Chris Judd Posts

Another difficult Monday ahead

One football year ago the Blues stamped out a spirited Saints outfit looking to resurrect their already flatlining season.

That night marked the debut of Arryn Siposs, whose 60-metre bomb late in the game that in the grand scheme of things is one of the more exciting moments of a difficult season.

His debut was part of an ultimately temporary attempt to inject some youth and energy into a side that looked fatigued after the heartbreaking Grand Finals of 2009 and 2010. The first half of the season saw a few games given to each of a raft of youngsters either new or not a part of the established side, including Siposs, Cripps, Ledger, Winmar, Simpkin, Johnson, Archer, Smith, Lynch and Stanley. It didn’t last when the coaches made a late season charge towards finals the priority.

The Blues then were looking to really make an impact come finals after successive Elimination Final exits and were an umpiring decision away from a Preliminary Final. Gibbs, Murphy, Walker and Garlett were coming into their prime and really starting to put together good football consistently, and the forward line was looking very dynamic with Walker, Betts and Garlett creating all sorts of problems. Of course, this was on top of more established players in Judd, Scotland, Carrazzo and Thornton providing quality every week.

A year on and the Blues are dreaming of bigger things. Kreuzer is doing something like what he was promising before hurting his knee in 2010, Robinson, Hampson and Armfield have improved and a strong start to the season suggests they should take out Monday night’s game in good style. Waite will come back in and add another dynamic to the forward line, which will help Betts and Garlett particularly and make life tough for a Fisher-less St Kilda defence.

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Wait, you may win

So this is it.

For about the seventh time this off-season, we declare the beginning of a new era. This is really “it”, though. The new coach announcement, the draft(s), the captaincy announcement, the pre-season competition – they all ultimately lead to the season proper, and us finally being able to declare this moment “it”.

Like the most sane of supporters, I’m not bullish about our flag chances. It’s a tough position to be in after all the hopes we’ve had over the last decade. But there are a number of reasons why I and the football world in general would think that a premiership is beyond the club this year – most of them obvious and reasonable; anything else would be the arrogant ramblings of opposition supporters that can lay claim to having witnessed their team winning a premiership in recent times. Whatever.

Getting used to a tinkered game plan will take time, something we saw at the beginning of Ross the ex-Boss’s tenure. It’s an oft-cited example with plenty of merit, though the hope for us Saints is that the ex-Boss’s game will prove to have taken a greater learning curve to master. It relied on fanatical commitment to the most dour of styles, and it meant a season-and-a-half of one of the most attacking and entertaining teams in the competition coming to terms with the idea of relentless accountability and pressure on the opposition after seasons of wielding pace, muscle and slick skills alone as weapons in a premiership assault.

As we saw in the pre-season matches, Swat’s game plan relies a little more on the natural instinct to get the footy and move. Though the focus on defence and pressing will still be top priority, he’ll be using players that are now wired for that kind of requirement (as all players now need to be) and allow them to be let loose and be creative going forward. In theory, this should be an easier transition.

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Neon bible

St Kilda fans have long had a Messiah complex.

We’re a long-depressed, long-oppressed legion that has been waiting for too long to be taken to the promised land. The legend of 1966 grows with every failed attempt and every wasted opportunity at seeing the Saints march back to heaven.

Yesterday, we were left without our next Messiah as his defection proved him to be merely a false idol.

Like the worshipped Barker and Riewoldt before him (the latter’s time may have yet passed), Tommy Walsh was (is) blonde, and it seems by all our accounts had a special presence about him. Like them he could take a mark, could kick goals and if needed could play a hand at the other end of the ground; as of two days ago, his leadership qualities were also paramount.

Fittingly, the club’s best and fairest award is named after one of them, whilst the other has won it more than any other Saint in the club’s 138-year existence.

However, the next chosen one won’t even play a single game in the red, white and black, despite having demanded a debut through 2011. It’s fair to say the team’s situation demanded it, too.

Instead, a conservative selection policy seemed to have left Tommy disillusioned through the season. Ross the ex-Boss hinted as much in a press conference when Walsh was yet again talked up by everyone except the coach.

Whilst Ross left Tommy waiting in the VFL, it seems Leigh Tudor had seen enough in 2010 alone to urge the Swans to offer him a lucrative contract. The hunt for Tommy may well have been as much as a couple of months old by the time yesterday’s trade was made. This is conjecture, of course, but Tommy looked to have his mind made up from the beginning of trade week.

Even though the Saints said publicly Tommy wouldn’t be up for trade, it appears he would have left anyway for the money. Had they not traded, St Kilda would yet again have lost a player for nothing; the Luke Ball non-deal will leave a sour taste in the mouth for a long time, whichever way we look at it.

For all of Pelchen’s and Swat’s talking up of Tommy as a player and clubman, as well personal pleas from the new coach to stay, it seems St Kilda wasn’t willing to match the Swans’ offer. The general consensus is that salary cap issues are dire currently and this probably got in the way, but either he was worth walking the walk after talking the talk or not (and what talk it was). Several players would have need to have been delisted or have taken pay cuts – offloading them in trade week didn’t happen – but if the club was really serious, then the potential and two years of development put into the club would surely have been worth the offloading of others with leaner prospects.

Instead, Saints fans are again left searching for a new Messiah, their faith shattered. Meanwhile, Walsh joins fellow power forwards Plugger and Big Bad Bustling Barry Hall in making the move from Moorabbin/Seaford/Frankston to Sydney.

Like 2009 and 2010, like the though of drafting Judd instead of Ball, we’re again left wondering what might have been – for now, anyway. Picks 35 and 68 might prove to yield members of the next premiership or not, Walsh might prove to be a huge coup for the Swans or not. For now also, it looks like we’re back to worshipping the other young tall blonde forward.

Arise, Rhys Stanley, and lead us to salvation.

The critics have it: Carlton, Gardi as sub-plot the winners

It seems a foregone conclusion that Carlton will win tomorrow night, and the Saints will be heading to Sydney for the 2nd Elimination final.

I’d still be tipping Carlton anyway, but St Kilda will certainly have a point to prove, and they have a home final to play for. Sydney should dispose of Brisbane, though with that game wrapping up shortly before this one starts, a Sydney loss will really take the venom out of it.

Michael Gardiner has been given a chance to prove his fitness and form before September begins in the footy sense. His call up is his first for the season after a long struggle with injury, and it just might be the perfect time if Big Ben is going to have similar troubles with Mummy next week as he did a fortnight ago.

Gardi has created an interesting sub-plot, with Saints fans keenly eyeing his performance regardless of what the score is. Situation may dictate the Saints shut-up shop a little early, but Gardi will be doing his utmost all the while to prove himself ready for the real stuff.

Big Ben has been a revelation this year – he and Jack Steven have both stepped up to become required players of the 21+1 in 2011. He has certainly earned his spot in the team, but the recent Mummy monstering is at the forefront of the St Kilda mind. Whilst Gardi’s selection makes the Saints incredibly tall (barring a late change; a short emergency line-up features Baker, Smith and Gamble), it’s now or never – and with the luxury of at least knowing a finals spot is sewn up, it has to be now – to give the coaches some idea of how the experienced Gardi could fit into the side. It also gives the players themselves a week to test the set-up.

The prospect of facing Matthew Kreuzer and Robbie Warnock may not provide the same intimidation a rematch with Mummy might (in the context of the next two matches), but the Blues’ pairing has Judd, Murphy, Robinson, Simpson and Scotland helping them out. The personnel is added incentive for the St Kilda rucks to make sure Robbie isn’t able to give them a clean first chance at the fall of the ball, and it will go a long way to deciding who will win this game, and where the Saints will be a week later.

St Kilda’s worries about its forward line structure evaporated (for a couple of hours) last weekend, albeit against a disappointing Kangaroos outfit. The Last Man to Have Captained the Saints to a Premiership of Any Kind (TLMTHCTSTAPOAK) was Captain Calamity for all the right reasons – he crashed into the packs hard, gave brilliant support to Roo up forward and to Big Ben in the ruck against emerging star Goldstein. He also kicked three goals in the process; it should have been four but for a hilarious miss late in the game (he wasn’t the only offender, and fortunately the Saints were way, way ahead).

Not only proving his worth for structures alone, but last week Kosi was moving very, very well. It seems increasingly evident that ankle issues were the chief cause of his poor form early in the season – hopefully that’s the case, and what we’re seeing now is closer to a “default” Kosi. Again, with Gardi in the side, there will be some trial and error with Kosi also, some mix’n’match to see how this puzzle of giants fits together.

Of course, Kosi’s good form and forward/ruck rotations may be a moot point if Joey, Dal and Jack find themselves struggling against Carlton’s A-list. BJ did wonders through the middle last week and will surely find himself at the centre bounce a few times, but hopefully after St Kilda goals. The Blues could have an easy ride if Walker, Betts and Garlett are getting a constant supply of the footy. Kreuzer will be wanting to keep his comeback humming along before facing David Hille and Paddy Ryder, and a goal or two at least will do great things for his confidence and his team.

Whilst a home final is on the line, St Kilda is going to have win anyway in week one of the finals no matter where they play – the equation is that simple. “Good teams win interstate”.  With the inclusion of Gardi, the Saints are definitely bringing an element of testing to this week for the benefit of the following Saturday night. The Blues may also, but they’re going to be finishing fifth no matter what. As far as interest goes, it’s the Gardi sub-plot that may trump the performance of the stars tomorrow night.

…That we can never get away from the sprawl

St Kilda managed to avoid the Gold Coast’s prowling recruiters last year as the start-up franchise (I’m not calling it a club) pounced on out-of-contract stars from the existing 16 teams.

Through the early part of the 2011 season, I genuinely enjoyed watching the Gold Coast play. It was a young side – with a sprinkling of some not-too-bad senior recruits – that had nothing to lose as they faced daunting opponents, and still dared to take games on.

Their revolving door of youngsters – both in numbers and policy – featured a number of thrilling stars-t0-be. Swallow, Bennell, Dixon, Smith, McKenzie, Matera, etc. and so on. It was exciting to watch a team

The comeback, breakthrough victory over Port Adelaide was punctuated in my uncle’s lounge room (I was alone at the time…) by my fist punching the air as I jumped up from the couch when Justin Westhoff’s after-the-siren kick was sprayed wide.

Perhaps the enjoyment I got from watching the Suns had something to do with the fact I didn’t really have to worry about them, from the perspective of a Saints supporter, until much later in the year. I could relax in the very least knowing that if the Saints were to make a late charge up the ladder, the Suns wouldn’t be in the way on the rungs above them.

St Kilda were the last side to meet the Suns (another one for conspiracy theorists who think the AFL has it in for the Saints), and by the time this date rolled around last Saturday night, the Suns were a different prospect.

All of a sudden, they weren’t the band of exciting kids that thumbed their noses at the bigger bodies of the opposition or the unfriendly score line. They were directly in the way of my Saints taking the four points.

Watching Zac Smith run off an opposing tall to snap a goal wasn’t nearly as fun. Gary Ablett Jnr making short work of the watchful eye of Clinton Jones wasn’t so awe-inspiring as fear-inducing, the Judd-like poise of David Swallow through traffic was no longer a thrill but a threat.

Whilst the Saints held off the Gold Coast, the Sun were labelled “brave” in the press. The press is supposed to be neutral; I couldn’t apply the term “brave” to the Suns as easily, because from Saturday night they had turned into a juggernaut-in-waiting, closer to a premiership than my own club which had come so heartbreakingly close twice after such a lean 137 years.

Expansion, all of a sudden, was an issue. It was here, and now it was a competitor.

It raised its head again yesterday with the announcement Phil Davis would be playing with GWS from next year (of course, he hadn’t signed on with the club or anything – that would be breaking AFL rules. You don’t wanna mess with those, especially if you’re run by them.).

The Giants have not one, but two years to poach players from the existing clubs and franchises. Even if the Saints whose names have been thrown up as possible targets of the Giants – Goddard, Gilbert, Armitage, Dawson and Stanley particularly – stay at Seaford(/Frankston/Moorabbin), the Giants will be out hunting next year also, again with the irrefutable bait of wealth.

And if they still snare no Saints? There will be none of the fun, comfort, or other positives of watching youngsters with big futures play, no matter if the losing margins are as big as those futures.

My mind turns back to Saturday night; the despondent feeling I had after an uninspiring win. It will mean nothing in the history of the two sides as one strides towards a dynasty, and there will be another monolith in the way from next year.