.

Indeed, it would have been reasonable to expect that Adelaide would come out a little flat now that their season was cooked, although they’d been pretty inconsistent even when their season was still alive. Probably the closest thing we were going to get to a win was Lenny taking the record for the most tackles by any player; he needed seven to equal and eight to break the all-time record set by Jude Bolton. Lenny’s ferocious start with six tackles in the first quarter made him a monty to break it, and by game’s end Bolton’s record had stood for less than 12 months. Given the tackle numbers of others currently playing the record will stand for at least a couple of years.

Otherwise the game eventually turned out as expected. One of the first passages of play forecast St Kilda’s day, really – Lenny knocked it out to Jack Steven, who kicked nicely to Rhys leading low just out from the 50-metre arc, and he kicked terribly to no-one. So many times throughout the day we would see Lenny on the inside, Jack running through the middle and then, uh, maybe Rhys on the lead too, sure, if he was around, but the point is that either the kick inside 50 would be off or there’d simply be not much on offer.

Indeed, within two minutes we’d resorted to Plan ZZ and were bombing it to Clint Jones inside 50. Whilst we actually had a fair amount of the play for much of the quarter it took a holding free to SPENCER WHITE ROADSHOW to get things going. Again, like last week, he had a touch of the G-Trains about him: the barely-there follow through with the kick, and the resulting floating and swinging drop punt kick. The ball barely crossed the line and had to go to a goal review, but the hype machine was gearing up early.

He would have another couple of shots – both coming from handsomely placed kicks from My Favourite Hair in the AFL to good leads – but both were hard against the boundary and on the wrong side for a left-footer. One went through but was touched off the boot, and the second didn’t score. Spencer didn’t trouble the scorers throughout the rest of the game (not many did) but I thought he moved alright across attack and the supply certainly wasn’t outstanding in either quality or quantity.

His co-young tall forward in Big Rhys Bandwagon (is it still a Bandwagon? I think Spencer is the Money Man right now) started well and took some strong marks (particularly pushing up high on the wing), but was still prone to spilling a simpler grab. I think the important thing was that he got to a lot of contest right around the ground, all the way up to half-back – his contest started off the chain that resulted in a really good coast-to-coast goal featuring Faz putting in some really hard running and a lovely finish.

From the couch one thing I noticed properly this week was Dylan Roberton’s new haircut. It’s rather disappointing; he began in Round 1 with the tight ponytail/bun, but now he’s just a questionable footballer. Matt texted me to point out that Josh Bruce had supplanted him as the club’s OK-but-not-great cool player.

As I said, quality going forward – indeed, quality anywhere – was in short supply for the most part. Sadly, wistfull, wonderfully it was Lenny that put in the most direct, slick hit up forward, and it was to his old mate Roo. That was the kick that went out to Spencer for touched kick, and curiously Channel 7 cut to Andrew Welsh on the boundary interviewing a heavily breathing Joey for about six seconds. Not sure if I’d seen that before and I’m completely against in-match interviews, but not doing them all year obviously didn’t help anyway.

The Crows looked very hesitant moving the ball but once Delaney slipped onto his arse and Tex ran away from him to kick the Crows’ first it was one-way traffic. Despite the best efforts of Newnes, Fisher and Dempster in defence, the Crows went from trailing at the 25.34 mark of the first quarter – the quarter went for 29 minutes and 51 seconds – to leading by six goals just 6.36 into the second.

Bruce and the team couldn’t stop talking about Lenny’s tackle count, nor hometown retiree Truck Rutten, and were officially counting down to a game that actually mattered when Bruce described Jack Steven as “all buzzy”.

Jack was really good – one of the very few Saints who had a presence throughout the entirety of the match, and who looked like getting things really moving the right way. His brilliant run through the middle with a few bounces was capped off with a brilliantly placed kick that turned Talia inside out more than Roo did, and he in turn capped that off with one of the worst set shots of his career. It was that kind of day; Wright went to ground as the ball came into defence and got collected by Delaney as Eddie mopped up and kicked a goal; Shenton was having an absolute cock of a game and twice turnovers goalside of the centre circle that should have led to scoring opportunities went awry purely through our own doing.

Things were so dire that we went back to Plan ZZ. Mav hit CJ’s lead and he leant back and actually kicked a really nice goal from the angle. What would turn out to be CJ’s final game had some up and down moments. Roo was getting increasingly frustrated – he pushed up twice out of attack to be met with a kick out on the full and then, for old times’ sake, another CJ special. CJ then kicked well to Rhys, who went to Lenny and another great kick of his to Roo pushing up on the wing saw Roo’s urge to kill fading, as for his sake we anxiously counted down towards the end of the season.

I actually liked Mav’s game. His numbers say 17 touches and six tackles, which aren’t world beating but reflect the kind of game he plays. He did some hard running and attacked the ball and the contest pretty well, and his six tackles were bettered only by You Know Who. He almost created play of the day, chasing after his own errant handball at half-back, pushing past his opponent in the process, fending off and then his good kick to Rhys subsequently fluffed.

Likewise, Seb Ross found the ball in all parts of the ground seemed to be a lot more settled with the ball (although many had better numbers). The commentary team were going ape droppings for him, but I think they wanted to be nice because it’s Tim’s nephew.

Billy Longer was subbed off at half-time for Brodie Murdoch. I’m not sure that it said too much about anything though. Brodie was probably stiff to not have actually started a game, but he took his chance and had a really impressive third quarter. It was the first time he really consistently used his size and his boot to take marks (he took six in half a game) and really gain some ground. Again, he looked most dangerous up forward but floated higher up. If he can improve his tank enough to do that repeatedly then that boot can be put to good use in a lot of parts of the ground.

Gwilt started forward in his final half for the club, and I was ready to advise the club to get a new name for the club’s irreverent player interview series because I thought Schneider might be joining him. But Roo combined with Spencer, who gave it off near the flank to Schneids and he expertly broke through two Crows for a goal.

It’s all about how many of these senior guys setting the example you can have. Schneider just doesn’t consistently have the same kind of output as guys like Roo, Joey or Dempster to outweight the opportunity that could be given to a younger guy. I have to admit, the difficult part about writing that sentence just then was that I couldn’t use Lenny’s name.

Fisher is another senior guy in the “may or may not be there” category for 2015, but he was just about our best player yesterday. The fact that he’s gone from seemingly semi-retired to one of our best and certainly most reliable says a lot about his ability and I wouldn’t hesitate giving him another year. He’s certainly not moving as if he’s hampered by any of those recent injuries, so if they’re not going to be chronic you’d back him in.

But not so for CJ and Gwilt. Their departure was a decision made for them on the preceding Tuesday, and the word is they wonderfully, admirably chose to not make it public so as not to take anything away from Lenny. Regardless of whether they find a home at an AFL club next year – CJ exited in the manner of someone retiring, and the news this week ironically has Gwilt tied to the Crows from next year – these are players integral to the 2009 and 2010 campaigns which, whether we like it or not, will remember throughout our lives. Neither was blessed with natural talent; CJ may well remain for many years the only AFL player who couldn’t kick an Australian Rules football. But they did what any person who describes themselves as both reasonable and ambitious yearns to do, and that is first and foremost get the absolute best out of themselves. In Ross they found the coach who could mould the team that allowed them to find a football home in, and against expectation they thrived and were deeply respected.

Seeing CJ in the arms of his partner was at once sad and touching, and there was something appropriate that CJ would go out with no fanfare outside of the club and those closest to him. Likewise Gwilt; the image of him carrying Lenny off with Roo is far more dynamic in hindsight, with the knowledge that he and the players around him knew it would be his last time in a St Kilda jumper.

Absurdly, had we kicked straight in the third term we might have gone into the last quarter with a very faint sniff. But by the end the arse had really fallen out and we essentially got given a taste of our own barnstorming send-off last year, with Eddie (Betts) giving off to Truck Rutten who kicked a goal on the run in the final minutes. It wasn’t great viewing from a St Kilda perspective but any Saints fan at the ground for last year’s day out will understand what a nice moment that was for the Adelaide players and fans.

And so, with that, the St Kilda Football Club finished a season on the bottom for the 27th time. No-one has done that half as many times, and the football world collectively sees us being back where we belong.

The heavy tone of reminiscing that comes with a retiring great of what Jake Niall called the “Riewoldt Generation” is different. The surreal party last year in which Kosi, Milne and Blake all retired was in the lingering shadows of the 2010 Grand Finals jsut three years previous, and (rather incredibly) had the Saints swept the string of close games they lost in 2012 they would have finished in the top four (it was also a year in which only a two-goal third quarter deprived the Saints from easily eclipsing the club’s all-time greatest winning margin).

But time and circumstance have changed the way we think about and understand those years, and indeed the entire decade of back-to-back five-year periods under GT and Ross respectively that form probably the most incredible (in the true sense of the word) and otherwise second most successful period in the club’s 141-year history.

This time last year we were looking back on the Grand Finals (and some other choice moments) as part of an era that was still raw in the memory, and the three retirees represented the club’s movement to deeper into a new time with new faces on and off the field. Lenny’s retirement has been a little different. Very quickly stalwarts such as Dal, BJ and (to a much lesser extent) Big Ben all moved home, and the faces of those who took the field in those Grand Finals are now few and far between. Now that period seems distant, and Lenny and co. have been swamped by new faces who ideally will forge incredible memories for the club and those invested in it. His retirement tour was a celebration of his career that was synonymous with those better times and bookended by the club’s 25th and 26th wooden spoons, beginning just before the initial trough of 2000 and ending with the subsequent 2014 crash.

Writing for this blog, and perhaps ironically for someone so enwrapped in the fortunes and trials and tribulations of the club, I spend far less time talking about the consistently good players than I do all others. I certainly like the idea of being irreverent or realistic and it’s an easier to be facetious and stay grounded that way; I don’t do it to muckrake or sensationalise or whinge. I also do it because, quite simply, it’s naturally more interesting week in, week out to write and read about in depth the talking points. Because we know that Joey is going to rack up a whole lot of possessions and show the younger guys how to go about things professionally. We know that Jack Steven can get plenty of the footy and give us some real pace. We know that Roo will ignore everything he hears from over the fence and will himself to another contest when he can’t. And we know Lenny is going to give his heart and soul no matter what the situation.

These are the things I’ve certainly taken for granted in writing any piece for this blog. I think it’s something I’ve taken for granted anyway. I will miss him terribly as a St Kilda player. We all will. The enduring image of Lenny Hayes is that of measured celebration and focus after his goal to bring the Saints within eight points in the final quarter of 2010 Grand Final Draw.  It sums him up well – that he knew there was always hard work to be done. Over the years it will probably prove to be the most enduring positive image of the club’s 2009 and 2010 campaigns; the slow motion, the face stern, the AFL Grand Final logo peeling off the clash jumper. That he’s a Norm Smith Medalist makes fans proud, but mournfully reminded that he, Riewoldt and co. never played in a premiership.

I don’t know Lenny personally so I can’t talk with any authority about what a great guy he is, or whatever. I’ll leave that to his teammates, his opponents and those closest to him. But I watched him play for St Kilda nearly every week for 16 years; long enough for younger fans to not know a St Kilda Football Club without Lenny Hayes. The way he played showed that he was always reliable and had a huge heart. In a footballer, or indeed in any person, what more could you want? How wonderful it was to have had him.

Spencer does some things; that’s pretty much it really

Round 22, 2014
Richmond 6.0, 8.3, 13.5, 15.8 (98)
St Kilda 2.2, 4.7, 5.9, 10.12 (72)
Crowd: 47,188 at the MCG, Sunday, 24th August ay 4.40pm

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As I left the MCG on Sunday night, I had a kind of junk food buzz from Spencer White’s three goals. Or perhaps the kind you get listening to Morrissey.

But the more I think about it the more clearly this was a stand-out element of the game. Partly because he finally played and actually kicked three goals, but also partly because come this point of the season – when all you’re playing for is to not get the number one pick – no one will remember much otherwise. I certainly can’t remember anything else.

Sunday evening, 4.40pm start, cool MCG, only a sprinkle of rain – not great circumstances for a match by any means, but it wasn’t overly bad and this one was only ever going to count for the Tigers. For me it was a chance to stamp my return to Melbourne life after three weeks visiting my parents in London. It wasn’t a long time but it was great to watch the Saints with Dad (albeit on my laptop screen); otherwise you really do feel a long way from the game when it’s summer over there (yes, they still have a summer of sorts) and the games are over by the time you’ve got your day up and going.

It was also a chance to use the MCC membership for the first time this season (the Hawks debacle fortunately one of the only Saints matches I’ve missed this year). Better late than never, although I do have nearly all of September to give it a run, too.

I sat with my brother goalside of the centre favouring the City End along with a few of his friends. It was an incredibly relaxed atmosphere (around us, anyway) and, as I’ve said before in this reviews, when the Saints are this bad the games still serve the purpose of a valued social outing with my brother. I really do get something even in sitting back and having a chat with him about the Saints and everything else (no beers this week though, being in the MCC – had to settle for the coffee).

A six-goal start to the Tigers meant yet another game this season which the Saints supporters would wait for all week, only to spend almost its entirety waiting for it to finish. Even when My Favourite Hair in the AFL kicked a lovely set shot goal from the boundary to bring us within seven points, and even though we ended up winning two out of the four quarters, I don’t think anyone at the ground felt the result was in doubt. Billy Longer’s reaction to Ben Griffiths’ early goal basically summed it up – a few minutes in and we’re already done.

It dare say it still feels strange at this time of year not going to the game with the idea that the team will be out there hunting for something serious. That the time just might be now. Instead, there were about 18 Saints supporters on hand to see not much at all.

The Lenny Hayes Farewell Tour entered its penultimate week to, I must say, what felt like little fanfare. He got a small cheer each time he received the ball, but overall it was a far cry from the Robert Harvey exit in front of 77,002 in a Preliminary Final. I know he had the home game devoted to him a few weeks ago but this was still the last time most of us would be able to see him live.

Honestly, it really did look like the players were playing for fark all. It wasn’t just a six goal start to the Tigers, but also that we didn’t look like scoring a goal.

You barely had time to sit down before Jack Riewoldt had begun resumption of regular proceedings and was on his way to taking his usual giant shit on St Kilda’s head. It was somewhere between “fitting” and “even more annoying” that half of his six goals came from arsey Geelong-style set-shot kicks from around the corner.

Armo inexplicably found the ball in traffic deep in defence and kicked it about 30 metres across goal, which my brother broke the bemused silence following with, “If you did that in the Under 12’s the coach would be pretty flat”.

This came after a Seb Ross nothing kick to Roo on a rare foray forward; a good Mav contest undone by his own poorly placed kick to Tom Curren, and then Newnes getting caught. There was a concerningly long list of “One of those days” moments.

Then the moment we’d all been waiting for – SPENCER WHITE DID A THING. A mark, and then – as often occurs – a kick, but the passage ended up with a Schneider (do we need him?) point.

It took a dubious but otherwise commendable Nathan Wright smother-tackle-handball effort to set up Shenton who atoned for his earlier miss (so he of all people ended up kicking both our first behind and goal). Strangely, it was the start of a chain of four goals which should have threatened to turn the match on its head, but when the aforementioned Favourite Hair brought us within seven points I don’t think anyone was seriously considering that some sort of highly competitive Australian Rules football match was about to unfold in front of them.

So it proved. The Tigers slowed it down, held possession and worked their way to Jack. It was a sign of the maturity of a Richmond team that were storming their way to eight wins in a row, after very nearly reaching the top four last season. A couple of steadying goals for the Tigers to round out the half and they were out to a 50-point lead deep into the third term (even the half-time scoreline of 8.3 to 4.7 showed an equal number of scoring shots). If it wasn’t for Richmond taking the foot off a little and three Spencer White goals  this could have been really ugly. When the final siren went, it hardly felt like the conclusion to a match decided by “only” 26 points.

Let’s get it out of the way. Spencer White. OK. Cool. How do we feel? We should be feeling half-decent I think. He didn’t get a whole lot of the footy but he clearly made the most of things when he did. His first goal came from some nice body work to get to the drop of the ball from My Favourite Hair pushing hard up the ground and giving off to Joey. It followed a Roo kick in which, after so many times of grilling teammates after poor delivery to him in recent years (and rightfully so, might I had), the skipper spotted the first-gamer on a hard lead and gave him an absolutely dog’s balls pass. But, as the captain should, he made up for it within minutes. Spencer reciprocated and calmly kicked the goal from 30 in front with his rather lackadaisical style.

Dare I say it, but combined with the manner in which he kicked his three goals off the left with the minimal follow-through of the boot, did it not recall the great G-Train? His second and third goals, wheeling onto his left foot, instantly reminded me of the G-Train’s specialty also. Likewise, his minimal celebrations capped off the quietly confident attitude he seems to have.

The second goal I really liked because he seemed to position himself for his teammates to do the right thing by their structural expectations. Once he got the footy his opponent was quickly on his hammer but he showed some real composure to turn around and kick the goal – also note that, again, despite the minimal follow-through the kick easily went about 50 metres. The third was lucky because Mav and TC were there to spill up the mark he should have taken in the first place, but again, he atoned for it by working himself into the space and finishing.

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Certainly from the reports of his VFL appearances his ability to get to the right position offensively and defensively have been key topics. There were a few occasions he did hang a bit off the packs, but given what else we saw of him you could easily put that down to a first gamer simply being unsure if that’s what he was meant to be doing – Roo was right next to him on a couple of occasions and I think that might have confused him a little. Because it wasn’t until Roo was pushed up the ground during the third quarter that Spencer all of sudden found himself confidently leading and putting himself in good spots in attack. Although he got caught his attempted burn along the boundary in the third was a good sign, too. He clearly needs a bit more muscle and to work on his tank, but he’s also 19 and has played one game.

I think the exciting thing about this is how much more promise he’s already shown than so many of the tried and failed tall(er) forwards this club has tried since the Gehrig/Riewoldt/Hamill/Koschitzke attack of a decade ago, when the club took the step up to being a consistently strong performer. The roll call is spectacular in its disappointment – Paul Cahill, Matthew Ferguson, Tom Lynch, Fergus Watts, Beau Maister, Tommy Walsh, Justin Sweeney, Ryan Gamble, Charlie Gardiner, Will Johnson, Daniel Archer. And that’s not to mention Tom Lee, My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs, Sam Dunell and even Josh Bruce and Tom Simpkin, who we’re all still waiting on. That’s without including all the briefly-tried-and-failed experiments of Barry Brooks, James Gwilt, Zac Dawson and Sam Gilbert, and the unfortunate Jarryd Allen.

Which, of course, brings us to the Big Rhys Bandwagon, which has clearly been lost in the Spencer White Roadshow’s rearview mirror. Unfortunately, but rather predictably, apart from the obvious this game will simply fall into the unconscious regions of our St Kilda supporting lives, and Rhys was no exception. He suffered the ignominy of being subbed out of the game with fark all impact, and in all honesty I only remember two things that he did, and one didn’t even happen during the game. That was to be the last Saints player off the ground, shaking hands with the Tigers players as they broke from their guard of honour. Which I thought was strange because it appeared as though Rhys of all people was representing the club in thanking the Tigers after their admirable show of respect to Lenny.

The other was actually a positive – Billy Longer, still quite fresh from his slightly overhyped and ultimately unsatisfying Schneiderman appearance, put in a softish effort going back with the footy just forward of centre wing, and Rhys came in with a big tackle on Billy’s opponent and then went in for a bit of push and shove immediately after. So, you ask, where the hell is that throughout the rest of the game? After the Fremantle game we were all jumping around celebrating the official arrival of Big Rhys, and after some of his form earlier this year you might have been forgiven for thinking that he’d played enough games to know how to recapture and then maintain that form. But this club doesn’t forgive, and it will let us down some way, somehow. For now, we’re just left with another question mark.

Question marks aplenty, really. Writing a report at this time of year is hard to morph into simply a season review for whoever I mention. I was just about to bring up Cam Shenton but what am I going to say that’s any different to what I’m going to say about him next week? Or in the season wrap faff we’ll no doubt produce throughout September? Well, he kicked our first goal and first behind through some hard running, and also took a nice contested mark on the wing which led to Roo’s goal from the boundary.

Nathan Wright’s game has similarities but I think Wright has a better head on his shoulders. He hits the contest harder and he’s probably more reliable structurally and with the ball in hand. Who comes out for Savage? What about Webster? Has Brodie Murdoch shown enough? Is Farren Ray still playing regularly when that time comes? Again, all questions on a more macro level, relevant to 2015 and beyond rather than next week.

It meant nothing really but it was at least nice to see the players gave enough of a shit – even if only for their own careers – to kick five goals to two in the final term. The Tigers fans had been singing their song for nearly 20 minutes by the time the final siren sounded.

It had also been some time since the throng of supporters around the St Kilda race had begun growing so fans could get their last glimpse in the flesh of Lenny in his St Kilda jumper. Like his most famous moment and most famous performance, it was in the St Kilda clash jumper – albeit a slightly different version – on the MCG. But Lenny was clearly embarrassed by the attention. He’ll never walk off the MCG a St Kilda premiership player. Indeed, he walked off the MCG on Sunday with St Kilda staring at its 27th wooden spoon. Whatever the task, however, there was still some hard work ahead. And before the memories could come flooding back, he was gone.